An Introduction To The Study Of Prophecy

P. James Poole, 70, George Street, Croydon, Surrey, England

We must not overlook the importance of the Prophetic Scriptures simply because some have succumbed to the temptation to set up as prophets with unfortunate results. Although the subject goes beyond the scope of this Magazine, the following Article suggests such a useful approach to its study that we appreciate the opportunity of making it available to our readers. Young believers, especially, will be grateful for the valuable guidance it gives.

Prophecy is a vast subject, divisible into several categories. There are, for instance:—

1. Prophecies of the Coming of the Messiah, of which Gen. 3. 15 is the earliest, and indeed the first prophecy of all, and contains in a sense the germ of all;

2. Prophecies of the Rise and Progress, Downfall and Reinstatement of Israel;

3. Prophecies of the progress of certain Gentile Nations, and the appearance, development and fall of successive Gentile World-empires;

4. Prophecies of the Kingdom, etc.

As to the first category, all the elements of the Birth, life, Death, and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus were foretold in the O.T. Scriptures (Luke 24. 25-27 and 44), as well as the Messianic elements.

On one great subject of the highest importance to the believer, namely, the Church, the Body of Christ, the O.T. Scriptures are completely silent. The reason is that it was a “Mystery” (what is known only to the initiated, Young's Concordance), something completely hidden until first mentioned by the Lord Jesus in Matt. 16. 18, but not even by Him elaborated or described at that time. The details were later committed by the Spirit to the Apostles and (N.T.) Prophets (John 16. 12-14, Eph. 3. 5ff, Eph. 5. 23ff), among whom Paul, by his writings, was chosen to communicate the truth to the readers of the N.T.

Prophecy is contained not only in the Prophets generally so-called (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, etc.), but some of the Psalms, and parts of many others are highly prophetic (Luke 24. 44) and can really only be rightly understood when this is borne in mind. The Prophetic Impulse was outside the control of the Prophets (2 Peter 1. 19-21), who ardently longed to see the fulfilment and thus the elucidation to them of the prophecies they uttered by Divine Inspiration (Matt. 13. 17, 1 Peter 1. 10ff). This will account for some of the striking utterances in the Psalms, e.g., Psalm 40. 6-8, which could not possibly be true of David who wrote the Psalm, which is in general an expression of matters that were true of him. Psalm 16. 10 is another case in point, as is clearly shewn by the Spirit through Peter in Acts 2. 25-31, where the emphasis is on “him” in v. 25 and on “Christ . . . his . . . his . .” in v. 31.

The Prophetic Scriptures in the third category above deal in general with broad outlines, but omit the details. While therefore in some parts of our studies we may wish that more details were given, we must content ourselves with the assurance that time will make all clear, as the prophecies come to their fulfilment.

The “action” of O.T. prophecy revolves round Israel, the history, past and future, of Gentile nations as such being the setting or background; while the scene or ultimate centre of prophetic action is Palestine. It is necessary to bear this in mind to avoid confusion. As before said, the Church has no place in O.T. prophecy, notwithstanding the man-inserted headings to some of our Bibles in some parts of Isaiah, for instance! The whole of this long “Church” period is an interval of undiscoverable duration. But while the Church is not seen in prophecy as such, we have already noted that she existed in the heart and counsels of God from ages past. Thus she is no “after-thought” with God. The Lord Jesus maintained silence on the subject until His rejection by Israel was clearly manifested after His presentation of Himself to that nation. This rejection was itself foretold in the O.T., but the fact of rejection could not be seen until the Presentation had been made. The outcome and final issue of the Rejection was the Crucifixion, which was the very means whereby Christ gave expression to His love for the Church (Eph. 5. 25), and the means by which He cleansed her and made her His own.

He made yet another appeal to Israel through the apostles, but this time on the basis of His Death and the Atonement thereby accomplished. That appeal was also rejected, the martyrdom of Stephen being the symbol or sign, as Christ had foretold in Luke 19. 14. That event was the occasion of bringing Saul to notice, albeit as an arch-persecutor and hater of Christ and His people. Later, by the direct intervention of Christ this persecutor was transformed into perhaps the most zealous of all the servants of Christ and, as before remarked, the vehicle of much truth to us. But Israel rejected Paul’s testimony too (Acts 13. 46 et al), which fact being clear he turned to the Gentiles. The Jews thus remained unbelievers, and have been since, and are still, in the opposition camp.

