The prophet saw the overall message clearly, but when it came to the advents of the Messiah, salvation
and kingdom, the prophets were unable to distinguish the near predictions from the far predictions
according to the Apostle Peter.
Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched
intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of
Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would
follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the
things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit
sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things (1 Peter 1:10-12).
For example, Isaiah’s predictions of the future are not chronological in his book. His foretelling swings
from the near future to the distant future, back again, and sometimes stop in the middle and swings to
the distant future again, and then back to the near future. When Isaiah predicted the future, he foretold
events in the distant future with long intervals of time between the predictions, represented by peaks and
valleys on the following chart.
“Telescoping” occurs in prophecy, which is the leaping of a prediction from a near to a far horizon
without notice of intervening matter. The absence of chronological perspective creates obscurity. The
prophets often saw future events as one sees the stars in the night. The stars are millions of miles apart,
but they appear to the observer to be contiguous. Sometimes telescoping reverses two chronological
events. The first and second advents of Christ are often blended as one, or the Second Advent precedes
the first. Even the prophets themselves were confused by the telescoping nature of prophecy, which the
first advent of Christ has made clear to us. Thus, the interpretation of prophecy is an understanding of a
particular moment in history, a divine understanding of the human situation and circumstances.
If the prophets only foretold the future, they might have been more popular; however, they were
primarily covenant enforcers, who confronted and condemned Israel for violation Yahweh’s covenant
Therefore, the prophet had to possess faith and fortitude—strength, stamina, guts, grit and
determination. Since he was rarely popular with the people, the prophet was a lonely man. He alienated
the wicked as well as the pious, the cynics as well as the believers, the priests and kings, the judges and
the false prophets. Nevertheless, the prophet had to challenge, to defy, and to cast out fear.
Loneliness and misery were only part of the reward that the prophets experienced. They were mocked,
reproached, and persecuted, but the life of a prophet is not futile. People may remain deaf to a prophet’s
admonitions; they cannot remain callous to a prophet’s existence. His duty is to speak to the people,
“whether they hear or refuse to hear.” Even when their messages were rejected, some were able to
experience joy, elation and delight (cf. Jeremiah 15:16).
The striking surprise is that prophets of Israel were tolerated at all by their people. To the patriots, they
seemed destructive; to the pious multitude, blasphemous; to the men in authority, seditious. Yet, the
prophets were watchmen, servants, messengers of God, assayers and testers of people’s ways; men who
stood in presence of God. Consequently, the prophet’s eye is directed to the contemporary scene; the
society and its conduct are the main theme of his speeches. Yet his ear is inclined to God. He is a
person stuck by the glory and presence of God, overpowered by the hand of God. Yet his true greatness
is his ability to hold God and man in a single thought.
It is impossible for us to grasp the grandeur of the prophetic consciousness. A person, to whom the
Spirit of God comes, becomes radically transformed. The vastness and gravity of the power bestowed
upon the prophet seem to burst the normal confines of human consciousness. The gift he is blessed with
is not a skill, but rather the gift of being guided and restrained, of being moved and curbed. His mission
is to speak for God.
As a witness, the prophet is more than a messenger. As a messenger, his task is to deliver the Word; as
witness, he must bear testimony that the Word is Divine. Through the prophet, the invisible God
becomes audible. The authority of the prophet is the Presence his words reveal. The prophet is a
witness, and his words a testimony—God’s power and judgment, His justice and mercy.
The prophet does not judge the people by timeless norms, but from the point of view of God. In judging
human affairs, he unfolds a divine situation. Sin is not only the violation of a law; it is as if sin were
much a loss to God as to man. God role is not spectatorship but involvement. He and man meet
mysteriously in human deed. The prophet cannot say “man” without thinking “God.”
God is involved in the life of man. A personal relationship binds Him to Israel; there is an interweaving
of the divine in the affairs of the nation. The Ten Commandments are not mere recommendations for
man, but express divine concern, which, realized or repudiated, is of personal importance to Him (cf.
Amos 6:8). God reacts in love, mercy, disappointment or anger because He is deeply involved in our
The prophet is not a mouthpiece, but a person, not an instrument, but a partner, an associate of God.
Emotional detachment would be understandable only if there were a command that required the
suppression of emotion, forbidding one to serve God “with all your heart, with all your soul, with all
The following principles must be kept in mind when interpreting prophecy.
1. Some predictions have not yet been fulfilled. Only when the prophecy is fulfilled will all the
details of these predictions be clear.
2. Some predictions may have been fulfilled, but the facts of history as they are now known do not
permit verification of the fulfillment.
3. Some prophecies are dealing with sublime mysteries. Some, for example, deal with the dual
nature of Messiah. Even doctrinal affirmations of the NT regarding the dual nature of Christ are
not easy to understand.
4. Some predictions have been presented as visions or dreams and consequently are couched in
highly figurative language. Eschatological (End Times) language by its very nature is often
5. The Hebrew verb tense system obscures predictions. What is future is often presented as having
already occurred, e.g., “He was wounded for our transgressions” is a prediction so certain of
fulfillment that it can be described as an accomplished fact.
6. The fragmentary character of predictions results in emphases that must be correlated and
7. The absence of chronological perspective creates obscurity. The prophets often saw future events
as one sees the stars in the night. The stars are million of miles apart, but they appear to the
observer to be contiguous. Sometimes “telescoping” reverses two chronological elements. First
and second advents are often blended as one, or the Second Advent precedes the first.
8. Use of prophetic imagery has created misunderstandings. Messianic predictions often include
types. Paul gives the rock in the wilderness a secondary meaning, identifying it as “Christ.” This
second meaning is commonly called the sensus plenior (fuller meaning). See Matthew 2:15 and
Hosea 11:1. If we did not have the NT, we would not be inclined to identify this verse from Hosea
as a prophecy. We cannot do this sort of thing on our own with any passage.
9. Paradoxes in Messianic prophecy create obscurity. The Messiah is Father of Eternity, yet a Son
born in time.
10. Within prophecy, there is a certain measure of intentional indefiniteness. God never forces men to
believe. He leaves it to those who are willing to discover the truth, while the willfully blind are not
forcibly constrained to see it.
11. Forthtelling and foretelling is spoken directly to the prophet’s life situation. It is relevant for the
time in which it was delivered and for all time. The prophets did not foresee or foretell all the
details (1 Peter 1:10-12).
12. Analysis and comparison of similar prophecies, especially such as have been divinely interpreted
and such as have been clearly fulfilled is important to interpreting unfulfilled prophecy, e.g.,
compare the prophetic images of Daniel to those of Revelation.
13. Theological perspective or presuppositions may blur or make clear predictions about the future.
Eschatological predictions are usually viewed from either a covenant view or dispensational view
of the future. Covenant theology interprets predictions relating to Israel’s future as being
figuratively fulfilled in the Church. Dispensational theology interprets predictions relating to
Israel yet to be fulfilled by the literal nation of Israel. Theological presuppositions brought to the
Hermeneutic Circle influence one’s interpretation of unfulfilled prophecy.