Handel's Messiah: The Person and Work of Christ

10. 'Behold, He Shall Come'

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
How do we know that the prophetic promises of God are certain?

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part 10 of a series. Read part 9.

How do we know that the prophetic promises of God are certain?

The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the Covenant, whom you delight in; behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3:1)

As we conclude our study of Malachi 3:1 in the libretto of Handel's Messiah, we come to the last statement of the verse: "Behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of hosts." The Holy Spirit through Malachi proclaims of the absolute certainty of the future fulfillment of this prophecy. Have no doubt, the Lord says. The Messenger of the Covenant will come.

And indeed, He has come. As we have seen, this prophecy was fulfilled many times during Christ's earthly ministry. It is continually being fulfilled as the Spirit of Christ comes to dwell in believers who are His temples in this present age.

In Him Is "Yes" and "Amen"

In 2 Corinthians chapter 1, the Apostle Paul by divine inspiration speaks of the certainty of the promises of God in Christ: "For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us."

In other words, we have the Old Testament promises of the coming of the Christ. In Handel's Messiah, we see a very small sampling of the many specific and detailed prophetic promises that the Holy Spirit gave concerning the One who was to come. These promises, Paul reminds us, are God's "Yes" - this is exactly what I the Lord will do. And in Christ himself, in the coming of the Messiah into this world, we have the answering "Amen" - God has done it.

The Prophetic Word Confirmed

The Apostle Peter echoes this thought in his second epistle.

For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.

And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:19-21)

In this passage, Peter is making two points. His first concerns the witness and testimony of the apostles. They saw Jesus Christ with their own eyes. They saw all the Old Testament prophecies about His first coming fulfilled in every detail, nothing left out. Peter himself, along with James and John, was on the mountain and saw Jesus Christ transfigured before them. They heard the voice of God the Father from Heaven saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." The facts, Peter is saying, verify prophecy.

But then he goes on to say that there is something even more important that we must understand first: The nature of prophecy itself. "Knowing this first," he says, "that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit."

The Great Dividing Point

Throughout church history, this statement is at the center of every division that we encounter between the orthodox and the heretic. The great division between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism hinges upon it. It forms the great gulf between authentic Biblical Christianity and every other kind of religion in the world, every false religion.

Many churches, and many cults, lift one portion of this statement out of context. Typical of them is Roman Catholicism, which says that this statement means that it is wrong for anyone to interpret the Bible for himself. Only the church can interpret the Scriptures. "No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation" - period.

Authentic Christianity, on the other hand, claims the universal priesthood of all believers, not just a certain class of men who are called priests. But Rome declares that it is dangerous for church members to try to understand the Bible for themselves. So there is only one safe thing to do, they say. Go to the church. Go to the priest. The great irony is that when men go to seminary to become priests, the thing they study the least is the Bible itself. Instead, they spend years studying church tradition.

Here is the crucial question: Do you believe that the church has to interpret the Bible according to its traditions or some other standard, or do you believe that the Bible itself is the final authority? And do you believe that the church, rather than standing in judgment over the Word of God, must be judged by the Word of God?

God's Word, Not Man's

We must recognize that the words "No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation" do not form the Holy Spirit's complete statement. The word "for" at the beginning of verse 21 links the two verses together. "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." Verse 21 explains verse 20.

Another word we must understand more carefully in Peter's statement is the word "interpretation." This is the only place in the entire Bible where this particular Greek word is used. In the original language this word has to do with determination - the way in which something is determined to be true or not true. Therefore, the force of verse 20 is this: "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture originated as the result of any private determination of what is true or not true."

The following rendering of the entire statement is closer to the original language: "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture originated in the human writer's own personal determination of what is true or not true, for this reason: prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were driven by the Holy Spirit."

Seen in this light, this statement directly connects to what Peter has already said in verse 19: "And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed..." Why should we pay attention to Scripture? Why should we study it? Why should we meditate on it? Why should we base our lives, and the life of the church, and our hope for eternity, on this Book?

The answer is one that Charles Jennens, who assembled the Scriptures that form Handel's Messiah, well understood: Holy Scripture is not a mere collection of the words and ideas of men. It did not originate in man's understanding of things. The Bible is not the record of man's views, perspectives, or interpretation of events. Man did not decide what is true and what is not true. "Prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit."

The Hope That Never Disappoints

Our great hope in the second coming of our Messiah has the surest possible foundation - not the words or ideas of mere men, but the sure promises of God in written form. The Lord will indeed come once again "suddenly" or unexpectedly, "as a thief in the night" (1 Thessalonians 5:2).

This is the great hope of the saints of God, and they will not be disappointed because we have the Spirit of Christ himself dwelling within us as the guarantee of final and eternal glory with Christ:

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. (2 Corinthians 1:20)

 

Next: "But who may abide the day of His coming?"

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