God's Prophetic Word
There are many things that set Holy Scripture apart from other religious documents which claim to have divine origin. Just one of those unique features is declarations concerning the future; that is, predictions that come to pass which verify the truthfulness and accuracy of the preceding prophecy.
We first must make a distinction between vague, generic or trend-based predictions and specific foretelling. The former would be things like horoscopes or fortune cookies, which are written about nothing in particular by some anonymous factory worker or newspaper copywriter. Another example would be Nostradamus (1503-1566), who is often cited as a latter-day prophet but also wrote so vaguely in his Les Propheties (published in 1855) that his forecasts could be applied to almost any daily occurring event.
Nostradamus and those of his ilk are merely observant, insightful human beings who notice patterns, trends, quirks of human behavior or peculiarities of nature and deftly turn them into a commodity under the guise of supernatural insight. Nostradamus worked as an apothecary (concocting herbal remedies), published almanacs, practiced astrology and became an advisor to Catherine de’ Medici, the wife of King Henry II of France.
However, Biblical prophets through the OT wrote in a connected framework, each contributing to an overall storyline which guides and explains human events according to an overarching divine purpose. Nostradamus stands alone as a crafty opportunist and self-promoter, but Moses and David and Isaiah and Daniel and other true prophets of God each provide pieces of a mosaic that lead to a singular, unambiguous outcome: the birth, life, death, resurrection and enthronement of Jesus Christ.
One interesting thread of Biblical prophecy is one provided by Jesus, Himself, concerning His apostle, Peter. In the days following Jesus’ resurrection, when the apostles were disoriented and struggling to make sense of the events that had transpired, Jesus met with several of them on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias (Galilee, Jn 21:1ff). On this occasion Jesus singled out Peter for both an exhortation to work diligently on His behalf (21:15-17) and a prophecy of his future persecution and demise (21:18-19). Toward the end of his life, Peter writes a short epistle wherein he reflects on this prophecy: “Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you, knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me” (2 Pet 1:13-14).
In this epistle Peter affirms that the things he had taught in his life were “contra-Nostradamic”; that is, they were not vague fictions or baseless speculations but eyewitness accounts of realities actually experienced: “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: ‘This is My beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.’ And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain” (2 Pet 1:16-18). This is a reference to the events on the mount of transfiguration (Mt 17:1-13; Lk 9:28-36).
But should we believe Peter just because he said so? What makes this different than believing a Nostradamus, or a Joseph Smith, or a Jeane Dixon who have purportedly seen heavenly or future things?
Peter, himself, ties what he heard and saw in Jesus to what the prophets of old had written: “We also have the prophetic word made more sure” (2 Pet 1:19a). Peter, from his vantage point following Jesus’ incarnation, could see the connectedness of what the Holy Spirit had been saying for centuries, through many different sources (prophets). Indeed, when Paul discussed Jesus’ Messianic legitimacy in the synagogues, he “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead” (Ac 17:3). Before Agrippa II Paul affirmed, “to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come – that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles” (Ac 26:22-23).
It is when people turn from myths and fables and “dark arts” such as astrology that they “see the light”: “as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Pet 1: 19b). Paul had his “Aha!” moment when Jesus appeared to him on the Damascus road (Ac 9); two other disciples had their “Aha!” moment on the road to Emmaus when Jesus, “beginning at Moses and all the Prophets … expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Lk 24:25-27). Their own commentary on this Bible study to beat all Bible studies: “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” (24:32).
Peter continues, “knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1: 20-21). Other translations render this in a clearer fashion: “No prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (NIV). Peter is plainly talking about the origin of the prophetic message, not the interpretation of it by the reader. In fact, it is by private reading and understanding that the darkness of ignorance is banished.
Of course, the ultimate originator of prophecy is the Holy Spirit, for it is only the omniscience of God that can peer into the future and unambiguously relay what will transpire given the vagaries of life and the complexities of human free will. When we tune out the noise of hucksters and charlatans and listen to the words of God’s ancient prophets, the “morning star” of truth will rise in our hearts to give direction to a life that can be uncertain and confusing to navigate. This is something no modern religious man or institution claiming divine authority can do. We have eyewitness apostolic testimony combined with prophecies spanning centuries before Christ came. Nothing more is needed; anything more is forgery.