Discerning Prophetic Detail

How do we try to piece together all of the details of the Old Testament prophecies so that we understand things like the incarnation and the second coming? How do we separate the events?

It’s not easy to piece together all the details from prophecies in the Old Testament. It would be nice if all of the prophets would have said, “Now I’m talking about the incarnation.” And then after that would’ve said, “I’m putting this in order so that you realize this is now about the second coming and the end times.”

But they didn’t do that. Here’s an example. When Isaiah prophesied about the Messiah, a familiar passage from Christmas time, Isaiah 9:6-7, he starts by talking about the birth of a son, referring to Jesus’ incarnation, his first coming.

The “government” that rests on his shoulder is most likely the kingdom of God. He demonstrates rulership of this kingdom during his first coming. However, reading  Isaiah 9:7 right after, we would get the impression that this is also part of the first coming.

But try to apply it to the first coming of Jesus. Was there peace to no end when he was here the first time? Did Jesus sit on the throne of David in Israel? Did he establish justice and righteousness forever? I submit that this has yet to be fulfilled in the second coming of Christ.

During the millennial reign, Jesus will indeed sit on the throne of David and he will establish a kingdom that is full of peace, justice, and righteousness. And he will reign forever. So as far as I can interpret and understand Isaiah 9:7, it speaks of the second return of Christ.

But the prophets did not see a delineation between the first and second coming of Christ. They saw the whole thing in one vision. And that is why the prophecies are laid out the way they are. That makes it more difficult for us who read them afterward.

If you think the Old Testament prophecies are confusing enough, try reading Revelation straight through and making sense of it the first time. These are confusing because it’s the prophets saw them in their visions as complete.

The apostle John tells us in the beginning of Revelation that he had this entire prophecy given to him on a Sunday (Revelation 1:10). They even talk about the end of time as though it has already occurred.

So how can we make sense of the prophecies? We carefully read through each one, separating prophecy we know Christ fulfilled in his first coming. And then we look to the second coming and see what prophecies lean toward fulfillment in that time.

But don’t forget that there is the time we live in, between Christ’s first coming and his second coming. There are prophecies about the time we live in as well. It is best to corroborate prophecies with other prophecies to get a fuller picture of everything that is happening.

The very best thing we can do when we are not sure is to get different opinions on which ones have been fulfilled, which parts have yet to be fulfilled, and which parts we live in now. Ask your pastor, Bible teachers, and scholars.

Consult commentaries and other resources from people who have spent their lives trying to figure these things out.  But at the same time, we must not become too authoritative or dismissive of anyone’s ideas.

It’s almost like Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “Now I know in part; then I will know fully.” We’re not going to get everything right. But that doesn’t mean we don’t try. We give it our best shot and we wait until eternity when we can ask the prophets themselves and get everything straightened out.

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