Old Testament Prophecies
C. E. Hocking, Cardiff
Recently, the question was posed, 'Is the young believer able to trust the Bible regarding its predictions of the future?' Two Saturday ministry sessions were allotted to address the question. The three papers of which this is the first, present the defence given (plus a little extra for which there was not time available to develop!) for depending upon and delighting in the Bible's unfolding of future events.
Now unquestionably, the only answer one can give to the question posed is 'Yes'! But more is required or one would be inviting other questions, such as 'Why?', or 'How can you be so sure?', or 'Haven't we enough to bother about, with our present pressing problems without concerning ourselves with more distant issues?', or 'The subject-matter is so great, wherever are we to start?' Let us encourage one another in the truth of God!
1.1 God has revealed His will to His favoured friends.
We believe God's pronouncements regarding future events in the Bible, because they are given such large space in the word of God which is itself absolutely trustworthy. The word of God is His revelation to Israel and to the church. In it God reveals His purposes and His promises, and records His programme for His 'friends'. The divine Creator 'who is blessed forever', Rom. 1. 25, is also the sovereign Controller, to which we respond; 'righteous and true are thy ways, thou King of the ages', Rev. 15. 3. Like Abraham we are to be fully assured that, what God has promised He is able to perform, Rom. 4. 21.
1.2 The Biblical revelation is also progressive.
The Bible's first chapter opens with the creation of the heavens and the earth; its penultimate chapter introduces 'a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth are passed away', Rev. 21. 1. From Creation to New Creation is the God-prescribed path through which history is to travel. Notice that history is not boringly cyclical; what vanity upon vanity it would be were it so. No, the God of history pursues His goal along a linear path; progress is made even through seeming reversals!
That reversals are recorded, that a new creation is called for, demands some explanation. Sin's entrance into God's created universe, firstly in the spirit world resulting in division between the devil and his angels and the elect angels, and later in the human race and throughout the whole of creation/nature too, has introduced the humanly tortuous elements in the path of advancing salvation history. The path moves along from creation, through ruination and redemption/regeneration to new creation (or recreation). Clearly, divine sovereignty begins it all and guarantees the God-glorifying end of it all. Disturbed creation-rest must be restored and enhanced by means of divinely provided redemption-rest. The first man Adam must give place to the last Adam, the first man to the second man. Only thus may humanity's groans, and those of the whole of sin-blighted creation/nature be removed forever. For man there must be a new birth, a new nature, a new start, evidenced in a regeneration, a new state, which is itself the anticipative proof of complete and final new creation.
Old Testament and New Testament revelation is progressive in character, unfolding the creative and the redemptive initiatives of God in history as forecast in prophecy. Much still awaits its fulfilment. Those elements of this programme not as yet 'fulfilled' are often referred to as 'eschatological', that is belonging to the doctrine of the last things. These like all other facets of God's revelation are not simply for our instruction, but they are for our admonition; they should dismiss our doubts, and they are to draw out our love for the Lord also.
1.3. Already-fulfilled promises provide a great stimulus to confidence in the fulfilment of those that still remain outstanding.
Biblically, the achievement of God's future goals has been endorsed already by His fulfilling of many of His promises in, for example, the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of God's Son. God's Messiah-King having come in meekness is God's amen to His coming again in majesty and might to cut off the chariot and the battle bow, Zech. 9. 9, 10. We are assured that God is yet to judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained, for it has already received its divine endorsement in that God has raised Christ from the dead, Acts 17. 30, 31. Christ's exaltation to the right hand of God is evidence enough that God is yet to make His enemies His footstool, Ps. 110. 1. The Christ has come once to put away sin; He must come the second time apart from sin unto salvation, Heb. 9. 26-28.
2. One Old Testament Illustration
The earlier histories are indeed 'one vast prophecy', and many Old Testament prophecies are soon to become history too! Selections from one of the Minor Prophets will provide us with numerous examples to develop our confidence in predicted events.
