THE Bible is unlike any other book ever written, and there are millions of books in print. The books written by men are naturally finite and temporal, for a river cannot rise higher than its source. But God's Book, like its Author, is infinite and eternal. Its message should not be limited to one generation only, nor its prophecies to one fulfillment. In this article we shall consider several prophecies and their two fold applications.
The Early and Latter Rain
First let us examine the prophecy in Joel 2:28-32 concerning the outpouring of God's Spirit "before the great and terrible day of the Lord." The Bible teaches that "the day of the Lord" begins when "the day of salvation" closes, that is, at the close of human probation. It will be ushered in with the first of seven great plagues. Ac cording to Joel's prophecy, shortly before this happens God will pour out His Spirit "upon all flesh."
Inspiration reveals, however, that this prophecy had a partial fulfillment nearly two thousand years ago (see Acts 2:16-21). But in the near future "it will reach its full accomplishment in the manifestation of divine grace which will attend the closing work of the gospel" (The Great Controversy, p. ix).
It is therefore evident that Joel's prediction has two applications: a limited lo cal one under the early rain, and a complete universal one under the latter rain.
The Advent of Elijah
In the last two verses of the Old Testament there is a similar type of prophecy. This predicts that Elijah the prophet will appear "before the . . . great and dreadful day of the Lord." Jesus indicated that this prophecy had a local fulfillment in the person of John the Baptist, who went forth in the spirit and power of Elijah (Matt. 17:10-13).
But in these last days it is to have an other fulfillment, this time on a universal scale. "Those who are to prepare the way for the second coming of Christ are represented by faithful Elijah, as John came in the spirit of Elijah to prepare the way for Christ's first advent." Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 62.
Beholding the Pierced Christ
Another prophecy with a dual application is that given by Zechariah concerning the crucified Saviour. "They shall look upon me whom they have pierced," he wrote (Zech. 12:10).
The apostle John quotes this prediction as receiving its initial, local fulfillment at the cross (see John 19:37). Yet Jesus understood this prophecy to have its ultimate, universal fulfillment when "he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him" (Rev. 1:7. Compare also Matt. 26:64).
The twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew's Gospel contains one of the most outstanding of the multiple-application prophecies. Inspiration says of the prophecy: "This entire discourse was given, not for the disciples only, but for those who should live in the last scenes of this earth's history." The Desire of Ages, p. 628.
The prophecy was given as the answer to a question that the disciples asked, "When shall these things be and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (Matt. 24:3).
The disciples thought that the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple and the second coming of Jesus would occur at the same time. But Jesus, knowing that almost two thousand years would separate those two events and not wishing to dampen the ardor of His disciples with this fact answered their question with a prediction that would be equally true of both events. His prophetic answer would have a local application in reference to the end of the Jewish nation, and two thousand years later it would assume a universal application in reference to the end of the world. "The ruin of Jerusalem was a symbol of the final ruin that shall overwhelm the world. The prophecies that received a partial fulfillment in the overthrow of Jerusalem have a more direct application to the last days." Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, pp. 120, 121.
Note the words partial and more direct. The local application to national Israel is partial, the universal application to spiritual Israel is more direct. We often err in attempting to make this prophecy fit the local application in every detail. This can not be done without straining the sense.
The Local Application
Just as Jesus predicted (verse 5), many false christs arose. Usually they were fanatical chieftains leading bands of armed terrorists in vain endeavor to restore independence to the Jewish nation. Even the apostle Paul was accused at one time of being a false christ (Acts 21:38). The con sequence of this pseudo-messianic zeal was wars and rumors of war (Matt. 24:6).
There were also serious famines and earthquakes at that time (verse 7). During the reign of Claudius Caesar (A.D. 41-54) there were altogether four major famines, e.g., Acts 11:28. And between the years A.D. 31 and 70 a series of major earth quakes shook the Mediterranean world, the worst of these occurring in Crete, Rome, Phrygia, and Campania.
"Then," said Jesus, "shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you" (verse 9). James was the first to fall be neath the executioner's sword, and eventually all the apostles, with but one exception, were martyred for their faith.
"And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation ... is nigh. Then . . . flee to the mountains" (Luke 21:20, 21). The God-given opportunity for the Christians to flee out of the doomed city testifies to the reliability of Christ's words. They thus escaped the "great tribulation" that came upon the Jews as Jerusalem was turned into a vast prison, superintended by mad men. Confusion, carnage, starvation, and war destroyed those within the walls, and the Romans destroyed those without. From a forest of crosses encompassing the city hung Jews whose lips had once cried, "His blood be on us, and on our children." It was as they requested.
The Universal Application
We have been told that "the Saviour's prophecy concerning the visitation of judgments upon Jerusalem is to have an other fulfillment, of which that terrible desolation was but a faint shadow" (The Great Controversy, p. 36).
In considering briefly this "other fulfillment" we must not attempt to be wise above what is written. The past has revealed that the jigsaw of prophecy can be correctly pieced together only by history. But the Lord has blessed us with a wonderful aid in the Spirit of Prophecy writings, which highlight the waymarks for us.
It is interesting to note that the Spirit of Prophecy makes not just two but at least three applications of this particular prophecy. However, here we shall consider only the first and final fulfillments.
We are only beginning to experience the troubles foretold in this prophecy. False christs are beginning to appear, to confuse and deceive people with their "wonderful miracles of healing" (ibid., p. 624).
The spirit of unrest among the nations is manifesting itself more and more in wars and rumors of war (Matt. 24:6). The national hunger and disease is a certain foretaste of the famines and pestilences soon to sweep the face of our globe as some of the most colossal catastrophes in human history (verse 7).
As the restraining Spirit of God is further rejected by mankind, the forces of nature will be correspondingly released from His control and earthquakes will rend large portions of the earth's surface. Whole cities will be devastated by violent earth movements (verse 7).
Satan will raise up every conceivable power in opposition to the truth. The kingdoms of earth will stand up against the kingdom of heaven, and Christ's people will be hated by every nation for His name's sake. Open war will soon be made on the remnant church that keeps the commandments of God and has the testimony of Jesus. Because of persecution many will give up their faith. The chaff will be sifted from the wheat (verses 9, 10).
This persecution, in bringing the Sabbath issue to the attention of the world, will open the way for the everlasting gospel to be carried on the wings of the latter rain to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people. Thus all flesh will be compelled to decide either for or against the truth, and then shall the end of man's probation come (verse 14).
When the Jewish sanctuary was defiled by abominations those in Judea fled to the mountains. Likewise, when the spiritual sanctuary is defiled by the Sunday abomination those in spiritual Judea must also flee to the mountains (verses 15, 16). (See Testimonies, vol. 5, pp. 464, 465.)
Christ's people must pray beforehand that they will be spared the anguish of having to flee in wintertime or on the holy Sabbath day, the day that is the sign and seal of their allegiance to the living God, the day that distinguishes them from the rebellious world (verse 20).
The Death Decree and Deliverance
"Then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be" (verse 21). The nations of the earth will have taken counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed, and will have condemned to death all who persist in keeping holy the seventh day of the week in defiance of the laws of the land. To all appearances it will seem that the church is about to be annihilated in this final conflict of Armageddon. But the Lord will interpose and for the sake of His elect He will cut short their time of trouble and will deliver every one whose name shall be found written in the book of life (verses 21, 22).
Just prior to the close of probation a being of dazzling brightness, with eyes like a flame, a voice like the sound of many waters, and legs like pillars of molten brass, will appear in different places on earth. Multitudes will prostrate themselves before this being in adoration and worship, and the cry will sound to the four corners of earth that Christ has come. But, warns Jesus, you must not go out to see him. You must not for one moment believe that it is I who has come (verses 23-26).
Christ has given us a description of His coming, which Satan will not be permitted to counterfeit. To all men His second advent will be as visible as a bolt of lightning stabbing through the night sky (verse 27).
The great time of trouble will be "cut short" by a supernatural darkness so intense that it will eclipse both the sun and the moon. Such an intense darkness will prevent the wicked from executing the international death decree. At that time there will also be vast meteoric showers, and the stars will appear to move out of their places when God proclaims, "It is done" (verse 29). (See Early Writings, p. 41.)
As Christ would not be honored by the death of His elect after the close of probaition, He promised that their temporal lives will continue until He has sent His angels with a great trumpet blast to gather them from the four winds (verse 34).
The value of this remarkable prophecy for today is given in the following words:
The twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew is presented to me again and again as something that is to be brought to the attention of all. We are today living in the time when the predictions of this chapter are fulfilling. Let our ministers and teachers explain these prophecies to those whom they instruct. Let them leave out of their discourses matters of minor consequence, and present the truths that will decide the destiny of souls. --Gospel Workers, p. 148.