An Important Key to Understanding Bible Prophecy
When I was a kid, I went on a four-day hike at a summer camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Before we embarked on our adventure, our camp counselor and hiking guide pointed at the mountain peak we would reach on the third day. I remember thinking how close it seemed to be and wondered why it would take us that long to get there.
To my ten-year-old eyes, the mountain peak seemed only a few hours away by foot. There was only one other peak in front of it, but what I couldn’t see from my perspective was that there was much terrain to cover between the peaks. Just because several mountain peaks appeared to be close together didn’t mean they actually were.
There is a similar phenomenon with certain Bible prophecies. Prophecies contained in one sentence may actually have various fulfillments millennia apart.
Lessons from Isaiah
The book of Isaiah describes a conquering then reigning King, but it also describes a suffering servant. Isaiah 53 (written hundreds of years before Christ) reads like an eye witness account of the ministry of the cross, yet other portions of Isaiah depict a conquering King. So much so, that some Rabbi’s assumed there would be two Messiah’s.
Isaiah 9:6 is a passage you hear quoted frequently at Christmastime. It reads,
“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Notice that the first three phrases correlate to three distinct events in the ministry of Jesus, each separated by time. First he was born. Then 33 years later, the Son of God was given as a sacrifice for sin (John 3:16). Then one day (yet future), He will literally and physically reign over all the nations of earth during the millennial kingdom.
Even John the Baptist and Jesus’ disciples did not realize the Messiah would come first to suffer and die for our sins, then later as a reigning king. When John the Baptist was in prison he sent word to Jesus, asking if he should expect another person who would be the Messiah. The disciples asked Jesus on a few occasions if he was going to set up the Kingdom at that time.
The first thing Jesus did after enduring 40 days of testing and temptation in the desert, was to go into a synagogue and make an astounding proclamation. In Luke 4:16-21 we read this:
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
He was reading Isaiah 61:1-2, but he left out a very important phrase when he stopped in the middle of a sentence. Isaiah 61:2 reads, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God.”
This one short phrase covers two very distinct eras—the church age and the tribulation period (AKA “the Day of the Lord”) and at the time Jesus was reading this in the synagogue, he was about to begin his first-coming earthly ministry. So here we have another example prophetic mountain peaks. Though apparently close in proximity in the text, they are actually separated by time yet linked together prophetically.
Hindsight is 20/20 and with he privilege of seeing prophecies concerning Jesus’s first coming fulfilled, we can see how this all-important principle can help us better understand Bible prophecy.