Bible ProphecyRelated Media
The Importance of Bible Prophecy
Does God have a plan which includes the earth and the human race? If so, can man know it? The answer is an emphatic, Yes! God does have a plan, and that plan is clearly outlined in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Man can know God’s plan clearly if only he will come to the Bible and submit his mind and heart to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
A very striking and strange condition exists at present, namely, the deliberate refusal on the part of religious and political leaders to consult carefully the prophetic Scriptures. True, there have been cranks, blind fanatics, hobby-riders and unwise date-setters posing as prophetic teachers, but all of these unscholarly obscurantists put together do not afford any man a legitimate excuse for not studying the divine plan as it is plainly set forth in the Bible.
God Has a Plan
Before ever the Bible was given to man, God had a plan, and we must remember that it is to that foreordained plan that He is working.
The Prophet Isaiah wrote by divine inspiration:
Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it. Hearken unto me, ye stouthearted, that are far from righteousness: I bring near my righteousness; it shall not be far off, and my salvation shall not tarry: and I will place salvation in Zion for Israel my glory (Isaiah 46:9-13)
Here is a tremendous statement. Nowhere in the writings of mortal man can anything like it be found. The claims are supernatural, and therefore, they can apply to none other than God Himself. Here He declares Himself to be the self-existent, eternal, sovereign, uncreated One, “declaring the end from the beginning.”
Where has God declared the end from the beginning? He has told it clearly on the pages of the Holy Scriptures. Holy men of God, guided by the Holy Spirit, wrote of great world events centuries before they were to come to pass. Since it is inherent in the heart of man to know the future, why should he not examine the prophetic Scriptures with an unbiased mind? The magicians, sorcerers, astrologers, diviners, enchanters and necromancers have all failed to predict accurately things of the future. Even today there are multiplied thousands who pay money to listen to palm readers, teacup readers and fortune telling by varied methods, all because of a deep desire to know the future. I believe that such a desire is present in man because he has a future. The nations of the earth have a future, and God has a plan for the future.
No course of study on the principles of Biblical interpretation could be complete if prophecy were omitted. Prophecy constitutes a large part of the sacred Scriptures, therefore to neglect it or, as some have done, to utter a boasted contempt for the subject of prophecy, is to cast dishonor upon divine revelation. Moreover, if the prophecies were not in the Bible, the remainder of the Book would be meaningless.
The first ray of light and hope to come to the world immediately after the fall of man was the promise of a Redeemer (Genesis 3:15). This first prediction is the pivotal prophecy of the entire Word of God.
Enoch, the seventh from Adam, preached prophecy concerning the Lord’s coming to execute judgment upon the ungodly (Jude 14, 15).
The Passover in Exodus was, in a sense, a prophecy in type of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, for, said Paul: “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” (Exodus 12 cf. I Corinthians 5:7, 8).
Moses received a great prophecy from God concerning the Messiah, the greatest of prophets (Deuteronomy 18:15-18), to which Peter gave assent after Pentecost (Acts 3:22, 23). Other pivotal chapters in Deuteronomy, taking prophecy as a whole, are 28, 29, 30.
Many of the Psalms are prophetic in nature. In Psalms 16, 22 and 40 Messiah’s sufferings are depicted. In Psalms 2, 45, 72 and 110 His glory is described.
Add to these the prophetic books, and you will see clearly that the prophetic Scriptures make up a substantial portion of the sixty-six books that constitute the Bible.
The Key of Prophecy
Begin with Moses and go on through all the prophetic writings, and you will discover that Christ is the grand theme of the Bible. He said: “Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me” (John 5:46). If we deny Him of whom Moses wrote then Moses, by inspiration, becomes our accuser.
To Adam and Eve Christ was promised as the Seed who would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15).
To Abraham God had said that in Christ all nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 22:18 cf. Galatians 3:14-16).
To Israel the Paschal Lamb foreshadowed the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world (Exodus 12 cf. John 1:29; I Corinthians 5:7).
