Volume One: The Things That Are
Volume 1: Introduction
The Things That Are
When the risen Messiah appeared to John on the Isle of Patmos, He told him, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death. Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.” (Revelation 1:17-19)
The subject of “prophecy” for us usually evokes visions of “the things which will take place after this,” to the exclusion of things past and present. But as Christ’s words indicate, there’s more to it than merely focusing on what God will do. He is not only “the Last,” He is also “the First”—He’s the Alpha as well as the Omega. The fact is, what He has told us about His plan in the past is just as essential to our understanding of the unfolding of future events as the prophecies themselves. What we see before us in the present is the foundation of the coming kingdom of God. If we don’t comprehend where we’ve been or where we are, we won’t understand our destination. In more specific terms, there are several scriptural subjects that we need to grasp if we hope to understand the prophetic components of God’s word.
First, since so much of scripture was prophetic when it was written, and since a fair amount of it has already been fulfilled (much of it in the first-century advent of Yahshua the Messiah—Jesus Christ) we are in a good position to analyze the process of prophecy itself. How does Yahweh use it? How does He deliver it? The controversy invariably surrounding the subject should make it obvious that it’s a less than straightforward pursuit. Although the prophecies are invariably literal (on some level), they are also couched in language that allows those who don’t trust Yahweh to explain them away, to reinterpret (or misinterpret) them, to deny the supernatural aspects that they imply (beginning with the phenomenon of foreknowledge itself—something possessed by no mere man).
Why does God do this? Because He is not willing to abridge the primary privilege He has bestowed upon mankind—that of choice, of free will. Yahweh’s nature is love, but love requires freedom—it can’t be forced, or it ceases to be love at all. So as strange as it sounds, our freedom depends upon our God-given ability to reject Him as well as receiving Him, to doubt Him as well as believing Him, to hate Him as well as loving Him. Thus God provides “wiggle room” in many of His prophecies, so we can wimp out if we want to. One example: He tells us plainly concerning the Messiah’s birth, “A virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” And we read in the Gospel accounts just how mind-bendingly accurate this prophecy turned out to be. And yet, the Hebrew word translated “virgin” can simply mean “young woman.” It’s hardly a miraculous sign for a “young woman” to conceive and bear a son, you understand, but we are allowed to suck the life out of God’s prophecy if we want to—it’s our choice.
At any rate, we’ll study previously fulfilled prophecies with an eye toward discovering the “prophecy principles” by which God delivers His message. We’ll learn that Yahweh uses redundancy, split fulfillments, and metaphors and symbols to communicate with us. He doesn’t give us the whole story in one big chunk, but delivers it in bite-sized pieces. (How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.) He says related things through different prophets living in different times and places, seeing things from different viewpoints—yet He never contradicts Himself. All of this begs us to be comprehensive in our approach, not just taking the prophecies we like (or understand), but considering all of them. (Hey, I didn’t say this would be easy.)
Second, it is essential that we grasp the broad sweep of man’s history—especially as it relates to Yahweh’s plan of redemption. Salvation is not only for man, it is also brought to us through man—that is, the Good News of our reconciliation with God was not proclaimed by angels, or by God Himself (except through His human manifestation, Yahshua), but was entrusted to fallen human beings to transmit and communicate to future generations. (Again, this is somewhat counterintuitive, but it is an artifact of Yahweh’s nature, love, which in turn requires that we humans be given free will, the privilege of choice.)
Two “congregations” have been used throughout the ages of man to transmit His message and deliver His redeemer to the world—Israel and the church. Shakespeare once said, “All the world’s a stage.” I find it useful to envision humanity as people experiencing a Broadway play—one called “The Human Condition.” The cast is Israel, whom Yahweh set apart from the world’s other nations to be the people through whom the Messiah would be delivered (literally and physically) to the earth. This Messiah is the play’s “leading Man.” (It means Anointed One—the word transliterated “Christ” carries the same meaning in the Greek scriptures.) The Playwright, Producer, and Director (and the owner of the theater, by the way) is Yahweh Himself—the Living God, the Creator of the universe. The “script” is His Torah—a symbol-rich work designed to reveal Yahweh’s plan for fallen humanity’s reconciliation with Him. That would make Moses the “stage manager,” and the prophets of Israel the production’s “backstage crew.”
