The Scheme of Redemption in Prophecy
by Bryan Vinson
via The Preceptor, Vol. 1, Nos. 2,3,4,5.
The Almighty in purposing the redemption of man not only gave expression to that purpose in the form of a promise but subsequently enlarged on it in the form of prophecy. A substantial and highly instructive portion of the Old Testament Scriptures is devoted to this type of writing.
In the general theme of redemption that of prophecy is an essential and fruitful field of study. In logical sequence this follows and is founded on the purpose and promise of God.
Purpose is but the formation of design and intention, and promise is but the avowal and expression of the purpose formed. To me, prophecy, as related to the redemption of man, is the delineation of God's promise with respect thereto. But as thus delineated regard was given to the state of man as affecting his powers of perceiving and apprehending that which was taught by prophecy. Hence, the propriety of God raising up prophets to instruct men, not only relative to their contemporary conditions and duties, but also with reference to that which at some later time should come to pass in the maturity of the promised redemption. Without designing to be exhaustive let us notice:
The Province of Prophecy
Generally speaking the function of prophesying is that of teaching, and the merit to be attached to any prophet is to be determined by the value of that which he teaches. Man has always stood in need of instruction, and God initially was our Instructor, having taught Adam that which he should and should not do for his own good and God's glory. These two ends are inseparable, and never can man realize his own high and lasting good apart from the enduring sovereignty and glory of the Highest. In being mistaught by Satan, there was implanted the unholy aspiration to be as wise as God and thereby "to be equal with God." Mankind has ever been disposed either to fall far short of his proper possibilities or vainly transcend his legitimate limitations.
Since it is not in man that walks to direct his own steps aright, he needs to be taught by one who is able to enlighten him correctly as to his origin, duty and destiny. Only by means of such is he able to properly orient himself. All history attests the fact that man, left to his own resources, has trod a downward path. Every worthwhile accomplishment of our race has been the result of the influence of divine guidance either directly or indirectly exercised. In separating Israel from other peoples and guiding them through the teaching of the prophets God created for them a glorious history, and when the warnings and admonitions of God's chosen spokesmen were ignored they suffered calamities.
Affording merit for evidential purposes yet far more pertinent to our present interest, are those prophetic pronouncements pointing to the future realization of the redemption wrought by and obtained in Christ. "...receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls. Concerning which salvation the prophets sought and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you; searching what time or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did point unto when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow them. To whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto you, did they minister these things, which have been announced unto you through them that preached the gospel unto you by the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven which things angels desire to look into" (I Peter 1:9-12). Thus we observe that these prophecies relating to salvation center in and are identified with the suffering and glorification of Christ.
The fact that those who centuries before prophesied of these events had, at the time, so great curiosity regarding them, clearly relieves them of all suspicion of authoring the prophecies penned by them. They were but the amanuenses of the Holy Spirit and were unable to discern fully the intent of that which they spoke and wrote. The Holy Spirit knew the mind and purpose of God, hence could and did express it through the instrumentality of men thereby constituting them prophets. The same Spirit that has empowered men to teach their fellows present duties has, in the wisdom of God as occasion required and the best interest of man suggested, imbued them with the peculiar ability of delineating on the future of their relations with God and with one another. Secret things belong to God but those revealed belong to us; however God has only revealed them to us as we were capacitated to comprehend and worthy to receive them.
Power of Prophecy
The distinctive office of a prophet is that of speaking for and, therefore, representing God to man. On the contrary "every high priest being take from among men, is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins" (Hebrews 5:1). In both, however, no man can take the honor unto himself, but only as he is called of God. "But the prophet which shall presume to speak a word in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And if thou shall say in thine heart, How shall we know the Word which the Lord hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the Name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously; thou shall not be afraid of him" (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). How fearful was the responsibility imposed in this language on those who functioned as prophets! And how discriminating should all be in their regard for those professing the prophetic office!
