Published May 25, 2019

The improbability of Jesus being the Messiah

Article by Casey McFall

            I Corinthians 15:17 says: “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” The linchpin and primary component of our Christian faith is that Jesus was the Messiah. This is because, being the Messiah, He was preordained to die on a cross for our sins and grant us victory over death to eternal life (I Pet 1:20, I Cor. 15:55-57). It is for this exact reason that the devil tries so hard to discredit Jesus Christ. Secularist often teach that Jesus was a good man and a good teacher, but was not really the Son of God. The Quran teaches Muslims that Jesus was sinless (Surah 19:19), but refuses to acknowledge his deity while relegating Him to a position of just a prophet. Judaism teaches that the Messiah has yet to come, and that Jesus was nothing but a fraudulent poser who died a shameful death. All of these different groups try so hard to refute the claim that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah. Fortunately for us, this fact is mathematically irrefutable!


Refuting the denials

            According to Bible scholars much smarter than myself, Jesus fulfilled roughly 300 Old Testament prophecies! The first prophecy about Jesus in the Bible can be found in Genesis 3:15 where it is declared that He would be born of the seed of a woman (as opposed to being of the seed of a man which is how everyone not born of a virgin is brought into this world). From there, prophecies and signs of the coming Christ are scattered throughout the Old Testament with everything from prophecies about His birth (Mic. 5:2 born in Bethlehem) to symbols about His purpose (Ex. 12:5-6 the sacrificial lamb).

The first denial that some people make then, is that Jesus got lucky in His birthplace (Bethlehem) and lineage (of the line of David), and sneakily maneuvered to “fulfill” the other prophecies intentionally. To back this up, they’ll point to such verses as Matthew 21:4-5, which says “All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.” The denying argument is that Jesus was intentionally trying to make Himself out to be the Messiah by studying the scriptures and taking steps to fulfill the prophecies.

The truth however, is that that argument is completely unsustainable due to mathematical probability. An often-quoted bit of research regarding the topic, is some estimation work that was conducted by Peter Stoner, a professor at Westmont College. This professor gathered approximately 600 university students and tasked them to estimate the probability of one man fulfilling just 8 of the different prophecies regarding the Messiah. The exact prophecies examined and the estimates created can be found out; but only two (arguably even just one) of these 8 prophecies could have been intentionally fulfilled. All of the others were regarding the circumstances of birth or the actions of others besides the Messiah.

After the 600 students had discussed the various factors, they made very conservative estimates that were able gain unanimous approval even amongst the most skeptical students. Stoner himself then decreased these estimates even further to make them more conservative (in some cases cutting the estimates by as much as half). Stoner was not content to stop there however; after reducing the estimates, he then shared the results with skeptics and scientists and encouraged them to refute these with their own estimates. Finally, he submitted the figures to a committee of the American Scientific Affiliation for verification. Everyone had to admit that his calculations were accurate and fair.

The result of all of this work, is that the probability of a man fulfilling just these 8 different prophecies is one in 10^17 (1 followed by 17 zeros). Let me write that number out. That is one chance in 100,000,000,000,000,000 chances; or, one in 100 quadrillion. That is a huge number. In fact, it is such a large number that the human brain can’t truly comprehend the enormity of it because all comparison is lost. Thus, I will take the liberty to give some examples to better illustrate just how improbable one in 10^17 is. If you were to stack 100 quadrillion pennies on top of each other, they would reach 152 billion kilometers. For reference, when Pluto is on the opposite side of the sun from the earth (aka as far away as possible), it is 7.5 billion kilometers away. You could stack pennies from the earth to Pluto 20 times and still have enough left over to buy a snack. Now mark one of those pennies, randomly throw it in the pile, close your eyes, and grab a penny. The odds of you grabbing the marked one is the same as Jesus fulfilling 8 prophecies.

Let’s give a more relatable example. During basketball season, a lot of people all over the United States begin filling in the NCAA basketball bracket in an attempt to predict which teams will win and which will lose. According to Duke math professor Jonathan Mattingly, the odds of anyone actually filling in a perfect bracket (correctly predicting all 32 games) is one in 2.4 trillion. That’s a comparison of one in 10^12.4 compared to one in 10^17. That’s a difference of a lot of zeros! And yet, in spite of significantly better odds, nobody has yet officially filled out a perfect bracket.


The issue of probability

            A commonly raised objection to this overwhelmingly impossible likelihood of one man fulfilling these 8 prophecies, is that fact that improbable does not mean impossible. For example, how likely is it that if you flip a coin, it will land heads 10 times in a row? Not very likely at all. In fact, your odds are 1 in 1024, or a mere .0967% chance. It is possible however. On average, if you gather 1024 people and have them all flip coins until it lands on tails, one person will be left after 10 flips (having flipped nothing but heads). Of course, sometimes there may be more than one and sometimes there will be none. But that is the thing about probability, even miniscule probability does not exactly equal impossible.

            Another example that can be pointed to for this, is the mega millions multi-state lottery. The mega millions website lists the odds of winning the jackpot at 1 in 302,575,350. One in 300 million is some really bad odds. So bad in fact, that you are about 20,000 times more likely to get struck by lightning than you are to win the jackpot, and more than twice as likely to get crushed to death underneath a vending machine. (Feeling lucky? Just try to get that candy bar!) And yet, people do actually win the jackpot. Relatively often even. This would seem like pretty conclusive evidence that the fulfillment of prophecy could have been nothing but a fluke in spite of the enormous improbability. This seeming evidence ignores one crucial factor though: participation rates.

