Before considering our main subject, we shall discuss various important accessory features.
Prophets were either called by God to speak forth His mind, or else they were false prophets. There were men who would seek to “presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die”, Deut. 18. 20. How shall we distinguish the one from the other? On the one hand, “If the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken”, v. 22. On the other hand, the true prophets of Scripture have spoken things which have already come to pass; hence we trust their word as from the Lord, knowing that the rest of their message will come to pass in the future. Men are not prophets today in the strict sense of the word, but the words of teachers and ministers of the truth can be trusted when their words are entirely scriptural; we reject entirely the words of men when they arise from mere profane imagination.
whether the foretelling is in a moral and a teaching sense, or whether the foretelling is in a futuristic sense. Sometimes both forms of prophecy are mixed in the same message - only God can know how His purpose works out in conjunction with the rise of evil and apostasy on earth. Consider how God arranged for this miracle to be enacted. In the Old Testament writings, we have previously quoted 1 Peter 1. 11-12 and 2 Peter 1.21, verses that show the basic principles of divine inspiration by the Holy Spirit. In the Gospels, the Lord’s own prophetic teaching is absolutely divine in its origin. In the Acts and Epistles, the expounded truth came by the apostles and New Testament prophets, these men laying a solid foundation on which the church would be built doctrinally, Eph. 2. 20. Thus Paul wrote of future events “by the word of the Lord”, 1 Thess. 4. 15. Peter referred to the “words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour”, 2 Pet. 3. 2. In the Revelation, John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, the Lord signifying the vision to him by vision pictures that passed before his mind, most of which needed later interpretation.
Misunderstanding prophecy does not make one’s interpretation correct, even though the holder may contend strongly for it. Thus just before the Lord’s ascension, the apostles thought that the time had come for Him “to restore again the kingdom to Israel”, Acts 1. 6. In other words, they considered that the Lord’s apocalyptic teaching should immediately come to fruition. In Luke 17. 20, the Pharisees required to know when the kingdom of God should come, since they anticipated that this should replace the Roman rule under which they were burdened. The Lord corrected their insinuation by stating that the kingdom of God comes not with outward show - in other words the present state of the kingdom is moral, whereas the kingdom in glory is still future in its manifestation. In 1 Corinthians 15, there was false teaching about the resurrection on account of mental difficulties brought about by their lack of faith in the miraculous. In 2 Thessalonians 2. 2, the church had been deceived into thinking that the day of the Lord was at hand; Paul showed that this was impossible, since gross evil had to mount up (something that had not, and still has not, taken place), and since there was still a restraining influence abroad that would be removed before the day of Christ could arrive. In 2 Peter 3. 4, men were looking at the uniformity of nature, thereby denying that God would intervene in the affairs of the world. Since those New Testament days, the centuries have passed, presenting great scope for prophecy to be misunderstood and to be misinterpreted in a thousand ways, to the detriment of soul to those who are deceived by such teaching.
In His parabolic teaching, the Lord often took a present everyday event, and formed a parable out of it possessing a deep spiritual meaning, often not understood by the disciples, and usually kept secret from unbelievers, Matt. 13. 10-17. To illustrate this, we may mention the parables of the sower and of the lost sheep. A similar situation applies to prophetic teaching. Actual historical events were given a local prophetic implication, and at the same time they were often used to project the mind into the distant prophetic future - the reader will always be confused if he does not realize this. Thus in Isaiah 7. 10-16, a sign was given to Ahaz, relating to an event that was to take place in the then-near-future before the double captivity of the northern and southern kingdoms. Yet this relatively local event in time was also a then-distant-future prophecy relating to the miraculous virgin birth of the Lord. Psalms 22 and 69 reflect on some deep experience and trouble of David - yet these are projected and intensified to be prophetically the experiences and words of the Lord Jesus as He suffered on the cross. Again, the seventy years of captivity of Judah leading to that nation’s restoration in the land, 2 Chron. 36. 21, were often used by the prophets to project the mind of the reader to the ultimate, and still future, restoration of the nation. The glowing accounts of this restoration must not be regarded as merely pictorial of the limited restoration recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah; the accounts properly describe the blessings of the future. Again, in Matthew 24. 2, the temple to be destroyed in A.D. 70 blends smoothly into the prophetic details leading up to the Lord’s advent in glory at the end of the age. We shall later consider in more detail the prophetic implications of Revelation 2-3, but here we would remark that the local errors in the actual seven churches in Asia appear to be a review of church history throughout the dispensation of church testimony on earth. To neglect this approach to prophecy is to treat many parts of Holy Scripture merely as a history book, and this can be restrictive to one’s faith.
As we shall indicate later, expositors differ depending on their attitude to the doctrine of miraculous foretelling, and whether they see the Church merely as an earthly institution, or whether they see the Church as a heavenly body entirely distinct from all other groupings of men brought about by academic theology and institutional religion. This difference largely centres around the thesis: “The Church is not the subject of Old Testament prophecy”. If it is thought otherwise, all we can remark is, that to fuse is to confuse. When God made promises to the Jewish nation, He meant what He promised, and therefore such promises will be fulfilled. The spiritualization of all the Jewish promises in the Old Testament (to make them refer to the Church) is the method of those who wish to obliterate the Jews as a nation, thereby preventing them from being the head and not the tail. Only in the age of church testimony on earth is there no difference between Jew and Gentile, whether in the matter of sin or in the matter of salvation, Rom. 3. 9; 1. 16; 3. 29. But outside this, the redemptive work of Christ provides different aspects of blessing on the Jews and on the nations.
The diagram shows the direction of the prophetic word. The various periods throughout the ages are named within the horizontal blocks in order from left to right. The various curved lines with arrows are lines of prophetic foreshadowing, showing the period in which the prophecy originates (represented by a dot), and showing the period to which the prophecy applies (represented by arrows). The upper curved lines refer to those prophecies originating before the Lord’s life on earth, mostly during the Old Testament period. The lower curved lines refer to those prophecies originating during the few years covered by the New Testament books, again being directed to those periods to which they looked forward prophetically. There are thus four periods in which there originated prophecy in its widest sense: eternity, the Old Testament prophets, the time when the Lord Jesus taught on earth, and the apostolic period during the early days of the church testimony. The trajectories are numbered, and underneath one or two scriptural references are given to illustrate each line of prophetic unfolding. In particular, the reader should note that no line reaches the period named “Church testimony on earth” from the Old Testament, in keeping with the thesis stated above. This fact enables us to assess the peculiar character of the Church; see Ephesians 3. 5, 9. Justification by faith is an Old Testament doctrine foretelling Christ’s redemptive work and our associated blessings by faith, but this is not a peculiarity of the Church of which we speak - it is the common basis of salvation through all periods.
From the Old Testament:
From the Lord Jesus:
From the Apostles' Teaching:
In our next paper, we shall examine these illustrated trajectories in more detail.
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