Outline of a sermon – an introduction to prophecy

Outline of a talk given on July 3rd at Cregrina Free Mission.

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(As a rule we do not expect to share recordings or detailed reports of services, but this seems like a worthwhile case for making an exception).

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Introduction to the subject of prophecy in the Bible, and the main theme of Bible prophecy.

Revelation 19:10 (end of verse) – THE TESTIMONY OF JESUS IS THE SPIRIT OF PROPHECY.

Other readings are John 5:36-40 and Luke 4:17-21.

BACKGROUND

Prophecy has a vital place in the Bible – a) as a proportion of the total content – b) as an important factor in what makes the Bible unique.

Prophecy – pro = forth, phemi = to speak. A prophet has a message to tell out. The prophecy is the telling out, and more especially, the CONTENT OF THE MESSAGE that is being told.

In the Bible, the message is FROM GOD, through the prophet to the intended audience. The audience can be considered to be universal – for all mankind at all times – although individual prophecies often have a much more restricted or specific fulfilment in terms of time, people and place.

Fundamentally, prophecy is the revelation of truth from God – it is about God Himself and the way He deals with creation and intelligent beings such as angels and especially mankind. It is the declaration of things that are only known by God, and cannot be known by the natural human mind apart from God’s revelation. God reveals what He wants to reveal when He wants to reveal it.

The BIBLE is THE WORD OF GOD. There is no true prophecy outside the Bible. It is not made up by man trying search out God or reach up to Him. It is God speaking out and reaching down to mankind. God COMMUNICATES the truth about Himself and mankind. In a sense, all the Bible is prophetic.

However, some parts of the Bible are prophetic in a special way, which is well recognised.

OT prophets – Isaiah to Malachi, or between a quarter and third of OT material.
NT – Revelation.
Also many other prophetic passages throughout scripture in this sense –

** PROPHECY AS THE FORETELLING OF FUTURE EVENTS **

In Bible prophecy we have events revealed by God in His written Word before they take place as events in the real world in which we live.

The word of prophecy is communication in language. But it must always have fulfilment in reality, whether literal or spiritual. The prophetic word is part of what makes the Bible a truly living and relevant book to all people at all times in a way that no human writing ever could be.

We note two basic facts…

God tells the truth – He cannot lie.
God is able to keep His promises.

Therefore the prophecies foretelling future events and conditions are infallible. Revelation speaks of “things which MUST shortly come to pass”.

Note – the Bible makes distinction between things that God DIRECTLY CAUSES and things that God KNOWS WILL HAPPEN.  He KNOWS all things, but does not necessarily directly CAUSE all things, having created living beings with degrees of agency.  This opens up huge areas for debate and discussion, because these distinctions are not always properly recognised and understood.

*** The main subject of Bible prophecy is JESUS CHRIST, the MESSIAH. ***

The Messiah is the One who is promised throughout the Old Testament, not only by direct prophecy but in many other ways through types and shadows.

Bible = written word. Jesus = living Word (John 1)

The Bible only comes to life when Jesus has His rightful place.
The real Jesus can only be known through the Bible’s revelation.

All other subjects of Bible prophecy must be considered in the context of Jesus Christ.

Future studies will cover some of these other areas of prophecy, such as:-

a) the person and career of Satan and angels (surprisingly important for piecing details of the Biblical narrative together).
b) History and future of Israel.
c) History and future of the nations (all other countries outside Israel).
d) History and future of the Church.
e) Specific references to sequences and times of events.

b-d – The vital Biblical distinctions here must be properly understood and observed.

For now we must continue our focus on Jesus Christ Himself as the primary subject of prophecy.

The first direct Bible prophecy is in Genesis 3, and it concerns Christ. It is after the fall, revealed by God when (interestingly) speaking to Satan. (Satan is a key figure in the account of the fall, as well as Adam and Eve). The “seed of the woman” can be none other than Christ, and the fight between the Seed and Satan can only point to the Cross. Both CHRIST and the CROSS are present in the very FIRST BIBLE PROPHECY.

John 5:36-40.  The testimony of Jesus concerning Himself.

In Jesus – the message is brought to life in a man.
– the prophecies are brought to life in a person.

The divine witness also includes the TESTIMONY of the FATHER and of the HOLY SPIRIT. The human testimony of John the Baptist is also acknowledged.

The Divine communication – by word through the Old Testament – is entirely focused on and invested in the person of Jesus Christ in the New Testament.

Jesus communicated not only in WORDS but also in WORKS.

Both the words and the works combine to bear witness to the truth of His claims to be the promised MESSIAH.

