4. The Development of Prophecy

The Unveiling of Jesus Christ

by Vladimir Gelesnof

It is a very common opinion, widely spread throughout Christendom, and enjoying especial favor among the cultured, that the matter and thought of the prophets, though brought home to the imagination and heart by means of excellent literary forms, reflect the crude ideas current in a remote age, ideas which our century of boasted enlightenment has long outdistanced and outgrown. The terms "Jewish conception," "oriental garb," "poetic imagery," "accommodation to the narrow ideas of the age," and such like disparaging epithets which are the order of the day, are an index of the popular attitude towards prophecy. This prejudice against writings so sublime and far-reaching, and occupying so much space in the revelation of God, is as remarkable in our age, as it is inexcusable, although by no means surprising. It is part of the paganism which came in with the Renaissance, and which our higher education, both secular and theological, is still too timid to shake off.

In seeking to approach the much-neglected writings of the prophets, viz., Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and the twelve so-called Minor Prophets, our first endeavor will be to take a general survey of the broad table-land of prophecy.

Two different modes of study invite the student: one studies each prophet in detail with a view to understand them as a whole, the other studies the entire series as a whole with a view to understand each separate unit. The first is the method almost universally adopted by students of prophecy: they pick up an outstanding passage here and there, submit it to minute investigation, and concentrate upon it the combined light of other passages. The second method is the one we propose to follow. We will take the reader to a vantage point sufficiently distant to permit the survey of the whole field at once; we will sweep over the entire ground again and again, and yet again; we will soar higher and higher until an altitude is reached which permits an unclouded view of the towering peaks which give direction to the entire range of Old Testament prophecy.

The division of the Davidic kingdom under Rehoboam into the ten-tribed Israel called "Ephraim," and the two-tribed Israel, called "Judah," as distinguished from "all Israel," or the twelve-tribed nation, laid the ground for all the prophecies concerning the Kingdom. The prophets group themselves around the several great epochs of the nation's history. Historically considered, in relation to Judah, they fall into three main divisions:

(1) pre-exile prophets, viz., Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah;
(2) exile prophets, viz., Ezekiel and Daniel;
(3) post-exile prophets, viz., Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

In relation to both Ephraim and Judah, they fall into five chief divisions:

(1) Pre-Assyrian prophets, the prophets of the period prior to the Assyrian invasion and fall of Samaria, viz., Obadiah, Joel, Jonah;
(2) the Assyrian prophets, viz., Isaiah, Hosea, Amos, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk;
(3) the transition prophet, viz., Zephaniah;
(4) the prophets of the Chaldean period, viz., Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel;
(5) the Persian period, down to the close of prophecy, viz., Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

The foregoing divisions serve only the purpose of linking the prophets with phases of national experience. A real grouping must rest on such common characteristics as internal evidence discloses.

As an aid in this direction, it is necessary that we should know that, from first to last, the Kingdom of God on earth, its development through Israel in relation to the nations, amid conflicts and victories, judgment and mercy, apostasy and recovery, and its consummation in glory, is the one theme of Old Testament prophecy. The Kingdom of God, though one, experiences many changes of form in the process of realization and runs through various periods and ends. Essentially, it is one. Phenomenally, it is many. It is an endless Kingdom in its essence. It is a temporal Kingdom in its forms. It exists eternally. The eons pass away. The Kingdom abides. New forms emerge during the passage of time until the final form appears when the Son delivers up the Kingdom to the Father, that God may be All in All (1 Cor. 15:28). The original prophetic germ is the promise to our progenitors in Gen.3:15. As the mighty oak is latent in the acorn, so the doctrine of the prophets is involved in the first promise which assumes in the process of time more ample and concrete forms. The great prophetic epochs which mark Israel's path to the appointed mead are evolved by division and integration. The result is that, as prophecy advances, what is folded up darkly, at first, is opened out in clearer and distinct statement later on. The periods and the ends become more definite. The later predictions build on the earlier ones. The spirit of prophecy is one. The function of the later prophets is not to transcend, but develop, the earlier.

By observation of this, we learn that the Babylonian captivity was an epoch-making event in molding the subsequent development of prophecy. The calamity which brought destruction to Jerusalem and captivity to Judah altered the general distribution of the course of time, and this difference constitutes the distinctive feature between pre-exile and post-exile prophecy.

In the pre-exile prophets the whole course of time, from Israel's first emergence into the family of nations until the new heaven and new earth are ushered in, is divided into two great periods, the bisecting epoch between them being the personal self-revelation of Jehovah in glory, for the deliverance of Israel and the destruction of His and their enemies, and for the establishment of His Kingdom as an outward polity on earth. All is composite photography here, the events standing cheek to cheek, which only later prophecy can separate. The pre-exile prophets do not discriminate between the Parousia in humiliation and the Parousia in glory, but behold the whole work of Messiah.

Messiah's suffering and glories are combined; the year of Jehovah's favor and the day of vengeance, Israel's dispersion and restoration, are spoken of in the same breath, without any intimation of their being rent off from one another by an intervening gap. This is the uniform view of all pre-exile prophecy. If we represent, in schematic form, the viewpoint of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, the diagram will stand thus:

When we come to post-exile prophecy we find a marked difference from pre-exile prophecy in respect of the distribution of time. Events which in the earlier prophets stood together in one picture, begin to be parted here. Two advents instead of one appear. Two judgments instead of one. Two captivities instead of one. This much is clear, that the nation of Israel has not acquired wisdom by the catastrophe of the exile, for prophecy now speaks of a second destruction of rebuilt Jerusalem. As the result of Israel's impenitence, even after the return from Babylon, there is a second dispersion, another period of desolation, a curse for repudiating Messiah Himself. And yet they paint in colors most gorgeous and brilliant the second advent of the Messiah, and Israel ransomed at last, triumphant in the promised kingdom and glory.

Something new has occurred. The synthesis of times and ends in pre-exile prophecy has given place to their analysis in post-exile prophecy. The one end parts into two, each part closing itself up again, the space between becoming an intermediate period. Instead of two periods and one end, as in pre-exile prophecy, we have three periods and two ends, schematized thus:

After the return from exile, at the expiration of a chronologically measured period, Messiah appears, but not in glory. He is "cut off," and there is nothing for Him--—no kingdom as predicted by pre-exile prophets, no crown, no throne. He is rooted out by a violent death, and Israel is, in consequence, dispersed and their city razed to the ground. Messiah vanishes from mortal view and remains concealed and unseen throughout the whole period of Israel's rejection. At the end of the decreed measure of desolations, Messiah comes out of His concealment and appears in the clouds of heaven. He comes to Israel, broken in pieces and gored by the Gentile beasts, to restore to them the covenanted Kingdom. At His first coming He is rejected by Israel, and Israel is rejected by Him. At His second coming He is accepted by Israel, and Israel is accepted by Him. At His first appearing, there is "nothing for Him." Now there is everything for Him. Then, also, there was nothing for Israel as a nation. Now there is all. The kingdom and the glory are for both "under the whole heaven." Such is the picture Daniel gives us: two advents, two ends, three periods, for the one advent, one end, two periods, of pre-exile prophecy.

Nor is this all. Ezekiel exhibits a further development in the distribution of time. Whereas Daniel had detailed the times that must supervene over Israel prior to Messiah's advent to set up the kingdom, Ezekiel develops the times following the setting up of Messiah's Kingdom on earth. He sees not only Israel's supremacy over the Gentiles which the other prophets have celebrated, but also their restoration as a people, their political reunion and independence, their national conversion, their reinstatement in the land promised to the fathers, the re-apportionment of the land among the tribes, God's sanctuary in their midst, and David, their Shepherd-Prince ruling over them. Instead of the Valley of Dry Bones, he sees a resurrected people standing up as a mighty army, and instinct with the "spirit of life from God."

The peculiar feature in Ezekiel is that he sees an end to the Messianic age. Israel's kingdom is destined to sustain another shock at the hands of the nations after the "many days" of prosperity and peace in the Kingdom. The possibility of Messiah's Kingdom undergoing a change of form, hinted in the other prophets in the phrase "for the eon and until," now receives its true significance. What before was a mere hint now becomes a concrete reality. Instead of three periods and two ends, we now have four periods and three ends. If we schematize the conception, the diagram will stand thus:

New Testament prophecy is outside the scope of this study. Yet it seems most fitting, by way of a moment's digression, to speak of the latest development of the doctrine of the Kingdom in the writings of the apostles. In the fewest words, we deal with it.

The twentieth chapter of the Apocalypse tells of the millennial revolt. It speaks of the collapse of that regime of apparent peace and goodwill. Pass on now to the last two chapters. There, in the language of imagery that holds us spellbound, we have the glorious post-millennial eon described. Here we have a full tableau of the "beyond" of the prophets. What the ancient seers could scarcely discern by reason of distance has drawn sufficiently near to admit observation.

It was reserved for the apostle to the Gentiles to put the finishing touch to the unfoldings of the Kingdom. Paul sees further than any other inspired writer. He sees an end even to that age of ages. The Son who had assumed dominion, at last, resigns His throne unquestioned and unmarred to God. Instead of four periods and three ends, we now have five periods and four ends. If we once more schematize the conception we get the following diagram:

If we sum up, therefore, our survey of the prophets, the whole subject will shine out with a clearness equal to the brilliance of the noonday. What we have in the writings of the prophets, is the development of God's Kingdom on earth, by means of Israel, the Messianic nation. The prophetic writings begin somewhere after the division of the Davidic kingdom. From that time onward, the prophets look to the time of the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel at Messiah's coming in glory, and even to an age farther dimly discerned as afar off "beyond." In all, we see how Israel, "God's choice for the eons," stands out, in apostasy and in their calling and mission, as the Bringer, nationally, of salvation to the nations. "Salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22). Israel is evermore the root, the center, the organic basis, and ground of all.

This publication may be reproduced for personal use(all other rights reserved by the copyright holder).