The thoughts of God about the future are called prophecy. God's thoughts contain the purpose of His heart. His thoughts are as high above the thoughts of man as the heavens are above the earth (Is. 55:8,9). Man's capability of thinking is one of the characteristics in which he has been made in the likeness of God. This characteristic distinguishes him from the lower creation. Let us be kind to the evolutionist and admit that he has more intelligence than the monkeys from whom he thinks he evolved. We must admit that he thinks; but contrary to his knowledge, that ability is the result of creation and not evolution. Christians are thankful that God's thoughts have become our thoughts. Christians have the mind of Christ; hence, we cannot ignore Divine principles (I Cor. 2:16). Therefore, we enjoy His thoughts about creation, Christ's incarnation, Christ's substitutionary death, Christ's resurrection, our regeneration, and the prophecy concerning Christ's glorious second coming to establish His kingdom in the renewed creation subsequent to the fall. Without man's ability to think, God could not communicate with His own.
Prophecy is a study which leads the believer to return in his thinking to the beginning as well as the ending of things. Since God is the first and the last, His first thoughts are simultaneous with His last thoughts. Hence, it is no surprise when one reaches the last book of the Bible—the Revelation of Jesus Christ—that he finds himself once again contemplating the first book of the Bible—Genesis. In the study of Revelation, the first is seen from the last; moreover, as one progresses in the study of that book, he learns that the last was seen from the first. Revelation is Genesis enlarged and glorified.
God sees future, present, and past all at once because He is in one mind: "But he is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth" (Job 23:13). Since God is in one mind, He can have no new thoughts. Whatever God thinks He has ever thought because He does not think successively: "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" (Is. 46:10). His purpose was settled before the foundation of the world; therefore, whatever God predestined from the beginning shall be effected in the end. A perfect plan failing in its execution would be contrary to Deity. God's omniscience and omnipotence are perfect. What God's omniscience planned, His omnipotence executes.
Prophecy is proof of God's infinite knowledge: "Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite" (Ps. 147:5). God knows everything as present because there is no time with Him. This is the reason some of the prophecies concerning things to come are presented as present, and sometimes future things are described as having been fulfilled (Is. 9:6; 53:4; Ps. 22:18). There was a time, from man's perspective, when nothing other than God existed. We must not lose sight of the truth that God was before and is above what man calls time. Creation was once future, or else one must conclude that it is eternal. To say that creation is eternal is to deny the Creator. The denial of God as Creator is to deny the Bible, man's existence, and salvation. God, who purposed to create, knew all things from the beginning; otherwise, there was a time when He was ignorant. Prophecy, therefore, is proof of His infinite knowledge.
Prophecy is a classification. Since there was order in God's work of creation, vividly described in Genesis, one would be foolish to deny order in the consummation of His work. Hence, numbering in the book of Revelation is not mere numbering; it is classification. The book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ is clearly stated to be prophetical. This refutes the historical premillennial and the amillennial view that it is historical. One must beware of giving the book any classification other than prophetical. Both the prologue and the epilogue of Revelation classify it as prophecy (Rev. 1:3; 22:7,10,18,19). Three times, in Revelation 1:1, 22:6-7, and 22:16-17, John affirmed that this prophecy contains Divine predictions and not human imaginations. The Old Testament closed with the announcement of Christ's first advent (Mal. 4:2), and the New Testament concludes with the prophecy of His second advent (Rev. 22:20).
What would we do without classification in science? Classification is the assignment of things to groups within a system of categories distinguished by structure and origin. As there are many sciences in the natural world, there are sciences such as theology, anthropology, soteriology, ecclesiology, and eschatology in the study of the Bible. To correctly handle the word of truth, one must assign all Scripture that pertains to God to theology. Assigning anthropology to Scripture that belongs to God humanizes God, and that is heresy. Designating Scripture that relates to man to theology deifies man, and that too is heresy. These two examples should illustrate the importance of proper classification of Scripture. Since there have always been heretical movements that emphasize certain Biblical statements, one must never oppose an extreme view of a Biblical subject by going to the opposite view. A person must search for truth which is usually found between two extremes.
Amillennialists attack all premillennialists by classifying them with cults that embrace premillennialism. According to their logic, premillennialists can classify amillennialists with Roman Catholics, because they are amillennial. The future kingdom is not a re-exalted Judaism with carnal ordinances.
Prophecy must be viewed from a higher basis than mere prediction of the future. Above all, it must be considered a revelation of God's eternal purpose. Even though prophecy is a declaration of something future, which is a message of hope, it must be contemplated from the foundational truth of God's will and purpose. History, which is executed prophecy, flows from God's purpose. Prophecy, therefore, must be embraced as God's predetermined counsel which finds its culmination in the predestined King and His kingdom. The kingdom is the consummation of God's purpose in redemption. It is self-evident that prophecy is intended to reveal the Divine purpose relating to redemption. An example of prophecy and the manner in which prophecy shall be ultimately fulfilled is recorded in Deuteronomy 32. Prophecy is an essential part of the system of revelation. It not only reveals but also systematizes truths.
As heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, Christians are invited by the prophets and apostles to study God's purpose in order to have some comprehension of what we have in Christ (Rom. 8:14-32; Eph. 1:1-14; II Pet. 1:19-21; 3:1-18). There are two kinds of evidence in the hearts and minds of God's people. The first source of evidence comes from faith, which is God's gift to His people; the second source is derived from historical evidence which includes the fulfillment of prophecy. Our Lord stressed the importance of prophetic study by showing that all Scripture speaks of Himself (Luke 24:25-27).
Classification is necessary in the study of prophecy. There are fulfilled, partially fulfilled, and unfulfilled prophecies.
There are fulfilled prophecies. The prophets saw the future perspectively. They did not always understand their predictions, but that is only an unimpeachable evidence of the inspiration of the Bible (I Pet. 1:10-13). If prophecy can be understood only after its fulfillment, how can it be a lamp shining in a dark place for our guidance?
Let us consider a few prophecies regarding Israel that have been fulfilled. Christ was prophesied to be born of a virgin (Is. 7:14). After Ahaz had forsaken Jehovah and set up the altar of a strange god in the temple, God renewed the hopes of Israel by giving a sign, the range of which would extend beyond the time of Ahaz. Christ was born of a virgin (Matt. 1:18-23).
The present tense used in Old Testament prophecy often proves the certainty of a future event. That which was prophecy to Isaiah was proclaimed as history. The Old Testament saints, who could only expect blessing, spoke as though the fulfillment of prophecy were already enjoyed. Thus their faith, which elevated them to the realm of the spiritual, made them partakers of God's excellencies (Heb. 11:1-3).
Israel's rejection of Christ was foretold (Is. 53:1-3). Both Christ and Paul quoted from Isaiah's prophecy (John
12:37,38; Rom. 10:16). When the Lord Jesus said, "Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see..." (John 12:39,40), He did not infuse any evil principle in them. But He left them to the unrestrained operations of their own depraved hearts.
The decree of God deals not with innocent but depraved men; therefore, it is not unjust to either aggravate their depravity with the truth of the gospel or condemn them because of their sin of rejection. Isaiah said, "...we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not" (Is. 53:3). Christ said, "And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life" (John 5:40). There is no free will in this text. The will of the sinner is not free but depraved. Once a person commits himself to the heresy that the will of God is to be subordinated to his depraved will, he will remain a religious heretic unless God's will turns him and makes his will subservient to God's superior will. Some religionists have gone so far as to say that God's making some but not others willing renders God meaner than the Devil. Such persons have no understanding of their complicity and solidarity in depravity. They are in danger of being treated as the apostate Jews during the first advent of Jesus Christ: "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate" (Matt. 23:38).
The nation of Israel has been broken off in order that the Gentiles might be grafted into the root (Rom. 11:11-29). The Acts of the Apostles closes with the record of God turning from the Jews to the Gentiles (Acts 28:25-31). The removal taught by Moses and the prophets was designed for punishment, but it was not to be perpetual. Israel's restoration was not fulfilled in the remnant that returned from Babylon. Her return from Babylon was preparatory for Christ's first advent; whereas the restoration recorded in Romans 11:25-26 is identified with Christ's second advent.
There are partially fulfilled prophecies. The prophets often predicted the advent of Christ without discriminating between the first and second advents. The reason is very simple; both advents are absolutely necessary for perfected redemption. The first is preparatory for the second. There could be no second without the first, and the first is the guarantee of the second. The first advent was in humiliation; the second shall be in glory. We must not forget that the prophets unite the two as essential to the complete salvation of man. Therefore, each advent has its appropriate sphere of action; the glory of the second is the perfection subsequent to the suffering of the first.
Chapters 2 and 3 of Joel are partially fulfilled prophecy. The Holy Spirit was not poured out on all flesh at Pentecost (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:16). Men are erroneous to antedate this period and ascribe to themselves what belongs to a future age. The miraculous signs of Joel 2:30-31 were not fulfilled at Pentecost. Hence, Joel's prophecy was only partially fulfilled at Pentecost. (This was discussed at length in an earlier chapter.)
Malachi 3:1-6 is a partially fulfilled prophecy: "BEHOLD, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in " This refers to Christ's first advent. "...Behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts" refers to His second advent. The refining, punishing, and restoring to power and prosperity were not realized at the first advent. The restoration of Israel will not take place until the day of God's power (Ps. 110:3).
There are unfulfilled prophecies. The center and goal of all prophecy is Jesus Christ. Old Testament Scripture gives the preparation for the manifestation of the King. The Gospels and Acts unveil the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the King. Since His ascension, the Epistles demonstrate that the King is in hiding. The Revelation enthrones the King in His kingdom.
Jesus Christ shall sit on the throne of His father David (Luke 1:32,33; Acts 2:30). There is only one throne of David, and it is in Jerusalem, not in heaven. Christ is not presently on David's throne (Rev. 3:21). David was a prophet, and he knew God's promise to him. God made a vow that He would make one of David's descendants a king, and Jesus Christ is that true King (Luke 1:30-33). As Divine, Christ is the root of David; and as Man, He is the offspring of David (Rev. 22:16). Jesus Christ is David's descendant and David's Lord.
The kingdom of Jesus Christ shall be established at Christ's second advent (II Tim. 4:1). The mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountain (Is. 2:1-5). Isaiah's prophecy looks beyond the present conditions of sin and suffering in the earth. The earth, not heaven, is in view.
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