Biblical Prophecies and Eschatology

One of the most distinguishing marks of the Bible is its many prophecies about the future. In this, the Bible is unique among all books ever written. No other book, and certainly no other “religious book,” contains anything like biblical prophecy, but in the Bible, prophecy is common. The Bible makes predictions about things that are going to take place centuries or even millennia in the future, and then those prophecies come to pass.

Another distinctive of the Bible is the God-centered worldview it contains from Genesis to Revelation. Part of this God-centered worldview is the concept that history is linear. “History is linear” means that God has determined the beginning of history and God has also appointed the end of history. God is eternal, but His creation is not, and things will not endlessly go on as they are. Jesus Christ is coming back, and so the creation is hurtling toward the end at the rate of sixty seconds a minute.

Combining the idea of “prophecy about the future” with the concept that “there is an end to history,” we arrive at a working definition for eschatology: The study of the Bible’s prophecies about the end-times (also known as “last things”). This article will consider end-times’ prophecy and some thoughts about how to do that study.

What is the purpose of a prophecy? A prophecy is given in the Scriptures so that, when that prophecy is fulfilled, it will again be demonstrated that God is the one who has planned all things (Romans 4:21) and that He is able to fulfill the prophecies that He makes. “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3).” For this reason, when God makes a prophecy in His Word, He not only guarantees the fulfillment of that prophecy, but He guarantees that the fulfillment of the prophecy will be recognized. For example, in Isaiah 7:14, the LORD made a prophecy that “The virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” Then, more than 700 years later, God fulfilled that prophecy in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem (Matthew 1:23). The virgin, Mary, was with child and she bore a Son, Jesus, who was Immanuel, “God with us.” Prophecy made. Prophecy fulfilled and prophecy recognized. And this pattern, of “Prophecy made – Prophecy fulfilled and prophecy recognized,” is repeated literally hundreds of times, especially regarding the first advent of Jesus Christ. Prophecies made. Prophecies fulfilled and recognized.

Now, the prophecies about the first advent of Jesus have all been fulfilled, because Jesus Christ appeared in the flesh almost 2,000 years ago. But there are many prophecies in the Bible that are still unfulfilled because those prophecies are concerning Jesus Christ’s Second Coming at the end of the age. Even though these prophecies of Jesus’ return are yet unfulfilled, their purpose is the same as the purpose stated above and their guarantee is the same as the guarantee above. God has written prophecies about the end of the age for the purpose of proving that He has planned all things and that He is able to fulfill the prophecies that He makes. God is glorified by making then fulfilling prophecies. This also means that, since God has made these end-times prophecies about the end of the age and the return of Christ, He has guaranteed their fulfillment and has guaranteed that their fulfillment will be recognized.

These two ideas about prophecy, that end-times prophecy will fulfill God’s purpose and that all end-times prophecies are guaranteed fulfillment and recognition, justify the effort involved in discerning the meaning and the timing of the end-times prophecies in the Scriptures. Since all the prophecies of the end of the age will certainly be fulfilled, then the disciple of Jesus is encouraged to “make careful searches and inquiries seeking to know when we can anticipate the revelation of Jesus Christ (adapted from 1 Peter 1:10-13).”

While making careful searches and inquiries, it must also be acknowledged that the study of eschatology is hard work, and there are special challenges when studying end-times’ prophecy.

  1. The first thing to try to figure out is if this vision or passage is about the end of the age or about Jesus’ return at all, or is it about something else entirely?
  2. What is the nature of the prophecy? Since many of the prophecies about the end of the age and the return of Christ are given in figurative, apocalyptic language, it can be difficult to discern what is being prophesied. Discerning this is critical, for if the nature and meaning of the prophecy are not correctly discerned, then it is impossible to recognize the prophecy’s fulfillment.
  3. Understanding prophecy demands a thorough knowledge of all of Scripture. The more Scripture you have in your head, the more material the Holy Spirit has to use in showing related words and phrases and visions. Also, a deep familiarity with the whole Bible helps you to understand the language and the idiom of Scripture.

