Why Study Prophecy?
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul wrote, ‘Do not despise prophecies’ (1 Thes 5:20). These days, however, many ‘leaders’ say that studying Bible prophecies diverts attention away from evangelism, Christians should not ‘try to figure out prophecy’ or speculate about how God will fulfil his plans in history. A bias against supernaturalism and predictive prophecy is common. Why then do we study Bible prophecies?
Predictive Prophecy and Today
Our focus today is on predictive prophecy. At a certain point in time, God said through a prophet or an apostle that something is going to happen in the future. Many of these prophecies remain unfulfilled, even to this day. God says in Isaiah 46:9-10 (emphasis added) the following: ‘Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, 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”’. God will make sure that all unconditional prophecies will be fulfilled in history. If we know what God will certainly bring to pass in the future, how should that affect our lives today?
Benefits of Studying Prophecy
There are many benefits of knowing and studying prophecy (cf. Benware 2006:14-17; Hixson & Fontecchio 2013:2-5).
God is Sovereign
God is sovereign (see Isa 40:12-26) and we can rest in the fact that all God’s plans and purposes will come to pass. Nothing and no one can change this. Of course, after Satan’s fall and Adam’s fall, terrible things do happen in this fallen world, but we can bank on the fact that the Last Adam will succeed where the first failed, and Satan will eventually be thrown into the lake of fire. God wins, nothing and no one can change this, and this gives hope. So, in the end, and because God is sovereign, his plans will come to pass and we can plan today based on what God has said will still happen.
How God’s Story Ends
Another benefit of studying prophecy is that we know how God’s story ends. As Hixson and Fontecchio (2013:2) nicely show, human beings want to read the final chapter, sometimes even before they’ve read the first! Paul sketches in Romans 8:18 a taste of what is still to come: ‘For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us’. But it is not all just good news, for as Jesus said in the Olivet discourse, the wrath of God will fall on the world during the Tribulation period: ‘For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be’ (Mat 24:21). While believers will not experience the above wrath of God, when we suffer or have pain, it helps very much to know that in the end, God will right all wrongs and He will wipe away every tear (cf. Rev 7:17; 21:4).
Holy Living and Hope
The apostle John wrote that we should abide in Christ, so that ‘when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming’ (1 Jn 2:28), adding that we will see Him and ‘everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure’ (1 Jn 3:3; cf. also Rev 19:7). Studying and knowing prophecy promotes holy living (2 Pet 3:10-14). Titus 2:11-13 teaches something similar, for ‘the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works’. Knowing prophecy provides not only motivation for holy living, but it also keeps our hope and focus on our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Viewed negatively, we should not say our Master is delaying his coming (cf. Mat 24:48), but rather positively abide in Christ and glorify Him through our lives.
Establish Proper Priorities
The works of believers are going to be judged at the bema-seat judgement of Christ (Rom 14:10; 1 Cor 3:9b-15; 2 Cor 5:20). Given this prophetic truth, how should this change our priorities today? If our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, should we seek those things which are above, where Christ is, or the things on the earth (cf. Col 3:1-2)? Given Biblical prophesies about the future, our choices today cannot but be influenced.
Illustration: How Clarence Larkin saw Old Testament prophecies. Copyright by Clarence Larkin, redrawn by Ray N. Tharp in 2004.
Contrary to what some well-known personalities say about it, Christians do well to study prophecy. In fact, Revelation 1:3 promises a blessing to a person who ‘reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it’ — and near the end of this book, this blessing is repeated (Rev 22:7). There is no reason to doubt God’s Word, for just as He fulfilled the many predictive prophecies in times past, so He will fulfil as-yet-unfilled prophecies in the future (Malan 2016:29). 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’ (2 Pet 1:19). The Holy Spirit says that no prophecy ever came by the will of man (2 Pet 1:21), so Christians do well to study prophecy.
Benware, P.N., 2006, Understanding End Times Prophecy: A Comprehensive Approach, Moody Publishers, Chicago.
FaithEquip, 2018, Until the Day Breaks and the Morning Star Rises In Your Hearts, available here: https://faithequip.org/morning-star/
Hixson, J.B. & Fontecchio, M., 2013, What Lies Ahead: A Biblical Overview of the End Times, Lucid Books, Brenham.
Malan, J., 2016, Bybelse profesieë werp lig op die toekoms, Basuin Publikasies, Danabaai.
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