Bible prophecies that eventually came true

Whether you're a believer of any stripe or not, the Bible is a foundational text for Western civilization, with its moral teachings at the heart of many of our laws, and its more literary elements providing fodder for allusions in everything from Shakespeare to Iron Maiden songs. One of the more intriguing elements of the Bible is the idea of prophets — guys with names like Habakkuk or Zephaniah whose job was to speak for God and tell the future. If the Bible is full of predictions of the future, surely we can glean something useful from it, or at least use the confirmation of its predictions as signs of the accuracy of its claims.

However, as fun as it is to imagine that there are verses hidden in some obscure book of prophecy that foretells the rise of airplanes and social media, those kind of distant, far-reaching predictions don't really exist in the biblical canon. Most prophets were generally concerned with the rise and fall of the world powers of their times — Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Rome — and how the interactions of these nations with the Israelites could be viewed as God's pleasure or displeasure with his chosen people. But depending on whether you take a more traditional or historical view of the compositions of biblical prophecy, God's spokespeople had a pretty good track record of foreseeing the decline and fall of various empires.

Here, then, are some examples of times when God's messengers seem to have gotten it right and Bible prophecies eventually came true, including a couple of more modern predictions that have to be found by reading between the lines, so to speak.

Isaiah predicts Assyria's failed siege of Jerusalem

Both Jews and Christians alike consider Isaiah to be the greatest of the Hebrew prophets, and the messages contained in his eponymous book are especially treasured by both groups. As National Geographic explains, the historical Isaiah lived in the eighth century BCE and served as an adviser to multiple kings of Judah during the time when the major world power was the Assyrian Empire, which had earlier conquered Israel, Judah's sister kingdom to the north. Much of the prophecy in the early chapters of the Book of Isaiah regards the threat of Assyria, with many of Judah's kings disregarding Isaiah's (and by extension, God's) advice. It isn't until the reign of Hezekiah, considered the first righteous king in a while, that someone in charge actually listens to what Isaiah has to say. 

So what did Isaiah have to say? Well, around 701 BCE, the Assyrian king Sennacherib laid siege to Judah and captured its cities. A panicked Hezekiah asked Isaiah for advice, and the prophet very helpfully told him to do nothing, because the siege would fail. And this turned out to be right. For unknown reasons (though many scholars believe disease was involved), hundreds of thousands of Assyrian soldiers died, and Sennacherib returned home.

Even more interestingly, the latter chapters of Isaiah correctly predict the rise of the Babylonian Empire and Judah's fall to it, nearly a century in advance. So either Isaiah earned his reputation as the greatest prophet, or as many scholars argue, significant portions of his predictions were actually written after the fact.

Jeremiah's prophecy about the fall of Jerusalem

By word count, the longest book in the Bible is the Book of Jeremiah, which collects the sayings of the so-called "Weeping Prophet." According to tradition, Jeremiah wrote not only the book of prophecy that bears his name, but also the mournful poems of Lamentations and the historical Book of Kings. Jeremiah's ministry began roughly 50 years after the end of Isaiah's, and so pretty much the entirety of the longest book in the Bible deals with the threat posed by Assyria's successor on the world stage, Babylon. The very first chapter of Jeremiah describes Babylon as "a boiling pot, tilting away from the north," and before long, Jeremiah is doing strange underwear-based performance art to warn the people of Judah that Babylon is coming as God's righteous punishment upon his unfaithful people. 

And, as Bible History Online explains, God's righteous punishment hit hard. The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to the capital city of Jerusalem in 597 BCE, pillaged the great Temple of Solomon, and took the king and many prominent citizens back to Babylon as exiles. Jeremiah warned the puppet regent that he should surrender to Babylon, but he revolted, and as punishment, the Temple and the whole city of Jerusalem were destroyed in 587 BCE. 

As with Isaiah, however, it's important to note that many scholars argue that only portions of the Book of Jeremiah (about the first half) are authentically by the prophet, and many portions were written later by Jeremiah's scribe Baruch ... and some even after the Babylonian exile by later generations of followers of Jeremiah.

Ezekiel predicts the fall of Tyre and Egypt

The third of the major prophets is Ezekiel, whose self-titled book of prophecy contains a series of six visions so trippy that some people claim them as evidence that UFOs have been visiting the Earth since ancient times. Ezekiel lived during the time of the Babylonian exile that Jeremiah warned against, and portions of his prophecies promise the end of the captivity and the restoration of Jerusalem and its temple. The middle chapters of his prophecies, however, contain warnings of destruction against foreign nations. (This isn't an uncommon theme in biblical prophecy. Isaiah and Jeremiah spent quite a while on this topic as well, basically going page by page through an atlas and cursing everyone they saw). 

Most notably, as BibleStudy.org argues, Ezekiel's predictions against Egypt and the great city of Tyre show proof of the prophet's accuracy. Ezekiel promises that Tyre will be swept away by enemies, and Egypt will be a desolate waste. And as it so happened, Nebuchadnezzar's 13-year war against Tyre drove the Tyrian people off the mainland and onto an island, and the Muslim invasion of Egypt in the 7th century CE left Egypt relatively insignificant. 

Skeptics argue, of course, that these interpretations are a stretch, as neither Tyre or Egypt were left the smoldering ruins promised by Ezekiel. In fact, Tyre made peace with Babylon, and the specific claims that Egypt would lie empty for 40 years never happened. But prophetic interpretation can be, uh, a dicey proposition.

Prophets predict the restoration of Israel

The Assyrian conquest of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE saw many Israelites banished from their homes and scattered about the Middle East. This scattering of the Jewish people worsened in the age of the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BCE and reached its final tipping point with the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in 70 CE, which saw the Second Temple destroyed, the Judean state crushed, and the Jewish people driven from their homes, all of which contributed to a dispersion of Jewish people around the world known as the Diaspora. As a result, it probably won't surprise you that a lot of Hebrew prophecy, including apocryphal Jewish apocalyptic literature, concerns the idea of the restoration of Israel and the Jewish people.

The latter chapters of Ezekiel promise that Jerusalem and its temple will be rebuilt and the people who'd been scattered will be brought back home. The middle chapters of Jeremiah promise restoration for Israel and Judah. While some would argue that these prophecies were predicting the post-Exilic Second Temple period of Judah, some, like One Place ministries, argue that this references the modern state of Israel, which portends the approaching end times. For Jews, that would include the Messianic Age, and for Christians, that would include the Second Coming of Christ. Whatever you believe (or don't) about Jewish or Christian eschatology, it's certainly true that some prophets said Israel would exist again, and it currently does.

Daniel's prophecies about a succession of empires

The biblical figure of Daniel, whom people with only a passing knowledge of the Bible will know as the guy from the lion's den, was among the noble citizens of Judah who were taken to Babylon during the exile. His clean living (together with that of his pals Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, whom you might remember surviving the fiery furnace) and uncanny ability to interpret dreams guaranteed him a position of power in the court of Nebuchadnezzar ... where he prophesied doom for Babylon.

Probably the two most famous predictions of Daniel come from his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream of a statue made of various materials and from the vision of a ghostly hand writing on a wall at King Belshazzar's feast. As the United Church of God explains, both of these prophecies predicted that Babylon would fall to the Persians, which would subsequently fall to the Greeks, themselves superseded by the Romans, all of whom would eventually yield to the might of the Kingdom of God. As this was indeed the succession of power in that part of the world (minus, arguably, the arrival of the Kingdom of God), many people take the fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy as proof of the accuracy of the Bible.

The rebuttal to this, of course, is that most scholars agree that the Book of Daniel was actually written centuries after the Babylonian exile, and Daniel's foresights were actually hindsights.

Nahum foretells drunk Assyrian soldiers

While prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel hold the lofty title of "major prophets" thanks to their weighty tomes of intoned doom against the world's greatest empires, the Hebrew Bible is also full of minor prophets whose messages from God are mercifully much shorter and more concise than their major colleagues. One such minor prophet was Nahum, a contemporary of Isaiah who spent most of his three-chapter book proclaiming the downfall of Assyria, specifically its capital city, Nineveh. You might remember Nineveh as the city the prophet Jonah hated so much that he'd rather be eaten by a big fish than warn them of God's wrath, or you might recognize it as the historical capital of the real Neo-Assyrian Empire. Either is fine.

An interesting thing about Nahum's prophecies against Nineveh is how specific they are. Chapter one says that the Ninevites will be drunk like drunkards and consumed like dry straw. Bible Study Tools points out that the ancient Greek historian Diodorus Siculus recorded that the city of Nineveh was attacked by people who took advantage of the fact that the Assyrian king had given his soldiers too much wine, and that they were too drunk to defend the city. Likewise, archaeologists found a layer of ash in the ruins of Nineveh, suggesting it was burned as Nahum foresaw.

Of course, the killjoy response to this is that condemning your enemies as drunkards is a pretty common way to impugn their morals, and saying that a city will burn is probably the most generic possible threat, so ... *shrug emoji*.

Various prophets predict the birth of Jesus (maybe)

A thing one must understand about Christians is that, from their perspective, the entire canon of Hebrew scripture — known to them as the Old Testament — is actually all about them. That is to say, that basically everything from Genesis to Malachi is leading toward the birth of Jesus, whom they identify as both the Son of God and the long-promised Messiah.

As such, it's very easy to find examples of Christian interpretation of Hebrew prophecies. For example, Daniel chapter 9 says that the Messiah will come after the restoration of the Temple and before it's destroyed for a second time, and the historical Jesus did live during the Second Temple period. Genesis 49 claims that the tribe of Judah would retain power until the coming of the Messiah, and this is interpreted to mean the Herodian dynasty that was usurped by the Romans in Jesus' lifetime. Much tradition, including Isaiah chapter 1, claims that the Messiah will be a descendant of the royal line of David, and the genealogies (aka the "begats") in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke go to some effort to prove Jesus as descended from David through Solomon (even if those genealogies don't match).

The response from Jews and secular skeptics alike is that Jesus did not, in fact, fulfill messianic prophecy, and the Gospels actually stretch and decontextualize prophecies to make Jesus seem like he fits them.

The Bible predicts the rise of Muhammad

Although the name Muhammad doesn't appear anywhere in the Bible, it's been a part of Muslim tradition since the earliest days that both Hebrew and Christian scriptures predict the rise of the great prophet of Islam. Deuteronomy 18:18, for example, proclaims that God will raise up a prophet from among the people, which Muslim scholars have long interpreted as meaning from among the people of Ishmael, the son of Abraham who's considered the ancestor of the Arab people. 

Likewise, Deuteronomy 33:2 describes God shining forth from three places: Sinai, Seir, and Mount Paran. The Muslim understanding is that Sinai refers to the advent of Moses, Seir to the rise of Jesus, and Paran — which is understood to be Mecca — to the coming of Muhammad. Similarly, the Paraclete promised in John chapter 14, understood by Christians to be the Holy Spirit that descended on the Apostles after Jesus' ascension, is interpreted by Muslims to mean a Comforter sent by God, namely Muhammad. It was believed that this Comforter would clear up the misconceptions brought on by the incomplete teachings of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, which was, of course, to be accomplished through the Quran.

The flip side of this is that some medieval and early modern Christians interpreted Muhammad as being prophesied by the Bible, too ... as one of the Antichrists promised in the Epistles of John.

Revelation predicts RFID chips and the EU

What would a list of biblical prophecies be without a discussion of the mysterious and much vaunted Apocalypse of John, better known as the Book of Revelation? The terrifying visions of angels, dragons, beasts, and horsemen have captivated imaginations for centuries, and as some Christians interpret the book as a prophecy of the end times, many have sought evidence of the modern world in the apocalyptic visions of John of Patmos, including signs of modern technology that they can use to prove that the end of the world is coming.

Perhaps the most widespread idea of Revelation reflecting the modern world is that the mark of the Beast — explained in chapter 13 as a mark on one's hand or forehead, without which you can't buy or sell anything — is some kind of barcode or radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip that will be used to enforce control over the people. Similarly, some Christians claim that the reference in chapter 11 to how people of all nations will be able to see the dead bodies of the slain witnesses of God almost instantly hints at live, globe-spanning communication and the 24-hour news cycle. And of course, a popular detail among conspiracy theorists is that the Beast is supposed to arise from a European power even bigger than the Roman Empire, widely interpreted as the European Union.

Of course, there's always a counterpoint, and here, it's that Revelation is a thinly-veiled criticism of the Roman Empire, which had recently destroyed Jerusalem.

The Bible Code predicts all sorts of crazy things

For some people, the explicit prophecies laid out by the prophets of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures aren't enough. There must be, they say, even more secret predictions contained within a series of hidden patterns in the original Bible text. Some kind of Bible code. They call it ... "the Bible code." 

As the Living Church of God explains, a 1997 book by Michael Drosnin made a splash with its claim that manuscripts of the first five books of the Bible contain references to specific modern events. The way this code works is by using what's known as "equidistant letter sequences." That is, looking at every second, fifth, tenth, hundredth (etc.) letter and seeing what it spells. That way, you can find hidden meaning in the Hebrew manuscripts. 

Using this method, Drosnin claimed that the Bible predicts John F. Kennedy's assassination in Dallas, the use of Scud missiles in the Gulf War, and the assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. Drosnin went on to explain that the Bible was actually written by the aliens who brought human DNA to Earth and who left the key to understanding the code hidden in a steel obelisk near the Dead Sea, just in case you were wondering how full a deck this guy was playing with.

Needless to say, the Bible code has been heavily debunked, even by the Living Church of God, who explain how Drosnin's claim is flawed from the start, thanks to the long history of textual revisions of biblical manuscripts. In other words, the Bible we have now isn't identical to the original versions.