All these steps in exegesis require skill, prayer, and patience. Skill means gathering good exegetical tools and learning to use them well. Prayer is needed for the Holy Spirit’s insight. Patience keeps you moving forward in the study and prevents giving up. And all of this is meaningful because prophecy glorifies God. So, we willingly sacrifice ourselves (Romans 12:1) to see what God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Cor 2:9).

WHAT PROPHECIES ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?

We have established that God will certainly fulfil the prophecies He makes in His Word. Guaranteed. Our task is to identify God’s prophecies in the Scriptures and then interpret them such that they form a cohesive picture. So, what are some of the prophecies we need to examine in our study of the end-times? A partial list follows.

Resurrection * (1 Thess. 4)                             The Seventy Weeks (Daniel 9)

The apostasy (2 Thess. 2)                               The man of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2)

The beast (Rev. 13)                                         The false prophet (Rev. 13, 16)

The 144,000 (Rev. 7; 14)                                 Time, times, and half a time **

Forty-two months **                                      1,260 days **

The trumpets (Rev. 8-9)                                  The seals (Rev. 6)

The “four horsemen” (Rev. 6)                        The battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16)

The bowls of wrath (Rev. 16)                          The two witnesses (Rev. 11)

The “thousand years” (Rev. 20)                      The great white throne judgment (Rev. 20)

The little horn (Daniel 7)                                 The small horn (Daniel 8)

The rider on the white horse (Rev. 19)           The lake of fire (Rev. 19; 20)

NOTE “Millennium” = “thousand years”      * Resurrection includes “the rapture”

** These three expressions are what I refer to collectively as the 42 months*.

And there are others, but the main point is this: God has placed these prophecies in His Word for His glory. They will certainly come to pass, and they will be recognized. This is what makes the study of eschatology so exciting and rewarding.

SDG                 rmb                 2/11/2021

To fulfill the Scriptures: Thoughts on Christ’s advents

“How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled? But all this has taken place to fulfill the Scriptures of the prophets (Matthew 26:54, 56).”

            When Jesus was being “betrayed into the hands of sinners (Matthew 26:45),” His disciples attempted to defend Him so that His arrest would not happen. But Jesus told them to put their sword back into its place and consciously allowed Himself to be taken away. Why did He do that? This was done because the Scriptures, written centuries before, must be fulfilled. Not the smallest letter or stroke could pass from the prophecies about His passion and His crucifixion until all was accomplished (Matthew 5:18). In a sense, Jesus was not free to conduct His arrest and crucifixion any way He wanted, because these events had already been scripted in the Law and the Prophets, and the Scriptures must be fulfilled. To know the events that lay before Jesus as He gave His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28) we would need only to carefully study the pages of the Old Testament to see what the prophets had written.

            The point that I am making is that the Scriptures, as the Word of God, will certainly be fulfilled. Every prophecy about the Lord Jesus will be accomplished because these prophecies have been etched forever in God’s Word and are, therefore, manifestations of God’s truth. This has direct bearing on our understanding of Christ’s first advent and especially on His second advent.

AS THE FIRST ADVENT, SO THE SECOND COMING

            As all the Scriptures’ prophecies about Christ’s first advent were fulfilled by the Lord Jesus in the events and circumstances of His earthly life, from His conception to His birth to His earthly ministry to His suffering and crucifixion to His death and resurrection and to His ascension into heaven, so all the prophecies about His Second Coming must necessarily be fulfilled before He will return.

            God’s prophets and His faithful people carefully examined the Scriptures to anticipate Christ’s first advent (1 Peter 1:10-12; Simeon in Luke 2:25-35; Anna in Luke 2:36-38). In the same way, Christ’s people rightly examine the Scriptures to anticipate His Second Coming and to wait eagerly for His return (Hebrews 9:28), when He comes to judge the earth (Psalm 96:13; 98:9) and to bring all His people to heaven.

            In this way, we can get a right perspective on the study of “eschatology,” also known as “last things” or “end times.” It is for the purpose of anticipating our Lord’s glorious coming and for the goal of increasing our eagerness that we carefully study the prophecies of the end-times that God has placed in His Scriptures. As we eagerly anticipate Christ’s coming, our strength to persevere is increased. The prophecies of the time before our Lord’s return include severe testing of the church through persecution and trial. A hope that is fixed on heaven and an eager anticipation of our soon-coming King will hold our feet firmly on the Rock.

