Many Christians have been misled on a very important matter causing a great deal of confusion. Here is the problem: Other than the book of Daniel (which was sealed up until the appointed time of the end), the Old Testament says nothing about the last days or the Second Coming. In other words, the Old Testament does not speak about events that will transpire in our day or at any time in the future. All of the promises and prophecies presented in the Old Testament would have been fulfilled soon after the seventy weeks expired in A.D. 33 if Israel had repented of its rebellion during the seventy weeks and honored the covenant which God gave it. In short, the Old Testament contains many prophecies that cannot be fulfilled and many promises that have been forfeited.
Christians have been misled on this matter for several reasons. First, many Christians have not studied the Old Testament thoroughly and lack a working knowledge of what actually transpired between God and Israel, so it is easy to be misled. Second, many Christians do not understand the profound difference between a unilateral and a bilateral covenant. In other words, Old Testament promises are either "one-sided" (unilateral) or "two-sided" (bilateral). Very few promises in the Old Testament are unilateral; in fact, most of them are bilateral. Knowing the difference is essential if you want to understand the ways and actions of God. Third, many Christians do not realize that there are five types of prophecies that exist in the Old Testament. Further, they have no idea about the hermeneutics (rules) that specifically govern the interpretation of these five types of prophecy. Mixing and/or merging the rules for each type of prophecy produces insurmountable confusion. Last, many Christians believe that everything God spoke must come to pass. This is a true statement, but not in the way that most Christians think.
It is true that when God makes a promise, He will certainly keep that promise. However, we must remember that a conditional promise has two possible fulfillments. For example, I might promise my daughter $50 if she gets an "A" in Biology. Suppose she gets a "B" and I give her nothing. Was my promise fulfilled? Yes! The point is that many Christians read promises in the Old Testament without understanding the conditional basis on which the promises were made. They erroneously think, "Since the provisions in a particular promise have not been fulfilled, the fulfillment must be forthcoming!" This reasoning is flawed because most of God's promises and prophecies in the Old Testament were conditional (bilateral). For example, notice this promise God spoke to the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai:". . .You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. . . ."(Exodus 19:4-6) Did you notice the terms and conditions of this covenant ? Did you notice the word "if" in the text? "Nowifyou obey me. . . . then. . . ." The point is that God keeps His promises. Israel rebelled against Him, and true to His word, He rejected them as trustees of His gospel. (Leviticus 26; Romans 9-11) Years later,"Jesus said to them, 'Have you never read in the Scriptures: The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes? Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. . . . Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.' "(Matthew 21:42,43; 23:38,39)
Think this through very carefully: God rejected Abraham's rebellious offspringas promisedbecause His covenant with them was "two-sided" (bilateral). How can a marriage survive if one party is constantly unfaithful? God's covenant with the nation of Israel was based on the condition of loyalty and obedience. (Exodus 19, Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 28) On the other hand, God's promises to Abraham were "one-sided" (unilateral). This means that God promised Abraham that He would do certain things and God's fulfillment of those promises was not based on Abraham's actions. The problem can be stated this way: God's promises with Abraham were one-sided, but God's promises with Abraham's offspring were two-sided. Therefore, God had to make a change after Israel refused to cooperate with Him. God had to introduce a new covenant in order to fulfill His "one-sided" promises to Abraham. This change is called "the new covenant."
When God declared to Abraham that he would be the father of many nations (this included Jews and Gentiles), God's promise was based on the success of Abraham's offspring. God's plan was that ancient Israel would be a light to the Gentiles and people from all nations until they came to know and love God as did Abraham. But, Israel refused to be a light unto the Gentiles. To make His unilateral promise to Abraham come true, God created a new covenant which redefines Abraham's descendants. Under the new covenant, God declared that believers in Christ are Abraham's seed (Greek: sperm). The end result is that trustees of the gospel are not biological, but spiritual! God has grafted Gentiles into the unilateral covenant given to Abraham. This is why Paul wrote,"If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."(Galatians 3:29)
Plan A / Plan B
Under the "new" covenant, there is a "new" Israel. This is a "new" sequence of prophetic events that will culminate during the "end time." To help clarify this, I like to say the prophecies in Daniel and Revelation concern "Plan B." In other words, God has implemented a "new" covenant or Plan B, because "Plan A" (the original promises and prophecies given to ancient Israel) could not be accomplished because of Israel's apostasy. Plan B is a bigger and better plan. Plan B contains a brighter set of promises and prophecies and unlike Plan A, it is unconditional! This time around, God is not waiting upon a group of people to get their act together or is He depending on a particular religious body of people to accomplish the gospel commission. At the appointed time, He will bring His work to completion by hand-picking 144,000 people from all over the world. These servants of God, having Abraham's faith and love for God will accomplish all that God wants done in a mere 1,260 days!
