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This is the first of a series of four consecutive messages. The general title of the whole series is “And Then The End Shall Come,” which is taken from the last few words of Matthew 24:14, a scripture that we will be turning to in due course.
The title of this first part of this series is “Ignore It at Your Peril.” What is it that you ignore at your peril? Biblical prophecy. When I talk about biblical prophecy I’m not talking about the gift of prophecy, which I believe in and thank God for, but I’m talking about the actual prophesies that are recorded in the scripture. I think there is a sad tendency today among many of God’s people not to give sufficient attention to the prophesies of the Bible. Basically, Christians are more or less divided into two camps. There’s the little camp of people who are fanatical about prophecy and are busy calculating dates and telling us what’s going to happen next—and invariably they are wrong. I cannot think of one situation where such a person has been proved right. I can think of dozens where they’ve been proved wrong. But the strange thing is they still go on doing it. And people still go on listening to them—that’s remarkable! Then there’s the general body of God’s people who think prophecy is too difficult, I don’t understand it. I’m tired of all these people who keep telling us things are going to happen and they don’t happen so I’m going to keep away from the subject. I’ll be safe without it. I don’t think you will be safe without it. I think it’s part of God’s total provision for every child of God and, as I said, if you ignore it you ignore it at your own peril.
I’d like to begin this study of this theme in 2 Peter 1:16. Peter here is talking about the promise of the Lord’s coming. That is, the return of the Lord Jesus Christ in person in power and in glory to set up His kingdom on earth. This is perhaps the major theme of the whole Bible. Someone—not me—counted up that for every prophecy of the first coming of Jesus there are about five prophecies of His second coming. And those of us who are familiar with this theme will agree, I believe, that all the prophecies of His first coming were exactly fulfilled. To me, and I was a logician before I became a preacher—which does help sometimes, to me it’s simply logic to believe that the prophecies of His second coming will be fulfilled in precisely the same way.
As I say, the theme of this passage is the coming of the Lord. Now there is a special Greek word in the New Testament, parousia, which is almost exclusively—not completely—but nearly exclusively reserved for the coming of the Lord to establish His kingdom. What Peter is saying is that he and two other of the apostles had a brief preview of what it would be like when Jesus comes back in glory. And so he says we’re not telling you something we made up, a nice idea or a story that we concocted, but he says we were eyewitnesses. He’s speaking about what happened on the mount of transfiguration where he and two other of the disciples witnessed the transfiguration, the transformation of Jesus and saw Him as He will be in glory: His face like the sun, His clothing like the light. So he says when we’re talking about His coming in power and glory, we’ve had just a brief preview. It’s not something we’ve just imagined.
Then he goes on to say but what we’ve witnessed with our eyes is not the main reason for believing. The greatest single authority in everything that we believe is the scripture. Never depart from that. As an example, in 1 Corinthians 15, when Paul is speaking about the resurrection he says Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures, was buried and was raised again the third day, according to the scriptures. The primary authority for the resurrection is the prophetic scriptures. After that he lists a number of people who were eyewitnesses, ultimately including himself. But the evidence of eyewitnesses is not on the same level as the authority of God’s prophetic word. That is the supreme authority.
In the same way here Peter says we’ve had this preview, we were witnesses, we saw, we heard. But he says the most significant authority, the one you must give heed to is the prophetic scriptures. Now, having given that little introduction I’ll read his words. Without the introduction and without being familiar with this theme you might find it a little difficult to follow what he’s saying. I’m beginning now, 2 Peter 1:16 and I’m going to read through verse 19.
“For we did not follow cunningly devised fables...”
We didn’t make up nice stories he’s saying.
“....when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ...”
Notice the word coming—parousia—His coming again in power and glory.
“...but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.”
We had this preview, we saw Him glorified. And then he describes what happened on the mount of transfiguration.
“For He received from God the father honor and glory, when such a voice came to Him from the excellent glory...”
And this is the voice of God the Father. And the excellent glory is the supernatural cloud that came down over them. And this is what the voice said:
“‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased’, and we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.”
