Who is the One True God? A Look at Prophecy as a Verification Test

Introduction

The skeptical issue in our culture mostly enters into the religious dialogue in the following way: “In the case of God, who isn’t some physical object but a divine being, what kind of evidence should we expect to find? [1]   There is a tendency to forget that the Bible stresses that sin can dampen the cognitive faculties that God has given us to find Him. Therefore, sin has damaging consequences on the knowing process (Is. 6:9-10; Zech. 7:11-12; Matt. 13:10-13). Thus, people are dead, blinded, and bound to sin.

Christianity stresses that the God of the Bible is capable of giving a revelation to mankind through a specific medium. Revelation is a disclosure of something that has been hidden– an “uncovering,” or “unveiling.” Christianity, Judaism, Islam, are all theistic faiths in contrast to pantheism (all is God), polytheism (many gods), and atheism (without God).The study of world religions involves a commitment to understand the issue of divine revelation. Furthermore, most religions think that there is a God who took the initiative to reveal himself to an individual or a group of people who later recorded it in a group of writings or sacred texts.

Therefore, for a Divine Revelation to Take Place, Three Things Are Required:

1. A Being capable of giving a revelation: God

2. A being capable of receiving a revelation: Man

3. A medium that is used for the revelation [2]

 Christopher Hitchens’ Complaint to the  Revelation Model

There are some challenges to the revelatory model. First, pop atheism asserts that religious people just “have faith.” It is blind and can’t be held to any empirical testing.  Also, what about all those contradictory revelations? Is there a way to verify whether there is a true revelation? Or, is there one God who gives a clear revelation? Or is there a God, or “god” who gives conflicting and contradictory revelations? Furthermore, if religious people start with their Holy Book (The Bible, The Quran, The Book of Mormon), they are begging the question as to how they know their sacred text has it right? The late Christopher Hitchens said:

Since all these revelations, many of them hopelessly inconsistent, cannot by definition be simultaneously true, it must follow that some of them are false and illusory. It could also follow that only one of them is authentic, but in the first place this seems dubious and in the second place it appears to necessitate religious war in order to decide whose revelation is the true one. [3]

A Solution: Predictive Prophecy and God’s Omniscience

So is Hitchens correct? Is is just impossible to weigh the evidence for each so called revelatory claim and come to a conclusion? There are several ways to approach this issue. However, when it comes to the history of Israel, God would continually speak through prophets to correct the problem of His people turning away from him towards false gods/nature deities. There are texts that support the God of Israel from other nature deities: For example:

“I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.  See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.”-Isaiah 42:8-9

We see the following:

  1. God will demonstrate his true omniscience by demonstrating he is the one talking.
  2. He will do so by declaring in advance what the course of future history will hold.
  3. This provides a verification test as to who the true God is and that such a writing is from him.[4]

God also challenged Israel’s ‘gods’ to do the same:

“Present your case,” says the Lord. “Set forth your arguments,” says Jacob’s King.  “Tell us, you idols, what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come,  tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear. But you are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless; whoever chooses you is detestable.”- Isaiah 41:21-24

In this passage we see that if these gods could declare the course of history before it took place, it would prove they are deities.

What are the requirements for a prophecy to come to pass?

Let’s look at a case of predictive prophecy. For a prophecy to be predictive it must meet the following criteria.

1. A biblical text clearly envisions the sort of event alleged to be the fulfillment.

2. The prophecy was made well in advance of the event that was predicted.

3. The prediction actually came true.

4. The event predicted could not have been staged but anyone but God.

5. Clear Prediction: Is the prophecy publicly available with a reliable text and evident interpretation?

6. Documented Outcome: Is the prophecy documented by publicly available facts?

7. Is there evidence for it in world history?

8. Proper Chronology: Is there empirical evidence that is available presently and publicly to document that indeed the prophecy does predate its fulfillment? [5]

It must be remembered that the strength of this evidence is greatly enhanced if the event is so unusual that the apparent fulfillment cannot plausibly explained as a good guess.

Examples of Predictive Prophecy: The Messiah in the Torah

One of the most pivotal texts that speak to a time frame about the first coming of the Messiah is Gen. 49:8-12:

Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you.Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”

 We see the following about this passage:

1. This person will have a decent that is limited to being a son of Judah

2. He is going to be a King

3. The rule of Judah is envisioned by Jacob as extending beyond the borders of Israel to include the entire world.

4. Notice the word “Messiah” is not mentioned in the text. However, remember that many “messianic prophecies”  in the Bible clearly refer to the Messiah without ever referring to that word.

