by Jack Brooks
I. The First Gospel
Genesis 3:15 is called the protoevangelium, Latin for the "first gospel", by theologians. James Hatch, longtime Bible teacher at Columbia Bible College (SC), described it as the acorn out of which grew the mighty oak of Gods redemptive plan. In Genesis 3:15, God curses the serpent in the following way:
It is unclear what exactly was involved in the individualized antagonism (A) established between Eve and Satan. Eves "seed" is an individual (B), because of the singular male pronoun used in the second half of the verse (C). A male descendant of Eve is predicted to break Satans head, where Satan would wound the mans heel (D). This latter prediction implies three ideas:
1. Satans wound would be mortal whereas the Mans wound would not be.
2. The Man would be more powerful than Satan -- quite a promise!
3. Satans evil, damning authority and power (signified by the serpents head) would be undone.
All later Bible prophecy is rooted in this one original seed, just as the oak trees trunk, branches, stems, and twigs sprout from the original acorn. The lesson to be learned is that all prophecy has some underlying Messianic connection. The connections between later prophecies which do not explicitly talk about the Messiah (such as the predictions of Ninevehs collapse in Obadiah) and the original "First Gospel" may take some thoughtful effort to track, but the connections do exist. All OT prophecy is Messianic prophecy in some way.
II. Gods Covenant with Abraham.
Gods covenant with Abraham is also foundational to all later prophecy. In Genesis 12, 15, and 17 God announced a set of promises to the Asiatic patriarch. In this series of visionary appearances, God made the following promises:
A. God would make Abrams line fruitful. (12:2)
1. God would raise up many great nations from Abram. (17:4-6)
2. God would give him a son from Sarahs womb (15:1-5).
3. God would raise up kings from his line (17:6)
B. God would bless Abram (12:2).
C. God would exalt Abrams name (12:2).
D. God would make Abram a blessing to all the worlds families (12:2,3).
E. God would bless or curse anyone who blessed or cursed Abram (12:3).
F. God would give Abrams people the land from the Nile to the Euphrates (15:18).
In addition, God perpetually committed Himself to the people who would rise up from Abram through his promised son (17:7). This is the promise to which Paul refers in Romans 11:1ff. I should note that God never promised to unconditionally save all members of Abrahams people. Even Abraham himself needed to exercise individual faith in Gods promise (Gen. 15:6).
God promised Abraham a land, a people, a king, and a blessing. The story of Israel -- including times which yet lie ahead of us today -- is the record of God working toward the fulfillment of those four promises.
In Galatians ch. 3 Paul exposits the details of Abrahams covenant even further. The blessing of the nations was a prediction of the Gospel coming to the Gentiles (Gal. 3:8). This identifies the connection between Abrahams covenant and the First Gospel. Satans successful temptation of the human race brought down Gods curse. Sin brings a curse from God, because all sin is transgression of Gods law (Gal. 3:10). Adam transgressed Gods Edenic law, and was cursed. In order for God to bless the nations, Adams sin and its consequences would need to be undone somehow. Satan held all nations in bondage through sin, so Satan himself would also need to be crushed.
Jesus Christ rescued us from Gods curse by being cursed in our place on the cross (Gal. 3:13). The "blessing of Abraham", according to Paul, was the justification of our sins. As a result of this blessing, even those not physically descended from Abraham can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 3:14).
When we consider the details of Abrahams promises, we can see that Gods later promises to David (2 Sam. 7:1-17) are really amplifications of Abrahams covenant. The Davidic covenant is a sub-set of the Abrahamic. Gods promises to David were not really all that new. God had already promised kings through Abrahams line, and specifically a king of Israel through Judahs bloodline (Gen. 49:8-12). What is distinctive about 2 Samuel 7 is that God identifies Davids house as the prime beneficiary of that promise (7:13, 16). This launches a new "branch" off the prophetic "trunk" -- the prediction that Messiah would be of Davidic descent. Hence, the Jews considered the Messiah the "Son of David".
The promise of land also remains in force. It is further expanded upon in such passages as Isaiah 2:1-4. When the promised king of God reigns, He will rule over more than the original terrain described as "east of the Nile and west of the Euphrates". Jerusalem will become the capitol of the world (2:2), and all other cities -- Washington, Baghdad, Paris, London, Sao Paolo -- will be subordinated to it. The Kings authority will extend over all nations (2:4). This is why Paul says that Abrahams seed will inherit the "world" (Romans 4:13).
It has been debated whether Gods covenant with Abraham was conditional or unconditional. God pledged a perpetual commitment to the Jews, and unilaterally sent supernatural representations of His glory through an ancient blood-oath ceremony (Gen. 15). Yet in Genesis 26:4-5 God told Isaac that He would fulfill the covenant with Isaac because of Abrahams moral obedience to Him. Even so, Israel was later ejected from Palestine because of their great wickedness.
