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Monday 11 December 2023

What is the Purpose of Prophecy?


You can watch the video of this talk here


One of the main things I want to do today at this end times lunch is to help reframe how we should think about prophecy and the place of Israel in our sanctification. Something I have observed is that many people become really concerned whenever there is war in Israel, or the Middle East. This is because people have been trained over the years to look for the signs of scripture in the events of this world but I think in the wrong way. I think prophecy does speak to what we see happening in our world, but not in the way that many Christians are trained to see.  

What I want to do today is show you how Old Testament prophecy serves our walk with Jesus Christ and why it is vitally important to apply it this way. Peter the Apostle frames for us how we should understand prophecy, and how it is useful to our Christian walk,

“10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:10-12).

Peter tells us that these prophecies about the “sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories…” were written not to serve these ancient prophets but us, “12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you…” That is Christians.

How do these prophesies serve us? To prepare our minds to live righteous lives. Peter goes on to say, 1 Peter 1:13-15,

“13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

These prophecies exist to point us to Jesus, in whom the fullness has come, so that we can know how we should live and how we should think about sin up until the second coming of our Lord. The gospel shows us how Christ fulfilled all righteousness, these old prophecies show us what happens if we reject Jesus and what happens if we follow him. Jesus showed this to Peter and the other Apostles (Luke 24:25-27).

So, while not every prophecy might be explicitly talking about Jesus, for instance some talk of an anti-Christ, the goal of all prophecy is to point people to faith and sanctification in Jesus. It should not breed fear, or anxiety, or worry about the days in which we live, but awe and faith in God. It should breed in us a confident hope that we are on the right side, the winning side, the kings side.  

So, in light of this what I want to do today is show you how the prophecies about the fate of the nation of Israel serves to point us to Jesus. Let’s begin. 

The Real Restoration of Israel - Ezekiel 37:14 says this, “14 And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” The Bible prophecies a regathering of Israel, however, when we read the prophecies about the gathering of Israel back to their land, we can see how the current gathering is more a work of the man than a work of prophecy. But even more importantly we can see how this applies to our everyday Christian walk and pushes us to draw closer to Jesus. Let me explain.

A work of the flesh - When I say that the modern nation of Israel is a work of man, what I mean is that it is a work of the flesh seeking to fulfil the things of God, rather than a work of God to fulfil his own prophecy.

Now before we go further, let me lay out on the table, that I am a historical premillennial in my end times view, I believe in a restored nation of Israel, with Christ ruling from his throne in Jerusalem. I also believe every nation will be restored to their lands in the Millenium or the New Heavens and Earth because the nations survive the Old Heavens and Earth and are there at the end of scripture.

Revelation tells us that leaves on the tree of life exist for the healing of the nations (Rev. 22:2), and it is God who determines the boundaries of nations, not man. God will restore all things, this means he will restore the nations, because they are part of “all things”. This includes, but is not limited, to Israel. There are no promises that the physical people of Israel get that the Gentiles grafted into the tree of Israel, the people of God, do not also get.

It is because of what these scriptures literally say that we can see that the modern state of Israel is not yet this fulfilment, it is rather a human attempt to fulfil God's plan, much like the Kingdom of Jerusalem was in the time of the crusades. How can we know this? Well, let’s look at this history of this subject in the Bible.

The Curse - Firstly, what we need to do is look at the curses of Deuteronomy 28. There is a lot we could look at here, but I just want to focus on the concluding verses. Remember, what I am going to do with this message today is bring it back to your walk with Christ. This is our end goal, so hold onto that thought as we read. Deuteronomy 28:64-68 says,

“64 And the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known. 65 And among these nations you shall find no respite, and there shall be no resting place for the sole of your foot, but the Lord will give you there a trembling heart and failing eyes and a languishing soul. 66 Your life shall hang in doubt before you. Night and day you shall be in dread and have no assurance of your life. 67 In the morning you shall say, ‘If only it were evening!’ and at evening you shall say, ‘If only it were morning!’ because of the dread that your heart shall feel, and the sights that your eyes shall see. 68 And the Lord will bring you back in ships to Egypt, a journey that I promised that you should never make again; and there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.”

