Summary: This article was written and published March ’16.
We must have a certain perspective in order to understand the details of prophecy – a spiritual and godly perspective, that which would be the mind of Christ. Only then will we have God’s thoughts and the understanding of biblical principles through which we may see and comprehend, as taught by the Holy Spirit, all the counsels of God. We must develop a spiritual discernment of the general and moral character of the objects and events of prophecy – the character of the world, of the Jews, and differently, of the end-time Jewish remnant and those of the Gentiles who will refuse to worship the beast.
Prophecy is the revelation of the thoughts of God as regards the future, and His glory in Christ is the one blessed end of the prophetic word. God’s glory is the center of all His eternal counsels, and thus, the focus-point of all the divine actings of scripture. If we make man or make self the end, even in his salvation, then singleness of eye is gone (Matt. 6:22-23); darkness will ensue by the just judgment of God — a similar result in the domain of the spiritual understanding as it is with the spiritual conscience. We should say with equal conviction of the prophetic scriptures what the Holy Ghost says about the whole written word – it is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.
Still, the revealed acts of prophecy are the expression of the principles of God’s government of the world, and therefore the accomplishment portrayed in His word is the place where we learn these principles fully. This we have to ascertain. Otherwise we form our own human thoughts of prophecy, that which God has given us so we may know His thoughts. Our business is to gather of what God speaks. Yet even though all scripture is given for our profit, it doesn’t necessarily follow that all scripture is about the believer/church. The glory of God in dealing with Israel is, in its place, as much the object of our faith as His dealings with Christians. It simply remains that the two are quite distinct from each other. And the apprehension of the distinctions in His ways, that is, real understanding of His word, depends on our knowing to whom the scriptures apply. This will always be a key factor of the believer’s spiritual intelligence – his ability to see contrasts and distinctions, keeping them foremost in his mind.
So I repeat this important point: What is so often lost sight of, or never really understood to begin with, and this to the detriment of comprehending God’s counsels or the true nature and scope of prophecy itself, is how entirely different the believer/church is from all the above groups mentioned. The church, and all members of the body, has a heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1). All the members have a heavenly citizenship (Phil. 3:20). At this point I could go on and on multiplying scripture concerning heavenly things (John 3:10-12). Therefore the character of the church is heavenly. By the unwavering testimony of the Spirit of God in scripture the church and all her members are a truly heavenly people.
But all prophecy is about God’s ways in His government of the earth. This is the true nature of prophecy, and government is its foundational principle. But here we may easily see the disconnect that exists between the believer/church and the subject of prophecy – the two really do not connect. The church is a heavenly body. Prophecy is never about heaven or heavenly things.
New Testament scripture describes the body of Christ as the mystery of God hidden from the prophets and their prophecies, hidden from the ages past, hidden in God from before the foundations of the world (Col. 1:24-26). In Paul’s epistles we learn that the believer, and therefore the church, was promised by God eternal life in Christ before the world began (Titus 1:2-3, II Tim. 1:9-10). Yet the actual revelation of this had to wait, and so, remained hidden in God throughout Old Testament times. Why the wait? God would not reveal His plans to form this mystical heavenly body until the accomplishment of the foundational work for it, the work of the cross. Having glorified God concerning mankind’s sin and then being raised from the dead, Jesus went away back to God so that the Holy Spirit could be sent (John 7:39; 16:7). It is this sending of the Spirit down by which the mystery of God was made known to His holy apostles and prophets (Eph. 3:1-6). Concurrent with this new revelation, the Spirit begins to gather the body of the glorified Man (Eph. 1:19-23).
The church is heavenly, and it is the mystery of God – both are reasons why prophecy doesn’t seem to attach itself to her. The last specific event of prophecy was the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple by the Romans in 70 AD (Dan. 9:26) – “And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah will be cut off, and shall have nothing; and the people of the prince who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary.” There would be a general warning after that, but nothing specific – “And the end thereof shall be with an overflow, and unto the end, war,—the desolations determined.” No particular event until the crisis at the end of the age (what is commonly known as the future tribulation). Simply put, the desolations of Jerusalem and the temple would continue, and have continued for almost 2000 years.
But the church has no association with this last prophetic event. God used this destruction to physically stop the animal sacrifices and to put an end to the practice of Judaism. God makes the Mosaic covenant obsolete (Heb. 8:13). He scatters the Jews, those who survived, into the nations (Luke 21:20-24). God has set Israel aside – He will not be their God, and they are not acknowledged as His people. They had put to death their own promised Messiah. They would suffer the judicial consequences of this grave transgression against God.
What characterizes the believer is the constant expectation of Christ coming to catch him up into the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, and to ever be with Him. There is no prophetic event on the biblical calendar between the true Christian and his being with his Lord – no event whatsoever. The church begins and ends its pilgrimage on the earth without ever making so much as a mark on the prophetic timeline. The coming of the Lord for His own (the rapture) is associated with His love, and the highest enjoyment of His glory with Him in the Father’s house (John 14:1-3). These are moral feelings and practical effects of an entirely different character (from judgment), higher and more intimate, far above the prophetic word and its sobering announcements, however just and glorious they may be. It simply speaks of the privilege of the sons of God. It is having the morning star – Christ coming for us before the dawning of the terrible day of the Lord on the earth – rising up in the believer’s heart, a far greater and better light than the lamp of the prophetic word (II Pet. 1:19).