To Israel in the wilderness the serpent of brass lifted upon a pole (Numbers 21:8, 9) typified the lifting up of Christ upon the cross (John 3:14).
Balaam’s prophecy of the Star that would come forth out of Jacob (Numbers 24:17) was none other than our Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 2:2; Revelation 22:16).
Christ was also the smitten Rock (Numbers 20:11 cf. I Corinthians 10:4) and the greater Prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15).
When Philip first met Jesus Christ he ran to Nathanael, and said: “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth . . . ” (John 1 :45).
The closing words of the Bible declare that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10). This is but saying that the testimony of Jesus is the “key” to prophecy. “His name is called The Word of God” (19:13), hence the spirit of the Word is not that of confusion, but rather of harmony and unity, all pointing to the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever else the prophets predicted, they did not omit the details of Messiah’s two advents. Prophecy relates primarily to the world’s Redeemer. If you fail to grasp this great truth you have lost the key to a clear understanding of the prophetic Scriptures. Christ is its great theme. All prophecy is to find its final application and fulfillment in the past sufferings, present sufficiency and future sovereignty of the Lord Jesus. Christ is above all in prophecy. Bible prophecies, Bible analogies and Bible types, are so closely related to Jesus Christ that He alone explains them.
The Value of Bible Prophecy
That there has been opposition, both aggressive and passive, to the study and teaching of prophecy, is well-known to anyone who is acquainted with current religious thought. This attitude is not without justification in the minds of some. There are those, whose sincerity I have no right to question, who fear the unfavorable repercussions that could accrue from the preaching and teaching of prophetic themes. On one occasion, upon the announcement that I intended to preach such a series, a dear brother in Christ cautioned me to “go easy.” He was not opposed to my delivering these discourses, but he was a bit apprehensive, and his reasons for being so were valid.
Having had some experience with date-setters and fanatics who have made startling and sensational predictions in order to get crowds, I can understand my friend’s kind words of caution, “go easy.” I believed him to be in earnest in his endeavor to save the Christian message from being dragged into disrepute.
In spite of all the fanatics, and foolish and false teachers, no legitimate reason can be offered for anyone refusing to study the prophetic Scriptures. Nor should Bible prophecy be shunned merely because the teachings of some sincere Christians have been discredited. A textbook on science used in the college classroom five years ago, and for which one paid five dollars, can now be purchased in a used book store for ten cents. Even though that book is now obsolete and some of its contents rejected, we would not disregard nor dispute all the findings of modern science. In my own library there are more than one hundred books on prophetic subjects written by as many different writers, and while in some details there may be divergence and difference of opinion, there is a remarkable degree of unanimity regarding the major points of eschatology.
Another reason for shunning prophecy is the ignorance of many concerning it. With the exception of some who have had contact with evangelical Bible conferences, Bible institutes, and some theological seminaries, the preaching of Bible prophecy is generally met with disfavor and opposition. I believe it can be said, without fear of contradiction, that those who reject it know little or nothing about it. What a sad commentary on our church leaders, seminary leaders and pastors!
Then, too, it is difficult for many to give ear to the prophetic Scriptures because the prophecies of the Bible shatter the illusion that religion, science, psychology, or philosophy can bring to pass universal peace and the subjugation of evil. Scriptures teach, rather, that the very things in which man is placing his hope must be utterly destroyed and stripped of all the dignity and merit he has attached to them. The human heart is by nature proud and will not readily admit that its confidence is misplaced. How many professing Christians, yes, and real believers also, have made idols of church organization, a denomination, personal achievements, only to be faced with the declaration of God’s own Word that all of these things must perish!
Having examined a few of the many objections to the study of Biblical prophecy, let us list some reasons why we should pursue such a study.
To Know the Mind of God
Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets (Amos 3:7).
This verse tells us that the prophets themselves are inspired of God, a truth that is supported by the New Testament, for we read,
God . . . spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets (Hebrews 1:1).
