11.9 Different Sequences Of Prophetic Fulfillment
The sequence of possible, potentially possible events as outlined in
Ezekiel 35-48 is perhaps not the same sequence as found in say Zechariah,
a prophecy given some time after it had become evident that Judah and
“the prince” were not fulfilling God’s intended pattern.
Daniel 9 & 11
returned exiles of Judah restore the Kingdom and build the
temple as specified (Ez. 35-37, 40-48). The dry bones come
to life in the restoration. They dwell in kingdom conditions
without bars and gates.
people have returned but not built the temple as they ought
to have done, and are not living the Kingdom life.
decree to rebuild the temple is made by Cyrus. Within 70 literal
weeks (about one a half years) it would be possible for the
Kingdom to be properly established.
return with joy from Babylon, Zion revives and no longer has
the uncircumcised in it (cp. Tobiah!). “Your heart shall rejoice
[for Zion], and your bones shall flourish” (Is. 66:14), in
the fulfilment of the Ez. 37 vision.
captivity of Judah return from Babylon and other places where
the Babylonians transported them.
62 weeks, Messiah is “cut off” in order to bring about the
final forgiveness of Israel..
who also ‘comes up’ from the dry ground of Babylon [Is. 53:2
“grow up”], gives his life to obtain eternal forgiveness for
nations along with Babylon and Assyria make an unsuccessful
attempt to invade them to take a spoil (Ez. 38).
nations are gathered against Jerusalem and they capture it
and murder many of the returned exiles. As a result of this,
some repent (Zech. 12:14).
“prince”, i.e. an anti-Christ, a fake “Messiah the prince”,
destroys the city and the temple sanctuary which the returned
exiles had built. Dan. 11 defines him as a “king of the north”
who has a confederacy of Arab nations with him. There is a
desolating war. The offering of sacrifice ceases. The invader
sets up his tent in the glorious mountain of Zion.
It is the time of trouble such as never was for Israel (Dan.
12:1 = 9:25 “troublous times”).
nations where the Jews were sent around Israel are gathered
into the valley of Jehoshaphat. They come as a huge confederacy
to fight against the revived state of Judah.
intervenes and destroys them, and establishes His Kingdom
world-wide. All nations come to know His ways (Ez. 39).
goes out to fight against those nations and establishes His
|| In the
end, Judah has been punished enough for her sins. Everlasting
righteousness is brought in, with the establishment of the
Kingdom age. The dead are raised and those who turned many
in Israel to righteousness are rewarded (Dan. 12:3; this is
a reference to how the lips of the priests at the restoration
ought to have taught others knowledge, Mal. 2:7).
in the valley of Jehoshaphat, Yahweh sits to judge the nations.
He roars out of Zion and the earth shakes.
from all the surrounding nations become proselytes, and drink
from the river that comes from Jerusalem, the water of which
is for the healing of all nations (Ez. 40-48). Yahweh is “there”,
dwelling in Zion.
world-wide come up to Jerusalem to keep the feasts in the
|| A newly
built “most holy” is anointed, seeing that “the sanctuary”
had been destroyed in the invasion. “Everlasting righteousness”
is brought in.
|| A redeemed
Israel go forth into the Gentile world, proclaiming the joy
of their restored relationship with God. Converts from all
over the world come to worship Yahweh in the Jerusalem temple,
bringing with them their various offerings.
dwells in Zion (3:21). The hills flow with milk, and a fountain
comes out of the temple.
Bible students have sought in vain to reconcile these and many other
different sequences of prophetic fulfillment. We have mused about there
being several invasions in the last days to get all the details fulfilled,
and have conceived the repentance of Israel as being in various stages
to fit in with the sequences outlined in the various prophets. But it
seems impossible to geographically and chronologically synchronise all
these things together in terms of one universal fulfilment. My suggestion
is that the above prophecies were all potential scenarios of what could
have happened at the time of the restoration.
Note the LXX of Amos 7:1: "Behold, a swarm of locusts coming from the east; and, behold, one caterpillar, king Gog". Yet Amos intercedes: "Repent, O Lord, for this. And this shall not be, saith the Lord".
This would suggest that the Gog invasion was conditional and was forestalled by the intercession of Amos; thus not only Ezekiel 40-48 would be conditional prophecy, but Ezekiel 38 and 39 also.
Perhaps the ideal intention was
in the Ezekiel record- that an unsuccessful invasion such as that described
in Ez. 38 would have occurred, rooted in jealousy at the rebuilt temple
and Babylon feeling like Pharaoh that they had let the Jews go too far;
and this would have lead up to the establishment of the Kingdom. But God
foresaw that this was not going to happen. Judah simply didn’t return
with joy and righteousness as commanded / prophesied in Isaiah and Jer.
