In Dr. McGrath's Sunday school class today, we discussed what Matthew's Gospel means by "fulfillment of prophecy". A number of passages are quoted and said to be fulfilled in the first couple of chapters of Matthew's Gospel. Yet if we read the texts which are quoted in their original context, we'll see that they are not predictions about a future Messiah. In fact, a common theme seems to be that they relate to key events in the life of the people of Israel - the Exodus and the Exile, for instance. In Matthew chapter 4, we see another great instance of this sort of typology, as the story of the temptation in the wilderness takes on more meaning as we understand it to be intentionally echoing the story of Israel in the wilderness, presenting Jesus in comparison and contrast with that story.
We also paid a quick visit to the Book of Jonah, and considered the fact that Jonah's prediction that Nineveh would fall within 40 days did not come true. This shouldn't lead us to conclude that Jonah was a false prophet, but rather that prophecy in ancient Israel was not about the inevitability of things that were predicted, but precisely about averting disasters that the nation was heading towards. This is important, since some who understand prophecy as about predictions that inevitably come true may not grasp the Bible's teaching about second chances, repentance, and new beginnings (a key theme in today's sermon).
Next time, we'll look at an instance when it seems that the early church discerned that something that appeared to be God's commandment for all time was no longer applicable! If you want a head start, take a look at Genesis 17:9-14; Acts 15; Galatians 5:6 and 1 Corinthians 7:19. (Scot McKnight's latest book, The Blue Parakeet, has an interesting section on this topic, if you want to dig deeper still). Hope you can make it!