Before the message of the prophets, we must bow humbly if we desire to know God’s secret concerning things to come. The eternal and omniscient God assures His people that much of that which He intends to do He has told His prophets. If the prophet warns of coming judgment, wars, perilous times, famine and the like, it is not because he is a calamity howler, but rather the announcer of that which God has told him will come to pass. Why blame the prophet for speaking as he does? Why shun what he says merely because he has predicted peril before peace, and poverty before plenty? It is God who has spoken! When we study the prophets we are studying the movements of God. The prophet must obey God no matter how the people react to his message. All of the true prophets prophesied because they were compelled by divine constraint to do so.
For Light in a Dark World
Ever since the development and use of the atomic bomb, men in all walks of life--statesmen, scientists, historians, politicians and industrialists--are asking, in effect: “Where are we going? What next? When will the end come?” Many books written since the first explosion of an atomic bomb, including Time for Decision, Persuade or Perish, The Annihilation of Man, and No Place to Hide, indicate man’s uncertainty and concern about the future.
The New Testament tells us clearly that the prophetic Scriptures are essential if man is to have light on the pathway of the future. Look at the statement from the inspired pen of Peter,
We have also a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts (II Peter 1:19).
The Apostle had just related what he had seen and heard while on the Mount of Transfiguration (vss. 16-18). There was both a vision and a voice from heaven, testifying of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Peter says that we have the prophetic Word as a surer confirmation of God’s plans than what he himself saw and heard on the Mount. The Old Testament prophecies are stable and trustworthy. Our age is distressed, exhausted and fearful of what the future holds. The one bright and cheering lamp for the world’s darkness is the prophetic Word. How foolish we are to neglect the only ray of light that can afford much knowledge relative to God’s plan for the future!
For Comfort and Hope
Dr. Wilbur M. Smith suggests that there are three different attitudes one may take toward the future. The first is indifference, the second is fear and the third is hope. No intelligent person would take the first, no one needs to be ensnared in the second, but all can possess the third. There is comfort and hope for all believers who love and study the Bible. Paul wrote,
For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope (Romans 15:4).
What is said here to be true of the Bible in general is, of course, true of the prophetic Scriptures.
One of the strongest fears which drive many to despair is the fear of the future. Most persons simply cannot have peace of mind unless they have a measure of certainty of what the next day will bring forth. Of this no man can be absolutely sure; and the awful dread of uncertainty robs the average person of peace of mind which may in turn create a spirit of despair and hopelessness. While the heart of the hopeless and fearful man is failing him, the Christian with an understanding of Bible prophecy can face the future with confidence and comfort.
The Two Advents of Christ
All Christians who read and study the Bible believe in the coming again of Jesus Christ. I would not say that all Christians are in agreement as to the details of His coming. However, the fact of it is as unquestionable as is the historical proof of His first appearing. That the Lord Jesus Christ will return to earth a second time in the full power and glory of His Deity is a major theme of scriptural revelation.
The importance that God Himself attributes to the doctrine of the return of Christ in Scripture is in itself significant. Many of the prophecies in the Old Testament, pertaining to Jesus Christ, have to do with His appearing on earth in glory and majesty to reign. Someone has counted 319 verses in the New Testament which are devoted to the return of Christ. This means that one out of every twenty-five verses in the New Testament is related to this major doctrine.
The First Prophecy
Almost all evangelical scholars are in agreement that the first overt prophecy which has to do with Christ and His redemptive work is Genesis 3:15:
And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
We shall not attempt a full exposition of this verse. Actually it is not one single prophecy, but a compound prophecy. It is the fountainhead of all prophecy from which flows the ever-increasing stream of testimony to the promised Deliverer. One great promise respecting the Redeemer is that He should be of the human race, but peculiarly of the woman’s “seed,” not the man’s. To fulfill this promise, Jesus Christ cannot, therefore, be begotten by any man. He must be born of a virgin. This is precisely what Isaiah prophesied more than 3000 years after the promise was first given:
Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14).