31:4 etc. And so another possibility opened up. The self-satisfied returnees
would be invaded and Jerusalem captured, many of them would be killed,
but a minority would endure through this invasion and be the basis for
the Kingdom of God to be established. But so unresponsive were God’s people
that even this didn’t happen. All these prophecies await some element
of fulfilment in our last days. The essence of them will be fulfilled,
but the local details, I suggest, were only relevant to their immediate
context- e.g. that the wooden weapons will be burnt for seven years, and
that they would invade with shields and swords. These wider principles
explain much about Revelation. The judgments to come upon the earth /
land of Israel are presented in four groups of seven. This is exactly
the pattern of Lev. 26, where Israel are threatened with seven-fold judgments;
and if they did not repent, then the seven-fold judgments would be repeated.
Four times this is threatened; if they had repented after the first seven-fold
judgments, there would have been no need for the others. It seems to me
that the sequence of events in the last days is likewise impossible to
predict in detail, because depending upon human freewill, the fulfilment
of the various prophecies may be suspended or be realized in more symbolic
ways, as we have already seen God working like this in the past. Thus
Joel 3:2 says that God will “plead” with the nations He gathers to Jerusalem,
plead with them for His people, plead with them to accept His Son, as
outlined in Psalm 2. They may or may not respond, and how they do will
doubtless influence the sequence and nature of prophetic fulfilment which
Micah 5 opens up too when approached from this angle. It was a
prophecy given in the days of Hezekiah, concerning how the Assyrians
would invade the land, and be saved by the arising of a Messianic
figure- “seven shepherds and eight principal men” (5:5- probably
these are to be read as intensive plurals for the great shepherd,
the great leader). Judah under his leadership would than “waste
the land of Assyria with the sword”, and thereby “deliver us from
the Assyrian, when he cometh into our land”. Then “the remnant of
Judah shall be in the midst of many people as a dew from the Lord”.
But what happened? The Assyrians invaded, Hezekiah was raised up
as a potential Messiah, the Assyrians were destroyed by Divine theophany,
Judah were delivered from the Assyrians. But then what happened?
Hezekiah invited the Babylonians [often used interchangeably for
‘Assyrians’] into his house, showed off everything, and provoked
Yahweh’s anger. He did the very opposite to leading Judah against
Assyria, to the end that they became a blessing for all nations.
But it could have happened. But Hezekiah and the people
didn’t let it go as far as it could go; and therefore the full fulfilment
of the prophecy will be in our last days. Earlier in Micah, the
daughter of Zion was to be in labour pangs (symbolic of their troubles
in the 70 years captivity- Jer. 6:24), and then give birth to a
new nation as a result of this (4:9,10), as well as her Messiah
(5:2), who would lead Judah in destroying Babylon (4:13; 5:5-8).
But Judah didn’t want to destroy Babylon. Most of them preferred
to carry on living there. So, no Messiah. At that time. Another
different sequence of prophetic fulfillment had to develop.
Closer study reveals the variableness of outworking of the time
periods. Jer. 25:11,12 and Jer. 29:10 speak of a 70 year period
of Babylonian rule over Judah, beginning with the invasion of BC597.
But Babylon only ruled over Judah for 49 years, before Babylon fell
to the Persians. This would connect with the way that Zech. 4:3
speaks of 7 menorah candlesticks each with 7 lamps, making 49 lamps.
49 is the cycle of 7 sabbath years that culminated in the jubilee
year, and the jubilee year, the proclamation of liberty to the land
(Lev. 25:8-12; 27:7-24) is a figure used so often in Isaiah to describe
the freedom of Judah once released from Babylon. Lev. 26:34,43 speak
of the land enjoying her sabbaths whilst Israel were in exile for
their sins- i.e. for 49 years. So it seems that there could have
been some restoration after 49 years- but it didn't happen. But
Dan. 9:2 and 2 Chron. 36:21 seem to reinterpret those 70 years of
Jeremiah's prophecies as speaking of a 70 year period during which
Jerusalem and the temple would be desolate. And yet there again,
Ezekiel was asked to prophecy that Judah would suffer for their
sins for 40 years (Ez. 4:6). Perhaps something could've happened
after 40 years... Perhaps some restoration could have happened to
the ten tribes after 390 years (Ez. 4:5), although there's no sign
it ever did. And then, the starting point of the 70 or 40 years
was somewhat flexible- for Ez. 22:3,4 records Ezekiel's prophecy
that the desolation of Jerusalem by the Babylonians [the starting
point of the time periods] was actually being hastened, brought
forward, by the terrible behaviour of the Jews living there after
the initial Babylon invasion of the land. In fact, if a person had
been found who would have powerfully interceded for Jerusalem, 'stood
in the gap' (Ez. 22:30), God wouldn't have destroyed Jerusalem -
"that I should not destroy it" is an allusion to Abraham
interceding for Sodom in Gen. 18:28. There were simply so many possible
scenarios! And this is what we must expect if even time periods can be shortened or extended in response to human behaviour. A generation after the Lord's death in AD33 would have come to AD73, assuming the Jewish way of seeing a generation as 40 years. Yet the 'coming' of the Lord in judgment, to require His blood of that generation who crucified Him, was in AD70 and not AD73. This could suggest a shortening of the time period. Paul seems to allude to this when he says in 1 Cor. 7:29 that "the appointed time synestalmenos estin". This is a participle, not an adjective; and so the translation surely must be "The time left has been shortened". Such shortening or lengthening of time periods is really possible in these last days. So much depends upon us. Harry Whittaker in a pamphlet entitled 5 Minutes
To Twelve discusses the way that it seems the 2nd coming could
have occurred at several points in the 20th century. 1917, 1948,
1967, 1988, the Gulf Wars etc. all had their possibilities of fulfilling
Bible prophecy about the Lord's return. But, he suggests, He didn't
return, because Israel [both natural and spiritual] didn't fulfil
the necessary preconditions.
