Why The Gaps In Prophecy?
A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
Scattered throughout the Scriptures are prophecies that contain references to both the first and second coming of the Lord in what appears to be a single thought. These dual reference prophecies could only be identified as such after the first coming had already taken place. That’s because they were written in such a way that it was impossible to tell beforehand that the Lord’s first coming would only partially fulfill them. Often the writers switch from the first coming to the second coming in the middle of a sentence without so much as a punctuation mark to alert the reader.
In this study I want to share some thoughts on why I believe God had them written this way. But first, here are a couple of examples of these dual reference prophecies so you can see for yourself how cleverly they were written.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).
When the Lord had Isaiah write this prophecy 750 years before the fact, no one could have known from reading it that when the Messiah came, He would only fulfill a portion of it. The child was born and the son was given, but the government has never been on His shoulders, and in Israel, to whom He was sent, He has never been called by the names Isaiah attributed to Him.
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2)
This prophecy calls for a ruler of Israel to be born in Bethlehem but gives no indication that 2,000 years would pass between the ruler’s birth and His ascension to the throne of Israel. When the Parthian priests called Magi arrived in Jerusalem, they asked, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews?” (Matt. 2:2).
King Herod asked the Jewish leaders where the Messiah would be born, and they used this prophecy to confirm that He would be born in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:4-6). The Magi hastened there believing they were going to anoint a boy king who would grow up to rule over Israel. For his part, Herod had all the young boys in Bethlehem killed in an unsuccessful effort to eliminate what He perceived to be an imminent threat to his rulership. But while the coming king was born, He has yet to take His place on the throne in Israel.
The Secret Revealed
30 years later, it was Jesus himself who revealed the fact that there was more to these prophecies than meets the eye. Standing in the synagogue in Nazareth at the beginning of His ministry, he called for the scroll of Isaiah and read from what we know as Isaiah 61:1-2.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
Then He said He was the fulfillment of the Scripture He had just read. Comparing this to what Isaiah 61:1-2 actually says shows that He stopped before the end of verse 2, leaving out the phrase “and the day of vengeance of our God.”
Without the benefit of Luke 4:18-19, a reading of Isaiah 61:1-2 would lead us to the conclusion that the day of vengeance, what we now call end times judgments, would take place directly after the Lord had finished preaching the good news, freeing the prisoners, giving sight to the blind and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor. By stopping where He did and saying He was its fulfillment, He indicated He hadn’t come to fulfill the part He hadn’t read. There would be a separation of time between the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of His vengeance.
There are several other dual reference prophecies that we who already know about the first coming can identify. Perhaps the most obvious is Daniel 9:24-27, the 70 weeks prophecy, where if you didn’t already know that 2,000 years have passed since the fulfillment of the first 69 weeks of the prophecy (Daniel 9:24-26) without any fulfillment of the 70th week portion (Daniel 9:27) you wouldn’t be able to tell just by reading it, because there’s not even a hint of a gap between them in the text.
Why Didn’t You Say So?
But our purpose is not to identify all these prophecies. The question we want to answer is why did God hide this dual reference aspect of Messianic prophecy so completely that it could only be discovered after the fact? Knowing the end from the beginning, He knew that Jesus was only going to partially fulfill the prophecies that spoke of His coming, so why didn’t He have the prophets present them that way?
Some say He did it to provide “hidden” clues to the Church that He always knew about our time and place in history without alerting Israel to the fact ahead of time.
But as a result of some of my recent studies, I’ve concluded that God had these prophecies written in this particular way to show Israel that they could have been fulfilled just the way they were written. For generations, Israel had been reading and interpreting them to mean that the Messiah would come once and when He did He would fulfill all the prophecies written about Him. In fact it would have been impossible for them to interpret them any other way.