Once a person understands the sharp distinction between the "Old Testament Plan A" and the "New Testament Plan B," the Bible becomes much clearer and easier to understand. Plan A events are not to be confused or mingled with Plan B events. God wants His children to clearly understand the intended meaning of Scripture. The Bible is consistent. It does not suffer from internal conflict once you understand what is being said.
The book of Daniel provides four rules which govern the interpretation of apocalyptic prophecy. Rule Three states: "Apocalyptic language can be literal, symbolic or analogous. To reach the intended meaning of a prophecy, the student must consider: (a) the context, (b) the use of parallel language in the Bible, and (c) relevant statements in the Bible which define that symbol if an element is thought to be symbolic."
The following words need at least five seconds of serious thought: The books of Daniel and Revelation are cryptic and short for two reasons. First, God wanted these two books preserved for the final generation. Given the fact that copies had to be transcribed by hand for thousands of years, these two mysterious books had to be kept short in order to maintain their internal integrity. (Ancient scribes would have asked, "Why spend hundreds of hours making a copy of a huge book that no one understands?") Second, the end time story contains a huge revelation of many things about God and this story takes several hours to tell. How can a huge story come from two short books?
God has done a very clever thing. He created Plan B using some parts from Plan A. The all important difference is that Plan B contains an unconditional sequence of events. To fully appreciate Plan B we first need to understand Plan A. In this sense, the prophecies and promises in the Old Testament are indispensable! By closely studying the Old Testament's Plan A, we can understand God's plans better because there are many parallels between Plan A and Plan B. Keep in mind that Plan B lays out an unconditional order of events and this highlights why Rule Three is so important. By comparing parallel language found in Daniel and Revelation with "Old Testament Plan A" language, we discover many marvelous elements which these two short books do not directly address. The bottom line is this: The better we correctly understand the prophecies and promises made in the Old Testament, the better we will understand the prophecies and promises in the New Testament.
For example, many people have asked me if I think the Jews will rebuild the temple in Jerusalem because the Old Testament indicates the temple would be rebuilt. Let me clarify the facts about this issue. The Old Testament does indicate the temple would be rebuilt, but the Old Testament is not talking about a third temple! Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the first temple (Solomon's temple) in 586 B.C. and Artaxerxes issued the decree to rebuild it in 457 B.C. The Romans completely destroyed the second temple in A.D. 70. There is no prophecy in the Bible indicating a third temple will be built and the reason for this silence is simple. God abandoned the nation of Israel at the end of the seventy weeks (Daniel 9) and He has no need for a third temple.
Jesus told the Jews,"Look, your house[your temple]is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'"(Matthew 23:38,39) Jesus declared the temple of Israel, which was designed to be His dwelling place, to be desolate. Jesus declared it desolate because Israel had rejected Him and He had rejected Israel. Second, Jesus made it perfectly clear that He would never dwell in Israel ever again. The next time the nation of Israel would see Him would be at the Second Coming.
Another interesting point: The temple mount was permanently removed from Jewish control in A.D. 684 when the Dome of the Rock mosque was built on the temple mount. It seems evident that God gave His site to the Moslems so that another Jewish temple could not be built. The presence of the mosque frustrates a lot of Christians who do not understand Plan B, but it shouldn't. There will not be a third temple. The temple that we should be studying and understanding is in Heaven! (Hebrews 8:1-5) That is where Jesus intercedes for us. Soon, Jesus will call for the seven trumpets to begin! (Revelation 8, 9) When that day arrives, the present confusion over rebuilding a temple in Jerusalem will vanish.