The apostle Peter tells us that as there were false prophets among the people (alluding to Israel doubtless) even so shall there be false teachers among us, bringing in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them. The power to prophesy was a supernatural power, and constituted a species of miracles whose continuing influence is not diminished with the passing of time. Rather is this influence increasingly felt as time reveals the truth of the thing prophesied. Physical miracles wrought their influence on those who witnessed them; whereas mental miracles (such is the character of prophecy) only were found to be true when the thing prophesied came to pass. That, too, must be foretold far enough ahead of the fulfillment to lie beyond the possible range of human sagacity.
The power to perform deeds, miraculous in nature, accompanied the teachers or prophets sent from God, thereby lending credence to their testimony. We have the historic evidence in support of the purported miracles wrought and, in addition, the assurances of history attesting the actual occurrence of the things predicted in later times. Ours is indeed an enviable period in the drama of human history. Most advantageous is the promontory where we stand and are enabled to enjoy such an extended view of the marvelous workings of God among men. In none of the vistas accessible to us is this advantage more to be appreciated than in the survey we may take of those prophecies relating to the dispensation of grace In their fulfillment resides all the hallowed hopes of our helpless race.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17). Throughout the narratives of His life it is repeatedly asserted that, in many particular occurrences, they so happened that it might be "fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets". All things that the prophets predicted were not restricted to Christ, but there were many which had to do with the temporal welfare of man and nations. However, those connected with redemption center in Him and His kingdom. With these, therefore, we are interested supremely and to them we shall resort in this study.
Prophecies Pertaining to Redemption
As afore stated, these have to do with one person and one nation identified with and possessed by this person. This one about whom the prophets wrote was to be a prophet himself: "I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and I will put My Words in His mouth; and He shall speak unto them all that I command Him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto My Words which He shall speak in My Name, I will require it of him" (Deuteronomy 18:18,19). In the person of Jesus is found the greatest prophet of all time and Peter in Acts 3:22 applied this passage of Moses to Jesus. While here Christ represented Himself as the emissary of His Father, disavowing authority of Himself. "I speak not of Myself; but the Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works" (John 14:10). The prophetic character of His work was not only accompanied by miracles marvelous in number and kind, but His utterances frequently foretold events beyond all human ken. Thus He said, "And now I have told you before it comes to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe" (John 14:29).
When we come to the consideration of the existence of this One, we are impressed immediately with the fact that as prophetically depicted He was to be supremely unique both in origin and life. So replete in number and distinct in description are the prophecies relating to this expected One, that it was impossible that they be counterfeited. This is evidently the thought suggested by the Lord Himself in John 10:1-3, where He says, "He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out." In this Christ is the Shepherd and John the Baptist the Porter, and the door would be the door of prophecy. In other words Jesus came in exact correspondence with the detailed requirements of all prophecies pertaining thereto; others who sought to establish confidence in the hearts of people respecting their claimed Messiah-ship failed for the sheep would not hear their voices. They are branded as thieves and robbers by reason of their attempted imposture.
The Birth of Christ Prophesied
"Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14). While many efforts have been made to break the force of this statement as referring to Jesus, yet fully and unqualifiedly it can find fulfillment in no other. In a qualified sense it has been regarded as initially applicable to the circumstance recorded in Isaiah 8:1-4 concerning the birth of a son of the prophet; that is, the mother, a prophetess, is regarded as a virgin at the time the prediction is made. But it is evident that she was not at the birth of the child whereas in the case of the Messiah, his mother, Mary, was a virgin before and after the conception. This is the one and only instance of a woman bearing a child without that child having an earthly father. Verily, Jesus was "the seed of woman."
Not only was this distinctive feature of His advent divinely prophesied, but also the place of His birth was particularly named: "But thou, Bethlehem Ephrath, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from old, from everlasting" (Micah 5:2). Please note that his ruler who is to come forth from Bethlehem has been from old, even everlasting. Thus the pre-existence, or eternal existence, of Jesus is here asserted in connection with the prophecy relating to His birth in Bethlehem. Such could only be affirmed of an immaculate conception. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God" (John 1:1,2). "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth" (John 1;14).
The Life of Christ Prophesied
Though His birth was miraculous, yet the circumstances surrounding His entrance into this world were far from pretentious. Isaiah prophesied: "He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground; He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him there is no beauty that we should desire Him" (Isaiah 53:2). Those interesting and absorbing incidents connected with His infancy were identified with prophecy. The flight into Egypt and subsequent return, not to Bethlehem but to Nazareth in Galilee, were events that fulfilled Scriptures of old. The benevolence of His works were described by Jesus and applied to Himself: "This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears" (Luke 4:21).
