Prophecies regarding the New Testament Times
- Parent Category: Salvation History
- Category: The Law and the Prophets, Preparation
- Written by Bishop Alexander (Mileant)
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Prophecies regarding the New Testament Times
According to the prophets, the goal of the Messiah’s coming into the world was the founding of the Kingdom of God, into which a new, spiritually renewed Israel should have entered. The prophets described this Kingdom fairly thoroughly. In this article we have taken as a goal to present the prophecies relating to the Messiah, and to show how they were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. We will present the prophecies relating to His Kingdom here fleetingly, dwelling only on the main and most common qualities of this Kingdom.
When speaking of the Messianic Kingdom, the prophets portrayed it as a society of spiritually renewed people. In addition, besides the Jews, other nations were to enter into this society as well. The main distinctive feature of this Kingdom was to be the abundance of the gifts of grace within it. Receiving its beginning from the time of the Messiah’s coming to earth, in the end of the world’s existence and after the universal judgment of God of the nations, it was to be transformed in its external appearance. Then, on the new, transfigured earth, all physical distresses will disappear, and there will reign among the citizens of this Kingdom bliss, immortality and the fullness of God’s blessings. This, in a few words, is the essence of these prophecies. Now we will dwell on several particulars.
Speaking of the messianic times, the prophets pointed out, that they will be the times of a New Testament (Covenant) between God and people. As we know, the Old Testament between God and Israel was concluded in the presence of Moses at Mount Sinai. At that time, the Jews promised to fulfill the commandments written on the stone tablets, and they received the land, promised to Abraham (the Promised Land), as a reward from God. Here is what is written about the New Covenant by the Prophet Jeremiah:
“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall by my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:31-34).
The prophet Isaiah calls the New Covenant eternal: “Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David” (Is. 55:3, see Acts 13:34).
The distinguishing feature of the New Covenant, as compared to the Old, was that other nations will be called to it besides the Jews, who all together will form a new Israel, the blessed Kingdom of the Messiah. The prophet Isaiah thus wrote about this summoning of the heathen nations in the name of God the Father:
“It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth” (Is. 49:6).
A little further on the Prophet Isaiah expresses joy on this occasion:
“Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth in to singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child, for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife...For thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited” (Is. 54:1,3, see Gal. 4:27).
Here the prophet portrays the Old Testament Hebrew Church in the form of a married woman, and the heathen nations — in the form of a barren woman, who will later bear more children than the first wife. Osee also predicted the calling of the Gentiles to take the place of the Judeans fallen from the Kingdom (Os. 1:9 and 2:23). In the Old Testament period the affiliation with the Kingdom depended on nationality. In the New Testament times the necessary requirement for belonging to the Kingdom of the Messiah would be faith, about which wrote Habbakuk: “The just shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4, Is. 28:16).
In contrast to the Old Testament laws, written on stone tablets, the new law of God will be written on the hearts themselves of the New Israel, that is, the will of God will become an inseparable part of their being. This inscribing of the law on the hearts of the renewed Israel will be done by the Holy Spirit, of which write the prophets Isaiah, Zechariah and Joel. As we shall see, the prophets, when speaking of the grace of the Holy Spirit, often call it water. Grace, like water, refreshes, cleanses, and gives life to a person’s soul.
The prophet Isaiah first prophesied about the spiritual renewal: “For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring” (Is. 44:3). In Zechariah we read: “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son...In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness” (Zech. 12:10-13:1, 14:5-9, Is. 12:3).
A commentary from Sukkah 52a (ancient Hebrew writing on Zechariah 12:10): “What is the cause of the mourning...It is well according to him who explains that the cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, since that well agrees with the Scriptural verse, And they shall look upon me because they have thrust him through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son.”
Here, in addition, is predicted that penitent grief which the inhabitants of Jerusalem experienced after the death of Christ on Golgotha (see John 19:37, Acts 2:37). The prophet Ezekiel also wrote about the spiritual renewal:
“For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh (flesh--soft, kind). And I will put My spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them” (Eze. 36:24-27).
The next prophecy of Joel supplements the three previous predictions:
“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered” (Joel 2:28-32).
These predictions began to be fulfilled on the fiftieth day after the resurrection of Christ (see Acts 2). Compare also with Isaiah 44:3-5, Eze. 36:25-27 and Rom. 10:13. The end of the prophecy of Joel about the darkening of the sun refers to events before the end of the world.
The Messianic Kingdom is sometimes portrayed by the prophets in the form of a high mountain. This symbol, taken from the holy Mount Zion, is comparable to the Messianic Kingdom because it, like a mountain, leaning on the earth, leads people to the heights, to Heaven. Here is how the Prophet Isaiah writes of the Kingdom of the Messiah: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Is. 2:2-3). The prophets called Jerusalem not only the capital city of the Hebrew nation, but also the Kingdom of the Messiah. So, for example, Isaiah cried out:
“Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: all they gather themselves together, they come to thee.” (Is. 60:1-4).
