Harry Whittaker
Revelation - A Biblical Approach

Chapter 8 - How Bible Prophecy Is Fulfilled

In the Book of Revelation Bible prophecy comes to a magnificent climax. This is the greatest prophecy of all, given by Jesus himself. It is "the Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave unto him." A recognition, therefore, of the main characteristics of Bible prophecy should be a considerable help towards understanding Revelation In two outstanding respects this turns out to be true.

The first is this: Practically every prophecy of the Old Testament springs out of the immediate circumstances surrounding the prophet at the time of writing. The terminology employed and the imagery with which the prophecy is clothed both grow naturally (or, more correctly, supernaturally) out of what is familiar and vivid in the prophet's own experience.

Moses, the first and greatest of the prophets, assures the people that "a prophet like unto me" shall be given to them. David describes Messiah's kingdom in terms of the great hopes, which he had for the reign of his blessed son Solomon. Jeremiah's terrific, almost blood-curdling, prophecy of the judgement of God on the nations in the Last Days is couched in terms of the Babylonian threat hanging over much of the known world of his day. The Messianic prophecies in the early chapters of Zechariah spring out of contemporary events associated with Zerubbabel the prince and Joshua the high-priest at the time of the restoration from Babylon. The wonderful prophecies of Isaiah, perhaps without a single exception, after the first few chapters, are built round the character and experiences of good king Hezekiah. Any expositor attempting a study of the later relevance of that tremendous book without taking this fact into consideration is hamstrung from the start. Indeed, it is possible to go further and assert that the Hezekiah background to Isaiah 40-66 provides perhaps the strongest refutation available of fashionable theories about "Deutero-Isaiah."

The examples available of this characteristic of Bible prophecy are so very numerous that it is hardly possible to list here more than a small fraction of them. The experienced Bible student takes this factor into consideration automatically whenever he is working in the field of Old Testament prophecy.

Then ought not this feature to be taken into account in the study of Revelation also? At the time when the prophecy was given to John (A.D. 66 - see chapter 7), the outstanding circumstances of importance to the early believers were the ferocious persecution of the Christians by Nero, and the seething restlessness and turmoil in Judaea which already gave plain promise of worse to come in the troubles of the Jewish War, A.D. 67-70. It would be strange indeed, and altogether out of character, if this latest and most wonderful example of Bible prophecy were to shew no sign of the proximity of these critical developments.


Much more important, for present purposes, is another feature of Old Testament prophecy. This, closely related to what has just been mentioned, is best explained by means of a familiar example.

Psalm 2 describes an organized opposition to the Lord's Anointed by the kings of the earth. This psalm of David doubtless sprang out of that king's personal experience in the early years of his reign when he captured Jerusalem and established it as his capital. Very soon after that, David found himself beset by Gentile enemies who came at him from all directions. Philistia, Moab, Hamath, Edom, Syria, Ammon, Zobah - all of these, separately or in confederacy - made violent attempts to wreck the consolidation of the kingdom, which David had lately achieved (2 Samuel 8, 10).

But the New Testament makes a different and more important use of this inspired Psalm. After the first futile attempt by the Jews to persecute the early disciples, the prayer of praise and thanksgiving (Acts 4:24 28) included this quotation from Psalm 2 together with the interpretation of it: "Lord, thou art God . . . who by the mouth of Thy servant David hast said, Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed (his Christ), both Herod (the kings of the land), and Pontius Pilate (the rulers) with the Gentiles (the heathen), and the people of Israel (the people) were gathered together (same word as in v. 6)."

It is possible to continue the reference of the rest of the Psalm to the events in the early church, but that is not advanced here because such a suggested interpretation would not have behind it the Holy Spirit's inspiration which this, just quoted, undoubtedly has. Acts 4 provides an unimpeachable warrant for reading Psalm 2 with respect to the experience of the church in the First Century.

But, equally clearly, Revelation 19:15 gives yet another application of the Psalm in the time of the Lord's manifestation in power: "Out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron" (Psalm 2:9).

Yet another, closely related, application of the Psalm is given in Revelation 2:26, 27: "He that overcometh . . . to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father (in the fiat of Psalm 2)."

Thus in the New Testament this inspired Scripture, clearly based 011 David's experiences, is given two (or three) other applications to the greater work of Christ, one of these being the time of his first coming, and another the time of the end.


Other examples follow a similar pattern. The familiar prophecy in Joel 2 about the outpouring of the Spirit could be shewn to have its roots in events of the prophet's own day. But its true fulfilment was at Pentecost (Acts 2:17-21), and without doubt more fully in the days to come.

Similarly with the equally familiar Isaiah 61: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he hath anointed me . . ." The entire chapter is marvelously relevant to certain events in the reign of Hezekiah. In the synagogue at Nazareth Jesus applied it to his own ministry. Today the faithful await with eagerness its yet greater fulfilment.

Indeed, this is the pattern of much of Isaiah's matchless Scripture. From beginning to end the relevance of the prophecies to his own time can be traced. But the real fulfilment is in Christ-sometimes his first Advent, sometimes his second, sometimes both. Even the wonderful prophecy in chapter 11 about the great Messianic King is given a preliminary application by Paul to the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles in the First Century (Romans 15:12).

Jeremiah's denunciation of the temple, as being in his day "a den of robbers" destined to destruction (7:11), was applied by Jesus to his contemporaries (Mark 11:17) and may yet conceivably have another fulfilment in our time.

Ezekiel's repetitious "I will overturn, overturn, overturn it" (21:27) is probably more than just emphasis, but is intended to teach the reader to seek applications of his prophecies not only to the time of Nebuchadnezzar, but also to A.D. 70 and to the Twentieth Century.

The well-known words of Micah 5 were written primarily with reference to contemporary events - verses 5, 6 are explicit about this. But there is New Testament authority (Matthew 2:6) for interpreting verse 2 with reference to the birth of Jesus. And the general character of the prophecy makes it only too evident that the rest of it is yet to be fulfilled by Christ in his Second Coming.

"A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you like unto me," Moses promised Israel (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). And no doubt the less discerning among them were satisfied that the prophecy was fulfilled in Joshua. But even without the apostle Peter's authority (Acts 3: 22) it is easy to see that the true reference is to Jesus.

In a completely authentic superscription Psalm 18 declares itself to be spoken unto the Lord by David "in the day that the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul." But even if there were not at least four Messianic allusions to it in the New Testament it would be evident enough that the entire Psalm belongs to Christ in his suffering and his glory.

And David knew this! Peter's exposition of Psalm 16 in Acts 2:25-32 has these significant words: "Therefore being a prophet, and knowing . . . he seeing this before, spake of the resurrection of Christ . . ." So when David penned Psalms about his own experiences he knew that he was enacting beforehand the experiences of the Messiah. What he wrote out of the vicissitudes of his own life (he is a type of Christ at least five times over!), he wrote also about Christ.

With little effort this catalogue of Bible prophecies with dual (or triple) fulfilment could be extended to four or five times its length. But the principle is surely evident by now.


The question demands consideration: If this is the character of so much Bible prophecy, is it unlikely that the greatest prophecy of all - Revelation - has none of the same characteristics?

And, further, why is it that we have had to wait so long before this question was even asked?


Familiarity with the continuous-historic method of interpretation has left a marked effect on the thinking of many students of a kind which they are often hardly aware of. One finds an almost obsessive determination to seek an interpretation of Revelation (even if it is not the one advocated by John Thomas) which puts the fulfilment in chronological order, demanding (for example) that Seal 3 be fulfilled before Seal 4 begins to operate, and Trumpet 6 only after Trumpet 5 has come and gone.

It cannot be too strongly emphasized that much Bible prophecy does not follow this pattern at all. The sequence of the "In that day" prophecies in Zechariah 12, 13, 14 is anything but chronological. Nor, by modern standards, is there a nice tidy development about Isaiah's Little Apocalypse chapters 2~27. Similarly, it is very evident that God's "four sore judgements on Jerusalem" (Ezekiel 14:21; 33:27; 5:17) all came together, and not one after another. Even the Olivet prophecy lacks straight chronological order.

The long-received continuous-historic exposition itself could be somewhat more consistent in this respect. For instance, chapters 11, 12 (the two witnesses, the seventh trumpet, the woman and man-child) are hardly in chronological sequence if they refer to the Huguenots, the resurrection, and the Christian take-over in the time of Constantine. Similarly with chapters 14, 16.

The point will have to be made more than once in this exposition that the visions of Revelation present a series of "snapshots" of big developments in the divine purpose, without special regard to time sequence. Seals, Trumpets, and Vials will be fulfilled together in a tremendously powerful complex of divine judgements on an evil system. And there are clear hints in the Vials (16:2, 10, 19) that its fulfilment is to be regarded as contemporaneous with or even after chapter 17.

Previous Index Next