In spite of atheistic denials and rationalistic evasions, this verse is a direct prophecy of the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus Christ and supports Genesis 3:15. This fact is settled in view of the quotation of Isaiah’s prophecy in the New Testament:
Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us (Matthew 1:22, 23).
And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David. and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore, also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God (Luke 1:31-35).
These passages prove that the birth of Christ is the only possible fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in support of God’s words to Satan in Genesis 3:15. Thus:
When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman (Galatians 4:4).
This verse attests the real humanity of Jesus Christ and declares the method and manner by which the eternal Son became Incarnate. By escaping the natural processes of ordinary generation, and being conceived in the Virgin’s womb by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, He remained free from the sin that affected the whole human race consequent to the fall of Adam and Eve. Paul is not here presenting a case for the virgin birth, but his subject matter is vital nevertheless. If Christ was born of a human father, He was then like the rest of the human race, full of sin; but we know that He had no human Father.
What we now desire to emphasize in the Edenic prophecy in Genesis 3:15 is that Christ shall bruise Satan’s head.
It (He) shall bruise thy head.
We have already stated that this verse contains a compound prophecy combining both the first and second appearances of Christ on earth. When Jehovah said to the serpent, “l will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed,” He was announcing an age-long warfare that was to culminate in the final overthrow of Satan. The first appearance of the woman’s seed was to result in his being bruised, but not in a vulnerable spot. Jehovah said to Satan, “Thou shalt bruise his heel.” On the cross “He was bruised for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:6). “It pleased Jehovah to bruise Him” (Isaiah 53:10). Christ appeared the first time to complete the redemptive program (Hebrews 9:26), but He must appear again to complete the final overthrow of Satan and establish the kingdom program.
A bruised heel can be healed, but at the same time a crushed head spells utter defeat, a destruction from which there is no recovery. Our Lord rose again from the dead and is presently in heaven at the Father’s right hand awaiting that moment in the divine program when He will return to the earth and terminate the conflict. The Apostle Paul wrote:
And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen (Romans 16:20).
Satan’s efforts against the saints will continue until Christ comes again, at which time the woman’s seed will bruise him. While Paul’s statement refers to Satan’s opposition against the saints in Rome, there is doubtless an allusion to the prophecy in Genesis 3:15. The word “shortly” (Gr. en tachei) may mean “quickly, speedily” as in Revelation 1:1; 22:6; thus, Satan’s overthrow will be accomplished by Christ with rapidity, in a sudden manner. When the seventy disciples returned from their mission, rejoicing in the power of Christ over demons, Jesus said,
I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven (Luke 10:18).
This is Satan’s history from beginning to end. He had a swift fall from his angelic position as Lucifer, and his final fall into hell will be with equal suddenness when Christ comes again. The origin and destiny of Satan are each marked by a fall, both of which are recorded in one comprehensive passage:
How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer . . . Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell . . . (Isaiah 14:12-15).
A Principle of Bible Study
Whoever reads the Bible for the first time cannot escape the mental confusion that is bound to come to one who has not been taught to distinguish between things that differ. Certain subjects and topics in the Bible may look alike or have certain similarities, yet be vastly different. The inability to put divine truths in their proper places, and to apply them to the people addressed, results in a tragic misunderstanding of the Bible. The divinely given method of the study of the Scriptures is suggested in the following verse:
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (II Timothy 2:15).
The obligation of every minister of Christ is to meet the specifications required of him by God. He must cut straight and handle rightly the Word of God. An approved workman will plow straight, he will give a straightforward exegesis.
First, it is needful that we distinguish between those Scriptures which apply immediately to the Jew, to the Gentile, or to the Church of God:
Give none offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles nor to the church of God (I Corinthians 10:32).
Since the Bible has a message to all three, we must conclude that “all the Bible is for us, but not all the Bible is about us.” The Jew, the Gentile and the Church, each having its peculiar relationship to God and its own pathway of prophecy, must be distinguished the one from the other.
Second, it is essential that we distinguish between law, grace and the Kingdom. Each is a different dispensation characterized by contrasting principles. In point of time the first is past, the second is present and the third is future. Our Lord Jesus Christ has a direct bearing on each.