The holy mountain is the mount of transfiguration. Now he comes to the real ultimate authority for the believing in the coming of the Lord.
“We also have the prophetic word made more sure, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
Notice he says apart from our testimony as eyewitnesses we have the prophetic word, that’s the prophetic scriptures made more sure. And then he says to us as believers you do well to give heed to it. So you’re depriving yourself of something very important if you do not give heed to the prophetic scriptures.
I would have to say there’s a tremendous amount of error and confusion in the church today and much of it is simply due to the fact that people are ignorant of the simple, basic truths predicted in the scripture concerning the return of the Lord.
Now, why does he say “prophetic word made more sure”? I believe it’s because he and the other apostles had witnessed with their own eyes a great number of instances in the life and ministry of Jesus where the prophetic scriptures of the Old Testament had been exactly fulfilled. So as believing Jews they already believed in the scriptures of the Old Testament. But after they’d been with Jesus for three and a half years and seen scripture after scripture after scripture being exactly fulfilled, the prophetic word had been made more sure to them. What made it more sure was the examples of it being fulfilled in the ministry and life of Jesus.
I’m going to return to this theme and go into it in some detail in a little while because in the New Testament we have a pattern of how Old Testament prophecies are to be fulfilled. It’s the only authorized pattern, there is no other. Then Peter says about this prophetic word you do well to give heed to it as a light, or a lamp, that shines in a dark place. I wonder if you’d agree with me that in the world today we’re in a dark place. The world is confused, tumultuous, uncertain, people really don’t know what to expect next, there’s a great uneasiness, and a real lack of any real confidence. So we’re in a dark place. But for us as believers in Jesus, God has provided a lamp, or a light, in the dark place. What is the light? It’s the prophetic word.
If we’re in a dark place and God has provided a light, or a lamp, and we don’t use the lamp we have nothing to complain about if we remain in the dark. We remain in the dark through our own fault. It’s not God’s purpose that we be in the dark, God has provided a light. But we will still be in the dark unless we avail ourselves of the light which is the prophetic scriptures of God.
Then Peter gives a very vivid picture of what will happen in us if we follow his injunction and give heed to the prophetic scriptures. He says you do well to give heed as to a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. I have to thank the British army for an understanding of that scripture which I would never have had if the army hadn’t sent me in l941 to the Middle East, and I hadn’t spent the next three years in the deserts of Egypt, Libya and the Sudan. For two years in those deserts we more or less lived by natural light: the sun by day, the moon and the stars by night. We frequently had no covering at night, we had no artificial light so when it got dark we lay down in the sand and went to sleep. And when it was getting light we woke up. I don’t live that way today, I have to admit. I tell people I’m an owl and not a lark by nature. So I tend to go to bed somewhere around midnight. But in those days I didn’t have that option.
And so, in those years I observed something which explains this scripture “until the morning star rises in your hearts.” The morning star is not the sun. I’ve checked this very carefully with the best Greek dictionaries. The morning star is what we would call, if you want to use the name, aurora. It’s actually a planet. I am not astronomer but I understand that it’s the same planet that’s also called the evening star or Venus. At certain seasons of the year it sets in the west just after the sun and you can see it. The poet Keats called it Eve’s one star. It’s very distinctive. Being a planet it’s brighter than most of the stars. But at other seasons of the year it rises in the east just before the sun. And that’s when it’s called the morning star. So the same star is the evening star and the morning star. Now, I can see this in my mind’s eye so vividly. Round about the time the sun is due to rise, in the east the horizon will be unnaturally bright, almost luminous. And you’ll say to yourself the sun’s about to rise. But it isn’t. What rises? The morning star. But just at that particular time it’s so bright that you think it’s going to be the sun. But, when the morning star has risen you know one thing for sure. What’s going to happen next? The sun is going to rise. Well, this is the explanation of what Peter says. He says if you’ll give heed to the prophetic word, the morning star will rise in your hearts. Not in the world but in your heart. When the morning star rises in your heart you know for sure that the sun is going to rise. Now it’s not just a matter of doctrine or theology, it’s an inner confidence, an inner expectation, an inner excitement. The sun is going to rise. And that’s one of the great practical purposes of Biblical prophecy. It’s to give us an assurance that Jesus is coming back in power and glory to reign. It’s not now just something you read in the Bible, it’s a truth that’s in your heart, that it illuminates your heart just like the morning start illuminates the horizon.