In human experience, our works rarely match up to our words. Our performance rarely matches up to the titles and positions we are given, especially among leaders.

Jesus takes upon Himself an array of great titles, from King to Saviour, to Lord, to teacher, to shepherd – and He lives up to them all perfectly, indeed bringing all greater dignity and honour to the titles He bears.

With Jesus, His WORDS in claims about Himself were great, yet His WORKS fully matched up to His claims.

He also claimed to FULFIL Old Testament prophecies…
John 5:30 “the Scriptures (Old Testament)… these are they which testify of Me”.
See also Luke 24, where He speaks to people of the Books of Moses, of the Psalms, and of the Prophets as writing about “things concerning Himself”.

Another example is Luke 4:17-21, which is where Jesus reads Isaiah 61:1-2a and says “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”.

Jesus was saying that He Himself was the One anointed by the Spirit of God to:-

a) preach the gospel to the poor – a message of good news for people in need.
b) heal the brokenhearted – spiritual, emotional and mental problems at the heart of the human experience.
c) proclaim liberty for the captive – message of promise and hope.
d) recovery of sight for the blind – restoration of the loss of a basic faculty for life.
e) set at liberty the oppressed – fulfil the message of hope in c)
f) – proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord – a TIME OF OPPORTUNITY FOR PEOPLE IN NEED.

Jesus is not some remote figure. He offers RELATIONAL HELP to real people with real needs. The gospels share many examples of Him providing these things.

Two questions arise which must then be considered when studying prophecy and its fulfilment.

1) natural/physical fulfilment vs spiritual fulfilment. (Eg blindness in the Bible has both physical and spiritual manifestations. We shall see that Jesus addresses both, but the context of each must be understood).
2) The big questions of Israel / Church distinctions. (It must just be noted here that the ministry of Jesus in the synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – was almost entirely restricted to a Jewish context).

There is plenty of material just in these two questions for future study…

We note that in Luke 4, Jesus said “TODAY this SCRIPTURE is FULFILLED in your hearing”. (Isaiah 61).

After hundreds of years of waiting, there was a SPECIFIC FULFILMENT at a SPECIFIC TIME by a SPECIFIC PERSON.

Jesus had come to be both the LITERAL and the SPIRITUAL fulfilment of these important prophecies.

He had come to reveal God and to bring real help to people.

Luke 4 vs Isaiah 61 – IMPORTANT NOTE. In Luke 4 it specifically states that, at a certain point, Jesus CLOSED THE BOOK. Going back to Isaiah 61, we see that He closed the book in the middle of the prophecy, indeed mid-sentence. Details like this can seem small, but can be very significant in Bible study. So it is here. He stopped at the end of a list of POSITIVE BLESSINGS for people in need, but did NOT go on to quote “…and the day of vengeance of our God”. There are many OT and NT references to a time of wrath / vengeance / judgment ON THE EARTH, but Jesus clearly indicated that the period of His earthly ministry at His first coming WAS NOT the time for this to happen.

The “day of vengeance”:-

a) will come, but not in the days of Jesus’ ministry when He was reading the scroll.
b) when fulfilment comes, it should be expected to literal and physical as well as spiritual, if the precedent of prophecy that IS FULFILLED ALREADY is followed.
c) many, many Bible prophecies predict such a time, which has not happened yet. With so much Bible material, once the day has happened it will universally known to have been fulfilled, and will have a definite place in the history books for ever afterwards.

A NOTE ABOUT PROPHECY

Before the studies into prophecy continue, it is important to stress that GEOGRAPHY is an important subject in the Bible. Every Christmas we remind ourselves that Bethlehem was the promised birth-place of Jesus. This is actually a rather obscure treatment of the verse from Micah – there are many more geographical prophecies which are much more specific in nature. Bible students should be very wary of spiritualising prophecies that are specific in terms of geographical locations, or indeed of making one location in the prophecy stand for a different location in the fulfilment.

Introductory talk – conclusion.

Prophecy is central to God’s Word.
Jesus is the focus of prophecy.
God’s prophetic word will be fulfilled in detail for all to recognise.

TO COME – next time a major example of a prophecy about Jesus set in a definite and precise time frame will be the subject of the study. DANIEL 9:24-27 is one of the MOST IMPORTANT passages in the WHOLE OF THE BIBLE. Part of the prophecy has been fulfilled in the MOST AMAZING AND PRECISE WAY in the FIRST COMING of JESUS CHRIST. God’s prophetic Word has been put to the test and found absolutely reliable!

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