Posted: June 24, 1998
The turn of the millennium is going to see some fantastic prophetic speculations. Folks will be speaking as though the Lord God himself counseled with them before the beginning of time, e.g.:
(2 Pet. 1:19, 20)
1. Ordinary language by practical teachers was used. The prophecies were given in a form easily understood by their hearers of the day.
2. The prophets usually had a powerful imagination. Therefore, their language is to some extent figurative. Their ideas are clothed in the forms suggested by their conditions and surroundings of their world with which their hearers were very familiar.
a. The prophets' conditions and surroundings are gone, but the ideas and truths presented by the prophecies are still very much alive.
3. When reading these prophecies, we must read them literally from the view of the prophets' circumstances, conditions and frame of mind.
a. To fail to read the words from the prophets' view will not interpret and apply their words properly, but it will only apply them spiritually.
b. The prophets must be read from their place in history looking forward, not from our place in history looking back. Otherwise, we will not gain a proper understanding of their meaning.
4. When the prophet spoke, he saw literal fulfillments with material he was familiar with.
The prophet saw literal sheep on literal hills, etc. David was a shepherd; therefore he spoke in terms of sheep. Ezekiel, on the other hand, was a priest; therefore, though he spoke of the same coming events as did David with his sheep, Ezekiel spoke in terms of priests, alters, sacrifices, temples.
But both men spoke of the same thing: the coming Messiah, His work on the cross and the Church that would be gathered unto Him.
a. Ezekiel, as did every other prophet, only saw the shadow of the things to come, and the shape of this shadow was something which he was familiar.
b. With the coming of Christ, this shadow passed away.
5. As we will see in a moment, the apostolic view of prophecy assumed that prophecies were fulfilled. The NT assumes that the Christian religion in Christ was the final and perfect fulfillment of all things.
Eph 4:10 He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)
a. We must view OT prophetic passages then in light of the NT. The NT authors will give us the correct interpretation of what the OT prophets saw literally.
The OT authors actually saw sheep grazing on green pastures on the mountains around Jerusalem. The NT tells us who the sheep are, what they eat, and where the mountains are, Jn. 10; Ps. 79:13.
There are a great many OT passages which also identify the sheep, especially the Psalms. There is NOTHING new presented in the NT, only clarification of the things which had already been presented in the OT.
6. The Word of God is a religious and spiritual book. Every literal thing saw by the OT prophet had a religious & spiritual meaning. Most have already been fulfilled literally, and a few may yet need to be fulfilled literally, but the precepts and spiritual teachings contained in what the prophets saw will stand forever.
7. Though every prophecy was seen with a literal fulfillment in view by the prophets, not every prophecy had then, nor will have a literal fulfillment.
a. Most of the time, the context will show which prophecies are literal, and which are spiritual.
b. Though the prophets saw literal stars falling from heaven to earth, we know that is physically impossible, for the stars are multiplied thousands of times larger than the earth. The prophets saw literal "sheep," or "temple," but if the prophecies are physically impossibility, then, obviously, they must be spiritual.
Ezekiel is a good example:
Ezekiel's temple: if one will take the measurements of the temple Ezekiel saw in the last of his book, he will find the temple physically impossible to build. The room is well over 1/2 mile long with no supports in it.
c. All prophecies must be viewed in the light of the NT. This will also help sort them out.
Ezekiel's alter and sacrifice. He saw a literal alter and sacrifice, but if a literal alter and sacrifice is reinstated, they will deny the work of Christ.
Therefore, in situations such as seen in the last several chapters of Ezekiel, though what the prophet saw was literal, what he saw must be understood spiritually.
Hosea 1:6, I will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel; but I will utterly take them away. Our Lord explains this in Matt. 21-24. 21:19; 21:41, 43; 22:7; 23:37, 38.
Mat 21:41, 43, He shall miserably destroy those wicked men... (The wicked men who threw the Son of God out of the vineyard and killed him.)
Thus, Hosea prophecies the "utter removal" of Israel, and our Lord explained
Then Hosea turns right around in the next verse,
1:7, But I will have mercy upon the house of Judah, and will save them by the Lord their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword, nor by battle, by horses, nor by horsemen.
V. 10, Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered, and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, ye are not my people, these it shall be said unto them, ye are the sons of the living God. 2:23 also.
Again, our Lord gives the proper understanding to Hosea's words:
First, Christ, the Lion of the house of Judah, is the fulfillment of Hosea's words. Mercy is found in Christ. When we trust in Christ, the Heir to the house of Judah, we are placed in Him and become joint heirs with Him to Hosea's promised mercy, Rom. 8:17; Gal. 3:29.
2. And will save them... refers to salvation by grace through faith, Eph. 2:8; Rom. 10:13.
3. Yet the number of the children is Rev. 7:9, A great multitude, which no man could number. Who? Those who are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, Jew and Gentile, Gen. 15:5.
4. Ye are my people, ye are the sons of the living God is found in Christ, Jn. 1:12.
So we see:
1. The prophets saw Christ and His Church literally, but not as we see Christ and His Church on this side of the cross. Hosea, for example, saw exactly what he wrote down, as did Ezekiel, Daniel, Micha and the rest of the prophets. But what they saw literally was only a dim shadow of things to come.