I think if you objectively study the New Testament you’ll find that all the apostles and the early believers had the morning start in their hearts. They were all excited about the fact that Jesus was coming back. There’s scarcely an epistle that doesn’t in some way or other mention the return of the Lord.
Also I think if you study it you’ll see that most of the appeals to holy living in the New Testament are tied in with the anticipation of the Lord’s return. There’s a scripture that Ruth and I repeat. I think we’ve done it once here, it’s 1 Thessalonians 5:23–24. It’s quite a simple one but it’s a good example of what I’m saying about the impact of the anticipation of the Lord’s coming.
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify us completely; and may our whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls us is faithful, who also will do it.”
Do what? Preserve our spirit, soul and body blameless. When? At the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. You see the appeal to holiness is based on the anticipation of the Lord’s return. I would say there are probably a dozen other passages in the New Testament where the appeal to holiness is based on the anticipation of the Lord’s return. And a great deal of Paul’s ministry is motivated—for instance, he writes to the Thessalonians, “Who is my joy and crown of rejoicing in the presence of the Lord? You are. You’re what I’m going to present to Jesus when He comes.” That was the results of his ministry in Thessalonica.
My corollary, if you want that word—in other words, an associated truth is that where Christians are not excitedly anticipating the Lord’s return the level of holiness in the church is below that demanded by the New Testament. I don’t think anybody can challenge that statement. The early Christians needed this motivation. We need it just as much. Now I can hear some of you thinking but they expected the Lord to come very quickly and He didn’t come so they were wrong. Let me say to you in the light of the results, I’d rather be wrong the way they were and have their results than be right the way some people think they’re right and have their results—if you’re to judge by the fruit. I want to suggest to you that it’s a misunderstanding to think that they were wrong.
I’m going to try to explain to you briefly why. Because, as I understand it—and this is an area that I dealt with in philosophy—time is one of the mysteries that we are involved in. Philosophers and physicists spend a lot of time trying to understand the nature of time. But as I understand it, when a believer dies he falls asleep. That’s the Biblical word. His body is put in the ground, his spirit and his soul depart to be with the Lord and with the redeemed people of the Lord. And he moves out of time into eternity. Eternity is not a very long time, it’s a totally different mode of existence in which past, present and future don’t have the same significance that they have for us here. God lives in eternity. The scripture says He inhabits eternity. For God, past, present and future are all one at the same time. Our natural minds can’t comprehend that fully but we can accept it as fact. So, if I understand this rightly, when a committed believer dies, his conscious part of him, his spirit and his soul, move out of time into eternity. And there is no more time for him until what? Until the resurrection, when the Lord comes back.
So, if you’d like to think of it this way, picture me as the person. These physical eyes of mine will, unless the Lord returns before that, one day close in death. They’ll see nothing more until what? They’re recreated by the resurrection and I get a pair of new beautiful eyes that will never need glasses or medication or anything. And when I open those eyes, what’s the first thing I’m going to see? Tell me. Jesus, that’s right. So, the coming of the Lord for any believer is no further away than the time of your death. After that there’ll be no more time until your eyes open. And I believe the eyes of every believer when they’re opened in resurrection, the first thing they’ll all see will be the one they’ve been longing to see, Jesus. So you see, if I’m right, the New Testament believers were not wrong. They had this excited anticipation and they were right. And I believe it’s God’s will for believers in every generation to have the same excited anticipation of the Lord’s return.
