Study of Important Biblical Distinctions - 17 - DOUBLE FULFILLMENTS

A Study of Important Biblical Distinctions
By William MacDonald


When we come to the study of the prophetic Scriptures, one of the most helpful keys is to realize that some prophecies have more than one fulfillment.  It is not unusual to find a prediction that has a preliminary, partial fulfillment and then later a full, final accomplishment.  This is known as the "law of double reference."
    The classic example is Joel's prophecy concerning the pouring out of the Spirit.

    And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.  Even upon the menservants and maidservants in those days I will pour out my spirit.  And I will give portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke.  The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.  And It shall come to pass that all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be delivered (Joel 2:28-32a RSV).

    When Peter quoted this passage on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-21), he said,        this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel." But he could not have meant that it was a complete fulfillment, since some of the things that Joel mentioned did not occur at Pentecost.

    The Spirit was not poured out on all flesh, but only on three thousand Jews.  There were no wonders in the heavens-the sun was not turned to darkness, nor the moon to blood.  Not all the signs on earth occurred, either-such as blood and fire and vapor of smoke.

    This means that Pentecost was an early and incomplete fulfillment of Joel's prophecy.  Its total accomplishment will take place at the Second Advent of Christ.  His coming will be preceded by the predicted signs and followed by the pouring out of His Spirit on all flesh in the millennial earth.
    We have another illustration of the "law of double reference" in the famous "virgin" passage of Isaiah 7:14:

    Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.  Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (RSV).

    The prophecy obviously had an immediate meaning for King Ahaz, namely, that a child would be born and named "God with us," implying that victory was near.  Before the child would be old enough to discern good and evil the Syria-Israel alliance would be crushed, and within a few more years the child would be living on the fat of the land (v. 15).
    But the complete unfolding of the verse came with the birth of Christ.

    All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel" (which means, God with us) (Matt. 1:22, 23 RSV).

    A third example of dual fulfillment is found in Psalm 118:26a.

    Blessed is he who enters in the name of the Lord (RSV).

    On the first Palm Sunday, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the crowd shouted,

    Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed be he who comes in the name of the Lord! (Matt. 21:9 RSV).

    But we know that this did not exhaust the prophecy, because in His later lament over Jerusalem the Lord Jesus said,

    For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" (Matt. 23:39 RSV).

    The final fulfillment will occur when the Savior returns to earth in power and glory to a people who will welcome Him as Messiah and King.
    Still another illustration of a prophecy which has two fulfillments concerns the destruction of Jerusalem.  Jesus predicted the desolation of the city in Luke 21:20-24.  His words obviously came to pass in A.D. 70, when Titus and his Roman legions sacked the city and levelled the Temple.  But Jerusalem's woes are not all past.  It is clear from Revelation 11:2 that the Gentiles will trample on the holy city for forty-two months during the Tribulation period.
Psalm 2:1, 2 is quoted in Acts 4:25, 26:

    'Why did the Gentiles rage,
    and the people imagine vain things?
    The kings of the earth set themselves in array,
    and the rulers were gathered together,
    against the Lord and against his Anointed.'

    In Acts 4:27 the words are applied to the crucifixion of Christ:

    For truly in this city there were gathered together against thy holy servant Jesus, whom thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel ...

    That was a preliminary and partial fulfillment of the Psalmist's words.  They will have a still further fulfillment at the close of the Tribulation when world rulers will unite in a futile attempt to prevent Christ from taking the reins of universal government.
    A final example of the law of double reference can be found in prophecies dealing with the regathering of Israel (Isa. 43:5-7; Jer. 16:14, 15;  Ezek. 36:8-11; 37:21).  These prophecies had a very partial fulfillment when a remnant of the Jews returned from Babylonian captivity to Israel, as described in Ezra and Nehemiah.  But the main event is still future.  Any past regatherings have been only a trickle.  During the time of Jacob's trouble, God will bring His chosen earthly people back to Israel from all over the world (Matt. 24:31; Deut. 30:3, 4; Ezek. 36:24-32; 37:11-14).  Then and only then will the prophecies be completely and finally fulfilled.

To obtain a copy of this book, please write to:
Walterick Publishers
P. O. Box 2216
Kansas City, Kansas 66110

Copyright 1975 by William MacDonald