Did the God of Old Testament Kingdom Prophecy Lie?
Note: This essay is an excerpt from my book, The High King of Heaven: Discovering the Master Keys to the Great End Time Debate. In essence, the book is a defense of amillennial eschatology. According to amillennarians, when God gave prophecies of a coming Kingdom to his OT saints, he used language and imagery drawn from the days of the Mosaic Law to speak mystically and figuratively of New Covenant blessings; of the two-staged spiritual Kingdom that Christ would introduce under the New Covenant. However, our premillennarian brothers object. They say that this amounts to lying, since God surely knew that the OT saints would receive these prophecies literally, precisely as we should. The essay below seeks to address this very reasonable objection.
Amillennarians interpret Old Testament Kingdom Prophecy (OTKP) figuratively, arguing that here the Holy Spirit veiled New Covenant truth in OT language and imagery. Our premillennarian brethren object. In expressing their concerns, they repeatedly ask two main questions.
The first is this: If OT prophecies concerning the birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ were literally fulfilled, by what right do we say that OT prophecies of his Kingdom are not? By what right do we introduce a completely new hermeneutic for the interpretation of OTKP?
The answer to this reasonable question is found in the distinction between simple OT prophecies and OTKP. As we saw above, by definition simple OT prophecies were fulfilled under the Law; they were fulfilled in the days when the Law was still in force. For this reason they were literally fulfilled, since there was no good reason for them not to be. In their case, God had, as it were, nothing to hide. He could supply hope, instruction, and encouragement to his OT people by letting those prophecies be literally fulfilled right before their eyes.
OT Messianic prophecies of events that occurred prior to the Day of Pentecost—prior to the coming of the Kingdom—fall into this category. In the days of their fulfillment, the Law was still in force; as it is written, Jesus himself was born and lived under the Law (Galatians 4:4). Therefore, they too were simple OT prophecies, and were more or less literally fulfilled. Looking at the NT, we realize that these simple Messianic prophecies were an important element in God’s evangelistic outreach to the Jews of Jesus’ day, whether before or after his death on the Cross. In them, God sought to enable his OT people to identify their Messiah.
How exactly did he do this? By foretelling the place of the Messiah’s birth (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:5-6); his predilection for ministry to the mixed multitudes of Galilee (Isaiah 9:1f; Matthew 4:12f); his prophetic works of power on behalf of the poor (Isaiah 61:1-3; Matthew 11:1-6; Luke 4:18); his rejection by hostile rulers, both Jew and Gentile (Psalm 2:1-2; Acts 4:23-31); his death as an apparent criminal, by which, according to God’s eternal purpose, he atoned for the crimes of his people (Isaiah 53:1f; Mark 10:45; 1 Peter 2:21-25); and his resurrection, ascension, and session at God’s right hand (Psalms 16, 110; Acts 2:22-36). As this small sampling of texts reveals, the apostles employed these simple OT Messianic prophecies to great purpose, if by any means they could use them effectively to save some of their Jewish brethren (Romans 11:14). Moreover, in due season, they used those same prophecies to create and strengthen the faith of Gentile believers, even as it is today.
However, OTKP’s are not simple, but fall into a unique category of their own. They are fulfilled after Pentecost, when the Kingdom has come at last; they are fulfilled under the New Covenant, when the New Covenant is in force at last. And in their case, God did have something to hide, for, as we have learned from the NT, it pleased him to make the New Covenant—and the spiritual Kingdom it would introduce—a mystery; to conceal the true nature of the Kingdom from his OT people under types and shadows drawn from the Law; and to do this, so that in the fullness of time his only-begotten Son might enjoy the privilege and prerogative of unveiling “true truth,” not only to Israel, but also to the whole world! In short, it pleased God to hide in Christ all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, so that in the days of Christ, Christ himself might be the One to open them up to his own (Matthew 13:10-17; John 1:17; Romans 16:25-27; 1 Corinthians 2:1f; Ephesians 1:9, 3:1f; Colossians 1:26, 2:3; Hebrews 1:1f).
This brings us to a second, related question: If indeed God spoke figuratively in OTKP, if indeed he covenantally conditioned it, if indeed he placed a veil of (Mosaic) types and shadows over the truth, then is it not the case that God, in effect, lied to his OT people, and knowingly deceived them? For surely he knew that they would interpret these prophecies literally, just as they did the simple OT prophecies that had been fulfilled before their eyes in ages past.
While at first glance this objection may seem weighty, there are at least four good reasons why it cannot stand.
First, in speaking as he did through the OT prophets, God told the absolute truth. Not one word of all the good words found in OTKP has fallen—or will fall—to the ground (Joshua 23:14). True, in them God did not say everything he meant, for much was hidden away under type and shadow. Nevertheless, he certainly meant everything he said: He intended to convey important truths, and he intended those truths to have a desired effect. For this very reason, the Spirit of Truth honored his own words, using them to give light, strength, and hope to God’s OT elect. Therefore, in giving OTKP, God did not lie.
Secondly, even in OTKP itself, God gave many hints to the effect that his words about the coming Kingdom had a figurative, spiritual meaning. We discussed these hints earlier. Apparent contradictions, patently symbolic texts, and talk of a completely new covenant all warned against a too literal approach to OTKP.
Thirdly, God also repeatedly intimated to his OT people that they would not fully understand his redemptive purpose and plan until the Last Days, until the days of the Kingdom itself. For example, looking ahead to the time of Christ and speaking of the Gospel he would bring, God warned Israel through Isaiah, saying, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways” (55:6-13). Similarly, he spoke of a coming day when all the sons of Zion would be taught by the LORD (54:13; John 6:45); a day when their Teacher would no longer hide himself; a day when they would see their Teacher, and hear a word behind them, saying, “This is the way, walk in it” (30:19-21).
Micah looks forward to a (Kingdom) time when God himself will teach his ways to all peoples (Micah 4:2).
Jeremiah, speaking of God’s redemptive promises to Israel, declares, “In the latter days you will understand this” (Jeremiah 30:18-31:6).
As for Daniel, he himself was astounded by the apocalyptic visions he had just received, but “there was no one to explain” (Daniel 8:27). Indeed, after giving him his final vision, the Angel of God told him to “conceal these words and shut up the (whole) book until the time of the end” (Daniel 12:4). Only then will a people arise who can give (full) insight to many (Daniel 11:33). Only then will knowledge increase (i.e., to the point of fullness, or completion. see 12:4). Only then will all these prophecies be fully understood. Confronted by words such as these, what OT saint could fail to walk humbly before the mysteries of OTKP (Isaiah 66:2)?
This brings us to our fourth and final point, namely, that no sooner did God begin to fulfill OTKP, than he also supplied the keys by which anyone who wished to could correctly interpret them. As we have seen, even before the coming of the Kingdom, Jesus himself revealed the mysteries of the Kingdom to his disciples (Matthew 13:1ff). After the Day of Pentecost, when the first stage of the Kingdom began, he gave his holy apostles and prophets still more light—indeed, definitive light—on the true nature of the Kingdom and the proper interpretation of OTKP, light that was then available to honest Jewish seekers, and that is now available to all nations in the pages of the NT. (See chapters 13 and 14 of the HKOH)
If, then, in OT times, there was occasion for a certain amount of confusion—as well as caution, patience, and trust—regarding the true meaning of OTKP, in NT times that occasion is completely removed. Henceforth, to all who are willing to receive it, Christ offers the Rosetta Stone: the New Covenant Hermeneutic, by which they can easily translate the mysterious tropes of OTKP into glorious NT truth.
Therefore, if any today are deceived by OTKP, they are not deceived by God, but by themselves (cf., Romans 1:18-20).