The Importance Of The Prophetic Word
"For we have not made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, following cleverly imagined fables, but having been eyewitnesses of his majesty.
"For he received from God the Father honour and glory, such a voice being uttered to him by the excellent glory: This is my beloved Son, in whom I have found my delight;
"and this voice we heard uttered from heaven, being with him on the holy mountain:
"And we have the prophetic word made surer, to which ye do well taking heed (as to a lamp shining in an obscure place)
"until the day dawn and the morning star arise in your hearts;
"knowing this first, that the scope of no prophecy of scripture is had from its own particular interpretation,
"for prophecy was not ever uttered by the will of man, but holy men of God spake under the power of the Holy Spirit."
All Scripture references are from the New Translation of J.N.Darby.
In this short and well-known passage, we find four things about the prophetic word:
- The first thing is that it gives us insight into the divine character of prophecy
- The second point is that we find here the divine subject of prophecy
- The third point is that we find here the aim of prophecy
- And the passage ends by showing how to understand prophecy.
There are many young believers here who have perhaps asked themselves, Why has God given us so much prophecy in the Bible? About a quarter of the contents of Scripture is taken up by prophecy.
In the portion of 2 Peter 1:16-21 just read, we find some very important information in this respect, not much, but how weighty! Here we are being enlightened as to the importance of prophecy. And I think, dear friends, it is a wonderful subject.
1. The Character of Prophecy
The first thing said by Peter here is a negative. "We have not made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ following cleverly imagined fables" (verse 16, J.N.D. Translation).
I remember reading, as a young man, a commentary on some prophetic part of Scripture by a rationalist theologian, 'This is all fantasy!' That was his judgment - all fantasy. But Peter says, No, it is not fantasy. We have not followed cleverly imagined fables, - for cleverly imagined they would certainly be, if they were fantasy! He says, We were eyewitnesses of the subject of the prophetic word. - Now, there is nothing more important than the testimony of an eyewitness, who has seen the things of which he reports, and this was the case here with Peter, but not only with Peter, for all the twelve apostles were eyewitnesses. The apostle John in his first epistle speaks of all the Twelve, "That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, that which we contemplated, and our hands handled concerning the word of life" (1 John 1:1), and again in verses 2 and 3.
We know that Satan tried to eliminate these important eyewitnesses. In Acts 12 we read in the first verse, "At that time Herod the king laid his hands on some of those of the assembly to do them hurt, and he slew James, the brother of John with the sword. And seeing that it was pleasing to the Jews, he went on to take Peter also." John, Peter and James were the three witnesses whom Peter has in mind - they were on the holy mount, the mount of transfiguration. These three disciples were the eyewitnesses, whom Satan tried to eliminate, so that no divine and perfect testimony could be rendered to the subject of the prophetic word, for that is the point before us. What Peter mentions here is clearly the transfiguration on the mount of which we read in Matthew 17, Mark 9 and Luke 9.
2. The Subject of Prophecy
Now let us turn to Matthew 17; just to call to mind what Peter is speaking about, starting with the last verse of Matthew 16,
"Verily I say unto you, There are some of those standing here that shall not taste of death at all until they shall have seen the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. And after six days Jesus takes with him Peter, and James, and John his brother, and brings them up to a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them. And his face shone as the sun, and his garments became white as the light; and lo, Moses and Elias appeared to them talking with him. And Peter answering said to Jesus, Lord, it is good we should be here. If thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles: for thee one, and for Moses one, and one for Elias. While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and lo, a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I have found my delight: hear him. And the disciples hearing it fell upon their faces, and were greatly terrified. And Jesus coming to them touched them, and said, Rise up, and be not terrified. And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus alone."
This short episode in the life of the Lord Jesus which is so well known to us gives us, as it were, in a nutshell, the scope and subject of prophecy. What we have here is the Lord presented in glory, the subject of all prophecy. God has this aim with His beloved Son, in whom He has found His delight, namely, that He who was despised on this earth and crucified by man, should be acknowledged by His creatures as the glorified Man. This will be the contrary of what happened when He was here the first time. When He will come for the second time - not to take up the saints, which is not the subject here - to appear on earth, every knee shall bow and every creature shall acknowledge Him as Lord of lords and King of kings, so that the Lord shall be glorified as Man here on earth and as Head of all creation. This is the aim of God in all prophecy.
