Can you explain the telescoping nature of prophecy?
Telescoping prophecy is an interpretive understanding of how the fulfillment of prophecy works. It postulates that throughout time from the moment the prophecy is given to the time it is completely fulfilled is like a telescope that starts small on the left side and gets larger toward the right.
This is an image to show us that when a prophecy is given it begins a process of becoming larger and larger with multiple fulfillments that get closer to complete fulfillment of the prophecy through time.
As you start on the small end of a telescope, like a looking glass that a pirate uses, the telescope starts smaller and gets larger to let in more light. More light means that we can see an object better. This is the same understanding of telescoping prophecy.
The farther away from the prophecy the more understanding and light comes to us. If you look from the other end of the telescope, the closer the prophecy gets to be getting completely and totally fulfilled we understand the most about that prophecy and can see all of the connections from the past.
Prophecies are understood to have multiple fulfillments. Total fulfillment means that the most literal understanding of the prophecy has become reality. I think one of the best ways to understand telescoping prophecy is to give an example.
One of my favorite examples comes from Isaiah 7 when King Ahaz refuses to believe the prophet Isaiah when he says that the nations to the north will not exist in 65 years. King Ahaz wants to trust in Egypt to the south but Isaiah warrens not to trust the house of slavery.
Because the prophecy will take 65 years to be fulfilled, Isaiah gives a familiar sign to the King. We hear it every year at Christmas time because of its total fulfillment. In Isaiah 7:14-17, the prophet prophesies that a boy will be born of a virgin.
Now King Ahaz for this sign to work had to know who this virgin would be. But it also had to be a sort of surprise. The important thing to realize is that in Hebrew, the word for Virgin can mean a woman who has never had sexual relations with a man, a young woman, a young unmarried woman.
In Hebrew society all three of these would agree with the technical term we use for Virgin because it was not the kind of society in which it was common for an unmarried woman to not be a virgin. But the prophecy becomes much clearer when we look forward through the telescope.
Until the completion of the prophecy, there can be multiple fulfillments, or the original prophecy in its own historical setting followed by the complete fulfillment later in history. The prophecy is about a son born to a virgin. But from as best we can tell this may have been a young, unmarried woman who was married in King Ahaz’ court and had a son shortly afterward.
The best part is the total fulfillment of the prophecy. When Matthew talks about Jesus’ birth, he quotes from Isaiah 7. And every Christmas afterward that celebrates the birth of Jesus quotes from Matthew 1:23 that looks back to the beginning of the prophecy in Isaiah 7.
But how do we know this is the total fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy 700 years before? Let’s look at the prophecy:
- A virgin will conceive and bear a son – In Isaiah’s day this could’ve been an unmarried woman but in the New Testament, the virgin is a technical virgin. It was impossible for Mary to have a child because she had never had relations with a man.
- And they shall call his name Immanuel – This word means, “God with us.” In Isaiah’s day it could’ve been the name of the child or the idea that the child represented. But in the New Testament Jesus is literally God With Us. He is divine and he came to dwell with humanity.
You can see that this prophecy is most perfectly fulfilled in Jesus. There will not be another person that comes to earth as a baby that will fully represent this prophecy after Jesus. That is total fulfillment of prophecy.
The telescope begins in Isaiah’s time and after 700 years of slightly lengthening, we finally arrive at the most enlightened idea of the prophecy, the total fulfillment through Jesus’ birth. It has the most literal understanding of the prophecy.