Prophecy accounts for a major portion of the entire canon of Scripture. Numerous books in the Old Testament contain prophecy—some include short statements about the future, and others feature entire prophetic visions. In the New Testament, almost every book contains some prophecy, with Revelation being wholly devoted to a prophetic vision.
By one count, about 27 percent of the Bible is predictive (Payne, J. B., The Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy, Baker Pub. Group, 1980, p. 675). This means that, when written, over one fourth of the Bible—more than one in four verses—was prophetic. Professor and theologian J. Barton Payne lists 1,817 prophecies in the Bible (ibid., p. 674). The consistent relation of prophecy in the Bible is staggering; on top of that is the amazing accuracy of those detailed prophecies.
At least one half of all biblical predictions have already been fulfilled precisely as God had declared. Because of God’s faithfulness in fulfilling these prophecies, we can be assured that He will fulfill the rest of the prophecies in Scripture without fault (see Numbers 23:19).
Prophecy in the Bible can be divided into two broad groups: fulfilled and not yet fulfilled. Some examples from these generalized groups include the following:
Fulfilled Prophecies: • The first coming of Christ (e.g., Deuteronomy 18:15–19; Numbers 24:17; Daniel 9:25–26; Micah 5:2). • Jesus as the Savior of mankind (e.g., Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 53:4–5). • Prophecies regarding individual people, such as the doom of Jezebel (2 Kings 9:10). • Prophecies regarding Israel, such as in the case of Israel’s exile to Babylon (2 Kings 20:18; Jeremiah 34:3). • The destruction of the temple, which occurred in AD 70 (Matthew 24:1–2). • Daniel’s prophecies about the rise and fall of many kingdoms (Daniel 7:2–6, 16).
Prophecies Still to Be Fulfilled: • The second coming of Christ (Zechariah 14:3–4; Matthew 24:44; Acts 1:10–11; Revelation 1:7). • The rapture of the church (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17). • The tribulation (Daniel 9:27; Matthew 24:15–22). • The resurrections of the saved and the unsaved (Daniel 12:1–3; 1 Corinthians 15:20–23; Revelation 20:11–15). • The millennial reign of Christ (Psalm 72:7–11; Zechariah 2:10–11; Revelation 20:4). • The restoration of Israel (Jeremiah 31:31–37; Romans 11:26–27). • The new heavens and new earth (Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1).
Some prophecies have a double fulfillment, one nearer to the time of the prophet and one further in the future. We see this in Isaiah 7:14, for example. The birth of a child served as a sign for King Ahaz, but the prophecy also pointed forward to the virgin birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:22–23). Some interpret Jesus’ explanation of the signs of the end times as having been fulfilled in some sense in AD 70 yet also signaling a future, more complete fulfillment during the end times tribulation.
Other prophecies have been fulfilled partially and are awaiting complete fulfillment. An example of this is found in Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah 61:1–2, in which He declares the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. In the synagogue, Jesus read from the scroll: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18–19). He then proclaimed Himself as the fulfillment of that prophecy. But He had stopped reading in the middle of Isaiah 61:2. The reason is simple: the first part of that verse was fulfilled by Christ in His first advent, but the second half, concerning “the day of vengeance of our God,” was not. The Day of the Lord is still to be fulfilled in the future.
The amount of prophecy in the Bible is one of the things that make it unique among religious books. There is absolutely no emphasis on predictive prophecy in the Qu’ran or the Hindu Vedas, for example. In contrast, the Bible repeatedly points to fulfilled prophecy as direct proof that it is God who speaks (see Deuteronomy 18:22; 1 Kings 22:28; Jeremiah 28:9). Given God’s omniscience, it should come as no surprise that the Bible contains so many clear predictions or that those predictions are literally fulfilled: “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done” (Isaiah 46:9–10, ESV).