            In Matthew 24, it is clear that the Lord Jesus expected His disciples to look forward to His return. He tells them of the events of the distant future (“Behold, I have told you in advance.” v. 25) so that they will know that He is the one who will bring these things to pass, and He tells them, “When you see all these things, recognize that He (the Son of Man) is near, right at the door (v. 33).” It seems to me that Jesus wanted us to be excited about His return, and He put all sorts of prophecies into His Word so that we would have a reason to get excited.

            The Lord has given us His Word, the Bible, so that we would know all He has chosen to reveal to us about the future and about the return of our glorious King. All the prophecies concerning Jesus’ return are “the things which must soon take place (Revelation 1:1).” All the Scriptures about our Lord’s coming will certainly be fulfilled, and when we see all these things, we know that He is right at the door. We therefore study the prophecies of the end-times to glorify God and to strengthen our resolve to persevere.

SDG                 rmb                 12/22/2020

The Eschatology of Isaiah – 27:1 Punish Leviathan, Slay the Dragon

The prophet Isaiah wrote powerful prophecies not only of the events of Jesus the Messiah’s first advent, but also about the events of that day, the final day when the glorified Jesus Christ, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the resurrected Lamb of God, returns from heaven on a white horse (Revelation 19:11ff) to judge all the earth.

It is Isaiah’s eschatology that we have been exploring in this series of studies from one brief passage of four verses, Isaiah 26:19-27:1. Here the prophet tells us of things to come at the end of time. As we have seen in the post of December 1 of last year, Isaiah 26:19 told us about the great final resurrection of the dead when the tomb will become a womb and the dust will give birth to those who will sing for joy. A little later in December of 2019, we examined Isaiah 26:20, where the prophet writes about the time of tribulation of God’s people. We recently (October 2, 2020) examined the next verse in the passage in which the prophet tells us about when “the LORD is coming out of His place,” telling of when Jesus returns. This post will be the final one of the four, examining Isaiah 27:1, which tells of the punishing of Leviathan and the killing of the dragon, and seeing how this relates to the events surrounding the return of the Lord Jesus from heaven.

PART 4 – The LORD will punish the serpent and will slay the dragon

“In that day the Lord with His hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent and He will slay the dragon that is in the sea.”

In the context of this passage that we have studied, in the context of what we can now see as a vision of Christ’s return, the meaning of this verse must be obvious. What to Isaiah the prophet must have been puzzling and mysterious, to us with the New Testament is clear. For Jesus the Messiah has already come to fulfill the prophecies of His first advent and has told us Himself of His imminent return. In the book of Revelation, we read of precisely these events coming to pass at the end of the age, exactly consistent with the other events surrounding the Second Coming of the Lord. Isaiah has already told us of the resurrection of the dead, of the great tribulation that will come upon God’s people, and of the glorious time when the Lord Himself will come from heaven. Now Isaiah tells us what will become of Leviathan the fleeing serpent and the dragon.

