At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Jews were living under the brutal rule of Rome and were anxiously awaiting their coming King to liberate them from their enemy. Expectations of His appearing were at an all time high, because the fulfillment of Daniel’s very precise prophecy concerning the coming of Messiah was at hand:
“Seventy ‘sevens’ [seventy seven year periods] are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place. Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens’.” Daniel 9:24-25
Most other scriptures regarding His appearance were not quite so clear or understandable. In spite of this, the leaders and scholars of His day formed hard and fast opinions on how they would unfold. Where scripture seemed contradictory (i.e. conquering king vs. suffering servant; born in Bethlehem, but called a Nazarene and called out of Egypt) or symbolic (God Himself in human flesh) they chose to interpret based on their current understanding, situation, and needs; when, in fact, many of these prophecies would not even be recognizable until after the time of their fulfillment. Because their knowledge and understanding was limited, they were not able to recognize that the scriptures spoke of two separate advents by the same Person. Ultimately, their insistence that He would come in a different way and with a different mission, culminated in the rejection of their long-awaited Messiah.
Today, we have the advantage of looking back and seeing so clearly how the prophecies and scriptures pertaining to Messiah were fulfilled by Jesus at His first advent. From our vantage point, it’s easy to wonder how they could have missed something so obvious, and we can be very critical of them. But ironically, as we attempt to discern the circumstances of His second advent, I fear we are in just as much danger of making the same mistake.
Prophecy: Debatable, or not?
If you enter ‘Eschatology’ or ‘Rapture’ or ‘Day of the Lord’ or any number of other end time words or phrases into your browser, it doesn’t take long to realize that there are just as many opinions as there are people who study the subject. Now, am I saying people can’t have opinions? Many people throughout the centuries, including Paul the Apostle, have debated scriptures vehemently and it is not my intent to say that we cannot do the same. But we’re not talking about just any scripture, we’re discussing Prophecy. And in 2 Peter 1:20, God makes a distinction;
“So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”
To grasp the importance that God places on prophecy, we must first understand what prophecy is, and secondly the purpose for which God included it in the Bible.
What is Prophecy?
In short, biblical prophecy is the communication of God to man through the medium of prophets. By definition it can include any divine revelation or message given by God, but for the purpose of this study we will be focusing mainly on prophecy as it pertains to the time of the end.
By reason of the nature of prophecy, personal choice of opinion or interpretation is excluded. God’s revelation is true and firm, or it isn’t. And it is always true and firm. Admittedly, He doesn’t usually give us all the details surrounding these events. In fact, there are some scriptures that seem to support many differing points of view. And this is where it gets tricky and is typically then subjected to popular opinion, personal whim, and sometimes even outrageous predictions.
God’s Purpose in Prophecy
In John, chapters 13 through 17, Jesus is speaking to His disciples on the night before His crucifixion. He reveals to them that He will be leaving them and what they should expect in the days and years to come. Throughout His discourse, He repeatedly says, “I have told you these things, so that…”, because it was important that they (and we) understood not only what they could expect, but that they knew they could believe, trust, and depend upon Him when they saw these things come to pass, because He warned of them beforehand.
I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. John 14:29
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. John 15:11
All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. John 16:1
I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. John 16:4
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
Not All Prophecy is Immediately Discernible
Deuteronomy 29:29 tells us that,
“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law”.
The prophet Daniel was was entrusted with many prophecies; some through dreams, some through visions. But these dreams and visions were not immediately understood by Daniel, and had to be interpreted and explained to him. And in Daniel chapter 12:8-9, when he is told of events concerning the end of days, Daniel was never given the answer he sought:
“I heard, but I did not understand. So I asked, “My lord, what will the outcome of all this be?” He replied, “Go your way, Daniel, because the words are rolled up and sealed until the time of the end.”
Derek Prince, a respected author of many books and teaching videos, has this to say concerning the interpretation of biblical prophecy:
“One of the temptations we have to resist in interpreting Biblical prophecy is trying to get God to reveal the secret things. Because if God keeps a thing secret it’s a waste of time trying to find it out. And I think much of biblical interpretation, or interpretation of Biblical prophecy, has focused on trying to get to know secret things. And the result is frustration, confusion, disappointment.
As for the things revealed, he says:
Revelation is conditional upon obedience. God reveals things that we may do them. And if we don’t do them, He won’t reveal anything more to us.
Principles of the study of biblical prophecy:
1. Don’t waste time trying to find out the secret things
2. Obey the revealed things
3. Some prophecies are given for a specific time and will not be understood until that time
4. Prophecies are sometimes given to us to keep us from wrong action and wrong prayer
5. The spirit of prophecy is the revelation of Jesus
6. Give words their plain meaning
7. Acknowledge and bow before God’s total sovereignty
So we see that there are both revealed and secret things in the matter of Biblical prophecy; and this is not by accident. Those things that are made fully known by God – the revealed things – are given to us for the purpose of both heeding, and warning others about. But the secret things are kept secret intentionally until the proper time.
The secret things do not belong to us. They are not ours to pass judgment against, or to flatly interpret as we see fit. If and when we do these things, we pervert the Word of God to say what we think it says and are therefore answerable to God for our error. Most importantly, when through speculation we create scenarios that do not find their solid basis in what God has revealed, we run the risk of destroying the faith of some when our predictions do not come to pass. This I believe is the greater sin.
The Bible is clear, God holds each one of us responsible to search out the truths in His Word for ourselves. But in another place He also says that teachers will be held to a higher standard (James 3:1). I take this scripture very seriously. As one who shares Word of God with others, I do not want to be responsible for the spiritual demise of another soul; therefore I strive to present His Word with accuracy. I pray we all make this our priority. And when we are not sure, or are speculating, let us be careful to make that clear. That each of us will give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word we have spoken is a very sobering thought.
So, are we at risk of repeating the past?
That’s entirely up to us. I don’t think it’s inevitable by any means.
But if we, as Bible-believing Christians, through our well-intentioned predictions, lead people (including ourselves) to believe events will or won’t take place in the future, when in truth we have no firm scriptural reference to say these things with certainty; and this belief causes some to falter to the point of losing or perverting their faith, if and when these things do not come to pass as they have been led to believe; then yes, I fear history will most assuredly repeat itself.
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