Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Prophetic Telescoping (PT) and why it Matters


Synagogue - Crakow, Poland


Have you ever seen distinct mountain ranges, separated by many miles, but appearing as if they were just one range? This same thing applies to prophecy. Often, one prophecy spanning many distinct periods of time, seems to pertain to only one time period. Take Isaiah 11:1-10, for example:

                  There shall come forth a Rod [Messianic Child] from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him… But with righteousness He shall judge the poor…The nursing child shall play by the cobra's hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper's den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD As the waters cover the sea. And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek Him, and His resting place [Kingdom] shall be glorious.

Jesse, the father of King David, lived around 1000 years before the Messiah. Both Jew and Christian regard this prophecy as a Divine promise of the glorious Messianic Kingdom yet to come. Interestingly, this prophecy spans many thousands of years from 1000 BC to a time yet future. However, these distant and separated events are telescoped, appearing as if they were going to occur almost simultaneously.

Rabbi Gerald Sigal should be familiar with this telescopic nature of prophecy. However, in The Jew and the Christian Missionary, he argues:

                  To have any relationship to Jesus’ life, Isaiah’s prophecy must refer to the first coming because Isaiah speaks specifically of the “shoot” coming “out of the stock of David” which can only refer to the Messiah’s ancestry at the time of his birth…There is no justification for the interpretation that the prophet’s words are to be divided into two separate periods.

On the contrary, there is no reason to suspect that prophecies must all fit into a single period of time. They just don’t! It starts with the birth of a Child and remains as yet unfulfilled, according to everyone’s estimation.

There are many examples of PT. Let’s start with the earliest prophecy – one that many rabbis have regarded as messianic:


                  “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly    and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15)

The enmity began at the Fall, it continues, and has not yet been fulfilled. This prophecy spans the entirety of human history. How then can Sigal insist that “There is no justification for the interpretation that the prophet’s words are to be divided into two separate periods!” Rather, these prophecies envision many periods of time!

The next great messianic prophecy also spans indefinite periods of time:

                  Now the LORD had said to Abram: "Get out of your country… I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Genesis 12:1-3)

Once again, this prophecy covers indefinite periods of time, starting with Abraham and extending to a time when “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” through him. According to anyone’s reckoning, this prophecy still awaits it final fulfillment.

This is the nature of messianic prophecy. God promised David the King:

                  “‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you.  When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name… Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’” (2 Samuel 7:11-13,16)

Once again, both Jew and Christian agree that this prophecy, although promised around 1000 BC, has yet to be completely fulfilled. David and Solomon did experience partial fulfillments. However, admittedly, it still awaits its fulfillment. Therefore, to claim that these prophecies rule out two comings of the Messiah is without merit. These prophecies cover vast expanses of time. Therefore, there is no problem in understanding these prophecies to cover the two comings of the Messiah:

                  [First Coming:] For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. [Second Coming:] Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

It is difficult for the rabbis to object to this reasoning. They already admit that the coming of this messianic Child, until the establishment of His Kingdom, requires the passage of much time. Therefore, there are no grounds for them to quibble about the Messiah’s two separate appearances during this vast period of time. In this next prophecy, we observe two very distinct portraits of Messiah:

                  [First Coming:] 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; [Jesus stopped here in His quotation from Isaiah— Luke 4:18-21.] [Second Coming:] To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn… And you will be called priests of the Lord, you will be named ministers of our God. You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast. (Isaiah 61:1-2, 6)

While Jesus has accomplished proclaiming “liberty to the captives,” feeding on the “wealth of the nations” is yet to be fulfilled. We find the same division in the next prophecy:

                  [First Coming:] "Behold, I send My messenger [Mk. 1:2], and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. [Second Coming:] But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner's fire and like launderer's soap. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the LORD an offering in righteousness. (Malachi 3:1-3)

While the rabbis will not agree with the Christian interpretation of this prophecy, they cannot coherently deny PT – that this prophecy might cover a vast amount of time containing two separate comings.

Zechariah’s prophecy has proved troubling for the rabbis of old. While they regarded it as messianic, it portrayed the Messiah in a very humble way – contrary to the portrait of a conquering hero:

                  [First Coming:] “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey. [Second Coming:] I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem; the battle bow shall be cut off. He shall speak peace to the nations; His dominion shall be 'from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” (Zech. 9:9-10)

This portrait of a humble Messiah in contrast with His glorious final coming had lead many rabbis to believe in two separate Messiahs, separated by many years! They would not have argued against PT. Their interpretation was based on PT! Yet today’s rabbis would rule against their interpretation without justification.

PT is built into the fabric of Hebrew revelation. Zechariah was given a vision of the High Priest Joshua being cleansed of all of his sins. God used this as an object lesson pointing to a greater work He would perform in the ages to come: “I will remove the sin of this land in a single day” (Zech. 3:9). Clearly, this too remains unfulfilled, separated from the original revelation by thousands of years!

The rabbis claim that Jesus could not have been the promised Messiah, because He failed to create the victorious Messianic Kingdom at His advent. However, Scripture gives us no reason to limit the Messiah to only one appearance.

4 comments:

  1. This is wonderful Daniel. It seems to me like prophetic telescoping may be one of the biggest keys, not only in explaining the gospel to Jewish people, but also in correcting the error of those who believe in Replacement Theology whose misunderstanding often seems to be related, at least in part, to a lack of understanding of profetic telescoping. Of course I was presuming that you don't believe in Replacement Theology but perhaps I'm wrong about that. In either case, I really did like the teaching. I am currently preparing to, God willing, teach on the book of Jeremiah in maybe a few months, and I'm considering incorporating teaching about prophetic telescoping within that teaching. Blessings in Messiah Jesus. Psalm 116.

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    1. Robert, Thanks for your comments. Since you will be teaching on Jeremiah, I think you'd appreciate this essay: http://mannsword.blogspot.com/2017/09/understanding-prophets-of-israel.html

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    2. Thanks. God willing I'll check it out. I maybe kind of threw out there the fact that I was teaching Jeremiah wondering if you might offer something like that. Thank you Daniel. God willing let's keep in touch. I'm in the New York City area (Brooklyn) if you'd ever like to get in touch. I go to church in NJ but if God lead then I might prefer to go to church more locally. Blessings.

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    3. Robert, I too live in Brooklyn (downtown). Let's meet somewhere for a coffee. I just sent you a FB friend request.

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