A wonderful subject indeed, which shows that God has not only an eternal council of which we love to think and which is only hinted at here - the Morning Star. But God has also a plan for the world in which we live, and which is now characterised by enmity against Him. This world shall be subject to His beloved Son, the Lord in glory as the centre of creation. That is God's way to end up history. Man has his ideas about history and about the future, but God will realise His own thoughts. In the end of the history of the universe, the Lord will be recognised as the centre, the glorified Man.
When the Lord was on this earth for the first time, He was seen in a very great contrast to this. He came, not as King, but in the form of a servant, not to rule, but to obey, not hailed as King, but derided as King of the Jews even on the Cross, and He died despised and rejected by man who did not want Him. God in this way accomplished His eternal council of salvation and blessing for lost sinners.
But in the prophetic word of the Old Testament, God had spoken of glorious days, for which the disciples had hoped. "We have given up everything" they say to the Lord, "what will we have now?" And so, on the one hand, to strengthen the faith of these poor disciples, but on the other hand for our Lord Jesus Himself as Man, God gave this view of Him as the centre of glory in this creation. That is why the Lord said to the disciples, "There are some of those standing here that shall not taste of death at all until they shall have seen the Son of man coming in his kingdom" (Matt.16:28). Well, chapter 17 shows us the fulfilment. Three of the disciples, James, John and Peter did not die before they had seen the Lord in His glory. It was like a miniature view of the Millennium.
That is what Peter is speaking about. He had been there, he was an eyewitness. God had given to the Lord Jesus and to these three chosen witnesses, this view on that hill (we do not know which mountain it was; Christian tradition says it was Mt. Tabor, but nobody knows), which is called here the "holy mount". And what happened? The Lord Jesus was transfigured, His garments became white as light, and His whole outward appearance was changed - clothed with heavenly glory. That was the first thing - a glorified Man. Though in weakness down here, God showed Him to the disciples as He is now in heaven - the glorified Man.
Secondly, there were these two men from Old Testament times, Moses and Elijah, men of faith, prophets, leaders of the people of Israel. Moses, a type of the Lord Jesus, our Apostle (with Aaron, type of the High Priest of our confession, Heb.3:1), had led Israel out of Egypt. When he had died, God Himself buried him and nobody knows his grave site even today. Elijah was another prophet. In days of ruin in Israel when everything went upside down, he stood before the Lord. But he did not die, for he was taken up in a whirlwind, and Elisha saw him and cried, "My Father, my Father! The chariot of Israel and His horsemen!" So we see in Moses a type of those believers who have died, and in Elijah a type of those believers who will not die because the Lord Jesus will take them alive and changed into His presence. And then we have a third group, the disciples who were present and saw the glory without being glorified themselves, representing believers on earth.
Now, dear friends, this is exactly what will be seen during the Millennium. The glorified Christ will no longer be invisible, for He will come down in glory from heaven. Before that - but this is not the subject here - He will take up the believers, the first thing we are waiting for. What Peter is speaking of here, is the appearance or revelation of the Lord and the subsequent Thousand Years reign together with the glorified believers. But there will be believers in the Millennium who live on earth, and these are represented by the three disciples. So this "miniature picture" of the Millennium is the fulfilment of what the Lord said to His disciples, "There are some of those standing here that shall not taste of death at all until they shall have seen the Son of man coming in his kingdom."
Peter speaks of this event in three different terms. He says in verse 16:
"We have not made known to you the power (1) and coming (2) of our Lord Jesus Christ, following cleverly imagined fables, but having been eyewitnesses of his majesty",
and in verse 17,
"For he received from God the Father honour and glory (3)..."
