HOW ARE THE O.T.
PROPHECIES OF BLESSING TO ISRAEL TO BE INTERPRETED?
The main purpose of the present chapter is to bring clearly to view
the important truth that in Scripture the contrast is not between the
spiritual and the literal, but between the spiritual and
natural; for a passage of Scripture may refer, when taken "literally,"
either to "that which is natural" or to "that which is spiritual." In
other words, the literal interpretation may call for a thing which exists in
the realm of nature, or for the counterpart of that thing which exists in the
realm of spiritual realities (1 Cor. 15:46). It is of the utmost importance
that this be understood; for the advocates of modern dispensationalism have
wrought confusion, and have succeeded in giving plausibility to many
misinterpretations of Scripture, by first taking for granted (erroneously, as
will be herein shown) that a "literal" interpretation necessarily calls for
something material or natural, and by then insisting strenuously
that all prophecies which refer to Israel, Jerusalem, Zion, etc.,
should be interpreted "literally." It will not be difficult to show that this
is a thoroughly unsound principle of interpretation, that it is based upon a
false premise, and that its application has made havoc of many prophecies.
For example, those expositors who think the Bible teaches us to expect
hereafter a millennium of earthly bliss, a golden age of world-wide peace and
plenty, during which the Jewish nation will be reconstituted and will have the
place of headship over a world occupied by God-fearing and peace-loving
Gentiles, base that expectation upon certain Old Testament prophecies which,
they think, are to be fulfilled "literally"; and since they cannot possibly be
fulfilled in that manner during this era of the Gospel, there must needs be an
age to come of an entirely different character from this day of gospel
This argument, however, is utterly fallacious, because [it is] based
upon a false premise. Those who make use of it take for granted that in order
to interpret a prophecy "literally" its fulfillment must be located in the
realm of nature, and not in the spiritual [eternal] realm. Thus they
assume that the "literal" interpretation is in contrast with the "spiritual"
interpretation thereof; and they denounce and repudiate what they refer to
disparagingly as "the spiritualizing" of the prophecies.
Undoubtedly our natural bias is in favor of the so-called "literal"
interpretation of the prophecies in question; for to the natural man the
things that are seen are the real things; and to that view we are
disposed to cling tenaciously, notwithstanding the plain teaching of the New
Testament that the seen things are but the fleeting shadows of things unseen,
the latter being the spiritual and eternal realities with which the
promises of future blessing have mainly to do. For the New Testament
Scriptures state, in most unambiguous language, that "the seed of Abraham," to
whom "all the promises of God" belong, are those who believe the gospel
of Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:7, 29; 2 Cor. 1:20). Further, in the New Testament it
is plainly revealed that, even as "Abraham had two sons" (which might
make it uncertain whether the descendants of Ishmael or those of Isaac were to
inherit the promises) so likewise there is a natural "Israel," "Zion"
and "Jerusalem" and also a spiritual counterpart of each; and that just
as Ishmael preceded in time the true heir (though eventually he was to be
"cast out" and not to be "heir with the son of the free woman") even so the
natural Israel, Zion, and Jerusalem preceded the respective
spiritual realities to which those names properly belong. For God's invariable
order of procedure, in the working out of His eternal purposes, is "first
- that which is natural, and afterward that which is
spiritual" (1 Cor. 15:46).
If, therefore, an O.T. prophecy of blessing, intended for the true
Israel (that "holy nation" of 1 Pet. 2:9), be interpreted as applying to
"Israel after the flesh," the interpretation is not "literal" (i.e.,
according to the letter) except in the sense in which "the letter
killeth, but the spirit giveth life" (2 Cor. 3:6); for obviously in this case
the "literal" interpretation destroys the prophecy completely. And it is
specially to be noted that, in the passage from which this Scripture is
quoted, Paul is explaining the great differences between the Old Covenant
(which was of the letter) and the New Covenant (of the Spirit);
and, moreover, he is comparing the ministry of Moses, which had to do with
things that are seen (an earthly sanctuary and its vessels of service, animal
sacrifices, etc.), with the ministry of himself and others whom God had made
"able ministers of the New Covenant; not of the letter, but of
the spirit." Also it should be noted that the apostle there speaks of
the Old Covenant (under which promises were made to the natural Israel)
as "that which is done away"; whereas the New Covenant is "that which
remaineth," that is, abideth eternally (v. 11).
From this Scripture alone it is evident (and the same truth is set
forth at greater length in Gal. 4:21-31 and Hebrews Chapters VIII-X) that all
future promises of glory and blessing for Israel and Zion must belong to the
true Israel and the heavenly Zion. And, in this very passage, we are
admonished to "look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which
are not seen" (4:18); which admonition, however, is habitually disregarded in
the interpretation of prophecies relating to these very subjects.
We ask the reader specially to note that in the above quoted passage,
the apostle speaks of the old covenant as "that which is done away" (v.
11), "that which is abolished" (v. 13). This shows that the old
covenant, under which the earthly nation of Israel had been constituted, was
already, in Paul's day, a thing of the past.
Evidently then our difficulty in understanding prophecies of the class
referred to above is due to our lack of faith and our spiritual dullness. For,
in respect to the things which are not seen, faith takes the place of
sight; for faith has to so solely with things not visible to the
natural eye; and hope likewise, for "hope that is seen is not hope" (Rom.
8:24). Wherefore it is written that, "faith is the substance of things
hoped for, the evidence of things not seen"; and "through faith we
understand" (Heb. 11:1,3).
Hence, to understand the prophecies it is necessary, and
vitally necessary, that we believe the revelations of the New
Testament; that we accept as "literally" true that there is now, at
this present time, a realm of spiritual realities, into which our risen
Lord is actually entered, and we in Him; that "the substance of things
hoped for" is there, not here; and specially that God's purposes
concerning His City, Temple and People are being fulfilled at this very
time, in that spiritual realm, though the natural eye cannot see what is
going on there.
The writer of these lines can testify from experience that, by the
simple process of believing what is written in the New Testament concerning
the actual present existence, among the things not seen, of the true
Zion, of the city of the living God the heavenly Jerusalem, of the holy nation
which is a royal priesthood, and of other spiritual realities, the main
difficulty in the understanding of the Old Testament prophecies which speak of
a glorified state of the things named above, vanishes away.
AN ILLUSTRATION FROM ZECHARIAH
Zechariah is one of the books that is frequently referred to as
containing prophecies which await a "literal" fulfillment in a future
Zechariah, with Haggai, prophesied during the rebuilding of Jerusalem
and the temple, after the return from Babylon of some of the deported
Israelites; at which time "the elders of the Jews builded and they prospered
through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo"
(Ezra 6:14). But, as all are agreed, the prophet looks beyond what those men
were building, to a temple and a city that were to be far more glorious. He
records the word of the Lord concerning Zion: "For, lo I come, and I will
dwell in the midst of thee, saith the Lord. And many nations shall be joined
to the Lord in that day and shall be My people; and I will dwell in the
midst of thee" (2:10,11). And the prophet goes on to speak of a priest,
Joshua, who was clothed at first with filthy garments, but to whom it was
said, "Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will
clothe the with change of raiment" (3:3,4). This Joshua and his fellows were
to be "men wondered at; for, behold, I will bring forth my servant the Branch.
For behold the stone that I have laid before Joshua" (vv. 8,9).
There is no difficulty in recognizing in this passage a prophecy of
the coming of Christ as the Branch of Jehovah and as the Foundation Stone of
the true Temple of God; for Peter (quoting a similar prophecy by Isaiah)
writes to those who have been "redeemed... by the precious blood of Christ,"
"Wherefore also it is contained in the Scripture, Behold I lay in
Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious"; and he had just said in the
preceding verse, "Ye also, as living stones are [being] built up, a
spiritual house, an holy priesthood" - as typified by Joshua's change of
garments - "to offer up spiritual sacrifices" (1 Pet. 2:5,6). Thus by
Peter's application of the prophecy we are given plainly to understand that it
relates to "spiritual" things, and that it is now being fulfilled in
the spiritual realm.
It will greatly help us in our efforts to understand the class of
prophecies above referred to, if we give due heed to the facts stated in the
above quotation from Peter (and stated also in Hebrews 12:22-24, and in the
Epistle to the Ephesians as pointed out below) that God's "spiritual house"
is in course of erection now, that it is being built "in Sion", and
that the believers in Jesus Christ are "living stones" therein, and are also a
Zechariah refers again (6:12-15) to "the Man whose name is The
BRANCH," and who "shall build the temple of the Lord"; and says of Him that
"He shall bear the glory, and He shall sit and rule upon His throne; and He
shall be a priest upon His throne." None will dispute, in the light of New
Testament Scriptures, that this prophecy is being fulfilled now (Heb.
2:9; 8:1, etc.). And the prophet goes on to say that crowns shall be given
also to certain men, whom he names, and that "they that are far off" (a
scriptural designation of Gentiles, see Acts 2:39 and Eph 2:13), "shall come
and build in the temple of the Lord."
Furthermore, in Zechariah 9:9 we have the familiar passage: "Rejoice
greatly, O daughter of Zion... behold, thy King cometh unto thee"; and we know
to a certainty, from Luke 19:38, that that prophecy was fulfilled when Christ
came to Jerusalem to die for our salvation.
In Zechariah 13:7-9 the atoning death of Christ is foretold in the
words, "Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, and against the Man that is My
Fellow, saith the Lord of hosts. Smite the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be
scattered" (See Matt. 26:31). And what was to follow as regards the Jewish
people is foretold in these words: "And it shall come to pass that in all the
land, saith the Lord, two parts shall be cut off, and die; but the
third part shall be left therein." And in agreement with this, the two great
parties, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, were "cut off"; but a third part,
the disciples of Christ, were left. And as to these, the prophecy goes on
to say: "And I will bring the third part through the fire and will refine them
as silver is refined" (See 1 Pet. 1:6 and 4:12); "they shall call on My Name
and I will hear them. I will say, It is My people; and they shall say,
The Lord is My God" (See Rom. 11:1,2).
Moreover, the apostle Paul declares the same truth concerning the
building of God's true temple now as declared by Peter. He makes known
that those who believe in Jesus Christ are even now "quickened together with
Christ, - and raised up together, and made to sit together [i.e. on
thrones] in heavenly places [Zion] in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:5,6); which
plainly declares that we live and reign with Christ even now. This indeed is
not perceived with the natural eye or realized in our conscious experience.
Nevertheless it is true, and this truth is developed in
Chapter XX of this volume.
And furthermore, in the immediate context, Paul also declares the
companion truth revealed by Peter, namely that the saints of this era,
Gentiles as well as Jews, and being "built upon the foundation of the apostles
and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all
the building, fitly framed together, groweth into an holy temple in the
Lord" (vv. 20, 21).
The expression "in that day" occurs about twenty times in the book of
Zechariah; and, as a judicious commentator says, "It is a synonym for the
great Messianic hope." The first of these occurrences we have quoted, "And
many nations shall be joined unto the Lord in that day" (2:11). What
was "that day", then, is this day now, for "now
is the day of salvation"; and "all the prophets from Samuel... as many as have
spoken, have likewise foretold of these days" (Acts 3:24). And so, when
Zechariah says (13:1) "In that day there shall be a fountain opened to
the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for
uncleaness," we understand clearly that he is foretelling the cross of Christ;
as very plainly appears from verse 7, "Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd,
and against the Man that is My Fellow, saith the Lord of hosts; smite the
Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered." Further reference to the
prophecies of Zechariah will be found in Chapter X, The New Covenant.
Enough has been said, however, to make evident that the prophecies of
Zechariah referred to above, and hence other prophecies of like character as
well, relate to things spiritual and have their fulfillment in this present
era of grace.
But it will be profitable to follow a little further the subject of
the building of God's true temple. So we recall that, at our Lord's first
visit to Jerusalem, when He had driven the traffickers out of the temple which
Herod had built and which was one of the wonders of the world; and when the
onlookers demanded of Him what sign He could give in proof of his authority to
do those things, He answered and said unto them, "Destroy this temple, and
in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19). The Jews understood this
"literally"; that is to say, they took it as applying to that building of
material stones which stood on Mt. Moriah; and had the record stopped there,
it would doubtless be insisted by some in our day that that great edifice,
which has been meanwhile destroyed so completely that not one stone remains
upon another, is to be miraculously restored in the coming millennium. But, to
the end that we should not be misled and also that we might have a key to
the interpretation of prophetic utterances of this sort, the Spirit caused
John to insert the explanatory note: "But He spake of the Temple of His
This is just one of the many, seemingly casual, indications scattered
throughout the Scriptures, that God's promises are to be fulfilled and His
purposes are to be accomplished in the resurrection; that is to say, in
the new creation.
Again, at a subsequent visit to Jerusalem, at the season of one of the
feasts, "In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried
saying, If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink, he that believeth on
Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living
water" (John 7:37,38). We might well wonder what would have been made of this
saying by those who insist upon "literal" interpretations, had it been left
unexplained; and therefore we should be thankful indeed for the added words,
"But this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should
receive; for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet
glorified." Those words put beyond all uncertainty the meaning of the phrase
""living water," as used, for example, in Zechariah 14:8, "And it shall be
in that day that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of
them toward the former (or eastern, marg.) sea [the Caspian], and half
of them towards the hinder sea" [the Mediterranean] - in other words, both
eastward and westward - "in summer and in winter it shall be" - that is, all
the year round.
In the light of John's explanation, we understand, therefore, that out
Lord was foretelling, not some extraordinary physical phenomenon, which
was to happen in a far off millennial age, but the then approaching era of the
Holy Spirit, when there was to be an outflow of the gospel, "with the Holy
Ghost sent down from heaven" (1 Pet. 1:12), both eastward and westward from
Jerusalem. Thus both the place whence (Jerusalem) and the time when ("in that
day") those living waters were to begin to flow out into all the world, both
summer and winter, are plainly foretold in Zechariah's prophecy. Further
explanations of the prophecies concerning the outflow of living waters from
the Temple at Jerusalem will be found below (Chapter XIII) in connection with
a discussion of Ezekiel's temple and of the question, Where did the Spirit
descend at Pentecost?
And again let it be noted that these explanations put us in possession
of the general principle upon which all prophecies of the same sort should be
interpreted. They harmonize fully with all other indications contained in the
Scriptures; making it abundantly plain that all the prophecies of future glory
and blessing for Israel, Zion, and Jerusalem, pertain to that "holy nation" (1
Peter 1:9) "the Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16), and to that heavenly "Mount Sion,"
and to "the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem," to which
we already "are come" (Heb 12:22.).
Therefore, for the above, and for other reasons set forth elsewhere in
this volume, the writer reaches the conclusion that we are to look for the
fulfillment of the prophecies in question - not to another age than
this, but - to another locality; namely, to that spiritual realm,
which Paul designates "the heavenlies"; where our Lord is gone to
prepare a place for us, where the true temple is now in course of erection,
and where already exists "the Jerusalem which is above, which is the mother of
us all" (Gal. 4:26).
The idea of a future "dispensation" for the fulfillment of prophecies
on the earth, abounds in difficulties, and moreover it contradicts many
passages of Scripture; whereas the idea of another locality, a
spiritual and heavenly realm where those prophecies are in course of
fulfillment now, is free from all difficulty, and has, moreover, the
support of many N.T. Scriptures.
Concerning the now-existing realm of unseen things enough is said in
the Scriptures to make known that it is a region of great activity; that the
"principalities and powers" therein are numerous and mighty - angels and
demons, good spirits and evil - and hence we must infer that there are
happenings there which are of immense importance and significance. For
example, we read: "There was a war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought
against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels" (Rev. 12:7). Also,
that "we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities,
against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against
spiritual wickedness in high places" (Eph. 6:12).
In this connection it were well to recall that the title of the last
book of the Bible, "The Apocalypse," means the unveiling; that is to
say, the taking away of the vail that normally separates the realm of
spiritual things from that of natural things. That the title indicates that
the visions described in the book of "Revelation" bring into view things and
happenings in the spiritual realm, whereof, except for this unveiling, we
should be wholly unaware. And when we come to Chapter XX, where is found the
only reference in the Bible to the millennium - "the thousand years" - the
language of the inspired writer makes it evident that the happenings of the
millennium are part of the history of the spirit realm. This will be
shown in the last chapter of this volume. It follows that all effort to find a
place for those happenings in the history of this physical world, whether
before or after the second advent, is utterly vain.