There are three parts of the verse:

1.”The scepter shall not depart from Judah.”

a. Traditionally, the scepter is equated with kingship and Judah is the preeminent tribe among all the tribes of Israel.

b. All the governmental functions among the tribes will be lodged in Judah.

c. “Scepter” is a “symbol of kingly authority” and will remain in Judah’s hand until “Shiloh comes.” In the minds of the Jewish people, “Scepter” was linked with their right to apply and enforce the law of Moses upon the people, including the right to adjudicate capital cases and administer capital punishment.

2. “Nor a lawgiver from between his feet”

a. The king would take the scepter when sitting on the throne and place it between his feet.

b. The scepter that belonged to the lawgiver meant that the governmental authority and power as represented in the chief executive shall continue “until Shiloh comes.” [6]

3. “Shiloh”

a. This word is confused with the first location of the tabernacle, which was at the town called Shiloh in the tribal identity of Ephraim.

b. Shiloh has been considered as a proper name for Messiah: “Regarding the Messiah, what is his name? Those of the school of R. Shelia said: “His name is Shiloh, for it is said in Gen. 49:10, ‘until Shiloh comes.’ (Sanhedrin 98b)

c. Shiloh can mean “to whom it belongs,” thus “until he comes to whom it [the scepter belongs].”  This view is supported in the LXX (The Greek Septuagint) and many English Translations (NIV, RSV,NLT). Furthermore, in Ezekiel 21: 25-27, Ezekiel uses the Shiloh text as part of a judgment oracle directed against Zedekiah to declare the Lord’s intention not to put a ruler on David’s throne ‘until he comes to whom it belongs.’ Since both Genesis 40:10 and Ezekiel 21:27 deal with Judah and the government or ownership of that tribe, the argument becomes quite compelling.[7]

What Are the Strengths of Prophecy? What is the Messianic Interpretation?

1. The Extra-biblical literature supports the messianic interpretation (see more on this in the full post below).

2.  Judah will have the scepter [kingship], the authority to rule until the one who comes whose right it is and to whom it belongs.

3. Judah did have possession of the scepter until Herod obtained kingship over Israel in 38 B.C. While Judah ceased to be an independent tribe, they did still continue to be a self-governing nation within the Roman Empire.

4. In 70 CE the Roman armies destroyed the “city” and sanctuary.” Judah and lost both the scepter and tribal identity. This is seen at the trial of Jesus in that it was the Romans who enforced the death sentence. This transfer of power is even mentioned in the Talmud: “A little more than forty years before the destruction of the Temple, the power of pronouncing capital sentences was taken away from the Jews.“–Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin, filoi 24.[8]

5. Tribal identities were kept in the Jewish Temple. All of these records were lost in with the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.

6. Therefore, the Messiah will have to come before 70 A.D.

7. If someone comes into the word today and claims to be the Jewish Messiah, there is no way to objectively verify they are from the tribe of Judah.

8. The “Scepter” did depart in the sense that at the coming of Jesus we see the Jewish people lost their power to adjudicate capital cases and administer capital punishment.[9]

To read the full post, click here:

The Prophet of Deut. 18:15-18:

One of the most pivotal texts that speak about the first coming of the Messiah is Deuteronomy 18: 15-18:

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18: 15-18).

Remember, the prophecy says that a future prophet will be like Moses: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you.”

Let’s look at the similarities between Moses and Jesus:

1. Moses was the greatest prophet, leader and teacher that Judaism has ever known.

2. Moses Maimonides (1138- 1204), was a medieval Jewish philosopher whose writings are considered to be foundational to Jewish thought and study. In one of Maimonides 13 Principles of Faith is the belief that Moses’ prophecies are true, and that he was the greatest of the prophets.

Has Deuteronomy 18:15-18 been recognized by the Jewish people as Messianic?

A Prophet from the midst of thee.’ In fact, the Messiah is such a prophet as it is stated in the Midrash of the verse, ‘Behold, my Servant shall prosper’ (Isaiah 52:13)….Moses, by the miracles which he wrought, brought a single nation to the worship of God, but the Messiah will draw all peoples to the worship of God.” –Rabbi Levi ben Gershon-14th century [10]

 If the Messiah is supposed to be like Moses and draw all peoples to worship God, remember the following:

Given that the Messiah is called to be the ideal representative of His people, His mission is also to be a “light to the nations.” We see the following in Isa. 49:1-7: The Servant of the Lord is a chosen instrument by the Lord (1–3). The Servant glorifies the Lord before Israel and brings back the remnant of Israel ( 5–6). He has calling to all the nations (Gentiles). Kings and princes shall see and bow down to the Servant (vs. 7). Yet, for the sake of the glorified name of the Lord, this Servant also suffers (vs 4), being despised and abhorred by Israel (vs 7). In relation to Jesus’ messiahship, while a remnant believed in Him, what is more significant is that Christianity now the home of  1.4 to 2 billion adherents who are mostly non-Jewish people. Sure, large numbers don’t make a faith true. But another traditional view is that the Messiah will spread the knowledge of the God of Israel to the surrounding nations (Isa.11:9;40:5;52:8). Are there any other messianic candidates that have enabled the world to come to the knowledge of the one true God other than Jesus?

Remember that the Abrahamic Covenant was prophetic. In this sense, there are several aspects of the covenant such as land promises, etc. But as far as Gentiles, they are supposed to receive spiritual blessings, but ultimately these were fulfilled though one specific “seed” of Abraham—the Messiah.

 If this prophet has to be “like Moses” how else does Jesus meets these qualifications?

He must be a great intercessor:

1. Moses was the great intercessor for Israel, preventing God from utterly destroying them when they worshipped the golden calf (Ex. 32:7-14; Num. 14:11-22).

2. Jesus is a greater intercessor. He now intercedes on behalf of all mankind (Jn. 3:16: Heb. 7:25; note Num. 21:4-9 and Jn. 3:14).

He must be a great prophet, judge and king:

1. Moses was a great prophet, judge, and king: (Ex. 18:13; Deut. 33:5).

2. Jesus was a greater prophet, judge and king (Jn. 1:19-21, 29-34, 45; Mt. 2:2; Jn. 5:26-29; Heb. 7:17).

He must be a Redeemer:

1. Moses rescued Israel from the bondage and slavery of Egypt (Ex. 3-4; Acts 7:20-39).

2. Jesus rescued the world from the bondage and slavery of sin (Eph. 2:1-8; Rom. 3:28-4:6).

He must be a Mediator:

1. Moses was the mediator between God and Israel. The first case we see for someone who wants to atone for the sins of Israel is one of their greatest prophets-Moses himself. You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” (Exod. 32:30).

2. Jesus is now the Mediator between God and all humanity (1 Tim. 2:5).

He must be able to speak to God “face to face.”

1. Remember, this individual will be like Moses in that God spoke to Moses “face to face.” This literally means “mouth to mouth.”

2. Therefore, whoever the prophet would be, he would be required to speak to God face to face.

 In order to be like Moses, this prophet will have to be a “sign prophet.”

While actions by other prophets such as Ezekiel and Jeremiah etc. show some significant parallels to Jesus, Jesus is closer to the actions of the Jewish sign prophets such as Moses.

We see this is an important feature with Moses:

1. God says, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you” (Exod. 3:12).

2. When Moses asks God, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me?” the Lord gives Moses two “signs”: his rod turns into a snake (Exod. 4:3) and his hand becomes leprous (Exod. 4:1–7).

3. Moses “performed the signs before the people, and they believed; … they bowed down and worshiped” (Exod. 4:30–31)

How does Jesus fulfill the role of a “sign prophet?”

Remember, “sign” (sēmeion) is used seventy-seven times (forty-eight times in the Gospels).

Remember that the prophet Isaiah spoke of a time where miraculous deeds would be the sign of both the spiritual and physical deliverance of Israel (Isa.26: 19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 42:18; 61:1). Also:

1. The word “sign” is reserved for what we would call a miracle.

2. “Sign” is also used of the most significant miracle in the New Testament, the resurrection of Jesus from the grave.

3. Jesus repeated this prediction of his resurrection when he was asked for a sign (Matt. 16:1, 4). Not only was the resurrection a miracle, but it was a miracle that Jesus predicted (Matt. 12:40; 16:21; 20:19; John 2:19).

4. Nicodemus said of Jesus “We know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2).

5. “Jesus the Nazarene was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22) [11]

To read  the full post, click here:

The Messiah in the Prophets

I briefly mentioned this issue above. But let me expand here: There are several Servant of the Lord passages. Some of the passages about the Servant of the Lord are about the nation of Israel (Is.41:8-9; 42:19; 43:10; 44:21; 45:4; 48:20), while there are other passages where the Servant of the Lord is seen as a righteous individual (Is.42:1-4;50:10; 52:13-53:12). One passage that stands out is Isaiah 49: 1-7:

“Listen to Me, O islands, And pay attention, you peoples from afar, The LORD called Me from the womb; From the body of My mother He named Me. He has made My mouth like a sharp sword, In the shadow of His hand He has concealed Me; And He has also made Me a select arrow, He has hidden Me in His quiver. He said to Me, “You are My Servant, Israel, In Whom I will show My glory.” But I said, “I have toiled in vain, I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity;Yet surely the justice due to Me is with the LORD, And My reward with My God.” And now says the LORD, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel might be gathered to Him. For I am honored in the sight of the LORD, And My God is My strength, He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and its Holy One, To the despised One, To the One abhorred by the nation, To the Servant of rulers, Kings will see and arise, Princes will also bow down, Because of the LORD who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen You.”

In this passage, the servant is called “Israel,” while this figure is also distinguished from Israel as the one who will bring the nation of Israel back to God. This figure will bring “salvation to the ends of the earth.”

