Interpretations: The Importance of Prophecy
|1||The Focus of Prophecy|
|2||Proof that the "Word of the Lord" is from God|
|3||Basis of Prophecy|
|4||Reason for Prophecy|
|5||Reaction to Prophecy|
What is prophesy? The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of Prophesy, Revelation 19:10. In general, prophesy concerns Jesus and his work to settle the sin question, Revelation 5:9-10, and to take back the original intention of God for man to have dominion over this world, Genesis 1:28. The Lord being God, was from the beginning, and was with God, John 1:1. An important point is that the revelation of Jesus Christ originates with God, who gave it to Jesus to show His servants what must soon take place, Revelation 1:1. In other words, prophesy throughout scripture is from God, and much of it in the Bible is intended to show God’s unfolding plan for the redemption of man beginning with the first prophesy concerning the woman’s seed, Genesis 3:15, ending with the Lord conquering His enemies and establishing His eternal reign, Revelation 19:1-21.
It is important to stress that the focus of the scriptures is on the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no part of scripture that is for any private interpretation, as Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:19-21. Similar words were written by Daniel in his great praise to God after the King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and interpretation were revealed to him, Daniel 2:19-23. The matter of the dream was not privately revealed to the King, but was given to the world as a witness of what God was going to do in the following years, centuries and millennia.
Much of prophecy deals with either the first or second advent of the Lord. With respect to the first advent, all of the prophecies were literally fulfilled. The Gospel of Matthew records and attributes many of the events in the Lord’s first advent to Old Testament prophecies as inspired by the Holy Spirit. All things were fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms concerning the Lord’s first advent, Luke 24:44-48. In reviewing all of these prophetic passages in Matthew, consider if one were to spiritualize any of them to make them fit another preconceived perception of how they should have been fulfilled. In a moment, it would become obvious that doing so would take away from the power of God's word by its literal fulfillment and its accuracy. This is the practice of some when investigating the return of the Lord, either in the clouds to rapture His church, or with His saints to establish His eternal reign on earth. Consider what the Lord said to the Apostles the night of His arrest. They were assured concerning the knowledge that He imparted to them, that when the time came, they would remember what they were told, John 16:1-4. Spiritual truths are revealed by God, 1Corinthians 2:9-16. Therefore, there is every reason to expect that all of the prophecies concerning the Lord’s return for His church and His return to establish His kingdom will be literally fulfilled.
God declares that His prophetic word is true in Isaiah 46:9-10. Because God knows the heart of man, He made known His prophetic word far in advance, in some cases by several millennia, so that no one could claim the credit that is due our Lord, Isaiah 48:3-7. There will still be the critics within the church, who will mock those who believe in the resurrection and rapture of the church, saying "where is the promise of His coming," 2Peter 3:1-7. But it was Peter who delivered assurance to the believers that the words from himself and the other Apostles were from the Lord, being confirmed by the voice of the Father at the mount of transfiguration declaring that Jesus was His Son. Peter also attributed the words of the prophets as originating from the Holy Spirit, 2Peter 1:16-21. It was said of the heroes of faith in the Book of Hebrews, that though they did not receive the promises of God in their lifetime, nevertheless, in faith they looked ahead for the fulfillment of His promises. The same hope and faith is true for the church and the tribulation saints that is written in Hebrews 11:39-40.
The first question to ask concerning prophecy is if the person making the prophetic statement is a prophet of God. There have been many who claimed to be able to understand and accurately predict the future, or even to speak for the Lord. This has been the case throughout the annals of time, 2Peter 2:1-3. However, they should consider what the Word of the Lord said concerning those who falsely speak for the Lord. Should a person speak presumptuously in the name of the Lord, that individual faced death, Deuteronomy 18:20-22. The Lord warned through Moses that the words that a man or woman spoken as if from the Lord, were to be consistent with scripture, and the prophesies were to be completely accurate 100% of the time. The consequences of being wrong just one time, no matter how slight, is death. Many of the prophets in scripture delivered prophesy that could be verified by the people to validate that person to be a true prophet of God. Then, some would prophesy of things that they did not understand, nor would they be fulfilled in their lifetimes but well beyond their time, sometimes across millennia, 1Peter 1:10-12.
