INSIGHT INTO BIBLE PROPHECY #3
WHY STUDY PROPHECY?
by David Vaughn Elliott
Some people are fascinated and thrilled by Bible prophecy. Other people find Bible prophecy too difficult. Still others find it uninteresting. Some think it is unimportant. They want to stick with the things that are "necessary to salvation." They want to stay away from that part of the Bible which they consider open to so much speculation. Who is right? Why study prophecy, anyway?
Several years ago, a preacher in New York City was conversing with a well-educated woman. She was knowledgeable in history and in the writings of the famous 16th-century astrologer, Nostradamus. She was comparing Nostradamus with Daniel. The preacher invited her to study one of Daniel's many detailed prophecies. Because of her knowledge of history, the woman immediately realized the fulfillment. She then readily admitted that there was nothing in all of Nostradamus' writings to compare with the detail and clarity of Daniel's prophecy.
Written over a period of 16 centuries by some 40 writers, the Bible contains many remarkable prophecies. They are not just a weatherman's calculations of tomorrow's weather. They are not just a commentator's prediction of the winner of the next election. They are real prophecies! Many of them were made centuries before their fulfillment. There is no other book in the world like the Bible. Prophecy is one reason why.
THE BIBLE IS FULL OF PROPHECY
If you consider Bible study important, than you already consider the study of prophecy important, whether you realize it or not. For prophecy, you see, is no mere tiny segment of God's communication with man. From Genesis 3:15 to Revelation 22:20, the Bible is filled with prophecy!
The Old Testament
Genesis contains many prophecies regarding the chosen people of God. Deuteronomy 18 contains the beautiful prophecy of the Prophet like Moses that God would raise up. Deuteronomy 28 is required reading for anyone who would understand what is happening to the Jews today.
The historical books contain many prophecies. See 2 Samuel 7:1-17 and 12:10,11 for example. Even many Psalms are prophecies. Consider Psalms 2, 16, 22, 69 and 110.
Almost half of the 39 books of the Old Testament are directly prophetic books. They contain a mixture of exhortation and foretelling. Major themes of the foretelling are the destinies of the nations and the coming Messiah and his kingdom.
The very last words of the Old Testament are prophetic (Malachi 4:5,6). "I will send you Elijah." Four centuries later, an angel told Zacharias that his son (John) would "go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17).
How many times do the Gospels say "that it might be fulfilled," "thus it is written" and similar expressions? For starters, look over the first four chapters of Matthew's Gospel.
When wise men entered Jerusalem looking for the "King of the Jews," Herod knew they were seeking the "Christ" (Messiah). He figured that the chief priests and scribes would know where the Messiah should be born. The prophet Micah had foretold it some seven centuries earlier. Imagine! Herod referred to prophecy in order to determine where to send the wise men. You have heard the saying "wise men seek Him." Have you considered that, to seek Him, they were guided by a star and by prophecy?! The star cannot help us today to seek Him, but prophecy surely can!
Notice the importance of prophecy in pointing to and identifying the Messiah. When Philip discovered Jesus, he found Nathanael. He told him, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote--Jesus of Nazareth" (John 1:45).
The Preaching of the Early Church
The apostles, inspired by the Holy Spirit, placed heavy emphasis on fulfilled prophecy. In Acts 2, Luke summarizes Peter's Pentecost sermon in 26 verses. Of these 26 verses, 12 are direct quotations from three Old Testament prophecies. At least four more verses are explanations of these prophecies. Thus, well over half of the first Gospel sermon is a study in prophecy.
The latter "half" of another of Peter's sermons (Acts 3) centers around the prophecies made to or by Abraham, Moses, Samuel "and all the prophets." "Those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled" (verse 18). "All the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days" (verse 24).
Read for yourself Paul's sermon in Acts 13:16-41 to see the same emphasis on fulfilled prophecy.
Also, Prophecy Not Yet Fulfilled
The New Testament also records many prophecies not yet fulfilled. It would be "endless" to list all that Jesus said about His own second coming.
Three leading end-time prophecies found in the New Testament letters are 1 Corinthians 15:12-58; 1 Thessalonians 4:13 to 5:11; and 2 Peter 3:1-13. Then there is 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, which basically is not an end-time prophecy. Rather, it is a case where we must study with the Bible in one hand and a history book in the other.
There is probably no book of prophecy that so ignites the imagination as the last book of the Bible! Yes, much of it is difficult. However, if God had wanted his final message to be an easier message, He could have made it so. If He had wanted His final message to be something other than prophecy, He could have made it so. But it is prophecy to the very end, making the triumphant announcement, "Surely I am coming," and the reply, "Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!"