I find when Ruth and I travel, when we come together with people who are usually a bit far out, I mean, they’re a little different and they may have some peculiarities. But they’re excited about the Lord’s return I find when we’ve been with them ten minutes it’s like we’ve known them all our lives. There’s something that unites people who have this confident anticipation. It makes us excited. After all, why should we expect other people to be excited about the gospel if we’re not? I don’t see we have any right to expect more excitement from unbelievers than they see in believers. At any rate, as I stand here right now as sincerely as I know how, I want to tell you I’m excited because I believe Jesus is coming back in power and glory to establish His kingdom. I believe that’s the only solution to earth’s problems.
We can do good, we can help the sick, we can help the poor, we can try to correct injustices so far as it lies in our power, but our efforts are very puny. Right now at this time every week a quarter of a million children between the age of 1 and 5 die of starvation. That’s a larger number than has ever been true in earth’s history till now. It really does not look as though the earth is getting better after the church has been here 19 centuries. Isn’t that right? I would say the problems are greater, more serious, more acute generally than at any time. And the strange thing is where as Christians are often unaware of this, unbelievers are very frequently acutely aware of the problems. It’s a strange thing but unbelievers talk more about Armageddon than Christians. I’m not talking about Armageddon because for the unbeliever Armageddon means something terrible is going to happen at the end of the age.
Now I’d like to deal with a theory. Again, I have to say part of this is connected with my background in philosophy. It so happened that in the days when I was at Cambridge the fashionable philosophy was called linguistic philosophy. I don’t suppose any of you are familiar with all that but the great father of it all was Ludwig Wichtenstein who was a Jew from Austria. I was a pupil of his, I sat at his feet for two years. He used to say if you will listen to me for two years you’ll give up philosophizing. Well, I listened to him for two years, I gave up philosophizing but for a different reason, I met the Lord. I found something that made a lot more sense than philosophy that answered the questions that philosophy never had answers for. But there are some useful things about philosophy. I have to say that being disciplined in that way about the correct use of words and the incorrect use of words has helped me as a preacher. Whether you observe it or not, it could be worse, I tell you that. We have this question: Will the prophecies of the Bible be literally fulfilled? A great many people today are taking the line they won’t be literally fulfilled, they’ll be spiritually fulfilled or metaphorically fulfilled. We can’t take them seriously as meaning what they really say. To me that’s a misuse of language. It’s misusing words, creating confusion.
You see, if I talk about something being literal I give the opinion or the impression that there’s another way it could be. Rather than theorize, I’ll take an example or two. Suppose I say to Brent here, “Are you literally married?” He would say to me, “Why do you say literally? Why don’t you just say are you married?” If I said to him are you literally married, I introduce a very dangerous possibility that you could be married without being literally married. You know, which is a teaching that’s sweeping through society at this time. Or I say to my brother Ray here, “Do you literally pay your taxes?” Of course he’s going to say, “I pay my taxes, why do you put the word literally?” Well you see, when I put in the word literally, I create a dangerous suggestion that you might claim to be paying your taxes without paying them. In other words, it’s a misuse of language and it leads to confusion.
I don’t know whether you’ve ever noticed this too about word literally. Most often when people use the word literally it isn’t literal. For instance, people say he was literally green with envy. He wasn’t really green with envy! Or people might say—I wouldn’t say it—I literally died laughing. But you didn’t! See? What I’m trying to bring out is there’s an element of confusion introduced by this concept of things being other than literal. We don’t use it in other areas, why should we use it with regard to biblical prophecy?
Now rather than speculate, I want to take about ten examples of Old Testament prophecy that we know from the New Testament were fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus. As I go through them briefly I want you to ask yourself were they literally fulfilled. And I want to suggest to you there’s never one suggestion that any of them were fulfilled in any other way than literal. And we have no other pattern in scripture for how prophecy is to be fulfilled. If that’s not the pattern then the scripture leaves us without a pattern. Let’s go through some of the main events in the life of Jesus.
If you study the ministry of Jesus you’ll find one phrase that recurs again and again. I forget how many times, I think it’s eighteen times, where it says “that it might be fulfilled.” And most of the significant things that happened in the life of Jesus happened that it might be fulfilled. What was to be fulfilled? In every case a prophecy of the Old Testament. You could say in a way not only did Jesus absolutely believe in the veracity of the Old Testament and endorse it in His teaching, more important than that He demonstrated it in His life. His whole life from birth to death and resurrection was the outworking of prophecies of the Old Testament. And in every case, if you want to use the word literal, they were literally fulfilled.
Let’s begin with His birth. He was born of a virgin, Matthew 1:22–23. This describes the supernatural birth of Jesus of the virgin Mary. And having given the account of what happened, Matthew says in verses 22–23 of chapter 1:
“Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet [the prophet is Isaiah], saying, ‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel,’ which translated means ‘God with us.’”
What I want to say very simply is Mary was literally a virgin. She was not a spiritual virgin. Had that been the case our whole plan of salvation would have been canceled right at the start. It’s extremely important that Jesus was not conceived of a human father. The whole plan of salvation would be rendered ineffective. So it’s very important that we don’t speak about a spiritual virgin. It doesn’t say a literal virgin because the Bible is a down to earth book. It doesn’t make much room for spiritual virgins.
On the other hand, the phrase is used so it could have been. In 2 Corinthians 11 Paul says to the Corinthian church, “I’ve espoused you to Christ as a chaste virgin to one husband.” Now that is a spiritual use of virgin. Because if you study the careers and the lives of the church in Corinth, they were anything but literal virgins.
What I’m saying is even if there is a possibility of a spiritual use, it’s not found in the New Testament. See what I’m saying?
Let’s look concerning His birth. Luke 2 tells us that Joseph was of the lineage of David so when the enrollment came under Caesar Augustus he had to go up to Bethlehem. While he was in Bethlehem, Mary was delivered of the child. Now, in Matthew 2 we read how the wise men came to Jerusalem and upset the whole city because they said we’ve seen the star of the king of the Jews and we want to worship Him. This upset Herod because it threatened his position as king. So it says in Matthew 2:3:
“When Herod the king heard these things he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and the scribes of the people together he inquired of them where the Christ [I’m going to say Messiah from now on because it makes it clearer] was to be born. So they said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea...’”
There’s not the faintest doubt about this. Notice there were also several Bethlehems so that they had to put in in Bethlehem of Judea to be specific.
“...for thus it has been written [in Micah 5:2], ‘But thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a ruler who shall shepherd my people Israel.’”
All the scribes and the teachers of the scripture knew where the Messiah was to be born. And he was born precisely where it said. He was not born in a spiritual Bethlehem. He was born in the Bethlehem of Judea. There was no way of spiritualizing that prophecy.
And then a very remarkable prophecy, I think, in Matthew 2:14–15. We read how Joseph was warned that Herod would try to kill Jesus and so he was warned to take the child and His mother down to Egypt and stay there until it was safe for him to return. It says in Matthew 2:14–15:
“When Joseph arose he took the young child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt; and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophets, saying, ‘Out of Egypt I called my Son.’”
Now that prophecy is found in Hosea 11:1. And we’ll turn there. Hosea 11:1:
“When Israel was a child [the Lord is speaking] I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.”
Now, if it weren’t for Matthew I don’t know that I would really have necessarily seen that prophecy fulfilled in the ministry and life of Jesus. But Matthew, the writer of the gospel, takes it very literally. Jesus went literally down to Egypt and God literally called Him out of Egypt. If you ever wanted to spiritualize anything, Egypt is a wonderful place to begin because in many passages of the scripture, Egypt is a picture of the world. But no. Matthew does not give a spiritual interpretation to Egypt, he gives a literal interpretation. Out of the very literal country of Egypt God called His Son.
Then in Matthew 13—and it’s interesting how many of these passages come from Matthew because Matthew is the gospel that was written primarily for the Jews and primarily to demonstrate that Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel and is the king. So, Matthew 13:34–35, after Jesus had been teaching in parables it says:
“All these things Jesus spoke to the multitudes in parables, and without a parable He did not speak to them, that it might be fulfilled [notice that phrase] which was spoken by the prophets, saying, ‘I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.’”