  • In that day – What day? This expression, “in that day,” is used throughout the writings of the Old Testament prophets and almost always refers to “the day of the LORD.” So here, Isaiah is making a reference to the day of the LORD, that day when the LORD will return to judge the earth. The prophets describe this as a terrifying day, a day when the unrighteous will find no place to hide and when the LORD will recompense all sin. That is the day tIsaiah intends here.
  • Leviathan the fleeing serpent – Who is Leviathan? Although there are several Old Testament passages that speak of Leviathan, the creature’s exact identity is difficult to determine. The overall impression is that “Leviathan” is a picture of evil, and of threat and destruction. Leviathan is dangerous and foreboding, and his appearance brings with it imminent threat. The background music strikes a minor key. That is certainly the picture here.
  • But notice that Leviathan is no longer the hunter but is the hunted. Leviathan, that creature of chaos and destruction, is fleeing from the LORD’s “hard and great and strong sword.” His imminent doom is certain, for the LORD’s sword never returns to its sheath until it has accomplished its work. The LORD’s sword “will punish Leviathan.” “Punish” describes the reason for the LORD’s sword (to punish for evil), but the effect is the death of Leviathan. The LORD says, “I have created the smith who produces a weapon for its purpose (Isaiah 54:16).” The LORD’s sword is created to kill the LORD’s enemies. When Leviathan is punished, it will certainly be slain.
  • Leviathan is a fleeing serpent and a twisting serpent – Observe carefully the descriptions of Leviathan. Twice he is called a serpent. Now it is time for Bible 101. “Who is the serpent?” This is the one who tempted Eve in the Garden and thus led man into sin. This is the one who is called that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world (Revelation 12:9).” Yes, in this context, Leviathan is another word for the devil and Satan.
  • Leviathan, the serpent, is also the dragon – We know that the Bible is written such that what appears later sheds light on what was written formerly. For example, what was written in the New Testament sheds light on and informs what was written in the Old Testament. Therefore, based on Revelation 12:9, we just confirmed that Leviathan, the serpent, is also the devil, the serpent. Now, from that same verse (Revelation 12:9) we can see that the serpent is the dragon, for it is the dragon who is explicitly identified as the serpent (“the great dragon, that ancient serpent”). It can thus be concluded that Isaiah 27:1 is not about the destruction of two creatures, Leviathan and the dragon, but is actually about the slaying of the one creature, the dragon. And we know from the New Testament that the dragon is a symbol for Satan.
  • OUR CONCLUSION – What we see is that Isaiah 27:1 is prophesying the slaying of Satan on the final day, “in that day,” when the Lord Jesus comes from heaven on the day of His glorious return. And that is exactly what we find described in the book of Revelation. On that day, Jesus returns from heaven on a white horse with a sharp sword in His mouth to strike down the nations. Then “He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty (Rev. 19:11, 15).” His final act of judgment will be “the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where (he) will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:10).” Isaiah has seen the events of the last day.

SUMMARY OF THE PASSAGE

            In this four-part study, it has been shown that Isaiah, the son of Amoz, who lived 700 years before Jesus the Messiah’s first advent, prophesied the events of Jesus’ Second Coming with great accuracy. As we compare Isaiah 26:19-21 and 27:1 with the prophecies of Jesus’ Second Coming in the New Testament, we see the resurrection of the dead, the testing of God’s people, the great coming of the Lord, and the punishment and destruction of Satan all predicted. To me, there are two applications of this.

  • First, I am again convinced of the Bible’s being breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16), for there is no other explanation for the Bible’s supernatural accuracy.
  • Second, it reminds me that there is a final day coming when all the joys and difficulties of all the ages will come to an end. There is coming a day, perhaps very soon, when Jesus will come from heaven with a shout. Jesus will come on a white horse with a sword to judge the unrighteous without mercy. It reminds me that “the Lord is a warrior (Exodus 15:3)” and that His favor will not be extended forever; there is coming a terrible day of the Lord. It reminds me that I have been promised persecution in this world, but that Jesus has also promised me an eternity with Him in heaven. It reminds me that I am to warn the unrighteous of their need for a Savior.

SDG                 rmb                 10/08/2020

The Eschatology of Isaiah – 26:21 The Coming of the LORD

The prophet Isaiah wrote powerful prophecies not only of the events of Jesus the Messiah’s first advent, but also about the events of that day, the final day when the glorified Jesus Christ, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the resurrected Lamb of God, returns from heaven on a white horse (Revelation 19:11ff) to judge all the earth.

It is Isaiah’s eschatology that we have been exploring in this series of studies, from one brief passage of four verses, Isaiah 26:19-27:1. Here the prophet tells us of things to come at the end of time. As we have seen in the post of December 1 of last year, Isaiah 26:19 told us about the great final resurrection of the dead when the tomb will become a womb and the dust will give birth to those who will sing for joy. A little later, in late December of 2019, we examined Isaiah 26:20, where the prophet writes about the time of tribulation of God’s people. Now, about nine months later, I want to examine the next verse in the passage in which the prophet tells us about when “the LORD is coming out of His place.”