PROPHECY IS INTERESTING
Prophecy does arouse interest. No sooner had Daniel received the vision of the ram and goat, than he "was seeking the meaning" (Daniel 8:15). When Jesus prophesied "not [one] stone shall be left here upon another," his disciples took the first opportunity to ask him, "when will these things be?" (Matthew 24:2,3).
Peter tells us that the prophets of old "inquired and searched carefully . . . searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow" (1 Peter 1:10,11). The prophets of God longed to understand the words of their own mouths. However, Peter goes on the explain that the prophets did not prophesy for their own benefit, but rather "to us they were ministering." Peter ends the verse by saying, "Things which angels desire to look into."
Prophets interested. Angels interested. But it was meant for us! Sounds like something worth looking into, does it not?!
"Why do you spend money for [what] [is] not bread,
And your wages for [what] does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat [what] [is] good,
And let your soul delight itself in abundance" (Isaiah 55:2). Our soul needs to listen diligently to God so we can delight in what truly satisfies.
Listen to what? Delight in what? This verse is surrounded by God's prophecy! Who does not know Isaiah 53, which precedes it? It is perhaps the greatest prophecy of the Old Testament. In addition, the verses immediately following 55:2 prophesy a coming New Testament along with the salvation of the Gentiles. Thus, the context of Isaiah 55:2 is saying that God's prophecies satisfy!
God Gives a Blessing
More is involved here than merely satisfying curiosity. Studying prophecy carries the blessing of God. Many think that the prophecies of the book of Revelation, for example, can simply be ignored by the Christian. However, the book of Revelation begins with these words: "Blessed [is] he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it" (1:3). When we hear, read and keep the word of prophecy, we invite the blessing of almighty God upon our souls.
The Psalmist said, "Your word I have hidden in my heart,
That I might not sin against You" (Psalms 119:11).
Prophecy carries that blessing, that power. By strengthening our faith, it helps us to resist sin.
PROPHECY IS A FAITH-BUILDER
God does not require blind faith. In fact, blind faith is a characteristic of false religion. Faith has to do with things unseen. Nevertheless, the faith that God requires has its foundation in what we can see. By faith, we move from the seen to the unseen. Look at Romans 1:20. It teaches that by observing the creation which we can see, we can learn about the power of the Creator whom we cannot see.
Proof that the Bible Is God's Word
The creation can only tell us so much about God. To know more about Him, and to know what He requires of us, we must have further information. That's where the Bible comes in. The question then arises: how do we know that the Bible is God's inspired message to mankind? By faith. Yes, but what is the basis of that faith? Throughout the history of God's dealing with man, the two great lines of proof have been 1) miracles and 2) prophecy. It is only the latter that we are considering in this writing.
Fulfilled prophecy demonstrates knowledge that is beyond human capability. It is proof God has spoken. In Isaiah 41, God challenges the false gods to prove they are gods.
"'Present your case,' says the LORD.
'Bring forth your strong reasons. . . .
Show the things that are to come hereafter,
That we may know that you [are] gods'" (41:21-23).
Consider prophecies of the fate of various cities and nations. There are detailed prophecies of Tyre, Babylon, Jerusalem, Egypt, Edom, Israel, Greece and Rome, among others. The fulfillment of some of these prophecies is recorded within the pages of Holy Writ. Others find their fulfillment only in the pages of "secular" history. Some of the fulfillments extend even to our twentieth century. No book in the world has proof of divine origin as the Bible has, with the fulfillment of such prophecies!
Proof that Jesus Is God's Son
As we have noted, the Gospels are full of prophecy. Why? Surely prophecies were given so that Israel would look forward to Jesus' coming. They were also certainly given so that, when He did come, Israel would have a strong basis for faith in Him.
It was not easy to believe that Jesus was God's son. The concept of "God in flesh" was totally foreign to Jewish thought. There was a need for strong proof to support such an unbelievable declaration as "he who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). A rational person should not accept such a claim. That is, unless there was very substantial proof of the right to make the claim.
That proof came in the form of miracles and fulfilled prophecy. Prophecies made centuries in advance! Some examples have already been given. Here is one more example: an example that embraces all the prophecies about the Messiah.
The afternoon of Jesus' resurrection, He was walking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They did not recognize Him. They were very discouraged because "we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel" (Luke 24:21). Jesus did not at this point offer proof that it was He who was talking with them. Rather, He turned their attention to prophecy.