The audience, those out “in front” of the curtain, are gentiles—nations other than Israel. They come to the theater (life) needing to see a flawless performance from the cast, so they can understand what the Great Playwright meant for them to know. Some in the audience (the church—the called out assembly of Christ) are here because they want to be, because they’re interested and excited about the play and what it means. Others are here only because they have to be: they were born into the human race, born with free will and choices to make, whether they like it or not. There are drama critics here with an axe to grind, proud and pedantic. And more “informal” critics find themselves here as well—hecklers and mockers who merely want to disrupt the performance for their own amusement.
There are also those in the theater whose job it is to help the audience—to see to it that the “play” is edifying and comprehensible: the ushers who will help us find our seats in the theater of life; the lighting and sound technicians who’s job is to ensure that we can see and hear what the cast is saying, and so forth. These have been called to the task by the Leading Man Himself. These helpers are the church’s “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.”
In one capacity or another, everybody is here in the theater of life. If the cast and crew do their jobs, the play will be a huge success: the Playwright will be loved, honored, and revered; the cast and crew will be applauded (and get paid); the Leading Man will become a “superstar;” and the audience will learn, grow, appreciate the message, respond to it, and yes, even enjoy themselves.
Well, that’s how it was supposed to work—how it could have worked. What really happened (as revealed in history and scripture) was that the cast (Israel) refused to rehearse the script. Then they turned the performance into a night at the Improv—making up lines that sounded sort of like a play, but had nothing to do with what the Great Playwright had actually written. Some of the ushers left their posts and went out trying to scalp tickets. The lighting crew shined their spotlights on anything they could to distract the audience from the play that wasn’t going on. Then the cast tied up the backstage crew and set fire to the props, while anarchists and terrorists rioted in the lobby. Finally, they lynched the Leading Man, the Playwright’s only son.
The Playwright, of course, had no choice but to dismiss the cast. In fact, it was only His unfathomable love that prevented Him from closing the theater and burning it to the ground in righteous anger. But instead, because the play was so important (and because He loved us so much), He made sure the script would be available to anyone who sought it—even though they wouldn’t get to see it acted out on stage. (No, that’s not quite true: although the cast—Israel—had rebelled against the Playwright, the play itself was about that very rebellion, and His plan to save them in spite of it—if they wanted to be saved. The Leading Man was supposed to get murdered at the end of Act II—only to rise from the dead at the beginning of Act III, after the intermission. If Israel had read the script, they might have known that.) Remarkably, even though Yahweh had fired the rebellious cast, He made it clear that that their grandchildren would someday be welcomed back to center stage.
Pardon the extended metaphor, but that’s kind of how I see the history of mankind’s relationship with God—our failures, and His restraint in dealing with them. More to the point, it reflects the different roles the church and Israel were supposed to play in bringing the Good News of Yahweh’s redemption to the world. If we don’t understand that Israel and the church are not the same thing, that we have separate jobs to do, and that we will function quite differently in the Kingdom of God, then we will be totally lost when it comes to prophetic revelation. Understanding the relationship between Israel and the church is foundational. (It bears mention, however, that our citizenship in the kingdom is achieved exactly the same way—through the blood of Christ, shed because of our sins. No one was ever saved by their flawless performance, that is, keeping the precepts of the Torah.)
Another foundational issue we’ll cover is the relationship between Israel and the Land of Promise—eretz Israel. God’s promises to Israel—going all the way back to their ancestor Abraham—make it clear that the Land itself will play a startling and central role in the unfolding of prophetic scripture. No matter how much trouble the children of Israel have gotten themselves into over the centuries, the fact remains that Yahweh’s unilateral promises concerning their national existence and their homeland must come to pass, or God is a liar. His prophetic promises concerning Israel’s eventual restoration, repatriation, and redemption—as a nation in their own Promised Land—are by far the most oft-repeated prophetic theme in the entire Bible.
And finally, we need to familiarize ourselves with the fact that Yahweh is on a timeline, a self-imposed schedule that began with the fall of Adam into sin, and will end with the transition of all of redeemed humanity into the eternal, immortal state. This timetable (though certain elements of it are hidden for our own good) is revealed through Biblical prophecy, much of it in the Book of Daniel. The structure of God’s schedule is important for us to know if we hope to make sense of the myriad of timing clues scattered throughout prophetic scripture. And to my mind, the very fact that we can perceive it now, when our godly forebears could not, is evidence that we are very, very close to the end of the age.
So while they contain little in the way of yet-to-be-fulfilled prophecy, these first seven chapters of The End of the Beginning are an essential foundation upon which our understanding of Yahweh’s prophetic scriptures must be built.