There are many reasons for prophesy in the Bible, such as for the glory of God. Proverbs 25:2 indicates that it is the glory of God to conceal matter, and the glory of the kings to search the matter out. Deuteronomy 29:29 likewise presents a picture concerning the secret things belonging to God. However, it is the Apostle Paul who lavishes great praise on the Lord, for his unsearchable judgments, whose paths are beyond tracing out, and that no one has ever known the mind of the Lord, Romans 11:33-36. The primary reason for prophesy is to point to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Gospel of God, Romans 1:1-6, whom God the Father revealed in Revelation 1:1. Israel was instructed by Moses to be ready for His appearing, for their Messiah would appear as a prophet like Moses and would be raised among them, Deuteronomy 18:15-19. The Messiah is the Lord Jesus Christ, John 1:21, John 6:14, and John 7:40.General Context
To establish a general context for the importance of prophecy, and show the many purposes for the prophetic passages that God has given us in His word, it is important to understand that prophesy illustrates the special relationship that He has with His people, whom He calls friend. The Lord therefore wants to reveal to them His plans for future events, to prepare them, to be for comfort and encouragement to believers, or for a warning. Consider the following examples of the Lord making known His secrets to His friends.
- The Lord is a stronghold in the day of trouble, Nahum 1:7
- The Lord reveals his secrets unto his servants the prophets, Amos 3:7-8
- The Lord makes known those things He heard from the Father, John 15:15, Revelation 1:1
- What manner of persons should we be, 2Peter 3:11-13
An excellent example is with Abraham. In Genesis 18:17-22, the Lord revealed to Abraham His purpose for the two angels and Himself in heading toward Sodom and Gomorrah. What is most interesting in this passage is Abraham's response, which is an example to us today. Abraham interceded for his nephew Lot, Genesis 18:23-33. Prophesy is not just an intellectual exercise or an entry into an elite group of those with a special knowledge. Rather, it comes with responsibility to the believer to take action. Just as Isaiah who was before the throne of God and heard the question by the Lord, after Isaiah's lips had been cleansed. Isaiah offered himself to answer God's call, Isaiah 6:6-8. In both cases, the knowledge required and resulted in action.Comfort and Warning
With respect to comfort to his saints, just consider the words that He gives to the Old Testament saints, Isaiah 46:9-10 and Isaiah 51:12-16; to His church He spoke through the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonian church, 1Thessalonians 4:13-18; and to the future tribulation saints who are guided by His word, they are seen to offer great celebration to the Lord through their songs and praise, Revelation 15:2-4. Though the seven years of tribulation will be the harshest time ever known in human history, the tribulation saints who were killed for the word of God and for their testimony to Him, exalt the Lord for preserving them through the most bitter of trials, and sustaining their faith, and never leaving them. Now in the Lord's presence, there is nothing but unbounded joy, Revelation 15:2-4, Revelation 20:4-6!
An occasion for comfort and warning was when Pharaoh had a dream from God, and the interpretation was given through Joseph so that Egypt would prepare for the devastating drought (thereby establishing the way for Israel to be brought forth as a nation out of Egypt), Genesis 41:1-57. Another instance was when Joshua prepared for battle against Jericho, and the Angel of the Lord met him to give Joshua his order for battle, Joshua 5:13-15. There are litanies of examples of the reassurance of the prophetic word for the children of the Lord, and for showing the glory of God.
Prophecy is a warning to all mankind who would discount or ignore the most important words preserved by Israel since they were first spoken by the prophets for a witness to all mankind forever, Romans 3:1-2. Since the beginning of man's history, God knew the nature of man that it was continuously evil, Genesis 6:5-8, and there was no fear of God in their eyes, Romans 3:10-18. So Isaiah prophesied concerning the ways of the Lord that He spoke of things He declared long ago that would occur suddenly and that there would be no occasion for any person to say that they already knew them. Because God knows the heart of man and that man would deal with such information very treacherously if the prophecies were given to soon before their fulfillment. Man would claim those words as something common and within their knowledge. Instead these revelations were given far in advance of their fulfillment. As a result, the evil days that are upon us now could never have been understood by those to whom God had revealed His truth. But after the passage of such an large expanse of time the will of God would be exercised exactly as He said it would and in His time, Isaiah 48:3-11. So today, as the world plunges headlong ignorantly of the pending judgments of God, there are promises to those who still believe, trust, love and follow the way revealed in the Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. One of those promises is His return to rapture of the church. However, many within the church will declare their lack of believe in God's ability to fulfill His word. They will ask in unbelief, where is the promise of His coming, 2Peter 3:1-7. But Peter declared that prophecy did not come in the old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, 2Peter 1:16-21.
The Apostle John wrote in his first epistle that the when the Lord appears that we who are the children of God will appear like Him; that everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself as Christ is pure, 1John 3:2-3. We can either be prepared or slumber, as depicted in the parable of the ten virgins, Matthew 25:1-13. In the book of Daniel, much was written that should have caused Israel to look forward to the first coming of Christ. Instead, few understood the signs and sought after the Christ during his triumphant entry into Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago. Only a handful of people within Israel sought and found Christ, as their hearts were prepared for His first visit, Daniel 9:25-26. The remainder either sought to kill Christ, or carried on with their lives paying no attention to the knowledge that was entrusted to them. They did not know the hour of their visitation by the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, John 1:9-14, and Luke 19:41-44.