Now the three gospels which report the transfiguration give us these different aspects. If we turn to Mark 9, we find that the Lord says in verse 1, "There are some of those standing here that shall not taste death until they shall have seen the kingdom of God come in power." In Matthew 16, verse 28, it is, "There are some of those standing here that shall not taste of death at all until they shall have seen the Son of man coming in his kingdom." Thirdly, in Luke 9, verse 30, we find Moses and Elijah "appearing in glory". Peter speaks of these three marks, the power, the coming and the glory of the Lord, referring to the three different characters of the transfiguration in the synoptic gospels.
The subject of the prophetic word is the Lord as the glorified Man, the centre of government and glory in creation. It is not heaven, it is not eternity, it is not the assembly. These are not, properly speaking, the subjects of prophecy, with one possible exception. The assembly is mentioned in the book of Revelation. Therefore, one should not say that it has no place in the prophetic word, which would not be quite true. Sometimes it has been said, and even written, but it is not quite right, because the assembly has a link with Christ as the glorified Man, and in so far it is mentioned in the prophetic word; but it is not the subject, which is always the Lord Jesus in regard to creation.
We could not think of a more wonderful picture than this episode on the mount of transfiguration, which the disciples at first did not understand. "Let us make here three tabernacles..." - there where the Lord is the centre and above all, a fact being underlined by that voice from the excellent glory "This is my beloved Son, in whom I have found my delight" (verse 17).
This is the seventh time the expression occurs in the New Testament, "This is my beloved Son", or "Thou art my beloved Son". Three times the synoptic gospels give it at Jordan, when the Lord Jesus was baptised, three times at the transfiguration, and then Peter mentions it here for the seventh time, a divinely perfect, wonderful and heart-warming testimony to our Lord! God the Father uttered it twice, in the beginning and almost at the end of the ministry of the Lord Jesus on earth. But He took care that it should be written down seven times in the New Testament.
How does this show the wonderful love of the Father to the Son, but also vice versa, for the Lord Jesus says in John 14:21, "I love the Father". It is an eternal love, for He says in the same Gospel, chapter 17:24, "For thou hast loved me before the foundation of the world." We are allowed a glance into eternal relationships which have been revealed in this world, and which will be displayed during the Millennium, when the beloved Son of God will be seen as the glorified Man on earth, the centre of all creation - the subject of prophecy.
Now someone might say, I cannot find all this in the prophetic word. How many chapters are there in the prophetic books which do not even mention the name of the Lord? The answer is that the Lord in glory is the subject, not the contents, therefore we do not find Him in every verse. But what do all the many chapters which speak of judgments on peoples and persons have to do with this?, one may continue to ask. The reason is simply that many things which are preparatory for this subject of prophecy are also mentioned. We have been considering chapters in the book of Revelation which speak only about judgment upon the earth and nations of this earth, but all these things are preparatory for that great moment in chapter 19, when the Lord will appear upon a white horse and present Himself in this world as Lord of lords and King of kings, and shall reign a thousand years, accompanied by His heavenly saints.
In this light we will more easily understand the prophetic word. We must not look at the beast and antichrist etc. in an isolated way, as if God wanted to instruct us on these things for their own sake. The aim is always to lead us to that moment of which Peter speaks here and of which he and John and James could say, We have seen it. James was killed by Herod, because he was one of the witnesses, and Satan wanted to destroy this testimony, but two remained. Peter was liberated from prison in a most wonderful way because God did not want this double testimony to be destroyed. These three men, John, Peter and in his time James were sustained by what they had seen on the mount. We can sense this from the words, "We have not ... followed cleverly imagined fables".
Look around in Christendom and ask people! Ah, they say, there is no prophecy. Isaiah must be cut in three or four parts to eliminate the idea of prophecy, because in the second part a man like King Cyrus is mentioned, and nobody can speak in advance about somebody. It is impossible; there is no prophecy. Cleverly devised fables!, they say.
But Peter says, No, not cunningly devised fables - we were there! We have seen it, and we announce it to you, this wonderful prophetic word. This is why the short passage has such a weight.
The "voice being uttered to him by the excellent glory ... being with him on the holy mountain" sustained them, I am sure, during the rest of their lives, to go through all the trouble, all the persecutions they had to endure, because they had seen what God had promised.
3. The Aim of Prophecy
We have seen the character of prophecy in verse 16, then its subject in verses 17-18, and now we come to the aim. God has an intention in giving us prophecy in His Word, and verse 19 says, "And we have the prophetic word made surer, to which ye do well taking heed (as to a lamp shining in an obscure place) until the day dawn and the morning star arise in your hearts." There are two reasons for God's giving us His prophetic word. The first is that God knows the end from the beginning. In that case it was not necessary to instruct us; it will be fulfilled even if God did not inform us. So there is something more, something very personal. God explains to us why He has given us the prophetic word in advance. He need not do this. He could have said, Wait until the Lord comes and it will be wonderful! But no, He gave us the prophetic word and we have seen it is quite a large portion of Scripture. Now here we find why He has done so.
The prophetic word is a lamp which shines in a dark place. We are in a dark place. This world is a dark place. Everybody who is not yet converted, everybody here who does not know the Lord Jesus as his personal Saviour - you are in darkness. Darkness means to be far from God and to be ignorant about Him. God is light in Himself (1 John 1:5) and He is in the unapproachable light (1 Tim.6:16). But He has stretched out His hand in sending His Son to free us from this darkness. Should anybody be here tonight who cannot say that he or she is "light in the Lord", I wish you to go to Him! And if you ask, How do I do that?, the answer is very simple. There was a man in the Gospel, who went to the Temple, standing far off, bowed his head, beat upon his breast and said, "O God have compassion on me, the sinner" (Luke 18:9-14). That is enough, no more is needed! You don't have to carry out any religious exercises or do anything else, but to acknowledge you are a sinner and accept that the Lord Jesus died for you and your sins.
We must be careful not to interpret Scripture by historic events; it is just the other way round. It is the prophetic word which explains what is happening. For example, many Christians have tried to prove that this or that person was Antichrist, but Paul says simply, Antichrist cannot come now. If you do not apply the prophetic word properly, you come to fantasy. Second Thessalonians 2 says clearly that Antichrist cannot come till after the rapture of the saints. In spite of this simple testimony, I think there are not a few who saw Antichrist in the past or even now. They have not used the prophetic word rightly as a lamp, which shines in a dark place.
We could add more examples. Take the return of Israel after more than two thousand years of non-existence as an independent nation. There have always been Jews in the country of Israel, but as an independent nation, they had ceased to exist long ago. However, God had announced they would return to their country, and much more, which has not yet been fulfilled. We should be careful not to be dragged into an 'Israel-o-mania', which is quite out of place. But that Israel should return to their old country as a people has been announced by God even before they ever entered the country for the first time (Deut.28-30). He said that He would lead them into this country, but that they would be unfaithful and would be dispelled from Canaan, but in the end He would bring them back. But He adds they should have to repent (Deut.30:1-3), and that is what is lacking until now. Ezekiel speaks of this in chapter 37, where the prophet is seeing a valley full of dead bones, which come together, covered by flesh and skin, but there is no breath in them. This state is also described in Isaiah 18, where God is seen sitting back as it were, looking at the people who are coming back from all parts of the world, but then the tribulation comes.
The prophetic word lights up the dark, thereby proving its divine origin. For example, if you mention the people of Israel, you will get all kinds of commentaries, but never what is said by the prophetic word. Why are so many people in our civilised world anti-Semites? The answer is, because of the Bible. The Jews are the living proof for the truth of the Bible, as one believing general expressed it when Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, an agnostic and friend of Voltaire, the great mocker, asked him, Defend your Christianity, if you can, in one word. You know what this born-again general said? Sire, Israel! The survival and return of Israel as a nation is a proof of the truth of the Bible. That is why there is so much anti-Semitism in this world. Satan says, If I can destroy that people (as he tried to destroy Jesus and His eyewitnesses), I can prove the Bible is not true! This is, in my opinion, the only reason for anti-Semitism. Satan, who is the opponent of God, is also against His earthly people. To come a little closer home: If we as Christians, give a clear testimony for our Lord, we will also encounter the resistance of Satan. However, if we adapt ourselves to the world, our testimony is ruined and Satan satisfied! Young people, that is his design at present - to take the power out of our testimony for the Lord Jesus. In the world of today it is: Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Jesus - everything is okay, but never try to stand up for the Lord Jesus! Then Satan will also stand up against us. In our time it is his great object to make us worldly-minded and thereby to ruin our testimony, so that our light does not shine any more.