PART 3 – The LORD is coming out of His place – 26:21

“For behold, the LORD is coming out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it and will no more cover the slain.”

There are definitely passages in the prophecy of Isaiah that are difficult to understand, but this is not one of them. Just to state the obvious, there will be a time in the future when “the LORD (YHWH) is coming out of His place.” For anyone familiar with the passages in the New Testament that talk about the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, the meaning of this phrase is clear. Isaiah is prophesying the return of the risen Christ at the end of the age to judge the living and the dead (confirm from Matt. 24:30-31; 25:31; Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thess. 4:14-18; 2 Thess. 1:7-8; 2 Tim. 4:1-2; Titus 2:13; 1 Peter ; 1 John 3: ; Revelation 19:11-21; etc.) Revelation 19:11ff, for example, is virtually identical to Isaiah’s prophecy and will be used as a comparison in the exegesis below.

            Phrase by phrase, the passage in Isaiah 26:21 says:

  • The LORD is coming out of His place. The Bible confirms that, in this instance at least, “the LORD (YHWH)” is Jesus, and that He will be coming “out of His place.” “His place” is heaven. This is exactly what Rev. 19:11 says as heaven opens, and a white horse appears and seated on the horse is the one called Faithful and True.
  • To punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity. When Jesus returns to earth from heaven at the end of the age, He is coming to judge the living and the dead (2 Timothy 4:1). As Isaiah says in other words, He is coming to punish the unrighteous for their iniquity. Now is the favorable year of the LORD (Isaiah 61:2) when the gospel is proclaimed and men and women can repent and believe the gospel and be saved from the wrath to come. But when Jesus returns and is “revealed from heaven in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance (2 Thess. 1:7-8);” when “He judges and makes war,” “strikes down the nations,” and “treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty (Rev. 19:11, 15),” there will be no more repentance, but only punishment and recompense.
  • The earth will disclose the blood shed on it and will no more cover the slain. Without going through this phrase word by word, the meaning of this phrase is that, when the Lord returns in judgment at the end of the age, there will be no sin that will not be exposed to the light of God’s holiness and there will be no iniquity that will not receive the full fury of God’s judgment. In this age it can seem that the unrighteous prosper and seem to get away with murder (see Psalm 73, for example). While God’s judgment is delayed, people can believe that sin is not a big deal and that, because punishment is delayed, punishment for sin will never occur. But there is no sin that God does not see and record (Revelation 20:12-13 – “and the books were opened”). Every sin matters to God, because every sin of His people required the death of His Son on the cross, and because every sin of the unrighteous requires eternal punishment. So, there is no sin that escapes His notice. “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, for all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:13).”
  • Because the Lord will return to bring wrath on the unrighteous, now is the day to repent and trust in Christ (2 Cor. 6:1-2). When Isaiah wrote his prophecy about the coming of the LORD in judgment, there were yet 700 years before the First Advent of the Lord Jesus. When Isaiah wrote his prophecy, there were no miracles of Jesus, there were no apostles, there was no perfect Man who fulfilled the Law, there was no cross, and there was no empty tomb, There was no gospel to proclaim that allows sinners to be saved. There was no New Testament which clearly tells of the coming judgment and of the return of the glorious Lord Jesus, and that warns men and women to repent before the time to repent is gone. But we have no such ignorance, and now the time is short. Soon, and very soon, the LORD is coming out of His place to judge. “Behold, NOW is the favorable time; behold NOW is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2).”

What we have seen so far in our reading of Isaiah 26:19-21 is that, even though Isaiah wrote at least 700 years before the New Testament was written, his prophecies about the events of the Second Coming of Jesus the Messiah are entirely consistent with the prophecies of the New Testament. This is yet another confirmation of the “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) nature of the entire Bible, and evidence that the same God who inspired Isaiah in his writings is also the God who inspired the New Testament authors. This should increase still more our confidence in the Scriptures and should persuade us that, when we handle the Bible, we are indeed handling the word of God.

The next post in this series will look at Isaiah 27:1 which will tell us more about the events surrounding the return of Jesus.

SDG                       rmb                        10/02/2020