Bible prophecy is utterly real and many, many things
prophesied in the Old Testament have indeed 'come to pass' - but
are we misunderstanding anything when we seek to strike world
events off a 'checklist' as they become fulfillments of Bible
Since we have all seen that the Old Testament prophecies of the coming of Christ, and then of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost have been clearly fulfilled many of us have paid little attention to prophecy. Of course, we also know that the second coming of Christ is prophesied, but we generally leave it at that.
But there are an army of "prophecy specialists" out there not only among adventists and in the cults and sects but, lamentably, among evangelical Christians too - especially in the United States. Many of these people are repeatedly making predictions and repeatedly getting things wrong. What mistake are these people making?
Should we really be viewing and treating Bible prophecy as though it is our own source of clairvoyance, or as though it is the very best astrology out there?
Are we misunderstanding something here?
I maintain that we should view Bible prophecy as the 'promises of God' and should understand that these biblical promises are quite different to predictions. I don't claim to be the first to come upon this insight; the South African theologian Adrio König said something very similar in a book which he wrote around 15 years ago, and I believe that R.H. Gundry and others have also drawn attention to this.
So how do promises and predictions differ?
If I stated that here in Wales, UK, there would be a tidal wave on 23rd August, 2005, that would clearly be a one-off prediction. If that did not occur (we just don't seem to get tidal waves here, thank the Lord!), then people would say that my predictions about the future are just unreliable trash! (Quite correct, of course).
But divine promises are very different; they are just as definite, yet rarely specific and could achieve fruition in several ways, or even more than once. Bible prophecies are better understood as the 'promises of God' rather than as one-off predictions because it is absolutely plain that certain prophecies have been fulfilled more than once! (Of course, there are certainly a few prophecies which are specific, for instance, the prediction of 1 Kings 11:29-39 was fulfilled in 1 King 12:15-20. But these are exceptions).
I maintain that some of the cults and sects as well as some evangelicals are looking upon Bible prophecy too much as though it is astrological prediction, rather than as the promises of God, fulfilled among His people, and often only recognised by them.
Another big indicator of how different Bible prophecy is, is that much of it is written as poetry. Just quickly scan through Isaiah and notice that the verses are set out a bit like the Psalms - this is because this was written in poetic form; that was obvious in the original Hebrew, but far less so to us until we notice how the text is set out. So this is poetic prophecy, and great truths lie within, yet not always in a truly clear fashion and with many prophecies capable of more than one fulfillment.
Lets look at some examples of the broadness of Bible prophecy:
The promise of the exodus was obviously fulfilled when Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, yet much later, Isaiah gives a divine promise of a new and more glorious exodus in which Israel are able to re-settle their own country after the Babylonian captivity. See Isaiah 43:16-, 48:20-21, and 49:8-13, for instance.
But even this is not the final end: there is a third fulfillment when Jesus returns from Egypt. See Matthew 2:15. Many see the Jewish resettling of Israel from 1948 as another exodus (they left this world's societies in order to settle in Israel). And some believe (not all agree) that there will yet be a fourth exodus.
2.THE DAY OF THE LORD. Another great example of how the promises of God are so very different to specific one-off predictions is in the Bible approach to The Day of the Lord. The prophecy of Amos (Amos 5:18-20), finds many, many fulfillments, all perfectly valid!
Firstly, in the 586 BC fall of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 13:5; Lamentations 1:12, 2:1,22), in the ministry of John the Baptist (Mark 1:2; Malachi 3:1-2), in the ministry of Jesus (Luke 4:16-21; Isaiah 61:1-2), in the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21; Joel 2:28-32), in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (Matthew 24:2-15), and certainly in the second coming of Christ (2 Peter 3:12; Rev 16:14).
A few would certainly add to this list; many Jews saw the holocaust of the Second World War as their own 'Day of the Lord' and a few even saw it as the climax of their punishment for their rejection of Jesus. This is not very "politically correct" language these days, but I simply quote what I have heard some Jews say.
