The Purpose of Prophecy

By Pastor Doug Batchelor

An Amazing Fact: Merchant seaman Morgan Robertson wrote a novel called The Wreck of the Titan, which publishers refused to publish because the story was too unbelievable. However, years later, Titanic would set sail and prove those publishers very wrong. Here are just some of the eerie parallels of the voyage of the Titanic and the fictional vessel ...

Length: 800/882 feet
Width: 90/92.5 feet
Top Speed: 25/23 knots
Propellers: 3/3
Capacity: 3,000/3,250
People aboard: 2,000/2,228
Lifeboats: 24/20

Along with these striking similarities, both ships were encouraged to break speed records during their voyage, both sank after striking an iceberg, and both were on their maiden voyages departing in April. And only one third of the passengers on each ship survived. At times, Bible prophecy can seem both confusing and unbelievable, but time and again, it keeps coming true. And like the Titan, it serves as a warning to save lives.

Why is prophecy so intriguing? Everywhere you turn, people are interested in knowing the future. The Greeks consulted the Oracle of Delphi, inhaling vapors to gain some utterance of the future. Others have gazed into crystal balls, studied tea leaves, flipped Tarot cards, or invited somebody to evaluate the wrinkles in their palms. Some get mixed up in Ouija boards, and a few desperate souls even consult mediums who dialogue with demons masquerading as the dead.

Of course, all you have to do today for the latest-and-greatest predications is to check out at your local supermarket and scan the tabloid headlines. I hope you don't take these seriously, but obviously, prophecy sells big. Why? Well, I think one reason is because people feel so powerless about the future. They want to know there is a plan and that life isn't some big cosmic joke. Let's face it, people are looking for a purpose; they are looking for a reason to live for the future.

A Better Solution
An unbridgeable gulf lies between what humans can see in the future and what God can see. In Isaiah 42, God declares, "Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them" (v. 9). The Bible teaches that God has the power to see into the future with perfect clarity. It's nothing like the capricious people you see on television, straining to see through their foggy understanding of world events and hoping that maybe a few of their predications come true. No. It has nothing to do with Tarot cards and tea leaves.

In The Time Machine, author H.G. Wells toyed with the idea of how changing one little feather in the past can alter all of history. Everything you do somehow affects every other molecule in the universe. It is a mind-boggling chain reaction that would require a powerful intellect to grasp.

For instance, Miciah the prophet warned Ahab the king that the wicked leader would die in a battle. The king tried to stay out of harm's way. "I can prevent the prophecy from happening," he believed, only to have a stray arrow find a crack in his armor. By trying to avoid prophecy, Ahab helped make it come true. It is an almighty God who could know such a thing, who can declare exactly what will happen before it happens - taking in every subtle variation of wind and the twitching of a soldier's arm.

That's why God's prophecy, found in the Bible, has so much more to offer than human prognosticating. If you don't want to feel helpless, know that God knows your future. That also means He has a plan for you, even if we don't completely know what that is. It's a very secure feeling to be in the hands of someone who loved you so much that He sent His Son to die for you, isn't it? "From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God" (Psalm 90:2). God can see the future infinitely better than we can see today. It's no problem for Him.

The Purpose of Prophecy
Yet I often get asked why prophecy can be so hard to understand. For one, I think God wants us to dig for truth, partly because you appreciate gold when you dig for it more than if it's dropped in your lap. But more than that, God protects His message. Virtually all of the apocalyptic prophets, such as Ezekiel, Daniel, John the apostle, wrote as captives under a foreign power. Many of these prophecies addressed the destruction of those powers. Revelation talks about the fall of Rome, and Daniel details the fall of Babylon and Persia.

The more we understand what these symbols represent, the easier it becomes to unlock the prophecies. God enfolded some prophetic truths in symbols to hide the messages from the enemy. Still, the honest searcher can discover the greater message. "Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand" (Mark 4:11, 12).

