God Fulfills Some Promises in Predictable, Expected Ways
As we look at some of the promises and prophecies of the Bible, we see that many have already been fulfilled. In many cases the fulfillment of the promise was clear and undeniable, just as expected. When God told Pharaoh that he was going to send a plague of frogs, he did just that (exodus 8). When he told David that his son would build the temple, Solomon was born and he built it (2 samuel 7:1–17; 1 kings 5–8). When God said that Judah would be judged for her unfaithfulness and sent into exile, that’s exactly what happened (jeremiah 25). Jesus said the temple would be destroyed with not one brick left on another, and in AD 70 it was totally demolished (matthew 24:2).
But God sometimes fulfills his promises in ways we could never have imagined.
God Fulfills Some Promises in Unexpected, Supernatural Ways
At times, the Lord has used methods we could easily understand. He sent his people into battle with a promise of victory, and he gave them strength and strategy to overcome their enemies. On other occasions, he did the unexpected. He defeated Pharaoh’s army as they pursued the escaping Israelites (exodus 14), he caused the walls of Jericho to collapse (joshua 6), and the angel of the Lord destroyed 185,000 Assyrians (2 kings 19:35). God can fulfill his promises in unexpected and supernatural ways.
Sometimes we have a hard time recognizing how God has fulfilled a promise or imagining how he will fulfill it. When God promised in the Old Testament that he would send a Messiah, few people expected a Messiah like Jesus (isaiah 53; matthew 1). No one expected the way God brought both Jews and Gentiles together into the body of Christ, the church. No one anticipated such a long time between Messiah’s work as Redeemer and his future work as Judge and King.
On many occasions, the apostle Paul used the word mystery to describe the way God’s plan of salvation has been fulfilled in Christ. Among these mysteries is the establishment of the church as central to God’s plan to fulfill his promises (ephesians 3:8–10). And at the center of God’s mysterious fulfillment of promises is Jesus Christ. The Old and the New Covenant promises are based on and find their fulfillment in what Christ has done and will do.
While we try to figure out how God is going to answer a prayer or fulfill his promises, he is calmly and powerfully working out his plans behind the scenes and in ways and for reasons that we may not comprehend. It should not surprise us that in Isaiah 55, the Lord described our inability to understand his methods: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’” (vv. 8–9).
Although his reasons may elude us, and his methods may surprise us, God always fulfills his promises.As the apostle Paul said: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 corinthians 1:25).
God Fulfills Some Promises Through Spiritual Blessings
God fulfills many of his promises in visible ways. The Psalms contain statements about the power of God to bless the righteous with protection, wealth, health, and long life. We would be wrong, though, to expect nothing but physical prosperity in this life. God often shows his faithfulness by providing invisible, spiritual blessings. One look at the life of King David demonstrates this. His life consisted of repeated conflict, family dissension, and physical maladies.
Job was a righteous man who feared God, yet he suffered terrible illness and the loss of his family and possessions. Even his closest friends weren’t supportive; they made the mistake of assuming that right living translates into a trouble-free life. Yet Job didn’t quite despair. He was wise enough not to give up hope in God and stated that all this would “turn out for my deliverance” (job 13:15–16).
The apostle Paul went through all types of good and bad experiences, yet he found that in all of life he could be content because God gave him strength (philippians 4:11–13). To him God’s faithfulness—a spiritual blessing—was far greater than anything he could possess on earth.
God Fulfills His Promises in Part Now, More Later
Some promises may be fulfilled in part because only a portion of the conditions have been met, or the promises may be fulfilled in stages according to God’s plan.For example, the Lord told the Israelites coming out of Egypt that he would drive out the nations before them and give them the Promised Land. They were to do this in stages (deuteronomy 7:22). But because they didn’t follow God’s instructions they only drove out some of the people, and consequently enjoyed only part of God’s blessing.
The Old Testament promises concerning the Messiah were fulfilled in part with Christ’s first coming; others will be fulfilled when he returns. The prophets spoke of a coming king who would be from the line of David, a king who would restore Israel’s status as God’s special nation (jeremiah 33:14–26). Jesus fulfilled the part of the promise about the Suffering Servant (isaiah 53) and will one day return to set up his eternal kingdom.
God Fulfills His Promises Through His Timing
Many of us have difficulty understanding God’s timing and how he fulfills his promises. We can’t wait. We expect results today or tomorrow, not years from now.
As time-bound human beings, we can’t grasp God’s eternal purposes (ecclesiastes 3:11). The perpetual changes of life are part of God’s pattern and plan for all the ages, but from our perspective it looks like a tangle of threads. When we don’t see his promises becoming reality right now, we become impatient and are tempted to ask hard questions of God. But his timing is best.
Hebrews 11 lists some Old Testament saints who realized that God fulfills his promises according to his timetable. These people lived by faith, believing that God would eventually do all he promised, even if they did not understand why the Lord delayed action for years or even beyond their lifetime.
Abraham is the preeminent example. When God told him to pack his bags and travel to the land of promise, Abraham went, though he didn’t know where he was going. The Lord told him that he and Sarah would have a child, yet he waited until their old age to fulfill his word. And Abraham had to imagine a future when his descendants would inherit the Promised Land. Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph knew of God’s promise for their descendants, but they never saw them fulfilled (hebrews 11:20–22).
Moses knew that the Lord would rescue his people, but he had to wait until he was 80 years old before God used him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. He even chose mistreatment in the short run so that God would reward him later (hebrews 11:24–26).
All of the promises of God are fulfilled in his perfect timing, according to his wisdom. Many of those promises are fulfilled now. Many await fulfillment. All who trust Christ for forgiveness of sins receive that forgiveness and new life immediately—along with many spiritual benefits (john 3; ephesians 1). And while some people experience the evidence of God’s love and care through prosperity of life and good health, others experience the love and strength of God through poverty and sickness. In all cases, though, God is true to his word. He keeps his promises.