In this second installment of the Prophecy Fundamentals series, we will discuss a couple of major fallacies regarding Bible prophecy. The first major fallacy we will discuss is that Bible prophecies cannot be understood, and the second is that we cannot know when these events are fulfilled. It is important to address these fallacies because they have turned a lot of people away from Bible prophecy. Bible prophecy was meant to be understood and was actually a gift given to us by God.
First, we will define prophecy in the context of the Bible. Then we will show that prophecies were meant to be understood. Finally we will conclude with why it is important to study Bible prophecy today.
It is important to understand what prophecy really means in the context of the Bible. Prophecy is defined in the dictionary as “a prediction”, or a “forecast”. Though this is technically correct, when it comes to Biblical prophecy, I would define prophecy as something like “supernatural knowledge of events to come, given to mankind by divine inspiration of God”. The Bible is full of prophets who were given super natural knowledge of events to come. Many of these events have come to pass, though there are still a number of prophecies that have yet to be fulfilled. This knowledge was divinely inspired by the Lord and typically given to people through visions and dreams. These visions and dreams commonly used symbolism to foretell events. However, the meaning of the symbols was also made known so the intended audience of the prophecy would understand the its meaning. A great example of this is in Genesis 41 when Pharaoh is given a prophetic dream, which is then interpreted by Joseph.
1 And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed: and, behold, he stood by the river. 2 And, behold, there came up out of the river seven well favoured kine and fatfleshed; and they fed in a meadow. 3 And, behold, seven other kine came up after them out of the river, ill favoured and leanfleshed; and stood by the other kine upon the brink of the river. 4 And the ill favoured and leanfleshed kine did eat up the seven well favoured and fat kine. So Pharaoh awoke. 5 And he slept and dreamed the second time: and, behold, seven ears of corn came up upon one stalk, rank and good. 6 And, behold, seven thin ears and blasted with the east wind sprung up after them. 7 And the seven thin ears devoured the seven rank and full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and, behold, it was a dream. … 25 And Joseph said unto Pharaoh, The dream of Pharaoh is one: God hath shewed Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26 The seven good kine are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years: the dream is one. 27 And the seven thin and ill favoured kine that came up after them are seven years; and the seven empty ears blasted with the east wind shall be seven years of famine. 28 This is the thing which I have spoken unto Pharaoh: What God is about to do he sheweth unto Pharaoh. 29 Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt: 30 And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine shall consume the land; 31 And the plenty shall not be known in the land by reason of that famine following; for it shall be very grievous. - Genesis 41:1-7,25-31
As we can see, the prophecy, or supernatural knowledge of future events was given to pharaoh through a dream involving symbols. God wanted Pharaoh to understand the dream and the symbols, so he sent Joseph to interpret the dream and then the symbols were explained. This is a common pattern found throughout the Bible. A dream or vision will be given to a recipient using symbols, and then the symbols will be defined shortly thereafter so there is no question as to what the symbols represent. Another good example is found in a prophecy given to the prophet Daniel.
7 In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel had a dream and visions of his head upon his bed: then he wrote the dream, and told the sum of the matters. 2 Daniel spake and said, I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea. 3 And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another. 4 The first was like a lion, and had eagle's wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon the feet as a man, and a man's heart was given to it. 5 And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it: and they said thus unto it, Arise, devour much flesh. 6 After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, which had upon the back of it four wings of a fowl; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it. … 17 These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth. - Daniel 7:1-6, 17
We will see this pattern repeated many times throughout scripture. So to conclude this section, prophecy is supernatural knowledge given to us through divine inspiration of the Lord, for the foretelling of future events before they happen.
Prophecies are meant to be understood
And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe. – John 14:29
We have to ask ourselves, “What good is a prophecy if it cannot be understood?” If a prophecy was given to a prophet, but the prophecy could not be understood, why give the prophecy at all? We can see from the opening verse in John 14:29 that Jesus was telling the apostles beforehand of events to come, so that when they saw the events fulfilled, their faith might be increased and they would believe in him.
During Jesus’ ministry on earth, there was a tremendous amount of division over Jesus’ Identity; was He the Messiah or not? Many of the religious leaders did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah, and Jesus scolded them for not discerning the times they were living in:
1The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven. 2 He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red.3 And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? – Matthew 16:1-3
As we can see, Jesus expected that they should have recognized the times in which they were living; they should have recognized that He was the Messiah. After all, they were the religious leaders. They were the most educated in the scriptures and they were the ones teaching the scriptures in the synagogue. Despite all that, they failed to discern the times. Clearly, Jesus had the expectation that the prophecies He had given to His prophets over thousands of years of His coming would be understood, and He was disappointed – even upset – that they were not.
However, there was another group of people that did believe. In John 7:25-52 we see the Jews debating with each other over whether or not Jesus was the Messiah. Some were arguing that He was, while others were arguing that He was not. Some of the Jews quoted the scriptures that prophesied that Jesus would come from Bethlehem, and that He would be a descendant of David. Clearly, these individuals understood the prophecies and discerned that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies.
In the book of 1 Thessalonians, we see a prophecy of the second coming of Jesus to this earth:
1 But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. 2(a) For yourselves know perfectly that (b) the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. 3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.- 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3
Many people quote verse 2b when discussing Jesus’ 2nd coming to show that we cannot know when Jesus will return. Apparently, few people must read the next few verses:
4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. 5 Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. 6 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. - 1 Thessalonians 5:4-6
As we can see, Christians should not be overtaken like a thief in the night. Paul was writing this to Christians about two distinct groups of people; Christians and non-Christians. Since this is in the context of the Day of the Lord, this is talking about the second coming of Jesus to this earth. Obviously Christians will not be destroyed during this time, instead we will be saved from destruction. So in 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3, Paul is talking about the destruction that will come upon the unsaved like a thief in the night. In 1 Thessalonians 5:4-6,8-10, Paul is talking about Christians where we are actually commanded to watch and be sober.
This is yet another clear example that Christians should understand the times they are in because His return to this earth should not take us by surprise. How will we recognize the times? By the prophecies given to us by His prophets of course!
Let’s look at two more. The first can be found in Matthew 24. Matthew 24:4-31 goes over a timeline of end-time events preceding Jesus’ second coming. In verses Matthew 24:32-33, we see the following:
32 Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: 33 So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.
Again, Jesus himself is telling us that when we see these signs, we will know His return is near. In other words, we should be able to discern the events he foretold. Otherwise we couldn’t understand that his coming was near when we saw the events He just foretold.
The last one we will look at today is found in the book Of Daniel:
8 And I heard, but I understood not: then said I, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things? 9 And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. – Daniel 12:8-9
Here, we see that Daniel was asking for the understanding of the vision he was given. Instead of giving Daniel the understanding he requested, we see that he was told that the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end. If the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end, then that means that they would be opened and unsealed at some point. This means that the meaning of the vision would be made known when the time was right – during the end times. So those living in the end times would be able to understand the prophecies given to Daniel.
As we can see, there is a recurring theme that the prophecies are meant to be understood.
Now that we understand what prophecy really is in the context of the Bible, and that the prophecies are in fact supposed to be understood, we should discuss why it is important to study Bible prophecy.
I believe one of the biggest reasons to study Bible prophecy today is that we are living in the end times and we need to understand the times in which we live. This is easy to discern to those who study end-times Bible prophecy. We are living in the times immediately preceding some of the most significant prophetic fulfillments in around 2000 years. Everywhere we look, we can see the precursors to the fulfillments of Bible prophecy. The news is absolutely full of events that pertain to the imminent fulfillment of major prophecies. Christians should not be taken by surprise when Jesus returns to this earth, and we should be on the watch and understand the times we are in.
This is the beauty of being a Christian – we can understand the events that are occurring in the world so that we can reveal them to others before they happen. When we reveal to others the events foretold in the Bible before they happen, we are sowing seed. When the events are fulfilled, the seeds we sowed may begin to take root and begin to build faith in the Bible and in the Lord Jesus Christ. Prophecy really can be a great evangelism tool! So, forget the idea that Bible prophecy cannot be understood and start digging in!