2 Prophetic Perspective


Imagine that you are driving on a long, straight road. Things that lie far ahead appear foreshortened and flat. Only when you get nearer do you begin to see them in depth and detail. The nearer one gets to a scene the more detail one can see.

Spiritual vision

So too with things that lie before us in time. From a distance an elaborate prophetic sequence can look like a single event. The recent return of the Jews to the land of Israel is an example. When it lay well ahead, students of Scripture tended to view it as a fact of prophecy that would soon become a fact of history. But we who have been privileged to see the fulfilment of this prophecy have witnessed, not a single, simple event, but a protracted series of happenings — a chain, every link of which is important.

There are advantages in not seeing too much in detail too soon. It could be distracting and discouraging to see more than one is ready to receive. Patience could be put to too severe a test. Spiritual short-sightedness is one of our human limitations which God seems to take into account. The way that He both provides and withholds knowledge concerning future events suggests this.

Messiah's coming

How discouraging it would have been for the faithful in Old Testament times if they had known that after his coming, Messiah would ascend to heaven and remain there for about 2000 years before returning to reign.

Nor would it have helped those Jews who were about to witness the Lord's first coming to know that there was, in fact, to be an ascension to heaven followed by a second coming. At least, this knowledge would not have helped them at the beginning of the Lord's ministry, though afterwards, when the time was appropriate and they were able to receive it, the disciples were told.

Those Jews were being tested, and one important reason why the kingdom did not come then was because they rejected their king. It has to be recognised, of course, that God already knew

how they would respond and, in a way that is beyond our understanding, made His plans accordingly. But it would have been bewildering to the Jews who were then being tested if the two comings of Christ had been spelt out plainly in the Old Testament.

Thus God takes into account man's limited spiritual vision, and reveals to His servants as much as they can receive. Those servants who live nearer to important events on the divine calendar are shown them in greater detail. The principle is expressed by the Lord Jesus himself: "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now" (John 16:12).

Hence the Old Testament speaks simply of the coming of Messiah. Needless to say, there are passages in the Old Testament that predict the Lord's ascension, and there are also hints of two advents in the Old Testament, which we, from our vantage point in time, are able to discern because the very course of events has made us wiser. But one looks in vain for simple, direct statements to the effect that the Messiah would come, would go away, and then would come again.

Even the great panoramic prophecies of Daniel, chapters 2,7,8 and 11 do not distinguish between the advents. They are skilfully designed by the Spirit of God in such a way that they seem to reach their climax at each of the Lord's comings.

Consider, for example, the 'image' prophecy of Daniel 2. We recognise Christ as the "stone cut out of the mountain without hands", and note that both his first and second advents come after a succession of four great kingdoms, starting with Babylon.

Prophecies concealed and prophecies revealed

Daniel himself was required by God to record many wonderful things concerning the future. In response to his prayers, the interpretation of some of these prophecies was given to him personally. But some of the information was withheld: "But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased" (12:4).

Daniel explains that his prayer for further enlightenment was not granted:

"And I [Daniel] heard, but I understood not: then said I, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things? And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end" (verses 8,9). It is Peter who tells us, hundreds of years later, that the Old Testament prophets were not able to understand some of the prophecies that they were required to commit to writing because, by God's grace, those prophets were ministering for later generations:

"... of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you ..." (1 Peter 1:10-12).

Two more examples

Here are two more examples of the same principle:

"As it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God" (1 Corinthians 2:9,10).


"By revelation he made known unto me the mystery; . . . which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel" (Ephesians 3:3-6).

The Second Coming — A New Testament theme

Although the Old Testament does not speak explicitly of a second coming, the New Testament does. It is a well known fact that there are numerous references to the second coming in the New Testament.

Yet even those who lived in New Testament times were still a long way off in time from the second coming, and not able to receive too much detail. Thus, when the disciples asked: "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" the Lord replied, "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power" (Acts 1:6,7).

Light for later days

Just as some Old Testament prophecies were given for the benefit of God's servants who lived in New Testament times, so some New Testament prophecies have been given for the special enlightenment of God's servants who should live in later days. It is an extension of the same principle.

Luke 21 provides an excellent example. Readers will readily recall the passage that begins with the words: "And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars ..." Here the Lord Jesus, after speaking about the destruction of Jerusalem and its subsequent downtreading by the Gentiles, gives the signs of his second coming. A vivid description of the trouble and fear that would prevail at the end of Gentile times is followed by the announcement:

"And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory . . ." (verse 27). Then the Lord adds:

"And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh" (verse 28).

Quite obviously those who were with Jesus on the occasion and heard him speaking would not witness the signs to be fulfilled at the end of Gentile times. Whereas the first section of Luke 21, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, would have great relevance for them, the words concerning the latter-day signs would convey less. Yet the Lord said: "When these things begin to come to pass then look up . . ." He must therefore have been addressing disciples who had not yet been born — those who would be his followers many centuries later — those who would see these things beginning to come to pass. Can we not say that he was speaking to us, for we are disciples who live at the end of the times of the Gentiles? He that hath an ear, let him hear!

So some scriptures are there for the special benefit of believers living at the end of the times of the Gentiles. Here we remind ourselves that there are evident tokens that we are living in the last days. We have been watching the restoration of Israel; we are witnessing the beginning of the trouble and fear predicted in Luke 21. We should be in a position to see, in greater detail than any of God's servants who have gone before, the sequence of events that leads to the second coming, and the programme that will be fulfilled when the Lord comes. We are on the spot, so to speak. The latter-day prophecies have been written primarily for our instruction.

God has indeed made generous provision for us. Those words of Luke 21 are only a part of this provision. More, much more, is provided in the book of Revelation.

We must be careful not to 'telescope' events that ought to be arranged in series. For example: there seems to be evidence that more than one attempted invasion of Israel is to take place in the latter days. Our tendency, however, is to treat the different accounts of the different occasions as one event. Inevitably a blurred, misleading picture emerges.

Nor ought we to think of the Lord's coming as a simple event: it is the beginning of an elaborate divine programme.

The transition from human government to divine government will not be completed overnight. From Daniel 2 we learn that the kingdom begins as a stone. The stone destroys the image and then grows, becoming a mountain and ultimately filling the whole earth. The growth of the stone is a process, not an event, and it could take a long time. The book of Revelation fills in some of the details.

A Book relevant to every generation

It is recognised, of course, that Revelation has its relevance for every generation. The seven letters were addressed in the first place to churches of the first century, commenting on their spiritual state in their special circumstances. The lessons, however, applied not only to the seven but to all churches of that time, and indeed to all believers of succeeding generations — "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches."

Likewise the exhortations to endure, and the promise of glory and fulfilment in the age to come, have relevance to all saints of all ages.

It is sometimes forgotten that there is a great spiritual content' in Revelation that is bound to be helpful to all who are waiting for the Lord's return. But more about this later!

And there are prophecies that bridge the great gulf between the first and second comings. More also concerning this!

Meanwhile, readers are invited to ponder the thought that, because we are living immediately before the Lord's second coming, it is especially important that we should understand the book of Revelation.

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