Messianic Good News has began a new prophecy series which I’m looking forward to. Their studies have been a blessing to me for years. The three part series is titled,
PROPHECY UNVEILED: A simple outline of prophecy as it has unfolded to bring about God’s plan of redemption, with the emphasis on Christ as the focal point of all prophecy.
Comments are welcomed, but I ask that any comments be confined to the subject matter within the post.
And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:19)
The subject of prophecy, whether fulfilled or yet to be fulfilled, occupies a substantial portion of Scripture. Through it God reveals his plan and purpose for the redemption of mankind from sin and death. What is the sequence of events which were, and are, destined to unfold which will culminate with the end of the world as we know it? There is a wide spectrum of belief, much of it highly speculative, pertaining to the interpretation, application and understanding of biblical prophecy. Much of the popular literature on “end-time prophecy” focuses on present day Israel, the Jews and Jerusalem and the part they will ostensibly play in the cataclysmic events of the “end-times”.
This article seeks to present a simple outline of biblical prophecy showing how the coming of Jesus Christ (Messiah) is the focal point of all prophecy regarding the redemption, not only of Israel, but of all mankind. As such, it will challenge many of the futuristic expectations that have been popularized in the church today.
The first prophecy concerning man’s redemption was given back in Eden, beginning man’s epic journey of faith towards being reconciled with God. As a consequence of mans disobedience a curse entered God’s creation and man was banished from the Garden of Eden and barred from access to the tree of life:
After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:22-24)
However, there was also a promise of a Redeemer who would be born of a woman:
“…I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he (the redeemer and seed, or offspring, of the woman) will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
When Eve gave birth to her first son, Cain, she thought that she had given birth to the redeemer and she said, (according to a literal translation of Genesis 4:1), “I have brought forth the man, YHWH (the LORD).”
Considering the close link between Abraham and Adam (Adam was still living when Jared was born, Jared was still living when Noah was born, and Noah was still living several years after Abraham was born) we may assume that Abraham would not have been ignorant of how mankind had been banished from the Garden of Eden or of God’s promise to Adam and Eve of the Redeemer who would be born of a woman and who would crush the head of the deceiver, thereby opening the way back to the tree of life.
With that very real hope of the coming of the Saviour and the restoration to the Garden of Eden, when the LORD said to Abraham hundreds of years later, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1), Abraham obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.
“By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:8-10).
Abraham responded to the call of the LORD with genuine faith, looking beyond this temporal world to the dwelling place of the LORD where he hoped to be restored for eternity in the resurrection. Just as Abraham was called to leave everything and go to the place where the LORD was leading him, Jesus the Messiah and Redeemer, calls us to let go of the things that keep us in bondage in this present world and follow him to the place where he is leading us where we will again have access to the tree of life. Like Abraham we respond by faith even as we continue to live in this temporal world.
When the LORD called Abraham he also told him that the Redeemer, through whom all nations would be blessed, would come from his line, a promise that was reiterated to Isaac and Jacob.1
Abraham had other children apart from Isaac, the son of promise. Unfortunately, many of Abraham’s natural descendants, even through the line of Isaac, are more like Esau, (Isaac’s first born son and Jacob’s twin brother), who was godless and faithless and more preoccupied with his immediate appetite in this present fallen world than with future promises so that,
“for a single meal he sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears” (Hebrews 12:16-17).
Jesus taught that those who try to take hold of God’s promises, apart from faith in the Redeemer, will forfeit eternal life (Luke 9:24).
As part of God’s plan of redemption Israel ended up in bondage in Egypt in order to demonstrate God’s mighty hand of deliverance to all nations. However, when Israel was delivered from the hands of their oppressors they grumbled continually and yearned to return to Egypt so that only two people of the generation that passed through the Red Sea actually entered the Promised Land.
The LORD warned Israel that on account of their disobedience, they would be exiled just like the nations who lived in the Land before them. The ten northern tribes of Israel were exiled at the hand of the Assyrians and later the two southern tribes were taken into exile by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon.
Israel’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt, the sojourn in the wilderness, entering the Promised Land and the subsequent exile and restoration were intended to be lessons to all of us that man is a slave to sin and cannot redeem himself. These events prefigured the all-embracing redemption that would be accomplished at the hands of the Messiah.
Likewise their failings serve as both a warning and example to us that our only hope of redemption is through the faithful obedience of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer. Just as the curse came through man’s disobedience to the word of the LORD, the redemption was destined to come through the perfect obedience of the Redeemer, who would be none other than the incarnation of the LORD himself (see Romans 5:19; Isaiah 43:11;14).
