The Purpose of Prophecy
Several months ago, a friend of mine came by the house to help me with a project. I couldn’t help but observe that his tail pipe was rattling noisily and found that the bracket had broken. Now it just so happened that I had recently acquired a welder and was eager to practice what little I had learned about welding. I was under the car, sparking away, sticking the rod to the metal, and doing an all-around sloppy job. Graciously, my friend looked on with what appeared to be a sense of wonder and respect for such “skill.” That’s when I remembered that my friend, who had so patiently and silently endured my meager efforts, was an industrial arts expert. Having welded far more than I, he could easily have pushed me aside and said, “Let me show you how it’s done.”
As I begin this study of the Book of Revelation, I have the same kind of feeling as the day I was welding. We are a church in Dallas, Texas, the home of Dallas Theological Seminary and such world-renowned scholars as Dr. John F. Walvoord and Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost, who have devoted themselves to the study of prophecy. Dr. Walvoord has authored a commentary on the Book of Revelation. To further complicate matters, I read this introduction on the subject of the second coming, written by Charles Hodge in his systematic theology:
The subject cannot be adequately discussed without taking a survey of all the prophetic teachings of the Scriptures both of the Old Testament and of the New. This task cannot be satisfactorily accomplished by anyone who has not made the study of the prophecies a specialty. The author, knowing that he has no such qualifications for the work, purposes to confine himself in a great measure to a historical survey of the different schemes of interpreting the Scriptural prophecies relating to this subject.2
The three-volume systematic theology in which these words were written was published five years before his death. At the time he wrote them, he was 75 years old. This would mean that Dr. Hodge had been teaching at Princeton Seminary over 50 years, the first 18 in the department of Oriental and Biblical Literature, and the next 32 in the department of Systematic Theology. Now, if a scholar and professor of over 50 years approached prophecy with such caution, what does that say to the rest of us!
Just how should we approach our study of the Book of Revelation? I have concluded we should first take the advice of Dr. Hodge and survey the broad subject of prophecy from both the Old and the New Testaments. We should approach Revelation in the same way we would prophecy in general. We should understand the nature of prophecy and the way in which it was fulfilled. We should remind ourselves of the problems prophecy presents, as well as the purposes for which prophecy was given. The purpose of this introductory lesson then is to lay a foundation of some basic principles by which prophecy should be studied and to align ourselves with the purposes for which the Book of Revelation was written.
With these things in mind, let us seek to set a course for our study of this great and final book of the Bible – the Book of Revelation. I encourage you to ask God to motivate you to study, meditate, and to worship through this book. I urge you to pray that God will enlighten your eyes and remove prejudice, personal preferences, and preconceived ideas so that He might speak to you through your study. In addition, I encourage you to scrutinize the things I teach in this series to discern truth from error, and divine principle from human perspective.
A week ago a friend took me skeet shooting; clay pigeons were hurled from two towers, one on the left, and the other on the right. Every time, the pigeon traveled in virtually the same path. The point of this sport was to shoot at the clay pigeon and hit it, each time standing in a slightly different position. Since this was something I had never done before, my friend gave me some helpful words of instruction. He told me to begin at the point I intended to shoot and then to follow the path of the pigeon back toward the tower from which it would be ejected. As the “puller” sent the pigeon on its course, I would simply follow the course of the pigeon, slightly leading it, and pull the trigger. Now it isn't quite that easy, but if I did not hit the pigeon, at least I did not miss it as badly as I would have otherwise.
Interpreting biblical prophecy is similar. If we would correctly interpret and apply prophecy which is yet unfulfilled, we should first discern the course or the path which fulfilled prophecy has historically taken. We should deal with prophecy according to the nature or course of prophecy. If we would “hit the mark” in our study of the Book of Revelation, we must first retrace the course of prophecy from the Old Testament to the New. From this process, we will establish several governing principles for our study of the Book of Revelation, principles that should apply to the study of any prophecy.
(1) Some Old Testament prophecy was indirect rather than direct prophecy. This has taken me a number of years to embrace. There are prophecies that were clearly recognized as such at the time they were given. The promise in Micah 5:2 that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem is an example of a direct prophecy. Even the unbelieving Jewish religious leaders of Jerusalem recognized this (Matthew 2:1-6). But Matthew’s other “prophecies” in the first chapters of his Gospel are far from direct. Who would ever have read Hosea 11:1 and concluded this was a prophecy that Jesus would be brought by His parents out of Egypt and back to the land of Israel (Matthew 2:14-15)? Yet Matthew tells his readers that this fulfilled the prophecy of Hosea 11:1. Some prophecies were recognized as such only after their fulfillment. I would call these “indirect prophecies.”
