A One-Time Fulfillment, or the Multiple Fulfillments of Prophecy?
The problem today is that many religious doctrines impose man’s own eisegesis on Scripture. We can all admit that we have been deceived, or may still be deceived because we are in the habit of listening to and believing what man has taught us without doing our own research and investigation. In this behaviour, without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can be assured that we will be allowing ourselves to be convinced to take on a certain slant.
To rightly be able to divide the word of truth, we must do it on our own with the help of the Holy Spirit. Too many are relying on man to do it for them, but this is not the way to understanding God’s word.
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. – John 16:13
Because some religious celebrity has given you some 'words of wisdom’ does to necessitate that it is truth. Of course, man can be causal agents in teaching God’s word, but too heavy of reliance on them will negate the process of trusting the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth and will default to trusting more in man instead.
We must be careful that we do not put on corrupted lenses that will only distort our understanding, but allow the Spirit to open our eyes to the truth. When we do, we may shockingly discover that the vast majority of man’s religious doctrines are completely false.
And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand. – Mark 13:21-23
We must be on guard, especially when it comes to biblical prophecy. There are countless books, articles and marketing schemes that teach on prophecy and how it applies to our events today. They go from one spectrum to the other and everything in between pertaining to eschatology.
On one end of the spectrum there is the isolation of prophecy where it becomes an immoveable object of doctrine where fulfillment means finality where others believe there is an ongoing progression.
Today, there are so many different religious sects and church denominations that have their noble way of mechanically interpreting prophecy in Scripture that it can become confusing which of, if any are correct.
How are we to know what is final and what is ongoing?
Religious groups from one spectrum to the other maintain that are correct either in their rigidity or in their liberal interpretations of prophecy.
It is in this context, we need to be careful not to put too much limitation on God’s word, but also not apply it too loosely. We can make the mistake of pigeon holing prophecy with such rigidity that we may miss out on the greater context of Scripture in God’s ultimate plan.
Necessary Progression, or All-Sufficient
There are particular passages that are used to make the confident claim that all biblical prophecy ended at a certain biblical event in this following passage in Luke.
“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. – Luke 21:20-22
Notice at the end of this particular passage that is states, ‘to fulfill all that is written.’
If we are to believe Christ’s words in this passage, how are we to interpret this passage?
There are some who believe that Christ's words were fulfilled in 70 AD and then are others who see this as a time being fulfilled in the future.
Who is right?
If we take a look at historical events and ponder for a moment what Christ stated, ‘to fulfill all that has been written,’ there are convincing valid arguments from both groups.
Either Christ was speaking about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, or was speaking about a future event.
Each group will boldly claim that the other is wrong.
When we look closer at Christ’s words when he said ‘all,’ meaning ‘all that was written,’ does that mean literally all prophecy would be fulfilled at that one particular time, or event?
Do the ‘days of vengeance’ mean that it is an all sufficient condition?
What if there was a different perspective that we may have not thought about?
What if both groups are wrong in their understanding of biblical prophecy?
What if Christ’s words in the case of Luke 20:20-22 was a necessary progression to ‘fulfill all that is written?’
A necessary condition means that other things would still need to happen. The phrase ‘days of vengeance’ would be deemed as only one piece of the pie, but not the whole pie. When we go back farther in Luke18, we find that Christ also uses similar phrases concerning the fulfillment of prophecy also.
In this following passage, should it be deemed a necessary progression, or an all-sufficient event?
And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” – Luke 18:31-33
Christ stated, ‘everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished’ during his last trip to Jerusalem. We must consider that this was at a different time when Christ spoke of the ‘days of vengeance to fulfill all that is written’ in the passages in Luke. If we were to take his words as all-sufficient, it would bring contradiction to other passages in Scripture.
Could it be that are understanding of ‘all,’ ‘everything,’ ‘accomplished’ and even ‘fulfilled’ is to be understood in a different way?
In the book of Acts it states,
For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him. And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. – Acts 13:27-29
By reading these verses, we find that those who lived in Jerusalem including their rulers fulfilled the words of the prophets concerning, ‘all that was written of him.’
After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture) – John 19:28
How are we to assess the word ‘all’ in this passage?
