A few weeks ago, I was talking with a brother about a course he was taking at a local Christian college. He mentioned that the professor teaching it believes that all the Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled.
This is a common viewpoint.
In its introduction to Matthew, The Reformation Study Bible says, “[Matthew’s] citations are not presented as isolated predictions and fulfillments, but as proof of the fulfillment of ALL the expectations of the Old Testament,” p.1360, (emphasis added).
Elsewhere, we’ve referred to the church bulletin insert which said that Ezekiel 40-48 were “fulfilled in Jesus.”
I’m sorry, but I cannot agree.
Jesus did indeed fulfill many prophecies during His first coming. Matthew himself lists 19 such prophecies by text and two others with a general reference to “the prophets.” It seems to me, therefore, that these prophecies clearly demonstrate that prophecy must be fulfilled “literally” [and, yes, I know how some folks view that word!] and not just “spiritually”.
For example, looking at Ezekiel, in our Bibles there are 9 chapters with some 270 verses of extensive and exact detail, even down to a priest’s haircut and whom he may or may not marry.
Keep in mind that Ezekiel was a priest and would not have dared to come up with something like this on his own. Besides, God instructed him to “look with your eyes and hear with your ears, and fix your mind on everything I show you; for you were brought here that I might show them to you. Declare to the house of Israel everything you see,” Ezekiel 40:4.
To say that his writings can be lightly dismissed because of the the fact that one or two words which Ezekiel used were also used by the Lord Jesus of Himself seems to me to be going too far.
We grant that there are some difficult things to understand in these chapters. For example, some are troubled, even offended, by the references to various sacrifices, believing they deny the final sacrifice of our Lord Jesus. I freely admit that I don’t understand them myself. However, without meaning in the least to be irreverent or flippant, I expect that, since God told Ezekiel to write them down, He will take care of it.
I have no doubt that, when all is said and done and this world is over and regardless of our views of prophecy, we will all discover that we didn’t have everything “figured out”.
There were many prophets in Israel. It wasn’t to be taken for granted, though, that they all spoke for God, even if they said or thought that they did. If Israel were to ask how they could tell which were true prophets and which were false prophets, God gave them two simple tests. These tests still work.
The first test is found in Deuteronomy 13:1-5, where God gave this instruction to Israel,
“If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods,’…you shall not listen to the words of that prophet….for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul. But that prophet or dreamer of dreams shall be put to death…. So shall you put away the evil from among you.”
Even though New Testament believers do not have the right or the authority to kill false prophets, still the lesson is clear, all messages must be faithful to and judged by the Word of God.
The second test is in Deuteronomy 18:21, 22,
“And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’ – when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”
In other words, the thing prophesied has to happen!
I don’t believe that Israel would have accepted the idea that a prophecy could be fulfilled “spiritually.” They were told certain things would happen and they expected those very things to happen. Now, it’s true that they didn’t always understand everything that would be involved, any more than we do today. And there might even be a “spiritual” element involved. Still, there was a definite thing or things expected.
For example –
“Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “that I will perform that good thing which I have promised to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah: ‘In those days and at that time, I will cause to grow up to David a Branch of righteousness; He shall execute judgement and righteousness in the earth. IN THOSE DAYS JUDAH WILL BE SAVED, AND JERUSALEM WILL DWELL SAFELY. AND THIS IS THE NAME BY WHICH SHE WILL BE CALLED: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.’ For thus says the LORD: “David shall never lack of man to sit on the throne of Israel; nor shall the priests, the Levites, lack a man to offer burnt offerings before Me, to kindle grain offerings, and to sacrifice continually,” Jeremiah 33:14-18 (emphasis added)..
God said He would keep His promise to Israel and Judah. To say that this was fulfilled during the return from Babylon or that it’s fulfilled in “the church” and the Lord Jesus is sitting on David’s throne in heaven is to miss the point of the prophecy. Jerusalem hasn’t dwelt “safely” since its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar and certainly not after the return from Babylon. Ezra, Nehemiah and Malachi testify to that! She still doesn’t! Judah isn’t “saved.” Jerusalem is still called Jerusalem, there being nothing “righteous” about her, since she is in part inhabited by those who call the Cross “a monstrous falsehood.”.
There are many other OT portions we could look at.
Zechariah 14 is one of them. Read it. When has the Lord returned, there have been catastrophic geological changes to the planet and a moral and spiritual revolution taken place so that everyone who is left of all the nations…shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles”? To say that some of this refers to the “eternal state” as the Reformation Study Bible does is to ignore the plagues and punishment Zechariah describes. How would they even be necessary?
Jeremiah 33 and Zechariah 14 certainly tie in with Ezekiel 40-48.
The Church is unknown in the Old Testament. It didn’t come about because Israel rejected her Messiah and so God instituted “Plan B.” The Cross was part of God’s eternal purpose, Ephesians 3:11. Israel’s rejection of the Lord Jesus was part of it. It doesn’t say much for our view of God if we believe He had to go to Plan B. I don’t know about you, but if God had to do that with me, He’d be way beyond “B.” No, no. The Church is “Part B,” if you will. But that probably is another whole post.
To deny even the possibility of a “literal” fulfillment seems to me to cast doubt on the truthfulness of God’s Word. If He didn’t mean what He said, then why did He say it?Why didn’t He say what He did mean? And what else in His Word can we not trust? So, it seems to me that there’s a lot more involved than just fussing over some marginal issue.
The few words of this post won’t lay the discussion to rest, by any means. I just hope it might give some food for thought.
The Scripture must be fulfilled!