BIBLICAL PROPHECY … why is it so important?
How many Christians don’t know what to say or are reluctant to respond with much certainty, when unbelievers challenge them with questions like, “I can’t prove that God doesn’t exist, but can you prove that he does.” Or, “How do you know the Bible is true?” What makes the Bible different from any other religious book?
A typical reply by many Christians is, “Well, I believe it’s true, and that’s good enough for me.” There’s nothing wrong with that kind of response, but keep in mind that some might call it “blind faith.” Or worse, someone might say, “Don’t followers of other religions say the same thing.”
For sure we, who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, can say, “I know it’s true because he changed my life.” Or, “I believe the Bible is true because it works.” No doubt: the miraculous change of the human heart is still the ultimate testimony the world over to the awesome salvation freely given to all who believe in and receive Christ as personal Savior. Yet, there are many who still defy the Bible as the word of the true and living God; and, therefore reject what it claims (for example about Jesus being the only way of salvation). Basically there are two types of doubters: (1) those who are really searching for truth, who have genuine, authentic questions about why they were born and where they are going. (2) Those who challenge just for the sake of challenge, as they have no real desire to know the truth or to give up the lifestyle or belief system they’ve chosen while on this earth. Whenever possible, they like to make Christians squirm.
Is there anything, then, that goes beyond any hesitation whatsoever that God exists and, therefore, the Bible is 100% accurate (true)? The answer to that question—one that believers in Christ can and should propose whenever called upon to explain the evidence behind what they believe—is a resounding, “Yes.” The answer can be found in the proof of Biblical Prophecy.
Talk about challenges about and against the truth of the Bible so commonplace in today’s world; did you know that God, himself, answered these challenges thousands of years ago—for all those who doubt who he is, or who are deliberately cynical or, perhaps, honestly uncertain that the Bible is the very Word of God. But God didn’t stop there; he threw down his own gauntlet to test the false prophets and non-existent gods of that day, as well as the scoffers and skeptics of successive generations, particularly the last generation before the majestic return of Jesus Christ.
God’s Answer to the Challenges
Let’s begin with God’s announcement to the prophet Isaiah: “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not give my glory to anyone else, nor share my praise with carved idols. Everything I prophesied has come true, and now I will prophesy again. I will tell you the future before it happens” (Isaiah 42: 8-9).
This is one of several Biblical declarations, wherein, God addresses and rebuts claims from leaders or prophets of other religions or from the agnostics among us. Paraphrasing, God is saying, “You want proof that I am the only true and living God, and that my Word is truth itself. Then know this: I am the only One who can tell you the future before it happens.” Moreover, God asserts that, “Everything I prophesied has come true.” Not just a few prophecies, not half of them, not most of them … All of them!
If you closely examine all of the other major religions of the world, you’ll find that their so-called sacred books or annals of the sayings of their prophet(s) contain little or no eschatology, i.e. prophetic predictions. For example, about the only reference to end times events found in Islam pertains to the coming 12th Imam, who is essentially their messiah; or a few references to Allah’s rewards of the good and judgments of the bad, as defined by Islam. Moreover, the idea of a messiah didn’t originate with Islam, nor did the concept of a final judgment. At least 1500 years before the Koran was written, the Bible foretold of a coming Messiah, who would judge the nations, rule and reign from Jerusalem, and who would save the Jewish people (nation) and Gentiles alike.
Unlike the God of the Bible, who has made hundreds of predictions that have already come to pass and hundreds more still unfulfilled, other religions dare not predict the future, on anything approaching a regular basis. Their leaders know, full well, that they or the gods of these religions could never predict the future with 100% accuracy (or even 10% accuracy). Why? Because their gods are man-made, meaning non-existent. *Note: As you might guess, I’m not talking about weather-like predictions, in which the forecaster has a 50% of getting it right!
Again, God declares: “Remember the things I have done in the past. For I alone am God! I am God, and there is none like me. Only I can tell you the future before it even happens. Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish” (Isaiah 46: 9-10). God is plainly insisting that, above all other proof, the litmus test of whether or not he is the one and only true God is fulfillment of prophecy. And, as found in other Bible passages, God asserts that if just one prediction from any other source does not come to pass, then that prophet or religion is false.
Listen to what Jesus said to the religious leaders who refused to believe that he was Messiah, the Son of God, “…why do you call it blasphemy when I say, ‘I am the Son of God?’ After all, the Father set me apart and sent me into the world. Don’t believe me unless I carry out my Father’s work. But if I do his work, believe in the evidence of the miraculous works I have done, even if you don’t believe me…” (John 10: 36-38).
