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Bible prophecy has gotten a bad name, but not because it’s untrue. The Bible is true and God's prophetic utterances are always true. The problem is how it’s been understood and how some people tend to use Bible prophecy.
Today, we're going to try to understand why it’s so important to understand Bible prophecy and also how we should apply Bible prophecy. Some of these answers are going to be quite surprising. Hopefully it will help you to put it all into the proper perspective.
2 Peter 1:19 And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts;
This is the New King James translation. The Old King James says …we have a more sure word of prophecy…
It’s very interesting what is meant by the phrase--- the prophetic word. We're going to define this as we go along. It’s been confirmed over and over again that Peter is, in this chapter, referring to the events he personally experienced. If you read the context of the chapter (V 16-18), he was one of the three who received the vision on the mount when Jesus was transfigured.
Many prophecies culminated at the time of Christ’s first coming, but there’s so much more to prophecy than that. There’s also His second coming, which is certainly going to happen. One builds on the other.
Peter tells us we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns… (2 Peter 1:19). He speaks of it as a light shining in a dark place until the day dawns, and then of course it becomes very clear.
You've seen the sunrise many times. All of us have. It's dark and gradually gets lighter and lighter. All of a sudden the whole vista opens up and you can see in clear daylight what you didn't see before. Peter compares this experience to prophecy. He says the meaning of prophecy will become clearer as time goes on, as we approach the return of Christ.
2 Peter 1:20-21 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
In other words prophecy comes from God. It’s not generated from the imagination of men. A lot of people try to predict the future, but they can't tell you what the future holds, only God can. It's all written down for us in the Bible, but as I said, the problem is in the proper understanding of it.
We should not rely on a personal or private interpretation of prophecy from someone who wants to be considered a prophet. These private interpretations have been the downfall of a lot of people. They prophesy claiming to have certain special, esoteric knowledge they want to pass on to other people. This is usually for one reason for this and that is to establish themselves as someone important from God.
The second issue arises when people set dates in regard to end-time prophecies. Once again, this is done to prove the person is a prophet, the special one who knows God's time-table. This kind of thing shows how little people know about prophecy. Prophecy is written vaguely enough so that we cannot know exactly when most events are going to happen. Just turn to Daniel chapter 12. That's all about certain days and events, but we cannot tell when they’re going to happen.
The third problem is that students of Bible prophecy tend to look only at events. In other words they see prophecy as past events, present events and then, of course, future events. Whenever that’s done the purpose of prophecy is overlooked. There’s something much bigger going on with prophecy than just studying the events. There’s a bigger picture.
Prophecy is written to show us what God is doing and to help us understand God's great plan. It’s there to help us realise that we’re part of that plan, and that we should become active participants in it. Prophecy reveals God's will for you and for all mankind. It’s quite extraordinary when you understand prophecy in the right way and begin to grasp the scope of it all.
Bible prophecy, so much of the time, is relegated to obscure, end-time events and, as a result, there’s an attempt to see the fulfilment of these prophecies as imminent. We get prophecy watchers, as I call them.
What if you knew somehow from prophecy that the end of this age is fifty years away? What if it was a hundred years? So what if you knew that? I don't think we can know that for sure, but I'm just asking what difference would it make to you? It would make a big difference to me, but not in the way you think.
The prophesied end-time events are going to happen, there’s no question about that. If it doesn’t occur in our life time your children or grandchildren may experience it. So that being the case, what are you doing about it now? Think about that for a while, because if you don't experience it, they will. They're going to have to go through it, if you don’t.
We all want it to happen sooner don't we? Let’s get this over with. But what if we're just preparing another generation? What should you do? In the past a lot of people didn't do the right thing when they came to that realisation. Not only did they not prepare, they gave up on what they believed.
I think realising end-time events may not take place during your life time is a great impetus to not only stay with what you believe, but to reinforce it and to establish a community of people who are going to remain close to God in anticipation of what you know is going to take place.
And so we come to one of the reasons why we have Bible prophecy. It’s to help us understand what's going to happen so that we can do our part to make sure our children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren are going to be prepared.
I realise there’s a problem in that we tend to lose the truth over the generations and it can get watered down, but why does that have to be if we understand end-time events within the whole context of prophecy and God’s will.
How does God prophesy? This is important, because it will give us an idea about His purpose for prophecy and what we’re supposed to learn.
God is able to predict the future basically in two ways. As we discuss them I think you'll see it's probably a combination of both to some extent.
Firstly, God directly causes events to happen or He sets in motion what will eventuate. God has the right to step in and cause certain things to happen. He sets up kings. We are told that in the book of Daniel.
The second way is, to some extent, related to the first, and this He simply allows cause and effect to take place. God can foretell events because He knows the nature of things and He works in conjunction with the natural order.
The devil can only intervene in human affairs with God's permission. He is active here on earth, but he operates under license. God is permitting the devil to work out some events on this earth being the god of this world, but God is ultimately in charge.