For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (John 1:17).
For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth (Romans 10:4).
Law is God prohibiting and punishing. Grace is God seeking and saving. Law utterly condemns the best of men. Grace freely justifies the worst of men. Under the personal reign of Christ at His Second Coming to the earth, both law and grace will be in evidence. The law was given expressly to Israel, thus the seat of His power during the Millennium will be Jerusalem and He shall reign over restored Israel. Moreover, the saved of this dispensation of grace, who make up the Church which is His Body, will be associated with Him. Our Lord’s disciples did not clearly understand this distinction (Luke 24:21; Acts 1:6, 7).
Third, we must distinguish between the two Advents of Jesus Christ. Any person reading the Old Testament for the first time may fail to see the distinction between Christ’s first coming to earth in weakness and humiliation to suffer and to die, and His Second Coming to earth in sovereign power to rule and reign as earth’s glorious King. The religious leaders of Christ’s day rejected Him simply because they did not make this distinction.
Now there are a number of other distinctions which the Bible makes and which we should understand, such as faith and works, salvation and rewards, the Christian’s standing and state, the Christian’s two natures, and the two resurrections. We shall give neither time nor space to them at this writing. Helpful books are available which discuss these distinctions more fully.1
A Principle of Prophetic Interpretation
This introduced a principle of prophetic interpretation which is illustrated in Genesis 3:15. It is the fact that the time element in prophecy is frequently ignored. When God uttered this prophecy to Satan in the hearing of Adam and Eve, He did not indicate that at least four thousand years would elapse before Messiah would suffer, or that nineteen hundred years, and we know not how many more, would intervene between the “sufferings” and the “glory.” Words spoken in one breath, and written in one sentence, may contain prophetic events millennia apart in their fulfillment.
These two appearings of Christ, the first to die for man’s redemption and the second to reign over the earth, are described in the New Testament in terms of “suffering” and “glory.” After our Lord’s Resurrection He encountered two tired and troubled disciples on their way to the village of Emmaus. Their unbelieving hearts had cast them into a spirit of dejection. Jesus said to them,
O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory? (Luke 24:25, 26)
Notice the order here. The suffering precedes the glory. The cross must come before the crown. When one is reading the Old Testament it might appear that the sufferings and glory of Christ were to appear together, that both would take place at one appearing of Christ to the earth. However, almost 2000 years have passed since He suffered, and Satan is still the prince of this world, and the age becomes increasingly worse. The earth awaits Christ’s coming again in glory.
The Apostle Peter wrote of the compound prophecy concerning Christ’s two appearings. He said:
Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow (I Peter 1:10,11).
The “sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow” were like two mountain peaks which, when viewed from a distance, might appear to touch each other, but as they are approached they are seen to be divided by a wide valley. The prophets wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but they did not always understand all they wrote (see Daniel 12:8, 9). The “sufferings” of Christ and the “glory” that should follow were subjects of the prophets, but those holy men of old did not always see the gap between the two mountain peaks of prophecy. That gap is the present dispensation of grace between the cross and the Glory of Christ. Even Christ stated that the prophets did not know the time elements related to the prophecies they wrote. In His parables in Matthew 13 He presents a picture of the course of this present age. Concerning these times He said,
For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them (Matthew 13:17).
Not only were the prophets and peasants unaware of the time element between Christ’s two appearings, but angels likewise did not distinguish between them. There are passages in God’s Word which show that angels are not perfect in understanding. At the birth of our Lord, the angels manifested a genuine interest in the spiritual needs of humanity. They evidently are concerned about the salvation of the lost (Luke 15:12).
The Angel Gabriel was sent to Mary to announce to her that she was to become the mother of the Messiah:
And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end (Luke 1:30-33).
