Summary: This article was written and published February, 2015. Prophecy, as a general bible topic, concerns itself with three interrelated things: Israel, the earth, and God’s government. This is how we would properly characterize the subject. Prophecy is never about the believer/church – this is the mystery of God hidden from prophecy, from ages past, from the prophets. The believer/church is not Israel, does not have an earthly calling like Israel, and never was the center of God’s government of the world (as the Jews and Jerusalem were in times past under David and Solomon, and as they will be more gloriously under Jesus Christ in the world to come, after He returns). Continue reading this article in order to gain the understanding of these distinct biblical principles and character.
This article was edited by author January, 2023
Old Testament prophecy reveals a great deal about Jesus Christ. He would be the seed of the woman, the second Adam, of which the first Adam was only a figure (Gen. 3:15, Rom. 5:14). Satan would bruise His heel, but Jesus, as the Son of Man, was destined to crush all the power of the enemy. He was the predicted Prophet that would come to Israel, who was greater than Moses (Deut. 18:15, 18, 19). He was the son of David after the flesh, King of Israel, Messiah, who would sit on the throne of David forever, of which both David and Solomon serve as types. Prophecy speaks of His two comings – one in humiliation and one in glory, although the things of His humiliation remained obscure. It spoke of His sufferings and death. In referring to these, Jesus often said concerning Himself, “The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!” And again saying, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and restores all things. And how is it written concerning the Son of Man, that He must suffer many things and be treated with contempt?” Prophecy spoke of His resurrection from among the dead (Ps. 16:10). It sees Him seated at the right hand of God until it is time for God to make His enemies His footstool (Ps.110:1-2). It reveals all about the earthly glory that will be given to Him by God. Most of prophecy is about this earthly glory – the throne and kingdom of the Son of Man, and the throne and kingdom of Messiah – things that are yet future (Dan. 7:13-14, Matt. 24:30, 25:31, Is. 9:6-7, Jer. 33:14-21). But the things of His humiliation not so much, although with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus He explained from the scriptures His sufferings and death in detail (Luke 24:25-27). Still not a whisper of the church to be found in prophecy. Only the earthly humiliation, and distinct from this, the earthly glory and kingdom of Jesus Christ were revealed.
Revelation 19:10 (NKJV)
10 And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
Revelation 5:1-7 (NKJV)
5 And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it.
4 So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it. 5 But one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.”
6 And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.
It is better to say that the story prophecy tells revolves around Jesus Christ. The passage from chapter nineteen speaks of this, “…the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” This principle is confirmed by the scene we find in chapter five: “…no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it.” None could touch or even dare to look upon the book, until the Lamb becomes the center of the heavenly scene. He alone prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals. This is what gives peace and confidence in our search into prophecy. If it is done without Christ, we may be able to understand it in some measure, but it would be the results of the disjointedness of an unsanctified mind. But if we learn prophecy with Christ, we find Him the key to the whole subject. All the events predicted, all the symbols employed, all the characters involved, may be properly understood only when we comprehend their relationship/connection with Jesus Christ. He is the center of the counsels of God; He is the key to the glory about to be revealed.
Bible prophecy has a three fold character. First, it is about the earth in general and takes on an earthly character and emphasis. Prophecy is never about heavenly things. Jesus asks Nicodemus, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12) The Jews had a certain limited understanding of earthly things, even though they did not possess the Spirit of God individually or corporately. Israel has an earthly calling from God. All Jewish teaching is according to this calling, and is earthly in its character – the Old Testament is about earthly things. These scriptures are filled with prophecies, and they form all the hopes and longings of this nation Israel. Prophecy is about earthly things. Jesus indicated genuine surprise that Nicodemus, a highly-regarded teacher of Israel, did not know accurately enough about earthly things (John 3:10).
The body of Christ is a heavenly body. The church has a heavenly calling and a heavenly citizenship. Her members are not of this world as Jesus is not of this world (John 17:13-16). The church is destined to sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:6-7). She has been blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places (Eph. 1:3). The church’s relationships and character have no connection with the world or earthly things. Israel is connected to the earth and the first creation. Israel is part of the world. The church is connected to the heavens, and all its members, being in Christ, are the new creation of God (2 Cor. 5:17). Prophecy, being about earthly things, is never directly about the body of Christ.