This allegorical portrayal of the Messianic kingdom is repeated with new details in a vision of the prophet Daniel. In his prophecy, besides a mountain, he speaks of a stone, which tore itself from the mountain and destroyed the image (idol) standing in the valley. The stone, as we have already explained, symbolizes the Messiah. Here is the description of the vision:
“The stone cleaved from the mountain without the help of hands, it hit the idol’s iron and clay feet and shattered them. Then, everything broke into pieces: iron, clay, copper, silver and gold became as dust on the summer threshing floors, and the wind scattered them, and no trace was left of them, but the stone having shattered the idol became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.”
Farther on the prophet Daniel explains this vision: “And in the days of these kings [Babylonian, later — Persian, Greek, and finally, Roman] shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (Dan. 2:34, 44).
Here the idol represents earthly kingdoms. No matter how much the enemies of the Messiah would feud against His Kingdom, their efforts will not be successful. All the earthly kingdoms sooner or later will vanish, only the Messianic kingdom will last forever.
Sometimes, as we shall see, the prophecies about the Messianic kingdom speak of ideal living conditions on the earth, joy and bliss. Here the reader may begin to have the following doubts: are these descriptions of the Kingdom an impracticable dream? Or, maybe, the New Testament Church itself does not have the right to lay claim to the name of the Kingdom of God, since in its history there were so many deviations from that ideal which is outlined in the prophecies?
In order to correctly understand the prophecy of the Messianic Kingdom, one must remember, that often different epochs are united in them, separated one from the other by many centuries, and sometimes — millenniums. For in the Messianic kingdom the external is determined by the internal: happiness, immortality, bliss, complete harmony, peace and other blessings are not implanted forcibly and mechanically. They are the result of the voluntary inner renewal, through which the members of this kingdom must pass. The process of spiritual renewal was to begin immediately at the moment of the coming of the Messiah, but will conclude at the end of the world’s existence.
For this reason, the prophetic visions of the blessed kingdom of the Messiah encompass in one grandiose picture many eras of its existence — the times near to the prophets and to the coming of the Messiah, and, simultaneously, times far in the future, relating to the epoch of the end of the world and the beginning of a new life. This comparison of the near and distant futures in one picture is very characteristic of prophetic visions, and if one remembers this, then the reader may correctly understand the meaning of the prophecies regarding the Messianic kingdom.
In the following prophecy Isaiah writes about the joyous conditions in the triumphant kingdom of the Messiah.
“… with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked... The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the falling together; and a little child shall lead them...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, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious” (Is. 11:4-10, see Is. 43:16-28, see Rom. 15:12).
Here the “wicked” who will be slain by the Messiah, should be understood as the last and greatest of the wicked — the Antichrist. Here are two more predictions of the great prophets, referring to this same era:
Prophet Jeremiah: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Jer. 23:5 and 33:16).
Prophet Ezekiel: “And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them.” (Eze. 34:23-24). And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them” (Eze. 37:24).
Among the Old Testament prophets, the coming Kingdom of the Messiah results in the hope of overcoming the final evil of humanity — death. The resurrection of the dead and eternal life is the final victory of the Messiah over evil. Chapters 25 to 27 in the book of the prophet Isaiah contain a song of praise of the Church to God, rejoicing over the victory over death:
“Therefore shall the strong people glorify thee, the city of the terrible nations shall fear thee. For thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress...And in this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth...Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation. For in this mountain shall the hand of the Lord rest...Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in. Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee...Let favour be shewed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness” (Is. 25:3-10 and from the 26th chapter).
The prophet Osee also wrote about the victory over death: “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction” (Hos. 13:14). The hope of resurrection was expressed by the living in ancient times the muchsuffering Job in the following words: “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:25-27).
In conclusion we will present the following prophecy, relating to the second coming of the Messiah:
“Behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, and everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13-14, see Matt. 24:30).
Summarizing here the given prophecies about the Messianic Kingdom, we see that all of them speak of spiritual processes: about the necessity of faith, the forgiveness of sins, cleansing of the heart, spiritual renewal, the outpouring of blessed gifts on the faithful, the knowledge of God and His law, the eternal covenant with God, the victory over the devil and the forces of evil. The eternal blessings - victory over death, the resurrection of the dead, the renewal of the world, the restoration of justice, and, finally, eternal bliss will come as a reward for virtue.
If the prophets, in portraying future bliss, used expressions such as wealth, abundance and similar worldly terms, they did this because the human language does not contain the necessary words to describe that blessed state in the spiritual world. It was these particular words about the external blessings, understood by some in their crude materialistic meaning, that served as the grounds for all sorts of distorted representations about the earthly messianic kingdom.
It must be said, that not only the Jews of the times of Christ incorrectly visualized the messianic times in the form of worldly well-being. Similar ideas continue to arise to this day among the sectarians in the form of, for example, the teachings of the 1000-year kingdom of Christ on earth (chiliasm). The prophets, Jesus Christ and the Apostles predicted the transfiguration of the physical world, after which complete justice, eternal life and heavenly bliss will be realized. These universally desired blessings will come only after this material world, poisoned by sins, is transfigured by the power of God into “new heaven and new earth, in which resides truth.” Then a new, eternal life will begin.
Those desiring to inherit the transfigured Kingdom of the Messiah must go to this new life by the narrow path of self-reformation, as Christ taught. There is no other way.