When we read this curse in Deuteronomy 28, we should ask: is it still in effect? Are the Hebrews scattered around the world? Are they still living in fear?

Some say, well no, they have been gathered. But 6.9 million Jewish people still live outside of Israel, the city with the biggest Jewish population in it in the world is in New York, with 1.7 million Jews. So, they are still scattered. But what about the living in fear?

Well, look at this picture (a picture of Israeli women carrying assault rifles while shopping in Israel). What does going to the shopping centre openly carrying assault rifles say? Does it speak confidence and safety? Or does it say: we might be attacked at any moment?

What about this blog, that I read in church a few weeks ago: does this speak confidence, or does it sound like what God said in Deuteronomy 28 is still in effect?

“Did you know that that is a category of friend that every Jewish person has in their mind? Who would I run to? Who would hide me? We don’t wonder if; we wonder when. Because we know that whether it is indeed us, or whether it is our brothers and sisters in Israel, or in France, or in Pittsburgh, it will happen again somewhere. It wasn’t until this last weekend that I realized that I have lived my whole life treating the world as guilty until proven innocent. That until you are proven safe to me, I hold you in mild suspicion. I didn’t even realize that I’ve always done this.”[1]

This is an important foundation for helping us understand the interaction between prophecy, this world and our walk in Christ. What God says will happen, will happen, and we see this prophecy of Moses from Deuteronomy 28 still in full effect 3500 years later. This is important, because when the gathering is done by Christ, then these curses will be reversed. So, let’s turn to those prophecies now.

The Gathering- What does God says about the regathering of Israel. We are going to look at four passages, and I will show you they all say the same basic thing,

Ezekiel 11:17-21 –

"17 Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.’ 18 And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. 19 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. 21 But as for those whose heart goes after their detestable things and their abominations, I will bring their deeds upon their own heads, declares the Lord God.”

Ezekiel is clear, when God brings the people back to the land, there will be a revival accompanying it. They will remove all the detestable things from the land, which means idols and symbols of rebellion and truly trust in God, which means they will believe in his Son, Jesus.

The modern state of Israel has not done this, they have not repented, they have not turned to Jesus and their most prominent city, Tel Aviv, is known as one of the most pro-homosexual cities in the world. This is surely not a work of God.

Ezekiel 37:11-14 –

"11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14 And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”

When the Bible repeats itself, pay attention.

When God returns the people to the land, this will also be accompanied by a redeemed, spirit filled people who know their Lord. The Bible keeps repeating this.

This has also definitely not happened yet. We cannot say that the modern nation of Israel is populated by a spirit filled, Jesus confessing, faith practicing people of the Lord.

What is fascinating is that Ezekiel is just repeating what Moses taught in Deuteronomy 30:1-10,

"30 And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, 2 and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3 then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. 4 If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. 5 And the Lord your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. 6 And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. 7 And the Lord your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you. 8 And you shall again obey the voice of the Lord and keep all his commandments that I command you today. 9 The Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, 10 when you obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul."

When God brings his people back to the land they will be a law keeping, God honouring, commandment following, righteous nation of people. This is another way of calling them a Spirit-filled Christian people.

The only way to fulfil the law of God is through Christ, the one who fulfilled the law. Man cannot do that. So, Moses was looking to a time when the people of Israel would look to Jesus Christ, who is the fulfilment of the law.

Circumcision of the heart is something we are told in the New Testament the Holy Spirit does for all believers in Jesus (Rom. 2:29). It is the only circumcision that counts now that Christ has fulfilled the law.