In the time leading up to the first coming, Israel believed when the Messiah came he would vanquish their enemies and restore their kingdom, because that’s what these prophecies said He would do. In fact, even after spending three years with Jesus, the disciples still asked Him if the time had come for Him to restore the Kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). This tells us in all His time with them Jesus never mentioned an extended period of time during which Israel would be set aside while His attention would be focused on the Gentiles.
By the way, I think His uncharacteristically vague response to their question is a hint that restoring the Kingdom to Israel at that time was still a possibility. They had just presented Him with a perfect opportunity to lay everything out clearly to better prepare them for the years ahead. But instead, He left them hanging. “It’s not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority” (Acts 1:7). To me that indicates the offer of the Kingdom to Israel was still open.
They didn’t know for certain that Israel was being set aside in favor of the Gentiles until 20 years later when James told them (Acts 15:13-18) and even then they didn’t know for how long. James only said that when the Lord had taken (carried away) a people for Himself from among the Gentiles He would turn back to Israel again. In other words, He would resume His focus on Israel after the rapture of the Church.
It Could Have Happened Just That Way
The dual reference prophecies were written in a way that would have made the total fulfillment possible at the time of the first coming. Had Israel accepted Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and let Him die for them, the six objectives laid out by the angel in Daniel 9:24 could have been met within the prescribed 490 year period.
Seventy weeks are determined upon your people and your Holy City to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most Holy (place) (Daniel 9:24).
Sitting upon His heavenly throne, God decreed that six things would be accomplished for Daniel’s people (Israel) and Daniel’s Holy City (Jerusalem) during a specified period of 490 years.
We should be aware that in Hebrew these things read a little differently. Literally, God had determined to;
1. restrict or restrain the transgression (also translated rebellion)
2. seal up their sins (as if putting them away in a sealed container)
3. make atonement (restitution) for their iniquity
4. bring them into a state of everlasting righteousness
5. seal up (same word as #2) vision and prophecy
6. anoint (consecrate) the most Holy place (sanctuary)
In plain language, God would put an end to their rebellion against Him, put away their sins and pay the penalties they had accrued, bring the people into a state of perpetual righteousness, fulfill the remaining prophecies, and anoint the Temple. This was to be accomplished through their Messiah (Jesus) because no one else could do it. Had they accepted Him as their savior their rebellion against God would have ended. Their sins would have all been forgiven, and the full penalty paid for them. They would have entered into a state of eternal righteousness, all their prophecies would have been fulfilled and the rebuilt temple would have been consecrated. It should be noted here that although it appears to have been accepted by Him, God never dwelt in the 2nd Temple, nor was the ark of the covenant and its mercy seat ever present therein.
Make no mistake about it. Jesus had to die so these 6 promises could come true. No one else in Heaven or on Earth could accomplish this. We can only imagine how different things would have been if they had accepted Him as their Messiah and let Him die for their sins so He could bring them into everlasting righteousness with His resurrection.
The Sign Of The Prophet Jonah
And even though the religious leaders had fought Jesus tooth and nail throughout His ministry, He gave them one more chance by offering the clearest and most convincing sign possible. He promised that when they put Him to death He would come back to life three days later (Matt. 12:38-40). Since they wouldn’t know if He fulfilled this promise until after the fact, He determined to wait for them to recognize that He had. I believe this is why He stayed around for 40 days after the resurrection.
Even though there were over 500 witnesses who could attest to having seen him after the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:6), there’s no indication that any official inquiry was undertaken to confirm that He had fulfilled His promise to return from the dead. Finally He left, but only until they admit their guilt (Hosea 5:15). As soon as they do He will forgive them (Joel 3:21) and restore their kingdom as He always intended to do.
In the mean time the Church was born into the gaps in these prophecies. Not as an alternative fulfillment like the replacement theologians would have you believe, but as a parallel track. When time stopped for Israel, it began for the Church, and when it ends for the Church it will begin again for Israel.
This is what the Lord says:
“Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out
will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,” declares the Lord (Jeremiah 31:37) You can almost hear the footsteps of the Messiah 05-16-15.