The true church is a big part of the mystery of God hidden from the beginning of time, from the foundations of the world. That means it was hidden from prophecy and the prophets in the Old Testament. The revelation of the body of Christ was hidden from their utterances and writings. The church is not revealed in the Old Testament scriptures. If we look for the church in O.T. prophecy we cannot find it; we only find Jesus Christ, Son of God, Son of Man, and Messiah. Mainly we find Him through His two acquired titles – the Son of Man, the second Adam (Ps. 8, Dan. 7:13-14), and as Messiah for Israel, Son of David, the King of the Jews (Ps. 132: 10-18, Micah 5:2). But we do not find the body of Christ revealed in prophecy, nor all our present and future associations and connections with Him.
The second characteristic of prophecy is that, directly or indirectly, it is about the nation of Israel. Prophecy is about the earth, and Israel is God’s earthly calling. In prophecy we see God’s purposes (counsels) concerning Israel in the end. By the faithfulness of God to fulfill every promise He made to their fathers, Israel will be returned to the land and will live there in peace and prosperity during the future millennium. God’s dividing of the earth at that time will center on the children of Israel and their promised land (Deut. 32:8-9). Also prophecy speaks of “the times of the Gentiles” and four Gentile civil world empires. But this is because God no longer acknowledges Israel as His people (Hos. 1:9) and has allowed the Gentiles to rule over them. Prophecy concerning specific nations set for judgment by God or the four Gentile beasts is always indirectly related to Israel, and more precisely, to be judged by how these entities treated the Jews. One more thought fits in here – time being counted on the earth is a distinct part of prophecy. When it is counted in different prophetic passages, it is only in reference to Israel (Gen. 15:13, 16, Dan. 7:25, 9:24-27, Rev. 11:1-4, 12:6, 14).
The third character of prophecy is that it is about God’s government of the earth. The principle of government begins with Noah after the flood, and the sword being placed in man’s hand to curb and restrict evil in men from again overtaking God’s creation (Gen. 6:5-7, 9:5-6). The principle connects with Israel after they were redeemed out of Egypt and brought to Mt. Sinai. Jehovah would live in the midst of Israel. He would dwell behind the veil in darkness, where His throne was between the cherubim. Jehovah’s glory and presence would be there. God’s throne was on the earth and He ruled the world from the midst of Israel.
This remained true concerning the nation until Solomon’s temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. Here you should note the change in the principle of government of the earth: world power and dominion is given by God to the Gentiles. Jesus labelled this age as “the times of the Gentiles.” (Luke 21:24) It stretches in time from Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian kingdom to the future seven-year tribulation, which will feature a revived Roman empire with a final Caesar (Dan. 2:31-35, 7:1-14, Rev. 13:1-7). These prophecies speak of the Gentiles ruling over Israel when the Jews are not acknowledged by God as His people (Hosea 1:9). And what brought about this transition in the principle? God’s presence had departed from Israel’s temple. His presence left Jerusalem and the earth. The throne of God, the ark, was lost forever. Jehovah no longer dwelt in the midst of Israel. Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed.
The central point of all prophecy is the predicted return of Jesus Christ to this earth in power and glory. He will defeat all God’s enemies and establish His own kingdom over the world. At that time Israel will again be acknowledged by God as His people (Jer. 31:33, 32:37-41, Ez. 11:16-20, 36:22-28), and Jehovah’s manifested glory will again dwell in the midst of Israel (Joel 2:26-27). He will again rule the earth from this nation (Ps. 97:1-6). His presence and glory will again be in their temple (Ez. 43:1-7). Jerusalem will be the capital city of the world and the center of God’s world government (Ps. 48:1-14, Is. 62:1, Jer. 33:16). And we see how all these things center around Israel.
We see how prophecy centers on Jesus Christ and His earthly glory. Israel is an important topic in prophecy because of her connection with Jesus Christ as His earthly people. He will return as their Messiah to rescue the remnant from all their enemies who want to destroy them. He will plant them in their land and cause them to prosper (Ez. 34:11-15, 34:22-31) . He is the mediator of their “new covenant.” (Heb. 8:6-13) It was His blood that was shed for this nation, and is the blood of the “new covenant.” Jesus is their Deliverer come out of Zion, who will turn ungodliness away from Jacob (Rom. 11:26-27). Israel will live in peace in the full extent of the land, without any Gentile intruders. He will build their new millennial temple. As King of the Jews He will rule on the throne of David eternally, over the twelve tribes of Israel (Jer.33:14-21, Matt. 19:28, Luke 22:28-30). He is their Melchizedek priest who blesses Israel on behalf of the Most High God (Gen. 14:18-20). During the millennium Israel will be the most exalted nation on the face of the earth, and it is all because of Jesus Christ.
Prophecy also speaks of the Son of Man as the King of kings and Lord of lords over the Gentile nations in the world (Dan. 7:13-14, Rev. 19:11-21). He will rule them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel (Ps. 2:8-9). He must rule on the earth until He has put an end to all authority and power (I Cor. 15:24-28). This will be the last rule of man on the earth, being made good by the Son of Man for the glory of God.
If we speak of God’s government then the law comes in as the means and guide of that government. That is why Israel’s “new covenant” writes the law in their hearts and minds, so that after they are brought into the land they will be responsible to do the law and receive the blessings (Deut. 28:1-13). The law of God is the source by which Jesus will rule during the millennium, making judgments in righteousness and justice (Ps. 72:1-19, 94:15, 96:10, 13, 97:1-8, 98:9, 99:1-4, Is. 26:9-10). You see, the law was always the perfect measure of human righteousness in the relationships man had, with God and with his neighbor. When the law was given to the Jews, it was essentially being given to fallen man in Adam on the earth. It is God’s religion for man on the earth; it is God’s religion for the world. The connection of the law with God’s throne of government was seen when Moses placed the tablets of stone in the ark of the covenant.
The nation of Israel is thoroughly connected to the institution of God’s government of the earth. It is part of their character and calling. God’s government of the millennial earth centers in a restored Israel, with Jerusalem as the capital city. Both the throne of the Son of Man and the throne of David will be in this city. The law was given to the Jews to keep. Heaven and earth will not pass away until all the law is fulfilled by Israel (Matt. 5:18). Through Israel all the nations of the millennial earth will be blessed (Gen. 18:18).
But God’s government of the earth is more than Israel being restored in their land and being exalted as the greatest nation on the millennial earth. Consider the prophetic events that precede this time when God’s promises to Israel will be fulfilled in such power and blessing. Much of the content of bible prophecy points to a world-wide period of trial and crisis at the end of this age (Rev. 3:10), a time so difficult and horrible that it will be said that man has never experienced such circumstances on the earth previous to this time (Dan. 12:1, Matt. 24:21). This seven-year crisis will be less the hidden hand of God’s providence, but more the public acts of God in direct judicial action (judgment) on the earth. The evil of man will have fully ripened in the last two beasts (Rev. 13) and Satan cast out of the heavens (Rev. 12). God will be publicly justified in His judgments and destruction of the world’s evil, replacing it with His own reign in goodness.
Prophecy does not explain the providence of God. Providence is the ordering the course of all things by divine power, in such a way that all outcomes occurring in the world are according to the divine purpose and will (Eph. 1:11). This is the form of God’s hidden government from the time His manifested presence and glory left the earth – the entire length of “the times of the Gentiles.” His providence is hidden and behind the scenes, so to speak. Often it is inscrutable in its reasons and even the means it employs, leaving the present government of God obscure. The world views it as the normal course of events and the results of chance or luck. If they believe more in cause and effect, then they will say that preparation and work, their presence or absence, are the reasons.
