Examining Bible Prophecy
Trumpet Sounds - March 17, 2000

Every Christian should have an interest in Bible prophecy. Why? Because a significant portion of the Word of God consists of prophecy, some already fulfilled, some yet unfulfilled. It's an integral part of the Bible, and understanding what He has done in the past and what He will do in the future is essential for developing a Biblical world view. Many, many times God exhorts us to "remember" what He has done in the past, and "wait" for what He will do in the future. It seems that it is common for Christians to relegate prophecy studies to the "experts" or only to those who have a particular interest in the subject, but that is not a healthy outlook. Some pastors never teach about it at all, oddly enough. This is perplexing, for the study of Bible prophecy is nothing more or less than the study of God's purposes and plans for human history.

The examination of fulfilled prophecies is one of the strongest testimonies to the validity and authority of the Bible. Only God has the ability to see all of history, both past and future. He explains that fulfilled prophecy is one undeniable proof of His credibility: 'Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.' (Isaiah 46:10 NIV) He also taunts those who pretend to be like Him but lack this ability: 'Who told of this from the beginning, so we could know, or beforehand, so we could say, 'He was right'? No one told of this, no one foretold it, no one heard any words from you.' (Isaiah 41:26 NIV)

Knowing what the Lord has already done, and what He intends to do, is important so that we see where we fit into the plan. But concentrating almost exclusively on the New Testament as many do gives us a warped, myopic viewpoint. When the apostles gave their teachings to the early church, they were assuming that the people already had the foundational understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. Just like today's college courses have prerequisites, knowing what the Old Testament says is a prerequisite for understanding the New. But today we are woefully deficient in this - the average Christian may be familiar with Philippians, but has no idea what is in Amos or Micah. This inevitably leads to unbalanced emphases and interpretations.

There is no substitute for taking the time to pore over the Scriptures again and again until the pieces start to fit together. Peter tells us that even the prophets themselves examined and studied in an attempt to figure it all out: "Even the prophets, who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours, carefully researched and investigated this salvation. They tried to find out what era or specific time the Spirit of Christ in them kept referring to when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow." (1 Peter 1:10-11 ISV) Peter also said this about paying attention to the prophetic writings of the Tanakh (Old Testament): "Thus we regard the message of the prophets as confirmed beyond doubt, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp that is shining in a gloomy place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts." (2 Peter 1:19 ISV)

However, we must be certain that we do not approach Bible study as an academic subject or an intellectual curiosity. The goal is not merely increased knowledge, but so that the "morning star rises in your hearts." There is nothing more deadly to our devotion to the Lord than a scribe mentality, viewing the study of the prophetic word as only an intellectual exercise. Remember that Jesus said it is the faith of a child that we need - not the knowledge of a seminarian. The true knowledge that we need is the knowledge of God: revering Him, fearing Him, appreciating Him, loving Him. The study of prophecy should only be done in this context, as we eagerly investigate what He has confided to us. Jesus said "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you" - so let's appreciate what has been given to us. "The LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them." (Psalms 25:14 NIV)

The opposite spectrum from neglecting the study is to become a prophecy "nerd". The goal should be an overall understanding of God's greater plan, not trying to nail down specific timelines for events. Those fancy charts may look great, but we can be certain none of them are completely correct. To dogmatically assert that we have conclusively figured out the exact sequence and timing of future events is spiritual arrogance. Let the Scriptures speak for themselves, and do not attempt to use a pre-conceived theological framework, no matter what it is, to force prophesied events to fit your scheme. This manner of Bible interpretation is not beneficial to anyone.

Humility in all spiritual endeavors is essential. God gave us these prophecies so we could prepare ourselves for what will happen in the future, and be on the right side of His intentions. He did not give us the prophecies of Scripture to satisfy our desire to see into the future.