But don't worry if you don't understand the mysterious symbols at first. In John 16:4, Jesus says, "These things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you." Dr. Leslie Harding wrote, "The better part of prophecy is better understood after it is fulfilled." We often want to study the prophecies so we can know the future - yet prophecy is best understood after it is fulfilled. Only rarely in the Bible does anybody benefit from prophecy in advance, as when Egypt prepared for the famine revealed through the prophetic dreams that Joseph interpreted. Most souls didn't take advantage of the prophecies of Jesus' first coming. But others, like us, get the benefit after it is fulfilled. You sit back, take it in, and say, "Ah ha! He is God. There is a big plan. It is not all just an accident."

Another question I get is "Why spend so much time looking at prophecy? Aren't there other, more important things to talk about?" Yes, there are. But prophecy is vital to our Christian experience, having the power to inspire others with confidence in God's omniscient knowledge, and set those sailing off course back on track. Indeed, prophecy is more than just about knowing the future: "We also have the prophetic word made more sure, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts" (2 Peter 1:19 NKJV).

Prophecy Keeps You Safe
Prior to the devastation of New Orleans, the Louisiana government knew for days that serious trouble was coming with Hurricane Katrina and pleaded with its citizens to flee. While granting that some were simply not able to evacuate, there were also many doubting, stubborn souls who ignored the warnings. They remained behind and were trapped by the ensuing floods, and many of them died needlessly.

The hurricane watchers are something like prophets, getting their "visions" from satellite technology. They can see the dangers forming over the ocean long before we can, and they're also fairly accurate now about where and when a storm will make landfall. If they say a dangerous storm is coming, you might want to go ahead and at least get out your umbrella. Right? Because not listening to their predictions with their superior perspective is foolish. Regarding the second coming, Jesus said, "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled" (Luke 21:20–22 NKJV).

Christ foretold the destruction of Jerusalem very clearly. But was He just tantalizing those listening to Him with His predictive ability or impressing us with how precisely God can predict the future? No. Everything Christ said had deeper meaning. This prophecy and others He gave His people would save them, if they would only heed the warnings. Today, we study last-day prophecy so we too can prepare for what is coming so that our eternal lives might be saved.

Prophecy Prevents Deception
"And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many" (Matthew 24:4, 5). Jesus' warning tells us that another purpose for prophecy is to protect us from deception. In Matthew 24, Christ speaks about the signs of His coming and the end of the world in an effort to keep us from following those who contradict His Word and His law in the last days. Just a few verses later, He adds, "Many false prophets will rise and deceive."

This prophecy has certainly come true: Many have come claiming to be Christ or say they come in His name while using that platform to deceive and exploit. Sadly, this is one reason that so many are suspicious, unbelieving, or jaded about prophecy. Yet Jesus said it would happen like this exactly, so those who decry Bible prophecy don't really have an excuse if they're ultimately deceived by the devil.

"Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be." Jesus predicts that we will all face great deceptions in the end, such as attempts to impersonate His coming. He doesn't want us to be deceived, following smooth-talking preachers or lying spirits.

It is important to note that Jesus is not implying there will be no need for prophecy or prophets in the last days. On the contrary! He is saying that we need to watch out for false prophets because there will also be genuine prophets. Otherwise, Jesus would have simply warned us to beware of any prophet.

Prophecy Warns the Lost
When Moses went before Pharaoh, God sent a series of frightening plagues to encourage the devilish ruler to act. However, these plagues were not meant to destroy; rather, they were sent to first save the Jews from captivity, but also to help the Egyptians avoid utter destruction.

"And the LORD spake unto Moses, Go unto Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Let my people go, that they may serve me. And if thou refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite all thy borders with frogs" (Exodus 8:1, 2). Why was it necessary for Moses to warn Pharaoh in advance that a plague of frogs was coming? If Moses had not said anything and a plague of frogs suddenly came swarming out of the great river, Pharaoh's counselors could have said, "This is just a natural occurrence." If Moses had gone after the plagues and said, "See all these frogs? That's because you won't let my people go!" Well, anybody can do that.

