In our own times, the predictions that many of us are most concerned about have to do with the economy. Will the stock market continue to defy the “laws of gravity”? Did anybody foresee the gut-wrenching drop in gold prices this week? When will the job market really turn the corner?
Of course, people wish they could know the future regarding North Korea’s saber rattling and Iran’s determination to develop nuclear resources, too.
This is all well and good. In order to increase the odds of a secure future, it’s wisest to make good plans rather than to proceed randomly through our lives. And good plans need to be based as much as possible on realistic expectations of the future.
The Eternal Future
But what about our eternal future? For eternal security, wouldn’t it be wise to find out the best predictions that we can and then base our plans on the most probable data that we have?
Why should someone place their faith in Jesus Christ for their future? Unequivocally, the Bible foretells the culmination of all human history focused on singular, dramatic events centered on the bodily return of Jesus Christ to earth.
Think about it. A man who lived 2,000 years ago and who claimed to be God now stepping back into the world that we live in—not obscurely into some remote village in rural India, but quite visibly into a hotbed of international attention—Jerusalem!
Some people may find this highly implausible. After 2,000 years’ wait, I almost don’t blame them. Nevertheless, a case can be made, not only for the probability of Jesus’ bodily return, but actually for the certainty of His return. And it is critical that we get this right about Jesus, because some people’s eternal security will hinge on whether they believe this prophecy or not.
The Importance of the Past in Deciding About the Future
If it can be demonstrated that Jesus literally fulfilled prophecy from hundreds (or even thousands) of years before His earthly ministry, then we have strong grounds for believing that He will fulfill prophecies regarding things yet to come.
So what were people expecting 2,000 years ago in Judea and Galilee? And did Jesus satisfy what had been predicted?
One day, Jesus posed this question to His disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” (Luke 9:18). The answers that the disciples gave reveal a lot about what people of that time thought about Tanakh (Old Testament) prophecy and the man Jesus.
Based on the Scriptures that they had, were Jewish people in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry obliged to consider whether this man from Nazareth could be someone predicted by the Old Testament? If so, then who? In answer to Jesus’ “Who do the crowds say that I am,” the apostles responded, “John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others that one of the prophets of long ago has risen.” (Luke 9:19) Simon Peter, of course, added his now-famous response, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” (Matthew 16:16)
Let’s examine these answers one at a time.
- The belief that Jesus might have been John the Baptist had nothing to do with the fulfillment of prophecy. It was a matter of the people recognizing that there was an association between the ministries of John and Jesus. (John 1:19-34) Once John the Baptist had been executed by Herod, people on the fringes of the overlapping ministries began to speculate that Jesus may have been a new incarnation of John the Baptist. This was King Herod’s own belief. (Mark 6:14-16)
- The belief that Jesus might have been Elijah did have roots in Old Testament prophecy. Malachi 4:5 foretold, “Look, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord arrives.” (Second Kings 2:11 describes Elijah having been taken up into heaven alive without having experienced death.) So clearly, at least some people of that time expected the literal, bodily return of Elijah in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
- When it was said that some of the people expected “one of the prophets of long ago,” we should consider the question the religious leaders of the day had posed to John the Baptist: “Are you the Prophet?” (John 1:21) In asking this, they demonstrate that some people, based on Deuteronomy 18:15, were anticipating the literal, bodily return of Moses in association with end-times events.
- With regard to Simon Peter’s answer, “You are the Christ,” it wasn’t only Jesus’ immediate followers who were expecting the imminent appearance of the Messiah. We see this on another occasion, when Jesus was having a conversation with a woman with a troubled past. (John 4:7-26) When that woman felt that the conversation was getting a bit too personal for her comfort level, she shifted toward a general religious angle of defense and said to Jesus, “I know that Messiah is coming” (the one called Christ); “whenever he comes, he will tell us everything.”
Now this woman was a Samaritan, not an orthodox Jew. Yet she had a personal conviction based on her understanding of the Scriptures that a literal, personal Messiah was to come. Furthermore, the way she phrased her response indicates that she considered it well within the realm of possibility that Messiah could arrive in her lifetime and resolve all unanswered moral and religious questions.
Summary of Part 1
So in summary of today’s post,
- The fulfillment of prophecy would be good, strong evidence for believing in Jesus Christ.
- It is important, if what the Bible says about the future is true, that people believe in Jesus Christ. They would want to enjoy His prophesied kingdom and not suffer the prophesied disaster for those who reject Christ.
- We can have great certainty that future prophecy about Jesus will come true if we can demonstrate that past prophecy about Jesus was literally fulfilled by Him.
- People at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry expected a literal fulfillment of prophecy about the age to come and about Messiah.
Let’s follow up in tomorrow’s post with fulfillment of specific prophecies in the past and for the future!