(2) While prophecy may be figuratively or symbolically revealed, we can expect it to be literally fulfilled. In type,3 the Messiah who was to come was portrayed as the bronze serpent, which was lifted up on a pole (Numbers 21:19; John 3:14), and as the Passover lamb (Exodus 12; John 1:29; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Peter 1:19; cf. 2:21-25). In Psalm 22, the passion of our Lord is described by the very terms which David used to portray his personal anguish of soul. In Isaiah 53, we have another prophecy of the atoning work of Israel’s Messiah. All these prophetic pictures were literally fulfilled. So, too, the prophecies that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:5-6) of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:21-23) were literally fulfilled. Whether in symbol, in figure, or in direct statement, the prophecies of the Old Testament which have already been fulfilled were fulfilled literally. We should therefore expect that the prophecies which remain unfulfilled, those which pertain to the second coming of our Lord, will be literally fulfilled.
(3) Old Testament prophecy has almost always been fulfilled in a way that no one expected. Peter wrote of the prophets of old who were perplexed by what they had prophesied:
10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who predicted the grace that would come to you searched and investigated carefully. 11 They probed into what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he testified beforehand about the sufferings appointed for Christ and his subsequent glory. 12 They were shown that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things now announced to you through those who evangelized you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things angels long to catch a glimpse of (1 Peter 1:10-12).4
Peter tells us that the prophets themselves couldn’t put it all together. They diligently studied their own writings, but they were not able to comprehend their message so far as the person or the timing of events was concerned (verse 11). In particular, I believe Peter was referring to their perplexity over the two themes of prophecy: (1) the sufferings of Messiah; and, (2) His glory. How could it be that the same person could suffer for the sins of man (e.g., Isaiah 52:13—53:12) and yet reign in power and glory (e.g., Psalm 2)? How could these two things happen at the same time? No one was able to explain, before its fulfillment. How could prophecy speak of the humanity of the Messiah (e.g., His birth – Isaiah 7:14; Micah 5:2) and of His deity (e.g., Isaiah 9:6)?5
What the prophets failed to discern others did not comprehend either. While the chief priests and scribes knew that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-6), they so misunderstood the prophecies about Messiah that they conspired to murder Him. With the exception of a handful of individuals such as Mary, Simeon and Anna (cf. Luke 2), few realized prophecy was being fulfilled before their very eyes. Even Mary, the mother of our Lord, puzzled over what she had seen and been told (Luke 1:29; 2:19). The disciples did not fully grasp the events of our Lord’s life as fulfilled prophecy until after they had taken place (cf. John 16:12-24).
Why is it, then, that Christians today expect that prophecy can be neatly outlined, charted, mapped, and laid out in such a way that we can say with certainty just how the last days will come to a close? This kind of thinking flies in the face of what we learn from those prophecies which have already been fulfilled. No one, not even the prophets who recorded their prophecies, was able to “package” the Old Testament prophecies in a way that enabled them to comprehend or to communicate the way in which God’s promises would come to pass. Divine prophecy will always be puzzling until after its fulfillment. Only then will we see it all marvelously, literally, and meticulously fulfilled. And when that happens, none of us will be able to say, “Just as I predicted.”6
We have every reason to expect prophecy to be literally fulfilled, but we have little basis for supposing that we, at this point in time, can suggest precisely and dogmatically just how this will take place. Let us be suspicious of every neatly packed prophetic scheme, for why should we think we are better able to predict the specifics of our Lord’s second coming when the prophets of old were unable to outline the events of the first?
(4) Some prophecy may very well have multiple fulfillments.
(5) God reveals prophecy partially and progressively. One reason why the prophets of old could not understand the promises of God contained in their writings is that the plan was only partly revealed. Prophecy, at best, is partial:
9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, 10 but when what is perfect comes, the partial will be set aside… . 12 For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:9-10, 12).
We should not be surprised that the prophets had difficulty attempting to harmonize the two prophetic themes of suffering and glory, as Peter tells us (1 Peter 1:11). After all, the revelation the prophets received and communicated to us was partial. So, too, the prophecies pertaining to our Lord’s second coming are partial. We know this for certain because Paul has informed us in this Corinthian passage that all prophecy is partial. The prophecies we have been given are like the pieces of a puzzle. There are enough to give us a general idea of what lies ahead, but not enough to reveal the entire picture.
