It’s easy to take the present for granted. Since we live in the present, the present carries an air of inevitability. After all, we’re here, aren’t we? So it was bound to turn out this way, right?
This can numb us to the full force of Bible prophecy. We need to make an effort to assume the historical horizon of the prophet and his original audience.
Take Isa 19:16-25, in which Isaiah, back in the 8C BC, foresaw the conversion of Egypt and Assyria to the truth faith.
From the standpoint of an 8C observer, this prediction is perfectly absurd. Both Egypt and Assyria were paradigms of pagan idolatry. They were implacable enemies of each other, as well as perennial foes of Israel. They were the superpowers of their day. When one was up, the other was down, but the balance of power always tipped in one direction or the other, with Egypt on one side of the scale as Assyria or Babylon on the other.
Between them, the kingdoms of Egypt and Mesopotamia represented the utter antithesis of the true faith. And the idea of their subordination to the faith of Israel was pretty preposterous.
It’s as if Isaiah went out of his way to choose the most unlikely and intractable examples to illustrate the overruling purpose and power of God. Nothing could be more counterintuitive. No outcome could be farther removed from any sense of inevitability, probability, or plausibility.
And yet, in the early centuries of the church, the Middle East and the Levant did, indeed, embrace the faith of OT Israel and its Jewish counterpart in the NT.
From the vantage-point of a fifth-generation Christian living in Alexandria or Baghdad or North Africa, Isaiah’s ancient oracle might well have held an air of inevitability.
It is also a mistake to assume that all prophecies are punctiliar. Certain prophecies can be fulfilled over time, rather than at one time only. The last chapter of history has yet to be written—except in the mind of the Lord.
Until the ink is dry, we watch and wait. You know it when you see it—and not before. You know it when it happens. For prophecy is prospective, but its recognition is retrospective.