Back Toward the Future (Kaiser)

Kaiser, Walter C. Back Toward the Future: Hints for Interpreting Biblical Prophecy. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishing, reprint 2003.

Regardless of your eschatological viewpoint, Walter Kaiser, mighty in the Scriptures, gives guidelines for hermeneutics and how to approach prophetic texts.  Only one chapter deals with so-called “millennial issues.”

Make Prophetic Interpretation Center on the Living God

Prediction isn’t an add-on to divine revelation– “it is one of the methods of revelation” (Kaiser 18: Rev. 19:10).  Characteristics of biblical prophecy:

1) Plainly foretells things to come. No ambiguities.
2) Entails designed and intended predictions.
3) Written or spoken prior to the event.
4) It is not isolated but correlated to larger biblical revelation.

1 Peter 1:10-12 doesn’t mean Old Testament prophecy was vague or needed NT for the “real meaning.” It just means the OT writers didn’t know the time of Christ’s coming (Kaiser 23). A prophet didn’t “speak better than he knew,” but rather, on issues where he confessed ignorance (Dan. 8:27; 12:8; Zech. 4:13), he merely confesses ignorance of the time or “wants to understand what is said before he writes it down” (24).

Because biblical prophecy involves the Lord of space and time, its fulfillment isn’t intended to be ambiguous, as we see in Greek oracles.

Don’t Believe Every Prophet

Kaiser gives some criteria for discerning false prophets.  They are known for their immoral lifestyles. They are crowd-pleasers. They do not distinguish their own thoughts from biblical revelation.  Finally, they plagiarize (Kaiser 31).

Yet some prophecies do not appear to be fulfilled.  Kaiser mentions several kinds of prophecy: unconditional fulfillment; conditional fulfillment, and sequential fulfillment (35). We shouldn’t be surprised by conditional prophecy: prophecy is intended for holy living. God’s character doesn’t change; his actions might.

Word Packages

When the Bible uses “earth” in distinction from heaven, it is usually universal.  When it uses earth in distinction from the Gentile world, it probably means Israel (48). 

Go Back to the Past in Order to Get to the Future

Thesis:  Biblical prophecy uses the language of previous revelatory events: creation, flood, Egypt, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc.

Biblical Theology of Prophecy

Kaiser’s method for studying prophecy is standard Evangelical hermeneutics.  He wisely recommends finding longer passages and units rather than just proof-texting verses.  Indeed, he gives a table of key biblical texts to understand prophecy:

Gen. 12 Promise to Abraham
Lev. 25/Dt 28 blessings and curses for obedience/disobedience
2 Sam. 7 Promise of a kingdom to David
Isa. 9 Promise of Immanuel and his dominion
Isa. 24 Devastation of the earth and the millennium
Isa 52:13-53:12 Suffering Servant
Isa 65-66 New heavens and new earth
Jer. 31:31-34 Promise new covenant
Ezek. 37 Restoration of Israel
Dan. 2 and 7 Succession of empires and coming of kingdom of God
Joel 2:28-3:21 Coming of the Holy Spirit and the judgment on nations
Amos 9:11-15 Restoration of David’s hut
Micah 4 Future assembly of nations in Jerusalem
Zech. 14 Christ’s return on the Mount of Olives

Kaiser recommends we focus primarily on the promise plan of God.  While it is true that Christ is the center of the Old Testament, Christ emerges from the Old Testament promises.  It is like a tree that is branching out. This is a much better approach than seeing Jesus as a rock on the road to Palestine.  It avoids allegorical goofiness.

He suggests we read “All Israel will be saved” as sequential in thought.  It might be temporal. It seems to be temporal, but even if it isn’t, nothing is lost by seeing it as sequential to the promises (114).  It follows from the promises made in the OT about including the Gentiles in salvation. It isn’t negating Israel. The phrase “life from the dead” brings to mind Ezek. 37. 

Kaiser gives a good premillennial account of two ages.  

The                 Age                       to Come

This Age   ——                                                         The Millennium/Eternity
                    Resurrection of XP              2nd Coming Great                       Judgment Throne

Three Resurrections

In 1 Cor 15 all humans will be raised by the power of God, but each in his own platoon (tagmata). Paul uses the epeita….eita construction similar to Mark 4:28: first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn appears (120).

The              Age                         to                      Come

This Age——                            The Millennium/                                       Eternity

Resurrection of Chr.              Resurrection of believers                   Resurrection Unbel.

The Pentecost Problem

Simply because Peter cited a few verses from Joel 2, does that mean all future referents in Joel are exhausted on the day of Pentecost?  Of course not.

Kaiser mightily refutes the “double-meaning” theory of prophecy, which is akin to allegorism.  Note, he isn’t addressing the fact that some prophecies have a partial or delayed fulfillment. That is perfectly legitimate.  Nay, he refutes the Philonic allegorism.

(1) This sets aside the common laws of language and makes communication meaningless.
(2) If there were a double/allegorical meaning, how could it be identified (129)?
(3) What boundaries, if any, are to be placed on double-meanings (130)?
(4) Advocates of double meaning admit it shouldn’t be used to establish doctrine, but why this reluctance all of a sudden?
(5) While it is sometimes claimed that the NT writers give a “spiritual” interpretation to OT passages, they wouldn’t have expected prophecy-fulfillment to make any sense if the rules of language were conveniently thrown out the windom.


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