The Phenomenon of Double Fulfillment
by Ed Vasicek
Many prophecies have two fulfillments, a near (in time) less literal fulfillment and a distant (in time) more literal fulfillment. This is not true of all prophecies, and often even the more literal fulfillment is not completely literal because most Old Testament prophecies (in the Psalms or the prophets) are in the poetic genre (i.e., Hebrew poetry is based upon meter, parallel thoughts, and frequently figurative language).
This can be exemplified by Pentecost. Acts 2:14ff reads:
14 But Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them: "Jewish men and all you residents of Jerusalem, let this be known to you and pay attention to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it's only nine in the morning. 16 On the contrary, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. 18 I will even pour out My Spirit on My male and female slaves in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 I will display wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below: blood and fire and a cloud of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and remarkable day of the Lord comes; 21 then whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Note particularly verse 19 regarding "displays and wonders in the heavens." This did NOT occur at Pentecost. But the Spirit was poured out on Pentecost, yet not upon ALL humanity. So this prophecy was fulfilled in a limited way on Pentecost. But it will be fulfilled more literally during the end times: the Tribulation and Millennium. During the Tribulation the sun WILL appear to be dark and the moon will appear to turn to blood (Revelation 6: 12). During the Kingdom Age (the Millennium) ALL will know the Lord and ALL will prophesy.
This phenomenon is true even regarding New Testament prophecy.
Take Matthew 16:27-28 as an example:
27 For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. 28 Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.
The Gospels sequentially record the Mount of Transfiguration event, a brief visit into the Millennial Kingdom Age. Peter interprets this event as the "coming" of Christ, a near, less literal fulfillment:
2 Peter 1:16-18 reads:
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, "This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased" 18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.
Yet the New Testament leaves us awaiting the literal Kingdom Age, the permanent coming of Christ, and a distant, more literal reign of Christ.
The New Covenant is another example. In Jeremiah 31:31-34, we read:
31 "Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. 33 "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, " I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," declares the LORD, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."
Jesus instituted the New Covenant at the Last Supper, and the ministry of the Gospel is the ministry of the New Covenant (2 Corinthians 3:6). Yet the Jeremiah passage tells us that all Israel will know the Lord. This has never yet been the case.
So the near fulfillment applies only to a remnant of Israel (and gentiles believers who are blessed because they are connected to Israel), but the future fulfillment will be the more literal one when all Israel is converted at the end of the Tribulation (Zechariah, chapters 12-14).
The same is true with the Virgin Birth of Isaiah 7:
10 Moreover the Lord spoke again to Ahaz, saying, "Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above." 12 But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!" 13 Then he said, "Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? 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. 15 Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings.
The idea was that King Ahaz need not fear the kings of Damascus and Samaria because before a virgin could get married, conceive, and rear a son to age two, those kings would no longer be an issue. Within less than three years of this prophecy, the Assyrians conquered Damascus and Samaria, removing the dual threats to Judah. So the sign was a sign to King Ahaz at that time, a NEAR, less literal fulfillment.
The distant, more literal fulfillment relates to Jesus Christ who was literally conceived while Mary was YET a virgin, and who was not just called "Immanuel" but literally was, in fact, "God with us."
If you agree with this principle, this will lead you into an interpretative paradigm known as "Progressive Dispensationalism."
Progressive Dispensationalism is a literal way to approach the Scriptures that recognizes a future Tribulation and literal Millennium in which Christ rules from Jerusalem and the nation of Israel is exalted (like traditional Dispensationalism) but also recognizes that God's present dealings with the church and Israel are the less literal fulfillment of those prophecies. For example, the conversion of the gentiles is often predicted in the Old Testament and will find its fuller, more literal fulfillment during the end times, but finds its less literal, near fulfillment right now as gentiles come to faith within the church.