The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: R

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Rev, certain, probable, and possible

The "Certain"

A fulfillment of prophecy can only be regarded as certain, for our finite and imperfect minds, when the fulfillment has already come about, or when its terms are absolutely incapable of any meaning save one; both factors would make our assurance doubly sure. Thus, we know that 2Sa 7:12-16 and its counterpart in 1Ch 17:11-14 were in part fulfilled in Solomon, because David so understood it in part (1Ch 28:6), as did Solomon himself (2Ch 6:9-11). We know that it was not entirely fulfilled in Solomon because David clearly looked beyond Solomon's time (2Sa 7:19), and because the New Testament tells us explicitly that it referred to Jesus (Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5). Again, we know that the Bible promises the literal return of the Jews to the land of Israel, and of the Lord Jesus Christ to the earth, and many other such things plainly taught in Scripture because the terms of these prophecies do not admit of any other faithful interpretation.

The "Probable"

A fulfillment can be regarded as probable when the events we see in history are seen to correspond closely with the terms of a prophecy. Thus, it is hard to see that we could be mistaken in regarding the presence of some millions of Jews in the Holy Land today as, in part at least, a fulfillment of the prophecies of their return. It is probable, too, that this heralds the near return of the Lord. Some prophecies about the return of Israel to the land contain such apparently plain indications that they must suffer great afflictions before the final deliverance from their enemies (Eze 36-39; Zec 14), that we consider it probable that they will in fact suffer in this way.

The "Possible"

Things "possible" may have all degrees of likelihood from high probability to being highly unlikely, and the decision we come to in any particular case is bound to be in some degree subjective. We can hardly expect absolute unanimity, even among those sharing the same doctrinal foundation. Thus... it is possible to regard the "sun, moon and stars" of Rev 6:12,13 as referring to the nation of Israel; it is also possible to doubt this, since the symbols are certainly not invariably used in this sense in Scripture. Which conclusion we come to (if we come to a precise conclusion at all) is not, however, of the first importance, since other passages state in plain terms what may or may not here be intended by the symbols.

Indeed, it is not at all unlikely that we are sometimes moved to understand symbols in a particular way because we have already concluded on what are quite different grounds that certain things are true: in that event it is not the symbols which are teaching us, but we who are reading (right or wrong) our own meaning into them. This fault is more common than we sometimes realize, and we should be on our guard against it.

Within the category of "possible", too, must be put all detailed predictions of things yet future which are not most categorically defined in Scripture itself -- unless, indeed, our predictions are so outrageous as not to be thought possible at all. And in view of the fact that the New Testament often provides us with interpretations of Old Testament prophecies which we should not have thought of for ourselves (such as those of Hos 11:1 in Mat 2:15; and of Jer 31:15 in Mat 2:18), we need to be very careful before we pronounce any interpretation impossible. Even so, since it required the guidance of the Holy Spirit to enable New Testament writers to offer such interpretations to us, we might feel that our own feet should re-main firmly on the ground when we are disposed to adventure our own understanding of Scripture's prophecies.

Since [in interpreting prophecy] we will be meeting events which certainly lie, in the future... it follows that detailed interpretations are bound to be speculative in some degree, even when they are offered at all. It might even be that no detailed interpretation is possible. But this is not in itself to be regarded as any weakness in the expository basis: it may simply be that information is inadequate for any assurance as to the meaning until the events have actually occurred.

To this it cannot properly be objected that a prophecy which one can only understand when it has happened is of little use. For in the first place its general tenor may be plain even when the detail is not; and in the second place it can be very valuable and reassuring to know that we have reached a certain point in the fulfillment of God's purpose, and can look forward now to the next stage.

(NRev 131-133).

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