This remarkable prediction takes us back to Genesis 3:15. The woman’s “Seed” is now to make His entrance into the world. Apart from His name, “JESUS,” a translation of the Hebrew word “Joshua,” meaning “Jehovah is the Saviour” (See Matthew 1:21), the Annunciation by Gabriel to Mary contained nothing of the salvation He would bring to sinners through His sufferings and death. Two things only are mentioned. They are the greatness of His character and His imperial reign on the earth. To Him shall be given the royal might and sovereignty promised of old to the Messiah-King, the descendant of David (II Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:7; Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7:14, etc.).
From this announcement one might be left with the idea that His throne would be established at His first Advent. But two thousand years have passed already. Thus we see in this one passage both the “near” and “far” fulfillment of prophecy, the two Advents of Christ.
Concerning Gabriel’s announcement to Mary, we have a good word from the pen of Dr. J. C. Ryle, the late Lord Bishop of Liverpool. He said, “Let us beware of spiritualizing away the full meaning of these words. The house of Jacob does not mean all Christians. The throne of David does not mean the office of a Saviour to all Gentile believers. The words will yet receive a literal fulfillment, when the Lord Jesus comes the second time, and the Jews are converted. The promise of Gabriel is parallel with Jeremiah 30:9. The kingdom of which he speaks is the glorious kingdom foretold in Daniel 7:27, before which all other kingdoms are finally to be overthrown at Christ’s Second Coming.”
When an angel announced our Lord’s birth to the shepherds, he said:
Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:10, 11).
Then we read that at that same time a multitude of angels burst forth in praise to God, saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men (Luke 2:14).
In these verses we see angels announcing both mountain peaks of the great compound prophecy, but the majority of them were wrong. The announcement of the multitude of them, “on earth peace,” was premature. When Peter wrote of the incomplete knowledge of the prophets concerning the two appearings of Christ, he added the words,
. . . which things the angels desire to look into (I Peter 1:12).
Peter is saying the same thing about the angels as he did the prophets. The coming of the Messiah excited the deepest interests of holy men on earth and holy angels in heaven, but neither men nor angels could see clearly the distinction in time between Christ’s sufferings and glory.
Isaiah prophesied of both the sufferings and glory, and judging from Peter’s statement of the prophet’s ignorance of any time element between the two, we may conclude that Isaiah did not see the gap. In one statement he speaks of Christ’s birth and governmental rule:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulders: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this (Isaiah 9:6, 7).
Here again we meet the compound prophecy, the first part of which has already been fulfilled, for indeed the Child was born and the Son was given. But during the days of His first appearing the government was not upon His shoulder, nor did He rule in peace. The vision of the prophet is that the long expected Messiah is to be born, but not immediately after Isaiah received his vision. He knew neither the time element of the birth of the Child nor the period when He would rule as King in peace and righteousness.
Of particular interest is the phrase, “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.” There had been no lasting peace before Christ’s first appearing; there was none during His brief span on earth, and certainly the world has not known peace since He ascended from the earth to return to His Father’s throne in heaven. At no time was the government upon His shoulder, nor did He rule in peace. Contrariwise He said,
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34).
It is true that Christ is the “Prince of Peace,” the great Peacemaker, but He foreknew that His first appearing would result in strife and division. He knew that those who rejected Him would hate and persecute their nearest of kin who would stand with Him. In every society where the Gospel of Christ has been preached, it has caused dissension, simply because there are always those who refuse to obey its demands, and Christ cannot pronounce His benediction of heavenly peace upon those who oppose Him. Every true Christian knows something of the opposition which unbelief creates against the truth, and this sometimes becomes one of the severest trials of the children of God. When men reject the King they cannot have His kingdom of peace, and time has proved that no just and lasting peace can be consummated through the efforts of men. The world must await the second appearing of Christ for the fulfillment of the second phase of the compound prophecy.
Still more obvious is this compound prophecy in Isaiah 11:
And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots, And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge, and of the fear of the LORD, And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked (Isaiah 11:1-4).
