Dual Fulfillment of Prophecy
There are many instances in which a prophecy has two fulfillments: one immediate and one long-term. The immediate fulfillment is usually a type of the ultimate fulfillment, and stops short of being a complete fulfillment. This can sometimes cause confusion when it’s not understood. A fulfillment that serves as a type can be mistaken for the ultimate (antitype) fulfillment, and wrong doctrines as well as bitter disappointment can result.
One prominent example is the prophecies God told David about his seed sitting on his throne forever.
II Samuel 7:
While the immediate fulfillment of II Samuel 7:12 was in David's son Solomon, like many
prophecies there was also another, long-term fulfillment. The coming king's
rule will involve putting down those rebellious kings, as described in Psalm 2. In Psalm 72 is a promise that the king's son would judge the
people with righteousness, and their oppressors would fear him "as long as the
sun and moon endure, throughout all generations" (v. 5).
In addition, it says that he would have "dominion also from sea to sea, and
from the river unto the ends of the earth" (v. 8). (See also Psalm 89:20-27)
Many prophecies about the coming Messiah frequently made no distinction between his first and second comings. The classic example is Isaiah 61:1-2. It says that Messiah would "proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn." Yet when Jesus quoted these words in his first public teaching in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-21), he stopped before "the day of vengeance of our God." He read as far as "proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD" and then closed the book, and said, "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears."
He proclaimed the acceptable year of the LORD when he was here the first time, but the day of God's vengeance is still future. Another example of this can be seen in Isaiah 9:6-7, where it speaks of a child being born, and then immediately of his government having no end. Still another is in Zechariah 9:9-10, where it refers to the King riding into Jerusalem on a donkey (fulfilled in Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:29-38; and John 12:12-16) and then immediately speaks of his dominion being to the ends of the earth. Many similar prophecies refer to his first and second comings together, with no indication of the interim period which Jesus revealed.
Another example of a prophecy having a fulfillment that is a type of the long-term fulfillment is God’s promise of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. God promised a New Covenant in which He would put His Law in the hearts of His people (Jeremiah 31:31-34; 32:37-42). He specifically promised that He would pour out His spirit upon His people in those days (Isaiah 32:15; 44:3; 59:21; Ezekiel 36:25-27; 39:26-29). The prophet Joel connected this outpouring of spirit with the signs in the heavens and the Day of the Lord.
One particular prophecy has been pointed to by skeptics as disproving who Jesus was. Isaiah said that “a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” This prophecy is cited in Matthew 1:23 as being fulfilled by the conception of Jesus in the virgin Mary.
Skeptics have accused Christians of misunderstanding and misapplying this prophecy, since the Hebrew word for “virgin” is almah, which simply means a young maiden. Further, the prophecy clearly refers to a son that would be a sign regarding the fate of Israel at that time.
15 Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.
16 For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings. [see NASB]
A young woman did indeed bare a son in the next chapter, as a sign from God, although God told Isaiah to name him Maher-shalal-hash-baz. (Some commentators consider it to be the same child that was prophesied, but given a different name, as a further sign from God.)
However, the Greek word parthenos, which is used to translate almah in the Septuagint does actually mean a woman who has not had sexual relations as well as simply a young maiden. This same Greek word is used in Matthew when it quotes Isaiah.
22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,
23 Behold, a virgin [parthenos] shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. [see NASB]
In this case, no matter how you translate or interpret almah or parthenos, we are told clearly that Jesus was conceived by supernatural means, in a woman that had not had sexual relations.
18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When
as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together,
she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:
25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.
30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. [see NASB]
So while the original prophecy in Isaiah had an immediate fulfillment with the child that was born to a maiden, the ultimate, long-term fulfillment was the supernatural conception of Jesus in Mary.
The Prophet Daniel wrote that after 62 “weeks” or heptads (groups of seven years), Messiah would be cut off. Then it says "...and the people of the prince that shall come..." The "prince that shall come" is not referring to Messiah, but rather the future tyrant whom verse 27 says will cause the overspreading of abominations, elsewhere called the abomination that maketh desolate, or the abomination of desolation.
27 And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.
Many commentaries say that this Abomination of Desolation is a prophecy of Antiochus Epiphanes, a Seleucid king during the Maccabean revolt. The Web site, Got Questions says the following in an article called Who Was Antiochus Epiphanes?
"The end thereof" in 9:26 is translated "its end" or "his end" in other versions. The word for "end" has a masculine singular pronoun ending, indicating that it refers back to the prince that shall come and destroy. "His end" would be the better translation according to several sources, including the Jewish Publication Society Old Testament. Verse 27 begins with "he" which would not fit unless the previous pronoun referred to a person and not the city and sanctuary as some suggest. (Also, if the "end" in verse 26 referred to the city and sanctuary, it would be plural, i.e., "their end".)
Since the prophecy states that the wicked prince would meet his end at the time he destroys the city and the sanctuary, it could not be referring to Antiochus Epiphanes, even though there were similar events at that time. Antiochus set up an idol in the holy place in the Temple, and later destroyed the Temple. But he did not come to his end at that time.
there is more to consider. Daniel
12 clearly states
that there would be “a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation
even to that same time” (verse 1), and that at that time God’s people shall be
delivered. But even more significant, it says that, “many of them that
sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and
some to shame and everlasting contempt” (verse 2). These events did not accompany the
acts of Antiochus Epiphanes. To further establish the correct context of the
prophecies, Gabriel tells Daniel that "the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the
end" and then
tells him to "...go
thou thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at
the end of the days" (verse 9).
In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus had told his disciples that the very Temple they were looking at would be destroyed, with not one stone left on top of another, and sure enough it was, in 70 AD. This is one of the most misunderstood events in history. Many commentaries consider this to be a fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecies. And it certainly matches the one statement that not one stone of the Temple would remain on another. But, as the ESV Study Bible states in the note on Mark 13:4-37:
Were the events of 70 AD
the fulfillment of all of the prophecies, including what Daniel
foretold? They couldn’t be, because they were not followed by the
Great Tribulation and the coming of Christ, and must be regarded as a type or
foreshadow. If the second coming of Christ had taken place, we would
see him now ruling from his throne in Jerusalem, Satan would be bound and no
longer deceiving the nations, and there would be no more war. Clearly
this has not yet come to pass.
The destruction and misery caused by Titus and his armies were certainly a time of great tribulation, but not The Great Tribulation. Jesus said it would be “…great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:21), or as Mark put it, “…affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be” (Mark 13:19). As bad as it was, it was not as devastating as the flood of Noah’s time, nor was it as bad as the Holocaust of the 20th Century, in which over 6 million Jews were murdered. It also was not a time when the very fate of mankind was in the balance, but Jesus said, “And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” (Matthew 24:22).
Furthermore, Titus deported all the surviving Jews and sent them into exile, but Zechariah 14:2 prophesied that half Jerusalem’s population would go into exile and the rest not be cut off. In addition, Zechariah 12 and 14 both describe armies of many nations coming against Jerusalem, unlike the single nation of Rome in 70 AD. And they both speak of God protecting and saving His people in the last days.
8 In that day shall the LORD defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and he that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of the LORD before them.
9 And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.
1 Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee.
2 For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city.
3 Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle.
4 And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south. [see NASB]
There was no indication of God fighting against the Romans or saving His people in 70 AD, and no splitting of the Mount of Olives. Neither was there a finish to the transgression, an end of sins, a reconciliation for iniquity, a bringing in of everlasting righteousness, or a sealing up of the vision and prophecy, as predicted in Daniel 9:24. But the destruction of Jerusalem was a type of the events that are still to come.
The record of the Olivet Discourse found in the Gospel of Luke differs slightly from those in Matthew and Mark.
22 For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. [see NASB]
25 And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring;
26 Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.
27 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
28 And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. [see NASB]
While Jerusalem was surrounded by armies in 66-70 AD, it is not the only possible understanding of this reference in Luke 21. Revelation 11:2 links the holy city being trodden underfoot by the Gentiles with the Great Tribulation, and with the period of "forty-two months" (also referred to in Revelation 13:5). This treading underfoot will end when the time of the Gentiles is fulfilled. These things in Luke 21, like those in Matthew and Mark, are all linked to the prophecies in Daniel and Joel (and others), and refer to what will happen just prior to the end of the age marked by "signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars" (verse 25) followed by seeing "the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory" (verse 27).
Some still believe that Rome’s attack on Jerusalem was the prophesied Day of the Lord. Part of their “proof” was that at the time the historian Josephus reported that visions in the sky were seen, which supposedly fulfilled the prophecy of “signs in the heavens.”
[O]n the twenty-first day of the month of Artemisius [Jyar], a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared; I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sunsetting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. [Josephus, The Wars of the Jews 6.5.3.]
They cite several other Scriptures in which chariots of fire and similar sights are connected with God’s judgment. There were also a few other signs reported [also in The Wars of the Jews 6.5.3.], such as a star resembling a sword standing over the city, a comet, and a brilliant light around the altar. Many Preterists have concluded that these signs were the signs in the heavens that were supposed to signal Christ’s coming.
But there is one important element missing from these visions: Jesus himself. The prophecies don’t just say the armies will be seen. They say the Son of Man himself will be seen, and will begin to reign on earth.
What is also not mentioned in the context of these signs are the ones Jesus mentioned specifically in the Olivet Discourse: the sun and moon go dark, and the stars disappear from the sky. Nor were the heavenly signs mentioned by Joel seen: the sun turned to darkness, blood, fire, and pillars of smoke, before the Day of the Lord.
Whether the visions mentioned by Josephus were in fact seen or not is impossible to prove, but if they were, it was as part of the more immediate, but not final, fulfillment of prophecy. There is no question that God’s judgment was upon Jerusalem in 70 AD. But the fact that the other factors were missing proves that it was not the ultimate, long-term fulfillment of prophecy, but a type of the final fulfillment, which is yet future.
Preterists try to explain it all away by suggesting that Christ came invisibly, but that not only drastically changes the nature of the Kingdom of God as foretold throughout the Old Testament, but it flatly contradicts the statements that Christ’s coming would be seen and recognized by everyone.
27 For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
7 Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen. [see NASB]
we saw in Foundations of Prophecy and Three Schools of Thought, one of the biggest
keys in interpreting Scripture, especially prophecy of the future, is to
connect the dots. Every Scripture about a given subject must fit
together, and when an event in history seems to be the fulfillment of prophecy,
it must have all of the factors in the right sequence. If only some
factors are present, it is usually the first part of a dual fulfillment, a
type of the ultimate fulfillment.
This page was last updated on June 20, 2018.