As we see in the Abrahamic covenant, the purpose of Israel was not to be a blessing to herself. Therefore, through her witness, the world will either be attracted or repelled towards the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It should be no surprise that in Matthew’s opening chapter, he says,”The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham “(Matt. 1:1). The Messiah is not only of Davidic descent, but will bring fulfillment to the Abrahamic Covenant.

Also, Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ mission to help Israel fulfill its calling (Matt. 10:5-6;15:24), as well as Jesus’ command to bring the nations into God’s redemptive plan (Matt 28:19).

Micah spoke of a time when the nations would go to a restored temple to learn about God (4:15). Amos also spoke of all the nations coming to the God of Israel (Amos 9:12), and other prophets spoke of the inclusion of Gentiles into God’s redemptive plan (Ezek. 17:23; 31:6; Dan 4:9-21). This is why just as Israel is called to be a light to the entire world, the Messiah’s mission is also to be a “light to the nations” (Isa. 49:6).

In order for the prophecy of Isa. 49:1-7 to be successful, we must take some things into consideration. Remember, Isaiah 49:1-7 predicts that that the Servant will be powerful, bringing God’s “salvation to the ends of the earth,” and yet he will be “despised and abhorred by the nation” of Israel, although rulers of the gentiles will “bow down” to him. So let us ask the following questions:

1. Has there ever been any Jewish person who fits these words, having begun a world religion of gentiles?

2. There are only a handful of major world religions, about five, so the search among the possibilities is rather manageable (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism Christianity/Messianic Judaism). Before the first century A.D. only the Jewish people and a few Greek philosophers were believers in one God, and only a small percentage of the world’s population had any awareness of the Hebrew Scriptures.

3. But now, 1.4 to 2 billion people profess to be followers of Jesus. And these are mostly if not all Gentiles.

4. How does one calculate the probability that a Jewish person would found a world religion? A reasonable assumption is that a founder belongs to some people group.

5. Since the world has produced about five founders of major religions and since about one in 300 persons are Jews, a guesstimate for the antecedent odds of this prophecy coming true is highly improbable.

6. This expected Messiah would be despised by his own nation certainly gives him a tough start on becoming a world leader, and Jesus in particular is reliably reported to have been executed as a criminal.

7. Despised and executed criminals are not likely candidates for becoming major figures in world history, so the antecedent odds for this particular candidate, Jesus, to overcome these severe handicaps and still become a worldwide religious leader would be awfully difficult. [12]

Conclusion

I could go on with more here.  While I know I have barely scratched the surface, I want to go back to the comment by Hitchens.  I think the real question at hand is whether people want to dig deeper and see if there is one God who has spoken to humanity.  To assert that it is just impossible to arrive at an answer is really a copout. Perhaps deep inside we all know that  if we can arrive to a conclusion about this issue  it would mean that we are accountable to God.  If you wish to go deeper on this topic, see our page Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus. 

 Sources:

[1] James Beilby and David K. Clark, Why Bother With Truth: Arriving at Knowledge in a Skeptical Society (Norcross, GA: RZIM Publishers, 2000), 60.

 [2] Norman L. Geisler, Introduction And Bible, vol.1 of Systematic Theology(Bloomington: Bethany House, 2002), 64.

[3] Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: Hachette Book Group, 2009), 97-98.

[4] Dennis McCallum, Discovering God: Exploring The Possibilities of Faith (Columbus, Ohio: New Paradigm Publishing, 2011), 10-13.

[5] R. D. Geivett and G.R. Habermas, In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case For God’s Actions in Human History (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press. 1997), 221-223.

[6] John Metzger, Discovering the Mystery of the Unity (San Antonio, TX: Ariel Ministries Publishing, 2010), 381-383.

 [7] Ibid, 49-51.

 [8] The appendix of Michael Brown’s Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus Vol 2 (Grand RapidsMI: Baker Books, 2000), defines the Babylonian Talmud as the foundational text for Jewish religious study. It consists of 2,500,000 words of Hebrew and Aramaic commentary and expansion of the Mishnah. The Jerusalem or Palestinian Talmud is similar to the Babylonian Talmud but a bit shorter and less authoritative in the Jewish community. It reached its final form about 400 C.E.

 [9]  Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Christology (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1998),  21-23.

[10] Rachmiel Fryland, What The Rabbis Know About the Messiah: A Study of Genealogy and Prophecy (Columbus, Ohio: Messianic Publishing Company, 2002), 33

[11]  Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 480-481.

[12] See Public Theology and Scientific Method: Formulating Reasons That Count Across Worldviews by Hugh G. Gauch, Jr., John A. Bloom, and Robert C. Newman Philosophia Christi (2002). Available athttp://www.drjbloom.com/public%20files/PubTheoMethod.pdf.

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