The Baptist, being in prison, sent two of his disciples to ascertain whether Jesus was the one for whom they looked, or should they look for another. In reply, Jesus told them to go and show John the things which they saw and heard: "The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them" (Matthew 11:5).
The Death of Christ Prophesied
However marvelous His ministrations were it is not in them that we find the supreme merit of His mission. All the wonders connected with His birth and life are but introductory to the grand climax attained in His death. Nowhere is prophecy more lucid and rich than in the description of the death of Christ in Isaiah 53. Jesus is portrayed as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief in His deportment and feelings. The supreme character of His mission was ever before Him. There was nothing flippant in manner nor jocular in conversation in His life. If He ever smiled we are not informed of such. There rested on Him the sorrows and griefs of a sin-afflicted world. That which gives exceeding richness to this memorable chapter is the unselfishness of His suffering presented in all the pathos of a vicarious love. "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed". Truly, the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
More than seven hundred years before the tragedy of Calvary the suffering there experienced is described as having been accomplished. The universal existence of sin and the corresponding importance of the death of Jesus to vicariously atone therefore is set forth. Nothing less is to be regarded as pleasing God as a propitiation for sin; and in seeing the travail of His soul was God satisfied. Jesus poured out His soul unto death. in retrospection, Paul reasoning on the magnitude of sin and the death of Christ judged that as He died for all then were all dead, and that they who live by the faith of the Son of God should not live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them and rose again.
The resurrection and ascension of Christ as prophesied and realized will be next considered.
No event has ever occurred in time that so vitally affects eternity as the triumph of Jesus over the grave. In fact if Jesus did not arise from the tomb immortality is a farce, eternity is a myth, and we are the pitiless pawns of a blind and senseless fate. A denial of the resurrection of Jesus dissipates all design for living and destroys all purpose for being. His emergence from the dead fitted the keystone in the arch of the divine plan for man, and effected a coalescence in the timely and eternal existence of the redeemed.
In the course of His conversation with the sister of Lazarus, Jesus remarked, "I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth on Me though he die, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth on Me shall never die" (John 11:25, 26). Thus is vouchsafed to the believer the continuity of life, bridging time and eternity. This responsive faith, however, is predicated on the truth of the assertion by Him to the effect that He is the resurrection and the life. It was true only when He here stated it as it was related to the certainty of His own subsequent resurrection. If He had failed to rise His failure would have reacted to establish the falsity of this assertion so confidently expressed by Him. This would have resulted in revealing Him to be a self-deceived imposter void of the power professed to be His, and defining the faith of His followers to be misplaced, ill-reposed and vainly cherished. Because of the importance attached to the resurrection of Jesus, supremely paramount to the validation of redemption, we reasonably are concerned of its position in the plan of salvation. It would be an occasion of consternation to find a void in the prophetic delineations at this point. Some attention to the prophetic statements bearing on His resurrection is in order.
Prophecies Relating to the Resurrection of Jesus
The most prominent prophecy of the resurrection of Jesus is found in Psalm 16, and this prominence arises from the recognition it received by the Holy Spirit, speaking through the apostle Peter, on the day of Pentecost. The language is ascribed to David as expressive of his reposed confidence in the Lord as being always before his face, and at his right hand. In consequence of the assured presence and help of the Lord, David says his flesh shall dwell in hope. This hope is embodied in the thrilling statement that "Thou wilt not leave My soul in hades; neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt show Me the path of life; in Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore." (Acts 2:27,28). However, the inspired observation on this language as recorded on Pentecost takes cognizance of the fact that David is both dead and buried and his sepulcher is with us to this day. From this circumstance it necessarily follows that the prophecy could not apply personally to David, and be true. For anyone today, then, to read this avowal of hope by David and refer it to him would force such an one to deny the fulfillment of the prediction made. Between the death of David and the day of Pentecost too much time had lapsed for the flesh of David to remain uncorrupted and free of disintegration. Also the resurrection of David to that time is disproved by the presence of his sepulcher. Hence, the language is applicable only to Jesus and, therefore, clearly constitutes a positive prediction of His resurrection from the dead.
Not only does this afford a most striking reference to His resurrection, but clearly evidences that His death was to be real and pronounced. This is shown by the acknowledged separation of His soul and body, since the body without the soul is dead. This separation is recognized by the departing of the soul into hades, or the unseen, as the term denotes. The period of three days forbids the possibility of a resurrection, which is possible of a resuscitation, which is possible only in instances of apparent death or conditions of unconsciousness. No person could remain in a sealed tomb, in which it would be impossible to breathe, for three days and nights without the expiration of life. The path, or way, of life was opened and revealed to our Savior from the dark recesses of the dungeon of death. It was not possible that the immaculate Son of God should be held by death, for He had paid the price required of sin in the suffering of death which rendered proper the remitting of the penalty of sin, that is, death.
In losing the pains, or cords, of death God displayed through Christ His superior power over Satan. Most significantly, however, it was not possible for Jesus to be held in the state of death because such an eventuality would have defeated the avowed purpose of God to deliver us through Him, by destroying him who had the power of death, that is, the devil. The purpose of human redemption being realized was predicted supremely and vitally on the victory of Christ over death. Such an event being essential to the realization of the purpose, it had therefore to be embodied in the purpose; for whatever is germane to the accomplishment of a given design must be a part of the design. Hence we may say that in the prophetic delineation of the divine purpose there resides not only a justification for but also an indispensable necessity of a prediction of the resurrection of the Redeemer.
There had been before instances of people being raised
from the dead, but in none of them was there a guarantee
against a future dissolution since they all subsequently died
again. In this prophecy of our Lord's resurrection, however,
the assurance is given that He should not see corruption without any qualifying or limiting term adjoined thereto. This is at
least suggestive He should never see or experience a corruption or dissolution of the physical properties composing His
body. His body in coming from the tomb was possessed of
the same corporeality that characterized it before death. This
I say not withstanding some that say otherwise who are afflicted with
premillennial persuasions and sympathies. The resurrected body of Jesus was marred by the wound of the spear
and the nail prints in his hands; and this could not be true of
a glorified and immortal body. As further proof of this, when
food was offered Him, He "took it and ate it before them" (Luke
24:43). The idea of an immortal body taking material and perishable food is absurd.
Now the apostles had seen Him several times between His resurrection and ascension, yet in the anticipation of our own resurrection and glorification He pleads ignorance of what our appearance in that form shall be. Paul affirms that Christ shall change our vile bodies and fashion them like unto the glorious body of our Lord. These statements establish that John had no acquaintance with Christ in His glorified body, yet he knew Him after His resurrection. Hence there is no escaping the conclusion that His body between the resurrection and ascension was material, mortal and corruptible. It never did see corruption, however, as others did who had been raised from the dead. He ascended into heaven, having become the firstborn from the dead. His was a birth from the dead -- a deliverance from both the state and power of death; thus presaging our own deliverance, He being the first fruits of them that slept.
The enemies of our Lord, when they failed to refute His
teaching and expose His claims as false, took final resort by
mob violence to destroy His life. Prophecy takes note of this
evil consort and refers to such vile machinations as being a
covenant with death and an agreement with hell (Isaiah 28:15).
God laid in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation and those who believe shall not be confounded. This stone was Christ (I Peter. 2:7) and the supreme testing of this stone was in the struggle and triumph with the powers of death and hades. It was the most crucial conflict that ever occurred, and in the outcome thereof the covenant with death and agreement with hades was broken.
Inspiration, in taking note of this covenant and agreement to which the scornful men who ruled the people of Jerusalem were a party, assures us that the covenant shall be disannulled and the agreement shall not stand. So pronounced and violent were the reactions thereto to be that when the overflowing scourge should pass through, they would be trodden down by it. In their destruction (the destruction of Jerusalem we see a most gruesome and fearful fulfillment of this threatened doom. We observe, then, not only the triumph of Jesus over death but also them victimized thereby; and the very power which they thought would destroy Christ became the force which wrought their own destruction.
The Ascension and Coronation of Christ
For grandeur of expression and comprehension of thought there is, perhaps, no statement equaling that in I Timothy 3:16, "And without controversy great is the mystery of Godliness; God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory." The mystery of godliness but expresses the whole divine economy as it relates to redemption; it simply means the plan of salvation, the gospel of Christ.
We have here an abstracting of this system in these six salient points which constitute a compendium of the gospel plan of salvation. Three of these relate to the reception and comprehension of this One by intelligent beings. The greatly enlarged and clearer powers of perception and comprehension possessed by angels likely rendered their appreciation of the Christ to be immediate and full. Mankind, on the other hand, with a more finite intelligence and dulled sensibilities of apprehension, failed to respond with that immediate and full recognition. Being seen of angels, Christ received an angelic acclamation joyously and universally bestowed. Not so with Man. Christ had to be preached, His claims pressed home to the hearts, and with strong appeals to the reason, will and affections of the human soul. Hence He was "preached unto the Gentiles" and consequently, "believed on in the world."
By His frequent appearances after the resurrection He showed Himself alive by many infallible proofs to the apostles thereby constituting them a satisfactorily competent and legitimate body of witnesses. In establishing the person and office of Christ the climaxing appeal was ever the fact of His resurrection from the dead and His enthronement at the right hand of God. "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of Life; that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you..." (I John 1:1-3). There was first the fact, second the testimony, third the faith, and fourth the salvation in order.
The other three points of this statement of summary has to do with the being, person and relation of Christ. As to His being He was God in the flesh, i.e., God incarnate. However while in the person of Jesus a manifestation of Deity in the flesh was avowed by Himself, yet this was denied and such a claim classed as blasphemous by His enemies. To justify, when evangelically used, we are told, means to pardon of guilt by reason of innocence; and likewise, to justify one's claims and pretensions in accrediting and establishing the truth of such claims. In this sense the Holy Spirit justified the Savior. Generally speaking the Spirit did this in every miracle wrought by Jesus, but in a more special and significant way by His being raised from the dead. This Spirit wrought and attested, justification found in ultimate and supreme expression and attestation on the day of Pentecost in that which was seen and heard.
Between the resurrection and Pentecost and essential to creating a vital connection of the two, were some events of the most thrilling interest to us and heaven. The ascension of Jesus was not effected by a sudden and astonishing disappearance, but "while they (the apostles) beheld, He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight." (Acts 1:9). His ascent doubtless was attended by deliberate dignity and superb splendor, calculated to inspire tin those who beheld it the most reverential awe possible. To stand by the bedside of a loved one and look into his eyes as we listen to his parting words before the spirit takes flight from the body is a cherished memory to many, though marred by the suffering observed and the sadness of separation. How transcendently different is the scene before the apostles. Jesus led them out as far as Bethany where he gave them instructions to tarry in Jerusalem for the promised Spirit, and with raised hands and benedictions on His lips He ascended out of their sight. He was carried to heaven where He was seated at the right hand of God the Father.
Heaven pity the soul who is lacking in interest with respect to the happenings above, and God be praised for giving us some measure of information with respect thereto. True there is much which we may long to know that can never be learned in this world, but what we may know is good for us or else our Father would not have told us. Long before the event of His ascension a predictive description of heaven's reception was recorded in the Word of God. In wonderment and awe the apostles may well have taken recourse to that description if they were able to discern its meaning. All things written in the law, prophets and psalms concerning Him were to be fulfilled, and He opened their minds that they might understand the Scriptures relative thereto. Let us notice the description of His heavenly entrance.
Dramatically august is the portrayal of the Victor's triumphal entrance into heaven as accompanied by a retinue of angels He approaches the portals above: "Lift up your hands, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in." "Who is the King of Glory?" the inquiry comes back, and to which the immediate response is, "The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle." We are told that when Christ ascended on high He led captivity captive, thus suggesting the imagery of a military leader returning from the battlefield in triumphant glory carrying many captive. Surely the Savior Who tasted death for every man by His victory over the arch enemy of our race is demonstrated to be strong and mighty in battle. He was received up into glory!