The New Testament informs us of certain truths, which are called “mysteries.” In its most elementary form, a mystery is a truth which would not be known apart from divine revelation, and which was not known until God did reveal it in the form of prophetic revelation. As an apostle, Paul was granted the privilege of making known certain “mysteries” (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:6-16; Ephesians 3:3). The partial hardening of Israel was such a mystery (Romans 11:15). Since the New Testament informs us of these truths called “mysteries” which were not made known in the Old, we see that the prophecies of the past were partial. Since Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 13 that all prophecy is partial, we must conclude that the unfulfilled prophecies of the Bible are partial prophecies. They provide pieces of the plans and purposes of God for the future, but not the entire picture.
Prophecy was never written to tell us history in advance. Some of us have enough trouble with learning history that is past. We hardly need to add to this a history of all the things which will yet occur. Dr. Hodge put it well when he wrote:
Prophecy is very different from history. It is not intended to give us a knowledge of the future, analogous to that which history gives us of the past… . In prophecy, instruction is subordinate to moral impression. The occurrence of important events is so predicted as to produce in the minds of the people of God faith that they will certainly come to pass. Enough is made known of their nature, and of the time and mode of their occurrence, to awaken attention, desire, or apprehension, as the case may be; and to secure proper effort on the part of those concerned to be prepared for what is to come to pass… . It follows, from what has been said, that prophecy makes a general impression with regard to future events, which is reliable and salutary, while the details remain in obscurity.7
Prophecy was therefore not given so much to detail the sequence of future events as it was to underscore the certainty of future events. We rightly heard the Old Testament prophet likened to one looking at two mountains in the distance. We point out that from afar one cannot see the valley between the two peaks. So, too, the prophets failed to discern that there were two comings of Messiah – the first to atone, the second to reign. From this, we must acknowledge that the sequence or the timing of Messiah’s coming(s) was not the intent of the Spirit of God, but rather to assure His people that He would fulfill His promises.
Why, then, do we not apply this principle to the prophecies of the future? Why do we think we can neatly map out the events of the future, in sequence, when the prophets of old could not do so? We can know with certainty that our Lord will come again to judge the earth and to deliver His people, but there will be gaps that we cannot and should not try to fill in because God reveals prophecy partially.
(6) We recognize prophecy partially. Many Old Testament prophecies were recognized as prophecy. Micah’s prophecy that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (5:2) was understood as such (Matthew 2:5-6). Other passages were regarded as prophetic, even though they were not understood (cf. 1 Peter 1:11). But there are other instances in the New Testament where an event in the life of our Lord was said to be the fulfillment of a passage not considered prophetic. For example, the Lord’s return from Egypt to Israel was explained by Matthew as a fulfillment of the “prophecy” of Hosea 11:1: “Out of Egypt did I call My Son” (Matthew 2:15). The purpose of such prophecies was not to enable men to anticipate an event ahead of time, but to accept it as fulfilled prophecy after its fulfillment.
(7) Prophecy is particularly profitable to those who can look back on its fulfillment. Peter wrote in his first epistle that though the prophets of old studied their own works in an effort to understand it, they were informed by revelation that their ministry was particularly intended for the benefit of those who would understand it in the light of its fulfillment:
It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven – things into which angels long to look (1 Peter 1:12).
One need only read through the Gospels to be reminded of the truth of Peter’s words. Over and over, we are told by the writers of the Gospels that the events recorded were the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. The preaching of the apostles was based upon the premise that Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (cf. Acts 2). The Book of Revelation, as all other prophecies yet unfulfilled, will be most meaningful to those to whom it can be said, “These things took place, in order that it might be fulfilled… .”
(8) Biblical prophecy was seldom fulfilled in the lifetime of those who received it. When you stop to think about it, few Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in the lifetime of those who first received them. For that matter, few prophecies have been fulfilled in the lifetime of those who have read and studied them. Periods of fulfillment are short and infrequent when compared to the periods of expectation. While men have hoped for the fulfillment of prophecy in their day, few have seen it come to pass. The point I am trying to make is that prophecy would be of little value to the people of God if it were meaningful only to those who lived during the time of its fulfillment. While you and I should hope to see our Lord return, as well as seek to hasten it (2 Peter 3:12), history should teach us that most of those who hoped to see prophecy fulfilled in their day did not.