But to return, next to the lamp of the prophetic word, which is given to light up our surroundings, there is another light, which is much more glorious, the Morning Star. Here we see the relation of the prophetic word to the heavenly call of the assembly, and get a glimpse of what our real hope is. Our hope as Christians is not in the first place what we are considering tonight, the fulfillment of the prophetic word in this world. Our hope is heaven, as expressed in the words, "... until the day dawn and the morning star arise in your hearts".
The dawning day is not the Day of the Lord, when the Lord Jesus will appear as the "Sun of righteousness with healing in his wings" (Mal. 4), to rule as King of kings. Here, it is the daylight of truth in our hearts, the daylight of true Christianity. The Morning Star is also mentioned in the last chapter of Revelation, "I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify these things to you in the assemblies. I am the root and offspring of David, the bright and morning star. And the Spirit and the bride say, Come" (Rev. 22:16).
The morning star appears before the sun rises. That day is the day of the Lord, which takes in the entire period from the appearing of the Lord Jesus in this world until the end of the Millennium. At its beginning the Lord will appear in glory as the "Sun of righteousness", but even before that day begins, we will be taken up into heaven. That is why the Lord Jesus here is not presented as the Sun (which represents His majesty as glorified Man, cf. Matt.17:2; Rev.1:16), but as the Morning Star. We are now in the night, surrounded by the darkness of the world. We know that the prophetic word will be fulfilled at the appearing of the Lord, but we also know that the Lord Jesus will come as the Morning Star before that to take us out of this scene and to unite us forever with Himself in the Father's House. Mark, however, that it does not say only, "... until the morning star arise...", but "arise in your hearts". What do these last words mean? Simply the hope and expectancy of the Lord's coming as a strengthening and encouraging factor in our lives.
If, during the days of this conference, our occupation with the prophetic word would lead to a more earnest waiting for the Lord's coming as the Morning Star, then the object of the prophetic word for our personal, practical lives would be fulfilled. It is the aim of prophecy.
4. Rightly Understanding Prophecy
Finally, we come to the right understanding of the prophetic word. Here, in verse 20 and 21, we are instructed that "the scope of no prophecy of scripture is had from it's own particular interpretation". Simply said, this means that you can never explain a verse or passage of the prophetic word - and, we may add, the whole of the Word of God - on its own, i.e. in isolation from other Scriptures. Scripture must always be explained by Scripture. It must all fit into that great frame of which Paul writes to Timothy, "Have an outline of sound words" (2 Tim.1:13). One might say there is also an outline of prophecy, but the problem is how to find it. If you look at Christian commentaries, you will find many outlines, or systems of prophecy, most of them not being in accordance with the spirit of prophecy and contradictory in themselves. But there is such a thing as the outline of sound words, also in prophecy. That is what is meant here in verse 20.
Verse 21 continues, "For prophecy was not ever uttered by the will of man, but holy men of God spake under the power of the Holy Spirit." Whereas in verse 16, we saw the human point of view expressed in the words, "not ... following cleverly imagined fables", here we see the divine side of the prophetic word. What is said here can be applied to the entire Old Testament and to the whole of Scripture. The five books of Moses are prophecy, for Moses calls himself a prophet in Deuteronomy 18:15, "God will raise a prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me." With the exception of Ruth, the Jews have always called the books from Joshua to Second Kings "the Former Prophets", while those commonly known as prophetic books (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the twelve minor prophets, except Daniel) are being called "the Latter Prophets". The Psalms, too, are styled prophecy by the Lord Jesus Himself in Matthew 13:35, "So that that should be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables", - a quotation from Psalm 78:2, to which one could add several other passages. And all the many types of the Old Testament, are they not - in a certain way - prophecy?
