CHAPTER 4 - Unfulfilled Prophecy - Has the Church suplanted Israel?

 

The fulfilment of the Seventieth week of Daniel clearly pertains to a time that is within the scope of other visions granted to the prophet, and also of other Apocalyptic visions to which these are inseparably allied. At this stage of our inquiry, therefore, we enter a field of heated controversy; and it may be well, before proceeding, to consider the principles which should guide our further progress. And this inquiry will be facilitated by a brief survey of the scheme of Divine prophecy as a whole.

Until comparatively recent years the majority of prophetic students were ranged in one or other of the rival camps of futurist or historicist interpretation. But in these more enlightened days most of us have come to recognise the truth of Bacon's words, that

"Divine prophecies, being of the nature of their Author, with whom a thousand years are but as one day, and, therefore, are not fulfilled punctually at once, but have springing and germinant accomplishment throughout many ages though the height or fulness of them may refer to some one age."

We refuse to believe, therefore as the futurist system would imply, that Messianic prophecy has no voice for this age of Israel's rejection. And no one who understands aright what may be termed the ground plan of the Bible will enlist in the camp of the historicists. For that system, as formulated by its accredited exponents, displays utter ignorance respecting the place which Israel holds in the Divinely-revealed purposes for earth, and also as to the peculiar character of this Christian dispensation and the distinctive truths pertaining to it.

In its spiritual aspect the Bible is the story of redemption; and we know from the Lord's own teaching that it speaks of Him in every part of it. In the record of His post-resurrection ministry we read that "the Lord expounded in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself." (This threefold division of the sacred Canon was familiar to every Hebrew. The Psalms being the first book of the third division, gave its name to it.)And more definite still are His words to the disciples on the day of the Ascension, "that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets and in the Psalms concerning Me."

But the Bible has also an exoteric aspect. And when thus read, what do we find? A brief preface tells of the Creation and the Fall; of the judgment of the Flood; of the apostasy of the Noachian age; and of the building of Babel, and its consequences. The events of more than twenty centuries are thus dismissed in the eleven chapters that lead up to the call of Abraham. And the rest of the Old Testament relates to the Abrahamic race; the great Gentile nations of antiquity coming under notice only in connection with Israel. For Israel was chosen of God to be His witnesses and agents upon earth. As the Apostle to the Gentiles wrote to a Gentile church, "to them (Israel) were committed the oracles of God;" and of them, "as concerning the flesh, Christ came." And with emphasis he wrote also, "God hath not cast away His people whom He foreknew"; and the receiving of them again to favour will be as life from the dead '' in blessing to the world.

But ever since the days of the Latin Fathers Christendom religion has been obsessed by the error of supposing that "the Church" has supplanted Israel in the Divine scheme of prophecy; that God has jettisoned His revealed purposes for earth in relation to the Covenant people; and that when "the number of His elect" of this dispensation is complete, earth and its inhabitants will be engulfed in a cataclysm of judgment fire. But human sin cannot thwart the purposes of God, albeit the realisation of them may thus be delayed. And no Divine word of prophecy or promise can ever fail. The prophecy of Israel's sacred calendar, for example, shall be fulfilled in every part of it. For even the festivals which marked the successive stages of the annual harvest of the land are a veiled prophecy of the harvest of redemption.

The sheaf of the first fruits at Passover speaks of Christ and His resurrection from the dead. The "two wave loaves" of Pentecost point forward to the two houses of Israel in full acceptance with God in days to come. And when, at the Feast of Tabernacles, the Israelites assembled in Jerusalem with palm branches in their hands, the celebration typified the harvest-home of redemption - earth's great "Feast of Ingathering," when the palm-bearing host of the redeemed of an age still future, an innumerable multitude "out of all nations and kindreds and peoples and tongues," shall raise their loud-voiced cry of praise to God.

The popular conception of the Divine "plan of the ages" may be epigrammatically described as a pandemonium ending with a conflagration. How vastly different is it from the scheme revealed in Scripture? For all Hebrew prophecy, from Moses to Malachi, speaks of "times of restitution of all things, or, in other words, of a coming age when everything shall be put right on earth by a reign of righteousness and peace.