Prophecy has ground to a halt. When God is dealing with the heavenly calling of the church, it is impossible for Him to acknowledge the earthly calling of Israel. These two distinct elections cannot occur simultaneously in the world. They cannot exist at the same time. God must fulfill the heavenly calling of the church by its removal from the earth, before He can turn back to dealing with the earthly calling of the Jews. If prophecy is about Israel and Israel is presently set aside by God, then prophecy isn’t being fulfilled today. And there can be no prophetic event that needs to be fulfilled before the rapture of the church takes place.
The important pre-requisite for a proper biblical study of the prophetic word is a clear apprehension of the differences between the church, called by sovereign grace for heavenly places in Christ, and the immediate and direct divine government of the world. This government will see the Son of Man reigning out of Jerusalem in Israel, and the Jews forming the tightest circle on the earth around their Messiah. This earthly government is fully revealed as the purpose and ways of God in prophecy (Deut. 32:8). God has set aside the Jews at this time because of their rebellious idolatry against His law, but also at last because of their rejection of the Messiah. Yet He will resume His government of them again, an immediate rule on the earth wholly different in nature, character, and results from the Gentile powers that be now, entitled though they are to our submission and honor, however little they are able to deal with their own responsibilities or the misery and corruptions of mankind – those works which God will judge of them.
This article is, more or less, an introduction to the topic of prophecy and how we should understand certain essential principles in order to properly address this biblical topic. I am planning other bog articles on this subject to follow this one, each hopefully giving helpful clues and hints for producing a better understanding of the prophetic. But there is one more general rule concerning prophecy that we must keep in focus – as does all the word of God, so do the prophetic announcements found in it concentrate on one center, which is, Jesus Christ. Our studies of the prophetic scriptures will be fruitful and rewarding only to the extent that we keep in mind that the centering focus of those prophecies is the glory of Jesus Christ.
The grace of God makes the believer true to the glory of Christ, for the Holy Spirit was sent down for the very purpose of glorifying Him (John 16:13-14) – “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth…and tell you things to come. He will glorify Me…” The Spirit only reveals the truth of God’s word when this is the center of the believer’s pursuit – the glory of Christ. This is the Holy Spirit’s divine purpose which He will always remain true to.
But we dare not overlook the heavenly glory of Christ and the church’s union with Him in it, a glory quite distinct from His coming earthly glory; we cannot misunderstand the church’s heavenly calling, otherwise we will not properly understand prophecy. The crisis at the end of the age is the grand focusing point of prophecy and earthly things (John 3:12), the earthly glory of Christ its central object. He is the divine center of all, yet there will be two distinct spheres of glory – a heavenly and an earthly. The body and bride of Christ will first be with Him on high – the heavenly. The heavens will be taken first, and settled under the power of God. After, it will be His people the Jews, and a Messianic kingdom in Israel as the sub-set of the kingdom and power of the Son of Man, King of kings, Lord of lords over all creation – this will be His earthly glory.
The believer/church has its own associations and privileges as redeemed in Christ. These are quite distinct from Israel’s promised future that is detailed in the prophetic scriptures. By the eye of faith the believer sees Jesus Christ in heavenly places, glorified, and seated at the right hand of God, now the Head of the body, our High Priest and Advocate. The believer’s relationship with God, all his associations and privileges in that relationship, are determined by the unseen truth of Jesus, as the Son of Man, being exalted and glorified in the heavens. Even the location – “in the heavens” – plays a vital role in these associations. For the believer it is a Christ in heavenly places – the importance of realizing this cannot be overemphasized. As the body of this glorified Man, the church is in union with Christ its Head in heaven. We see these unseen things with the eye of faith; correspondingly, we now walk by faith as Christians, and can only truly be pilgrims and strangers in this world and on this earth. This is the result of keeping the glory of Christ and Christ Himself as the object of our faith and life (Gal. 2:20).
But if the glory of Christ is the true object of God in Scripture, and if we keep this as our central focus, especially in understanding its meaning, then we will become convinced by the Spirit that there will be a heavenly glory as well as an earthly glory for Him. It is clear enough from the prophetic scriptures that Jesus will return to the earth and appear as the Messiah, the King of the Jews, and the Son of Man to reign over all nations – things involving the government of the earth and the restoration of Israel in their land. Christ’s earthly glory was always the general topic of all the prophetic scriptures. But hidden from prophecy was His heavenly glory, and the church, His body and bride. Also hidden was the Father’s kingdom (Matt. 13:43) – this is where the church ends up, in the heavens, shinning as the sun. I believe we will eventually realize that the reign of Christ and the glorified saints is heavenly, but over the earth (Rev. 5:10 should read “over” the earth). We, the true church, will sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:6) – in my opinion this refers to conferred positions of authority in our Father’s kingdom and government.
having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth — in Him.
All of Scripture centers on the glory of Christ. The above passage from the first chapter of Ephesians tells the general story of God’s purpose in His counsels – Christ will be made the head of all things in both heaven and earth. The prophetic scriptures (Old Testament) only point to the earthly glory of Christ. What was hidden from prophecy was Christ’s heavenly glory. Not only was Holy Spirit sent down to gather on the earth a body of believers who are truly destined for the heavens, but the Spirit was given the task of revealing to Paul the understanding of God’s mystery (Eph. 3:1-5). And Jesus has promised to come back for us to take us to the Father’s house. When He does, He will share His glory with us (John 17:22-26).