Now the appeal is to all, Jews and Gentiles alike, without distinction, on the ground of their individual need as sinners, both alike being received into the Church, that is, the Spiritual Body of Christ, upon believing in Jesus (Eph. 2. 14 on, Col. 3. 11).

When, however, this Church period is brought to an end by the Coming of the Lord for His people (1 Thess. 4), God will again turn to Israel, with a view to bringing in the Kingdom foretold by the ancient prophets, with the hitherto rejected and scorned Jesus of Nazareth as King (see Psalm 2). Then the prophetic clock, so long still and silent, will begin to tick off the days, weeks, months and years required for that fulfilment. Yet further centuries must elapse before the remainder of prophecy comes to its completion by the events prophesied in the later chapters of Revelation (Rev. 20. 7 on).

“Rightly dividing the Word of Truth” is essential to the proper understanding of all Scripture, but nowhere more so than when dealing with Prophecy. In the Table of Correspondences that accompanies this paper I have described certain verses as “key verses.” When these are noted it is clearly seen that the “Futuristic” interpretation of Prophecy is the only valid one. It is demonstrable that many of the major events foretold have never taken place, therefore they must be future. Daniel’s 70th “week” (Dan. 9) does still remain to run its course. This is provable by the fact that no such Covenant with Israel as that Scripture foretells has ever been made. Titus, who destroyed the then existing City and Sanctuary in A.D. 70 was not “the Prince who shall come” of that prophecy, as he made no covenant with the Jews, nor has anyone since. The Kingdom of Dan. 2. 44 has never yet been set up, this being not the Spiritual Kingdom of God with which we are familiar, but the Millennial Kingdom of the Lord Jesus, when He shall rule in power and majesty and might (vv. 44, 45); therefore “these kings” of the verse have not yet arisen in the sense of the verse. The “Little Horn” of Dan. 7 is not yet manifested, because he is to be overthrown by the Lord Jesus. Matt. 24 remains to be fulfilled, as the Sign of “The-Son-of-Man-in-heaven” (v. 30), that is, in the visible heavens, has not yet appeared. Yet other instances might be cited of the simple way in which we can prove the futurity of many of the great prophecies of Scripture. It is no argument against their futurity to say that it is impossible that so many great events can be crowded into a few years. Quite apart from the fact that Scripture says or implies that they can, the events of the past 30 years have taught this generation at least that given the need, or suitable conditions, anything can happen in a period that would otherwise have been utterly inadequate.

Collate, compare, meditate, cogitate, and pray; by these means alone can light be obtained upon the Prophetic Scriptures. The mental effort involved will be considerable, which is probably why so few really study prophecy. Thus the " many” are at the mercy of whatever teaching they get, and unless this is sound and scriptural the resultant mental “hotch-potch” is deplorable.

Collate, compare. Among the great Prophetic Scriptures may be cited Dan. 2, 7, 9, 11, and 12; Matt. 24; 2 Thess. 2; Rev. 6, 13, 17, and 19. These stand up like Alpine Giants in the Sierra Montana of Prophetic Revelation. A careful comparison of these Scriptures shews them to have so many features in common as almost to warrant one in saying that they constitute one vast prophecy. Parts of Dan. 2 and 7 have been fulfilled, that is, those parts that relate to the Babylonian, Medo-Persian and Greek Empires. Dan. 8 seems to have been fulfilled in the person and acts of Antiochus Epiphanes (172-168 B.C.), who may however most certainly be regarded as a type of Antichrist.

The study and comparison of the above great Scriptures will be greatly facilitated by mounting them in parallel columns on a sheet of strong brown paper. The individual portions, Daniel, etc., can be purchased quite cheaply, and the “mount” can be folded like a road map and carried in the pocket for reference and study as occasion may offer. I have myself derived great help from this simple device.

The accompanying Table of Correspondences is designed for serious students, of whom it is hoped and believed there are many among the readers of P.S. We may use the remainder of our space to deal with one or two important and sometimes debated subjects.