            In both of these examples, the improbable was realized only because the rate of participation increased to the point of matching probability. In the case of the coin flipping, it wasn’t one person flipping, but 1024. If I were to give you a coin and only one shot at flipping 10 heads in a row it would already be practically impossible. The same thing applies to the lottery. Although the chances of you winning the lottery are only 1 in 300 million, that is with a single ticket. People win the mega millions jackpot, because the company behind the lottery draws for the winner every week (increasing opportunities to win), and sells millions of tickets. In fact, as of 5/17/19, the company has sold 312 million tickets for the current jackpot. With that number of tickets, it’s actually a little surprising that the current jackpot hasn’t been won yet!

            Now let’s apply this to the prophecies. The population reference bureau (a secular organization) estimates that there have been around 108 billion humans born on this earth. That’s a big number, but just a tiny drop in the bucket compared to 100 quadrillion. In fact, it’s nearly a million times smaller. To obtain anything even close to a chance of achieving the 1 in 100 quadrillion, the population of the earth would have to keep growing at its current rate for 1.2 trillion years! Of course, it’s possible the rate of population growth may increase in that time, so let’s assume that the population will start growing at a rate of a billion a year instead of the current rate of 82 million. Even with that enormous jump, it would still take nearly a 100 million years to have had enough babies to finally provide enough participation to realize the probability of one in 10^17.

            And of course, that’s ignoring a couple major problems. The first, being the fact that we don’t have 100 million years to fulfill the prophecies. In fact, it’s already too late. Daniel 9:26 prophecies that the Messiah would be cut off before the temple was destroyed. The temple has already been destroyed though, so the time limit for that one has already passed! The second problem, is that the odds of one in 10^17 is just to fulfill 8 prophecies. After looking at these 8, Stoner did an estimate for 48 prophecies; and the odds shot up to one in 10^157. That’s a 1 with 157 zeros after it! How high would the pennies go? It doesn’t even matter; at that point, even the example for comparison would be so big that it wouldn’t help us grasp the enormity of it. And Jesus didn’t fulfill just 48 prophecies, He fulfilled hundreds of them! The full, complete odds of one man fulfilling all of the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled are not even calculatable.


Not all prophecies were fulfilled

            Another argument that people like to present in an effort to deny the deity of Christ, is the fact that He didn’t fulfill all of the prophecies. This argument is most often presented by the followers of Judaism, who posit that it doesn’t matter how many He did fulfill if He didn’t fulfill all of them. The thing is, Jesus isn’t done with us yet. John 14:2-3 says: “In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” He has promised to return for us; and when He does, it will be with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God! (I Thess. 4:16-17)

He didn’t fulfill the prophecies of coming as a victor and bringing peace before because He does everything in the timing of God the Father, and it was not yet time. Those who despise Jesus for not bringing the peace promised in Micah 4:2-3 are ignoring the prophecies of Isaiah 53 which speak of the Messiah as a lamb led to the slaughter. Everyone is eagerly looking forward to the day when Jesus will fulfill the prophecy of crushing the serpent’s head, but forgets that the serpent must first bruise His heel.


What to do with this knowledge

            This was an interesting article to research, but I hope and pray that it will not be read simply as a bit of trivia to be mentioned and forgotten. There were so many times while I was studying this and reading what the Bible has to say about it, that I couldn’t help but be amazed at the awesomeness of God and encouraged in my heart. It should also challenge us to spread the truth of God’s Word! God has blessed us with such an over-abundance of proofs upon which to build our faith, yet we so often take it for granted. This should also serve to remind us that He really is coming again. While that is a fact that should bring joy to our hearts, it should also trouble us as we look around at the millions who have the truth right in front of them but refuse to see it. In Isaiah 6, the prophet looked around himself and saw the desperate need of the people and could not help but cry out “Here am I; send me”. That should be our prayer every day as we eagerly watch for the second coming of our Messiah. “Here am I Lord, send me to my family, to my neighbor, to my friends.”


Hebrews 9:28 - So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.


bookmarked!!, I like your website! I couldn’t resist commenting.
Exceptionally well written! I’ve been browsing online more than 3 hours today, yet
I never found any interesting article like yours.

Emory            May 30, 2019, 11 a.m.

Thanks for the challenge

Cheryl M            May 26, 2019, 6:25 a.m.

It's a very interesting article. I really liked the way that you closed it though. Without that closer it really would have been mostly just some facts. That's something I really appreciate about your articles, you always try to challenge your readers to become better and do better! I love reading them. They are very inspiring.

Mary S.            May 26, 2019, 4:59 a.m.

Another home run!

Anonymous            May 26, 2019, 4:44 a.m.

This is an excellent article! One of the best you've written so far.

Anonymous            May 26, 2019, 4:40 a.m.

Great job.

A            May 26, 2019, 3:34 a.m.

Excellent article. I appreciate that you added that in time Christ Jesus will fulfill all the prophecies; but for the unbelievers it will be a time of judgement and not of chances to believe.
I too am challenged to be an ambassador for Christ, and I pray for those I worked too

Anonymous            May 26, 2019, 2:52 a.m.

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