The whole truth?
Anyone who has studied the Bible much is probably familiar with Isaiah 7:14:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
The New Testament tells us that it is a prophecy of the virgin birth of Jesus.
But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us).
But if we look at the context in which it appears we will find that it also has another interpretation.
Judah was threatened by an alliance between Israel and Syria and Isaiah had just assured Ahaz the king that he didn’t have anything to fear from them.
Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”
But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.”
And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.”
The purpose of this sign was to tell Ahaz how long it would be before the danger to Judah was ended; the virgin was a woman who was a virgin at the time they were speaking. Isaiah 7:14 had two fulfillments, an immediate one in the time of Ahaz and a long range one when Jesus was born.
Imagine that some time between the death of Isaiah and the birth of Jesus two Bible scholars, Rabbi F and Rabbi P, are discussing this prophecy. Rabbi F claims that this prophecy foretells something that is still in the future. Rabbi P insists that the prophecy has already been fulfilled. From our perspective we can clearly see that both of these views are true but neither one is the whole truth.
The New Testament contains many prophecies about the end of this age and there are different opinions as to how they should be interpreted. Two methods of interpretation are futurism and preterism. Futurists believe they refer to future events but preterists believe that most of them have already been fulfilled. Take this prophecy as an example.
And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority.
One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”
Futurists believe that this beast is the Antichrist and that the fulfillment of this prophecy is still in the future. Preterists believe that the beast is really the Roman emperor Nero and that this prophecy has been fulfilled.
Do you see the similarity between this disagreement and the argument between Rabbi F and Rabbi P over the meaning of Isaiah’s prophecy? It is possible that the solution to the disagreement is the same; the prophecy has two meanings and refers both to Nero and to a future Antichrist.
I am completely convinced that the futurist interpretation of prophecy is correct. All of Revelation from the beginning of chapter four until the end is about events that will take place after the rapture of the church. However the study of Isaiah’s prophecy has made me consider the possibility that this might not be the only correct interpretation. Perhaps the real difference between futurists and preterists isn’t that one group is right and the other wrong but that each of them sees different parts of the truth.