3. THE PROMISED LAND. We know that the land of Canaan was repeatedly promised, in various fashions, from Genesis 12 onwards. The promise was fulfilled, of course, when Israel entered the promised land under Joshua, but that was far from the end of the matter! The promise is extended more than once, eventually to include the entire earth (Ephesians 6:3). But this prophecy just refuses to lie down in complete fulfillment and is eventually extended to the New Heavens and the New Earth (Matthew 5:5; Rev. 21-22).
But there are many more examples we could look at: the promise of Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14) was fulfilled at the time of Ahaz (Isaiah 7:15-16), as well as at the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:22-23), then there is the promise of Zechariah 12:10, fulfilled in the crucifixion (John 19:37), and to be fulfilled again at Christ's return (Matthew 24:30; Rev. 1:17). Joel 2:28-32 is fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21), and will surely be fulfilled again in the future. Isaiah 49:8 is fulfilled in the return from Babylon, as well as in the preaching of the gospel (2 Cor. 6:2).
Yet even all of this does not cover all the examples which clearly show that God's divine promise is a thing which cannot be shut up in a box; God's promise is a dynamic spiritual matter! Historical predictions just do not work in this manner; they either come true or they do not! They are static, they are not a living, dynamic matter as the promises of God are!
Historical predictions are just calculations involved in time and space; they have no power or meaning, of themselves. But the promises of God - as a work of the Holy Spirit, inspire, strengthen and illuminate the people of God.
God has mostly (but not entirely) clothed His great prophecies to His people in either poetry, or apocalyptic language (Daniel and Revelation use apocalyptic), this means that there always remains an element of surprise in how God works out His purposes; poetry uses the beauty of words and language in order to paint great truths, but is it always literal? When Psalm 85:10-11 says, 'Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and truth have kissed each other. Truth shall spring out of the earth...' is that literal? Or just very meaningful? When Psalm 50:10 speaks of the 'cattle on a thousand hills' did God count out exactly one thousand hills which He saw cattle on, or does it mean, 'on many, many hills'?? I think we know the answer - indeed, the word 'thousand' is never used literally in the Bible.
For its part, Apocalyptic writing used heavy symbolism but usually only had a few main points to get across, rather than being something to be "interpreted" almost word for word (in the style of many Bible prophecy enthusiasts). When Revelation talks about a 'beast with seven heads and ten horns' emerging from the sea, is that literal? Or highly symbolic? I think we all know it is symbolic of other things! This is another reason why it is sheer folly to view Bible prophecy as a series of world events which can be ticked off a long checklist; indeed, sometimes only hindsight will show God's own people that a partial fulfillment of prophecy has taken place. But God has normally only used His promises to address His own people, let us not expect agnostic historians to recognise these things!
Adrio König speculated that prophecies cannot be completely fulfilled in an imperfect world, but that partial fulfillments might occur several times until the restoration of all things. König also said this,
'No one can deduce from prophecy exactly what shape events will take. In fact, it is not even possible to recognize prophecy's fulfillment without faith in Christ. That is why the Jews could not see Old Testament promises fulfilled in Jesus, even though He fulfilled the entire complex of Old Testament promises. Whoever does not accept Jesus in faith is simply unable to recognize Him as the promised messiah.'
(Source at article ending).
So the conclusion of this whole matter is that Bible prophecy is really nothing like predictions of events to occur in history, fully 'recordable' by even atheistic historians. If we make the mistake of viewing it in this limited and confined manner, we will repeatedly fall into error and may bring real reproach and shame on the solemn revelation contained within the Holy Bible.
Indeed, I have noted with dismay that too many who set themselves up as Bible prophecy guros do not even have a basic understanding of the structure of the Book of Revelation (to mention just one book), even though they continually scream out dire warnings which, they claim, are based on this great book (Revelation contains seven parallel sections all covering world events between the first and second comings of Christ but from differing viewpoints; this is quite clear and is recognised by most serious Bible students even though apparently unnoticed by scores of rather loud "Revelation experts").
Robin A. Brace
(Quotation: 'The Eclipse of Christ in Eschatology', Adrio König , Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1989, page 185).
I freely acknowledge my gratitude to those great Bible writers who helped recover my eschatology from the confusion of my Armstrongist years. I speak of such great writers as Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Hendriksen, König , Bavinck, Venema and others.
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