Many Christian scholars hold to futurism, which teaches that apocalyptic judgments such as the judgments in Revelation are unconditional future prophecy. However, careful Bible study indicates that the outcome of prophetic judgments are conditional. For example, the apocalypse in Daniel 4:19-27 along with classical prophecies in Jeremiah 18:5-10 and Ezekiel 33:12-16 teach that the outcome of prophetic judgments are conditional. When the Lord speaks a prophetic judgment against a nation or individual human, then genuine repentance of the nation or human will alter the outcome of the judgment. The word and purposes of the God never alter while the outcome of the word of the God can vary.1
This brief article examines the scriptural precedence in Daniel 4:19-27, which indicates that apocalyptic judgments are subject to conditions:
Then Daniel, who was called Belteshazzar, was severely distressed for a while. His thoughts terrified him. The king said, "Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or the interpretation terrify you." Belteshazzar answered, "My lord, may the dream be for those who hate you, and its interpretation for your enemies! The tree that you saw, which grew great and strong, so that its top reached to heaven and was visible to the end of the whole earth, whose foliage was beautiful and its fruit abundant, and which provided food for all, under which animals of the field lived, and in whose branches the birds of the air had nests--it is you, O king! You have grown great and strong. Your greatness has increased and reaches to heaven, and your sovereignty to the ends of the earth. And whereas the king saw a holy watcher coming down from heaven and saying, 'Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave its stump and roots in the ground, with a band of iron and bronze, in the grass of the field; and let him be bathed with the dew of heaven, and let his lot be with the animals of the field, until seven times pass over him’--this is the interpretation, O king, and it is a decree of the Most High that has come upon my lord the king: You shall be driven away from human society, and your dwelling shall be with the wild animals. You shall be made to eat grass like oxen, you shall be bathed with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, until you have learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals, and gives it to whom he will. As it was commanded to leave the stump and roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be reestablished for you from the time that you learn that Heaven is sovereign. Therefore, O king, may my counsel be acceptable to you: atone for your sins with righteousness, and your iniquities with mercy to the oppressed, so that your prosperity may be prolonged." (Daniel 4:19-27 NRSV)
Daniel interpreted the symbols in the apocalypse dreamt by Nebuchadnezzar. The Most High, who is God Most High, decreed that Nebuchadnezzar would live like a wild animal for seven periods of time until he would acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of the earth. This implies that Nebuchadnezzar would lose his throne for seven periods of time. Many scholars interpret that the seven periods of time mean "seven years" while the seven periods of time could mean "seven indefinite periods of time". Daniel also interpreted that Nebuchadnezzar could repent and alter the outcome of the decree of God in this apocalyptic judgment. For example, Daniel advised Nebuchadnezzar to turn from sin to righteousness and mercy for the oppressed so that Nebuchadnezzar might avoid the judgment decreed by God. This agrees with Jeremiah 18:5-10 and Ezekiel 33:12-16 teaching that genuine repentance of a wicked nation or a wicked person alters the outcome of a prophetic judgment. Likewise, this scriptural apocalypse dreamt by King Nebuchadnezzar teaches a precedent that the outcome of apocalyptic judgments with apparent set periods of time are conditional.
1James Goetz, "Conditional Futurism in Sum", (TheoPerspectives, 2008), http://theoperspectives.blogspot.com/2008/11/conditional-futurism.html; F. Furman Kearley, "The Conditional Nature of Prophecy: A Vital Exegetical and Hermeneutical Principle", (Montgomery: Apologetics Press, undated), http://www.apologeticspress.org/rr/reprints/Conditional-Nature-of-Prophecy.pdf.
Copyright © 2009 James Edward Goetz
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.