Now the devil is hoping against hope that it doesn't work that way. He's wants to win and prove that he was right all along with his philosophy and his way of self-importance. Everything he does is to prove to God and all the other angels that this is the case. He has caused immense suffering and misery and his goal is to destroy mankind, which God will not permit, even though God knows the rebellious nature of man. I can demonstrate this in Deuteronomy 31:24.
Deuteronomy 31:24-27 So it was, when Moses had completed writing the words of this law in a book, when they were finished, that Moses commanded the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying: “Take this Book of the Law, and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there as a witness against you; for I know your rebellion and your stiff neck. If today, while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the Lord, then how much more after my death?
Moses is addressing the Levites here because they were responsible for teaching and passing on God's word and truth. Do you think Moses is prophesying here? I’ll tell you this. He didn't need any special revelation to know it was going to work out this way. After 120 years of life, he's seen enough and he just knew what the Israelites were going to do.
Deuteronomy 31:28-29 Gather to me all the elders of your tribes, and your officers, that I may speak these words in their hearing and call heaven and earth to witness against them. For I know that after my death you will become utterly corrupt, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you. And evil will befall you in the latter days, because you will do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger through the work of your hands. Then Moses spoke in the hearing of all the assembly of Israel the words of this song until they were ended:
The Israelites probably had the best of intentions and, to give them credit, the generation after Moses stayed rather strong, as we're told in the book of Judges. Then the next generation and the generations after that turned from God’s way of life. God had to periodically re-establish His truth which He did through prophets and then through the kingship of David. Even then, after David, there were problems with Solomon.
God can look into the future and say certain things will happen based on His knowledge of human nature. He knows the past and He knows the present
God speaks with certainty about captivity as a national punishment or chastisement because the people departed from God. I'm not just talking about the captivity of Israel and Judah I'm talking about the captivity in Egypt and also an end-time captivity which is yet to come.
Now in one sense you might say, well, God's doing this, but there’s also the antagonism on the part of the devil toward God's people. He'll do everything he can to get rid of them, to wipe them out, or to try to get them to turn away from God. When he gets them to do that, then they’re no longer under God's protection.
This captivity that God speaks of here is a time of national punishment in the future. Some try to say it’s not really going to happen or that it will be a different type of captivity, such as being enslaved by national debt. Don't be so sure. God describes it as being worse than that. People didn't think the first captivity was ever going to happen. It happened. Will it happen again? I tend to take what God says, not with a grain of salt, but literally. I don't think I have a choice about that.
So we have established there’s such a thing as cause and effect by which God can tell what's going to happen, but this doesn't mean He will not have some involvement to either lessen the effect or cause certain other things to happen.
Let me show you a principle here that demonstrates the point.
Proverbs 13:18 Poverty and shame will come to him who disdains correction, but he who regards a rebuke will be honoured.
Here you have cause and effect. This proverb says anyone who disdains correction will come to poverty and shame. The book of Proverbs is full of verses like this.
Proverbs 13:20 He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.
The book of Proverbs in one sense is full of prophetic utterances. We are told if you do this, this will happen. Is this human wisdom or is it God inspiring men who observe human behaviour and have the knowledge of God and His laws?
Now you know what some young people do. They decide to try to beat the odds. They think, It won't happen to me. And they're wrong! It always happens. You're not going to get away with anything.
This brings up a very interesting point. Do you know you have, to a lesser extent, some of the same powers God has? You can also prognosticate. Doctors do this all the time. They give a prognosis on how a health situation is going to go. How do they know? They’ve seen it all before! They can say, here's how it's going to happen, or this or that could change it or, sadly, they'll tell you there's not a lot that can be done. Some of us have had this experience with our loved ones.
My father prognosticated all the time. He said, if you do it this way son, you're going to have to do it all over again. Was he a prophet? No, but he was uncannily right almost all the time. Based on his experience he could see the way I was going to do something was not going to work out. Now how did he know? He was older than me. He'd seen this before, so he was able to make a short-term prediction, but a prediction nonetheless.
My brother and I, being the type of people we were, would always try to take shortcuts. We'd try to do things quickly and get our chores over so that we could go to the swimming hole or play ball or do anything but work. Then, we would have to come back and do three or four times the amount of work we did before just to straighten out and Dad always knew.
We can predict the future in the same way and have insight as to how things will generally go. God, of course, has much more insight and wisdom. We all know that. But humans were created with this limited characteristic or ability.
Animals don’t have this ability. You can put a cow on a truck headed for the abattoir and it has no idea what's going to happen. It probably doesn't even know what's happening when it’s in the race heading towards being slaughtered, unless it senses something through instinct. Cows can't tell the future. They only know there’s not enough food in the paddock, there’s no water in the paddock and they cast about trying to look for food or water.
You can project and you can try to figure things out because you have an imagination. You can know if things keep going a certain way, there are going to be predictable results. You can project into eternity. Yes you can! You were made this way by your Creator.
God, however, is 100 percent accurate and it’s important we listen to what He says. He can prophesy into the future. We’re told there’s going to be a beast power and, in general terms, what it will do. We are also told there will be two people, one a religious leader and one a civil leader who are going to lead this.