That is taken from Psalm 78, the first 2 verses. Here again it would have been very easy to spiritualize these verses. But Matthew doesn’t do that. He makes it very literal, He literally taught in literal parables. Here’s what it says in Psalm 78:1–2:
“Give ear, O my people, to my law; incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old.”
Just reading that as we read through the psalms, many of us would never have thought about applying it to Jesus. But Matthew applies it very specifically to the fact that Jesus actually taught in parables. And he says in his gospel that it might be fulfilled.
If you’re interested in making a word study and you have a concordance, sometime or other just look through the places where it says about Jesus that it might be fulfilled. I think you’ll come to the same conclusion that I did, that the outworking of biblical prophecy was the directive power in the course of Jesus’ life.
And then in healing the sick in Matthew 11:2–6 we have an incident when John the Baptist, now in prison, began to doubt whether Jesus really was the Messiah because He wasn’t doing the things that the Jews expected the Messiah to do. He wasn’t establishing an earthly kingdom, He was just teaching and ministering to people’s needs. And so John—and I can really identify with him—left alone there in prison sends an urgent message to Jesus, “Are you really the one we’re looking for or should we be looking for another?” Although, John was the very one who proclaimed Him as the Messiah. So we read Matthew 11:2 and following:
“When John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the coming one, or do we look for another?’”
Now, Jesus’ reply was go tell John what you see happening in my ministry.
“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of me.’”
What He was saying was in my ministry to the sick I am fulfilling that which was predicted about the Messiah. So, it’s all right, I am the Messiah, I’m doing what I ought to be doing.
Now, if you look in the Old Testament to find the prophecies of healing, it would be very easy to spiritualize them. Let me show you them. In Isaiah 29. Interestingly, nearly all of them are taken from Isaiah. Isaiah 29:18–19:
“In that day the deaf shall hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness, the humble [or the poor] also shall increase their joy in the Lord, and the poor among them shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.”
You could read that and think that’s a beautiful spiritual picture but Jesus said on the contrary, it’s exactly what’s happening. The dead are hearing, the blind are seeing and the poor and oppressed are having the gospel preached to them. It’s being fulfilled how? Tell me. Literally, that’s right.
And then in Isaiah 35:4–6. This is such a beautiful passage but it isn’t by any means obvious that it applies to Jesus’ ministry. Let’s begin at the beginning of the chapter.
“The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them, the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice, even with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the excellence of Carmel and Sharon; they shall see the glory of the Lord, the excellency of our God. Strengthen the weak hands and make firm the feeble knees, say to those who are fearful hearted, `Be strong and do not fear. Behold your God will come with vengeance. With the recompense of God He will come and save you.’”
That last word, salvation. What’s the result of salvation? Verses 5–6:
“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped, then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing; for water shall burst forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.”
Again, it would be very easy to say that’s all spiritual. But Jesus said on the contrary, it’s happening exactly the way it’s written in my ministry, this is the evidence that I’m the promised savior.
And then one other scripture, a very familiar one, Isaiah 61:1. These are the words that Jesus read out in the synagogue in Nazareth.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor, He has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.”
So Jesus said there you are, I’m preaching the gospel to the poor, that’s the fulfillment.
My point, which I trust you can follow, is that all those prophecies of healing could easily be spiritualized. But in actual fact, Jesus did not spiritualize any of it. They were all fulfilled literally in His ministry.
Then we come to the actual sufferings of Jesus, His atonement. And we know from the New Testament, we don’t need to look particularly at any one passage, that they took Him, mistreated Him, spat in His face, hit Him on the cheek, and then He was flogged across the back just as part of it. This is predicted in Isaiah 50:5–6:
“The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, nor did I turn away. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who plucked out the beard. I did not hide my face from shame and spitting.”
Notice that Jesus gave His back to those who flogged Him, He didn’t resist. He could have but He didn’t. That was exactly an literally fulfilled. They literally flogged Him, they literally struck Him on the face, they literally pulled the beard from His cheeks, they literally spat on Him. Horribly literal. I think you’d agree. Nothing spiritual about any of that.