However, the Christian is to walk by faith in God (2 Cor. 5:7). We are to see things with the eye of faith. One of the more difficult things for any believer to understand is that God orders all things by His hidden-hand of providence. Christianity has many mysteries (Matt. 13:11), that is, many matters of faith and things unseen (I Cor. 4:18, Col. 3:1-3, Phil. 3:7-21). These mysteries should be spiritually perceived (seen with the eye of faith) and understood by the believer. In the same manner, the providence of God is also obscure and mysterious, making it difficult at times to perceive and comprehend. However, our faith is in God through Jesus Christ. We believe that God loves all His children “in Christ,” and that nothing in heaven and earth can separate us from this ever present love:
Romans 8:28-39 (NKJV)
28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Again, the character of prophecy is not about the church. She is the mystery of God hidden from prophecy (Eph. 3:1-11). In Judaism, God purposely built up a wall between Jew and Gentile; it maintained a distinct separation between these two groups in the world. In contrast, the Christian church was founded on/by the breaking down of the middle wall of partition (Eph. 2:14). In Christ, that is, in the body of Christ, there are no Jews or Gentiles, no circumcised or uncircumcised, etc. (Gal. 3:26-28, Col. 3:9-11). Judaism always maintains this division. The Jewish system and dispensation were established on this principle of separation. Yet the wall was torn down in Christ. He abolished the law of commandments and ordinances in His own flesh by His death (Eph. 2:15). He wiped them out and nailed them to the cross (Col. 2:14).
There is no wall of separation in Christianity. The body is in union with its Head as one new man – something that never existed before, and could not exist or be revealed before the Holy Spirit was sent down (Eph. 3:5). And the Spirit could not be sent until Jesus was glorified to God’s right hand (John 7:39, 16:7). This was when the church began (Eph. 1:19-23). She is a heavenly body; she has a heavenly calling; she has a heavenly citizenship. Prophecy does not speak of heavenly things. The church will physically sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus and be blessed there with all spiritual blessings – our Father God will make sure of these things; they are His eternal purposes, His ultimate counsels (Eph. 2:6, 1:3, 3:11). Also along this line of reasoning, the church is not of the world. Jesus said He is not of this world, therefore we are not of this world (John 15:19, 17:14, 16). The church is heavenly. Although gathered on the earth at this time, she remains a pilgrim and stranger as long as she remains here. The Christian dispensation in which the church is formed is a heavenly timeless gap in the history of the world, a mystery that both prophecy and time jump over until it is finished.
We should never confound the body of Christ with Israel. We should never ever substitute the church for Israel. To make this exchange, practically doing away with the nation descended from Abraham, is to change and confuse everything in prophecy. This would force us to spiritualize all prophecies in a wild and fantastic way, in order to force their fulfillment. Replacement theology, where Israel is replaced by the church, or Israel is called the church, or the church is now called Israel, or whatever silly form men come up with to suit their system of thought, is simply nonsense. It has no respect for Scripture. Rather, you should just admit that Israel still exists as a people, and have been kept and sustained by God, watched over by Him in a certain preserving type of way, and that in the end when the prophecies will find their true and complete fulfillment, that among the physical descendants of Abraham there will be found the true Israel, elect of God, preserved by God through a great time of trial (Jer. 30:7, Dan. 12:1, Matt. 24:21-24, Mark 13:19). These preserved ones (the Jewish remnant) will be the recipients of the faithfulness of God to fulfill all His promises to them that He made to their forefathers (earthly in character as they are – Isa. 10:20-23, 11:1-16, 28:5, Jer. 23:3-8, 31:1-14, Joel 2:28-32. Micah 4:7, 5:2-8, Mark 13:26-27, Rev. 7:1-8).
The study of prophecy reveals the different ways and means God will use to accomplish setting His glory on Jesus Christ. As for the true and full fulfillment of prophecy, it all points to the ending crisis (tribulation) of this age and the millennial dispensation to follow. This article should be sufficient to see the general character of biblical prophecy – it is about the earth, God’s government of the earth, and the nation of Israel. These three are intimately related to each other, and connected together in prophecy. But please note: Prophecy is never directly about the church. The body of Christ, although gathered on the earth by the Holy Spirit at this time, is a heavenly thing. She is the mystery of God that escapes the attention of bible prophecy.