Summary: This article was written and published Feb. ’15. 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.
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. Israel is God’s earthly calling. 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 is the new creation of God. Prophecy, being about earthly things, is never directly about the body of Christ.
The true church is 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. The body of Christ was hidden from their utterances and writings. The church is not revealed in the Old Testament scriptures. When you look for the church in prophecy what you find is Jesus Christ. He is revealed there in His two general titles – the Son of Man, the second Adam, and as Messiah for Israel, King of the Jews. But we do not find the body of Christ revealed in prophecy, and all our associations and connections with Him, as far as ages past, remained hidden.
Of course 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 His 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 no church to be found revealed in prophecy. Only the earthly humiliation, and distinct from this, the earthly glory and kingdom of Jesus Christ were revealed.
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 millennium. God’s dividing of the millennial earth 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, 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) They stretch in time from Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian kingdom to the revived fourth beast’s Roman empire and last Caesar, and the false-prophet antichrist (Dan. 2:31-35, 7:1-14, Rev. 13). 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 the temple. His presence left the city 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.
But one of the main emphasizes of biblical prophecy points to the millennium when Israel is again acknowledged by God as His people (Jer. 31:33, 32:37-41, Ez. 11:16-20, 36:22-28), and when Jehovah 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 again be the capital city of the world and the center of God’s government of the world (Ps. 48:1-14, Is. 62:1, Jer. 33:16). And we see how all these things center around Israel.
But more than this, prophecy centers on Jesus Christ and His earthly glory. Israel is only important in prophecy because of their 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. He will live in that temple as their Messiah and Prince during the millennium. As the 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 connected to the principle 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 do. 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 event (Dan. 12:1, Matt. 24:21). This crisis will not be the hidden hand of God’s providence, but rather 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 publically justified in His judgments and destruction of the world’s evil, and then replacing it with His own reign in goodness.
Prophecy is not the providence of God. Providence is the ordering the course of all things by divine power, in such a way that all outcomes which occur in the world are according to the divine purpose and will (Eph. 1:11). This is the form of God’s government in the present Christian dispensation. 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 believer is to walk by faith in God. He is to see things with the eye of faith. The Christian dispensation 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). Yet these mysteries should be spiritually perceived (seen with the eye of faith) and somewhat understood by the believer. The providence of God is certainly one of the mysteries of the present dispensation, and one of the reasons the Spirit instructs us to walk by faith (I Cor. 5:7).
In providence God does not interrupt, but instead He regulates the ordinary course of events. However, this is not prophecy. In prophecy the hand of God is not hidden, but rather shown for all the world to acknowledge. In the Revelation God interrupts directly with summary judgments of progressive intensity in seals, trumpets, and vials, before the King of kings comes forth to destroy the two beasts – judgments inflicted by God and known by the world as coming from God. This is not providential history.
Again, the character of prophecy is not about the church. She is the mystery of God hidden from prophecy (Eph. 3:1-11). The church is the mystery of God and could not be revealed by prophecy – for the church was founded on the breaking down of the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2:14). Judaism, however, religiously maintained 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). In truth, the cross of Christ ended Judaism. The Romans destroying the city and temple in 70 AD was the physical demonstration by God of this truth.
There is no wall in Christianity. There never has been one. 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 is when the church begins.
The church is a heavenly body; she has a heavenly calling; she has a heavenly citizenship. Prophecy does not touch on 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). The church is not of the world. She is a heavenly timeless gap in the history of the world, a mystery that both prophecy and time jump over, while it is said, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” When God puts Christ’s enemies under His feet, earth’s history, and the Jews, and the computation of time, begin again. But it does so without the church.
We should never confound the body of Christ with Israel. We should never ever substitute the church for Israel. To make this substitution, and basically do away with the nation descended from Abraham, is to change everything in prophecy. We must then spiritualize all prophecies, and this in a wild and fantastic way, in order to make any sense of them. Replacement theology, where Israel is replaced by the church, or Israel is called the church, or the church is now Israel, or whatever silly form men come up with to suit their system of doctrine, 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 (Is. 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 uses to accomplish His glory in Christ. As for the true and full fulfillment of prophecy, it all points to the ending crisis (tribulation) of this age and the millennium 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.