By David Lawrence
hat do we mean when we use the term prophecy? The Bible uses it in a far wider sense than just foretelling future events, as we shall see. At first consideration the subject of Bible prophecy might seem far removed from our salvation. Yet when we look a little closer we find that prophecy is in fact closely related to Gods saving work and therefore important and meaningful to us. Through prophecy, God reveals his mind to us; it gives us a picture of his character and his purpose with this earth; in the past, in the present, and in days to come. In order for us to be saved it is crucial that we understand these things. We need to know his character so that we can develop one like it and be pleasing to our Creator. We need to understand his purpose so that we do not fight against it, but can be given a part in it both now and in the future.
All of us want to know what the future is going to bring so that we can be prepared for it. The sad part of human nature is that even knowing what is going to happen does not make people change their ways or do things differently. Doctors tell us that if we smoke it will damage our health and we will die sooner; yet people still keep on smoking. Similarly, through the ages, God has told his people that if they do certain things, he will respond to them accordingly. In Deut. 31 for example, the prophet Moses, who had led Gods chosen nation Israel for 40 years through the desert, sets the future before the Israelites. He asks them to make a choice;
"See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; in that I command thee this day to love the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that thou mayest live and multiply: and the LORD thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest to possess it. But if thine heart turn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish, and that ye shall not prolong your days upon the land, whither thou passest over Jordan to go to possess it." (Deut. 31:15-18).
What would you choose, life or death? It seems to be an obvious choice, but the Israelites, when they came into the promised land, chose death. They chose death and evil by forsaking the one true living God and worshipping idols. Looking back at what the Israelites did, you might think, "How silly they were!" But we can do exactly the same thing when we ignore what God has told us is going to happen. The prophecy God gave Moses told Israelites that their future depended on how they responded to God. If they loved him and kept his commandments, nation and land would prosper; if they were indifferent toward him and ignored his commandments, they would suffer.
Thats how prophecy should relate to our salvation. It is not just interesting or exciting to know what is going to happen, but it must have an effect on our lives. If you tell someone there is going to be a flood, and that they should move to higher ground, and they do nothing; knowing what was going to happen beforehand was of no use to them. This is exactly what happened in the days of Noah, God told Noah there was going to be a flood, and what he had to do to prepare for it. Noah told the people of his day what was going to happen and how it would affect them, but they either ignored or did not believe him, and as a result they all perished. Noah on the other hand believed God, did what he was asked to do, and was saved. God is doing the same thing for us through his word the Bible.
We stated at the beginning of this article that prophecy shows us Gods character, but how can this be? Consider the source of prophecy. It comes from the all powerful Creator of this vast universe, the one true God who keeps every living thing alive, including you and me. When king David thought of the wonders of creation he wrote these words:
"When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?" (Psa. 8:3-4).
God knows all about each one of us, even to the point of knowing what we are going to think. In another of the Psalms David wrote,
"O LORD thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo O LORD, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it." (Psa. 139:1-6).
We could add more Bible references to these to describe the power, might, knowledge and wisdom of the living God, but let these suffice. The point we must see, is that this Almighty Creator actually takes the trouble to tell us small, weak and insignificant specks in his vast and wonderful universe what he is going to do. Does the ruler of your country ever tell you what he is planning to do? Even an employer rarely informs his employee of his plans. The fact that God tells us what he is going to do, so we can prepare for it, shows us that he is a loving, caring Creator, and is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance," (2 Peter 3:9). Hard as it might be for us to believe, the prophet Amos says, "Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7). Can we see how this sets the one true God apart from any arrogant human ruleror any of the multitude of false gods? David gives us a wonderful picture of our creator in Psalm 103:
"The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him, for he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust" (Psa. 103:8-14).
So the Bible describes this all powerful Creator as our Father who wants us to become his obedient loving children. Thats why he reveals the future to us and gives us the opportunity to prepare for it.
In addition to its importance for our salvation, prophecy is also the greatest source of evidence to prove that the Bible is in fact a revelation of the mind of God. The prophet Isaiah from chapters 40 to 46 goes to great lengths to prove to his readers that there is only one true God, and that he is the only one who can foretell the future. It is a wonderful section of Gods word setting out the majesty, power and wisdom of our God, and we should be encouraged to read it. We will cite one passage to illustrate the Bibles claim to be an infallible source of what the future holds.
"Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, my counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure." (Isa. 46:9-10).
The Bible declares that God has had a purpose with this earth and with the creation he placed upon it from the very beginning. It stands to reason then, that he knows what will take place in the future. The prophecies God reveals in his book the Bible should always be fulfilled exactly as God said they wouldand they are. Many prophecies covered long time periods and seemed most unlikely when they were given. Yet they were fulfilled to the smallest detail. This gives us solid grounds for believing that the things God says are yet to happen will surely take place.
The Bible tells us that the world as we know it will not continue as it is. God is going to intervene and establish his kingdom, with his king, on the ruins of the present system. When will this happen? In Mark 13 Jesus gave a prophecy about events that would take place when the Roman armies came to destroy the city of Jerusalem and carry into captivity the nation of Israel in 70 A.D. He also spoke of the things that would take place shortly before his return to this earth. This is what he said about the timing.
"But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the son, but the Father." (Mark 13:32).
This means that we will never be able to pin-point exactly when that day will come. But the prophecies act like signposts telling us what is to come and how close we are to the destination. In the same prophecy as recorded in Lukes gospel Jesus says this:
"And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh." (Luke 21:28).
So the study of prophecy should strengthen our faith and encourage us in the days that remain until the return of the son of God to this earth. Jesus told us to look around, watch events, but most of all to be prepared.
"Watch ye therefore; for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cock crowing, or in the morning; lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, WATCH. (Mark 13:35-37)
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