Should it be interpreted as being necessary progression, or an all-sufficient one?
When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. – John 19:30
When Christ stated, ‘it is finished,’ should it be deemed as progressive, or an all-sufficient condition in the purpose of his death?
To Fulfill All that is Written
How we interpret ‘all’ and ‘fulfill,’ as well as some other words in Scripture will factor in whether we interpret prophecy as being literally fulfilled at one particular point in time, or whether it is something that is ongoing, including other necessary progression of events taking place in the future.
When we go back to Luke 21:22 where it states ‘to fulfill all that is written,’ we should see that the verses must be understood in its proper context. There is evidence in Scripture that the word ‘fulfillment’ does not necessarily necessitate finality, but rather can also be understood as a necessary event leading to the all sufficiency, or totality of the fulfillment of prophecy in the future.
When someone states that ‘all’ was literally fulfilled in a complete sense during the events of 70 AD, does it necessitate all-sufficiency or not?
The term ‘fulfill’ can be interpreted as both a necessary event, but also as being all-sufficient. The fulfillment of prophecy can mean to be literally finished, but it also in other areas of Scripture cannot be tied up in an absolute sense.
What we may need to consider is that the testament of Scripture reveals the evidence that prophecy in God’s grand plan of things is that ‘fulfillment’ can be partial event progressing to its final conclusion.
Many who read Scripture assume that fulfillment means to be fully completed, abolished, or done and final, but it may come as a surprise that prophecy does not necessitate at all times one-time deal in looking at the greater context of prophetic events in Scripture. There were times in the Old Testament where people thought something was being fulfilled in their time, but was not in finality, or being fully fulfilled.
Today, many say that prophecy is being fulfilled right in front of their eyes in our current day and age, however, this this can be true or false based on the lens we are reading Scripture.
Thus the LORD gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the LORD had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. – Joshua 21:43-45
When we read that every good promise that God spoke to Israel all came to pass, does that mean there were no more promises left for Israel in the future?
Let us take a look at some interesting passages and consider the greater context of ‘fulfill.’
When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. – 2 Samuel 7:12-13
We then move forward to these verses,
Now the LORD has fulfilled his promise that he made. For I have risen in the place of David my father, and sit on the throne of Israel, as the LORD promised, and I have built the house for the name of the LORD, the God of Israel. – 1 Kings 8:20
You have kept with your servant David my father what you declared to him. You spoke with your mouth, and with your hand have fulfilled it this day. – 1 Kings 8:24
In these passages, God promised David an heir from his own flesh and it was said to be ‘fulfilled’ in Solomon’s day. But notice what Solomon says in this following verse.
Now therefore, O LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father what you have promised him, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’ – 1 Kings 8:25
Solomon is saying that God fulfilled something ‘this day,’ but also a fulfilling of it would happen again in the future. These fulfillments were necessary in the chronology of prophecy events, but had not reached all-sufficiency yet.
In the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah writes about the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in in 6 BC at the hands of the Babylonians.
The holy stones lie scattered at the head of every street. - Lamentations 4:1
This image was also conveyed by the words of Christ.
But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” – Matthew 24:2
What is interesting is that Jeremiah conveyed that this was the end of Israel, but we should know that it was not in an absolute sense.
They dogged our steps so that we could not walk in our streets; our end drew near; our days were numbered, for our end had come. – Lamentations 4:18
When we read further in the book of Ezekiel we see that ‘fulfilment’ of prophecy does not necessitate at all times the full completion of God’s plans.
“And you, O son of man, thus says the Lord GOD to the land of Israel: An end! The end has come upon the four corners of the land. – Ezekiel 7:2
An end has come; the end has come; it has awakened against you. Behold, it comes. – Ezekiel 7:8
Throughout the history of Israel through these three different periods of time from Solomon to Jeremiah to Ezekiel, the promises of God were said to be ‘fulfilled’ and have ‘ended.’
Are there Contradictions?
Do we have contradictions in Scripture, or could it be that we have misunderstood the greater context of what fulfillment of prophecy means?
When it comes to the ideologies of different religious groups that say the ‘end’ and ‘fulfillment’ of ‘all’ was all sufficient at a certain event or date in Scripture, it may not hold as much weight as we might have thought.