The best explanation of this duality may be that God maintains a two-level relationship with the nation of Israel. On one hand He relates to Israel nationally, and at the same time He also relates to each Jewish person individually. God can judge Israel for her sins without canceling His original, basic commitment by so doing. Paul in Romans 11 dogmatically states that God has not disenfranchised Israel, despite their rejection of the Messiah (the ultimate sin). Yet, in Romans 9 Paul makes it equally clear that not everyone is a chosen son of God just because he physically descends from Isaac (9:6-8).
Sin stands in the way of Gods liberty to fulfill Abrahams covenant. Christ work of conquering sin through his redeeming work on the cross made the Abrahamic covenant fulfillable. Israel continues to hold rightful "title" to all the Abrahamic blessings by Gods own decree, but Israels sins still prevent them from entering into the blessings. The root sin of unbelief toward Gods promised Savior bars Israel from experiencing the blessing of forgiveness in Christ. The cornucopia of additional sins (all of which spring from that same unbelief) got them taken into bondage by the Babylonians, and continue to prevent modern Israel from experiencing the peace, safety, and blessing which God would like to pour out upon them.
Like a tree growing additional rings, Gods promises to Abraham and David are layered on top of the First Gospel. It is essential to understand Gods gracious commitment to Abraham and David if we want to grasp Biblical prophecy.
III. The "Day of the Lord"
A third important phrase in OT prophecy is "the Day of the Lord". This phrase is used throughout the prophetic literature, as a parallel to what modern people often jokingly call "Judgment Day". Ill only give a few text-samples below, since the number of references is too great to completely cite. The Day of the Lord signified a time when the following events would occur:
A. All idols would be destroyed, and God alone worshiped. Isaiah 2:11
B. God alone would be exalted as the one true God. Isa. 2:11
C. The pride of arrogant men would be trampled down. Isa. 2:17
D. God wrathfully executes the punishment of sinners. Isa. 13:9-13
E. Horrifying celestial signs would break out. Isa. 13:10
F. Israels believers will be cleansed by God unto pure worship. Malachi 3:2-4.
G. The righteous would have the full blessing of God poured out upon them, and they will march in victory over the armies of the wicked. Mal. 4:1-3
It is to this complex of prophetic events John the Baptist referred when he warned Israel that the Messiah would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire. The righteous seed would be baptized with the Spirit, while the wicked chaff would be "baptized" (i.e., burned up) by judgment fires (Matt. 3:7-12). The Day of the Lord immediately precedes the kingdom of heaven/God.
In some passages certain historical events prior to the end of the age were also called "the day of the Lord". For instance, this phrase is applied in Isaiah to the time when God would use the Assyrians and Babylonians to punish wicked Israel for her sins. Any time in Scripture when God specifically punishes a nation for its wickedness could be called "the day of the Lord". However, OT prophecy picks up this phrase and applies it on a grand scale to the entire world. Babylons deportation of the Jews was "the day of the Lord" on a micro-scale; Gods future slaughter of the Beast and his armies in Revelation 19 will be "the Day of the Lord" on a macro-scale.
IV. Some Final Thoughts on OT Prophecy.
A. We see the common factor of sin throughout these three streams of prophecy. In the First Gospel, God promises to send a Man to destroy the Devils power (and, consequently, undo all the sin-damage he has done). In Abrahams covenant, we read of Gods promise to redemptively bless all the sin-plagued nations through Abrahams seed. Sin repeatedly kept the children of Israel from entering into the fullness of Abrahamic blessing, or prevented them from remaining in it once they got there. In the Day of the Lord prophecies, we see how sin stands arrayed against God and must be violently and conclusively put down. God assaults sin once-and-for-all, and triumphs. Consequently, the curse is lifted and the desert blooms like a rose.
B. Prophecy expands from simple to complex as you move forward through the pages of Scripture. It is impossible to understand the later, more complicated prophecies, without first understanding the earlier, simpler prophecies. Similarly, NT prophecies make very little sense, or their richness is evaporated, by an ignorance of OT prophecy. Biblical prophecy ultimately culminates in the Book of the Revelation, a book which almost defies comprehension to anyone not already very familiar with OT prophecy. All the OT prophetic streams and rivers come crashing together in Revelation. I believe that one of the reasons John Calvin confessed bafflement with Revelation (and never wrote a commentary on it) was because he had so consistently misinterpreted OT prophecy. By assuming that Israel was disenfranchised by God, and therefore entirely transferring the OT references to the Christian Church by means of Gospel allegories, Calvin was left quite perplexed by the final book of the New Testament.
C. Prophecy also moves from compression to expansion. Who would believe that a giant oak tree, with all its thousands of leaves, stems, twigs, and branches, could erupt out the tiny beige acorn with its cross-hatch cap? Chronologies are particularly squashed together in OT prophecy. Some have said, for instance, that the pre-trib rapture position cant possibly be true because OT prophecy predicts the resurrection of the wicked and the just at the same time. But OT prophecy appeared to predict a suffering and slaying Messiah at the same time, as well. We now realize that different features of the Messiahs work were often squashed together into single prophetic units, which later were fulfilled in an extended chronology. The same literary feature can apply to other doctrinal issues which use OT prophetic texts as source material.