Saturday, July 2, 2022

The Absolute Certainty of Bible Prophecy

  by James C. Morris –

Jesus said, “assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:18) And the Holy Spirit, speaking through Paul, said that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:28-29)

We are told that God began His promise to Abraham by saying, “By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord.” (Genesis 22:16) The Holy Spirit said of this, “For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, ‘Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.’ For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast.” (Hebrews 6:13-19)

We see several critically important things in this passage. The first, and most obvious, part of it is the stressing that this promise involved “two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie.” This is closely related to what God said through Balaam, “God is not a man, that He should lie.” (And we note in passing that both of these two passages point out that, if God were not going to actually keep His promises, He would have been lying when He made them.) And we are explicitly told that God “cannot lie.” (Titus 1:2)

But what was the other “immutable” thing? “Because He could swear by no one greater,” God “swore by Himself.” Then the Holy Spirit pointed out that “men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute.” So whenever God swore by Himself, He was putting “an end of all dispute” about what He was saying. And God did not just do this in regard to Abraham. He also did it concerning “the Assyrian,” saying:

The LORD of hosts has sworn, saying, ‘Surely, as I have thought, so it shall come to pass, And as I have purposed, so it shall stand.’ That I will break the Assyrian in My land, And on My mountains tread him underfoot. Then his yoke shall be removed from them, And his burden removed from their shoulders. This is the purpose that is purposed against the whole earth, And this is the hand that is stretched out over all the nations. For the LORD of hosts has purposed, And who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, And who will turn it back?’ ” (Isaiah 14:24-27)

And He said concerning everyone:


I have sworn by Myself;

The word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness,

And shall not return.

That to Me every knee shall bow,

Every tongue shall take an oath.” (Isaiah 45:23)

And again, God said concerning “Edom,” (see verse 7) “ ‘For I have sworn by Myself,’ says the LORD, ‘that Bozrah shall become a desolation, a reproach, a waste, and a curse. And all its cities shall be perpetual wastes.’ ” (Jeremiah 49:13)

But even when our God did not “swear by Himself,” He often stressed the absolute immutability of His counsel in different words, saying things like, “Thus says the LORD: ‘If you can break My covenant with the day and My covenant with the night, so that there will not be day and night in their season, then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and with the Levites, the priests, My ministers.’ ” (Jeremiah 33:20-21) And, “Thus says the LORD: ‘If My covenant is not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth, then I will cast away the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, so that I will not take any of his descendants to be rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will cause their captives to return, and will have mercy on them.’ ” (Jeremiah 33:25-26)

Earlier, He had said concerning His promises to David:


My covenant I will not break,

Nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips.

Once I have sworn by My holiness;

I will not lie to David:

His seed shall endure forever,

And his throne as the sun before Me;

It shall be established forever like the moon,

Even like the faithful witness in the sky.” (Psalm 89:34)

Earlier in the same psalm He had said of this covenant,


If his sons forsake My law

And do not walk in My judgments,

If they break My statutes

And do not keep My commandments,

Then I will punish their transgression with the rod,

And their iniquity with stripes.

Nevertheless My lovingkindness

I will not utterly take from him,

Nor allow My faithfulness to fail.”

(Psalm 89:30-33)

Indeed, it would have been difficult to make this language more absolute. But yet again, He said:

Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will also enable you to dwell in the cities, and the ruins shall be rebuilt. The desolate land shall be tilled instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass by. So they will say, “This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden; and the wasted, desolate, and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.” Then the nations which are left all around you shall know that I, the LORD, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted what was desolate. I, the LORD, have spoken it, and I will do it.’ ” (Ezekiel 36:33-36)

And God was not only insistent that He would keep His word about His promises of blessing. He was similarly insistent concerning His pronouncements of coming judgments, saying things like:

Remember the former things of old,

For I am God, and there is no other;

I am God, and there is none like Me,

Declaring the end from the beginning,

And from ancient times things that are not yet done,

Saying, 'My counsel shall stand,

And I will do all My pleasure,'

Calling a bird of prey from the east,

The man who executes My counsel, from a far country.

Indeed I have spoken it;

I will also bring it to pass.

I have purposed it;

I will also do it.” (Isaiah 46:9-11)

Again, He said, “I, the LORD, have spoken, and will do it. I will scatter you among the nations, disperse you throughout the countries, and remove your filthiness completely from you. You shall defile yourself in the sight of the nations; then you shall know that I am the LORD.” (Ezekiel 22:14-16)


“ ‘I, the LORD, have spoken it;

It shall come to pass, and I will do it;

I will not hold back,

Nor will I spare,

Nor will I relent;

According to your ways

And according to your deeds

They will judge you,’ Says the Lord GOD.”

(Ezekiel 24:14)

But now we need to ask, why is this such an important concept? Why was God so insistent about the absolute nature of His pronouncements? We have already noticed that the purpose of His oath to Abraham was that we might understand that “it is impossible for God to lie.” And we have already noticed that this is similar to what He had much earlier said through the prophet Balaam:

God is not a man, that He should lie,

Nor a son of man, that He should repent.

Has He said, and will He not do?

Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”

(Numbers 23:19)

And we have already noticed that here, our God was pointing out that He would have been lying when He made these promises, if He was not going to actually keep them. But again, why is this so important? To see why, we need to go back to something we skipped over previously.

We were explicitly told that the reason that God made His oath to Abraham was that “we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.” How did “we” get into the picture? What does this have to do with us? Actually, everything. It has everything to do with us. For if God could cancel any promise He ever made, He could also cancel any other promise He ever made. And that would include even His promises to save us and make is His own forever. And that is why it refers to “the hope set before us,” adding, “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast.”

We are also told something similar about the promises made to David. For we are told:

Ho! Everyone who thirsts,

Come to the waters;

And you who have no money,

Come, buy and eat.

Yes, come, buy wine and milk

Without money and without price.

Why do you spend money for what is not bread,

And your wages for what does not satisfy?

Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,

And let your soul delight itself in abundance.

Incline your ear, and come to Me.

Hear, and your soul shall live;

And I will make an everlasting covenant with you--

The sure mercies of David.”

(Isaiah 55:1-3)

So the scriptures explicitly teach us to apply to ourselves the absolutely unconditional nature of the sure promises that God made to both “Abraham” and “David.” And that is why this subject is so critically important. We need to realize that this is one of the foundation doctrines of our faith. If the promises of God are not absolutely reliable, we have no basis for our faith. If there is even one prophecy in the entire Bible that will not actually be fulfilled, we cannot be certain that our own sins have been forgiven, and we cannot be certain that we will be in heaven. In short, if Bible prophecy is not absolutely reliable, then we have trusted in an unreliable God, and we can be confident of nothing.

But now we come to a problem. There are other places in the Bible that seem to cast a doubt on the absolute certainty of such things.

The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it.” (Jeremiah 18:7-10)


When I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, but he trusts in his own righteousness and commits iniquity, none of his righteous works shall be remembered; but because of the iniquity that he has committed, he shall die. Again, when I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' if he turns from his sin and does what is lawful and right, if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has stolen, and walks in the statutes of life without committing iniquity, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of his sins which he has committed shall be remembered against him; he has done what is lawful and right; he shall surely live.” (Ezekiel 33:13-16)

We also have one example in scripture where this actually happened:

Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.” (Jonah 3:10)

Are these contradictions? Is the prophetic word certain and sure? Or is it conditional? How can we know? Can we be certain of what will come to pass? There are many subjects in the Bible concerning which one set of passages says one thing, and another set says something that seems to contradict what the first set says. But whenever this happens in the Bible, there is always a third set of passages that clears up the apparent contradiction.

The conditions are always there, whether stated or not. If man repents of his evil, God will repent of the punishment He had pronounced upon him. And if man presumes upon a promised blessing and turns to sin, God will withhold the blessing. These things are always true. But God is all knowing, and this knowledge includes the future. In certain cases, He has specifically told us that certain people will not repent. We find this explicitly stated four times in the book of Revelation alone:

And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent.” (Revelation 2:21)

But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk. And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.” (Revelation 9:20-21)

And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory.” (Revelation 16:9)

They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and did not repent of their deeds.” (Revelation 16:11)

The wickedness of man is so great that he is unable to repent unless God first does a work in his heart. We remember that Jesus said “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” (John 6:44) and again that “by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) And, “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4) When men have rebelled too greatly against God, he will finally turn away from them, as we read in 2 Chronicles 36:16: “But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy.” So when God finally turns away from a man, or a nation, there is no longer a remedy, because he will no longer offer it.

In such cases God will sometimes do more than simply withhold the gift of repentance. He will in certain cases inflict what we call “judicial blindness.” We read in Isaiah 6:9-10, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, And their ears heavy, And shut their eyes; Lest they see with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And return and be healed.” John 12:39-40 specifically tells us that this is why the bulk of the men of Judah “could not believe” in him when He came.

But more that this, He will actually go so far as to inflict delusion upon certain hardened rebels. This is specifically stated several times in the Bible. It is said concerning the coming “Antichrist:”

The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12)

It is also said concerning the wickedness of Israel at that same time:

Just as they have chosen their own ways, And their soul delights in their abominations, So will I choose their delusions, And bring their fears on them; Because, when I called, no one answered, When I spoke they did not hear; But they did evil before My eyes, And chose that in which I do not delight.” (Isaiah 66:3-4)

But even as the Bible tells us that some will not repent, it also expressly says that Israel will repent. When Israel finally sees their long awaited messiah, “ ‘one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands?’ Then he shall answer, ‘Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.’ ” (Zechariah 13:6 KJV11) The result is that “In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning at Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. And the land shall mourn, every family by itself: the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Levi by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of Shimei by itself, and their wives by themselves; all the families that remain, every family by itself, and their wives by themselves.” (Zechariah 12:11-14) This repentance will not be temporary, for after Israel’s great deliverance from Gog, the Lord says, “So will I make my holy name known in the midst of my people Israel; and I will not let them pollute my holy name any more.” (Ezekiel 39:7)

This is like the eternal security of present-day believers, which is based, not on their faithfulness, but on the faithfulness of their Lord. We read in Philippians 1:6 that “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” As Paul said, “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.” (2 Timothy 1:12)

And as Jude said:

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling,

And to present you faultless

Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,

To God our Savior,

Who alone is wise,

Be glory and majesty,

Dominion and power,

Both now and forever.

Amen.” (Jude 24-25)

Thus we understand how Bible prophecy can still be unconditional, even though God himself has said that His promises, both of blessing and of punishment, would no longer apply if people changed. For He has also promised that He will bring about repentance in those He intends to bless. And He has declared that He will inflict “judicial blindness” upon those He intends to punish, rendering them unable to repent.

11 I have used the KJV reading here, rather than the NKJV, which we are using, because it seems to me that in this case the KJV reading better conveys the true sense of the passage.

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