Now here we learn that "prophecy was not ever uttered by the will of man, but holy men of God spake under the power of the Holy Spirit". This is one of the passages about the inspiration of the Word of God. Those who wrote the books of the Bible were holy men of God, acknowledged by Him as His instruments. Moses was such a man of God (Psa.90:1), just as Elijah, who could say, "The Lord ..., before whom I stand" (1 Ki.17:1). They stood before God, conscious of the fact that He constantly looked upon them. "Holy men of God", that is the character of those who wrote the books of the Old Testament - and also of the New Testament. But that is not all. Although believers in Old Testament times did not possess the Holy Spirit as we do, yet the holy writers were led by Him; they wrote in the power of the Holy Spirit. So what they penned were not human ideas, but things given to them by the power of the Holy Spirit.
There are not many passages on inspiration. One is in 2 Timothy 3:16, where Paul does not mention the writers, but the writings, "Every scripture is divinely inspired, and profitable for teaching..." Instead of "divinely inspired", we could also say, Breathed by God, or, Breathed by the Spirit of God, for breath and spirit is the same word in Hebrew and in Greek. Paul speaks of the result of inspiration. So in 2 Peter we see the persons, the instruments of inspiration led by the Spirit, and in 2 Timothy the result of that divine inspiration.
Without entering too much into detail, we must quote one more passage, in which Paul goes yet a step further. In 1 Corinthians 2:9 he speaks about "things which eye has not seen, and ear not heard, and which have not come into man's heart, which God has prepared for them that love him, but God has revealed to us by his Spirit", and then in verse 13, "...which also we speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, communicating spiritual things by spiritual means". It is true, Paul speaks of his oral ministry, but he does so as an inspired instrument. Today nobody could say or write the words like those of Paul here. He was an inspired instrument of God by whom we have received new communications, truths which were never known before, which "eye has not seen...", but revealed to us by God with Paul as the main instrument. He (1) received them from God by His Spirit (2) in order to communicate them to us (3) in words taught by the Spirit. This is verbal inspiration. There are many attacks against verbal inspiration. But as we have seen, not only the persons were inspired (2 Pet.1), nor only the writings as a whole (2 Tim.3), but even the exact words were given by the Spirit, in order that "spiritual things" should be communicated "by spiritual means".
Take a word like love, a simple but most instructive example. In the world, it has always meant something which is far below God's love. In the time of the New Testament, when the love of God was fully revealed in Christ, the Greek words for love had become so depraved, and were so much below even the ideal of creation, that God took a word, as it were from the attic. This word agape was rarely used and had a rather unspecific meaning. Eros and philia were the words at that time. Eros (cf. 'erotic') does not even appear in the New Testament. Although philia, phileo ('friendship') is used. Agape, that word from the attic, became the important word. It is my firm conviction that God made use of this word, which was not defiled, befouled by sin, to fill it with a new meaning, which it did not have before. One could add many more examples, like the Greek word for altar (Gr. bomos), which is only used once for an heathen altar in Acts 17:23, whereas elsewhere in the New Testament quite a special word is used, which really means a sacrificing place (Gr. thusiasterion, from thusia 'sacrifice'). These few examples may show sufficiently the spiritual character and meaning of the words God used to communicate to us spiritual things, and at the same time the verbal inspiration of the Word of God.
May the Lord, during these days of conference, when we are occupied with the prophetic word in the book of Revelation, give us this awe, this reverence for His Word, in order that we may be strengthened in faith, and possibly increase our knowledge of this rather complex subject. But let us not lose sight of the central place our Lord Jesus, the beloved Son of God, as the centre of His ways. In the Thousand Years reign, He who is even now despised in this world, will appear crowned with honour and glory as the centre of adoration and worship, which He is worthy to receive.