Blast From the Past: On Multiple Fulfillments of Prophecy

Photo of the Book of Isaiah page of the Bible

Back when I worked for Ravi Zacharias’ ministry (as an intern in the mail-room, lest anyone get the wrong idea), I spent some time chatting with Paul Copan (yes, yes, forgive the name-dropping) and I asked him where he stood on eschatology. He told me, “You know, Michael, I think that when it’s all said and done, we’ll find out that all three major positions (i.e., preterism, historicism, and futurism) will have turned out to be correct.”

Maybe he was just trying to avoid an argument, but his words struck me as profound. Since studying our Jewish roots, I’ve become even more convinced of his wisdom.

In the West, we think of time as linear and of prophecy as simple prediction-and-fulfillment. But in the Hebrew and other Ancient Near East cultures, they think of time as circular–not in an ultimate sense, as in Hinduism, but in the sense that things have a tendency to repeat–and of prophecy as the fulfillment of a pattern.

So then, let’s consider a prophecy that there should be little debate on, 2 Sa. 7:12-16:

And when thy [David’s] days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be My son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men: But My mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee. And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever.

So, does this prophecy refer to Solomon, or to the Messiah? The answer is both.

Solomon followed his father David, built a house for the Holy One’s Name, and God established his kingdom. When he committed idolatry, God punished him “with the rod of men”–specifically, the sword of Hadad the Edomite (1 Ki. 11:14) and Jeroboam the son of Nebat (v. 26). But God did not take Israel from him as He did Saul, but waited until Solomon had passed and his son had taken the throne, and even then He took away only the northern kingdom (vv. 11-13). And so David’s line continued on the throne.

Yeshua also followed His father David. He is building a spiritual house for the Holy One’s Name in the Ekklesia (1 Pt. 2:5) and will also build a physical Temple for the Millennium (Ezk. 40-48). While He never committed iniquity Himself, He became sin for us so that by His stripes, administered by the rod of men, we could be healed. And though the Father’s mercy departed from Him for a brief time as He hung on the Cross, it did not depart forever as it did from Saul, nor was the Kingdom taken from Him–on the contrary, by His eternal life, the throne of David is forever secure.

Examples abound: Isaiah prophecy of a child whose birth would be a sign of the Eternal One’s fidelity to the house of David (Isa. 7:14ff) was fulfilled both in the near term by the prophet’s own son, Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (ch. 8), but it also looked forward to the birth of the Messiah, who fulfilled the prophecy in even more literal detail (e.g., being born of a virgin, being called “God With Us”) and went on to fulfill parts of the prophecy that Maher did not (chapters 9-12, which should not be removed from the stream of though begun in chapter 7).

Prophecy may even refer to past events which prefigure future ones. We are all familiar with prophetic types, as when Abraham “sacrificed” his son Isaac on Mt. Moriah, or Joseph was sold by his brothers as dead only to be made king over them. Or consider Matityahu’s (Mathew’s) use of Hos. 11:1 in Mat. 2:15. Consider the prophecy in context:

When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called My son out of Egypt. As they called them, so they went from them: they sacrificed unto Baalim, and burned incense to graven images.

Was Matthew wrong to quote this as a Messianic prophecy, as Jewish anti-missionaries claim? Or did he perhaps engage in a legitimate bit of “newspaper exegesis,” seeing that the Messiah, just like Israel, had gone down into Egypt for safety in a time of trouble, only to come back out to the Land God had promised Abraham? In doing so, Matthew shows us the connection between the Messiah and Israel, one that cannot be broken.

In fact, numerous of the Psalms which are quoted in the NT as Messianic prophecy were originally written by David to describe his own situation. In many cases, a highly poetic and allegorical description of David’s situation, like Psalm 22, describes the betrayal and crucifixion of Yeshua in excruciating and literal detail.

Therefore, I actually agree with the preterist and historicist that the Olivet Discourse actually do prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. I even leave open the possibility that the Apocalypse looked backward (being written over twenty years later) to the Temple’s destruction even as it looked forward to the eschaton. I also agree with the historicist that the Revelation has within its scope the last 2000 years of Church history.

Where I disagree with both is that it ends there. Therefore, preterism and historicism are not so much wrong as they are incomplete. The chiefmost gripe I have with each is not in what they assert, but in what they deny: That the Eternal One has yet a place for “Israel of the flesh” in His plan, despite the evidence of our times and the testimony of Scripture; that He will keep all of His promises to the letter; and that there will indeed be a time of great testing for all of the children of Abraham, both the natural seed and those adopted into the Messiah, before Yeshua’s bodily return to physically rule over the earth.

Shalom.

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