God knows it's going to happen because He knows what people will do, but He will also be orchestrating and working out His plan.
Isaiah 46:8-9 “Remember this, and show yourselves men; Recall to mind, O you transgressors.
Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me,
He's saying this in the context of people who take silver and gold and make idols. They carried them around and bowed down to them and worshipped them. Israel paid more attention to this idolatrous system than to God.
Isaiah 46:10 Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,’
The word counsel here means plan.
Isaiah 46:10 Calling a bird of prey from the east, The man who executes My counsel, from a far country.
This is a specific prophecy God is referencing, about Cyrus, King of the Persians, who would destroy Babylon and conquer the Jews. God accurately prophesied this two hundred years before it's going to happen.
He does this to tell the Israelites, through the prophet Isaiah, that He is God. He’s saying you do whatever you want to do; set up your idols, sacrifice your children to them. I want to tell you before it happens. I'm going to send someone from the East. God does step in and intervene as He said He would.
Isaiah 46:11 Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it.
Isaiah 46:12-13 Listen to Me, you stubborn-hearted, Who are far from righteousness: I bring My righteousness near, it shall not be far off; My salvation shall not linger. And I will place salvation in Zion, For Israel My glory.
Now what God's doing here in that last statement is summing up what He’s eventually going to do. So He’s really saying, What I'm saying right here now is a part, only a part of what eventually is going to take place.
We have to consider one fact, that we cannot be prophecy buffs trying to know what is going to happen next, or when the tribulation will begin, or when this is going to happen and when that's going to happen. The best question to ask is do I know God's great plan? Do I know His counsel and where am I on the continuum of what God is doing? Where am I on that timeline? You ought to look at it that way and that will tell you a lot more.
How many people will give up because the great end-time events did not happen when they thought they should? How many people will come into the Church for temporal reasons, thinking they were going to be saved from tribulation by going to a place of safety? You still hear this over and over again. I'm not discounting the prophecies, I'm just saying there are reasons why people look at prophecy and say this is going to happen and why they make certain changes in their lives to escape all these things. God says there is a bit more to it than that.
How many then don't even believe in God anymore because things didn't turn out the way they expected to? This shows there were some wrong reasons why people came into the Church to start with. There was some other expectation that did not eventuate. The wrong approach to prophecy can hurt you really badly. The right approach can be one of the greatest aids to faith you can have. God is God and He will do what He says and we need to have confidence in that.
There is another form of prophesying that we find in the New Testament.
1 Corinthians 14:3-5 But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification."
So the speaking in tongues was a show, the way some people did it, and it was for a purpose, a temporary purpose, back then. Prophesying is different. When you speak to others, that is, prophesy in this way, you are holding out to others what they could be. For instance, if you gave a message on the mind of Christ, you would be holding out to the person to whom you are speaking the direction they should go. That would be directional and imply the future and what they would be like or what they could become.
So whenever you speak to a person to edify them or to exhort them, you want to move them toward their future to become something they are not yet. All edification or exhortation is prophesying in the sense that it is about the future. You're not there yet, but you work toward that end, to become as Christ.
1 Samuel 3:1 is very interesting. Here was young Samuel at the Tabernacle in Shiloh.
1 Samuel 3:1 Now the boy Samuel ministered to the Lord before Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation.
Very interesting! There had been revelation before but, at this point, there wasn't. God was about to begin to send prophets to Israel and He was going to start with the first great prophet, Samuel. The priesthood were not doing their job. Eli and Eli's sons were corrupt. So where is God's involvement to teach the nation and to show them what they should be doing?
God should have been involved in their lives all the time with the word of the Lord coming to them through the high priests.
God will also speak to you of the future. If God calls you, it is about your future because your mind is opened to what God wants from you --- what He would have you become and what you’ve got to do to get there. God's given you a vision and you're either going to march according to that or you're going to dismiss it.
Hebrews 1:1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;
This is entirely futuristic. God envisions the future and lives in the future, in the sense that He sees and understands things as He knows they are going to be because He has the power to bring it about.
Guess what! You have the chance to be a part of that, or you can branch out on your own and try to make a future for yourself in some very short-term way. It's not the best idea.
So prophecy then has to do with the future. So I would hope that every sermon you hear would be futuristic, that is, it helps you to see and to understand where you are going.
You've heard it said that the Bible is thirty percent prophecy. Do you believe that? What about sixty percent, ninety percent? The Bible is really one hundred percent prophecy. From Genesis 1:1 it’s all about the future.
Everything in the Bible leads to one basic theme, one basic idea, all the way through. God doesn't change or deviate. He knows exactly where He’s going. So when you understand prophecy, you should understand it in this way, and don't get bogged down with the narrow bits and pieces of vague prophecies.
We can talk about them, but we do so after we grasp the whole scope of prophecy and what God's plan and purpose is. You already know what this is, you just probably have not thought about it in that way before and it is quite far-reaching and exciting. It holds out some tremendous hope for us as we go forward in a darkened world. We wait for the time that the dawn will appear, and light up the whole future for us because that is indeed what is going to happen.