And this was the burden of the Baptist's preaching, and of the early ministry of the Lord and His Apostles. "The kingdom of heaven is at hand" was not "the gospel" as we understand the word; it heralded the advent of the promised " times of restitution," when the heavens shall rule upon the earth. But though Israel's Messiah-King was in their midst "His own received Him not," and His death on Calvary was the response the nation made to that "gospel of the kingdom."
His intercessory prayer upon the cross obtained for them a respite from the consequences of that awful sin; and at Pentecost the Apostle of the Circumcision was inspired to proclaim that a national repentance would bring back "the Christ who before was preached unto them," and usher in the promised age of blessing. But Israel was obdurate, and the murder of Stephen was the answer made to the Pentecostal amnesty. He was the messenger sent after the King to say they would not have Him to reign over them. So "there was no remedy," and instead of sending back the Christ, God sent them the awful judgment under which the nation still lies prostrate. After the death of Stephen, the Apostle Paul received his call. It is generally over-looked that, though his commission was specially to the Gentiles, it included a definite mission to Israel And in fulfilment of that mission he traversed all Jewry, from Jerusalem round to Rome. And in every place his first appeal was to the Synagogue.

But though individual Jews responded to the Gospel, not a single synagogue accepted the proffered mercy. That part of his commission, therefore, was fulfilled, when "the chief of the Jews" in Rome rejected his testimony; and the Book of the Acts closes by proclaiming that "the salvation of God was sent unto the Gentiles." And surely the fact is significant that it is in "the Captivity Epistles," written after that crisis in his ministry, that we find the full revelation of the distinctive truths of Christianity.

Then as to principles of interpretation; if at a meeting of the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, two thousand years ago, some learned Rabbi had ventured to offer a strictly Scriptural forecast of the coming and career of Christ, he would doubtless have been silenced by the indignant rebuke that such literalness of exegesis was fitted to bring discredit upon Holy Scripture. And yet we now read those very prophecies with knowledge of their fulfilment even in minute details.
Here are a few of them:

"A virgin shall conceive and bear a son ";
"thy King cometh unto thee . . . riding upon an ass ";
"they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver ";
"and I took the thirty pieces of silver and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord ";
"they part my garments among them and cast lots upon my vesture ";
"they pierced my hands and my feet ";
"they gave me vinegar to drink."

To the prophets themselves such words were full of mystery; and no doubt they were generally "explained away" as mere poetry. And yet in every jot and tittle of them they found their counterpart in fact. Seeing then that the Scriptural records of such fulfilments are our best, if not our only, guide in dealing with prophecies that were still unfulfilled at the close of the sacred Canon, we may unreservedly accept the principle of literal fulfilment in our study of them.
We shall therefore take careful note of the prefatory words of Gabriel's prophecy, echoing the concluding words of Daniel's prayer:

"Seventy weeks are decreed upon thy people and thy holy city." And we shall reject any scheme of interpretation that finds the fulfilment of this prophecy in the present dispensation when Jerusalem is a Gentile city, and Israel is Lo-ammi.
But while insisting on the principle of literal fulfilment, we must not reject the other principle of "germinant accomplishment." For Scripture itself affords some striking illustrations of it; as, for example, the Lord's reference to the Baptist as being the Elijah of Malachi's prophecy. "If ye are willing to receive him (He said) this is Elijah." And yet at a later date he said, "Elijah truly shall first come and restore all things. And specially apt is the Apostle Peter's reference to the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost as being within the scope of Joel's prophecy -the fulfilment of which pertains to an age after Israel has been restored to national prosperity and spiritual blessing. For this is the burden of Joel's prophecy. In the present age of Israel's rejection, Jew and Gentile stand by nature upon the same level of guilt and doom. "There is no difference, for all have sinned." But neither is there any difference as regards salvation. Grace is reigning, and therefore "there is no difference, for the same Lord is rich unto all that call upon Him. The Jew call have blessing as freely as his neighbour, if only he will give up his boasted vantage ground of covenant and promise. Blessing on that ground is as inconsistent with grace, as is blessing on the ground of works, or of personal merit of any kind. For iii the same sense in which we say that "God cannot lie," we recognise that He cannot act upon incompatible principles at the same time.

It is clear, therefore, that before this prophecy of the Seventy Weeks can be fulfilled for Daniel's people, there must be a change of dispensation as definite and vital as that which took place when Israel was rejected and set aside. Israel's outcast condition is one of the "mystery" truths of this Christian dispensation.(It was in grace that God gave the covenant; but the covenant established a relationship; and, for those who were within it, blessing was on that ground. But when the Cross put an end to every claim upon God, the only alternatives were grace or judgment.) But this dispensation will be brought to an end when the Lord rises up from the throne of grace and, in fulfilment of that other "mystery," comes for His heavenly people, including both Jews and Gentiles, who are one with himself as members of "the Church which is his body." And then the earthly people will come to their own again; and " the receiving of them will be fraught with widespread blessing.

The prophecy of Zechariah points forward to "that day" when there will be a great national and spiritual revival among them in their own city and land. And the blessings promised to them in Daniel 9:24 await "that day " of Zechariah xiii. 1. In no part of them have these blessings yet been realised for Israel.