God’s Amazing Book: Bible Prophecy
The place of prophecy; the person of prophecy and the purpose of prophecy.
1. The Place of Prophecy: Authenticating Divine Scripture
to Revelation, the Scriptures reveal God’s redemptive plan in Jesus Christ. The
writings of Moses reveal God’s holy nature, God’s laws and God’s redemptive
plan of atonement for human sin. The historical writings reveal the progressive
revelation of God’s redemptive plan in calling Abraham and through him, a
family, then a nation to be his holy people, to be a light of revelation to the
other nations. Alongside the Law and the Historical writings, the Psalms are
the hymnbook of God’s people. But to authenticate these writings as truly the
Word of God, from eternity, God foretold and revealed events in space time
history before they occurred.
“If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. No one should be alarmed.” (Deuteronomy 18:22)
The Apostle Peter adds a New Testament perspective:
“We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:19-21)
The prophets therefore fulfilled a unique role in corroborating the giving of divine revelation in a way that was verifiable and unmistakable. The Place of Prophecy: Authenticating Divine Scripture.
2. The Person of Prophecy: Affirming a Divine Saviour
At the heart of Scripture and God’s redemptive plan stands one person. To the sceptics of his day, Jesus could say,
“John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light. “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you possess eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life… But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.” (John 5:35-40, 45-46)
As Jesus prepared for his final journey to Jerusalem, we read,
“Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.” (Luke 18:31-34)
Jesus understood the events about to unfold concerning his passion were predicted by the Prophets. And after his resurrection, to his doubting followers on the road to Emmaus,
“He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27)
A little later, while Jesus ate a meal together with all the disciples,
“He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24: 44-48).
Let me illustrate what Jesus had in mind from just one passage. Psalm 22 is the most precious of all the Psalms, for it reveals the love of God which made possible the promises contained in Psalm 23. Psalm 22 is also the most frequently quoted psalm in the New Testament. No one can read this Psalm without being vividly confronted with the Crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not only the way the prophecy is so minutely fulfilled, but the humility of the One suffering that stands out. There is no plea for personal vindication against evil doers as is common to other psalms, only his vision of a worldwide ingathering of the Gentiles accomplished by this sacrifice. One translation entitles it, "The Suffering Servant wins the deliverance of the nations." It cannot be stated more profoundly or accurately.
The Cost of the Gospel is here foretold. No incident in the life of David can begin to account for this Psalm. It is not a description of an illness but an execution. Indeed a means of execution unknown in the time of David. In the Old Testament capital punishment was implemented by stoning, or the sword. Hanging from a tree was forbidden, since it was a sign of God's curse, and polluted the land. Ironically that's precisely why Christ died in this way. He did not pollute the land, mankind had. His death did not pollute, just the reverse, it cleanses all who stand under it.
The language of this Psalm defies naturalistic explanations. The best way to interpret it is in the way Peter does in Acts 2:30,
"David was a prophet and knew that God had promised on oath that He would place one of His descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the Christ." (Acts 2:30)
The death of the Lord Jesus Christ had been planned before the beginning of time, and in this Psalm written by the greatest of Israel's kings, 1000 years before the time of Christ, we can focus down on those last six hours of the most important day in history, the day that changed the world. Ť
A more exact expression of the Redeemer's thoughts and feelings during the awful six hours on the cross of Calvary cannot be found in all the Scriptures.
1. The vicarious atonement of the cross (Psalm 22:1-5)
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” (Psalm 22:1)
About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). (Matthew 27:46)
It is no accident that the first verse records the first words of Jesus on the cross, and the last verse describes the last words of Jesus on the cross. His words in verse 1 surprise us for three reasons.
We don't expect Jesus to cry out.
He did not cry while being tortured or for six hours on the cross. In his pain, hanging from the arms, it would be very difficult to speak, let alone cry out in a loud voice. The psalm reveals that the agony of separation was greater than the physical pain he was experiencing.
We don't expect Jesus to cry out "My God”
The words seem wrong. We would expect Him to call out "Father" but He doesn't. It reveals at that moment that the relationship they had enjoyed from eternity past was clouded, as God the father poured out his wrath upon Jesus as the substitute, the ransom sacrifice for us all.
We don't expect Jesus to cry out in desperation "Why...."
But He does, for he is not simply a man, but a representative man, identifying with the entire human race, paying the ransom price for human sin. This was no lapse of faith, nor a sign that their relationship was broken. It was the cry of disorientation as God's familiar protective presence was withdrawn.
The infinite one paying in finite time, the penalty of finite sin for eternity. What is God saying to us in Jesus words? This is how Emil Brunner put it:
"In the cross of Christ God says to man. "That is where you ought to be. Jesus my Son hangs there in your stead. His tragedy is the tragedy of your life. You are the rebel who should be hanged on the gallows. But lo, I suffer instead of you and because of you, because I love you in spite of what you are. My love for you is so great that I meet you there on the cross. I cannot meet you anywhere else. You must meet me there by identifying yourself with the one on the cross. It is by this identification that I God, can meet you in Him, saying to you as I say to Him, My beloved Son." (Emil Brunner)
The shout that speaks of the vicarious suffering of the cross.
2. The vicious suffering on the cross (Psalm 22:6-21)
“But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people… I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. (Psalm 22: 6, 14-17)
“Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him…” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” (Matthew 27:39-44)
This passage dispels once and for all any notion that because Jesus was both God and Man, somehow he didn't really suffer pain. If the Arian heresy perpetuated by JW's teaches that Jesus was not Divine, the Docetists denied he was really human and only appeared to suffer. Moslems too do not believe Jesus suffered on the cross. They believe God substituted Barabbas because they cannot conceive that God would allow a prophet to suffer in this way. Their presuppositions have determined their theology. In rejecting the facts they are all wrong.
No less than six separate aspects of Jesus cruel death are prophesied in these verses.
“My God, my
God, why have you forsaken me?”
About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (Matthew 27:46)
2. Mocking crowd
see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads… Roaring lions tearing
their prey open their mouths wide against me.”
“The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” (Luke 23:35)
of the Cross
surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my
hands and my feet.”
Here they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.” (John 19:18)
“But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)
“I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.” (Psalm 22:17)
“The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” (Luke 23:35)
“My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.” (Psalm 22:15)
“Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.” (John 19:28-29)
Gambling for Clothes
“They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” (Psalm 22:18)
“When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots.” (Matthew 27:35)
In some ways the description of the crucifixion here is even more graphic and vivid than even in the historical record of the Gospels. We know from archaeological finds that the crosses used by the Romans were simple affairs unlike those stylised in religious paintings many centuries later. It is most unlikely that the cross was very high off the ground. Ian Barclay says the feet of the one executed were normally only twelve inches off the ground, and never more than 20. There was no point in wasting wood. This makes verses 7 & 13 even more cruel.
“All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads… Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me.” (Psalm 22:7, 13)
The crowd of
accusers were almost certainly face to face with Jesus when they mocked Him,
and insulted Him. It is interesting that for all this detail, there is one
significant part of the Crucifixion story missing. Can you spot it?
David leaves out any mention of the soldiers piercing the side of Jesus. Why? Because the words of this prophecy are seen through the eyes of the living Lord Jesus himself. Jesus was already dead when the spear pierced his side. Perhaps that is why there is no mention here.
The vicarious atonement of the cross. The vicious suffering on the cross.
3. The victorious triumph through the cross (Psalm 22:22-31)
“You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honour him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help… All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him… Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn— for he has done it.” (Psalm 22: 23-24, 27, 30-31)
Suddenly the scene changes, and we see the Messiah in the midst of His people praising God, and witnessing to others, bringing justice and deliverance to the needy.
The last words of the Psalm: "He has done it"
The last words of Jesus: “It is finished” = “I have paid it”
“They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!” (Psalm 22:31)
When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30)
Jesus quotes the first and last line of this psalm from the cross because God inspired David to write of the sufferings of His Son our Saviour. “It is finished”.
The heart of the Good news of the Gospel is that Christ's death was sufficient. The difference between Christianity and all the religions in the world can be summed up by the difference between two words and their tense. “Do” and “Done”.
Present tense and past tense.
“For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” (Psalm 22:24)
The Anglo Saxon word for "bleed" is very similar to the word "bless" (blod and blot) That is what Jesus was doing. Bleeding to bless. This blessing would be universal, forever universal in two senses.
A Blessing for all People
“All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations. All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him— those who cannot keep themselves alive. (Psalm 22:27-29)
Jesus was not only the Saviour of Israel but the world - rich and poor - all need a saviour. “God so loved the world that he gave…” (John 3:16). A blessing for all people.
A Blessing for all Time
“Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn— for he has done it. (Psalm 22:30-31)
Jesus is the saviour not only of all people but also for all time. Not only the living, but also the dead, and as yet unborn generations. A blessing for all people and all time which John the Apostle writes of in his vision of heaven:
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9)
The Place of Prophecy: Authenticating Divine Scripture.
The Person of Prophecy: Affirming a Divine Saviour.
3. The Purpose of Prophecy: Authorising a Divine Mission
If Jesus, his person and work is central to God’s progressive revelation in Scripture, and the heart of biblical prophecy, what is its purpose? The Apostle Peter tells us in Acts 3.
“For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people.’ “Indeed, beginning with Samuel, all the prophets who have spoken have foretold these days. And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’ (Acts 3:22-25)
What days? The days following Pentecost and the birth of the Church. We who believe in Jesus, Jews and Gentiles are the heirs of prophets. After encountering the first Gentile believers in Jesus, Cornelius and his family, who manifest the same Pentecostal signs of Acts 2, Peter finally understands God’s plan and his mission:
“I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts those from every nation who fear him and do what is right… All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:34-35, 43)
We are heirs of these prophecies in our generation and it is our joy, our privilege and destiny to share this good news will all who will listen, with all whom the Lord will, by his grace, draw to himself.
The purpose of prophecy?
Authenticating Divine Scripture.
Affirming a Divine Saviour.
Authorising a Divine Mission.