Is bible prophecy really important? And if so, how important? And aren't people who expend more than a passing moment examining bible prophecy simply uneducated crackpots and lunatics yearning for the destruction of the world? These are just a few of the questions bombarding today's Christians when it comes to the study of bible prophecy.
That bible prophecy is irrelevant to the Gospel or a mere playground for the mentally unstable is a message we constantly receive from the media, pop culture, and many so-called church leaders. It's unfortunate, because this false image of bible prophecy has succeeded in turning many Christians away from the Gospel. Although recent history is marked by an untold number of date setters and false prophets claiming to speak for God, this is no reason to ignore bible prophecy. Such people were never true Christians, but rather enemies of God in disguise.
So instead of relying on the words of ministers, priests, journalists, and other humans, let's examine the primary source. Here's what the bible says about prophecy, including every verse of God's Holy Word:
"All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It is God's way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do." 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT)
The word "all" includes bible prophecy, and that's good, considering more than 25% of the bible is fulfilled or yet to be fulfilled prophecy. Why is so much of the bible dedicated to prophecy? There are many reasons, but in the end, there is only one purpose: to direct the attention of the human race to Jesus Christ.
"For the essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus." Revelation 19:10 (NLT)
Previously fulfilled prophecies lend unprecedented credibility to the bible's claim to be the Word of God, and the Messianic prophecies fulfilled by the birth, ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth authenticate his claim to be the one true Christ. In essence, bible prophecy is the most powerful witness to the divinity of Christ. So don't listen to those who claim that bible prophecy distracts us from the true Christian mission. Quite to the contrary, all bible prophecy points to Jesus Christ Himself.
Jesus Instructs Us
Despite its many detractors, the study of bible prophecy is an essential aspect of proper Christian living. The Lord Himself expected his disciples to carefully examine the Word of God and to be prepared for His return:
"So be prepared, because you don't know what day your Lord is coming." Matthew 24:42 (NLT)
In fact, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for not recognizing the signs of the times, for the religious leaders of His day had full knowledge of the prophecies of the Messiah, yet they still chose not to believe in Him.
"One day the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test Jesus' claims by asking him to show them a miraculous sign from heaven. He replied, 'You know the saying, 'Red sky at night means fair weather tomorrow, red sky in the morning means foul weather all day.' You are good at reading the weather signs in the sky, but you can't read the obvious signs of the times!'" Matthew 16:1-3 (NLT)
Jesus expected the people of His day to fully recognize and eagerly await the time of His first coming. As we patiently await His second coming, he holds our generation to the same standard of accountability.
There are many reasons for the Lord's repeated command to study bible prophecy, but three of the most significant are found below:
1) Authentication of the Bible
Bible prophecy offers the clearest indication that the bible is the verifiable Word of God. Yet despite the millions of people who attend church and synagogue every week and the existence of countless books on the subject, most people are simply unaware of these prophecies. They feverishly search through the writings of Nostradamus, Edgar Cayce, the Koran, and countless other "sacred texts" in hope of finding a profound truth or revelation concerning the future, only to be disappointed time and again.
Somehow, the most credible source of information on future events, the Bible, escapes notice. Yet the fulfilled prophecies of the bible are backed by mountains of historical data, archaeological evidence, and the staggering mathematical probability of their occurrence merely being the result of chance. No other source of historical knowledge can make the same claims, and for good reason. No other source is the inspired Word of God.
"And do not forget the things I have done throughout history. For I am God - I alone! I am God, and there is no one else like me. Only I can tell you what is going to happen even before it happens. Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish." Isaiah 46:9-11 (NLT)
The very definition of God includes His unique ability to see from the distant past to the distant future, from the beginning to the end. He alone can foresee world events with 100% accuracy centuries in advance. The apostle Peter testified to this fact:
"Above all, you must understand that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophets themselves or because they wanted to prophesy. It was the Holy Spirit who moved the prophets to speak from God." 2 Peter 1:20 (NLT)
Unlike other sacred texts that claim divine origin, the bible can point to its unprecedented track record in foreseeing future events. This is because the bible is not the product of imaginative men, but rather the testimony of prophets who were moved by the Holy Spirit to speak from God. Fulfilled prophecy authenticates the bible, proving it to be the Word of God. For this reason alone, bible prophecy is worth every iota of our attention.
However, when it comes to spreading the Word of God, there is no greater tool of evangelism than bible prophecy.
2) Assistance in Spreading the Gospel
One of the easiest and most natural methods for spreading the Gospel is the sharing of bible prophecy. In fact, in the early days of the Church, sharing of fulfilled bible prophecy was the primary method for spreading the Gospel. On the day of Pentecost, Peter gave a rousing speech in Jerusalem in which he cited fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies as clear proof that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah (Acts 2:14-42). This speech led to three thousand people devoting their lives to Jesus Christ. Later in the same book, we learn the story of Philip and the Eunuch, in which Philip uses a fulfilled prophecy from the Book of Isaiah in order to explain the Gospel to an Ethiopian traveler (Acts 8:26-39). These are just two of many instances in which the early church emphasized bible prophecy as a tool for evangelism.
In one of the New Testament books which bear his name, Peter underscores the important role of bible prophecy:
"For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and his coming again. We have seen his majestic splendor with our own eyes. And he received honor and glory from God the Father when God's glorious, majestic voice called down from heaven, 'This is my beloved Son; I am fully pleased with him.' We ourselves heard the voice when we were there with him on the holy mountain. Because of that, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. Pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a light shining in a dark place - until the day Christ appears and his brilliant light shines in your hearts." 2 Peter 1:16-19 (NLT)
In Peter's words, bible prophecy is "like a light shining in a dark place." Bible prophecy provides us with confidence in the coming glory of Christ and the necessary hope to see us through the daily rigors of life until that day appears. He further proclaims his confidence in the words of the prophets, both fulfilled and unfulfilled, because he has witnessed firsthand the authenticity of the scriptures.
Therefore, we should afford the utmost respect for the words of the prophets, and rejoice in the fact that we are able to understand their fulfillment in the life of Christ:
"This salvation was something the prophets wanted to know more about. They prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you, even though they had many questions as to what it all could mean. They wondered what the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ's suffering and his great glory afterward. They wondered when and to whom all this would happen. They were told that these things would not happen during their lifetime, but many years later, during yours. And now this Good News has been announced by those who preached to you in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen." 1 Peter 1:10-12 (NLT)
The prophets yearned to know more about bible prophecy, and the Spirit of Christ was within them. Even the angels are eagerly awaiting the fulfillment of bible prophecy. If this is true, then how can we say bible prophecy is insignificant or of secondary importance?
3) Encouragement of Holy Living
In the end, dedicated study of bible prophecy leads to holy living. Fulfilled prophecy is a constant reminder of God's awesome power, the glory of Jesus Christ, and the absolute certainty that promises yet unfulfilled will come to be. This breeds a number of Christ-like characteristics in the life of a Christian, a fact attested to by Paul:
"For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with self-control, right conduct, and devotion to God, while we look forward to that wonderful event when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed." Titus 2:11-13 (NLT)
If we acknowledge the prophecies of the Second Coming as well as the command of Jesus to stay awake and alert, we will be driven to live godly lives. Paul also emphasized this in his letter to the Romans:
"Another reason for right living is that you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for the coming of our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed." Romans 13:11 (NLT)
Peter also recognized the power of prophecy to motivate Christians toward holy living, citing faith in the imminent return of Christ (unfulfilled prophecy) as reason for modifying behavior and living a life in harmony with God:
"So think clearly and exercise self-control. Look forward to the special blessings that will come to you at the return of Jesus Christ. Obey God because you are his children. Don't slip back into your old ways of doing evil; you didn't know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God - who chose you to be his children - is holy." 1 Peter 1:13-15 (NLT)
James underlined the important role of bible prophecy in fostering patience in the life of Christ's followers:
"Dear brothers and sisters, you must be patient as you wait for the Lord's return. Consider the farmers who eagerly look for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They patiently wait for the precious harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient. And take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near." James 5:7-8 (NLT)
Harboring the hope that Christ can return at any moment encourages patience in our daily lives.
In addition, Paul points out the importance of studying bible prophecy in order to identify false prophets and recognize evil:
"Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. Keep away from every kind of evil." 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 (NLT)
If a Christian ignores bible prophecy, that Christian is ignoring a large portion of God's Word. As a result, they will be unable to adequately counter arguments and false doctrines put forth by false prophets and enemies of God. Like the people of Berea (Acts 17:11), we are encouraged to personally examine the Word of God and use it as the yardstick by which we measure truth. A Christian who lacks knowledge of bible prophecy will be severely lacking in this area, and as a result, they will be more susceptible to errant teachings.
As if the above reasons weren't enough, the bible promises special blessings to those who faithfully examine bible prophecy. As an example, one of the most prophetic books in the bible, the Book of Revelation, promises a special blessing to those who merely read it. Moreover, God further blesses those who listen to what this book has to say and take it to heart:
"God blesses the one who reads this prophecy to the church, and he blesses all who listen to it and obey what it says. For the time is near when these things will happen." Revelation 1:3 (NLT)
Remember, the Book of Revelation is the revelation of Jesus Christ. Despite what some think, it's not the revelation of John, or the imaginative writings of a cave dweller. It is direct correspondence from Jesus to His followers, and although some of it is difficult to understand, it contains some of the most wonderful promises from God to man in the entire bible. As Paul states:
"That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.' But we know these things because God has revealed them to us by his Spirit, and his Spirit searches out everything and shows us even God's deep secrets." 1 Corinthians 2:9-10 (NLT)
Paul knew the importance of bible prophecy and the significant role it played in the daily life of a Christian. In fact, he earnestly looked forward to the day when he would be rewarded for his hope in an unfulfilled bible prophecy - the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ:
"And now the prize awaits me - the crown of righteousness that the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that great day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his glorious return." 2 Timothy 4:8 (NLT)
This crown of righteousness is not just for Paul, but for all who "eagerly look forward to His glorious return," providing those who receive it with an eternal reward. Still think bible prophecy is unimportant?
Remember, the early church warned the last generation that unfulfilled prophecies would be a source of derision:
"First, I want to remind you that in the last days there will be scoffers who will laugh at the truth and do every evil thing they desire. This will be their argument: 'Jesus promised to come back, did he? Then where is he? Why, as far back as anyone can remember, everything has remained exactly the same since the world was first created.'" 2 Peter 3:3 (NLT)
Our generation has done more to fulfill Peter's prophecy than any generation before. Today, bible prophecy and those who study it are mocked and ridiculed. And it's not just the general population attempting to marginalize prophecy. In most cases, it's prominent leaders of mainstream Christian denominations - ministers, priests, and community leaders of all types.
Such people attempt to justify their personal disdain for prophecy by relegating it to second tier status behind salvation and evangelism. They say, why waste time studying bible prophecy when it detracts from good works and spreading the gospel message? They fail to realize that prophecy is the essence of the gospel message.
Almost every one of the promises Christians hold near and dear are based on prophecy. The promise of heaven is. The hope of salvation is. The joy of eternity with Christ is. Each of these is a promise from God guaranteeing our future. And what is a prophecy if not a guaranteed future event? So don't let the mockery of others discourage you from studying bible prophecy.
Remember, Jesus Christ Himself was mocked and ridiculed by this world. If you want to follow Him, He says you must be willing to be mocked and ridiculed yourself. Bible prophecy is the message of Jesus, and as Christians, we must be willing to endure persecution for it:
"Then he said to the crowd, 'If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life. And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose or forfeit your own soul in the process? If a person is ashamed of me and my message, I, the Son of Man, will be ashamed of that person when I return in my glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels.'" Luke 9:23-26 (NLT)