And then we come to the crucifixion and I think we all can picture His hands and His feet being pierced. And we have two prophecies from Psalm 22, both of which go very closely together. Psalm 22:16 and 18. You need to know something which we don’t have time to go into detail but Peter says in his first epistle the Spirit of the Messiah was in the Old Testament prophets. This means that many times they spoke in the first person about things that never happened to them but were fulfilled in the Messiah. So the Holy Spirit spoke in the person of the Messiah out of the prophets. And this, Peter says, puzzled the prophets because they couldn’t understand what they were saying. I mean, think even of the passage we read from Isaiah. Isaiah says I gave my back to the smiters, my cheeks to those who plucked out the hair. It never happened to Isaiah but it happened to Jesus. You see, it was the Spirit of the Messiah in the prophets speaking in the first person of things that were to happen to the Messiah that never happened to the prophet.
And so in Psalm 22 it’s David. And he says all sorts of things in Psalm 22, you need to read the whole psalm, which never happened to David but they all happened to Jesus. This is what technically we call a Messianic psalm. In other words, it’s a revelation of the Messiah in the psalm.
You see, the interesting thing is if you read the New Testament it doesn’t give you any insight into the inner experiences of Jesus. In fact it is extraordinarily brief. All it says is they crucified Him. It doesn’t tell you what went on in His heart and mind. But if you can read the Old Testament with understanding and turn to these Messianic passages, there’s a great revelation of what actually went on inside in Jesus while He was suffering.
So let’s just look at two passages in Psalm 22. Verse 16:
“For dogs have surrounded me, the assembly of the wicked has enclosed me; they pierced my hands and my feet.”
Was that literal? Tell me. Very literal, wasn’t it? Horribly literal. And then it says in verse 18:
“They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”
Did that really happen, was it literally so? It’s interesting because according to the culture of the day a man normally had four basic garments. There were four soldiers at the foot of the cross so each soldier took one garment. But then Jesus had the seamless robe and they said it’s a pity to tear this up into four pieces, let’s cast lots for it. So you see how exact that scripture is? They divided His clothing but they cast lots for His seamless robe. The more you study Old Testament prophecy the more exact you’ll find it to be.
And then in Isaiah 53, which is the great picture of the atonement of Jesus, the suffering servant of the Lord, it says in verses 8–9:
“He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who should declare his generation? For he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people he was stricken.”
Cut off out of the land of living means he was put to death. Was that fulfilled? It was. And notice the next, this is a remarkable example.
“They made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death...”
Now you can’t get it in the English but wicked in the Hebrew is in the plural, rich is in the singular. So He was taken out to burial with the two criminals but He was actually buried in the tomb of one rich man, Joseph of Arimathea. See how totally exact. I’d have to say, in a sense, just from the artistic point of view we ruin the thing if we ever try to make it spiritual. Apart from the spiritual significance my whole inner aesthetic sense of literature revolts at changing what is so beautiful and so perfect and making it, in fact, meaningless. Because once you start to spiritualize things there’s really no limit to what you can do. I mean, I’m good at that. I can make ten spiritual applications to some of these prophecies. And if I talk long enough I’d sound very convincing. But God forbid that I should do it.
What about the fact that He rose on the third day? Paul says He rose on the third day according to the scriptures. Now the scriptures at that time were not the New Testament but simply the Old. Where does it say in the Old Testament He was going to rise on the third day? A lot of you don’t know. Let me show you, Hosea 6:1–2:
“Come and let us return to the Lord: for He is torn, but he will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us [bring us back to life]; and on the third day He will raise us up.”
Notice it’s us, not just Him. Why? Because in the purpose of God we are to be identified with Jesus. He died our death and when He rose, we rose with Him. We are identified with Him in death, burial and resurrection. So you see, the perfection of Old Testament prophecy, not merely does it reveal He rose on the third day but it reveals the real essence of the gospel is that we rose in Him. Can you see that? I hope you can because if you do, you’ll get excited.
So I want to say to you on the basis of this brief analysis there is absolutely no authority or pattern in the New Testament for interpreting Old Testament prophecies in any but a literal sense. So if that’s not the way they are to be interpreted, we have on scriptural pattern at all for how to interpret prophecy. Personally I believe the New Testament is the scriptural pattern and its testimony is absolutely totally in favor of interpreting prophecy the way it’s written.
Now let me just take a few other thoughts about the nature of New Testament prophecy. Turning to Deuteronomy 18 for a moment, here is a promise given through Moses of the coming of Jesus as the ultimate prophet. We need to bear in mind that Jesus is not merely a savior and a shepherd and a king and a redeemer, but He’s also a prophet. We don’t have a complete picture of Jesus if we don’t see Him as a prophet. In fact, he was the greatest of all the Hebrew prophets. This is what God said through Moses, Deuteronomy 18:18–19:
“I will raise up for them [that’s Israel] a prophet like you [that’s Moses] from among their brethren, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak to them all that I command him.”
He was a unique prophet because everything He said was from the Lord. The other prophets were fallible, some of what they said was from the Lord, some was just their own words.
“And it shall be that whoever will not hear my words which he speaks in my name, I will require it of him.”
So for those who refuse to listen to the prophetic ministry of Jesus, God says I’m going to require it from him. I’m going to demand an explanation of why they slighted my prophet, why they ignored His words. And Peter quotes this in Acts 3, speaking to the Jewish people. And his language is even more severe. In Acts 3:22–23, he’s speaking and quoting Deuteronomy 18:
“For Moses truly said to the fathers, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; him you shall hear in all things whatever he says to you.’ [Now listen.] And it shall come to pass that every soul who will not hear that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.”
Brothers and sisters, if we refuse to hear the prophetic ministry of Jesus we are in serious trouble. God says on that account we can be utterly destroyed from among the people.
You see, if God sends a prophet and we ignore him, what are we doing? We’re ignoring God. Well, brothers and sisters, we ignore God at our own peril. It’s not safe to ignore God.
Another fact about prophecy of the Bible is it’s a unique characteristic of the word of God. It’s a unique mark of the one true God that He accurately predicts the future. And no other world religion has anything that compares with biblical prophecy. If we don’t understand biblical prophecy and affirm its truth, we’ve lost one of the strongest arguments in favor of the Bible. Islam has nothing, Buddhism has nothing, Hinduism has nothing, Shintoism has nothing. Only the Bible contains predictions made thousands of years before they happened that were exactly fulfilled.
Let me quickly read to you some passages from Isaiah. Isaiah 41:21–24. The Lord is speaking to people who worship idols and He says:
“Present your case, says the Lord, bring forth your strong reasons, says the King of Jacob. Let them bring forth and show us what will happen. Let them show the former things what they were, that we may consider them and know the latter end of them. Or declare to us things to come, tell us either the past or the future, and we’ll listen to you. Show us things that are to come hereafter that we may know that you are gods. Yes, do good or do evil, that we may be dismayed and see it altogether.”
What God is saying is if they can’t predict the future and they can’t tell you the past, ignore them. They’re contemptible.
And then in Isaiah 42:9:
“Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.”
That’s a mark of the God of the Bible. He tells us what’s going to happen before it happens.
And then in Isaiah 46:9–10:
“Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other, I am God, and there is none like me. In what way declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.’”
So it’s a unique feature of the God of the Bible that He declares both the past and the future. And he says if I can accurately declare the future hundreds of years before it happens, that’s sufficient evidence that what I say is going to happen.
See, we are totally depriving ourselves of one of the strongest arguments for our faith if we ignore biblical prophecy.
And then in Deuteronomy 29:29 there’s a little comment where Moses says:
“The secret things belong to the Lord our God but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children, that we may do them.”
Shall I tell you the problem with many people that make a mess of interpreting prophecy? They’re meddling with the secret things. They’re trying to find out things God hasn’t revealed and they are not obeying the things that God has revealed. I don’t want to pry into God’s secrets but I want to obey what God has revealed.