Jesus was confirming virtually the same thing that God, the Father, said in the Old Testament: If you choose not to believe what I say (my Words), then what about the miracles I have done? Or, what about the hundreds of predictions that have come to pass? What more proof do you need than that? These are rhetorical questions from God; with answers so obvious that they are irrefutable by any test of what is rational, logical, reasonable, and self-evident. The result is that no one is left with any excuse not to believe. Thus, it’s a matter of the heart, meaning the person chooses not to believe despite all the evidence to the contrary.
God Issues His Own Challenge
In case you might be thinking that most people in our “sophisticated” post-modern world are pretty much disinterested in or indifferent to prophecy (the future), just take a look at the saturation of mystics, mediums, psychics, fortune-tellers, spiritualists, and shamans throughout the earth. What daily newspaper would think of sending their journal to “final print” without today’s horoscope? Society is rife with occult and new age influence, from the halls of higher education and seats of governments to the digger of ditches.
More than just refuting the biased skepticism of those who take pleasure in mocking the Bible, God has established his own test for who and what is true. Let’s read more words of the prophet, Isaiah, “This is what the Lord says … I am the First and the Last; there is no other God. Who is like me? Let him step forward and prove to you his power. Let him do as I have done since ancient times when I established a people and explained its future … Did I not proclaim my purposes for you long ago? You are my witnesses—is there any other God? No! There is no other Rock—not one!” (Isaiah 44: 6-8).
So, then; what do these false teachers and all who follow them say in response to God’s challenge? The answer is all too clear: They don’t say anything (that directly responds to God’s challenge) because they can’t. How can they refute statements like, “But I carry out the predictions of my prophets! By them I say to Jerusalem, ‘People will live here again,’ and to the towns of Judah, ‘You will be rebuilt; I will restore all your ruins!” (Isaiah 44:26). Or, “When I say of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd,’ he will certainly do as I say. He will command, ‘Rebuild Jerusalem’; he will say, ‘Restore the Temple’” (Isaiah 44:28).
In just these two verses, God predicts three distinct events that have come to pass in spectacular fashion. (1) After 2000 years in exile and some 2700 years after the book of Isaiah was written, Israel and Jerusalem have, indeed, been restored and re-born as a nation (1948). Just look at modern-day Israel to see that this miracle is real! (2) The rebuilding of Solomon’s Temple and the reconstruction of the walls of Jerusalem 70 years after the Babylonian captivity which began in 586 BC, foretold by Isaiah some 150 years before it happened. (3) Cyrus, the Persian world ruler, who issued the decrees that Jerusalem and the Temple would be rebuilt, wasn’t yet alive when these prophesies were uttered! The Lord referred to him by name nearly 150 years before he was even born and given his Persian name! That is a matter of historical record.
So you see: If anyone challenges you to prove that God (the one and only God) exists and the Bible is God’s Word, you only need to refer to Biblical fulfilled prophecy. Our faith is NOT a blind faith. Prophecy is not the only defense; what about all of the miracles found in Scripture, and the historical accuracy of Scripture as proven by archeology and comparison to secular historical records? And, what does one do with the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead? Ignore it? Tragically, many have. Last, but not least, the miraculous transformation of the human heart through God’s salvation (believing and receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and Messiah) experienced by millions the world over. “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!”
PROPHETIC CERTAINTY VERSUS PROPHETIC SPECULATION
As alluded to in the previous five articles on the Rapture, I’ve noticed an increasing reluctance of many Christians, including pastors and teachers, to talk or even think about Biblical prophecy … especially end-time revelations. And this saddens me. But I believe I know why. Although the reasons are diverse, there is a common thread in what I see, hear, and read. It can be summarized with the following statement: “There are too many views or interpretations of prophecy. How can anyone know for sure which view is correct?” Which then leads to another observation or action: “I’ll just stick with those things in the Bible that are easy to understand and that are clear to me.”
May I offer a humble opinion: Prophecy is a lot easier to grasp than you might think. Not necessarily the process of grasping … only the final result once you commit to the time/effort in studying the Old Testament prophets, portions of the Psalms, the book of Revelation, Jude, I Thessalonians, I Corinthians, and a few other select passages on prophecy. Permit me to ask a common sense question: Why would God even disclose the future to us, if we couldn’t grasp at least the basics? Is he “teasing” us? Is he playing games with us? Or, why would he give us teachers to connect the dots and help us to better understand, unless he knew we could … if we really wanted to?
