Watchman Nee mentions four qualifications that a book must possess to be considered to be the word of God:
- Claim of divine authorship
- Superior moral standard
- Detailed history and prophecy
- Available and understandable
I want to zoom in on the third qualification in this post. Certainly the Bible is a book of prophecy. According to J. Barton Payne’s Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy, there are 1,817 prophecies in the Bible in 8,352 verses—more than a quarter of the Bible is prophecy. However, as Paul says in another context, “star differs from star in glory” (1 Cor. 15: 41). Not all prophecies cast their light over the Scripture with the same luminosity. While all prophecies have their place and providence, not all prophecies are equally important to the grand narrative of Scripture. Certain prophecies are like Suns—their ponderous weight organizes an entire planetary system of verses around them and brings all events of an epoch into orbit.
I’m venturing a guess here, but I would say Genesis 3:15 is the most important prophecy in the Old Testament, one that governs that age.
The Thrust of the Old Testament
I will put enmity
Between you and the woman
And between your seed and her seed;
He will bruise you on the head,
But you will bruise him on the heel.
Genesis 3:15 is the first prophecy in the Bible, and it organizes the narrative of the Old Testament. It “sets the tone for the entire Old Testament… The further history of redemption will be an unfolding of the contents of this mother promise. From this point on, all of the Old Testament revelation looks forward, points forward, and eagerly awaits the promised redeemer.”
Throughout the Old Testament this prophecy is deepened, expanded, developed, and clarified. This seed of the woman will be the seed of Abraham (Gen. 22:18), of the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10), the seed of David (2 Sam. 7:12-14), born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14), and will be even God Himself (Isa. 9:6). This ‘threefold seed’ is the expectation, hope, and thrust of the entire Old Testament.
Witness Lee says,
Christ as the threefold seed touches the essence of the divine revelation. The revelation of the Bible is mainly an unveiling of Christ as the threefold seed: the seed of the woman, the seed of Abraham, and the seed of David.
It’s uncanny to me that the entire history of the Old Testament, with all its grit and glory, wars and wisdom, laws and liturgies, is about a birth. All 4,000 years of human history, with all the geopolitical upheavals of Nimrod, Egypt, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome were to bring forth the incarnation of Christ. “All history is seen as a pregnancy that leads essentially to the birth of the incarnate Word of God.”
The first chapter of the New Testament recapitulates the history of the Old Testament people of God according to this thought. The New Testament begins with a list of names. The greatest privilege in the Old Testament would have been to have your name recorded in that list. That would mean that you participated in bringing forth Christ. Your life had dispensational value by taking shape according to the prophecy of the age, Genesis 3:15. The interesting thing is that there are some very sinful people recorded in this list, people like Rahab the prostitute. However, Rahab’s participation in the line of the incarnated Christ ended up defining her life, not her sinful failures. In the genealogy of Christ in Matthew 1, she is simply Rahab; her former label (prostitute) has vanished through her participation by faith in “He who will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). The thin line throughout the OT that brought forth the incarnation of Christ is a scarlet line. To participate in this line, to carry it forward one generation, was the greatest blessing the because that was the thrust of the age.
The Greatest Prophecy in the Bible
In the New Testament there is also a prophecy that governs the age. That prophecy is Matthew 16:18,
And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
The OT culminated in the incarnation of Christ. The title Christ means ‘anointed and appointed one.’ The Christ is the One commissioned by God to carry out His eternal economy. So it is significant that in this verse, right after the revelation that Jesus is the Christ, the Christ Himself declares what He will do—”I will build My church.” At this point in Scripture the revelation of the church breaks forth for the first time. Now it starts to become clear that God has brought forth Christ to bring forth the church. Christ and the church are the two focal points in the economy of God (Eph. 5:32). To have the revelation that Jesus is the Christ is not enough—that’s why Jesus continues with the double “and also”—we must also see the church. Otherwise, we’ve only seen half of God’s economy, or, in a sense, only half of the Bible.
In two passages Paul ties both Christ and the church directly to the economy of God.
Unto the economy (οἰκονομία) of the fullness of the times, to head up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens and the things on the earth, in Him. –Eph. 1:10
And to enlighten all that they may see what the economy (οἰκονομία) of the mystery is, which throughout the ages has been hidden in God, who created all things, in order that now to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenlies the multifarious wisdom of God might be made known through the church. –Eph. 3:9-10
The entire church age is governed by the revelation that Christ is building the church. This thought defines the age. Witness Lee says, “We must be enlightened by and fully saturated with the thought that in this universe God is doing only one thing—building His eternal habitation.” Matthew 16:18 is the prophecy that governs this age. Playing off of the title of G. H. Pember’s famous study, The Great Prophecies, Witness Lee calls Matthew 16:18 the greatest prophecy in the Bible. Pember’s book covers the great eschatological prophecies related to Daniel, Matthew, and Revelation concerning the great human image, the seventy weeks, the rapture, the parables of the kingdom, the seven churches, and the beasts. While these are certainly great prophecies and require serious study, the prophecy in Matthew 16:18 is the greatest. In fact, the building up of the church determines when these eschatological prophecies will happen.
From Birth to Building
Just as at the beginning of the New Testament there is a list of names of those who brought in the incarnation, so at the end of the New Testament there will be a list of names of those who brought in the building up of the church. The OT culminated in bringing forth the incarnation of Christ. The NT will culminate in bringing forth the Body of Christ, the church.
Ephesians 4:12-13 indicates that the building up of the church is the end point, the destination of this age:
For the perfecting of the saints unto the work of the ministry, unto the building up of the Body of Christ, until we all arrive at the oneness of the faith and of the full knowledge of the Son of God, at a full-grown man, at the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
These verses indicate that the work of the ministry which produces the building up of the Body of Christ will continue until we arrive somewhere:
- The oneness of the faith and full knowledge of the Son of God
- A full-grown man—the one new man of Eph. 2:15
- The fullness of Christ—the Body of Christ of Eph. 1:23
All three of these destinations are related to the church, indicating that the church is the ultimate destination of this age. Just as the OT age culminated in a birth, so the NT age will culminate in a building (which in a very deep sense is also a birth, cf. Rev. 12:1-6).
The building up of the church is where we will all arrive. Let’s do everything we can to get there sooner.
1. Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Faith, p. 23
2. Anthony Koekema, The Bible and The Future, p. 5
3. Witness Lee, The Central Line of the Divine Revelation, p. 91
4. Mariano Magrassi, Praying the Bible, p. 47
5. Witness Lee, Life-Study of Genesis, p. 1056
6. Witness Lee, Life-Study of Genesis, p. 989