The first three and one-half verses are doubtless a prophecy of our Lord “in the days of His flesh” To look for a fulfillment of this prophecy in Hezekiah or Josiah, or in any man other than Jesus Christ, would be an idle pursuit. The description of His human relationship with David and the perfection of His attributes, fits no other man in history. How exquisitely the Lord Jesus Christ is portrayed in His birth and earthly life! The royal house of Judah may be cut down, but it will send forth from its stump a Branch, even the predicted Immanuel (7:14; 9:6, 7. See also Jeremiah 23:5).
But in the middle of verse 4 there is a break. The rest of the chapter depicts the millennial conditions of subjection, righteousness, peace and the gathering of Israel a “second time” (vss. 4, 5, 11). Notice conditions in the animal world (vss. 6-9). These cannot be regarded as symbolic. Any attempt to spiritualize these Old Testament prophecies concerning the Kingdom is faulty. If this prophetic chapter says anything, it says that Christ is to appear again, for most of its prophecies were not fulfilled when He came the first time.
Now listen to Isaiah as he speaks again:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek, he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified (Isaiah 61:1-3).
I doubt seriously whether many of us would have detected in this passage the compound prophecy of our Lord’s two Advents apart from that incident in the beginning of His ministry recorded by Luke. This is the passage from which Christ read in the synagogue at Nazareth. Let us read it carefully:
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, 18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, 19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. 20 And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him (Luke 4:16-20).
At once you are struck with the fact that this is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. But did you notice where He stopped reading and closed the Book? He stopped in the middle of a sentence, in the middle of Isaiah 61:2. Why did He not go on and finish the sentence? The reason is obvious. The remainder of the passage, “The day of vengeance of our God” was not being fulfilled at the time of His first Advent. The first one and one-half verses of Isaiah’s prophecy tell of Christ’s mission to the world when He came the first time. It was a mission of mercy to which our Lord’s hearers responded with warm enthusiasm (Luke 4:22). This ancient prophecy was then an outline of Christ’s gracious ministry of succour and salvation which He has already provided at His first coming. He did not come the first time to usher in “the day of vengeance of our God.” You see, the entire dispensation in which you and I live is represented in the comma which appears after the word “Lord” in Isaiah 61:2.2
Are we to assume that what follows the comma in Isaiah is unimportant? Certainly not! The day of God’s vengeance upon the unbelieving nations of the world is a future event which will take place when Christ comes back to earth again. Our Lord said:
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31, 32).
The prophet Micah likewise presents in one prophecy the “near” and “far” fulfillment:
But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting (Micah 5:2).
With Micah’s prophecy the picture of Messiah’s appearing becomes clearer. “The little town of Bethlehem” is distinctly indicated as the place of His birth. The name “Bethlehem” means House of Bread. Here He was to be born who was indeed the Bread of Life (John 6:48). The chief priests and scribes correctly understood this prophecy to refer to the place of Messiah’s birth (Matthew 2:1-6), and many of the people as well (John 7:40-42).
Again we have in one sentence, and almost in one breath, the “near” and “far” fulfillment. Micah says that He is to be “ruler of Israel.” The chief priests and scribes recognized this also (Matthew 2:6). The compound prophecy in this one verse in Micah is beyond the highest range of human thought. It is timeless and yet timed. It goes back into eternity past to introduce the eternal and ageless One “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” It looks forward seven hundred years to His Incarnation at Bethlehem, through two thousand years more of this present dispensation of grace, and on to His Second Advent when He shall govern the nations in peace and righteousness.
If man only knew His worth, he would acclaim Him to be the ruler of his life now. But the divine, pre-existent One will come as the Holy Conqueror, and “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10, 11).
The prophets saw His suffering and His sovereignty, but there was one mystery they did not see:
Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:26, 27).
They saw Christ on the cross and on the throne, but they did not see the gap between the two, when Christ would dwell in the heart of every believing sinner who would receive Him. And so, for the child of God there is peace with God (Romans 5:1), while we await His appearing.
This pamphlet was originally made available through the Biola Hour radio ministry. His written materials are used by permission.
Related Topics: Prophecy/Revelation