THE NATURE OF SCRIPTURE PREDICTION.
799. Scripture prediction, or prophecy, as it is popularly called, is not merely sacred history written beforehand. That which is prophesied generally relates to events which take place with increasing accuracy as to the details described in the prophecy, in succeeding epochs of human history, until the details are filled out to the full. Providence designs that we shall only grasp the chief features of the description before the fulfillment,¾and that, for two main purposes: First, that we may recognize, as the events take place, that the Bible prophecy is inspired,¾is the promulgation of One who knows the future as well as the past, and so our faith in Him be cultivated (John 14:29); and second, that when we see the event predicted about to come to pass, we may regulate our conduct to suit it (Luke 21:20-21), and prepare for what is coming.
800. Before ever visiting Jerusalem, we made a study in certain books of its general features. But when we visited the place, we recognized that our imagination had failed to form a correct picture of it. Nevertheless that previous study proved most useful, for it enabled us to understand much that we saw without explanation. After we saw, we recognized the accuracy of the descriptions; and we were able to understand where we were without a guide. So with prophecy: It has been given to us to study in the present and put to use in the future. Therefore we need not understand it fully until it is fulfilled, though it is a matter of no small importance that we study it. Someone has said, “The only certain interpretation of Scripture prophecy is its fulfillment.”
801. The voice of God is, in its very nature, prophetic. He is not conditioned by time and space, like ourselves. Yet when He speaks we scarcely know how to understand His meaning until we have replies to questions relating to time and space. When will this occur, where will it occur, and how long a time will it occupy?¾and kindred questions at once spring to our lips. Take as an illustration the Lord’s great prophecy of Matthew 24. His disciples asked three questions: (1) “Tell us when these things shall be,” (2) “What shall be the sign of Thy coming, and (3) of the end of the world?” As to the Lord’s answer, many have professed to be able to dissect it into three sets of answers, as relating to the three questions asked. But who is satisfied with the dissection? The Lord’s reply to the questions is prophetic; and since such predictions relate to events due, with increasing accuracy, at stated periods of time, and not generally to one period, the prediction baffles dissection after this manner. Expositors talk of this as the “pregnant” nature of prophecy. Each fulfillment is but a type of a yet future and more accurate fulfillment, until the prophecy has been, in very truth, filled out to the full.
802. Let us seek for a clearer understanding of this matter: All Scripture is, in one sense or another, the account of a great struggle between right and wrong, or, more properly speaking, between beings arrayed on the side of right and wrong. We are to be instructed which is the right and which is the wrong side. Let us go back, then, to the time when there was no such struggle involving the human family. In imagination we stand, now, on the very edge of human history, in God’s great calm, when He had just made the world, and pronounced all His creatures “very good.” Presently the calm is broken, first by a mere ripple on God’s great ocean of calm, at the edge where we stand. Then occurs the entrance of Satan into the Garden. Then comes sin in humanity (Genesis 3:6), and now it is more than a ripple. Next, an opposing force of good strikes against the wave, tossing it yet higher,¾that is Eve’s confession, and denunciation of the Deceiver. Thus the war begins,¾for God puts enmity between Satan and the woman, and between the “seed” of each. Like a great billow, rushing in an ever-widening circle, onward to the end of time, ever with increasing violence, the strife rages, social right and social wrong in fierce conflict. This was in Christ’s mind that day that the disciples asked Him these questions.
803. Like a great stone into a calm sea, Satan hurled his social disorder into this world. A billow of the sea does not push the water from one shore to the other; it merely lends its motion to the water just in front of its progress. And a wave, if uninterrupted, does not change its general features. So with the billow of social disorder. It did not die with the individuals who first felt its force. They died, but it rolled on to succeeding generations carrying ever with it the same social characteristics. God and His prophets have been watching the course of that billow from the first, and from time to time telling us about it and opposing fresh obstacles to its progress; but ever it is the same old billow, yet acting upon fresh individuals.
804. The eye of Jesus was centered on that great billow, that day He talked with His disciples. It made havoc in the Garden; it created in man the desire to be “as god,” which erected the Tower of Babel, and caused the scattering of mankind. Just before, Noah had taken warning of its coming,¾for it was the means of bringing the great flood, to oppose its destructive course. In time that billow annihilated the ten tribes of Israel from the pages of human history for a while, and swept Judah all the way from Jerusalem to Babylon. But a great Rock was in its way; and Jesus knew that the greatest of all social upheavals, up to that time, would center about His cross. Next, all Jerusalem is wrecked, and the Jews scattered to the ends of the earth.
805. Jesus spoke, that day, to tell His immediate disciples how to escape the destructive billow, and to warn all Christians of it, likewise. What features it bore, by means of which it could be recognized, and how to avoid being caught in its wrecking path, as it swept onward to the end of the age. What need, then, for us to dissect His answer to the disciples into particulars concerning each point? The billow is one; its features are one; the method of escape has been similar, from the days of Noah until now, and will be to the end of life.
806. We have described the billow as a wrecking force of evil. But with it is its enemy, the contending force of good,¾the seed of the woman,¾pre-eminently, her great Seed, Jesus Christ. But not only is it prophesied that her seed should be at enmity with Satan, but WOMAN HERSELF shall wage war with Satan. So from the beginning of evil we have the promise of good; even that greatest of all promises, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”
807. Dean Payne-Smith speaks of this wonderful passage, Genesis 3:15, as “that promise, of which the whole of the rest of Scripture is but the record of the gradual stages of its fulfillment.” But though Jesus Christ has conquered death, by rising from the grave, the enmity still continues; the conflict is still on. Christ is seated at the right hand of God; nevertheless “we see not yet all things put under his feet” (Hebrews 2:8), for He sits “on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till His enemies be made His footstool” (Hebrews 10:12-13).
808. The same writer speaks thus concerning this “primeval promise made to the woman in the hour of the first great earthly sorrow: From that day onward one purpose, and one only, is ever kept in view in God’s dealings with His fallen creatures. The promise was that man, worsted in his first encounter with his spiritual adversary, should crush the adversary’s head by means of one of the same nature as himself, emphatically the woman’s seed. That promise contained in outline the whole of prophecy. Of that promise the Gospel is the one fulfillment. From the day on which Eve was comforted by it, all God’s dealings in grace;¾for the Bible has nothing to do with God’s dealings except as they belong to the covenant of grace; it is not a book of natural religion, but of supernatural;¾but all God’s dealings with man in grace, which are the proper object-matter of the Bible, relate to the performance of that promise.”
809. Such being the facts¾and who can dispute them?¾have we not every reason for thinking that God would provide, in prophecy, some vision which would exhibit not a partial, a typical, but a final, complete fulfillment of that Great Promise that He had made regarding woman and her seed?