… who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.” Isaiah 44:28

God used a pagan king, Cyrus to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, when Cyrus was informed of this prophesy he desired to fulfil it. It was unprecedented and unexpected. What king frees people who were captured and sends them back to rebuild their city? Most kings would worry about them becoming a future threat.

This prophecy was given by Isaiah, nearly 200 years before it happened, which was a long time before the Jews were taken into captivity in Babylon. Some commentators who struggle with the idea of predictive prophesy suggest it must have been written after it happened. However, this wouldn’t make sense of the text. God challenged their idols, “Tell us, you idols, what is going to happen” (Isaiah 41:22) because they couldn’t, God predicted the future. The fulfilment only benefitted those who were alive when Cyrus came to power, but perhaps this was God’s purpose.

Following the exile, God wanted his people to return to their land. Reading this prophecy and living during its fulfilment would’ve been a huge encouragement to return and rebuilt Jerusalem and the temple. Yet when the decree came allowing the Jews to return, only a very small percentage of the people returned. Some records suggest less than 5%. Most had become comfortable living in Babylon.

This prophecy remains a great encouragement. There are many unfulfilled prophesies in Isaiah and elsewhere. When we consider how amazing it’s that God predicted the future so far in advance with such accuracy it gives us great hope.