This post continues the discussion of the beginning of the Prophecy topic.
Fulfillment Greater than Prediction
The chief concern of prophecy is not
- to prove that God can predict future events with meticulous exactness before they happen.
- nor is it to construct a calendar of events with divine precision so as to chart history beforehand.
Both of these would make “walking by faith” unnecessary, since we would walk by what we see in events unfolding before our eyes.
A key point to remember is that the fulfillment is always greater than the original prediction. Consider two examples regarding the birth of the Savior:
The promise of a miraculous birth:
Isaiah gives a prophecy to Ahaz (and specifically the House of David) that a birth would provide relief from the nations: “Don’t be afraid or cowardly because of these two smoldering stubs of firebrands, the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram, and the son of Remaliah.” As it turns out the immediacy of the prophecy is fulfilled within two years (Isaiah 8:3-4). Matthew shows that the original intent was bigger than Ahaz, or even the house of David, when Jesus is born in Bethlehem.
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son. (Isaiah 7:14 HCSB)
Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:22-23 HCSB)
God’s deliverance of His Son:
What was an historical event (Exodus) is reflected by the prophet Hosea, and then expanded and applied by Matthew to the great deliverance do God’s Son, Jesus.
Then you will say to Pharaoh: This is what Yahweh says: Israel is My firstborn son. (Exodus 4:22 HCSB)
He stayed there until Herod’s death, so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: Out of Egypt I called My Son. (Matthew 2:15 HCSB)
Unifying Focal Point
God’s saving activity in all of history culminates in Jesus Christ and His work of active obedience (under the Law, Galatians 4:4-5) and passive obedience (1 Peter 3:18). The incarnation (God becoming flesh, John 1:14) is the line of demarcation between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant [testament], between prophecy and fulfillment. Significantly, all of Israel’s history must find its fulfillment in and through Jesus Christ (Romans 9:4-5). Israel as a political, military, social entity, such as during King David’s reign, is not the more significant thing in prophecy. Jesus Christ is Israel reduced to One. Israel in the New Testament is the community of God, made through faith in Jesus Christ.
Double Emphasis of Prophecy
Because God by His nature deal with sin—a holy and righteous God cannot endure sin—He established the covenant relationship with humans. The only way to fulfill the covenant was to take on human flesh (John 1:14) and then take the punishment that was properly required of humans. (Genesis 15:7-18). God deals with humans in one of two ways: judgment and redemption. In the Old Testament the terms were curses and blessings (for example Deuteronomy 27-28 under the Mosaic Law).
Focus on the Goal
As we read through the Old testament we clearly see God moving events toward the goal of His promises: the full realization of His gracious presence. God moves forward to the goal by his acts of judgment and redemption. Notice how the Psalmist has a sense of this movement:
When I tried to understand all this, it seemed hopeless until I entered God’s sanctuary. Then I understood their destiny. Indeed, You put them in slippery places; You make them fall into ruin.
Yet I am always with You; You hold my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me up in glory. Who do I have in heaven but You? And I desire nothing on earth but You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, my portion forever. (Psalm 73:16-18, 23-26 HCSB)
The task for Christians is not to have every detail of every situation laid out in front of them. Rather, Christians share the prophetic faith that God has acted, is acting, and will act according to His covenant promises. Our goal is not to “prove” the accuracy of the Bible in predicting events, but to interpret when they take place in light of the prophetic word which God has provided.