Keys to Understanding Bible Prophecy!
Lesson five - The International Scope of Prophecy
Skeptics who accuse God of favoring the descendants of Israel to the detriment of other nations are often unaware of the scope of God's master plan. Though the people of Israel play a pivotal role in the fulfillment of the plan, their role is not just for their own benefit.
God promised Abraham, ". . . In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:3). To fulfill that objective, God also promised Abraham: "I will make you [through the people of Israel] a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you . . ." (Genesis 12:2-3).
When we carefully examine Bible prophecy, we find that God is simply remaining faithful to His promise. Individuals and nations who oppose the way God has chosen to use the people of Israel-because of His promises to Abraham-are doomed to ultimate failure. This is not because Abraham's Israelite descendants are better than other people. It is because such people set themselves against God's will.
God's plan extends to all nations
God is fair. He severely punished ancient Israel and Judah when they rebelled against Him. He blesses anyone who complies with His instructions and punishes those who do not. He ultimately shows no partiality in His treatment of Israelites over non-Israelites (Deuteronomy 10:17-19).
In the text of the Ten Commandments, He explained that His laws apply to all:
". . . I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments" (Exodus 20:5-6).
God judges people by their responses to His instructions. He specifically told the people of ancient Israel to love the stranger (foreigner) because they themselves had once been foreigners in Egypt (Leviticus 19:34). God explained to Abraham that His master plan calls for blessing "all the families of the earth" (Genesis 12:3).
That plan involves using Abraham's descendants through Jacob in a prominent and special role. Jesus Christ, of course, is the principal offspring of Abraham in the plan (Matthew 1:1; Galatians 3:29); salvation is accessible only through Him (Acts 4:10-12).
But the other physical descendants of Israel play a vital role in God's plan. It is important that we comprehend the international implications of biblical prophecy so Israel's role is not misinterpreted. God is focused not only on Israel. His purpose concerns all nations, all peoples.
Isaiah begins his prophecy with these words, "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth!" (Isaiah 1:2). He soon adds, "Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it" (Isaiah 2:2). In the last chapter of the same book, God tells us through Isaiah, "It shall be that I will gather all nations . . . and they shall come and see My glory" (Isaiah 66:18).
Prophecy transcends national borders. Though God focuses more attention on His plan for the descendants of Abraham, He does not forget the rest of mankind (Acts 10:34-35). He will bless all who obey Him and will punish all who stubbornly set their will against Him-Israelites and other nations alike.
God's long-range purpose is to change the behavior of all people. This is because He is "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).
He promised, ". . . My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations" (Isaiah 56:7).
Prophecy explains how this will happen.
God loved the world
Even though God chose Israel as "a special treasure . . . above all people" (Exodus 19:5), His purpose goes far beyond the Israelites. Moses explained this when God was establishing Israel as a nation. "See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me . . . Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people" (Deuteronomy 4:5-6, NIV).
Over the protests of the prophet Jonah, God sent him to prophesy to the gentile city of Nineveh. Its citizens responded to his warning and repented, and God spared them. He has concern for all peoples.
To Israel God gave the crucial responsibility of living God's ways as a model for the benefit of other nations. At that time the Israelites did not have a heart to obey God (Jeremiah 7:23-24). So their success as a role model was short-lived. Over time their conduct degenerated to the same level as that of the other nations around them.
Finally God temporarily withdrew His blessings from the descendants of Abraham, and they were taken into captivity. God then offered Nebuchadnezzar, the gentile king of Babylon, an unusual opportunity to serve Him. Daniel, the prophet who was a key administrator in Nebuchadnezzar's government, recorded that God offered this gentile monarch the opportunity to repent of his sins and apply the laws of God to his kingdom.
The nations and peoples in Nebuchadnezzar's vast empire would have benefited immeasurably had he accepted God's offer. Then this knowledge and understanding of the ways of God could have passed on to future generations.
God allowed Nebuchadnezzar to rule an empire whose culture and influence would far outlast him, extending into the empires and cultures that would succeed Babylon. But, because Nebuchadnezzar wouldn't submit to God, Babylon's influence would be far more evil than good. Scripture shows this evil influence will continue through time even to the second coming of Jesus Christ (Revelation 17:5; 18:2).
The future revealed to a gentile king
To get Nebuchadnezzar's attention, God revealed to him, through a dream, a glimpse of the future. Daniel explained to the king that "there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days" (Daniel 2:28).
Daniel continued: "... The God of heaven has given you a kingdom . . . But after you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours; then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth. And the fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron . . . And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; . . . and it shall stand forever" (verses 37-44).
Because of Israel's sins, God granted gentile rulers dominance in that region until a final kingdom-the Kingdom of God-would reign at Christ's return. God revealed this most basic prophecy-an outline of future dominant powers in that region-to Nebuchadnezzar.
At about the same time, God sent Daniel to tell the monarch: ". . . O king, let my advice be acceptable to you; break off your sins by being righteous . . ." (Daniel 4:27). Although he temporarily acknowledged God's greatness, Nebuchadnezzar never really heeded Daniel's admonition.
God humbled the king by giving him over to insanity for seven years. During that time he proved himself incapable of administering the affairs of Babylon. Daniel had warned him: "They shall drive you from men, your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make you eat grass like oxen . . . till you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses" (Daniel 4:25). God made sure Nebuchadnezzar was left with no excuse for disobeying Him.
When it was all over, Nebuchadnezzar issued a proclamation: "To all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you. I thought it good to declare the signs and wonders that the Most High God has worked for me. How great are His signs, and how mighty His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion is from generation to generation" (verses 1-3).
The Babylonian king acknowledged God's power and authority over the earth. But we read no indication that he permanently changed his idolatrous ways and began serving only the true God. He came to understand, however, that Daniel's God was greater than all the other gods he worshiped.
A lesson of history
What God has shown, and history has repeatedly demonstrated, is that neither national leaders nor their people are able consistently to obey God on their own. Paul summed it up when he wrote: "What then? Are we [Jews] better than they [gentiles]? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks [gentiles] that they are all under sin. As it is written: There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one" (Romans 3:9-12).
Not until Jesus Christ establishes the Kingdom of God on earth, and God gives His Spirit to "all flesh" (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17, 38), to those who willingly repent, can righteousness become widespread. God revealed this same truth to Nebuchadnezzar: ". . . The God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever" (Daniel 2:44).
This truth is the focus of Bible prophecy. Prophecy shows how the Creator God will intervene in mankind's affairs and establish His Kingdom, which will bring peace, righteousness and salvation to all humanity.
Bible prophecy is international in scope. It is centered on the only Ruler-Jesus Christ, the Son of God-who can establish utopia on earth.
Now let's see how that promised utopia will come about.
Proceed to lesson six (a) - This Present Evil Age!