A lot of people have weighed in on 9/11, Katrina, and the Indonesian tsunami after the fact. How much more compelling would their testimony be to others had they spoken prior to the events? People would have really sat up to take notice. Moses gave these prophetic warnings to save the lost and to warn the rebellious, showing that God is really in control.

Prophecy Strengthens Faith
The metal image in Daniel 2 is an incredible prophecy. It outlines the kingdoms of the world in perfect order - Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, the divided Roman Empire, and ultimately the Lord's coming. To date, it has happened exactly as God said it would.

It is simply not possible for a person, in their own power, to predict which nations of the world are going to rule over others, especially hundreds of years from now. We might suggest that Daniel wasn't pressed too hard when he mentioned Medo-Persia as the next global empire. Everyone could see it was a rising power in those times. But Greece was just a country of warring tribes, and the Romans were nothing more than a virtual village. It must have been a ridiculous notion to even Daniel, who was faithful enough to report it nonetheless. And yet it came true, even down to the important details, such as each one lasting successively longer than the one before and the divisions of the Roman Empire.

How does that make you feel about God and His Word? It strengthens your faith. It certainly gives me courage! It suggests that other Bible prophecies can be trusted, and that God's Word does not fail. Jesus said, "Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he" (John 13:19). In short, Jesus gives prophecies so that you will believe in Him. We have something to cling to so that our faith will remain strong even as tribulation comes.

Prophecy's Ultimate Purpose
Revelation can be such a perplexing book. I've known a few dear souls who don't even like to glance over it because it intimidates them. But while most people know Revelation as a powerful yet cryptic book penned by John on the island of Patmos, they skip right over the most telling part of the book - the first verse.

It reads, "The Revelation of Jesus Christ." That's enough, really, to get to the ultimate purpose of prophecy. Whether you're reading prophecies found in Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel, or Genesis, never forget that Jesus is the focus. He's the ultimate point. Just read Isaiah 53 to see what I mean, and if you still don't believe me, trust what Jesus did: "And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27).

In John 5:39, He says, "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me." Jesus is in the warp and woof of every fiber of Scripture; all true prophecy ultimately points to Christ. He is the fulfillment of the Word. More than 300 Old Testament prophecies deal with Christ's first coming alone.

Given time, a Bible, and a person who is honest and logical, I've always believed that I can convince a searching soul that the Bible is true based on the fulfillment of its prophecy. In fact, I used to be that person - an atheist who thought the Bible was nothing but a sad joke on deluded people. But we know that the prophecies in the Old Testament were written long before Christ appeared on the scene, and they came true. The timing of His birth, the place, the mother, and all the details of His ministry - His betrayal, His death, and His burial - were spelled out in amazing detail long before Jesus was born.

And if the Bible is right about the when, the where, the how, and the why, then we can also trust that it is right about the who. Jesus is the Savior, the only way to the Father.

The Principal Principle
The ultimate message of prophecy is redemptive. The reason that God tells you the future is not so you will know when to take your money out of the bank or so you can know when you're supposed to run for the hills and stock up on food.

He tells you all this more than just to let you know when Christ will come the first time or the second time - or what happens during the millennium. He tells you so you will know He is God and to help you allow Him to come into your heart. And that's true whether you are familiar with the many secrets of Revelation or whether you are just beginning to read the Bible. The joy and peace you feel when you know that God has a plan for you is one of the most faith-building experiences you can have.

Yes, He has numbered every star in the universe and knows what's going to happen in the ceaseless ages to come. Yet despite this infinite knowledge of God, He has a hope and a plan just for you.

God is in charge, and He's proven it with prophecy. He can be trusted, because His Word has never and will never fail. "Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away" (Luke 21:33). You can bank your life on Him and His Word, especially as you go out to tell others of His wondrous power.


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