To what extent did Old Testament prophets understand their own prophecies?

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When we study the prophets, it's often asked, did these men really understand everything they were talking about? And the answer is, I think generally, yes. First of all, they were forthtelling. They were speaking forth the word of God into their own historical context. So, they were dealing with social issues and issues of spiritual nature, foreign religions, idolatry, spiritual decline in their own country. They were dealing with political issues. World events were surrounding them and swirling in and out of their lives and they understood that context as much as a preacher today does. They also had some idea that there was a second venue for their prophecy. They were looking down the corridors of time to some figure they knew as the Anointed One or the Messiah. And they did have an understanding that this prophecy that they were saying to the people in their context had some futuristic fulfillment as well. The third dimension I think they also understood, they had this idea of the great "day of the Lord." That could be a catastrophic event in their own time. For example, when Joel talks about the day of the Lord coming and this locust plague that would happen in just a few years within his lifetime. Or the day of the Lord when the Messiah arrives. And then finally, there was a day of the Lord way down the corridors of history for the end of time, the consummation of the ages. And they seemed to understand that there was a glorious restoration that was going to take place, not just historically in their context, but for the whole creation and for the kingdom of God, and some victorious, final cataclysmic event where this messianic figure would restore all the creation to its original intended order and purpose. And I think, perhaps with decreasing clarity, they understood these three venues, but they did know that they were speaking for God. Thus they said all the time, "Thus saith the Lord."

Answer by Dr. Michael Ross

Dr. Mike Ross formerly served as Senior Pastor of Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, NC, and adjunct professor at Reformed Theological Seminary Charlotte.