Understanding the Prophets
Dear Church Family,
This Sunday (January 24th) we begin a new Sunday school class for all ages in the sanctuary at 9:15-10:15 am. We will be using a video series called He Gave Us Prophets, combined with teaching and discussion, in order to better understand, interpret, and apply the prophets of the Old Testament. The subtopics of each of the lessons are: (1) essential hermeneutical perspectives, (2) a prophet’s job, (3) people of the covenant, (4) dynamics of the covenant, (5) historical analysis of prophecy, (6) literary analysis of the prophets, (7) the purpose of predictions, and (8) unfolding eschatology. At the end of our lessons, we will conclude by applying what we have learned with a study of Zechariah chapter 14.
Anxious or Apathetic
One of the questions that often arises in the study of prophecy in Scripture is: “Are we living in the end times?” The question usually elicits some kind of apocalyptic fervor in every generation. In 1984, Jerry Jenkins and Timothy Lahaye published a book whose title bore this question. Of course, this book, like all others of its kind, has had to be updated and rewritten every couple of years. Unfortunately, as prognosticators make their predictions and profess to have the ability to read the “signs of the times,” Christians usually become either anxious or apathetic.
In order to help people move away from their anxiety or apathy, when I am asked the question, “Are we living in the end times?” I answer like this, “Yes, we are – and according to the Bible we have been living in the end times for about two thousand years, since the first coming of Christ!” You see, as believers in Christ, we miss a great deal of the implications of the promises of the gospel if we listen to the prognosticators, rather than actually studying God’s Word. We need a better understanding of what the Bible says about the ‘latter days’ so that rather than being anxious or apathetic, we may become confident, hopeful, alert, and full of faith – as God intended through our proper understanding of the end times (Matthew 6:31-34; Mark 13:7, 11, 20-22, 33, 35, 37).
The “Last Days” in Scripture
In Deuteronomy, Moses prophesied that God’s people will worship false gods and thus go into exile (4:25-28), but then they will repent, and God will come to them (4:29). Because Yahweh will not forget the covenant which He swore to their fathers, He will not leave them or destroy them in the ‘latter days’ (4:30-31). As we know from Scripture, the people of God were sent into exile, but they still held out hope for redemption from the Lord. The prophets of the Old Testament develop this theme of latter days blessing. Isaiah says that the “mountain of the house of the LORD will be established as the chief of the mountains.” Many people will come to worship the one true God and will learn His word and the way of peace (Isaiah 2:2-4). Jeremiah emphasizes the clarity of understanding that Yahweh will bring for His people in the latter days (Jeremiah 23:20; 30:24) and the eventual blessing of even the enemies of His people (Jeremiah 48:47; 49:39). Hosea prophesies that after their exile, “the sons of Israel will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king; and they will come trembling to the LORD and to His goodness in the last days.” (Hosea 3:5).
When Jesus begins His earthly ministry, His message is summarized as, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). Jesus brought the reign and peace of God. With the coming of the kingdom of heaven, Jesus Christ sent His disciples out with the same message and power over sickness, death, and the devil (Matthew 10:7-8). On that first day of Pentecost after Jesus’ ascension, the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in the languages of the nations (Acts 2:1-5). Interestingly, one of these nations is Elam which is mentioned by Jeremiah as one of the nations that will be blessed in the latter days (Jeremiah 49:3). Luke tells us that the people who witnessed this event in Jerusalem were bewildered, amazed, and astonished (Acts 2:6-7). Peter stood up in the midst of the crowd and interpreted the day’s events as a fulfillment of a prophecy which we find in Joel concerning the last days:
“‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my bondslaves, both men and women, I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit and they shall prophesy. And I will grant wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come. And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” (Acts 2:17-21; cf. Joel 2:28-32a)
Peter understood that the blessings of the latter days as foretold in the Prophets had begun. Peter continues to expound the Old Testament in a historical lesson on the plan of God as fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Acts 2:22-36), and concludes with an exhortation and a promise: “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” (Acts 2:38-39).
The writer of Hebrews begins this way, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:1-2) We are already in the last days. Make no mistake, the kingdom of heaven and the latter days have come in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Christ’s first appearing means that His kingdom has come (2 Timothy 4:1).
To be sure, we still await the glorious appearing of our God and Savior Jesus Christ when He will come again to make all things new in the new heaven and the new earth (Titus 2:13; Revelation 21:1-5). However, let us remember that those things which the prophets of old foretold in the coming of the latter days are ours today; the blessings of the latter days are a present reality for the new covenant people of God. Things like the writing of the law upon the hearts of His people, personal knowledge of the Holy One of Israel, and the forgiveness of our sins (Jeremiah 31:31-34). The good news is: “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7). Through death, Jesus Christ destroyed the one who has the power of death, namely the devil. Therefore, as believers in Christ, the offspring of Abraham, we have been delivered from exile and the bond of slavery (Hebrews 2:14-16).
You see, the proper understanding of eschatology and the ‘latter days’ is crucial to our understanding of the promises of the gospel and the reign of God. Believers in Christ are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (Ephesians 3:6). I hope you will join us for this series of Sunday school lessons on how to better understand the prophets so that the next time someone asks you what you think about the end times, you can answer them, “I’m enjoying them very much, thank you. How about you?”
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch