Summary: The Old Testament prophets are relevant to our question because their major theme is judgement, and because God's great act of judgement at the end of the Old Testament may be a foreshadowing of his judgement of the whole world in 'End Times'.
Starting with my next Reflection I will look at some passages in the Old Testament prophets. I would love to dive straight in, but I feel that some sort of introduction is in order.
First, the Old Testament prophets take up more of the Bible than the whole of the New Testament! We believe God is the ultimate author of Scripture, and he’s very smart. We may therefore assume he gives coverage to different subjects according to how important they are. In that case, the subject matter of the prophets must be important!
Second, by and large Christians don’t give much attention to this part of the Bible. There is a website called ‘SermonCentral’. It’s a source of sermons, but it also makes it possible to see how many sermons have been preached on a particular book or chapter of the Bible. I took a look at how many sermons are preached on the Old Testament prophets. Probably ten times fewer sermons are preached per chapter on the prophets as are preached on the New Testament. I accept that some parts of Scripture are more important than others, but the difference is too great. We are neglecting this part of Scripture. As a result, we will be unclear on how and why God judges, or even if God judges at all!
Third, the Old Testament prophets’ major theme is God’s judgement, and within that, their major focus is God’s judgement on his people who had progressively abandoned him from the time of Solomon onwards. Just to give you a sense of this, Isaiah, the prince of prophets, starts like this. Here is Isaiah 1:2.
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;
for the Lord has spoken:
“Children have I reared and brought up,
but they have rebelled against me.”
God’s judgement culminates in the overthrow of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 or 586 BC. This was followed by the exile of a large proportion of the population.
‘But 587 B.C. was a long time ago!’ you’re thinking. ‘How can that be relevant today?’
The Old Testament story contains multiple ‘pictures’ of God’s greater story of salvation. ‘Picture’ is perhaps not the best word, because it suggests something insubstantial. Some people use the word ‘paradigm’. Or think of a pattern or model or example and you get the idea.
God calls Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. God then holds back Abraham’s hand, but it’s a pattern of how a loving father would ultimately give his only beloved son. The Israelites daubed lamb’s blood on their doorposts and the angel of death ‘passed over’ their homes. That is a pattern of Christ’s blood which propitiates God’s wrath. In the Exodus, God took his people to a promised land. That is a pattern of how God delivers his people from slavery to sin to bring them to a heavenly country. The great event almost at the end of the Old Testament story is God’s judgement on his apostate people through Babylon, followed by his judgement on Babylon and the return of a purified remnant to Jerusalem. That, in my view, is a pattern of what is to come. In Revelation, John describes a great power which persecutes God’s people and which God later overthrows – and he names it ‘Babylon’.
We need to grasp the pattern in order that we can then recognize the reality. To understand how, why, and if God’s judgement will come in our day, we need to understand how, why, and if God’s judgement came on God’s people and the surrounding nations in the 6th century BC.
Hence, we need to look at the prophets. Tomorrow, we start!
Have a good day!