2.1 Zechariah as a prophet/prophecy role model.
Zechariah provides insights into the multi-dimensional ministries of a true prophet. He recalls the past in order to promote conviction, challenge or comfort for his then present generation, 1. 4-6; 7. 7-14. He addresses the burning issues of the present so as to encourage, challenge and correct his contemporaries with respect to them, 7. 1-6; 8. 9-17. However, the greater part of his ministry was given to the instruction, exhortation and admonition of his contemporaries in the light of the glories that were to open before them in the future. The bright hopes for tomorrow which formed such a major part of his prophesying were intended to promote their energetic and enthusiastic involvement in the house of God, and the work of God in their own times.
2.2 Many of his prophecies have been fulfilled already.
We need to remember that much that was truly 'prophecy' in his own times, is for us now 'history'. The opening verses of chapter 9 anticipated the Greek period of the times of the Gentiles, delineating events which were still about two centuries away. Chapters 9. 9ff and 11. 1-14 clearly threw light on the Roman period, and more particularly on the Messiah's ministry among His people, forecasting events in excess of four centuries ahead of the prophet's times. Zechariah has more to say about the coming personal Messiah and Lord than all the rest of the so-called Minor Prophets combined. Let us encourage our hearts not only in the broad brush-strokes painted on this prophet's canvas, but also delight in the detail with which he fills out his picture of the Messiah who was to come:
he points on to the coming Man who is the Branch, 6. 12, God's Servant the Branch, 3. 8
the good Shepherd, seeking the iost, 11. 7-11
the Messiah-King entering Jerusalem, 9. 9
the true Shepherd's betrayal, price paid to the betrayer, and cast to the potter, 11. 12-14
the suffering, smitten Shepherd, God's fellow, 13. 7
the spear thrust into His side, 12. 10.
All of these predictions were 'fulfilled' literally and undeniably at the first century advent of Messiah the Saviour, the Servant, and the Shepherd; that is, those specific prophecies are now history. Dare we distrust a God whose word has proved to be so trustworthy?
2.2 Many of Zechariah's prophecies still await their fulfilment.
Our selected survey of the predictions concerning the coming of Messiah the Saviour are supplemented with an even more extensive range of prophecies concerning the coming of Messiah the Sovereign:
His appearing the second time is to be in glory and with a view to establishing the reign of glory, 2. 8
it is the Lord Himself who is to come, and to do so in power, 14. 1, 3 accompanied by all His holy ones, v. 5
He will appear in battle array against the enemy nations, 9. 10; 12. 9; 14. 3, 12, 13, 15
His feet shall stand upon the Mount of Olives, 14. 4
and He shall deliver Jerusalem which shall thereafter dwell safely, 14. 11
the contrition, conversion and cleansing of the house of David and of the inhabitants of Jerusalem is particularly noted, 12. 10, 13. 1
Messiah's dominion is to be universal, and His reign from Jerusalem is to be autocratic and peaceful, 9. 10; 14. 9; 3. 10
He is to be a priest upon His throne, the greater than Melchisedec.
He is to build the Temple, and to bear the glory, 6. 12ff
He is to be the source of the light, energized by the Spirit in Israel, 4. 14
perennial living waters are to flow out of Jerusalem to the Eastern Sea (Dead) and the Western Sea (Mediterranean), 14. 8
the nations are to attend the Feast of Tabernacles annually in Jerusalem, and are to worship the King, for they shall be blessed and joined to the Lord, 14. 16; 2. 11
all will be sacred and undefiled, even to the bells and the pots and pans, 14. 20, 21.
These are just some of the things which God has purposed, promised and programmed for the future of the world, and 'in that day' they will surely come to pass.
The same principles of interpretation adopted in interpreting the 'prophecies' relating to Christ's first advent which have received their endorsement in history, should be applied in connection with the prophet's predictions which still await their historical fulfilment. Such bright hopes for Israel and the nations are to be realized at Christ's second advent, that it should motivate us to live for God's glory, to preach to the lost, to encourage Christlikeness and the extension of the spiritual capacities of all believers, to plant and to build up assemblies and by all means to glorify God upon the earth. While the majority scoff saying, 'Where is the promise of his coming?', the guaranteed and awesome changes God has promised, and which involve both judgment and salvation demand of us a serious and total commitment to the One who loved and who still loves us. We see the day approaching. All of us are to answer the question before God: 'what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy living and godliness, looking for and earnestly desiring (hasting) the day of God . . . Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for these things, give diligence that ye may be found in peace, without spot and blameless in his sight', 2 Pet. 3. 11, 12, 14.