Bible prophecies are like puzzle pieces. This article is written to help put the pieces together. The best way to understand Bible prophecies is to study prophecies that have already been fulfilled.
Jesus spoke concerning John the Baptist in Matthew 11:14, “And if ye will receive it, this is Elijah, which was for to come.” The prophecy which promised the return of Elijah is found in Malachi 4:5, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord...” This is wonderful! God promised to send Elijah the prophet, the man taken from earth in a chariot of fire, and the prophecy was fulfilled when God sent a little baby named John into the womb of Elisabeth the wife of Zacharias. Who could believe it? In John 1:21, John the Baptist was asked if he was Elijah, and John said, “No.” Not even John knew it.
The key to understanding this prophecy is found in Luke 1:17. The angel said the child born to Elisabeth would go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah. The prophecy promising Elijah was not fulfilled literally,—or, shall I say, to the satisfaction of the carnal mind—but rather, it was fulfilled spiritually; and almost no one on earth realized it was fulfilled. Today the Jews are still waiting for Elijah to return, and laughably many Christians are also waiting for Elijah to return to earth.
God is not required to fulfill prophecies in a literal way! God is not required to fulfill prophecies to the satisfaction of the carnal mind.
Let us look once more at John the Baptist. Luke 3:4 proclaims the prophesy of Isaiah 40:3-5 was fulfilled in John's ministry: “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”
The Bible declares this prophecy has been fulfilled. Were the mountains made flat at the time of John? Were the valleys filled in? Did everyone acknowledge having seen the glory of the Lord? Do Christians today acknowledge that John prepared the way for the Jehovah God? No, no, no, and sadly no. The prophecy was not fulfilled literally, but rather, the prophecy was fulfilled in a spiritual way.
Let us look to Jesus. Perhaps we may find a prophecy fulfilled literally. Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son...” Oh, praise God, we have found a prophecy fulfilled literally. But hold on one minute. The rest of Isaiah 7:14 says, “...and shall call his name Immanuel.” The angel said to call his name Jesus, so literally, he was not called Immanuel.
Let us look at the promise to Abraham in Genesis. God promised Abraham his seed would be
numbered like the stars, dust of the earth, and sand of the sea. Do you know how many stars are in the sky? Do you know how many grains of sand there are? Do you know how much dust there is? Of course God does not always fulfill prophecies in a literal way. God is a talented speaker who uses parables, figures of speech, idioms, short stories, and every other literary tool to get His point across.
Let us look again at the promise to Abraham. The promise was to his seed, and the book of
Galatians tells us the prophecy was not even concerning the natural children of Abraham, but was rather speaking concerning Christ and the Christians. Galatians 3:29, “And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.” This message must hurt the carnal mind in a big way.
To understand prophecy, we must realize God is not required to fulfill prophecies in a literal way. The next key to understanding prophecy is to look at the prophecy with the New Testament
understanding and not with the understanding man had at the time of the prophecy.
Look at Zechariah 8:23, “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; in those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.” When this prophecy was given, the people at the time would have assumed that the day would come when the people of the world would come to the Jewish nation and be taught the ways of God. But we must not look at this prophecy with the understanding of the Old Testament; we must look at this prophecy with New Testament understanding.
The New Testament tells us the children of Abraham are those who have faith in Christ and that the only true Jews are those who are Christians. Romans 2:28-29, “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.”
Once we realize God is not going to backslide and return to the shadows and types of the Old
Testament, once we realize God is not going to disannul the work of the cross and the teachings of the New Testament, once we realize God is not going back to temple-building or choosing one race of people over another race of people, and once we realize prophecies will not always be fulfilled literally, we can see most prophecies concerning the end times and the coming of Christ have already been fulfilled; and we can be ready to receive the King of kings and Lord of Lords, our great God, the Lord Jesus Christ.