James Patrick’s Blog

August 26, 2009

Interpretation of Old Testament prophecy [Israel & New Covenant #1]

Filed under: Prophecy — alabastertheology @ 7:37 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Peter declared that “no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation” (2 Pet 1:20).  The standard view in the Church today is probably precisely the opposite – ‘every prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation’.  Nowhere is this more true than in discussions on the subject of the place of Israel today.  Political, religious and historical factors converge in a huge storm of controversy, and at the centre is the question of prophecy.

Christians know that God predicts the future, because the whole New Testament insists that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection were entirely the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy (Mat 26:56; Acts 2:23; Rom 1:1-4; 1 Cor 15:1-4; Heb 1:1-2; etc.).  Jesus believed that all the Old Testament Scriptures were about Him (John 5:37‑47), and after His resurrection He met with His disciples and opened their minds to understand how the Scriptures spoke about Him (Luke 24:25‑27, 44‑47).  This was the good news they proclaimed with such wisdom and authority that the Jewish leaders recognised they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:10‑13; 6:9‑10), and they also taught this message to Jews throughout the known world (Gal 2:7‑9).  Paul received the same insight into the ‘mystery’ of the gospel purely by personal revelation from Jesus; he was not taught it by the disciples, but they recognised that it had truly been given to him by Jesus in order for him to take this message also to the Gentiles (Gal 1:15–2:10; Eph 3:2‑11).

Since that time, the understanding has been almost entirely lost, of how the Old Testament Scriptures themselves “are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Messiah Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15).  New Testament writers frequently mention aspects of the interpretation of the Old Testament shown to them by Jesus, but without their bigger picture we are left trying to piece together just a handful of the most important jigsaw pieces.  Neither educated nor uneducated believers are now able to interpret the entire vision of the gospel through the Old Testament (Isa 29:11‑12; 42:18‑21); all of us who are waiting for the Second Coming have fallen asleep to the prophecies we hold (Mat 25:1‑13; cf. 5:14‑18; 1 Sam 3:1‑4, 21).  However we can be encouraged that in the days just before Jesus returns to restore all things, “the deaf will hear words of a book, and … the eyes of the blind will see” (Isa 29:17‑18; 43:8‑10; cf. Dan 12:1‑4).

There is no doubt that the Old Testament speaks a huge amount about Jewish people returning from exile to the land promised to Abraham.  However Christians interpret these prophecies in many different ways: (1) they were all fulfilled in the return from Babylon around 500BC; (2) they are being fulfilled today in the return of Jews to the modern state of Israel; (3) they will be fulfilled at some point in the future; (4) they are fulfilled metaphorically / spiritually by the Church; or (5) they will not be fulfilled because God is doing something else now.  Sometimes people apply a combination of these approaches to different prophecies, but ultimately it is all seen as a matter of one’s own interpretation.

One thing Christians do agree on, however, is that any interpretations must be consistent with the New Testament writings; there are verses suggesting that parts of the Old Testament are now ‘obsolete’ (Heb 8:13), and as no-one is really sure which parts are obsolete, it is safer to stick closely to the New Testament.  On the issue of the modern state of Israel, then, one of the most controversial questions is whether the promises of land apply to Jews today.  A common position taken by Christians is that the New Testament does not reaffirm the promise of land found in the Old Testament, and therefore we must assume it is no longer in effect since Jesus ‘fulfilled’ everything.

My intention in this next series of posts is to address this question of prophecy, particularly as it relates to Israel (i.e. the Jewish people) in the time of the new covenant.  I will look at to whom exactly the promise of land was made, what parts of the Old Testament were actually made obsolete by the new covenant, what the New Testament does not say about the promise of land being revoked, what the New Testament does say about the land covenant in detail (Gospels, Acts, Romans, Hebrews), what this teaching means practically for Jews, Palestinians and believers in the land of Israel today, and then how Moses and all the prophets teach exactly the same understanding of Messiah and His return as it relates to the Jewish people and the promised land.  I urge you as you read to examine the Scriptures for yourself to see whether these things are actually so (cf. Acts 17:11‑12).  May the Holy Spirit give us understanding as we consider the wonderful mystery of the gospel.

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