A Question About the ‘Double Fulfillment’ Hermeneutic

The following post is a question, not a statement. So you can’t say you disagree with me – because I’m not asserting anything. I’m simply asking a question – sincerely.

A lot of end-times teachers and preachers are predicting that a temple shall be built in Jerusalem very soon; they tell us Russia and Iran will then surround the city and destroy the temple, and then the end shall come.

But hang on a minute – hasn’t Jerusalem already been besieged; and wasn’t the Temple already destroyed, in AD70? Not one stone was left standing on top of another, just as Jesus predicted (in Matthew chapter 24). Weren’t the Jews deported all around the world at that time? and hasn’t Jerusalem already been in a state of being trodden under foot of the Gentiles for the past 2000 years and counting?

“Yes, but there’s going to be a ‘double fulfillment’ of Jesus’ predictions,” some say.

But here’s my question: is there a precedent for this so-called ‘double-fulfillment’ hermeneutic, anywhere in the Bible?

An often-quoted example is when Isaiah predicted that a virgin would conceive, as a sign to Israel. Isaiah’s wife conceived shortly afterwards and centuries later the virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus. This is given as an example of ‘double fulfillment’.

But I know of only ONE virgin birth, don’t you?

The only way anyone can get around this is to claim that the Hebrew word for ‘virgin’ can also mean ‘young woman’.

One Hebrew scholar published fifty pages of evidence that the Hebrew word exclusively means ‘virgin’ and never ‘young woman’.

But even if not, how could it be a supernatural sign if a mere ‘young woman’ conceives? There’s no miracle in that! It is however a miracle that for the first-and-only time in history, a virgin by the name of Mary conceived and brought forth a son and called His Name JESUS.

Therefore Isaiah’s prophecy had one and one-only historical fulfillment – and that was in the person of Jesus Christ.

So if that’s the strongest example that can be offered for ‘double fulfillment’, I’m not convinced.

A second often-cited example is when David said, “…they pierced my hands and my feet…” The assertion is that David was speaking about his own sufferings and then centuries later the same sufferings were repeated when Jesus was crucified on the cross.

But were David’s hands and feet ever pierced? I don’t think so, because the Bible says of David that “the Lord preserved him whithersoever he went”.

Then in the Book of Acts an Apostle stood up and explained that David being a prophet, was NOT speaking about HIMSELF, but foresaw the sufferings of Christ. David even prophesied about the resurrection!

That’s quite clear. Many of the Psalms are prophetic literature. David was NOT speaking about himself. He was prophesying about Jesus.

So there isn’t a strong case for ‘double fulfillment’ per se in the Psalms either.

A third example is when Jesus was taken by his parents to Egypt then brought home as a boy to settle in Nazareth. Matthew explained that this was done in order to fulfill the verse in the Prophets where it says, “Out of Egypt have I called my son”. The idea is that this verse of prophecy was fulfilled first in Israel’s experience and then secondly in the life of Jesus.

But when you look at that particular Old Testament verse in context, you’ll notice it’s not actually a prophetic prediction of a future event – it’s actually a prophetic statement about the past – about God’s PAST dealings with Israel. So when Matthew uses the word “fulfilled”, he means that the event took place in the life of Jesus IN ACCORDANCE WITH an Old Testament ‘type’. But there’s a difference between typology and a specific historical prophetic prediction.

To explain this difference, remember that the Apostle Peter called Noah’s flood the ‘like figure’ wherein baptism doth now save us. The narrative about Noah’s flood in the Book of Genesis is not a predictive prophecy about a future event. However, the flood can legitimately be used to ILLUSTRATE what takes place in PRINCIPLE by Christian baptism in water.

So there’s a difference between an event fulfilling a specific historical prediction and an event ‘fulfilling’ or occurring in accordance with or with similarities to a figure or type.

Further proof that Matthew uses the term ‘fulfilled’ in this way is when he says, “That it might be ‘fulfilled’ which was spoken by the prophets, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene'”. You won’t find any specific Old Testament text which made a prediction about the Christ in those words. But it’s there in figure, in type – not as a specific historical predictive pronouncement.

So once again it seems to me that we don’t quite have a Biblical case there with which to establish a precedent for the so-called ‘double-fulfillment’ hermeneutic – at least NOT where specific historical predictive prophecy is concerned.

If we don’t have a strong case for such a hermeneutic anywhere else in the Bible, then neither would we have authority to apply such a hermeneutic to Matthew chapter 24.

But even if Orthodox Jews do build a replica temple in Jerusalem, my question, in the light of the above, is: what eschatological or prophetic significance would it have? what specific prophecy would it fulfill?

Some say, “The Bible is full of prophecies about the rebuilding of the Temple”.

But weren’t all those prophecies pronounced during the Babylonian captivity and weren’t they already fulfilled within 70 years, during the return under Ezra and Nehemiah?

Plus all those prophecies include the theme of the REINSTATEMENT OF THE LEVITICAL PRIESTHOOD, including animal sacrifices. My concern is (and I believe St Paul would agree with this): why would God now want to take us back to the ‘shadow’ now that the ‘substance’ – the true, once-for-all sacrifice of His only Son – has already been completed? As St Paul said, speaking of returning to the Law, “If I build again that which I once destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.”

“Well GOD won’t rebuild it, but Israel will,” some say.

But even if they (Isreal) do, that couldn’t be a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies because ALL of the Old Testament prophecies spoke about the rebuilding of the Temple in terms of it being an activity which God Himself would initiate and inspire. But God’s not interested in initiating a restored Levitical priesthood anymore.

For God to reinstate the daily sacrifice was appropriate under the Old Covenant – but not now, now that Jesus has already shed His blood once-for-all. And for Israel to do so would be tantamount to unbelief. It wouldn’t please God, nor should Christians celebrate it.

So some concede God may inspire the rebuilding of the Temple but not the daily sacrifice part.

But you can’t have a rebuilt temple without a reinstated Levitical priesthood and then claim it’s a fulfillment of the prophecy – because the prophecies include BOTH themes. You can’t separate a verse from its context.

It seems to me therefore that those prophecies must have already found their fulfillment during the Old Covenant.

But of course we can still learn lessons from those Scriptures and apply them to our lives. I guess every believer, when reading the Prophets, sometimes has the experience where the words seem to be highlighted on the page and seem to apply directly to our own specific circumstances. But this isn’t an example of ‘double-fulfillment’. If it was, you wouldn’t call it ‘double-fulfillment’ – you’d have to call it ‘multiple’ fulfillment. Because we all have that experience.

No – what you’re experiencing is APPLICATION. When the words of the Prophets seem to describe your situation it’s because the Holy Spirit is taking principles of the Scripture and applying it to your heart. But there’s a difference between application and a direct historical fulfillment of a specific predictive prophecy.

To illustrate the difference, imagine that you searched the attic in your grandmother’s house and found an old letter which your great-grandfather had written to your great-grandmother from the trenches in France, promising to return to Wales after the War and marry her. As you read it, you may feel inspired to APPLY some of your great-grandfather’s examples of faith and love to your own present-day relationships.

But there’s a difference between applying the letter and fulfilling it. Your great-grandfather’s letter had one and one only historical fulfillment, and that was on the day he married your dear great-grandmother! Thereafter your great-grandparents may have kept the letter knowing that their children and their children’s children may someday find it interesting or even helpful.

Similarly there are important lessons we can learn by observing how God dealt with Israel in the past, as shown in the Scriptures.

But I don’t know if we should be looking for repeat fulfillments of events which Jesus predicted which have already came to pass. As far as I can see we don’t have Prophetic or Apostolic authority to interpret Scripture that way.

If we allow for a ‘double fulfillment’ of the predictions made by Jesus in Matthew chapter 24 even though no precedent seems to exist for such a hermeneutic, then what is there to stop anyone allowing for a third, fourth or fifth ‘fulfillment’?

It means even though we may witness an exact repeat of the very same events which Jesus predicted, happening before our very own eyes in our own generation, we would have NO WAY OF KNOWING whether what we are seeing is THE final fulfillment of the prophecy or not. It could be that today’s event is no more a sign of the end than what happened in 1967, or 1948, or in AD70. In other words, we wouldn’t know whether it was a sign of the end or not. The events Jesus described would lose any value as a ‘sign’ that the end is near.

So if some of Jesus’ predictions in Matthew 24 have already been fulfilled, where does that leave us, and the Jews, today? Where are we up to, in Biblical prophecy?

Summarizing it briefly, it seems to me that the Old Testament prophecies about the regathering of the Jews, the rebuilding of the Temple and the reinstatement of the Levitical priesthood and animal sacrifices were fulfilled during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah.

And Jesus’ prediction about the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple and the deportation of the Jews, began to be fulfilled circa AD70 – and to this day Jerusalem remains trodden under foot of the Gentiles. Jesus said this state would continue until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. Meanwhile, this Gospel of the Kingdom is being preached unto all nations, and then the end shall come.

But of that day and hour no-one knows – not the angels in heaven, not even the Son, only the Father. In fact Jesus said, “It is not for you to know the times and the seasons.” Our job is to be witnesses unto Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit all over the world.

God has one plan for Jews and Gentiles, and that is to offer us entrance into the Kingdom of God through being born again and believing in Jesus. There is no other way.

And does God want the Jews to have a homeland? Of course He does. God delights in all of His children having a homeland in which to live in peace, if possible – even before the return of the Lord. But where it’s not possible due to persecution, our hope will be fulfilled at the return of the Lord.

That’s the Gospel which was preached by John, Jesus, the Twelve and Paul. That’s how THEY understood prophecy.

There are however two passages of Scripture which still raise questions in my mind.

One is Ezekiel’s vision of a Temple. It includes the sacrificial system. But was it entirely fulfilled during the return from Babylon? If not, when was or will it be fulfilled?

A second passage is where Paul said the man of lawlessness shall sit in the Temple and then the Lord shall destroy him with the fire of His presence. If this implies that the man of lawlessness will be alive physically at the Second Coming of Christ, then it means a temple must be rebuilt first. If on the other hand Paul was referring to the Temple of his day, then the man of lawlessness must have been a contemporary figure and his destruction by the brightness of the Lord’s coming either refers to his destruction after his resurrection unto damnation, or the term ‘coming’ in this context means an act of personal judgment rather than the ultimate Coming of the Lord. Others say the ‘Temple’ could be symbolic of the Church.

Any helpful answers would be most welcome.

What do YOU think?

comments

Comments

  1. I forgot to comment on your question about the “temple” in 2 Thessalonians 2. The Greek word that Paul used that has been transliterated as temple is “naos”. Paul never used “naos” to describe the physical temple, but only when talking about the body of Christ as being the temple of God. Food for thought…

  2. I really enjoyed this article, even though I am nearly 6 years late. 🙂 I have been pondering this very question as of late. If a prophecy has seen fulfillment, then who are we to say that it will happen again. Most prophecy are time specific and are directed to a specific audience. A prophecy that I seem to hear a lot of lately is “Jacob’s Time of Trouble” (Jer. 30:7) coming upon the nation of Israel and the Jews. It is quite apparent to me that this was talking about Israel’s Babylonian captivity and eventual return, yet so many people want to relate this to a seven year tribulation period a.k.a. Daniel’s 70th week (a topic for another day). When I point out that this has already been fulfilled I immediately hear “this has dual-fulfillment”.

    While there are all kinds of spiritual applications that we can gain from this, I am not at all comfortable with applying this to anything other than Israel in the 6th century BC.

    Blessings!

  3. Please, what is written below is NOT an attempt to “set you straight”. Rather it is an expression of my limited insight and understanding of the subject.
    When we are considering prophesies especially concerning the second coming, we need to seriously consider Jesus response to his disciples relating to the destruction of the temple, his coming and the end of the age. Mat 24:3-4. And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
    Mat 24:4 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.
    This should be sufficient warning to us to tread VERY carefully. Deception doesn’t always come from outside of our selves, neither are we immune. Granted, we may traditionally be “off the mark” and may need renewing of our minds concerning this subject.
    My personal view, which may be bent, is that prophetic writings are not provided primarily so that we can build a timeline of what is going to happen, but to confirm to us that which is happen around us. As in Jn 2:17 And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up, and Jn 12:16 These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him
    If we have right relationship with the Holy Spirit He will reveal to us things to come on a need to know basis. Jn 16:13
    I know deception is a vast subject, but two possibilities are summed up in Mat 22:29 Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. An intellectual pursuit ONLY of a subject in the bible will result in sterile lifeless doctrine. (a bit like the Pharisees) On the other hand if we rely on spiritual revelation ONLY we are in danger of embracing something that doesn’t come from God. (Perhaps a bit like the latter rain). We need to intellectually know the Scriptures under the illuminating inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
    If God does not want us to know the timeline, then we have no business pursuing the subject.
    As you continue to pursue this subject, remember, Jesus said “see I have told you ahead of the time.”

  4. What about “the abomination that cause desolation” spoken of by Daniel. That prophesy was fulfilled in great detail by Antiocus Epiphanus, (about 200BC) yet Jesus speaks of it in the future tense.

    • Thanks for your suggestion.

      My initial exercise would be to examine all of the accompanying details of Daniel’s prophecy in order to find out whether the events of 167BC could have indeed fulfilled the prophecy. On face value, it seems unlikely because the prophecy includes the theme of the cessation of the daily sacrifice, yet we know the system of daily sacrifices was well-and-truly functioning nearly 200 years later at the time of Jesus.

      But in any case, the prophecy was apparently regarded by Jesus as being as-yet unfulfilled because He made no mention of a past fulfillment – He spoke only about its future fulfillment. And neither did He refer to the coming event as a “repeat” fulfillment but as “the” fulfillment.

      So if I was looking for a basis for the ‘double-fulfillment’ hermeneutic in the Bible, this one isn’t concrete enough.

      Besides, if the prophecy was already fulfilled in complete detail in 200BC, and again in AD70, and if it will be fulfilled once again in the future as some claim – then who’s to say there won’t be yet a fourth, fifth or sixth fulfillment? and how will we ever know which ‘fulfillment’ is the final fulfillment that can finally truly be recognized as the sign of the end?

      But I don’t know – I’m just asking questions.

      The main thing is: Jesus fulfilled prophecy and it is the last day!

Speak Your Mind

*

close
Facebook Iconfacebook like buttonYouTube Icon