"Then He said to them, 'O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?' And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself" (Luke 24:25-27). Their problem was unbelief. His reply was fulfilled prophecy!
PROPHECY FILLS IN THE GAPS
Between the Old and New Testaments there is a gap of about 400 years. Between the end of the New Testament and the end of the 20th Century there is a gap of 1900 years. Has God nothing to say during such large gaps of time?
Indeed He does! Prophecy fills the gaps. It is especially Daniel who prophesies many details of the period between the two testaments. Of special interest are the prophecies about Judas Maccabeus, who liberated Jerusalem and cleansed the temple (Daniel 8 and 11). He is not named any place in the Bible. Secular history must be studied to learn the fulfillment.
It should be noted that to study "the Bible alone" is often insufficient when studying prophecy. Many prophecies do, of course, have their fulfillment recorded in Scripture. However, we often must study with the Bible in one hand and a secular history book in the other. Only thus can we learn the rich detail of fulfillment.
The Bible nowhere records the history of the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 A.D. However, this outstanding event is foretold in prophecies both by Daniel (chapter 9) and the Lord (Matthew 24; Luke 21). A study of these two prophecies and their historical fulfillment (especially using Josephus) is very important in understanding God's dealing with the Jews.
As Daniel fills the gap between the two testaments, so Revelation fills the gap from the end of the Bible up to today. Rome plays an important part in these prophecies. Again, secular history sources are a must. Through studying these prophecies we gain insight into how God views many of the world's events since the death of the last apostle.
PROPHECY SUSTAINS TRUE HOPE
The study of prophecy already fulfilled confirms our faith. The study of prophecy yet to be fulfilled sustains true hope. Our confidence that God will fulfill prophecy in the future is based on the evidence that He fulfilled prophecy in the past.
The desire to know the future seems inbred in mankind. For many people, prophecy is the most interesting part of the Bible, especially prophecy of events not yet fulfilled. What plans does God have for our times? When is Jesus coming back and what will it be like? Just as prophets and angels sought to understand prophecies of the first coming of the Messiah, so we seek to understand prophecies of His second coming.
We cannot expect to understand it all before it takes place, but we do need to know enough to sustain us. We do need to know enough so that we are not misled by false hopes. "Therefore if they say to you, 'Look, He is in the desert!' do not go out; [or] 'Look, [He] [is] in the inner rooms!' do not believe [it]. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be" (Matthew 24: 26,27).
Paul dealt with the false teachers who in his day said that Christ had already come. He exhorted the brethren "not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled . . . as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you" (2 Thessalonians 2:2,3). We need to study prophecy yet unfulfilled so as not to be led astray by false teachers. We need to understand enough to remain in the truth.
We need to know what our hope actually is, because there is only "one hope" (Ephesians 4:4). Paul warned Timothy that there was a message "like cancer." It came from men who "have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some" (2 Timothy 2:17,18).
Did you catch that? We need to understand what part of God's program is past and what part is future. What prophecy has been fulfilled and what is yet to be fulfilled. To mix up God's past and future can result in overthrowing our faith. An understanding of prophecy--fulfilled and unfulfilled--is a matter of walking in the faith. It is a matter of abiding in the true hope.
Hope With a Warning
Prophecy of the future has to do with hope. If hope is one side of the coin of prophecy not yet fulfilled, warning is the other side. "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming" (Matthew 25:13).
"But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8). Every text that deals with hell is a prophecy! Every text that deals with the Judgment Day is a prophecy. When Mark 16:16 says "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned," that is prophecy!
If you took prophecy out of the Bible, you see, you would effectively destroy the Bible's message. Not only that, you would damn your soul! Strong words? Listen: "If anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and [from] the things which are written in this book" (Revelation 22:19).
WHY STUDY PROPHECY?
Why study prophecy? Indeed, what good reason could there be for not studying Bible prophecy? It's too boring? Not on your life! It's too hard? Things of value cost! There is not enough time? We make time for what is important to us!
Is Jesus of Nazareth the promised Messiah, or is He not? The answer is in Bible prophecy. How is the world going to end? The answer is in Bible prophecy. Why are the Jews so persecuted? The answer is in Bible prophecy? When will the Anti-christ come? The answer is in Bible prophecy.
Prophecy can give us a reason for faith; it can enrich the faith we have. Prophecy can set our sights on things that really matter in life: on things eternal. Prophecy is the Word of God. If you value your soul, if you seek after God, you will study God's prophetic Word. God will bless you for it!
(Scripture in the preceding article is taken from the New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _