The Importance of Bible Prophecy
A Playground for Fanatics or Green Pastures for Disciples?
by Dr. David R. Reagan
Although prophecy constitutes almost one-third of the Bible, its importance is constantly downplayed by those who dismiss it as having no practical significance or by those who object to it on the grounds that it is a "fad" that takes people's eyes off Jesus.
Revelation 19:10 says that "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." Thus, if prophecy is properly taught, there is no reason for it to divert anyone's attention away from Jesus. In fact, it should serve to emphasize the centrality of Jesus.
Is prophecy practical? Consider that all the New Testament writers testify to the fact that the study of prophecy will motivate holy living. What could be more practical than that?
Prophecy does not have to be either faddish, other-worldly, or impractical if taught properly. Nor does it have to be a playground for fanatics. It can and should be green pastures for disciples.
Reasons for Study
1) Validator of Scripture — Fulfilled prophecy is one of the best evidences I know of that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. The Bible contains hundreds of fulfilled secular prophecies pertaining to cities, nations, empires, and individuals. Jeremiah predicted the Babylonian captivity would last 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11-12). Isaiah stated that the children of Israel would be sent home from Babylon by a man named Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28; Ezra 1:1). Daniel predicated the precise order of four great Gentile empires (Daniel 2 and 7). The destruction of Babylon was foretold by a number of the Hebrew prophets (Isaiah 13). In the New Testament, Jesus predicted the complete destruction of Jerusalem 40 years before it actually occurred (Luke 21:6).
2) Validator of Jesus — The Bible contains more than 300 prophecies about the first coming of Jesus, all of which were literally fulfilled (see Appendix 1). Every aspect of the life of Jesus was prophesied — the place of His birth, the nature of His birth, the quality of His ministry, the purpose of His life, and the agony of His death. Consider, for example, the prophecy in Psalm 22:16 that the Messiah's hands and feet would be pierced. That prophecy was written by David about a thousand years before the birth of Jesus. It was written 700 years before the invention of crucifixion as a form of execution. The literal fulfillment of so many prophecies in the life of one individual transcends any mere coincidence and serves to validate that Jesus was who He said He was — the divine Son of God.
3) Revealer of the Future — Prophecy serves to tell us some things that God wants us to know about the future (Deuteronomy 29:29; Amos 3:7). God does not want us to know everything about the future, but there are some things we must know if we are to have a dynamic hope. Thus, prophecy assures us that Jesus is coming back, that He will resurrect us, and that He will take us to live forever with Him and God the Father. In this regard, Peter likens prophecy to "a lamp shining in a dark place" (2 Peter 1:19). Paul makes the same point in 1 Corinthians chapter 2. He begins by observing that no eye has seen, no ear has heard, nor has the mind of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him. But in the next verse Paul says those things have been revealed to us by God through His Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).
4) Tool of Evangelism — Prophecy can be used as a very effective tool of evangelism, as illustrated in the story of Philip and the Eunuch (Acts 8:26ff). Philip used Isaiah's great suffering lamb passage (Isaiah 53) to teach that Jesus is the lamb who was slain for the sins of the world. Matthew and Peter both used fulfilled prophecy in the life of Jesus as one of their basic evangelistic tools. In fact, Peter referred to prophecy constantly in his first gospel sermon on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-39). He preached that Jesus had been crucified and resurrected in fulfillment of Hebrew prophecies. Later, Peter referred to fulfilled prophecy as one of the greatest evidences that Jesus was truly the Son of God (2 Peter 1:16-19).
5) Tool of Moral Teaching — People often overlook the fact that the Hebrew prophets were forthtellers as well as foretellers. In fact, the prophets spent most of their time using God's Word to spotlight societal problems. They called their listeners to repentance, true worship, social justice, and personal holiness. One of the great recurring themes of the prophets is that "obedience is better than sacrifice" (1 Samuel 15:22 and Hosea 6:6). That statement means that in God's eyes, obedience to His commands is more important than outward religious practices such as offering sacrifices. Prophecy is thus a great repository of moral teaching, and those moral principles are still relevant today. (See Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:8; Isaiah 58:3-9.)
6) Generator of Spiritual Growth — Prophetic knowledge encourages patient waiting (James 5:7- 8); provokes earnest watching (Matthew 24:36,42); inspires dedicated work (2 Timothy 4:7-8); and enhances our hope (Titus 2:11-14). The result is holy living. Paul exhorts us to "behave properly as in the day," because the time is at hand when the Lord will return (Romans 13:12-13). Likewise, Peter calls us to gird up our minds and be sober and holy as we look forward to the revelation of Jesus (1 Peter 1:13-15).
Advice & Counsel
In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 Paul writes that all of God's Word is "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." That includes God's Prophetic Word. In 1 Thessalonians 5:20 the apostle Paul pleads with us to treat prophecy with respect.
Peter warns us in his second epistle, that one of the signs of the end times will be the appearance of "scoffers" who will cast scorn and ridicule on the promise of our Lord's return (2 Peter 3:3ff). The great tragedy of our day is that many of the loudest scoffers are religious leaders who profess to follow Christ. Such leaders crucified Jesus the first time He came. They now scoff at His promise to return.
A good example of what I'm talking about is the "Jesus Seminar" that has been operating for the past few years. It is composed of forty New Testament "scholars" from a great variety of Christian seminaries in America. The seminar has been meeting every six months to vote on the sayings of Jesus as recorded in the four gospels. They hope to produce a new version of the gospels in which the sayings of Jesus will be color coded: red, if He said it; pink, if He may have said it; grey, if He probably did not say it; and black, if He definitely did not say it.
When they voted on the sayings of Jesus regarding His Second Coming, they voted that all the sayings were spurious and had probably been "made up" by His disciples. What apostasy!
God's Prophetic Word is food for our spiritual growth. We need to take it off the shelf. We need to open it up and feast upon it, and we need to do so with believing hearts.
The book of Revelation promises blessings to those who read it (or hear it read) and who obey it (Revelation 1:3). It is the only book of the Bible to promise such a specific blessing, but all God's Word is designed to bless us spiritually (Psalm 119), and that includes the Prophetic Word.
Key Scriptures about Prophecy
Let's conclude with a reminder of what the Word of God itself says about the value of prophecy. In this way we can be assured that the effort we expend in looking at the prophetic Scriptures will be time extremely well spent.
"The secret things belong to the Lord our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our sons forever." (Deuteronomy 29:29)
"Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret counsel to His servants the prophets." (Amos 3:7)
"I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done. . . I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it." (Isaiah 46:9-11)
"[Jesus said] 'Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.'" (Matthew 5:17)
"[Jesus] said to them, 'These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.'" (Luke 24:44)
"Of Him [Jesus] all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins." (Acts 10:43)
"The prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow." (1 Peter 1:10-11)
"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." (2 Peter 1:20-21)
"The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." (Revelation 19:10)