(9) All prophecy is pertinent to the present. While it is true that prophecy has a particular benefit to those who study it in the light of its fulfillment, prophecy is profitable for all. This is a necessary conclusion from Paul’s words to Timothy and to the Romans:
16 Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
4 For everything that was written in former times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures we may have hope (Romans 15:4).
Peter agrees when he writes:
11 Since all these things are to melt away in this manner, what sort of people must we be, conducting our lives in holiness and godliness, 12 while waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God? Because of this day, the heavens will be burned up and dissolve, and the celestial bodies will melt away in a blaze! (2 Peter 3:11-12)
Prophecy is much more than a mere telling of the future. Prophets are vastly different from fortune tellers. The prophet’s role was to incite his listeners to godly living. The reader was urged to remember that God is sovereign over history and that His promises are sure. Through biblical prophecy, the godly will be encouraged to live pure and righteous lives and to be willing to suffer and sacrifice in the present in order to participate in the certain blessings of God’s future promises. In this way, prophecy is profitable to every reader who will hear and obey God’s Word, regardless of whether or not these prophecies are fulfilled in his lifetime. That is why John can say to the reader of the Book of Revelation,
3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy aloud, and blessed are those who hear and obey the things written in it, because the time is near (Revelation 1:3).
These are some of the lessons which we should learn from the prophecies of the past. Let us not forget them as we seek to study the prophecies which are still future.
One of the reasons I have waited so long to teach a prophetic book of the Bible is that I have been sensitive to all the problems associated with such a study. Let me mention some of these so that we may be alert to the difficulties and dangers inherent in this study. Let me also say that there is danger in the study of any doctrine or book of the Bible. The solution is not to avoid study, but to learn from the Scriptures and from the history of the church so that we do not perpetuate these errors.
(1) A word of caution about curiosity. By its very nature, prophecy is mysterious. That can be good, but it also can be a hindrance. Curiosity can be a dangerous commodity.8 Suppose someone comes to you and says, “I want to confess that I am having an affair.” You might respond, “With your secretary?” It is possible, even likely, that curiosity is the source of this question, not genuine concern. The same curiosity can be aroused by our study of prophecy. We would like to know certain details more to satisfy our curiosity than to conform our lives to Christ.
It is very easy to deceive ourselves here by the use of semantics. We may speak of prophecy as “deep” spiritual truth. Truth that is deep, in my estimation, is that which leads to mature Christian living. The writer to the Hebrews wrote:
1 Therefore we must progress beyond the elementary instructions about Christ and move on to maturity, not laying this foundation again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, 2 teaching about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this is what we intend to do, if God permits (Hebrews 6:1-3).
Did you notice what the writer to the Hebrews said? Among the elementary truths which he wished to leave behind were those constituting the content of prophetic study.9 Let us beware, then, when someone refers to prophetic study as “deep.” Often what we call deep is only obscure and speculative. The reason others (naturally those less spiritual than we) cannot see the “deep truths” we see may be because they are not there, not because they are on a higher spiritual plane. What is truly important is what God says most frequently and most frankly.
29 Secret things belong to the Lord our God but those that are revealed to us and our descendants forever are shown so that we might accomplish all the words of this law (Deuteronomy 29:29).
6 I have applied these things to myself and Apollos because of you, brothers and sisters, so that through us you may learn “not to go beyond what is written,” so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of the one against the other (1 Corinthians 4:6).10
(2) Beware of “straining gnats and swallowing camels.” Our Lord spoke of the scribes and Pharisees as “straining gnats and swallowing camels” (Matthew 23:24). Prophecy provides a pretext for those who wish to practice this. We are guilty of this abuse whenever we focus on the minutia of prophecy and overlook the message. I have already warned you that we are likely to make many mistakes in the details, just as the men of old have done. Paramount is the clear and emphatic message of prophecy, not the minutia.
The disciples of our Lord had a problem here; they were preoccupied with the wrong things with respect to prophecy. First, they were preoccupied with the timing of God’s program. Over and over, they asked Him when these things would take place (Matthew 24:3; Acts 1:6). How and when the kingdom would be established was almost a fetish for the disciples. Jesus consistently avoided answering their questions on “the time,” focusing instead on how they ought to live in the light of His return (cf. Matthew 24-25; Acts 1:6-8).
