The Purpose of Predictions, Part 1

The Purpose of Predictions, Part 1

Dear Church Family,

On Sunday mornings at 9:15-10:15 am in the sanctuary, we have Sunday school for all ages. We are using a video series called “He Gave Us Prophets,” combined with teaching and discussion, in order to better understand, interpret, and apply the prophets of the Old Testament. If you’re interested in reviewing the video lessons that we are using for this class, you may find them online here: https://thirdmill.org/seminary/course.asp/vs/HGP. Also, if you’re interested in reviewing the summaries that I’ve been writing in these weekly emails, you may find those on the HCPCA church website here: https://www.hillcountrypca.org/pastors-blog/category/he-gave-us-prophets.

Continuing with these reviews, here is a summary of some of the things that we learned and covered in our most recent Sunday school class.

Overview of Lesson #7a – Divine Sovereignty, Predictions & Contingencies

Most people think that the purpose of prophecy is to tell us about future events; however, that is not so. Prophets made predictions in order to encourage God’s people to respond in a particular way, in order to shape the future.

Divine Sovereignty

By way of introduction to this topic of the purpose of predictions, it’s important that we begin with a basic understanding of God’s sovereignty. And, when thinking about God’s sovereignty, it’s helpful to think about the ways in which God does not change (His immutability) and the ways in which God interacts with His creation in history (His providence).

  1. God’s Immutability

We may summarize the ways in which God does not change (or is immutable) under four headings.

  1. God’s Character – all of the attributes of God that we know from Scripture are always true of Him. He is all wise, all powerful, perfectly holy, just, good, and truthful. In these things, God never changes. He is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
  2. God’s Covenants – When God enters into covenant with His creation and makes promises, He seals that covenant by way of an unbreakable oath (Hebrews 6:16-17). With Him there is not variation or shifting shadow (James 1:17).
  3. God’s Counsel – God has an unchangeable plan by which He governs all creation and time, all of history. He has declared the end from the beginning and whatever He has planned, the Lord will do it (Isaiah 46:9-11). He works all things after the counsel of His will (WSC 7; Ephesians 1:11).
  4. God’s Commandments – As a reflection of God’s perfect holiness, the moral law as summarized in the Ten Commandments is eternal and never changing. Created in God’s image, His law is written upon man’s heart (Romans 2:14).

2. God’s Providence

Divine providence may be defined as God’s “preserving and governing all His creatures, and all their actions” (WSC 11). But, we should never think of God’s works of providence in fatalistic terms. Where immutability speaks of the ways in which God does not change, God intimately interacts with His creation to carry out His providential plan and work. Another way of saying this would be to say that God is the “first cause” of His immutable plan; while at the same time, He uses secondary causes to carry out His providential plan.

The Westminster Confession of Faith summarizes it like this: “Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, He ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently” (WCF 5.2). In addition to teaching how God is the first cause of all things (Acts 2:23), this portion of the Confession also teaches that there are three basic categories of secondary causes that God employs to order all things according to His providential plan:

  1. Necessarily: physical laws of nature (Genesis 8:21-22Jeremiah 31:35), e.g., seasons, gravity, etc.
  2. Freely: decisions of rational creatures (Deuteronomy 19:4-7), e.g., choosing to flee to a city of refuge.
  3. Contingently: if/then possibilities (Revelation 3:1-3Jonah 3:4-10), e.g., repentance or rebellion.

That third kind of secondary causes (contingencies) helps us to better understand the role of human response (obedience or sin, repentance or rebellion) in God’s dealings with His people. While the prophets believed that God’s eternal plan would be accomplished, they also believed that God’s plan involved human choice and response.

Predictions & Contingencies

The opening verses of Jeremiah 18 play a key role in confirming the importance of human response (or contingencies) in the predictions of the prophets. First, the Lord tells Jeremiah to go down to the potter’s house and observe him making a vessel out of clay at his wheel (Jeremiah 18:1-3). There, Jeremiah observes the vessel is spoiled in the hand of the potter, so the potter remakes the vessel into another vessel (Jeremiah 18:4). Afterward, the Lord interprets Jeremiah’s observation (Jeremiah 18:5-10):


5 Then the word of the LORD came to me saying,
6 “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.
7 “At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it;
8 if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it.
9 “Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it;

10 if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it.

In this passage, we learn of the integral role that human response (contingencies) makes in the Lord’s declarations through the prophets (predictions). If the Lord declares a judgment against a nation, but that nation turns from its evil, the Lord will relent from His judgment. If, on the other hand, the Lord declares a blessing upon a nation, but it does evil and disobeys the Lord, the Lord will not bless as He has promised.

A clear example of how the predictions of a prophet are affected by the response of the people may be found in the book of Jonah. Jonah’s message to the city of Nineveh was straightforward: “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). In response to Jonah’s prediction, the people of Nineveh believed in God and the king of Nineveh called for the whole city to repent, saying, “Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish” (Jonah 3:5-9). In response to the people’s repentance, the Lord did indeed relent and did not destroy the city (Jonah 3:10).

Conclusion

This insight into the nature and importance of contingencies (human choice) helps us to read and better understand the writings of the prophets. It also helps us to see the importance of our own choices – as individuals and as a church. While confessing that God sovereignly and providentially governs all things, there are consequences to every decision that we make so we must seek to make wise choices.

It also teaches us about how God lovingly disciplines His people based upon their obedience or disobedience to Him. While confessing that God sovereignly and providentially governs all things, God disciplines His children according to their repentance or lack of repentance (2 Peter 1:10-11).

Finally, this insight teaches us about the importance of prayer. The Lord truly does respond to the prayers of His people; therefore, we should pray for divine intervention (2 Samuel 12:21-23).

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

The Purpose of Predictions, Part 2

The Purpose of Predictions, Part 2

Dear Church Family,

On Sunday mornings at 9:15-10:15 am in the sanctuary, we have Sunday school for all ages. We are using a video series called “He Gave Us Prophets,” combined with teaching and discussion, in order to better understand, interpret, and apply the prophets of the Old Testament. If you’re interested in reviewing the video lessons that we are using for this class, you may find them online here: https://thirdmill.org/seminary/course.asp/vs/HGP. Also, if you’re interested in reviewing the summaries that I’ve been writing in these weekly emails, you may find those on the HCPCA church website here: https://www.hillcountrypca.org/pastors-blog/category/he-gave-us-prophets.

Continuing with these reviews, here is a summary of some of the things that we learned and covered in our most recent Sunday school class.

Overview of Lesson #7b – Certainty and Goals of Predictions

In the first half of this lesson, we learned that when thinking about the purposes of prophetic predictions in the Bible, it’s important to keep together both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.  And, it’s helpful to understand that many of the predictions which prophets made in the Old Testament were contingent upon human response (Jeremiah 18:5-10). In the second part of this lesson, we learned about the scale of certainty regarding the outcome of prophetic predictions, as well as the intended purpose of predictions.

Certainty of Predictions

Prophetic predictions made by the prophets may be thought of as having a scale of certainty regarding their outcome:

1. Conditional Predictions: these types of predictions were explicitly declared to be contingent upon how the people of God responded to the Lord; often, these conditional predictions were set forth in the form of if/then statements. For example: (Isaiah 1:19-21) “‘If you consent and obey, You will eat the best of the land; But if you refuse and rebel, You will be devoured by the sword.’ Truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

2. Unqualified Predictions: these types of predictions were simple statements about the future with no explicit conditions being mentioned; however, how people responded to was still very important. For example, Jonah preached to Nineveh, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed” (Jonah 3:4). But, when the people of Nineveh repented, God responded by not destroying the city (Jonah 3:5-10).

3. Confirmed Predictions: these types of predictions were confirmed by either words (usually repetition) or signs. For example, in the first two chapters of Amos, the Lord repeats the phrase, “I will not revoke…” the judgment that He has declared for the sins of the people (Amos 1:36911132:146). The Lord also showed that He was very determined to carry out a prediction also by way of a sign. In fact, through Isaiah, the Lord told King Ahaz to ask for a sign that he might know the seriousness of a prediction (Isaiah 7:11).

4. Sworn Predictions: these types of predictions take the form of divine oaths and show that the Lord intends in no uncertain terms to bring about what has been foretold. For example: (Amos 4:2) “The Lord GOD has sworn by His holiness, ‘Behold, the days are coming upon you When they will take you away with meat hooks, And the last of you with fish hooks.’”

Goals of Predictions

Unfortunately, many people believe that the prophets of the Old Testament were simply prognosticating, or foretelling future events that could not be changed. But, as we have just seen, only those predictions that were sworn by divine oaths were immutably fixed. The goals of prophet predictions were not intended to simply predict the future. Rather, they were intended to illicit a response from God’s people. And, it would seem that the people who heard these prophecies knew that this was the case.

1. “Who knows?”

For example, on at least three different occasions, when people heard a prophetic prediction, they did not simply assume that the outcome of that prediction was fixed (2 Samuel 12:14 à 2 Samuel 12:22Jonah 3:4 à Jonah 3:9Joel 2:1-11 à Joel 2:14). In each of these examples, a prophetic prediction was made. But then, the hearer responded by taking a certain action and declaring something like, “Who knows? The Lord may be gracious and relent.”

2. Twofold Reaction

The prophets of the Old Testament generally made their predictions in the hopes of eliciting a response or reaction from the people.

On the one hand, when a prophet proclaimed the judgment of the Lord against the sin of the people, they knew that if the people continued in their sin, the judgment would certainly take place or even be increased; however, the prophets hoped that the people might repent and turn to the Lord in hopes that the Lord would relent from His judgment.

On the other hand, when a prophet proclaimed the blessing of the Lord, they knew that if the people rebelled and disobeyed the Lord that He would withhold His blessing; however, if the people continued to faithful serve the Lord, He would grant them the promised blessing.

The goal of the prophetic predictions was not intended to merely prognosticate or foretell the future, but to activate the people of God to repent and obey the Lord.

Conclusion

During our discussions in Sunday school this last Sunday, I asked the question, “How can we tell the difference today between a true and false prophet?” One of the young people in our church wisely answered, “That’s easy. There are no more true prophets today.”

That’s an important thing for us to remember as we study the prophets of the Old Testament. Since the closing of the canon of Scripture in the first century A.D., there are no more prophets who speak for the Lord. God has sent the final prophet – and only prophet that we need – in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. For, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Literary Analysis of the Prophets, Part 2

Literary Analysis of the Prophets, Part 2

Dear Church Family,

On Sunday mornings at 9:15-10:15 am in the sanctuary, we have Sunday school for all ages. We are using a video series called “He Gave Us Prophets,” combined with teaching and discussion, in order to better understand, interpret, and apply the prophets of the Old Testament. If you’re interested in reviewing the video lessons that we are using for this class, you may find them online here: https://thirdmill.org/seminary/course.asp/vs/HGP. Also, if you’re interested in reviewing the summaries that I’ve been writing in these weekly emails, you may find those on the HCPCA church website here: https://www.hillcountrypca.org/pastors-blog/category/he-gave-us-prophets.

Continuing with these reviews, here is a summary of some of the things that we learned and covered in our most recent Sunday school class.

Overview of Lesson #6b –Communication with People

In this lesson, we learn that the literary genres (or types of writings) in the prophets may be divided into basically three categories: (1) historical narratives, (2) communication with God, and (3) communication with people. In the first part of this lesson, we examined the first two kinds of literature. In the most recent second part of this lesson, we examined how the prophets communicated with people.

Communication with People

The main purpose of the prophets was to be God’s emissaries by speaking to kings and to the people of the visible covenant community. In speaking on behalf of God to the people, the prophets employed three basic forms of commutation: (1) speeches of judgment, (2) speeches of blessing, and (3) mixed speeches.

(1) Speeches of Judgment

Prophetic speeches of judgment are usually broken down into three kinds:

a. Judgment oracles: containing two part (the accusation of sin and sentencing of God).
b. Woe oracles: containing three parts (introductory expression of woe, the accusation, and sentencing of God).
c. Lawsuits: a much more elaborate speech of judgment containing several elements (summons to court, identification of witness, review of God’s kindness to His people, accusation of sin, response from the accused, and sentencing of God).

(2) Speeches of Blessing

There are basically two ways in which the prophets would typically announce divine blessings:

a. Judgments against the enemies of God’s people.
b. Direct blessings for God’s people.

(3) Mixed Speeches

As the name of this category of communications to the people implies many times the prophets mixed statements of blessing and cursing together. Here are just some of these kinds of mixed speeches:

a. Judgment-salvation Oracles: judgment is threatened against some and blessings are offered to others in the same speech.
b. Call to repentance: in the midst of the warnings of judgment and promises of blessing, the prophet will call the people of God to repent of their sin and rebellion.
c. Call to war: prophets would often call God’s people to war, especially to defend themselves against other nations.
d. Prophetic disputation: this form of communication entails disputing or arguing with other (especially, false) prophets.
e. Parables: imagery or illustrative stories which were used to announce God’s threat and judgment or promised blessing.

Mosaic Precedent for Law-court Patterns in the Prophets (Genesis 3:8-14)

One of the interesting things that we discussed in class was the literary background of these sorts of prophetic speeches to the people. Of course, there are contemporary examples of such speeches found in the surrounding nations of Israel; however, the prophets were ultimately dependent upon the patterns already laid down in Scripture for the ways in which they communicated with the people. The prophets’ messages were based upon the writings of Moses in the Pentateuch.

For instance, immediately following Adam and Eve’s initial sin and fall in the garden of Eden, Genesis 3 records for us a basic law-court trial:

Genesis 3:8 – God the Judge enters the courtroom
Genesis 3:9-13 – God summons and questions the accused (Adam and Eve)
Genesis 3:14-19 – God sentences the guilty (the serpent, Eve, and Adam)
Genesis 3:20 – Response of the accused
Genesis 3:21-24 – Blessing and dismissal of the guilty

Conclusion

Having examined both the historical setting and literary aspects of the writings of the prophets, in the next lesson we will begin to learn how to properly interpret and apply these texts of the Old Testament. Specifically, we will begin by learning about the different kinds of predictions that the prophets made.

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Literary Analysis of the Prophets, Part 1

Literary Analysis of the Prophets, Part 1

Dear Church Family,

On Sunday mornings at 9:15-10:15 am in the sanctuary, we have Sunday school for all ages. We are using a video series called “He Gave Us Prophets,” combined with teaching and discussion, in order to better understand, interpret, and apply the prophets of the Old Testament. If you’re interested in reviewing the video lessons that we are using for this class, you may find them online here: https://thirdmill.org/seminary/course.asp/vs/HGP. Also, if you’re interested in reviewing the summaries that I’ve been writing in these weekly emails, you may find those on the HCPCA church website here: https://www.hillcountrypca.org/pastors-blog/category/he-gave-us-prophets.

Continuing with these reviews, here is a summary of some of the things that we learned and covered in our most recent Sunday school class.

Overview of Lesson #6a – Historical Narratives and Communication with God

In this lesson, we learn that the literary genres (or types of writings) in the prophets may be divided into basically three categories: (1) historical narratives, (2) communication with God, and (3) communication with people. In the first part of this lesson, we examined the first two kinds of literature.

(1) Historical Narratives

Historical narratives are simply the relating of a history, either from the perspective of the prophet himself (autobiography) or by someone else (biography). The book of Jonah is a good example of a biographical historical narrative which is written about Jonah by another writer. The book of Daniel contains both biographical historical narrative (Daniel, chapters 1-6) and autobiographical historical narrative (Daniel, chapters 7-12).

Within these historical narratives, there are several different kinds of content. The “prophetic call” recounts how the Lord called and commissioned a prophet to be His emissary to the people (e.g., Isaiah experience in the heavenly throne room in Isaiah 6). “Symbolic actions” are when a prophet performed certain actions which were intended to communicate a message to the people (e.g., Jeremiah’s burying his linen belt (Jeremiah 13:1-11) or Hosea’s naming of his children was intended to communicate messages to God’s people). “Vision reports” are those portions of the prophets in which the prophet would give a detailed description of a vision that the Lord had given him (e.g., Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37)). Finally, the prophets often simply describe the “historical background” or events that took place during their ministry (e.g., Isaiah 7-8 describes the events surrounding King Ahaz’s deliberations and preparations for an impending invasion).

(2) Communication with God

The prophets often recorded their prayers – the ways in which they communicated with the Lord. These prayers were intended to help the people of God to pray in a proper manner. Thus, the recorded communications with God in the prophets included both prayers of lament and prayers of praise.

In prayers of lament, prophets would often speak to the Lord in prayer, lamenting over either the sins of the people or the judgments that the Lord had sent upon the people because of their sin. For instance, Habakkuk prays to God lamenting over the sins of the people in their ignoring his law and perverting justice:

“Why do You make me see iniquity, And cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; Strife exists and contention arises. Therefore the law is ignored And justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore justice comes out perverted.” (Habakkuk 1:3-4)

In prayers of praise, the prophets praise the Lord for both His judgments and His blessings. In example, in the closing verses of Habakkuk, the prophet praises the Lord in the midst of the a famine and difficult times, while also expressing confidence in the God’s faithfulness and ability to save:

“Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord GOD is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, And makes me walk on my high places. For the choir director, on my stringed instruments.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

Conclusion

In our class on Sunday, we discussed how the writings of the prophets – like portions of the Psalms, as well – teach us how to properly lament, to repent and mourn over our sinfulness and sins. But, we also learn how to appropriately praise the Lord, even in times that are difficult and trying, knowing that “The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I have hope in Him.’ The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him.” (Lamentations 3:22-25)

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

The Historical Context of the Prophets, Part 2

The Historical Context of the Prophets, Part 2

Dear Church Family,

On Sunday mornings at 9:15-10:15 am in the sanctuary, we have Sunday school for all ages. We are using a video series called “He Gave Us Prophets,” combined with teaching and discussion, in order to better understand, interpret, and apply the prophets of the Old Testament. If you’re interested in reviewing the video lessons that we are using for this class, you may find them online here: https://thirdmill.org/seminary/course.asp/vs/HGP. Also, if you’re interested in reviewing the summaries that I’ve been writing in these weekly emails, you may find those on the HCPCA church website here: https://www.hillcountrypca.org/pastors-blog/category/he-gave-us-prophets.

Continuing with these reviews, here is a summary of some of the things that we learned and covered in our most recent Sunday school class.

Overview of Lesson #5b – The Babylonian Judgment and Restoration Period

In the first part of this lesson, we learned of how it’s helpful to think about the history of Israel in the Old Testament in terms of four general historical eras (with approximate dates):

(1) Early Monarchy (1,000-800 B.C.)
(2) Assyrian Judgment (800-701 B.C.)
(3) Babylonian Judgment (700-539 B.C.)
(4) Restoration Period (539-400 B.C.)

Having examined the first two historical eras, in this lesson we will consider the second two.

Babylonian Judgment (700-539 B.C.)

There are three major events (three Babylonian incursions, or invasions, of southern Judah) which took place during this era of Israel’s history that help us better understand the historical context of the prophets who ministered during this time.

(1) First Incursion and Deportation (605 B.C.)

[2 Kings 24:1-9] As a vassal state of the Babylonian Empire, Jehoiakim, the king of Judah, rebelled against their suzerain. As a result, in 605 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah and removed many of their leaders. In this first incursion, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were carried off into exile.

(2) Second Incursion and Deportation (597 B.C.)

[2 Kings 24:10-20] The nation of Judah continued to rebel against the Babylonian Empire, so in 597 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah for a second time. He destroyed much of Judah and carried off many people from the general population in Judah off into exile. The prophet Ezekiel was among those who was carried off at this time.

(3) Third Incursion and Deportation (586 B.C.)

[2 Kings 25:1-12] Nebuchadnezzar had had enough, so in 586 B.C. he invaded Judah for a third and final time. The Babylonians destroyed the capital city of Jerusalem, along with the temple. The majority of the people of Judah were carried off into exile and the land was left desolate.

Prophets Who Ministered During the Time of the Babylonian Judgment

There were seven prophets who ministered during the time of the Babylonian Judgment. Five ministered in Judah, while two, having been carried off into exile, ministered in Babylon. Here is a brief summary of their respective dates, places of ministry, and messages.

  1. Jeremiah
    a. when: 626–586 B.C. (Jeremiah 1:1-3)
    b. where: Judah
    c. what: true repentance, destruction of Jerusalem, hope for restoration (Jeremiah 30-31)

  2. Zephaniah
    a. when: 640–609 B.C. (Zephaniah 1:12:13)
    b. where: Judah
    c. what: Babylon will destroy Assyria, hope for restoration (Zephaniah 3:20)

  3. Joel
    a. when: 597–586 B.C. (Joel 1:132:1)
    b. where: Judah
    c. what: destruction of Jerusalem, hope for restoration (Joel 3:20-21)

  4. Obadiah
    a. when: uncertain (during Babylonian Judgment)
    b. where: Judah
    c. what: destruction of Edom (Obadiah 1:15)

  5. Habakkuk
    a. when: around 605 B.C.
    b. where: Judah
    c. what: lamented evil of Judah and oppression of Babylon, encouraged trust in God

  6. Ezekiel
    a. when: 597–586 B.C. (Ezekiel 29:17)
    b. where: Babylon (Ezekiel 1:1)
    c. what: destruction of Jerusalem and temple, directions for rebuilding temple

  7. Daniel
    a. when: 605–539 B.C.
    b. where: Babylon
    c. what: exile to be extended (Babylonians, Medes and Persians, Greeks, Roman Empire), encouraged repentance (Daniel 9:13)

Restoration Period (539-400 B.C.)

There are three major events which took place during this era of Israel’s history that help us better understand the historical context of the prophets who ministered during this time.

(1) Israelites Return to the Land (538 B.C.)

[Ezra 1:1-5] The Persian emperor Cyrus conquered the Babylonians and then encouraged the Israelites to return to their land and rebuild the temple. So, in 538 B.C., the exiles began to return to the land of Judah.

(2) Rebuilding the Temple (520-515 B.C.)

[Ezra 3:86:14-16] Even though the people had been delivered from exile and returned to the Judah, the rebuilding of the temple was not a priority. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah began ministering around 520 B.C. to encourage the people to rebuild the temple of God.

(3) Widespread Apostasy (450-400 B.C.)

[Malachi 2:7-911173:8-1014] Within one generation after Zerubbabel had rebuilt the temple, the people of God began to intermarry with foreign women. They took on the religious practices and idol worship of the surrounding nations and corrupted the worship of the one true God. Eventually, the restoration period moved into a time of great apostasy.

Prophets Who Ministered During the Time of the Restoration Period

There were three prophets who ministered during the time of the Restoration Period. All three ministered in Jerusalem. The first two emphasized the importance of rebuilding the temple, while the third addressed the increasing apostasy of God’s people. Here is a brief summary of their respective dates, places of ministry, and messages.

  1. Haggai
    a. when: 520 B.C. (Haggai 1:1)
    b. where: Jerusalem
    c. what: blessings upon rebuilding, repentance
  2. Zechariah
    a. when: 520 (Zechariah 1:1)
    b. where: Jerusalem
    c. what: rebuild the temple, future divine intervention necessary for full restoration

  3. Malachi
    a. when: 450-400 B.C.
    b. where: Jerusalem
    c. what: coming great judgment (3:5), final restoration of righteous (4:2)

Conclusion

Malachi is the last of the writing prophets and the final, concluding book of the Old Testament. In the fourth and final chapter of Malachi, the Lord commands obedience to His Word. And, in the final verses, we read of how the Lord will send “Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6).

For hundreds of years, the Lord is silent; there are no prophets and no word from the Lord. Then, the Lord raises up and send his prophet, John the Baptist, as a forerunner to Jesus. John the Baptist comes in the spirit and power of Elijah in fulfilment of Malachi’s prophecy (Luke 1:17). Then, the coming great and terrible day of the Lord is fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus, the Son of Man, who suffered and died for the sins of His people (Matthew 17:10-13).

The Spirit of Christ was within the prophets of the Old Testament as they hoped and prophesied of the coming grace of salvation. We who live on this side of the cross know this grace of salvation in the suffering of Jesus Christ and the glory that is ours through faith in Him! (1 Peter 1:10-11)

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

The Historical Context of the Prophets, Part 1

The Historical Context of the Prophets, Part 1

Dear Church Family,

On Sunday mornings at 9:15-10:15 am in the sanctuary, we have Sunday school for all ages. We are using a video series called “He Gave Us Prophets,” combined with teaching and discussion, in order to better understand, interpret, and apply the prophets of the Old Testament. If you’re interested in reviewing the video lessons that we are using for this class, you may find them online here: https://thirdmill.org/seminary/course.asp/vs/HGP. Also, if you’re interested in reviewing the summaries that I’ve been writing in these weekly emails, you may find those on the HCPCA church website here: https://www.hillcountrypca.org/pastors-blog/category/he-gave-us-prophets.

Continuing with these reviews, here is a summary of some of the things that we learned and covered in our most recent Sunday school class.

Overview of Lesson #5a – Early Monarchy and the Assyrian Judgment

As we delve more into how to properly understand and interpret the writings of the Old Testament prophets, in lesson five we are seeking to better understand the overall, big picture of the historical events in which the prophets ministered. To begin, it’s helpful to think about the history of Israel in the Old Testament in terms of four general historical eras (with approximate dates):

(1) Early Monarchy (1,000-800 B.C.)
(2) Assyrian Judgment (800-701 B.C.)
(3) Babylonian Judgment (700-539 B.C.)
(4) Restoration Period (539-400 B.C.)

Understanding what was going on at the time in these four specific eras helps us to focus in on the original meaning and purpose of each of the respective prophets. In the first part of this lesson, we looked that the first two historical eras.

The Early Monarch (1,000-800 B.C.)

Around 1,000 B.C., David began to rule the nation of Israel and united the various tribes as one kingdom. When his son, Solomon, inherited the throne, the nation of Israel flourished. Solomon expanded the borders of Israel and built the temple in Jerusalem. However, both Solomon and then his son, Rehoboam, did not respect the northern tribes. Thus, in 930 B.C., the northern tribes broke away from the nation of Israel (1 Kings 11:41-12:16). The ensuing divided kingdom consisted of northern Israel (with its capital of Samaria) and southern Judah (with its capital of Jerusalem).

There were prophets who ministered during the time of the early monarchy, like Elijah and Elisha, but we only learn of these prophets from the historical books of the Old Testament. The “writing prophets” began to minister during the time of the divided kingdom and the Assyrian judment.

The Assyrian Judgment (800-701 B.C.)

There are three major events which took place during this era of Israel’s history that help us better understand the historical context of the prophets who ministered during this time.

(1) Syrian-Israelite Coalition (734 B.C.)

[2 Kings 16:5-18Isaiah 7:1-9] As the Assyrian Empire began to grow and conquer other nations, around 734 B.C., northern Israel joined together with the nation of Syria in order to resist the encroachment of the larger empire. The coalition of these two smaller nations also put pressure on southern Judah to join them. Ahaz, the king of Judah at the time, refused to join their coalition, but instead sought to make peace with the Assyrian Empire.

(2) Fall of Samaria and Exile (722 B.C.)

[2 Kings 17:1-8] Eventually, the Assyrians invaded and conquered northern Israel. They destroyed the capital city of Samaria and carried many of the northern Israelites off into exile. This was the first large scale judgment of exile for the nation of Israel.

(3) Sennacherib Invasion of Judah (701 B.C.)

[2 Kings 18:13-1419:35-37] Having previously made peace with the Assyrians, eventually southern Judah also rebelled against the Assyrian Empire. Consequently, Sennacherib, the king of Assyria from 705-681 B.C., invaded Judah, capturing many cities and made it as far as the capital of Jerusalem. The Lord miraculously delivered Judah from total destruction and the Assyrians withdrew; however, Judah remained a vassal state of the Assyrian Empire.

Prophets Who Ministered During the Time of the Assyrian Judgment

There were six prophets who ministered during the time of the Assyrian Judgment. One ministered in Nineveh (the capital of Assyria), only two ministered in northern Israel, and the remaining three ministered in southern Judah. Here is a brief summary of their respective dates, places of ministry, and messages.

  1. Jonah
    a. when: 793–753 B.C. (2 Kings 14:25)
    b. where: Nineveh (capital of Assyria)
    c. what: destruction of Nineveh (Jonah 3:4)
  2. Hosea
    a. when: 750–722 B.C. (Hosea 1:1)
    b. where: northern Israel
    c. what: Assyria will destroy Israel and Samaria, exile is coming, hope for restoration

  3. Amos
    a. when: 760–750 (Amos 1:1)
    b. where: northern Israel
    c. what: Assyria will destroy Israel and Samaria, exile is coming, hope for restoration

  4. Micah
    a. when: 735–701 B.C. (Micah 1:1)
    b. where: Judah
    c. what: Assyria will destroy Israel and Judah, hope for restoration

  5. Nahum
    a. when: 663–612 B.C. (Nahum 3:7,8)
    b. where: Judah
    c. what: destruction of Assyria and Nineveh (Nahum 3:5)

  6. Isaiah
    a. when: 740–701 B.C. (Isaiah 1:1)
    b. where: Judah
    c. what: trust God against Assyria, exile of Judah, hope for restoration

In our next lesson, we will consider the other two eras from Israel’s history: the Babylonian Judgment and Restoration (or return from exile).

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Dynamics of the Covenant

Dynamics of the Covenant

Dear Church Family,

On Sunday mornings at 9:15-10:15 am in the sanctuary, we have Sunday school for all ages. We are using a video series called “He Gave Us Prophets,” combined with teaching and discussion, in order to better understand, interpret, and apply the prophets of the Old Testament. If you’re interested in reviewing the video lessons that we are using for this class, you may find them online here: https://thirdmill.org/seminary/course.asp/vs/HGP. Also, if you’re interested in reviewing the summaries that I’ve been writing in these weekly emails, you may find those on the HCPCA church website here: https://www.hillcountrypca.org/pastors-blog/category/he-gave-us-prophets.

Continuing with these reviews, here is a summary of some of the things that we learned and covered in our most recent Sunday school class.

Overview of Lesson #4 – Dynamics of the Covenant

In a wedding, husbands and wives make vows, declaring their love and commitment to one another and promising to maintain certain responsibilities. Of course, in the natural course of life, as time goes on, sin affects the marital relationship. So, it is important for married couples to remember those initial vows and the ideals to which they pledged themselves. The covenant relationship between God and His people is similar. While the Lord never forgets His promises nor fails to maintain His commitment, His people do.

Covenant Ideals

Like the suzerain-vasal treaties of the Ancient Near East, there were two basic components of the covenant which God entered into with His people in the Old Testament. First, there is divine benevolence. God is love, and from His love flows His electing grace (Ephesians 1:4-6). Second, there is human responsibility. Because He has loved and redeemed His people, they are commanded to worship and obey Him (John 14:15).

A clear example of these two components of God’s covenant with His people may be found in Exodus 20. After redeeming and delivering the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, the Lord brings them to Mount Sinai. There, He reminds them of His saving work (or divine benevolence): Í am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). Then, the Lord teaches them how they are to obey Him (human responsibility) by giving them the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3ff).

The prophets of the Old Testament were sent by God as His emissaries to remind His people of these two components: the Lord loved them and promised to save them and He also commanded faith and fidelity from His people. To be clear, people did not earn their status as His covenant people through obedience. God redeemed and delivered His people, solely on the basis of His love and grace. At the same time, in this relationship, God required His people to abide by the terms of His covenant, to remain loyal to Him.

And so, the prophets reminded the people of God’s judgments and blessings.

Covenant Judgments

The Old Testament prophets relied upon the writings of Moses, and much of what they wrote was based on several key passages from the Pentateuch. Specifically, there are five main passages that informed the prophet’s descriptions of the kinds of judgments that God would send upon them, should they turn from the Lord and rebel against Him: Deuteronomy 4:25-2828:15-6829:16-2932:15-43, and Leviticus 26:14-39. In these passages, God promised that in the face of the persistent and unrepentant sin and rebellion on the part of the people, He would send judgments in the natural order (drought, pestilence, famine, disease, wild animals, and population loss) and through warfare or conflict with other nations (sieges, occupation, death, destruction, exile).

Leviticus 26:14-39 is a key passage in that it lays out the process of God’s judgments. In these verses, there are five sections, each of which begins with the statement in which the Lord says something like, “…if you do not obey Me” or “if you turn from Me.” And, after the initial warning, in each of the subsequent judgments, God promises to increase His punishment “seven times” for their sins.

Leviticus 26       Judgments

(vv 14-17)         consumption and fever, struck down by enemies

(vv 18-20)         (“seven times” increase) no rain, no agricultural produce

(vv 21-22)         (“seven times” increase) plague, wild animal attacks, children killed

(vv 23-26)         (“seven times” increase) enemy attacks, pestilence, famine

(vv 27-39)         (“seven times” increase) driven to cannibalism, desolation, exile

In examining this passage, we find three characteristics with regard to the Lord’s judgments of His people: (1) The Lord is patient and long-suffering with His people; (2) there is an increasing severity in these judgments; and (3) the final, climactic judgment is exile, removal from the land of promise.

Covenant Blessing

The Lord did not, of course, expect perfection from His people; however, He did expect them to worship Him alone and be faithful to Him. So, just as God’s judgments came in the natural order and warfare, so too did His promised blessings. In passages like Deuteronomy, chapters 4, 28, 30, and Leviticus 26, the Lord promised to bless the fidelity of His people in the natural order (agricultural plenty, livestock fertility, health, and population increase) and through warfare (defeat of enemies, end to warfare, relief from destruction, and return of captives from exile).

In examining these passages, we find three characteristics with regard to the Lord’s blessings of His people: (1) His blessings were not earned, but based solely on God’s grace (e.g., Hosea 14:1-2); (2) blessings came in varying degrees; and (3) the ultimate or climactic blessing entailed the survival of a remnant of God’s people and a return from exile: “Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the LORD their God. But I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 26:44-45).

Application

Understanding these dynamics of the covenant (ideals, judgments, and blessings) helps us to see how the prophets depended upon the writings of Moses, and to better understand their writings. And, as believers in the new covenant in Christ, it is important to remember at least two insights that we gain from the New Testament – two insights that help us to see how the new covenant church is similar and yet also different from that of the old.

First, we must recognize that the New Testament applies the lessons learned from the writings of the prophets mainly to the church of Jesus Christ and not to Israel or any other particular nation or political entity. For example, when debating whether or not it was necessary for Gentile believers to be circumcised, James applies the writings of the prophets to their present-day circumstances (Acts 15:13-20). James points out that the work of the Holy Spirit in saving Gentiles and bringing them into covenant with God is a fulfillment of the prophecy of Amos which spoke of how the Lord would rebuild and restore the Tabernacle of David (Amos 9:11-12).

Second, since the coming of Christ, God still sends general judgments and blessings in the natural order and warfare; however, His special ruling over the Church as Redeemer and Lord is distinct from His general providential rule over political nations and all humanity. Because the church of Jesus Christ is no longer confined to one nation, as before under the Law (WCF 25:2; Romans 15:9-12Ephesians 2:14-22) – and because we no longer have inspired prophets to interpret history for us (Hebrews 1:1-2) – it is impossible to make a definitive one-to-one correlation between a specific sin (whether corporate or personal) and an illness, calamity, natural disaster, or element of warfare.

Conclusion

By His common grace to all people, the Lord causes His sun to rise on both the evil and the good and He sends the rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). So, when asked about whose sin caused a man to be born blind, Jesus did not assign blame to the man or his parents. Rather, He pointed out how the man’s blindness was for the purpose bringing glory to God, that the works of God might be displayed in Him (John 9:1-3). And, when seeing calamity befall others, Jesus taught that we ought to view those instances as reminders of personal repentance (Luke 13:1-5).

At the end of the day, the main lesson that we may learn from the dynamics of the covenants (ideals, judgments, and blessings) is that just as a loving father disciplines his son (Proverbs 13:24), the Lord disciplines those whom He loves (Hebrews 12:3-14). Therefore, let us be grateful and praise the Lord for the sanctifying work of His Spirit!

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Salvation in Covenant

Salvation in Covenant

Dear Church Family,

On Sunday mornings at 9:15-10:15 am in the sanctuary, we have Sunday school for all ages. We are using a video series called “He Gave Us Prophets,” combined with teaching and discussion, in order to better understand, interpret, and apply the prophets of the Old Testament. If you’re interested in reviewing the video lessons that we are using for this class, you may find them online here: https://thirdmill.org/seminary/course.asp/vs/HGP. Also, if you’re interested in reviewing the summaries that I’ve been writing in these weekly emails, you find those on the HCPCA church website here: https://www.hillcountrypca.org/pastors-blog/category/he-gave-us-prophets.

Continuing with these reviews, here is a summary of some of the things that we learned and covered in our most recent Sunday school class.

Overview of Lesson #3b – Salvation in Covenant

In the first part of this lesson, we learned about the two kinds of divine covenants recorded for us in Scripture: covenants with all humanity (common) and covenants with His special people (redemptive). In the second part of this lesson, we learned of how the Bible describes three different kinds of people in relationship to God’s special saving (or redemptive) covenants: people outside the visible covenant community, people within the visible covenant community, and people within the invisible covenant community.

(1) People Outside the Visible Covenant Community

In the Old Testament, those outside the visible covenant community were those who were not physically part of the nation of Israel. Thus, “Gentiles in the flesh” did not receive the covenant sign of circumcision and thus they were excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise, and without hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:11-12).

In the New Testament, Jesus refers to those outside of fellowship with God’s people as “the world” (John 15:15-19; John 17; see also 1 John 3:1). Those outside the visible covenant community are those who are not members of the visible Church. Thus, those who do not embrace the promises of Christ and call upon the name of the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:12) and do not enter into covenant fellowship with God’s people through baptism are not part of Christ’s body, the Church (1 Corinthians 12:12).

(2) People Within the Visible Covenant Community

In the Old Testament, the visible covenant community consisted of the nation of Israel, those who received the sign of circumcision, embraced the covenant promises of God, and sought to worship Him and follow His law (Genesis 17; Romans 3:1-24:1 Corinthians 10:1-14). This visible covenant community also included their children, who were to also receive the sign of circumcision (Genesis 17:712).

In the New Testament, the visible covenant community is comprised of both Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:14-16); it includes all those who profess faith in Christ, along with their children (1 Corinthians 7:14). For those outside of this visible church, through professing faith in Christ, and upon receiving the covenant sign of baptism, they may enter into this covenant fellowship and receive the Lord’s promises – for themselves and for their children (Acts 2:38-39).

(3) People Within the Invisible Covenant Community

The first two categories of people are differentiated according to what man can see, but the Lord looks upon a person’s heart (1 Samuel 16:7). Thus, in the Old Testament, within the visible covenant community, there were those who truly believed and trusted in the Lord. Sometimes, the prophets refer to these believers within the visible covenant community of Israel at the “remnant” (e.g., Isaiah 46:3Jeremiah 23:331:7-8Zechariah 8:12). Other times, these true believers are described as those who have a “circumcision of the heart” (e.g., Deuteronomy 10:1630:6Jeremiah 4:4). This idea that there were true believers amongst the nation of Israel (members of the invisible covenant community) is also taught in the New Testament; the Apostle Paul describes the true Jew as one whose heart has been circumcised by the Spirit of God (Romans 2:28-29). Spiritual Israel are those who are children of promise, not merely the children of the flesh (Romans 9:6-7).

In the New Testament, we also see that within the covenant community of the visible church, there are those who truly believe and trust in the Lord Jesus. As Jesus warned, not everyone who cries out to Him, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of the heavenly Father (Matthew 7:21). And, as the Apostle John warns, there are “antichrists” among God’s people who are not true believers, showing their true nature by departing from the fellowship the church (1 John 2:18-20).

Conclusion

How does understanding these three different kinds of people help us? Well, for one thing, it helps to better interpret the Scriptures, to recognize that the Scriptures are written with these three kinds of people in mind. And then, we will be better able to understand and apply God’s Word.

Also, it helps us to see the importance of maintaining fellowship with God’s visible church, the physical body of God’s covenant people. For it is to His Church that the Lord has made His promises and in whom His Spirit dwells.

Ultimately, however, understanding these three different kinds of people ought to cause us to examine our own hearts, to test ourselves to see if we are truly in the faith, circumcised in the heart, and washed of our sins (2 Corinthians 13:5).

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

Covenants in the Bible

Covenants in the Bible

Dear Church Family,

On Sunday mornings at 9:15-10:15 am in the sanctuary, we have Sunday school for all ages. We are using a video series called “He Gave Us Prophets,” combined with teaching and discussion, in order to better understand, interpret, and apply the prophets of the Old Testament. If you’re interested in reviewing the video lessons that we are using for this class, you may find them online here: https://thirdmill.org/seminary/course.asp/vs/HGP. Also, if you’re interested in reviewing the summaries that I’ve been writing in these weekly emails, you find those on the HCPCA church website here: https://www.hillcountrypca.org/pastors-blog/category/he-gave-us-prophets.

Continuing with these reviews, here is a summary of some of the things that we learned and covered in our most recent Sunday school class.

Overview of Lesson #3a – Covenants in the Bible

Because the third lesson is a bit lengthy, we are dividing it into two parts. In the first part of lesson 3, we learned that there are basically two kinds of covenants that God enters into as recorded for us in Scripture: covenants with all humanity and covenants with His special people. In the class, I referred to these covenants as “common” (with all humanity) and “redemptive” (with God’s special people).

Common Covenants with All Humanity

Universal covenants with all humanity include those which God entered into with Adam and with Noah.

Adam. In our sermon series in the book of Genesis, we’ve talked about the first universal covenant with Adam which is also sometimes called “the covenant of works.” In the pre-fall garden, God commanded Adam to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil upon the punishment of death (Genesis 2:17). Of course, as we know from Genesis 3, Adam sinned and failed to keep this covenant, thus incurring the penalty of death for himself and all his posterity.

Noah. After the flood, God enters into a covenant with Noah and all creation (Genesis 8:20-9:17). In this covenant, God reiterates His command to be fruitful and fill the earth with His image. And, He promises to never again destroy the earth by way of a flood. In both of these instances, Adam and Noah stand as representatives of the whole human race. Thus, these covenants apply not only to believers, but to all mankind.

Redemptive Covenants with God’s Special People

Adam. Interesting, after the fall, God enters into another covenant with Adam – this time, it is a “covenant of grace” wherein God reveals the beginnings of His plan to redeem a people for Himself. God promises to provide the “seed of the woman” who will crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). In contrast to the covenant of works, in this covenant of grace, God promises to provide a Redeemer who will fulfill the requirements of the covenant of works on our behalf. Instead of perfect obedience, all that is required to receive the promise of life in the covenant of works is faith in Christ, the promised Redeemer.

Noah. Likewise, in addition to making promises for the whole human race through Noah, God also makes promises to Noah that reflect and develop this covenant of grace. Before the flood, God enters into a special covenant with Noah and his family, promising to deliver them from the coming judgment in the flood through the ark (Genesis 6:17-18). The New Testament teaches us that God’s saving Noah and his family from the flood is a foreshadow of the salvation that we have through faith in Christ, which is also pictures in the sacrament of baptism (1 Peter 3:18-22).

Abraham. When God specially called Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), He promised to make Abraham into a great nation and to give him land (Genesis 15). Then, God sealed this covenant with Abraham with the sign of circumcision (Genesis 17). In the New Testament, we learn that just as Abraham believed in the Lord and it was reckoned to him as righteousness, believers in Christ are justified by faith, as well (Romans 4:1-13).

Moses. After God delivered His people Israel from slaver in Egypt, He entered into covenant with them through Moses on Mount Sinai. The distinctive element of this covenant is the giving of God’s Law (Exodus 19-20). It’s important to note, however, that while the emphasis of the Mosaic covenant had to do with obedience, the commanded obedience is based in God’s redeeming work. Thus, the Mosaic covenant, like the other redemptive covenants of the Old Testament, is a part of the covenant of grace (Matthew 5:17Hebrews 3:5-6).

David. The final redemptive covenant of the Old Testament is that which God made with David, the king of Israel. In this covenant, the Lord promised that one of David’s descendants would rule upon the throne of God’s kingdom forever (2 Samuel 7:1-17). In the New Testament, Jesus teaches us that He is the son of David and promised ruler of God’s kingdom who conquers all of His and our enemies (Mark 12:35-37).

The New Covenant in Christ. Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord promised to make a “new covenant” with His people, one in which He will be our God and we will be our people, He will write the Law of God upon our hearts, and forgive our sins (Jeremiah 31:31-34). As the writer of Hebrews explains (Hebrews 8-10), this promised new covenant is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He is the mediator of this new covenant (Hebrews 9:15), in whom all the promises of God are “yes” and “amen” (2 Corinthians 1:20).

Conclusion

Our purpose in studying these covenants in Scripture is to see how the prophets of the Old Testament relied upon, and made reference, to these various ways in which God bound Himself to His people. At the same time, understanding the covenants of Scripture gives us a fuller and deeper understanding of the God’s promises to us in the new covenant through Jesus Christ, our Savior and King!

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch

The Three Phases of God’s Kingdom

The Three Phases of God’s Kingdom

Dear Church Family,

This past Sunday (January 24th) we began a new Sunday school class for all ages in the sanctuary at 9:15-10:15 am. We are using a video series called He Gave Us Prophets, combined with teaching and discussion, in order to better understand, interpret, and apply the prophets of the Old Testament. The subtopics of each of the lessons are: (1) essential hermeneutical perspectives, (2) a prophet’s job, (3) people of the covenant, (4) dynamics of the covenant, (5) historical analysis of prophecy, (6) literary analysis of the prophets, (7) the purpose of predictions, and (8) unfolding eschatology. At the end of our lessons, we will conclude by applying what we have learned with a study of Zechariah chapter 14.

If you’re interested in reviewing the video lessons, you find them online here: https://thirdmill.org/seminary/course.asp/vs/HGP.

Overview of Lesson #1 – A Proper Hermeneutical Perspective

In our first lesson this past Sunday, we learned about some of the confusion that arises from trying to understand the prophets, as well as how we ought to approach the prophets with a right “hermeneutical perspective.” A “hermeneutic” is simply the method or theory of interpretation with which a person seeks to interpret the Bible or any literary text.

A Prophets Experience: So, we learned about how God used the personalities of each of the prophets of the Old Testament and inspired them to write the Word of God. Instead of a mechanical understanding of the inspiration of Scripture (the idea that the prophets were ‘out of their minds’ and simply took dictation from the Lord), we see that the inspiration of Scripture is organic (the Holy Spirit inspired those who wrote His Word, while using their innate faculties and personalities to write the Scriptures).

Original Meaning: We also learned about proper exegesis, specifically the “grammatico-historical” method of interpretation. Unfortunately, many people interpret the Scriptures, and especially the writings of the prophets in an atomistic and ahistorical fashion. Atomistic interpretation refers to how one would seek to interpret a verse or phrase without considering the surrounding context; however, if we wish to interpret the Scriptures aright, we must understand its place amidst the ‘grammar’ or literary context of the whole. Ahistorical interpretation refers to how one would seek to interpret a part of Scripture without considering the historical context; however, if we wish to interpret the Scriptures aright, we must understand the author, his original audience, and what was going on at the time of his writing.

New Testament Perspective: Finally, we learned about how we ought to follow Jesus and the writers of the New Testament in the ways that they interpreted and applied the writings of the prophets. Even as sin had wreaked havoc in the world and the people of God had become so corrupted that the Lord sent them into exile, the prophets looked forward to a time when God would set things straight. They spoke of the future “day of the Lord” or “the latter days” when God would intervene in the world and bring all things to their final, glorious end. The writers of the New Testament take up this theme and speak of how Jesus Christ fulfills these expectations in three phases.

The Three Phases of God’s Kingdom

The prophet Isaiah writes of how the government of God’s people will rest upon the shoulders of the coming Messiah; there will be no end to the increase of His government and peace as He sits on the throne of David and over His kingdom (Isaiah 9:6-7). For the prophets, they mostly saw this as a future singular event; however, through the fullness of revelation through the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2), the New Testament teaches us that the kingdom of God is established in three phases: the inauguration of God’s kingdom, the continuation of God’s kingdom, and the consummation of God’s kingdom.

The Inauguration of God’s Kingdom: The inauguration of God’s kingdom simply means that at Jesus’ first coming, He brought God’s kingdom to this world. Mark summarizes the beginning of Jesus’ preaching ministry with reference this inauguration; after returning from forty days in the wilderness, Jesus began preaching, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). And, in His earthly ministry and through His death on the cross, Jesus conquered sin and death and the devil (Hebrews 2:14-15). At His first coming, Jesus rendered the devil powerless and bound Him (Matthew 12:22-29Revelation 20:2-3) in order that He might rescue the lost.

The Continuation of God’s Kingdom: Presently, we live in the continuation of God’s kingdom in which God’s kingdom continues to come and grow (even as we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer, Matthew 6:10) through the proclamation of the gospel and individuals are made citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20-21). As Christ goes before us, we are called to put on the full of armor of God and stand firm against the schemes of the devil, the rulers, powers, the world forces of darkness, and the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:11-24). For Christ has promised that he will build His church and the gates of Hades will not overpower it (Matthew 16:18).

The Consummation of God’s Kingdom: At His second coming, when Christ returns, He will bring about the consummation of His kingdom. He will come in judgment (Revelation 19:11-16), but also for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him (Hebrews 9:28). He will bring the fullness of God’s kingdom in the new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1) where righteous dwells (2 Peter 3:13) and there will be no more death and no more mourning, crying, or pain (Revelation 21:3-4). And when Christ returns for His church, we will be made like Him because we shall see Him face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12-131 John 3:2).

The Parables of the Kingdom (Matthew 13)

One of the most instructive parts of Scripture that speaks to this three-phased coming of the kingdom of God (inauguration, continuation, consummation) is Jesus’ parables of the kingdom in Matthew 13. In Jesus’ discourse recorded in Matthew 13, He presents seven parables:

13:3-9; 18-23 (The Parable of the Sower)
13:24-30; 36-43 (The Parable of the Tares)
13:31-32 (The Parable of the Mustard Seed)
13:33 (The Parable of the Leaven)
13:44 (The Parable of Treasure Hidden in the Field)
13:45-46 (The Parable of the Pearl of Great Value)
13:47-50 (The Parable of the Dragnet)

In each of these parables, Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven (or kingdom of God) by way of illustration. Each parable emphasizes something different: (The Parable of the Sower) – many people fall short and do not benefit from the word of the gospel; (The Parables of the Tares & the Dragnet) – how believers and unbelievers will be mixed in the kingdom until the end; (The Parables of the Mustard Seed & the Leaven) – these emphasize the extensive growth of the kingdom of God from small beginnings; (The Parables of Treasure Hidden in the Field & Pearl of Great Price) – the emphasis is upon the value of the kingdom of God.

However, most all of these parables that Jesus employs to describe the kingdom contain these three phases: inauguration, continuation, and consummation. For example, in “the parable of the sower,” Jesus reveals that there is a beginning (sowing), a middle (growth), and an end (reaping). Thus, the kingdom of God is not set forth as something that is stagnant or comes all at once. Rather, Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of God at His first coming and He will bring the kingdom of God in all its fullness at His second coming. We who live in this in-between time live during the continuation (or growth) of the kingdom of God; His reign and realm expands (though mixed) through the ministry of His Church.

Conclusion

Hopefully, it is plain to see that this proper understanding of the coming of the kingdom of God helps us to better understand and apply God’s Word and how it is key to understanding and applying the writings of the prophets in the Old Testament. By way of a final application, Anthony Hoekema summarizes very nicely how this understanding of the three phases of the coming of God’s kingdom shapes our understanding of who we are as God’s people, living between Jesus’ first and second coming:

The fact that the kingdom of God is present in one sense and future in another implies that there remains a certain tension between these two aspects. We can describe this tension in two ways: (1) The church must live with a sense of urgency, realizing that the end of history as we know it may be very near, but at the same time it must continue to plan and work for a future on this present earth which may last a long time. (2) The church is caught up in the tension between the present age and the age to come. (Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, p 52).

I hope you will join us on Sunday mornings at 9:15 am as we continue these lessons on how to better understand the prophets of the Old Testament.

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch