Although prophecy constitutes almost one-third of the Bible, many believers downplay its importance. They dismiss prophecy as having no practical significance or object to it on the grounds it is a "fad" that takes people's eyes off Jesus.
Such cavalier dismissals of Bible prophecy fly in the face of Scriptures like Revelation 19:10c, which says, "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." Thus, if prophecy is properly taught, it will not divert anyone's attention from Jesus. In fact, it will emphasize the centrality of Christ.
Is prophecy practical? Consider that all the New Testament writers testify that living in anticipation of the Lord's return will motivate holy living. What could be more practical than that? Here's how the apostle John put it:
"Beloved, now are we children of God, and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 John 3: 2-3).
Prophecy does not have to be faddish, other-worldly or impractical. Nor does it have to be a playground for fanatics. It can and should be like a green pasture for the disciples of Christ.
10 Reasons to Study Prophecy
All believers should value the study of Bible prophecy. Here are 10 reasons why:
- Quantity: One-fourth to one-third of the Bible is prophetic in nature. In the Old Testament, this includes the Psalms, Major and Minor Prophets and many passages in the historical books. In the New Testament, entire books, including 1 and 2 Thessalonians and Revelation, are devoted to prophecy, as are major passages like Matthew 24 and 1 Peter 3. To ignore Bible prophecy is to ignore a significant portion of God's Word, and we are told in 2 Timothy 3:16 that "All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness." That certainly includes Bible prophecy.
- Uniqueness: No other book in the world includes prophecies that have been fulfilled. This includes the sayings of Buddha and Confucius, the Quran, the Hindu Vedas and the Book of Mormon. It certainly includes the ridiculous nonsensical quatrains of Nostradamus. In contrast, the Bible contains hundreds of specific prophecies that have already been fulfilled—prophecies about towns, cities, nations, empires and political leaders, as well as prophecies about the Messiah. Consider, for example, the prophecy in the book of Isaiah that a man named Cyrus would be the one who would release the children of Israel from Babylonian captivity (Isa. 44:28). And that is exactly what happened 142 years later (Ezra 1:1-3).
- Validator of Scripture: Fulfilled prophecy is one of the best evidences I know of that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. As stated above, the Bible contains hundreds of fulfilled prophecies pertaining to cities, nations, empires and individuals. Isaiah prophesied that Babylon would fall to the Medes and Persians (Isa. 13:17-20). Jeremiah predicted the Babylonian captivity of the Jews would last 70 years (Jer. 25:11-12). Daniel outlined in advance the precise order of four great Gentile empires (Daniel 2, 7). The destruction of both Judah and Israel was foretold by Moses (Deut. 28, 29). In the New Testament, Jesus predicted the complete destruction of Jerusalem 40 years before it actually occurred (Luke 21:6).
- Validator of Jesus: The prophetic Scriptures validate Jesus as who He said He was—namely, God in the flesh. The Bible contains more than 300 prophecies about the first coming of Jesus, but some of these are repetitive. There are actually 109 separate and distinct prophecies concerning His first coming, and all of them were fulfilled. Every aspect of the life of Jesus was prophesied—the place of His birth, the nature of His birth, the quality of His ministry, the purpose of His life and the agony of His death. Consider, for example, the prophecy in Psalm 22:16 that the Messiah's hands and feet would be pierced. That prophecy was written by David about 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus, at a time when stoning was the only form of capital punishment among the Jewish people. The literal fulfillment of so many prophecies in the life of one individual transcends mere coincidence and validates that Jesus was who He said He was—the divine Son of God.
- Revealer of the future: Prophecy serves to tell us some things God wants us to know about the future (Deut. 29:29, Amos 3:7). God does not want us to know everything about the future, but there are some things we must know if we are to have a dynamic hope. Thus, prophecy assures us that Jesus is coming back, He will resurrect us, and He will take us to live forever with Him and God the Father. In this regard, Peter likens prophecy to "a light that shines in a dark place" (2 Pet. 1:19b). Paul makes the same point in 1 Corinthians 2. He begins by observing that "eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Cor. 2:9). But in the next verse, he says God has revealed those things "to us by His Spirit" (1 Cor. 2:10a).
- Tool of evangelism: Prophecy can be used as a very effective tool of evangelism, as illustrated in the story of Philip and the eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). Philip used Isaiah's great suffering lamb passage (Isa. 53) to teach that Jesus is the Lamb who was slain for the sins of the world. Matthew and Peter both used fulfilled prophecy in the life of Jesus as one of their basic evangelistic tools. In fact, Peter referred to prophecy constantly in his first gospel sermon on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-39). He preached that Jesus had been crucified and resurrected in fulfillment of Hebrew prophecies. Later, Peter referred to fulfilled prophecy as one of the greatest evidences that Jesus is truly the Son of God (2 Pet. 1:16-19).
