Posts tagged prophecy
Let’s face it, there is a lot of stuff going on in Revelation that we will never be able to understand. We can make guesses at what this thing means and that things means, but much of what is said here is undecipherable, much like many of the Old Testament prophecies.
As a matter of fact, if you think back to those Old Testament prophecies, many of them only make sense in hindsight and, even then, some of them have to be examined pretty closely in order to connect them with the “real world” events that they foretold. I would imagine that the same is true with these prophecies in Revelation.
These are not necessarily prophecies to be “figured out,” but are, in many cases, prophecies to be “reviewed.” Now, that may seem silly. I mean, we are talking about the end of the world, right? Who is going to be around to review them?
Well, first, I think the Bible leaves open the possibility that these events will happen over an extended period of time, which would give people an opportunity to take a second look at this book as events happen around them. Second, the Bible makes it pretty clear (later on in this book) that rather than ceasing to exist, the world will be remade into what it should have been in the first place – a perfect existence for perfect people.
At that time, in our remade bodies and on our remade earth, we will be able to look back on these “transitional” events and see how all of them were foretold in John’s revelation. I’m sure we will wonder how in the world we missed it. How did we fail to understand these prophecies? But, in the end, we’ll know that through it all, God was in control of things from start to finish – from birth to death – and now into this rebirth, we will finally see fully how to truly place our life in his hands.
Much has been made of the text in Isaiah from which Jesus read in the temple. More to the point, much has been made of the fact that the scroll from which Jesus read just happened to contain that passage. Some would say that was incredibly fortunate. Others would say that Jesus was so well-versed in scripture that he could simply pinpoint any verse to make his point. Others would point to divine providence in linking this moment, this scripture and this man.
In fact, all of those may be true. But I don’t really think it matters…and here’s why. All scripture points to Jesus. Jesus stands at the center of the story of God and his people. The entire Old Testament is a lead up to Jesus. The entire New Testament points to Jesus’ life and then to his coming return. It’s all about Jesus.
I am convinced that if Jesus had picked up a scroll and read from the cleanliness rules in Leviticus, he could (and would) have still said something poignant that pointed back to himself – something that would have caused the religious leaders to run him out of the temple and everyone else to be astonished by him.
As the old saying goes, when you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In Jesus’ case, when you are the Messiah, everything looks like a Messianic prophecy. And it was. It is. Jesus is the answer to the questions raised in the Old Testament. He is the embodiment of the Kingdom of God here on earth. Jesus is, in the words of John (we’ll get to him in a few days) the Word made flesh.
And so, in a sense, when Jesus read from that scroll, he was simply reading a part of himself – something that was already at his core. It wouldn’t have matter where he started and stopped reading, those words were in him – they were his flesh. He was reading himself.
The question, then, is this: If we are supposed to seek to be like Jesus and Jesus embodied the words of Scripture, shouldn’t we seek to embody those same words? Shouldn’t we be eating, sleeping and breathing this stuff until it courses through our veins? For nearly 300 days, we’ve been on a journey of discovery through the Bible and yet, we’ve barely scratched the surface. We could spend every hour for the rest of our lives studying these words and still not fully grasp the wisdom they contain.
But I bet we would begin to embody them. I bet we would look, sound and act different if we devoted ourselves more to the study of scripture. I bet that, like Jesus, if asked to read a part of Scripture, we would be able to connect some dots for people that they had never connected before.
If I’m going to be a student of anything, let it be Jesus. If I am going to know any text, let it be the Bible. If I am going to pour my life into anything, let it be the effort to embody that which was embodied by Jesus. I may never fully succeed, but it will certainly be a fruitful journey.
I can already tell that blogging through the New Testament is going to be a challenge. While the Old Testament writers often devoted multiple chapters to the same story arc, the New Testament writers, especially the writers of the gospels – the books about the life of Jesus – have a tendency to move a little more swiftly.
Here, in just four short chapters, Matthew moves us from the time prior to the birth of Jesus through his birth, baptism, testing in the wilderness, the calling of his first followers and all the way to the beginning of his public ministry. That’s around 30 years of history in the life of the most important man in history condensed to 4 chapters.
But you see, Matthew really wanted to cut to the chase. He wanted to get to the part where Jesus truly began to make a visible impact on the world around him. The rest, for Matthew, is background. But the background is important! In fact, Matthew takes great pains to make sure that the people of Israel (and, ultimately, we) can connect the dots.
He begins with a genealogy that traces Jesus’ lineage all the way back to Abraham – 42 generations. To us, this may not seem all that significant, but for the Jews, this was key to them receiving and understanding Jesus as the Messiah. The Messiah would come from the line of David and Abraham. If Jesus wasn’t from that line, then nothing else mattered.
Matthew then goes on, in several passages, to show how Jesus’ life fulfilled the prophecies about the Messiah from centuries earlier. He ties the virgin birth, the birthplace in Bethlehem, the time spent in Egypt, Herod’s killing of baby boys, the childhood home of Nazereth, the appearance and ministry of John the Baptist and Jesus’ ministry in Galilee – ties them all back to the prophecies found in scripture. Again, all of this in just 4 chapters.
There is so much more contained here, but I want to point out one series of events that has served as a guiding light and reminder to me throughout my life. They begin with Joseph, the “surrogate father” of Jesus. Joseph played a crucial role in God’s plan for the world – especially in those early years.
Just look at the obedience of Joseph and how it plays into the prophecies about the Messiah. We know from other accounts that Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem for a census because it was Joseph’s hometown. Jesus, then, was born in Bethlehem, which fulfilled a prophesy. Joseph gave him the name Jesus, as instructed by an angel. Joseph then, after being warned in another dream, took his family to Egypt, which fulfilled another prophecy. Then, after beginning the journey back to Judea, he was once again warned in a dream and instead took his family and settled in Nazareth – fulfilling yet another prophecy.
You see, Joseph, by most accounts, is kind of a background player in the life of Jesus. But, as we’ve discovered, the background can be very important. Joseph’s role here seems to be that of unknowing prophetic tour guide, leading this baby Messiah down the path that God had already carved out for him. I have to wonder how many other times, in Jesus’ young life, Joseph was the guiding force, steered by the voice of God to lead and raise the child who would save the world.
Background is important. Bit players are important. Joseph, for me, serves as a constant reminder of that. I would rather play a bit part in God’s great story than to strive to be the star of a show he didn’t write.
The book of Zechariah, along with the book of Isaiah are, to me, are the Old Testament version of the book of Revelation. For the people living at the time, the book of Zechariah held that same kind of mysterious quality that Revelation holds for us today. There is a lot of talk about the future and a lot of unusual imagery. But one thing is certain, a king is coming!
It’s interesting that Zechariah’s prophecy seems to look toward both comings of the Messiah – Jesus’ life as a man and his second coming as conquering king. We know this and, having the advantage of hindsight, can see how the prophecy points to specific events in Jesus’ life, but also to other events that are told of in Revelation.
However, the Jews didn’t have that advantage. For them, they waited eagerly for what Zechariah prophesied. They waited for the conquering king that would bring peace to Jerusalem and destruction to their enemies. They waited for the temple to be restored to its former glory. They waited for a day when all people would come and worship there – when Jerusalem would be the greatest city in the world.
Of course, they didn’t have it quite right and, ultimately, some of those who longed so eagerly for this day and this king would end up killing the Messiah. I often wonder if a similar fate awaits those of us who now anticipate the second coming of Christ. If Jews could read the words of the ancient prophets like Zechariah and misinterpret them to the degree that they did, who’s to say that we won’t do the same thing?
“Well, it will be different,” you say. “This time, he will come with so much power that no one will be able to deny that he is Lord.”
Yes, that’s what I’ve been told. And yes, I can read that in Revelation. I also read in in Zechariah and fully understand why people thought that’s what they would be getting when the Messiah came. I guess my point is that we are simply incapable of fully understanding God’s plan. He’s so “above our pay-grade” and his plans so complex that we could never fully decipher what he’s going to do.
What we can do is to constantly seek him. Rather than trying to figure out his end game, we can seek to understand what he wants to do next and what he wants us to do. Whatever the case, we must understand that none of this is really how God intended things to go. He doesn’t actually take any pleasure from punishing or from rescuing people. Both are necessary because of our disobedience just as I might have to punish my child, or run out in the street to keep her from being hit by a car. Necessary, but not enjoyable.
Look at what God says regarding the day when he rescues Israel and allows his people to live in peace:
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “It may seem marvelous to the remnant of this people at that time, but will it seem marvelous to me?” declares the Lord Almighty. (Zechariah 8:6)
Read those words and understand that God rescues us when we don’t deserve to be rescued. He sacrifices for us and gives us what we don’t deserve. He brings punishment on us in a way that causes him more anguish than it does us. Our peace is his torment because he is the one fighting off our enemies while we remain blissfully unaware.
You see, it’s a lot more complicated than we sometimes realize. That’s why all we can really do is seek God today and let him take care of tomorrow.
The prophecy of Nahum against Nineveh sounds like the sequel to Jonah’s prophecy. Indeed, Nahum’s prophecy of Nineveh’s destruction came about 150 years after Jonah’s. The difference this time, of course, is that Nineveh didn’t respond by turning to God. The result would be the destruction of Nineveh somewhere around 600BC.
While the people of Israel and all the surrounding nations would have applauded this destruction (Nineveh was truly an evil empire) I think it’s noteworthy that much of the language used against Nineveh echos that which was used against Israel. In fact, I wonder if the nation of Nineveh was not used as an example for the people of Israel.
Remember, prophecy was highly revered in Israel and prophets, even when they were unpopular, were held in high esteem. And so, here comes the prophet Nahum speaking destruction over Nineveh (good news for Israel) using the same kind of language that many prophets used against Israel.
It is as if God is reminding the people of Israel that if they respond like Nineveh did in he days of Jonah, they will reap all the rewards that a loving God will heap on his children. But, if they instead become like the Nineveh of 150 years later, even if they are hugely successful economically and socially, God will expose them for who they are and will destroy them.
It’s interesting to note that we aren’t talking about “good Nineveh” and “bad Nineveh”. Jonah’s Nineveh and Nahum’s were both known to be full of unscrupulous people. The only real difference is their response to God. In this way, these stories serve as both a warning about our actions and as a source of hope that no matter how far we stray, all God is asking is that we come back to him – to just turn toward him.
There are those who would say that God’s mercy is unfair – that for a wicked city or person to be pardoned just because they are repentant is letting them off too easy. And, in a sense, they would be right. Mercy is unfair. But it is unfair in a way that saves even the most wicked and does no harm to the most saintly. It’s a win-win…unless, of course, we’re keeping score.