Ezekiel 36:22-27 - And then there is the famous Ezekiel 36 where God says that he brings Israel back, not because of their reputation but to vindicate his own holiness,

“22 Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

God is going to bring them back and sanctify them. Again, this agrees with every other passage on the topic we have looked at.

God tells us that this sanctification, this revival, will happen the day he does his return, “33 “Thus says the Lord God: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt” (Ezekiel 36:33).

Has Israel been cleansed of its iniquities? No, this is evident. It is not a God honouring nation, anymore than our nation is. Therefore, this has not been fulfilled. What we see there today is then a work of the flesh.

The Bible does prophecy a return of the Israelites to the land. But for this to be fulfilled it requires 9 conditions to be met, that God gives, for this to be a true fulfilment, in detail:

1.               The Lord will gather these people (this must mean the full 12 tribes right?),

2.               From all of the countries where they have been scattered,

3.               He will give them the land of Israel (without qualification, so all of it),

4.               They will remove all idols and abominable practices from the land,

5.               They will have renewed hearts,

6.               They will be Spirit filled believers,

7.               They will fulfil God’s laws, because they are Spirit filled,

8.               They will worship God alone, as he is their God, and reject all forms of false worship,

9.               This means they will praise the name of Jesus, and worship the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as God.

In other words when this prophecy is fulfilled Israel will be a fully spirit filled and revitalized Christian nation that honours and worships the Father and comes to him through the Son, and who are empowered in this by the work of the Spirit.

Can anyone, and I mean anyone, honestly say that the modern nation state of Israel fulfills these conditions? No, of course not.  

But what is even more important is that we should ask this question: how does this impact our daily walk with Jesus Christ?

How does this impact us? In some ways hypothesizing about prophecy is pointless, if we handle it wrong. But if we handle it right it builds our faith in Christ. There is no use trying to figure out when this true return will be fulfilled. It might be tomorrow, it might be in 1000 years. But there is something vital in this for your our walk of faith. And it comes by asking some questions:

What brought on the curses for Israel, according to Moses? Rebellion and rejection of the commands of God.

What brings on the blessings and restoration? Repentance and turning back to Christ.

This shows us that the Hebrew nation which rejected God serves as a warning to all who hear the word of God. This is precisely how the Apostles applied these Old Testament prophecies and warnings: 1 Corinthians 10:9-12,

“9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”

These things “happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction…” Notice how Paul says the same thing as Peter: these Old Testament accounts and prophecies were written down for Christians to be instructed on how to live for Jesus.

Peter preaches this in Acts as well, Acts 3:22-23, “22 Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. 23 And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’”

God warns all of us who do not listen that we will suffer the same fate.

Seeing God’s judgement on his people for rejecting him should build in us a holy fear and awe and should slay arrogance and self-righteousness. Which is exactly what Paul says in Romans 11:19-22,

“19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off” (Romans 11:19-22).

When you look at prophecy and see indications of it happening in the world today, it should not make you fear what is happening in the world and think: are we about to live through the end times? Or, am I going to be stuck in the tribulation?

What it should make you do is fear the Lord, so you have the beginning of wisdom. It should make you examine yourself to see that you are in the faith. It should make you slay rebellion and self-righteousness. And it should motivate you seek to bear the fruit of repentance, so that you can walk in assurance and faith.

Physical Israel plays a part in this: we see in the way the Jewish people have lived since the destruction of the temple the true vindication of God’s word. As the eminent Christian historian Philip Schaff said, “We see in the Jewish people both God’s mercy and wrath. Wrath, that they clearly live under his judgement in trials in this world. But mercy, because he is preserving them for a final day of redemption.”

This should cause us to be ever more confident in the word of God. Because if a prophecy from Moses 3500 years ago can be so evidently being fulfilled before our eyes? How much more should we trust in the words of Jesus, to whom Moses said we should believe? Let’s pray.


List of References

[1] Source: Josh’s Blog: Because Sound Bytes Are Stupid.

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