Holding a dogmatic approach to a particular time in history and insisting on absolute fulfillment ignores the historical context of prophecy throughout Scripture. The aspect of fulfillment throughout Scripture is that it may come in parts, or be all-sufficient. To see a fulfillment of a particular passage in Old Testament prophecy and then try put the entire context of into a New Testament passage may not work as being all sufficient at that time, but part of a series of greater events in the future.
For example, we can compare one passage from both the New Testament and the Old Testament.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” - Luke 4:18-21
Christ was quoting from Isaiah 61:1-2a and then said that, ‘today Scripture has been fulfilled.’
What is interesting is that he left the second half of verse two that states,
To proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn. – Isaiah 61:2b
What this shows is that there was a partial fulfillment of prophecy because Christ at that time had not come for judgement which would be, ‘the day of vengeance of our God.’ To believe an all sufficient fulfillment would bring contradiction to other passages in Scripture.
The entire chapter of Isaiah 61 describes Israel in a time of full redemption and restoration, yet some see this as a future event also. This is why we need to be careful not interpret Christ’s words that appear to say finality at a certain event when they may not be.
There has been much disagreement when Christ talked about the signs of the end of the age during the Olivet discourse in the days that would come within that generation. It seems that his words are true about an all sufficient condition in 70 AD, but also it seems true that he was speaking of future events that would happen at a later time.
Throughout the pages of Scripture there is a historical timeline filled with the necessary progression of the fulfillments of prophecy that should not to be deemed as all sufficient.
Let us compare Hosea with 1 Corinthians.
I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol;
I shall redeem them from Death.
O Death, where are your plagues?
O Sheol, where is your sting? – Hosea 13:14
When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?” – 1 Corinthians 15:54-55
Hosea speaks of the sin, judgement, captivity and later restoration of Israel in chapters 11-13, but does this mean that all the unified prophecy of all these things were all fulfilled all at the same time?
It can’t be if Paul is addressing the ekklesia with this prophecy after the events of Israel and the death and resurrection of Christ.
The following verse in Matthew speaks of the Hosea prophecy being fulfilled during Christ’s infancy.
And remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” – Matthew 2:15
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. – Hosea 11:1
We have the fulfillment of prophecy in Hosea, but all of it has not been fully fulfilled if you believe the future restoration of Israel is still to come. The literal all-at-once would not apply, but would be a necessary fulfillment of a fulfilled event along a chronological timeline of multiple fulfillments of prophecy.
And he said, It is too small a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel: I will also give you for a light to the Gentiles, that you may be my salvation unto the ends of the earth. – Isaiah 49:6
(For he says, I have heard you in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I helped you: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.) – 2 Corinthians 6:2
For so has the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set you to be a light of the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. – Acts 13:47
Paul took a Messianic prophecy in Isaiah and applied it to the ministry of the apostles and the ekklesia. This is would have to be progressive prophecy that hasn’t come into full fruition yet. By referencing the other passages in Scripture, Old Testament prophecy has continued through to the New Testament where what has been ‘fulfilled’ may also be fulfilled again.
Considering the Greater Context
When we hear form certain groups that all prophecy was fulfilled in its finality on a certain date, we must be careful not give it absolute finality without considering the greater context of Scripture first because the chronological timeline of the Old Testament into New Testament gives evidence of different levels of fulfillment.
Those who dogmatically state that the entire context of prophecy rests on a certain date may be misunderstanding the full scope of what fulfillment means.
It is true that there are important dates in the chronology of prophecy, but this may not necessitate a dogmatic approach in deeming them as partial fulfillment or a one-time shot as all-sufficient.
To sum up, we have to be careful not to take Old Testament prophecy into New Testament because the application may not be that cut and dry. Establishing prophecy may be in a progressive multiple application or a one-time event category. As we can see, words like ‘all’ and ‘fulfill’ does not at all time necessitate finality.
Also, fulfillment of prophecy in the New Testament does not necessitate the entirety of Old Testament prophecy at one particular event.
Prophecy can be defined as the forth-telling of the very will of God of the past, present and future being summed up in the consummation of God’s eternal purpose through Christ. In this context, we need to be careful on how we interpret prophecy.
How do you approach prophecy?
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