In genuine prophecy, according to Biblical conceptions, the fulfillment constitutes an integral part. This is set up by Deu 18:21 f as a proof of the genuineness of a prophetic utterance. The prophetic word “falls to the ground” (1Sa 3:19) if it is not “raised up” (הקים, hēḳı̄m, “fulfil,” for which we more rarely find מלּא, millē’, but regularly in the New Testament πληροῦσθαι, plēroústhai “being fulfilled”) by the course of events.
It would remain an empty word if it did not attain to its full content through its realization. In fact, in the word spoken by the prophet itself there dwells a divine power, so that at the moment when he speaks the event takes place, even if it is not yet visible to man. This realization is also not infrequently represented symbolically by the prophet in confirmation of his prediction. Thus in a certain sense it is the prophet himself who through his word builds up and pulls down, plants and roots out (Jer 1:10; Jer 25:15 ff). But the fulfillment can be judged by the contemporaries in the sense of Deu 18:22 only when this fulfillment refers to the near future and when special emphasis is laid on external events.
In these cases the prediction of certain events assumes the significance of a “sign” (compare Jer 28:16; Isa 8:1 ff; Isa 37:30, and elsewhere). In other cases it is only later generations who can judge of the correctness of a prediction or of a threat. In this way in Zec 1:6 the fulfillment of a threat is declared, and in the New Testament often the fulfillment of a promise is after a long time pointed out. But it is not the case that a genuine prophecy must be fulfilled like an edict of fate.
Such prophecy is not an inevitable decree of fate, but is a word of the living God to mankind, and therefore conditioned ethically, and God can, if repentance has followed, withdraw a threat (Jer 18:2 ff; case of Jonah), or the punishment can be mitigated (1Ki 21:29). A prediction, too, Yahweh can recall if the people prove unworthy (Jer 18:9 f) .
A favorable or an unfavorable prediction can also be postponed, as far as its realization is concerned, to later times, if it belongs to the ultimate counsels of God, as e.g. the final judgment and deliverance on the last day. This counsel also may be realized successively. In this case the prophet already collects into one picture what is realized gradually in a longer historical development.
The prophet in general spoke to his hearers in such a way as could be understood by them and could be impressed on them. It is therefore not correct to demand a fulfillment pedantically exact in the form of the historical garb of the prophecy. The main thing is that the divine thought contained in the prophecy be entirely and completely realized. But not infrequently the finger of God can be seen in the entirely literal fulfillment of certain prophecies. This is especially the case in the New Testament in the appearance of the Son of Man, in whom all the rays of Old Testament prophecy have found their common center.