Bible contains several prophecies with some already fulfilled, some are in the process of being fulfilled and some are yet to be fulfilled. There is not one particular interpretation for each prophecy but several and often lead many into confusion. In this post, we will explore how Jesus showed that no one can interpret prophecies unless it was revealed by God to them.
Elijah must come first
For behold, the day is coming, Burning like an oven, And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” Says the LORD of hosts, “That will leave them neither root nor branch. … Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And he will turn The hearts of the fathers to the children, And the hearts of the children to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”Mal 4:1,5-6
In the book of Malachi, we read about the prophecy of Elijah coming first before the dreadful day of the LORD. If you take the whole chapter, it is still not possible for us to identify and interpret the prophecy without help from Jesus Christ.
And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.Matt 17:10-13
Jesus Christ identified John the Baptist as Elijah, having the spirit of Elijah. If we don’t know what Jesus said about John the Baptist being Elijah, it would be impossible for us to even relate him with Elijah. This causes more questions to ask rather than answers. If John the Baptist is Elijah, what does the dreadful day of the LORD represent in the prophecy which burns “all” who do wickedly? Does “all” represent only Jews to identify it with 70 AD? Or, Christ doing something in the spiritual realm condemning all who lived wicked in hell? Or, something else? The prophecy also suggests that there will not be any wicked after that dreadful day of the LORD. But we know that is not the case since there are wicked in this world now. You can see we all try and attempt to fit things and interpret the prophecy. Unless God reveals it to us – just like Jesus revealed John the Baptist as being Elijah, it would be impossible for us to know what the prophecy really means.
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me
The Spirit of the Lord GOD [is] upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to [those who are] bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.” And they shall rebuild the old ruins, They shall raise up the former desolations, And they shall repair the ruined cities, The desolations of many generations. Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, And the sons of the foreigner [Shall be] your plowmen and your vinedressers. But you shall be named the priests of the LORD, They shall call you the servants of our God. You shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, And in their glory you shall boast.Isa 61:1-6
Reading the above prophecy of Isaiah, it is impossible for anyone to even suggest that it was referring to Jesus Christ before He publicly declares that the top-most part was fulfilled in the synagogue.
And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the LORD [is] upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to [the] poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to [the] captives And recovery of sight to [the ]blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” Then He closed the book, and gave [it] back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”Luke 4:17-21
When Jesus declares about the prophecy, He mentions only the first part of the prophecy and stops abruptly, showing that only the first part of the prophecy in the same sentence got fulfilled. As we saw earlier, this raises a lot of questions than answers. What does the day of vengeance of our God refer to, which immediately follows the left-out part of the prophecy? Does it refer to 70 AD? Or, something in the far future?
For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.Luke 21:22
Jesus Himself reveals that the days of vengeance was a reference to 70 AD. How are the people supposed to even identify that the prophecy was a reference to Jesus and then 70 AD? As we can see, no one identified or interpreted it correctly. Unless God reveals it to those who want to know – just like Jesus revealed to those who were in that synagogue, it would be impossible for us to know when the prophecy really got fulfilled.
Who ate my bread, Has lifted up his heel
Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, Who ate my bread, Has lifted up [his] heel against me.Ps 41:9
The above passage from the Psalm of David actually refers to Ahithophel the Gilonite as we read from the book of Samuel.
Then Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor, from his city–from Giloh–while he offered sacrifices. And the conspiracy grew strong, for the people with Absalom continually increased in number. … Then [someone] told David, saying, “Ahithophel [is] among the conspirators with Absalom.” And David said, “O LORD, I pray, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness!”2Sam 15:12,31
It is impossible for anyone to know that prophecy in Psalms actually a Messianic prophecy and refers to Judas Iscariot, the betrayer.
I do not speak concerning all of you. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me.’John 13:18
Without Jesus mentioning to the Psalm of David as a reference to Himself, it is impossible for anyone to know that it was actually a prophecy about Jesus.
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, [Though] you are little among the thousands of Judah, [Yet] out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth [are] from of old, From everlasting.Mic 5:2
The prophecy requires Messiah to be born in Bethlehem. But the people never knew where Jesus was born during His own lifetime.
Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Will the Christ come out of Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was? So there was a division among the people because of Him.John 7:41-43
The people believe that Jesus was born from Galilee.
And Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”John 1:46
Even Nathanael assumed that Jesus was born in Nazareth. In short no one knew where Jesus was actually born. Sometimes, even if the prophecy is clear, we may never know actual facts to confirm its fulfilment and even the details based on our knowledge may actually contradict the prophecy itself.
How can we understand prophecies?
Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. … And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?”Luke 24:25-27, 32
After Jesus was resurrected, we read that two disciples were walking with Jesus on the road to Emmaus, discussing His death without realising that it was actually Jesus they were having the conversation with. The disciples never understood the prophecies about the death of Messiah in the Scriptures. It took the Son of God to expound in all Scripture about Himself for them to understand. As we can see, unless God opens the Scriptures to us, we may never understand prophecies.
Jesus not only calls those who can’t understand as “foolish ones” but also explains that they are slow of heart to believe. The disciples were expecting the Messiah as a King, who will establish an everlasting Kingdom but the Jesus Christ who they considered as their Messiah was put to death. This is because they took parts of the prophecy they like about the Messiah and slow of heart to believe the prophecy about the suffering and death of the Messiah.
“For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”Luke 7:28
It is worth noting that the greatest prophet born of women never prophesied.
And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”John 1:21
Even John the Baptist does not know that he was Elijah and did not accept himself to be a prophet. Jesus however, by revealing that John the Baptist is Elijah and the greatest prophet, he is clearly teaching to us something very important about prophecies.
We too are like the disciples on the road to Emmaus. We take a prophecy, decide on the desired outcome from the prophecy based on current situations and world events, then we try to fit the prophecy on the events based on we already decided as the outcome. Prophecy doesn’t work that way.
- Without God revealing it to us, we may never know that certain prophecies may be actually happening.
- Without God revealing it to us, we may never realise that certain prophecies were already fulfilled.
- Without God opening the Scripture to us, we may never know that something is actually a prophecy.
- Sometimes, the events based on our knowledge may actually contradict the prophecy.
Hence, no one can interpret prophecies unless God reveals it to us.