But first, we need to ascertain the difference between the certainty of any Biblical prophecy and the speculation that sometimes accompanies the study of any given prophetic passage. Rather than taking the time/space to explain the contrast between certainty and speculation as applied to the understanding of prophetic passages in Scripture (most readers know the difference between the two words and how they would fit in the context of prophecy), let’s just refer to one example.
Gog, Magog Attack on Israel (Ezekiel Chapters 38 & 39)
If you’re not familiar with this yet unfulfilled prophecy, I encourage you to read these two chapters; or even if you know them well, it wouldn’t hurt to read them again. As an overview, the prophet Ezekiel is prophesying against a ruler (Gog) from the land of Magog, and provides extraordinary details in explaining why this ruler/nation and other aligned nations will attack Israel, what will happen to them, how it will happen, and who will make it happen. To illustrate the difference between prophecy that is certain (we can understand the basics and know beyond reasonable doubt that it will take place) and speculation (we can elaborate, conjecture, guess, or consider, within the confines of a sensible risk), let’s place some of the details of this passage into one or the other category.
Certainty: (the text is sufficiently clear and comprehension can be equally clear or certain)
– Because an attack like this has never occurred (to date), we know for certain that it is yet to take place.
– Gog/Magog and their allies will be soundly defeated.
– This coalition will consist of “a vast and awesome army” and will roll down on Israel “like a storm and cover the land like a cloud” (Ezekiel 38:9).
– The attack will be after the Jews “…have returned from exile in many nations…” (Ezekiel 38:12).
– When this invasion takes places, God’s “fury will boil over!” (Ezekiel 38:18).
– Several verses make it crystal clear that it is God, himself, who will defeat this coalition, with supernatural power such as, “torrential rain, hailstones, burning sulfur, disease, bloodshed (the armies turn on each other); contrasted to Israel winning the war, herself.
– The reason for such display of God’s power and supernatural intervention is, “In this way, I will show my greatness and holiness, and I will make myself known to all the nations of the world. Then they will know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 38:23).
– By reference to Gog originating from, “your homeland in the distant north” (verse 15), then comparing the land of Magog to the writings of ancient historians (like Josephus), Bible scholars have identified this land/country as modern-day Russia. Absent any other valid geographic alternative, we can with a great deal of certainty (and very little speculation) equate Gog & Magog with Russia, i.e. Moscow is due north of Jerusalem.
– It will take Israel seven months to “bury the bodies and cleanse the land” and Israel will have enough fuel from the spoils, “…to last them seven years!” (Ezekiel 39: 9-12).
– Several Bible scholars (including me) have gone a step farther, and attempted to determine when this stupendous attack will take place. Some say just before the Rapture, some say soon after the rapture, others say at the mid-point of the seven-year treaty with Israel (mid-tribulation), or at the end of the tribulation, and still others say after the 1000-year reign of Christ on the earth. (If you’re curious and must know, I personally “speculate” that the Gog/Magog war will take place in the early part of the Tribulation, i.e. one-three years after the Rapture!) Although I could give you some fairly logical and reasonable evidence, it’s still conjecture.
– Although there are some possible “clues” in other end-times passages, ultimately the fact of the matter is: We do not know with certainty when this attack will take place. Thus, it must be confined to the arena of speculation.
– For that matter, one could successfully argue that we don’t absolutely, beyond all doubt, know with total certainty that the distant land from the north is, in fact, Russia. It fits much better in the certainty file; however, if you want to err totally on the safe side, then put it in the speculation file. But all the points listed above (and other details of the text) can be classified as certain.
I realize that reducing the study and understanding of prophecy to the categories of certainty and speculation is somewhat of an oversimplification; however, it can be feasible and productive to separate these two dimensions … a good start to a better understanding of prophecy without being overwhelmed by different or conflicting views. So that those who tend to give up on the study and discussion of prophecy can place the fundamentally clear, unmistakable facts of any given passage into the folder of certainty, and place other non-textual conjectures into a speculation folder, and then keep the two folders separate.
As applied to Ezekiel 38 & 39, don’t let the conjecture of when the attack will take place detract from all you can and should know about the who, where, why, and how of this great prophetic event. Although it would be nice to know when it will take place (kind of a bonus), the fact is Scripture does not give us enough information to know with total certainty when it will happen.
As Moses told the Israelites: “The Lord our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that he has revealed to us, so that we may obey all the terms of these instructions” (Deuteronomy 29:29). As applied to prophecy, this obviously means that we don’t know everything there is to know. But why not know what is meant to be known? Why not skillfully and accurately assemble the prophetic puzzle?
In the up-coming articles on my book, Out of the Abyss, you may have opportunity to apply this test of certainty versus speculation. Granted, however, there is also another dimension; that of correlation (association, connection, linking). Which essentially is the application of ALL Scripture passages on a given subject that results in a better and more accurate fit of the prophetic puzzle. A fit, nevertheless, that I propose can be classified as a certainty, i.e. the identity of the Antichrist.
Things to Ponder:
– Do you agree or disagree that Biblical prophecy is the best, or least one of the best, means of answering the critics; those who doubt/deny the Bible and the God of the Bible?
– How would you respond to this observation: “As a general rule, it’s best for a believer not to engage in philosophical or theological debates over the existence of God or the veracity of the Bible? Instead, just simply present the Gospel and/or your own testimony.
– Was the distinction between prophetic certainty and speculation adequately explained in this article? If not, what other factors are there?
*Note: These are tough questions that might require long answers. If you choose to make a comment, try to be somewhat moderate in the response, i.e. four medium-size paragraphs or less!
P.S. Two new permanent pages have been added to Eye of Prophecy blog site, entitled, God’s Plan of Salvation and Out of the Abyss. Click on at the top of the screen, and check them out. Also, if you haven’t yet, click on the About page. GB
I was exposed to Christianity as a very small child and have never questioned the existence of God, nor doubted his word as the only and ultimate truth. However, I was not saved until I was 25. My early exposure to the Christian life came with expectations of how I was to behave. “You’re a Christian and Christians don’t do that” was frequently quoted to me. Therefore, I spent 20 years trying to live up to others’ demands of how I should act, what I should and shouldn’t do. It seemed so easy for those setting the standards. I eventually started wondering what I was lacking in that I found it impossible to meet those expectations.
At the age of 25 I finally gave up. I did not doubt the existence of God but I viewed him as the Judge – sitting in heaven with a big belt – whopping me every time I messed up. And, boy, could he whop! I had made several bad choices in life and was merely reaping what I had sowed. To make a long story short, I basically told God I couldn’t do it. I could not live up to his expectations of me – whatever those were.
It was then that my eyes were opened. The light came on. I understood. God doesn’t expect anything from us. He doesn’t want us to do anything. He’s already done everything there is to do. We only need accept the fact that we’re helpless and hopeless and trust, know, believe that He has the solution. We don’t even have to pray. Remember sitting in algebra class and looking blank while the teacher puts a problem on the board and works out the solution? My teacher tried several different methods until “The light came on!” I finally understood not only the solution, but the problem itself. This is what happened when God turned the light on in my soul. Ephesians 2:8,9 finally made sense. “For by grace are ye saved, through faith. Not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not of works! lest any man should boast. Of course you have the choice to 1.) ignore the fact that you are lost and helpless and 2.) if you do understand the truth you can choose not to believe it. If you do understand and you do believe, then you are saved. And as Bugs Bunny so aptly said “That’s all folks!”
I’ve not lived an exemplary life since that “life altering” moment in time. I’ve still made many bad decisions. God still punishes us in his way – like a loving father attempting to prevent his children from ruining their lives. The difference is, this “father” really does know what’s best for his children. In addition to the understanding and faith required for salvation, we need to trust him to run our lives for us. Knowing and understanding his word will help us do that and his word is full of prophetic passages. It all fits together. You can’t pull out certain passages and ignore others or, as you so aptly put it, the puzzle pieces just don’t fit.
My four “normal” size paragraphs are up so I’ll sign off. But, keep up the good work.
Your post brings to mind a few things, some of which I have recently reviewed and studied in depth. We know that we are saved, but our human nature still causes us to slip up and make mistakes. This is depressing, because I know we all make mistakes and we fight that battle every day. However, a sin confessed is a sin forgiven and forgotten. The fact that we make mistakes does not trump or negate the future we can still have on earth if we choose to admit the mistake to God the Father and press on. Christ is not only our redeemer, but our intercessor. His blood and sacrifice speak on our behalf. … Your remarks are right on regarding these things. I just wanted to add this bit for the benefit of anyone else who might be reading.
I believe prophecy is the best means by which to refute the critics claims. However, I also believe that no amount of evidence for the Truth, skilful argument, or anything else, will wholly convince a person of the veracity of God’s Word, who’s heart is hardened to the Truth. This shouldn’t stop us from trying though.
Regarding debates concerning God and His Word, I believe the best thing to do is to present the evidence and pray for the ministry of the Holy Spirit to work in the people listening to it. And never leave out the Gospel. A personal testimony could also be helpful.
I believe the distinction between prophetic certainty and prophetic speculation was skilfully presented in this article. The point, as I understand it, is to separate the two in order to avoid the danger of mixing speculative observations with what we know to be certain, thus clouding what has been revealed to us, and so mucking up the whole picture.
I believe the doctrine of biblical prophecy is a great tool God has provided for us. Not only does it raise our full knowledge of God, it helps to perfect our faith which is so very important. It confirms our hope. Additionally, used side by side with the true Gospel of Christ, it becomes a powerful witness for Christ. After all, the entire canon of Scripture, not the least of which is prophecy, leads to the person and work of our Lord and Savior, redeemer, and king. All eyes and hearts should be on Him as our first focus.
I’m really looking forward to the next article, Gary. These articles have brought me closer to and focused my attention on something which before now, I paid little attention to. They have opened my eyes a little wider to a critically important category of biblical teaching which serves to help bring everything together. I want to personally thank you for the time and effort you expend in presenting these articles to us. Margie brings up a lot of good points too!
Jonathan (and Margie),
Thanks for the comments. The value of prophecy is nowhere better validated than by Jesus, himself. “Then Jesus said to them. ‘You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?'” Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24: 25-27). Oh, to be such a fool! I would have gladly been called foolish by Jesus, if I could only have been there to listen to his message to the two men as they walked to Emmaus. The journey was seven miles, which would have taken 2-4 hours. I’m thinking those two men walked as slowly as they could!
Later, the Bible records some of the greatest sermons every preached, and these messages from Peter, Stephen, James, and Paul included two main themes: (1) The life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and (2) how that resurrection fit perfectly with Old Testament prophecies. See Acts Chapter 2, 4, 7, 10, 13, 15, 17, 24 & 26 for these sermons. Thus, the value of prophecy is the relevancy of prophecy.
To Gary or whomever else can respond:
I just happened to pick up the Bible and read in Numbers chapter 10 concerning the trumpets God commanded Israel to make. There were two of them and they were used for different purposes. One trumpet called only the Elders (Princes) together. Two trumpets called the whole assembly. When the trumpet for battle sounded, the various camps moved out in order.
Paul makes reference to a trumpet in I Cor 14 in that there needs to be a distinct sound or we won’t know how to respond – although this is in reference to speaking in tongues.
There are several other references in the Bible to trumpets. Do you know if there is any correlation to Numbers 10, I Cor 14, and I Thes 4? God sometimes gives great detail in his word and I don’t believe in coincidences – at least not in his Word. So there must be some significance in these various mentions of trumpets.
Also, the reference to the cloud which led the people of Israel by day is interesting in that we will be caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.
Some very astute and excellent observations about trumpets. Yes, there were two trumpets, for two distinct purposes. As you said, one to assemble the heads of the respective clans, the other to signal breaking of the camp and moving on to their next destination. There were also different sounds and sequence of blasts from the trumpets, again to distinguish between just the assembly of the people and the actual breaking of camp and moving on. Later in that same passage, Moses describes the blowing of the shofar for other reasons, i.e. warning of enemies, times of gladness, annual festivals, and offerings.
Is there a correlation with or a connection to the series of trumpet calls at the Rapture? Absolutely … in fact, I would carry that a step further and say, “how could there not be?” As indicated in the article of How the Rapture, the use of trumpets/shofars throughout the Bible is very consistent and uniform. Thus, there’s no reason to think that the trumpet calls that are an integral part of the Rapture (culminating with the blink of an eye transfiguration of our bodies at the last trumpet blast) won’t follow the same pattern or patterns used in Old Testament times, as well as modern-day Israel. Which is why I believe the series of trumpet calls at the Rapture will include ALL of the sounds, sequences, and length of the various calls.
When we hear the shout of the Lord as he descends, the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet calls of God, we will abruptly stop what we are doing. We will “stand at attention,” and assemble (collect and express) our thoughts, hearts, and emotions. We will, with great gladness, rejoice. And then, we will “break camp” and “move on!” Great is our God, and greatly to be praised. Hallelujah to the Lamb of God!