If indeed Ez. 40-48 are conditional prophecies, this opens up the
possibility that so too are many other prophecies- especially those
which involve allusion to them. For example, Rev. 11:1 speaks of
a command to measure the temple- and immediately our minds are sent
back to the temple being measured in such detail in Ez. 40:10, 21,22
etc. Is this to be read as a sign that we are about to receive another
conditional prophecy? Assuming that Revelation was given just prior
to the fall of Jerusalem in AD70, we could read the ensuing prophecy
in Rev. 11 as saying that although Jerusalem and the outer court
would fall to the Romans, the zealots in the inner sanctuary would
be preserved, and a command to repentance would be issued by two
prophets (1). Now of course, this didn't happen; but perhaps it
could've done, potentially? Consider the possibility- both here
and in so many other Bible passages.
The trumpets of Rev. 8-11 are clearly based upon the plagues of
Ex. 7-12 (2). Yet those plagues were each one designed to induce
repentance in Egypt; there were various possible futures and outcomes
related to each of them. If, e.g., after plague eight, Pharaoh had
truly repented- then the other plagues wouldn't have happened. And
perhaps it will be the same with the trumpets of the last days.
Or take the sixth vial- it was poured out upon the Euphrates "so
that the way of the kings of the east [the believers?] might
be prepared" (Rev. 16:12). The allusion is the drying up of
the Euphrates by Cyrus to bring about the fall of Babylon and the
return of the exiles. Babylon fell- but the exiles generally didn't
return as God intended. So perhaps the emphasis should be upon the
word "might" in a conditional sense- the way of the triumphant
saints will be potentially prepared by certain latter day
judgments. This approach connects with how the fall of latter day
Babylon is mentioned three times in Revelation (Rev. 14:8; 16:17-19;
17:16,17); and it's hard to work out when this happens;
Rev. 16:17-19 places the fall of Babylon after Armageddon
and Christ's return, whilst Rev. 17:16,17 places it before Armageddon.
I see no contradiction here; it's just that the timing of the actual
fall of Babylon and return of Christ are events which depend on
various preconditions which may or may not be fulfilled by human
freewill decisions. Such considerations may explain why it remains
unclear whether Christ returns at the time of the 6th, or 7th vial.
The language of both vials has application to His return, and yet
some of it seems to speak of before His return. Perhaps
it's beyond the technique of Biblical exposition to reconcile this
language- it may simply be that the actual coming of Christ is dependent
upon various conditional factors, and the inspired language of predictive
prophecy is therefore appropriately ambiguous. Or take the way Revelation
consistently speaks of "the beast" as if there is only
one- and yet we read of three beasts, from the sea, the land and
the abyss (Rev. 13,17). Is it really that the beast changes form
over time- or are there three possible manifestations of "the
beast" dependent upon various possible factors in human response?
This approach would explain why Revelation is so hard to interpret
if we insist on forcing all the events and pictures presented into
a strictly progressive chronological sequence.
This view of prophecy means that we need not get overly worried
about the supposed discrepancies between prophecy and its historical
fulfillment. Such differences don't negate the Divine inspiration
of the original prophecy- rather do they show how God's intentions
can be worked out in different ways because of the open-ended approach
He takes to human response. Thus it's been observed that the siege
of Jerusalem in AD66-70 doesn't exactly follow the descriptions
in Lk. 19:41-44 and 21:20-24 (3). This would be because there were
within the Olivet prophecy a number of possible scenarios of what
could happen if the believers fled the city as commanded;
and of course, if Israel repented and accepted Christ at
His AD70 'coming' in judgment. Additionally we must remember that
this prophecy was only having its initial fulfillment in AD70- the
final fulfillment will be in our last days.
(1) For more on this, see R.H. Charles, Revelation (Edinburgh:
T & T Clark, 1920); Arthur S. Peake, The Revelation of John
(London: Joseph Johnson, 1919), p. 291; I.T. Beckwith, The
Apocalypse Of John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979) pp.
(2) Tabulated in Thomas Gaston, Come And See: An Exposition
Of Revelation (Hyderabad: Printland, 2007) p. 237.
(3) See C.H. Dodd, 'The fall of Jerusalem', in More New Testament
Studies (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1968).