The disciples also had an unhealthy interest in their role in the kingdom. They thought about the future in terms of their prestige, their power, and their position, an attitude which Jesus sought to correct (cf. Mark 10:35-45). Is it any wonder that American Christians are so interested in where America fits into God’s prophetic scheme?
Common sport among Christians is to play the game of “Who’s who in prophecy.” Is the antichrist Saddam Hussein? Is a powerful computer in Europe a part of the satanic program? Of course Satan is constantly grooming a man for the job. But we are not often profited by speculation. The same could be said for date setting. This practice has only served to make Christians a laughing stock. The words of Peter should serve to warn us about the dangers of speculation or, in his words, “private interpretations:”
20 Above all, you do well if you recognize this: no prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, 21 for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:20-21).
While we have often heard this passage applied to teaching in general, Peter wrote these words specifically regarding the interpretation of prophecy. I believe that he strongly warned us about speculation here.
“Straining gnats and swallowing camels” can also be seen in the area of theology. The theological study of prophecy is known in academic circles as “eschatology,” the study of last things. Evangelicals are often divided and strongly debate with each other over the issue of the rapture. Does the rapture come before, during, or after the great tribulation? Some don’t think there even is a rapture at all. Others say there is no millennium. While all these matters are important, they are not critical. Faith in Christ alone for one’s salvation will get one to heaven, in spite of one’s flawed eschatology (and all of our eschatologies are flawed). The primary message of prophecy is often the same, regardless of one’s eschatology: Jesus Christ is coming soon to judge the earth, to rid it of evil, and to establish His kingdom. That truth should transform our lives, even though we will disagree about the details. Let us beware of “straining gnats and swallowing camels.”
(3) Watch out for inappropriate application. Any doctrine can be twisted in such a way that our actions are an abuse of truth. In Romans 5 and 6, we see that the doctrine of the grace of God can be twisted to the point that we use it as a pretext for sin. So, too, even a correct interpretation of prophecy can result (because of our own sinfulness) in an ungodly response on our part. Those (of us) who believe in a pre-tribulation rapture could misapply this doctrine by rejoicing because of man’s evil (surely this proves that the Lord’s return is near), rather than by actively resisting it (even though it won’t usher in the kingdom). Every eschatological position, whether right or wrong, has it own forms of applicational heresy. It is true that wrong doctrine leads to wrong practice. But right doctrine can also lead to wrong practice if we are not careful.
Having warned us to be cautious in the light of the problems which have plagued Christians through the years, let me conclude this lesson by highlighting the purposes of prophecy. If we are to correctly interpret and apply the prophecies of the Book of Revelation, we must study this book in the light of the purposes of prophecy as described in the Scriptures.
(1) Prophecy is used as proof of the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of God’s Word. Fulfilled prophecy authenticates the Word of God. The Old Testament prophet would sometimes give a distant prophecy, accompanied by a near prophecy. The purpose for the near prophecy was to authenticate both the prophet and his distant prophecy. Our Lord staked His entire ministry and message on His ability to fulfill the prophecy that He would rise from the grave (cf. Matthew 12:38-40; cf. 27:63). In both the Gospels and Acts, the message of the gospel was proclaimed on the basis of the authentication of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection in fulfillment of prophecy (cf. Acts 2:14-36; 3:18-26).
Prophecy is a powerful authentication of the Word of God. It is little wonder that many in our time have been won to Christ through the instrumentality of books such as The Late Great Planet Earth, or more recently, the Left Behind series. Prophecy gives credibility to the proclamation of the gospel. If one would dispute the Word of God, he or she must first disprove the Bible’s claim of fulfilled prophecy.
(2) Prophecy should produce hope in the life of the Christian, which, in turn, promotes purity and perseverance. This is one of the predominant themes of prophecy in the Bible. If God’s Word is true and God’s promises are sure, then we are to pursue purity:
2 Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that whenever it is revealed we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is. 3 And everyone who has this hope focused on him purifies himself, just as Jesus is pure (1 John 3:2-3).
If God judges sin, which fulfilled prophecy demonstrates, we dare not persist in willful sin:
25 Take care not to refuse the one who is speaking! For if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less shall we, if we reject the one who warns from heaven? 26 Then his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “I will once more shake not only the earth but heaven too.” 27 Now this phrase “once more” indicates the removal of what is shaken, that is, of created things, so that what is unshaken may remain. 28 So since we are receiving an unshakable kingdom, let us give thanks, and through this let us offer worship pleasing to God in devotion and awe. 29 For our God is indeed a devouring fire (Hebrews 12:25-29).
