Clifford Denton and Dave Hilsley
The Lord of Creation has given us many views by many of His prophets concerning the times leading up to His return. Some of them appear to be more clear and complete in their descriptions than others, yet the Word of G-d saw fit to include them all for our benefit and instruction. The Lord has a purpose in revealing that which He has told us, and yet He has chosen to tell us only parts of the story.
More than that, He has chosen to reveal it in the often mysterious language of the prophets, and has couched it in visions and revelations of the spiritual significance of events and developments, rather than describing them from a human perspective. To understand them, we therefore need to ignore many of the conventions of scholarship and human wisdom, and let the Lord speak to us through them.
For three days in June, about a dozen of us gathered in Yad Hashmonah in order to allow study many of the prophetic Scriptures. We asked those who participated to be prepared to share as the Spirit might enable them. The following is a summary of many areas of interest that were raised with respect to prophecy in Scripture.
We were presented with a timeline approach to the prophetic events leading up to the Lord’s return and the end of this physical creation. The scriptures of Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Matthew and Revelation were placed on this line as a series of overlays, each adding breadth and depth to the picture already in place. Many of these events were viewed repeatedly from different angles by the prophets, and we considered how these could be built into a unified picture, resulting in a composite progression through the events leading from the present to the Lord’s return. The initial focus was on the events surrounding the seventieth “seven” of Daniel.
It was often noted as we looked through the different passages that a given prophetic picture could be fulfilled in more than one historical incident. The “complete” fulfillment might include a number of such incidents containing echoes of the full picture, leading up to a final and complete occurrence that would contain the full power of what was foreseen. This is essentially a cyclic view of history; and as these various cycles are overlaid on the historical timeline, giving a historical order to the original prophetic pictures becomes complicated by having to choose one fulfillment which is the “historically representative” fulfillment for that picture. If we are looking at only one of the multiple fulfillments, we might find that the apparent historical order of the prophetic picture is not preserved with respect to the various fulfillments of other pictures.
The Vertical Line View
The inherent difficulties in knowing which echoes of which prophetic pictures are being viewed from our current historical vantage point leads to an alternate way of looking at expected fulfilments. This view imagines the as yet future fulfillments of prophecy to be held in a divine repository above our current position on the timeline. As the Lord of history determines that the time of various events has arrived, they “drop down” from heaven onto the timeline for their fulfillment. The echo of a future complete fulfillment can occur at almost any time, and since various degrees of these echoes are what most believers experience throughout history, it is not particularly helpful to know the order of the “ultimate” events. This view would rather focus on the relative priority of the various pictures as they relate to our walk in the Lord and our preparations for His coming, and so would see prophesied events as a prioritized “vertical” list suspended above our location on the timeline.
The Imminent Return
The imminence of the Lord’s return is true for each of us individually. No matter who we are, or where we fit into the Lord’s overall historical timeline, He might require our soul from us at any moment (unless He has individually shown us otherwise). We who serve Him will each be with Him when we leave our physical body, and for us personally that is His “return”. This has certain inescapable conclusions with regard to the conduct of our everyday affairs. Nevertheless, this does not answer the broader question of when we might expect the main events of the prophetic tapestry that will lead up to the Lord’s physical appearance and the destruction of THE false messiah.
The Effect of Disobedience
One person was not able to attend, but felt impressed by the Lord that we should notice the effect that the disobedience of Israel had on their ability to conquer the land that the Lord promised to give them as their inheritance. Because of their disobedience, the fulfillment of part of the promise was delayed indefinitely, since the Lord decided not to drive out the nations that were left in the land when Joshua died. (Judges 2:20 – 3:4; Joshua 13:1-6)
The Effect of Intercession
“Then Moses entreated the Lord… So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.” The Lord loves to be entreated for mercy; and when there is no man to do so, He himself often does so for us. “And He saw that there was no man, and was astonished that there was no one to intercede.” He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, so He can often be turned back from His announced intention to bring judgement through an act of intercession such as Moses’. Yet there comes a time when intercession will no longer avail. (Jer. 7:16; 11:14; 14:11)
The Effect of Repentance
Unlike Moses with respect to Israel, Jonah was not an intercessor for Nineveh. Yet even without intercession the people repented, and so G-d did not carry out his announced intention with respect to that city: “Behold forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” “Then G-d relented concerning the calamity which He has declared He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.” Jonah was not pleased, and was rebuked for his lack of compassion. The “forty days” were never enforced.
Prophetic pictures are not as simple as they appear at first. Take for example the four-part image in the dream of Nebuchadnezzar. Has the stone that was cut without hands struck the feet of iron and clay yet? It was suggested that this has not yet happened. However, the physical empire of Rome that those legs and feet symbolized has fallen, as have the other empires depicted in the image. Yet, even if we say that that the gospel resulted in the fall of Rome, it can hardly be said that there is not a trace left of Rome, as in the dream. In fact, we learn from Scripture that Babylon herself perseveres in spiritual form. The final fulfillment of this prophecy can only come when spiritual Babylon is destroyed, and “the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Messiah.” The mountain to which the stone grew will then fill the whole earth.
Multiple Prophetic Views
It can be difficult to differentiate between two prophecies that are describing different views of the same thing, and prophecies that are describing similar but different things. Often prophecy and history are like a symphony that builds through variation on a theme. For example, the fourth beast of Daniel 7 has one head, while the beast of Revelation 17 has 7 heads; yet their similarities are so great, and their place in prophetic history seemingly identical, that we ignore this difference. Even so, in Revelation we are told that this beast “was, and is not, and will come”. It is therefore possible that the picture in Daniel describes what was. Nevertheless, five of the heads in Revelation are said to have fallen; do these not relate to what was? We might say that the beast in Daniel was only seen with its current king. But if we are talking of a kingdom that “was, and is not, and will come”, then John was not seeing this in current time, since “is not” for Rome had not happened yet. And if we are speaking of historically distinct events, then are these not separate fulfillments, which have a common spiritual foundation?
