BEN: One of my favorite ideas from this book is the notion of the mosaic when it comes to how the OT images the future in prophecy and other sorts of literature. I think you are absolutely right that the OT prophecy and the psalms etc. are opaque when it comes to speaking about the future— the prophets are deliberately general or cryptic when talking especially about the more distant future, or they choose highly poetic and hyperbolic language that shouldn’t be over-pressed. I agree with you that when it comes to the divine plan of salvation, its only after the fact that one can put the pieces to the puzzle together and see the design— like a mosaic. I like the saying of John Muir, we look at the tapestry of life from the back side of the tapestry and what we normally see is loose ends, dangling threads, but occasionally the light shines through the tapestry and we get a glance of a larger design. Talk some more about your mosaic idea vis a vis how it helps us to understand prophecy in the Bible. My own mantra is— ‘God reveals enough of the future to give us hope, but not so much that we don’t have to live by faith ever day’.
MIKE: I like your mantra – it’s spot on. It seems quite incoherent to me to presume that God gives us all the information he could on anything, or that he expects us to be capable of comprehending what he has given us with near-perfect precision. While prophecy is perhaps the best example of all that, I think those presumptions don’t work in other theological areas as well. But it’s the human propensity to synthesize, erect a theological edifice, and then call it complete (or some sort of irrevocable doctrine). I think God expects us to do the best we can. He’s made some things clearer than others for whatever reasons he has. And that’s fine.
With respect to prophecy, I think that the way things worked the first time around (that the NT writers could really only comprehend messianic prophecy and its implication in hindsight) should inform the way we look at eschatology now. In other words, we aren’t going to be able to figure out “end times” prophecy until it’s over and we can look back on it. I think that’s by design, as it was the first time around. Readers of my book will know that I think this in part because evil is intelligent. God isn’t going to show all the cards in his hand and will use misdirection to accomplish what he wants to accomplish. Personally, I think evil will get blindsided again. Lots of people for instance wonder why the powers of darkness even resist God and fight against the Church “when they know they can’t win.” I think that depends on one’s definition of victory. I think winning for the principalities and powers, who know they are under judgment—that Yahweh will reclaim the nations at the end of days (Psalm 82 again; cp. Isa 34 [and the meaning of “Edom” as an OT motif]; Isa 66, etc.)—means forestalling the “fullness of the Gentiles” being brought into the family of God. That, as Paul notes, is a hinge point for “all Israel” being saved (which I define as “all the family of God, Jewish or otherwise; cf. the recent articles by Zocalli and Staples on that). The powers of darkness get to keep their dominion by preventing God from fully acquiring his human family. But only God knows when that requirement is met—and yet it’s linked to the Day of the Lord and the second coming. In other words, cosmic evil is animated to fight for a reason, and will do its best to keep people blind and increase suffering so that more people hate God in a vicious cycle of unbelief. They think they can avoid the end of days. But they’re actually blinded like the rest of us to God’s strategic timing. So let’s just be nice to each other when it comes to end times speculation. You can look at all the blood moons you want, make your prophecy charts, and do all the jubilee math a degree in calculus makes possible, but it won’t do any good. No man knows the day or hour by design.