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
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.
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."
"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
"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)