Matt. 24. This chapter is of the utmost importance, but it is necessary first to be sure of the time or period of its fulfilment. Unless we get that right it matters little what else we get. This utterance of the Lord Jesus followed His declaration to the Jews at the end of chapter 23, which see, and was in response to the question of the disciples in 24. 3, which also see. If we contrast this discourse of the Lord with that spoken to these very men within a few days only of this time as recorded in John 13 to 16, we cannot fail to be impressed with the enormous dissimilarity both of tone and matter between the two utterances. The explanation seems clear that in Matt. 24 He was speaking to them as Jews in response to an enquiry that was altogether Jewish in its bearing and implications, while in the Upper Room He spoke to them as the nucleus of the Church so soon to be formed. I believe that in fact no other view can logically be taken. Thus John 13 to 16 had to do with matters that would become immediately operative upon His departure and the Coming of the Spirit, while Matt. 24 overleaps the centuries and is applicable to a time that is even still future (see remarks above on v. 30). We are thus, enabled to see that the Judgment of the Living Nations, spoken of in Matt. 25. 31 on, will be quite distinct in character, location and time from the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rom. 14. 10, 1 Cor. 3. 12 on, 2 Cor. 5. 10), though they will both precede the Millennium. The one will be a punitive Judgment on earth of people then living on earth, while the other will be not punitive, but for the apportioning of awards for faithfulness to Christ on the part of His people, who will have been taken to be with Him before they appear at His Judgment Seat. The Judgment of the Great White Throne (Rev. 20. 11 on) will be distinct from and much later than both of these, being the final Judgment of all unrepentant sinners, believers in Christ having no place there.

The conclusion thus reached as to the futurity of Matt. 24 is strengthened by the numerous correspondences, shewn in the Table, between this chapter and the other prophecies. Among these last is Rev. 6, the chapter of the Opening of the Seals. The two chapters march exactly together, Rev. 6 giving the outline and Matt. 24 some of the details. We are thus enabled to determine the period of the fulfilment of Rev. 6, namely, after the Church has been taken away. This view is yet further strengthened by the setting of Rev. 6. Rev. 2 and 3 have obvious reference to the Church and individual Churches on earth. Rev. 4 begins with the invitation to John to “come up hither " into heaven, where he immediately was, in spirit. There he sees the Glory of God (chap. 4), and hears the praises of the Redeemed (chap. 5). Thus in chap. 6 and onwards he is figuratively speaking looking down from heaven on scenes being enacted on earth. What was vision to John will be reality to the Church when the Vision is fulfilled. She will be there with Christ, after He has called her to Himself (1 Thess. 4). In Rev. 6 therefore we see the Lord beginning to exercise that function of Judgment that God has reserved to Him (John 5. 22 and 27, R.V.). Yet further details of the Judgments of Rev. 6 are given in the following chapters, as the 6th chapter seems to cover the whole period between the commencement of the Judgments and the imminent Appearance of the Lamb in His wrath (v. 17).

The Little Horn of Dan. 7, the Wilful King or Vile Person of Dan. 11, the Man of Sin of 2 Thess. 2, and the first Beast of Rev. 13. A careful comparison of the various Scriptures in the Table shews that these descriptions all relate to the same man, I have no doubt myself that he is Antichrist, the “Anti”-Christ, Christ’s personal opponent and “opposite number,” the very embodiment and incarnation of all that is anti, opposed to, the opposite of, Christ. The actual name or appellation Antichrist is found only in 1 John 2; 18, in which epistle the distinguishing characteristic of Antichrist is described (2. 22, and 2 John 7), Scripture speaks of two “anti,” that is, opposite and opposing Trinities, and their anti-positions may be shewn thus:—

Good,

Evil.

The Source, Spring,

Initiator, originator.

The Father, God.

The Dragon; Satan.

The Visible Representative of that invisible or hidden Originator.

The Son, Christ.

The Beast, AntiChrist.

The Executive Agent who causes men to receive and believe in the Visible Representative.

The Holy Spirit.

The False Prophet (the 2nd Beast of Rev. 13; see Rev. 19. 20).

The solemn lesson of Unfulfilled Prophecy is that man's opposition to God and to Christ will increase in intensity until at last it finds Embodiment and Expression in the Man of Sin, who will be the accepted and acknowledged Head, Chief and Leader of the Nations of the World in general and of Christendom in particular. Present world-movements are all in this direction, whether moral, mental or scientific, while the rapid deterioration in the religious sphere shews the same trend and tendencies. This last is going to culminate in the manifestation of the symbolic great whore of Rev. 17, whose character, actions and end are in tremendous contrast to those of the Bride, the Lamb’s Wife, the Chaste Virgin (2 Cor. 11. 2). To-day all standards are being lowered and debased, moral, mental, ecclesiastical. May we be ever and increasingly among those who wait for the Lord from heaven, and in so waiting walk in holiness, purity and faithfulness to Him.