Old Testament Prophecy is Not About the Future (Mostly)
This post is adapted from The Message of the Prophets online course, taught by J. Daniel Hays.
When many people think about prophecy, they think about predictions about the future. For modern Christians, this usually means predictions about how the world will end.
But this wasn’t what the prophets in the Old Testament thought—or how they were heard.
Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart write:
“Less than 2 percent of Old Testament prophecy is messianic. Less than 5 percent specifically describes the new-covenant age. Less than 1 percent concerns events yet to come in our time.” 1
So if the prophets aren’t talking about the future, what are they talking about?
Most of the material in the prophetic books relates to the indictment of Israel and Judah for breaking the Mosaic covenant, the call to repentance, and the proclamation of severe judgment due to their refusal to repent.
Does the future matter?
While the prophets aren’t usually talking about our future, they are still talking about Israel’s future.
Although the prophets devote many more pages to indictments and judgments in their own day, the sections on the coming future restoration are still extremely important to us as New Testament believers.
In fact, the New Testament writers themselves interacted with the Old Testament prophets in this way.
Thus Ronald Clements, for example, concludes:
“Two things are immediately striking in this summary of Old Testament prophecy; the prophets are regarded as having proclaimed a unified message, and this message is regarded as one concerning the era of salvation which the New Testament writers now regard as having dawned.” 2
Therefore, as we study the Old Testament prophets from a New Testament perspective, it is appropriate—to some degree—to give an unbalanced emphasis to the shorter sections in the prophets that deal with the future restoration and the coming messianic age.
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- Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 182.
- Ronald E. Clements, Old Testament Prophecy: From Oracle to Canon (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996), 191–93.