- Tool of moral teaching: People often overlook the fact that the Hebrew prophets were forthtellers as well as foretellers. In fact, the prophets spent most of their time using God's Word to spotlight societal problems. They called their listeners to repentance, true worship, social justice and personal holiness. One of the great recurring themes of the prophets is that "obedience is better than sacrifice" (1 Sam. 15:22b; see Hos. 6:6). In God's eyes, obedience to His commands is more important than outward religious practices such as offering sacrifices. Prophecy is thus a great repository of moral teaching, and those moral principles are still relevant today (see Amos 5:21-24, Micah 6:8 and Isa. 58:3-9).
- Generator of spiritual growth: Prophetic knowledge encourages patient waiting (James 5:7-8), provokes earnest watching (Matt. 24:36,42), inspires dedicated work (2 Tim. 4:7-8) and enhances our hope (Titus 2:11-14). The result is holy living. Paul exhorts us to "behave properly, as in the day" because the time is at hand when the Lord will return (Rom. 13:12-13). Likewise, Peter calls us to gird up our minds and be sober and holy as we look forward to the revelation of Jesus (1 Pet. 1:13-15).
- Understanding of current events: The Bible contains detailed prophecies about the end times we are living in, and there is just no way to fully understand much of what is happening today apart from those prophecies. Three characteristics of our day and time immediately come to mind: the intensifying decay of society, the growing apostasy in the church and the escalating crisis in the Middle East. All three of these situations are prophesied in detail in the Bible. We are told that society will become as violent and immoral as it was in the days of Noah (Matt. 24:37-39), the church will be assaulted with "doctrines of demons" (1 Tim. 4:1, NASB), and all nations will come against Israel over the issue of who will control Jerusalem (Zech. 12:2, 3).
- Signifier of the season of Christ's return: One of the most exciting reasons for studying Bible prophecy is that it provides definite signs we are to watch for that signify the season of the Lord's return. We cannot know the date of the Second Coming, but the Bible makes it clear that we can know the season—if we are aware of the signs. The apostle Paul made this point in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6 (MEV) when he wrote:
"Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need that I write to you. For you know perfectly that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. ... But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all the sons of light and the sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober."
According to this passage, Jesus is coming like "a thief in the night" for the world, but those of us who are "sons of light"—that is, those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit—should not be surprised when the Lord returns, because God's Word gives us signs to watch for.
Paul made the same point again in Hebrews 10:25 where he admonished believers not to forsake the assembling of the saints, especially "as you see the Day approaching." What day? He defines it in verse 27 as the day of judgment. So, Paul is making the point that we can watch for certain signs that will clearly identify the fact that we are living in the season of the Lord's return.
Jesus made the same point in His Olivet discourse as recorded in Matthew 24. After specifying many end-time signs, He said, "when you see all these things, recognize that He [Jesus] is near, right at the door" (Matt. 24:33, NASB).
Spiritual Food for Believers
God's prophetic word is food for our spiritual growth. We need to take it off the shelf, open it and feast on it—and do so with believing hearts.
The book of Revelation promises blessings to those who read it (or hear it read) and obey it (Rev. 1:3). It is the only book of the Bible to promise such a specific blessing, but all of God's Word is designed to bless us spiritually (Ps. 119), and that includes the prophetic word.
Bible prophecy, properly taught, can transform people and congregations. This will happen if they can be convinced of two things regarding prophecy: Jesus will return, and His return could occur at any moment.
Regarding the first point, most Christians believe with their minds that Jesus is returning, but they do not believe with their hearts. Therefore their belief has no impact on their behavior. Regarding the second point, most Christians are unaware that the return of Jesus will be in two stages—first, the rapture, and then the Second Coming. Because many believers know little or nothing about the rapture, they have no understanding that the Lord could return at any moment. They believe that many prophecies—like the preaching of the gospel to the whole world—must be fulfilled before the Lord can return, when the truth of the matter is not one prophecy must be fulfilled for the rapture to occur.
Again, if a person or congregation can be convinced that Jesus will return any moment, they will be transformed because they will be motivated to share the gospel with others and to commit their lives to holiness. A commitment to evangelism and holiness! What more could a pastor hope for?
Bible prophecy does not just relate to the future. It has an important spiritual relevance to the way we live our lives in the present.
Dr. David R. Reagan is founder and director for Lamb & Lion Ministries in McKinney, Texas. He is host of Lamb & Lion's weekly television program Christ in Prophecy. His many books include God's Prophetic Voices to America and Israel in Bible Prophecy. Dr. Reagan served as a professor of international law and politics for 20 years before he founded Lamb & Lion Ministries in 1980.
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