The Uses of Messianic Prophecy
by Rev. Louis B. King
Only the Lord foreknows the future. He alone predicts, with Divine accuracy, events to come; and this He does and has done for one purpose - that prophecy may become a vital part of Divine revelation.
Inmostly all Divine revelation treats of the Lord, His essence and person. It treats of why and how He came into the world to effect mankind's redemption, and how and why He came a second time to bring into full, eternal effect the redemption wrought by His first advent.
But why prophecy? What is the use that makes it so vital a part of Divine revelation? There are many uses of prophecy. First and most obvious is the use of announcing to men of ancient times the future advent of the Lord which all prophecy, regardless of its wording, accomplishes. Without such an announcement men would not look forward to and long for His coming. They would not watch for Him or prepare to receive Him. Nor would those who rejected Him be truly free to do so without this pre-knowledge. So the Lord provided for successive prophecies throughout the ages that this longing for His advent might be rekindled in each generation; and with each new prophecy not only was the excitement of the past restirred but some new concept of the Lord's coming was added, some additional idea of Him to help accommodate Divine truth to the men of that particular age, that the hope of salvation might be kept alive.
The first prophecy to appear was directed to the men of the Ancient Church and is contained in the third chapter of Genesis, in which we read: "And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: and I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; He shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel." (Genesis 3: 14, 15) The ancients understood by this that the Lord, the woman's seed, would be attacked as to His lowest nature by the hells, the heel representing the human nature that the Lord put on. The serpent signified the forces of evil attacking. However, the heel of the man-child would ultimately crush the head of the serpent. The Lord would ultimately crush the power of hell through and by means of the Human He would put on.
Centuries later, when this first prophecy was all but lost in obscurity, the Lord caused another prophecy to be given. Jacob, on his deathbed, blessing his twelve sons, said to Judah: "the sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come." (Genesis 49: 10) Here was added the concept of a ruler and lawgiver, an infinite love for the human race ruling by means of an absolute law and order founded in Divine truth. The Jewish people understood very little of the real implications of this prophecy, but it served its purpose in that day by awakening in them a desire for the coming of a Messiah, or king, whose strict laws would rule all men with power and great glory.
A number of centuries later the Lord again prophesied through Moses, as the latter spoke to the congregation of Israel in the wilderness. "The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet . . . like unto me; unto Him ye shall hearken." (Deuteronomy 18: 15) Here the idea of the Lord as a prophet was added. A prophet was one whose ability to foretell the future was clearly recognized but whose essential work was one of teaching, blessing in the name of the Lord, and leading to the good of life.
Again, years later, as the sons of Israel were about to emerge from the wilderness to possess the land of promise; when they entered the land of Moab, on the final lap of their wanderings, the Moabites, filled with hatred for these intruders, wished immediately to destroy them; but fearing the consequences suffered by the Egyptians and the Amalekites when the latter had harassed the Lord's people, they sent to a distant land for a prophet who could be hired to curse the sons of Israel. But Balaam, the hired prophet, seeing the sons of Israel encamped below him in the order of heaven, could only utter a blessing. As he thus praised he prophesied: "I shall see Him, but not now: I shall behold Him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth." (Numbers 24: 17) The personality of the Messiah was here emphasized: a Man whose birth would not only be signaled by the appearance of a star, but whose royalty and power would triumph over His enemies outside the land of Canaan, the Moabites, as well as those inhabitants within, the children of Sheth.
Hundreds of years later, after these things had come to pass, the shepherd-king of a united Israel poetically and prophetically described Messiah further: "I have anointed My King upon Zion . . . My Son art Thou; this day have I begotten Thee." (Psalm 2: 6) Here was a startling prediction. The Savior to come would not only be a lawgiver and a prophet, but the King of Zion and the Son of God.
Later on it was said in Isaiah: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel." (Isaiah 7: 14) A virgin birth! A miracle of innocence and beauty whereby God Himself would become incarnate! Truly, a sign which could not be ignored or mistaken.
In the prophecy of Micah it was added: "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, out of thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel." (Micah 5: 2) Bethlehem of Judea. Now the very place of the Lord's birth was known. That the Jewish Church would reject the Lord, in spite of this clear sequence of prophecies, was foretold by Isaiah when he said: "He hath no form nor comeliness.... He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." (Isaiah 53: 2, 3) Truly He was despised and rejected by those who had already despised and rejected His Word before His coming; and just as the prophecies had prepared the faithful to await and exalt His coming, so they stand in judgment of those who deliberately turned their backs upon Him when He came, and who, when they could no longer ignore His words, silenced them upon the cross. How vital, then, were the prophecies in preparing the human race for the Lord's coming; keeping alive the hope of salvation and providing the wherewithal for a free reception or rejection of Him when He came.
A second and equally vital use of the prophecies was their effect at the same time upon the inhabitants of the spiritual world. In the internal sense these same prophecies contained for the angels of heaven complete instructions with regard to the part the angelic heavens would play in the Lord's coming, for it was understood that He would "bow the heavens" in His descent to earth. Not that the Lord would take to Himself anything properly belonging to the angels themselves, but that He would adjoin to His infinite soul those successive degrees of accommodation whereby His own Divine love and wisdom were present with the angels, in appearance as if their very own life. Furthermore, these same prophecies, when received in the active thought and affection of men on earth, provided a continuous ultimate basis upon which the heavens could rest and through which they might inspire men with the hope of salvation.
The hells were also affected by the Messianic prophecies as they were active in men's minds. They were affected with intense hatred for the Lord and a fierce desire to obstruct His coming and extinguish in men all hope of salvation. As a result, by the time the Lord actually came, the entire complex of the hells was mobilized and overwrought with lust to attack and destroy the Prince of Peace. This the Lord permitted in order that the hosts of the underworld might exercise their ruling love to the full and thereby encounter total defeat, rejection and subjugation. Thus did the prophecies - all of them in their orderly succession - perform a vital use to the inhabitants of the spiritual world.
A third use of prophecies is to be seen in the way in which they confirm the event foretold when it actually takes place. It is a law of order that any prophecy is only partially understood until the final hour of its fulfillment. So with the Lord's coming, those who at first doubted the authenticity of His claims, but wished to be affirmative, after they had remembered and reflected upon the number and sequence of prophecies of His birth, no longer hesitated to acknowledge Him as their Savior. For this reason the Lord reiterated the prophecies and on numerous occasions opened to His disciples the Scriptures of law and prophecy.
A fourth and vital use of prophecy was that which it rendered to the Lord Himself. For the Lord put on a finite mind by birth into the world; and his mind, like that of any other man, had to be opened and established in truth from the Word. Part of that Word consisted in the prophecies of His coming, each of which, in its inmost sense, foretold and thus explained some vital stage of development whereby the process of His glorification would be effected. This He alone understood, and by this Divine truth He alone united His infinite soul with His Human essence. Though we cannot understand more than that this was the case, we can humbly acknowledge it as the inmost use of prophecy.
Finally, the Lord in His second coming reveals a final and culminating use of prophecy. Though these sayings were given long ago, and although their uses, previously mentioned, had been accomplished in full, nevertheless, they are made to live again, over and over again, for the sake of each man's regeneration.
For, like the human race as a whole, each one of us begins his individual life in the golden age of infancy, surrounded and moved and delighted by heavenly hosts of celestial angels. But with the dawn of self-consciousness, like the human race, we fall; and with the implied condemnation inherent in our hereditary loves of self and the world, a prophecy is given - a first tender word of hope - the promised coming of a Savior. Our first innocent concept of the Lord as a Heavenly Father is this first prophecy. We cannot, in the beginning, appreciate the full significance of this first prophecy; nevertheless, it is there. Upon reflection, however, we recognize that this first vision of the Lord, acquired during infancy, is seen in the sensual mind, though in a sphere of innocence fashioned by unseen celestial associates. It is an infantile concept of a Divine Man, born of the church or the woman, the state of Christianity in and around us at the time; and just as our objective vision and worship of the Lord begin in the sensuous plane of the mind, so will it there be that the fiercest struggles take place between the Lord's will and the lusts of self and the world.
In later life the serpent will strike continually at the heel of the woman's child, but that same heel will - if man as of himself determines it, by shunning evils as sins - crush the head of the serpent. The final combats of regeneration take place in the natural mind in order to subdue its opposition to the spiritual mind and thus bring it into correspondence with interior spiritual conscience.
As we review the prophecies year by year, feeling once again the mystery and awe which led up to the Lord's birth, we are given to reflect how each one of these ancient sayings, in its proper order, refers to the orderly development of our concept of the Lord, as the blessed event of His birth into the world of our rational mind draws near.
Again and again He must be born anew in our lives. We must see Him as the seed of the woman, that is, born of and in the true church. We must recognize Him as a Sceptre out of Judah, a King upon Zion, a Prince of Peace - the omnipotent God. We must see Him as Immanuel, God with us - the omnipresent God. We must see Him as a prophet and a Star out of Jacob - the omniscient God. We must see Him as the Son of God born of a virgin, that is, the Word made flesh - the Divine truth entering into us, conceived of the Holy Spirit from within and born of a virginal affection of the Heavenly Doctrine from without. With each regenerating man the Lord descends and becomes again the Word made flesh, in an image and likeness of the very same way in which He came to redeem the whole human race.
Let us, then, look with hope and trust to the Lord's advent in each of us. Let us heed the prophecies that would lead us to Bethlehem, to the Lord's Word; for it is in going to the Word that we behold and worship His Divine Human in all its power and great glory; and He is born in us when, like the bread and wine of the Holy Supper, His Word becomes flesh in us - when it enters into our thought and affection, our every word and deed. Then can it be said: "Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us; this is the Lord; we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation." "Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end."
-New Church Life 1971;91:533-538