The assurance and hope which prophecy produces should cause us to live in this world as though its pleasures were temporary and to invest in the world to come, where its blessings are eternal (2 Peter 3:11-12). Prophecy encourages the saint to persevere in resisting evil and in pursuing what is righteous:
32 If from a human point of view I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what did it benefit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die… . 58 So then, dear brothers and sisters, be firm. Do not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:32, 58).
Therefore encourage one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:18).
11 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, just as you are in fact doing (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
(3) Prophecy tells us the goal of human history. Prophecy tells us where God is going in history. It informs man of God’s purposes and exhorts men to conform their lives to God’s goals. If we would desire to serve God, we must seek to work toward His goals. Prophecy gives us a goal which causes us to renounce former ambitions, shun what we used to seek, and live in the light of our ultimate purpose and calling in Christ:
8 More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things—indeed, I regard them as dung!—that I might gain Christ, 9 and be found in him, not because of having my own righteousness derived from the law, but because of having the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness. 10 My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already attained this—that is, I have not already been perfected—but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, 14 with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:8-14).
(4) Prophecy should create in us a sense of urgency. One of the most common maladies of the Christian life is apathy. Unbelieving scoffers reject the warnings of future judgment, secure in their self-delusion that everything is continuing on as it has from the beginning (2 Peter 3:4). Prophecy is given to stir us up, to be ready for the Lord’s return, and even to hasten its coming:
32 “Learn this parable from the fig tree: whenever its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also you, when you see all these things, know that he is near, right at the door” (Matthew 24:32-33).
“Therefore stay alert, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Matthew 25:13).
… while waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God? Because of this day, the heavens will be burned up and dissolve, and the celestial bodies will melt away in a blaze! (2 Peter 3:12)
1 Now on the topic of times and seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for anything to be written to you. 2 For you know quite well that the day of the Lord will come in the same way as a thief in the night. 3 Now when they are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction comes on them, like labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will surely not escape. 4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in the darkness for the day to overtake you like a thief would. 5 For you all are sons of the light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of the darkness. 6 So then we must not sleep as the rest, but must stay alert and sober (1 Thessalonians 5:1-6).
1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must happen very soon… . 3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy aloud, and blessed are those who hear and obey the things written in it, because the time is near (Revelation 1:1a, 3).
As we approach our study of the Book of Revelation, let us study this prophecy in a way that is consistent with the principles of prophecy that can be learned from the prophecies of the past. We should understand that God has not told us everything that will happen, and that we will not fully understand even what has been revealed. Let us seek to avoid the pitfalls which Satan would use to distort or distract us from the purpose God has for us in this prophecy. And let this prophecy stir our souls to worship, obedience, and perseverance. May the person of Christ and our reunion with Him be our goal and our consuming desire.
2 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman, 1977 [reprint]), Vol. III, p. 790.
3 “A type is a shadow cast on the pages of OT history by a truth whose full embodiment or antitype is found in the NT revelation.” Wick Broomall, “Type, Typology,” Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1960), pp. 533-534. I suggest the reader consult this article for a fuller definition and explanation of the use of “types” in the Bible.
4 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
5 Jesus put this perplexing question to His detractors: How could David call his son his Lord (Matthew 22:42-46)?
6 It is true that we have a greater grasp of prophecy today because of what has already been fulfilled. An appreciation of the concept of progressive revelation enables us to see more and more truth as time goes on. The Abrahamic Covenant of Genesis 12:1-3, for example, is spelled out in greater detail throughout the Old Testament period. Nevertheless, while more details were known, the Old Testament saint was still not able to explain them as a whole, just as Peter indicated in chapter 1 of his first epistle.
7 Hodge, Vol. III, pp. 790-791.
8 Note, for example, the warning of Deuteronomy 12:29-32, where curiosity may lure one into false worship.
9 The things the writer to the Hebrews would call deep (he actually calls them “solid food” in 5:12) are not really the most crucial either. The most important truths are the elementary truths having to do with repentance, faith, and eternal judgment. These are the truths which determine a man’s eternal destiny. But once having learned these essential truths, we must press on to those truths which lead to maturity. “Meaty” truth is truth which facilitates maturity. Speculating about obscure truth is simply a waste of time, for it keeps us from pressing on to maturity.
10 See also 1 Timothy 1:4; 2 Timothy 2:23.
Related Topics: Prophecy/Revelation