Robert McCulloch (1740-1824), was a Minister of the Gospel at Dairsie, Scotland. He was the author of a series of lectures on the prophecies of Isaiah. In his exposition on Isaiah 2:1-4 he rejected a strictly literal approach to the prophecy, and identified ‘the mountain of the Lord’s house’ as signifying the Christian church, especially in apostolic times. The following excerpt is from ‘Lectures on the Prophecies of Isaiah,’ Volume 1 (1791) pp. 129-142.
Some Old Testament prophecies seem to have been fulfilled in a literal manner, but others clearly have to be interpreted. Why are some literal, and others not? In prophecy, things of a spiritual nature are represented by symbols.
Here are some prophecies of Zechariah that are said to have been literally fulfilled by Jesus.
One of the symbolic meanings attached to mountains in prophecy is connected the fact that the ark rested upon the mountains of Ararat. In many prophecies the mountains are symbolic of blessings, promises, and revelations of God. The Genesis account of the flood connects mountains with rest. After the flood men tried to build “a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven.” The progressive revelation of God’s plan in prophecy focuses on mountains, especially mount Zion, and a city, Jerusalem, which were raised up to heaven in a spiritual sense. These contrast with the tower of Babel, a kind of man-made mountain, and the city of Babylon. In the table below, references to mountains are listed, and the possible symbolic meanings attached to them in prophecy are noted.
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!
Four things are brought together in the prophecy: good tidings, mountains, the feet of the messenger, and the fact that God reigns. The meaning of good tidings was identified by Paul, who applied the scripture to those preaching the Gospel. [Rom. 10:15-16]
In a comment on my recent post on Jack Kelley’s supernatural insight, dispensationalist Jerry Shugart claims that the comments of James in Acts 15:15-18 about Christ rebuilding the tabernacle of David refers to events that will occur only after the second coming. That notion is incorrect. James obviously applied the prophecy of Amos 9:11 to Christ building his church in the present age, and identified the tabernacle of David with the church. He said the prophecy refers to the Gentiles who were being brought into God’s family. The meaning of the passage was explained by J. A. Alexander as follows:
The essential meaning of the passage, therefore, is that the restoration of the kingdom of David was to be connected with the spiritual conquest of the Gentiles.
Lyn Leahz posted an article on Idealists, Preterists, And Futurists written by dispensationalist Jack Kelley. In the article Kelley expressed his opinions on the comments by James in Acts 15:13-18 on a prophecy found in Amos 9:11, about the tabernacle of David. James applied the prophecy to the church.
The following is a lecture by Charles Henry H. Wright given at the University of Oxford, England in 1878, in which he presents a commentary on the prophecy of Zechariah 6:9-15. Wright applied the prophecy to Jesus Christ, who is described in the New Testament as both High Priest and King.
Many preachers who support dispensationalism try to discredit the idea that Jesus Christ is reigning in the present age, upon the throne of David. But if Jesus is not the promised king who reigns on the throne of David forever, how could Peter say he is the Messiah? If he is not the king of Israel, how can he be the Christ?
The claims of dispensationalists, who say that prophecy should be viewed as literal, are discredited by the history of the throne of David. Although the promise to David through Nathan the prophet said, “And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever,” [2 Sam. 7:16] after a few centuries, the line of kings of the dynasty of David ceased, and his throne disappeared.
In his commentary on the account of Paul’s address to the Jews of Antioch in Acts 13, Joseph Addison Alexander invited comparison between Paul’s speech, and Peter’s address to the Jews of Jerusalem in Acts 2, the subject of this post. Both apostles referred to Psalm 16, and employed similar reasoning to prove that Jesus is the promised Messiah, based upon the fact of his resurrection from the dead. The following is Alexander’s commentary on Acts 13:15-41. [J. A. Alexander, The Acts of the Apostles explained. Vol. 2. (1857) pp. 17-37.]
In Peter’s address to the Jews on Pentecost, he showed from the Scriptures that Jesus is the promised Messiah who would reign on the throne of David, because he rose from the dead. Since the One who was promised would reign forever, he must be immortal. David was still in his grave, Peter said, so he was not speaking of himself, when he wrote of the one who would not remain in the grave or see corruption. The following is Joseph Addison Alexander’s commentary on Acts 2:22-36, [from The Acts of the Apostles Explained, Vol 1. pp. 66-83] the section of his address in which Peter refers to Psalm 16:8-11 to prove that Jesus is the Messiah.
Dispensationalists say that the 70 weeks prophecy in Daniel 9:24-27 applies to Jews, not the church, because the prophecy says “Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city,” in Daniel 9:24.
Tony Garland is the author of a four-part series on Daniel and the Times of the Gentiles at the Bible Prophecy blog [part-1 part-2 part-3 part-4]. In part 1 he discussed the sayings of Jesus about the times of the Gentiles, in Luke 21:24, Matt. 24:15-16, and Mark 13:14. Garland asks why Jesus did not elaborate on what he meant. He suggests the reason is that Jesus expected believers to discover his meaning by studying the revelations previously given in the Old Testament. He wrote:
Where Jesus is teaching concepts which find their origin in the Old Testament, He expects His listeners to be familiar with the basis of His teachings (Mt. 21:24; 22:29; Mark 12:24; Luke 24:27; John 5:39). And so it is with this passage and its parallel passages in Matthew and Mark. In fact, both Matthew and Mark make mention of additional information provided by Jesus in the context of this same teaching which establish part of the Old Testament context for understanding all three passages in the synoptics:
“Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” (Mt. 24:15-16 cf. Mark 13:14)
The gospel says that after Jesus was raised up from the grave, he ascended to his Father’s throne, where he was made Lord and Christ, which means he fulfils the prophecies about a descendant of David who reigns on the throne of David forever. The apostle Peter said to the Jews on the day of Pentecost,
Jesus likely alluded to Zechariah’s prophecies, when he said, “And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.” [Luke 21:20]
He continued, “Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.”
The Temple-River of Ezekiel 47:1-12 implies that there is a land through which it flows, and which is healed because of it. What land is it? Not the literal territory of Canaan. It may be the better land mentioned in Hebrews 11:16.
The story of Moses striking the rock in the wilderness which brought forth water has a profound significance, and the theme of water and rivers as symbols of the Spirit flows like a river throughout both the Old and New Testaments. The Jerusalem temple was built above the site of a spring, called Gihon, which was also the name of one of the rivers in Eden. Solomon was crowned king there. [1 Kings 1:32-35]
The better land of Hebrews 11:16 is heavenly, and yet, the saints remain on the earth, which seems to be a paradox. How can people dwelling on the earth be in a better land, if it is located in heaven? Perhaps it is not located in heaven, but has a heavenly character.
The better land represents the knowledge of God, and the spiritual inheritance of the saints. As the earthly Canaan was watered by rain, the better land is watered by God’s Spirit. In many prophecies, rainfall is a metaphor representing the Spirit, which enables our minds to understand the scriptures.