A fine example for our time on how to respond to the prophetic passages that are even now being fulfilled, is found in the book of Habakkuk. Who can argue that the conditions he cried about to the Lord are not on the increase in our day: violence, seeing iniquity, to look on wickedness, destruction and violence are common, strife exists and contention arises, the law is ignored and justice is never upheld, the wicked surround the righteous and therefore justice comes out perverted, Habakkuk 1:1-4. The prophet Habakkuk is totally aghast at the Lord's answer and finds it unbelievable. First, he cannot conceive that the Lord would look with favor with the Chaldeans who deal treacherously and that He would allow the wicked to swallow up those more righteous than they, Habakkuk 1:5-6, 1:12-13. The second reason for his shock is that this would happen in his days. It is not known how far in advance he was given this prophecy concerning the invasion by King Nebuchadnezzar of the Babylonians from the land of the Chaldeans, but it appears that he was contemporary with the prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and Zephaniah who experienced the invasion of the Babylonians and some were carried away into the land of Babylon. The Prophet Habakkuk loved his people and country and the thought of God's plan happening was inconceivable, but the Lord did say that he would not believe though it were told to him. The same can be said today. More and more there is less regard for the ways of God, recognition of His existence, and even among believers in Christ, a belief in his return for His church, 2Timothy 3:1-9, 2Peter 3:1-9.
After raising his objections to the Lord's revelation, Habakkuk chose to stand like a watchman observing the area surrounding the city for any signs of activity of importance to the citizenship. He waited for God's response. Not only did God affirm is first statement, but now he told Habakkuk to record the vision so that anyone who reads it may run. Most importantly, the Lord said that the vision was for an appointed time, but that it hastens toward the goal and will not fail. Also, the Lord states that though the fulfillment tarries, that it will certainly come and not delay. This is similar language used in passages in the New Testament and specifically Revelation. There is a delay until the beginning of the judgment, once started there will be no delay but the full extent of the judgment will continue to its full conclusion, Habakkuk 2:1-3. A very important verse follows that is picked up by the Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Romans and Galatians, and is also quoted in the book to the Hebrews, that the righteous will live by his faith. In other words, those living in the days of God's judgment will live by faith and not by their pride, Habakkuk 2:4. This is the same for the church today and for the tribulation saints after the rapture of the church. The Lord warned in His Olivet discourse that there would be false Christs, nation would rise against nation, ethnic groups against ethnic groups, famine and earthquakes but these are only the beginning of birth pangs. The frequency and intensity of these events would only get worse as the days rapidly approach the tribulation period of seven years, Matthew 24:4-8.
Habakkuk pleads to the Lord that he fears about the reports he heard concerning the Lord's judgments and asks that in His wrath that He remember Mercy, Habakkuk 3:1-2. After rehearsing the full fury and complete destruction in God's judgment, he makes two distinctions concerning God's judgment on Israel and one on the status of the saints of God during that time. The first distinction of God's judgment directed against Israel is depicted by the fig tree and may be related to the nation of Israel's prominence on the world scene along the world's historical timeline from that moment until the Lord returns to establish the first 1,000 years of His eternal reign. The indication that the fig tree should not blossom indicates that the people of Israel would be entering a period of time that it would be able to function as God intended from the beginning when God met them at Mount Sinai, Exodus 19:6. Further information of the relationship between the fig tree and Israel's history are written about in the Mark 13 Timeline page on this site.
The second depiction of God's judgment is on Israel, which is directed against its land. The land will have no fruit on the vines, the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, and the flock should be cut off from the fold and no cattle in the stall, he stands on faith. The strength of his faith in the Lord is exhibited in that he will yet exult in the Lord, rejoice in the God of his salvation, the Lord God of his strength to make his feet swift, and to him walk on His high places, Habakkuk 3:17-19. This is the same position for the church before its rapture and the tribulation saints as they live through the tribulation. Habakkuk was not spared from the judgment that fell upon Judah, but because of his faith in the Lord, the Lord kept him in his faith and the prophet looked forward to the future when he would experience the fulfillment of all God's promises. He saw the Lord make his feet like hinds' feet and to walk on his high places, Habakkuk 3:19. He was reciting the promises the Lord made through Moses as he sang his song to God. The Lord's taking His people Israel on their exodus and hovered over them as an eagle, leading them to the high places of the earth and ate the produce of the land and suck honey from the rocks, Deuteronomy 32:11-13. This is the same for the tribulation saints, as they survive by looking forward to the promise of the Lord's return, which is harolded by the angels in the last half of the Tribulation saying that the perseverance of the saints are those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus, Revelation 14:1-13.