Israel in Prophecy
There is a level of prophetic fulfillment that relates to Israel, and yet it can meld imperceptibly into prophecy relating to the Church. Sometimes there are explicit unifying factors, such as Messiah; but sometimes these factors are not so explicit, such as with Ephraim and the “fullness of the Gentiles”. (Rom. 11:25, Gen. 48:19) Israel and the Church represent two different covenants that exist in two different domains; nevertheless, there are areas of overlap. In the complete restoration of Israel spoken of by Paul (“and thus all Israel will be saved”), there will be complete overlap with regard to Israel. We therefore have many prophecies regarding the restored future of Israel which are essentially true for Gentile believers as well. Such prophecies need to be treated carefully, however, so as not to suppress their specifically Jewish elements in favor of promises for the Church. While there is usually no problem understanding the promised return from exile as being for the Jewish people, the “restore all things” which Yeshua declared would characterize the future coming of Elijah is often understood as restricted to a New Covenant restoration.
The Church in Prophecy
The Church’s view of prophecy tends to be less parochial and less from a specifically Israeli point of view. Nevertheless, she should not ignore nor neglect how prophecy affects Israel, lest she lose sight of the fact that Israel is a type of the Church. Much of what was prophesied very specifically for Israel and Jerusalem has been fulfilled in type for the Church, and much more probably will be before the Lord returns. More importantly, if Israel is restored in the end times (Rom. 11:25), and their restoration will be “life from the dead”, those not of Israel stand to gain a great deal by learning from their stand against the Man of Lawlessness.
Prophetic Measures of Time
Specifically when discussing the coming of the Lord, Peter wrote that “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as one day.” He specifically makes reference to “the day of the Lord” as the thousand year reign, including both “come as a thief” (the beginning of the reign) and the destruction by fire of this physical creation (the end of the reign) in his description of that “day”. Daniel’s “sevens” turned out to be seven years, rather than weeks; and we like to think that his “time, times and a part of time” means three and a half years. In short, prophetic time does not always work the way we think it should when we want to calculate past and future dates.
Start and End Times
Even when we are sure that after the fact we have identified a prophecy as having been fulfilled, timing that fulfillment is not trivial until some of the historical dust has settled. Jeremiah prophesied an exile of 70 years. However, for those wishing to calculate the time of the return, such as Daniel, things were not very simple. There were several waves of exile, and several waves of return. In retrospect we may come to a satisfactory allocation of the seventy years, but it could not have been clear for someone who wanted to return after exactly seventy years. That was not the point. And as far as we can tell, it was never the Lord’s intention for them to go in only one wave of return at exactly at seventy years from a given date.
The “Mountain Range” Factor
The prophetic vantage point in time, looking forward, is sometimes compared to a scout looking at a mountain range from a distance on a clear day. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish one ridge from another, and mountains which from a distance might look to be next to each other, might in reality have several valleys separating them. Thus, for example, chapter 11 of Daniel runs continuously in a way that makes us think that to Daniel, it may have appeared that he was seeing a fairly continuous sequence of events. With the advantage of hindsight, however, we can identify a long historical break at about verse 36. And who would have guessed that there would be a break between Daniel’s 69th and 70th “seven” which would be several times longer than 70 “weeks” of years?
What versus When
When trying to determine G-d’s purpose in providing us with prophetic descriptions of the future, it is tempting to think that He wants us to be very ingenious, and to use His partial clues to figure out when our Lord Yeshua will most likely return, or when other major end time events might occur. Scripture itself warns us off such an attempt by telling us that only the Father knows specifically when. On the other hand, we are told to watch and be alert, so that the day will not take us by surprise. In the parable of the ten virgins, they had all fallen asleep. Five, however, were prepared for the possibility that the bridegroom’s delay would be long, and the other five were not. It was the wisdom to prepare for a potential delay that made the difference between those who went in, and those who were closed out. This is an example of the “what to do” of prophecy, as opposed to the “when to do” of trying to be ready by calculating a time for the bridegroom’s arrival.
Physical and Spiritual Fulfillments
It is not always clear when prophecy is looking at a physical object only as a type of a spiritual reality, and when it is looking at the physical object itself. Babylon has fallen, and Scripture tells us that she will not be rebuilt. However, Babylon figures prominently in Revelation; so we conclude that there is a spiritual Babylon which has long outlasted the empire of that name, and that Revelation is viewing this spiritual entity. In this case, we have no choice. But in other cases, it is not clear whether we have the spiritual entity in view, or the physical one, or both. Will Rome be reconstructed as a physical empire, or will it, as Babylon, return only as a spiritual one?
The Sealed and the Unrevealed
There are prophecies that have been sealed: the seven thunders of Revelation, and the 2300 mornings and evenings of Daniel are examples. There are also things that G-d has done that were hidden in previous ages, such as the Gospel to the Gentiles. “The secret things belong to the Lord our G-d, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever.” Since there are things that have not been revealed, we need not build a picture of the end times which pretends that we know everything. The potential of the unknown to change what we think we know is great indeed. “If any man supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know.”
If we are new to the prophetic arena, or to our wonderful G-d, the issues raised here might seem daunting indeed. However, “It is the glory of G-d to conceal a matter, and the glory of kings to find it out.” If we are to be reigning with Him, it is to our glory to find out these things. Let His “day” not steal up on us like a thief in the night; rather, let us be consistent and persistent in our willingness to enter the prophetic realm of the Holy Spirit, and to search these things out.
(This article was first published on the Tishrei Web site “familyrestorationmagazine”)