2. The prophecies seem to be intermingled but:
a. Common sense will sort out some of them.
b. The Lord Himself explained many of them. Remember, the law and prophets pointed to Christ even though many of the prophecies were already literally fulfilled, e.g., Matt. 5:17; 11:13; Acts 3:24-26; 10:43, &c.
c. Scripture interprets scripture (II Pet. 1:19-20). The best interpretation for prophecy is other scriptures.
3. The authors of the NT apply or explain many of the prophecies.
Paul tells us that the heirs of the promise to Abraham is by faith, not by physical linage, (Rom. 4:12-18).
He tells us that the reign of Christ is over the Gentiles as well as the Jews, (Rom. 15:8-20).
He makes it quite clear that there are no longer two races of peoples, Jew and Greek (Gentile), but only two types of people: those belonging to Christ, and those outside of Him, (Gal. 3:26-29).
a. The church (those belonging to Christ through redemption), was a mystery to the OT prophets. They were unable to see that the regathered Israel of the last days was the church, the Jews and Gentiles combined into one people of God, the church which is Christ's body, Col. 1:26-27.
But they did see that the end-time Israel would be gathered around an "ensign" which was lifted up by God. They saw God calling His people to the "ensign" which was lifted up, Isa. 10:24; John 3:14; 12:32; Eph. 5:32. Therefore, the prophets could only speak in familiar terms of their day, or they would have lost their hearers.
Thus the gathering of HIS people around Christ, (neither Jew nor Greek in Him), is the literal fulfillment of what the prophets saw concerning the end-time Israel.
c. So we see that many of the prophecies are made clear by the NT even when intermingled: literal with figurative and spiritual.
4. Many of the prophecies were literally fulfilled; some are yet to be fulfilled:
a. A great number of prophecies spoke of Israel's gathering recorded in Ezra and Neh. They also spoke of the 400 year time span up until Christ. Passages such as Hosea 12:9 could have easily been fulfilled under zealous priests such as the Maccabees.
Yet these fulfilled prophecies could easily speak of times and events yet to come. Many of the events can be looked back upon and their fulfillment clearly seen.
5. Last of all, we cannot build doctrine on any prophecy except the true spirit of prophecy, Christ, Rev. 19:10: His death, burial and resurrection for our sins and assurance of a place with Him forever for those who have trusted Him as their Lord and Savior is a prophecy that doctrine must be built upon.
We just will not know for sure on most prophetic teaching until we see Him. I know of many people who are so sure of the way things are going to conclude in the end you would think the Lord worked it out with them before the foundation of the world. They all got their charts together and planned it out like a blueprint.
Only as we look back over history can prophecy fit together. Only as we fit scripture with scripture will prophecy fit together in the present.
One thing is for sure! Everything will work out as HE has it planned, Eph 1:11. He will deliver up the kingdom one day to the Father when the time is right, 1 Cor 15:24. He will not be early nor late.
As we look through prophetic passages, there is NO way we can be dogmatic with them, nor can any other man. All we can do is explain how they are the most consistent with their context of history and Scripture, and their context of our Lord's and other NT authors' teaching.
It takes the spirit of God's grace to lay aside tradition and allow Him to direct our minds in the right thinking in the "marvelous" things spoken of by the prophets.
Even with the NT instructions, the prophets' words are little more than seeing through a dark glass, 1 Cor 13:12. We will never know all the details, for we are not nor will we ever be God, but we will know more when we see Him face to face. As with this "dark glass," the father an object is from the source of light, the dimmer the outline. The light is all that can be seen clearly.
One last point: As we look at the OT prophets and see things contrary to modern theology, these things are not new with me. I searched the Scriptures, and when I encountered things that were new, I searched the writings of others. I did not want to be accused of a new doctrine. I then found that the things I had seen were the general belief of the Church upon until about 100 years ago.
A great amount of prophetic speculation today seems to be, "If you can possibly make it literal, do so. If not, then it is symbolic." This spirit permits dividing a verse or a passage into many parts to make it say something totally different from its obvious meaning. Yet if someone calls attention to the dividing of the passage, that person is accused of not believing the word of God.
This thought is not new with me, and I can find the documentation if you like. Modern Bible based theology has two views of understanding Scripture. Basically:
One view sees understands all Scripture LITERALLY unless such a literal understanding is absolutely impossible. This view sees no difficulty in dividing passages into many parts and switching back and forth between literal and spiritual understanding. It may even understand just one verse in both literal and spiritual; in other words, the first line of the verse is literal and the second line spiritual.
The other view attempts to stick with the context of the passage and of the NT understanding. This view says that if there are points within the context that obviously must be understood spiritually, then all the passage must be understood spiritually. Furthermore, this view takes the NT author's word concerning passages as the final authority.
We have already mentioned an example: Israel of the OT was clearly replaced by the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ in the New according to all the NT preachers. Therefore, every OT prophecy which refers to Israel after the cross of Christ must be understood as a spiritual reference to the Church of Christ.
Much of the prophetic speculation of our day entered into modern theology
when the two views of scripture united against a common enemy who was attacking
the inspiration of the Word of God.