By John F. Walvoord
With one-fourth of the Bible prophetically future when it was written, the interpretation of prophecy is one of the most challenging areas of biblical study. Too often preconceptions have led interpreters to draw from the biblical text doctrines that were quite removed from what the text actually states. Because prophecy is scattered from the early chapters of Genesis to the last chapter of Revelation and deals with so many different situations and subjects, interpreters of prophecy have too often abandoned any detailed interpretation and reached only general conclusions.
From the careful study of the prophetic Scriptures three main subjects emerge: (1) what the Bible teaches about the nations, (2) what the Bible teaches about Israel, and (3) what the Bible teaches about the church. Major prophecies concerning the person and work of Christ and prophecies concerning the future activities of holy angels, as well as Satan and the demonic world, are related to these three primary subjects. When biblical prophecies are classified under this threefold approach, and hundreds of prophecies are related to these divisions, the pattern for the future becomes clear.
Combining in one volume prophecies concerning the nations, Israel, and the church gives the reader a broad interpretation of the entire prophetic Word, avoiding the confusion that often exists when mingling these prophetic strains. Publication in this form will provide the reader with an understandable statement of what the Bible teaches about the future.
The study of man as told in history and prophecy is the most exciting drama ever written. It reveals the omnipotent God unfolding his purpose for the nations in measured movements designed to demonstrate his own sovereignty, wisdom, and power. Though in the original creation man was made in the image and likeness of God, in the fall the image is marred. Nevertheless man was destined to be the channel of divine revelation. The history of the human race as recorded in Scripture was designed to demonstrate both the inadequacy of the creature and the sufficiency of the omnipotent Creator. Earth was to be the divine stage and man the actor, but there can be no question that human destiny remains in the hands of the unseen God even if at times he seems to work behind the scenes.
In the twentieth century when history seems to be moving rapidly toward its destiny, the study of history and prophecy in Scripture is especially appropriate. Only the Bible can provide a divine interpretation of history and the revelation of the prophetic future of nations. However, one of the most neglected areas of biblical prophecy is that of the predictions concerning the nation Israel, beginning with God’s declared purpose for Abraham and extending throughout the rest of the Old Testament and the New Testament. The establishment of the new state of Israel in the Middle East in 1948 raised the question whether the future restoration of Israel was beginning. Although there has been a tendency to ignore specific prophecies of the future in biblical interpretation and especially prophecies concerning Israel, the literal return of thousands of Israelites to their homeland provides a proper basis for a fresh look at Scripture.
Before the eyes of the entire world the seemingly impossible has occurred. A people scattered for almost two millenniums are now firmly entrenched in the land of their forefathers. What has often been denied as impossible now provides a new emphasis to the study of prophecy concerning Israel.
The interpretation of prophecy concerning Israel has been a major cause of prophetic confusion. Some have attempted to make these prophecies conditional and therefore never to be fulfilled. Others have attempted to take them in a nonliteral sense and apply them to the church.
Although the nation Israel is a comparatively small part of the world’s population, from the standpoint of biblical doctrine the divine plan for Israel can justly claim a place of central importance. Prophecies concerning Israel are pervasive throughout both Testaments, and understanding them is necessary for the interpretation of all Scripture. From the standpoint of clarifying confusion in the interpretation of prophecy the proper interpretation of Israel’s role in the past, present, and future is a crucial issue.
The material in Israel in Prophecy was originally delivered as lectures to the student body and faculty of Western Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary in Portland, Oregon, and is published with some alterations. Some of the material in The Church in Prophecy was given in lecture form at Grace Theological Seminary in 1963.
The study of prophecy relating to the church is a fitting capstone to the previous discussion of prophecy relating to the nations and Israel, revealing as it does the major undertaking of God in the present age.
Christ himself introduced this major revelation of prophecy when he declared to Peter in his previous conversation with him, “I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matt. 16:18). In a peculiar way the Gospel of Matthew blends the past with the present and the future, introducing for the first time prophecy relating to the church. The Gospel of Matthew primarily is a bridge from the Old to the New Testament explaining Christ’s fulfillment of prophecies of his first coming. In the final message of Christ in the Upper Room (John 13-17) Christ revealed in detail for the first time the distinct character of the church. This revelation is introductory to the prophetic hope of the church in its theology, ethics, and distinctive character as unfolded in the epistles. The consummation of prophecies relating to the nations, Israel, and the church are revealed in the Book of Revelation.
The study of prophecy relating to the church is essential to revealing the distinctive purpose of God in the present age. This subject was not revealed in the Old Testament. In the interpretation of prophecy concerning the church the same general principles of exposition of the Word of God are followed as in previous discussions of the nations and Israel, that is, the Scriptures are taken in their normal or literal meaning unless there is clear ground for assigning another meaning. As such the church is distinguished from the saints in the Old Testament whether Jews or Gentiles, distinguished from the nation of Israel, and distinguished also in its prophetic future. Although there are similarities in prophecies concerning Israel and the church, the distinction continues throughout the eternal future in the New Jerusalem.
In these present closing years of the twentieth century, evidence is pointing to the fulfillment of end-time events leading up to the second coming of Christ. Most important is the revelation of the special purpose of God to catch up the church in the rapture before the final drama runs its course. The hope of the church today is the imminent return of Christ to take his own from the world to heaven while great world events consummate and fulfill many prophecies relating to the nations and Israel. With the second advent of Christ prior to the millennial kingdom the separate course of fulfillment relating to the nations, Israel, and the church is continued. If this study in these major fields of prophecy is helpful to students and encourages their expectation for prophetic fulfillment for the end of the church age, the purpose of this presentation will be fulfilled.
John F. Walvoord
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