This is why Matthew applied the following Scripture to the faithful and obedient son, Jesus Christ, who was the corporate representative and anointed King of Israel, rather than to the rest of the nation also referred to as, “Israel”:
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1 c.f. Matthew 2:15). The passage in Hosea speaks of God’s love for his Son but also compares it to his disapproval and disappointment of the stubborn disobedience of the rest of the nation: “But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me” (Hosea 11:2).
Having lost sight of the scope and extent of the redemption that would be wrought through faith in the Messiah, many people are now looking for the restoration of Israel to the earthly city of Jerusalem, which was only ever intended to be a shadow of the real redemption to the Garden of Eden which is beyond the constraints of this present earthly dimension.
In their misplaced zeal they are chasing after the shadow because they are not looking with the eyes of faith for the heavenly city whose architect and builder is God.
“In that day (the day of God’s salvation),” declares the LORD, “I will gather the lame; I will assemble the exiles and those I have brought to grief. I will make the lame a remnant, those driven away a strong nation. The LORD will rule over them in Mount Zion from that day and forever” (Micah 4:6-7).
Where is Mount Zion, the Dwelling Place of the LORD?
Praise be to the LORD from Zion, to him who dwells in Jerusalem (Psalm 135:21).
In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling…You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance-the place, O LORD, you made for your dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, your hands established (Exodus 15:13;17).
Many Christians have been caught up in the excitement of the restoration of Jews back to the land of Israel, but God’s promise to the Israelites was that he would plant them on Mount Zion, the mountain of his inheritance, made for his dwelling and established by his hands. When Abraham entered the Land he did not presume to have yet received the inheritance that was promised by God because he was mortal and the eternal resting place he looked forward to was to be established by God’s own hand. The restoration of Israel, including the salvation of the nations, was destined to be in the resurrection.
These (all the men of genuine faith like Abraham) were commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect (Hebrews 11:39-40). Jesus is the resurrection.
The LORD said of Jerusalem that it was the unique place where he chose to put his Name (1 Kings 11:36). Jerusalem is often referred to as “the City of the Great King” (Psalm 48:2 and Isaiah 24:23). Under the Old Covenant, God’s heavenly temple had its counterpart on the earth in the temple which was built in Jerusalem according to the pattern shown to Moses.
But it was merely to serve as a temporary shadow and type for as Stephen declared,
…the Most High does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet Isaiah says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?” (Acts 7:48).
The LORD dwells on Mount Zion, but it must be understood that although God graciously condescends to meet with man, His dwelling place extends to the highest heavens and the earth is merely a footstool.
Nevertheless, the temple was the designated place of meeting between man and God and the Israelites were obligated under the old covenant to go up to the temple in Jerusalem at least three times per year to worship and offer sacrifices to the LORD.
However, they were required to do so looking forward, like Abraham, in anticipation of the redemption that was to come through the Messiah who would restore them to the eternal dwelling place of the LORD (see Deut. 16:16-17). In fact the writer to the Hebrews informs us that while the earthly temple still stood it was an indication that the way in to God’s presence had not yet been opened to all men.
With the coming of the Messiah the regulations for worship under the old covenant, which were centred in the earthly Temple, became obsolete.
When Jesus Christ came as high priest of the good things that are (now) already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:11-12).
Jesus put an end to the annual sacrifices required under the old covenant by providing the once for all atoning sacrifice through his death on the cross, entering heaven itself on our behalf. We now, therefore, have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body (Hebrews 10:20).
Once the shadows and types of the old covenant, including the earthly city and temple became redundant, having served their purpose, a time came when the redeemed were told to flee from Jerusalem for the prophecies of the redemption had been fulfilled through Christ and true worshippers were no longer required to go up to the earthly city to worship (John 4:21-24; Luke 21:20).
Concerning the Babylonian exile the prophets spoke of how the LORD would gather his people after seventy years and restore them to the Land where they would rebuild the city walls and the temple, which would culminate with the coming of the Messiah and their ultimate redemption from sin and death. Those prophecies were fulfilled through the coming of Jesus the Anointed King and the giving of the Holy Spirit.
Unlike the Babylonian exile, which was for a specified duration with a definite promise of a return to the land and an instruction to rebuild the temple, Jesus told his followers to flee from Jerusalem without any mention of returning.
The New Testament has nothing to say about a return to the land or a rebuilding of the temple.
That is because the old covenant form of worship which required the temple became obsolete and has long since disappeared. Jesus is gathering his sheep into his eternal kingdom which is not confined by space or time.
Although the redeemed are scattered throughout the world we are indeed being gathered and united as a called out community (ecclesia) into the kingdom of God through faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer.
Like Abraham, the redeemed have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God (Hebrews 12:22). The kingdom of God has been established: The LORD will rule over them in Mount Zion from that day and forever (Micah 4:6-7).
Jesus said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Mt. 12:30). Just as the Israelites lived in temporary dwellings during their sojourn through the wilderness before entering the promised land, we live in the tent of this mortal body while in this world, but we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling (see 2 Cor. 5:1-7).
How would the Kingdom of God Come?
The kingdom of God would be established with the coming of the Messiah, a descendant of David from the royal tribe of Judah. Although David and Solomon were great anointed kings (messiahs) of Israel, they only typified the reign of the Messiah whose dominion would extend to the ends of the earth and whose kingdom will never be destroyed.
According to the revelation given to Daniel, this kingdom was to be established during the time of the kingdoms of the world. The Messiah would not immediately overthrow those who rebel against his authority (see Daniel 2:44 and Psalm 2). Rather, his kingdom would gradually expand throughout the earth while God grants all men the opportunity to repent and be reconciled to him.
When Jesus came, calling people to repent for the Kingdom of God was “at hand”, the process had begun and it continues through the preaching of the gospel for an extended period until Jesus will appear from the heavenly realm and finally overthrow all rebellion by the splendour of his coming.
Another prophetic aspect to the coming of the kingdom of God was that the LORD would put his Spirit in his people to move them to follow his decrees (Ezek. 36:26). This prophecy has been, and continues to be, fulfilled as Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to everyone who repents and believes.
Jesus testified that he was the one who had come as the anointed king to establish the kingdom of God on the earth through the forgiveness of sins and the giving of the Holy Spirit.
When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”…Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 3:21-22; 4:16-21).
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15). [The good news is that the reign of God had, with his coming, become a present reality – see Isa.52:7].
Considering the injustice, oppression and corruption of earthly kings and rulers, one would assume that the coming of the kingdom of God would be extremely good news, not only for Israel, but for the whole world! However, the psalmist prophesied that the kings of the earth rebel in vain against the LORD and his Anointed One, [i.e. the Messiah] (see Psalm 2:2-6 and Acts 4:27).
The psalmist also prophesied that even the teachers and leaders of Israel would reject the very One whom God had anointed as King over all the earth (Psalm 118:22). The LORD also said to Moses, that those who do not heed the word of the LORD spoken through Jesus the Messiah will be called to give account before God for their sin and rebellion.
“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account” (Deuteronomy 18:18-19).
Unfortunately many people are still ignorant of God’s purpose for the redemption of mankind from their bondage to sin and death. Jesus came to set people free from sin. Those who oppose him are, as we noted in Genesis 3:15, of the seed of the deceiver who were destined to be at enmity with the seed of the woman. This is precisely why Jesus accused even the Jews who hated him of being children of their father, the devil! (See John 8:31-47).
Jesus said: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God” (John 3:19-21).
Those who come into the light and submit to the rule of the Holy Spirit effectively enter the kingdom of God now. Jesus is already exalted to the highest throne and already reigns in the hearts of all who believe through His Spirit whom he gives to lead them into all truth.
Those who are redeemed through faith in Jesus Christ are described as, “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that they may declare the praises of him who called them out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9-10).
The kingdom of God does not come in an obvious manner by the Messiah setting up his seat of government in the earthly city of Jerusalem as some contend.
Nor is the kingdom established through political reformation to this present world.
The Kingdom of God is established by the power of the Holy Spirit to effect change in the hearts of those who believe.
Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied,
“The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21).
The good news is that the kingdom of God has come and sinners may now be reconciled to God and receive eternal life through faith in Jesus the Messiah-King who is now seated upon his throne in heaven. Those who obey him are presently participating in the redemption as they submit to the Holy Spirit who sets them free from sin and gives them eternal life.
Before the coming of Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world, God, in his forbearance had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished (Romans 3:25). God shows mercy to people due to their ignorance and unbelief but all men become fully accountable after hearing the good news of the Kingdom of God.
In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed (Jesus Christ). He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead (Acts 17:30-31).
The Holy Spirit convicts the world of guilt in regard to sin expressly because people do not believe in and obey Jesus Christ (John 16:8). Rebellion against Jesus Christ is rebellion against the kingdom of God and against the One whom God has anointed as King of kings.
God warned that judgment will come upon all who rebel against his anointed King: Fear the LORD and the King, my son, and do not join with the rebellious, for those two will send sudden destruction upon them, and who knows what calamities they can bring? (Proverbs 24:21-22).
Daniel’s vision of the Messiah coming upon the clouds of heaven is describing what occurred after Jesus ascended into heaven and not, as some suppose, the second coming.
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man (a title ascribed to the Messiah), coming with the clouds of heaven (i.e. coming with heavenly power and splendour). He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).
In the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son (literally in the person of Jesus his Son), whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe (Hebrews 1:1).
Of course there are many who refuse to believe and scoff at the idea that the kingdom of God has indeed come. Ironically many of them cite continued sin and rebellion as “evidence” that neither the Messiah, nor the Kingdom of God, has come.
“Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation” (see 2 Peter 3:3-4).
But rebellion against the Messiah and the kingdom of God is not evidence that he has not come or that he does not have all authority in heaven and on earth. Rather the Scriptural evidence confirms that these conditions would prevail until he returns to overthrow the rebellion by the splendour of his appearing.
The reason that Jesus has not yet destroyed all rebellion is because he is merciful:
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
Joseph’s own brothers opposed him and plotted to kill him. Likewise King David’s eldest brother, Eliab, revealed his jealousy of David, accusing him of being conceited and having a wicked heart. It is not surprising, therefore, that many Jews, as well as many Gentiles, have hated Jesus without cause and opposed the gospel and resisted the Holy Spirit.
The message of the good news of the kingdom of God was first proclaimed to the Jews living in Jerusalem and Judea – and all who believed the message received the promised Holy Spirit and the assurance of eternal life in the kingdom of God (see Romans 1:16).
However, as the apostle Paul taught, there would be great tribulation2 for all those of Israel who refused to repent and believe in Jesus the Messiah and they would be cut off from the holy, covenant nation for as long as they persist in their unbelief. Those who die in unbelief die in their sins and are eternally condemned (see Daniel 12:2 and Hebrews 6:2).
In the same way that the good news came first to the Jews, Paul taught that trouble and distress would come upon everyone who rejects the word of God spoken through the Messiah, but first for the Jew, then for the other nations (see Romans 2:9). That is why Jesus warned his disciples to flee from Jerusalem as soon as they saw the city being surrounded by the Roman armies, for it would be the time of God’s vengeance upon those Jews who refused to believe in him.
They were indeed called to account for their refusal to listen to the one God had sent (Dt. 18:19). God’s wrath came upon the rebellious, unbelieving city of Jerusalem in the period of great tribulation between 66 and 70 AD at which time the Temple was destroyed and the city was made desolate and the surviving Jews were scattered among the nations throughout the world on account of their rebellion against the kingdom of God.
Conclusion (to part one)
Jesus predicted a period of prolonged exile from the Land for the descendants of those Jews who survived the fall of Jerusalem in AD70.
“For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:22-24).
The severity of the judgement that fell upon unbelieving Israel on account of their rebellion against the Messiah should serve as a warning to all peoples of the consequence of rebelling against the Lord’s Anointed King.
However, as we will show in parts two and three of this article, many people have overlooked the gravity of man’s rebellion against Jesus Christ and are promising blessings for the Jewish people even while they continue in their rebellion and unbelief.
Many are interpreting prophecies which pertained to the Babylonian exile, whereby God promised to re-gather the exiles to the Land, and applying them to the present exile as if to imply that the reason for the prolonged exile no longer matters. It must be remembered that Jesus himself stated that the very reason for the scattering was because they had not recognized the time of God’s coming to them (Luke 19:44).
Many perceive it as arrogant to insist that there is no promise or hope of redemption for Jews, whether living in Israel or scattered around the world, apart from faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer. To suggest that all who reject Christ will be eternally condemned may be considered extremely harsh. But to offer false hopes of redemption to anyone while they remain alienated from God and refuse to accept the salvation He has provided is an insult to the atoning blood of Christ.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for,...(Isaiah 40:1), (through the shedding of Jesus’ blood).
The only message of comfort for all sinners is that today is the day of salvation. Now is the time to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness through faith in Jesus’ atoning blood. Now is the time to receive the promised Holy Spirit who sanctifies us by the truth of God’s word and assures us of the resurrection and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” (Heb 3:133).
God has not finally rejected the Jews, nor has he finally rejected any other sinners who still have opportunity to repent and believe and be saved. But we have a responsibility to ensure that the good news of God’s salvation is clearly proclaimed. We must ensure that people are not misled by a distortion of Scripture, vain speculations concerning the end times and by any false prophecy that may suggest that there is any hope of redemption, including restoration to the Promised Land, for anyone who rejects Jesus, the Redeemer and King of the Jews!
Peter Cohen – PROPHECY UNVEILED – Part one
This article will be continued in Parts two and three with the following topics:
–The throne of David
–The Law will go forth from Zion
Jerusalem above or Jerusalem below?
-Flee from the earthly city of Jerusalem
-The misapplication of prophecy
-The ultimate gathering to the Land (together with Abraham)
-Jesus – the subject and evidence of the fulfilment of all prophecy
-The Church is the evidence of the truth of God’s Word