Why Study Biblical Prophecy?
Many people have negative attitudes toward the study of biblical prophecy. Some say, “I’m only concerned about the present, so don’t bother me with ideas about the future.” Or, “Nobody can understand the prophecies in the Bible, so why bother to study them?” Or, “We will not study biblical prophecy in our church because it is divisive.”
Advocates of Replacement Theology and others claim, “There are very few, if any, prophecies of future events beyond our time in the Bible. Almost all biblical prophecies were fulfilled by the end of the first century A.D.”
These attitudes prompt people to avoid 20 percent to 25 percent of God’s biblical revelation—revelation He wants mankind to possess and heed.
Here are practical, important reasons why Christians should study biblical prophecy:
It is impossible to understand God’s purpose for history apart from prophecy.
God has declared,
I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure.”…I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it (Isa. 46:9–11; cf. 14:24, 26–27).
These Scriptures reveal there is one true God who has a sovereign purpose for history. In the past He planned and purposed what would happen on Earth and, through prophets, declared to mankind what would happen, even to the end of this earth’s history. Then, during the course of history, He sovereignly causes to happen all that He planned, purposed, and declared through prophets. No one can prevent God from fulfilling His sovereign purpose for history.
Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar learned that the God of the Bible controls history. After God had disciplined him via a form of mental illness, causing him to live like a wild animal, Nebuchadnezzar wrote,
I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?” (Dan. 4:34–35).
The prophetic Scriptures are the written record of what God, through the prophets, told mankind would happen, even to the end of this earth’s history. Consequently, no one can understand God’s purpose for history apart from the study of biblical prophecy.
It is no mistake that Revelation was the last book of the Bible written. God intended it to be the capstone of His divine declaration to mankind because it foretells how He will complete His purpose for history. Because this is so, those who avoid the study of Revelation will remain oblivious to how God will obtain His objective.
Biblical prophecy is an effective evangelistic tool.
God had His declarations of future events recorded in the Scriptures, not to satisfy our curiosity, but to be a life-changing tool for people of every generation. He uses biblical prophecy to warn unsaved people about the future, wrathful judgment that He has purposed for this rebellious world and all who fail to receive His gracious gift of salvation through faith in His crucified, buried, and resurrected Son, Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit uses biblical prophecy to impress unsaved people with the urgency of trusting Christ as their Savior now, before it may be too late for them.
I personally have seen people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ through biblical prophecy. For example, the Holy Spirit worked through the teaching of biblical prophecy to bring eight office workers and a school superintendent to saving faith in Christ at a conference I conducted in a church. Any Christian who avoids the study and teaching of biblical prophecy fails to use an effective evangelistic tool that God has given to us.
It is impossible to understand God’s plan for Israel apart from prophecy.
1. In the Past. God established a unique relationship with Israel as a nation:
For you are a holy people to the Lᴏʀᴅ your God; the Lᴏʀᴅ your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth (Dt. 7:6; cf. 14:2).
Furthermore, Scripture teaches that God established this relationship with Israel forever. King David said to God, “For You have made Your people Israel Your very own people for-ever” (2 Sam. 7:24). In fact, the apostle Paul indicated that, despite Israel’s unbelief, God’s election, or calling, of the nation Israel for this unique relationship will never change (Rom. 11:26–29).
God did not establish this relationship because Israel was greater than other nations. Moses told the Israelites, “The Lᴏʀᴅ did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples” (Dt. 7:7). Instead, God established the relationship because He loves the nation and has a unique, sovereign purpose for it (v. 8).
God sovereignly purposed that the nation Israel would play a strategic role in fulfilling His purpose for history. One aspect of that key role is to bring great blessing to the entire world through Abraham’s physical offspring.
God promised Abraham, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). The fact that God repeated this promise to Abraham’s son Isaac and grandson Jacob, whose 12 sons became the heads of the 12 tribes of Israel, indicates that God purposed to bring this promised blessing to the world through the nation Israel (26:4; 28:14).
God has already brought great blessings to the world through Israel. The Bible came through that nation. The apostle Paul wrote that to the Jews “were committed the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:1–2). The Messiah-Savior came to the world by birth through Israel. Paul called the Jews the people “from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came” (9:5). Since the Messiah who provided salvation for all people was Jewish in His humanity, then salvation came through Israel. Jesus Himself said, “Salvation is of the Jews” (Jn. 4:22).
2. In the Future. Biblical prophecy indicates that another aspect of Israel’s key role is yet future. God will not totally crush Satan and his forces and establish His future theocratic Kingdom-rule in the world until the nation of Israel returns to God with all its heart and accepts its Messiah-Savior. Zechariah 12—14 reveals that, when the rulers and armies of all the Gentile nations will come against Israel in the future, the Jewish people will see the Messiah come out of heaven to rescue them (12:1–9). Gazing on the evidences of His past crucifixion, they will change their minds toward Him and mourn for Him “as one grieves for a firstborn” (v. 10). Then God will cleanse them from their sin (13:1).
Messiah will destroy the rulers and armies of the world and imprison Satan in the bottomless pit for 1,000 years (14:1–3, 12–15; Rev. 19:11–21; 20:1–3). Then He will establish God’s theocratic Kingdom and will rule as “king over all the earth,” and Israel will become the spiritual leader of the world (Zech. 14:9, 16–21; Rev. 20:4–6).
The people of Israel will “be named the priests of the Lᴏʀᴅ,” and the Gentiles will call them “the servants [ministers] of our God” (Isa. 61:6). “In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’” (Zech. 8:23).
Sadly, Christians who subscribe to Replacement Theology rather than Dispensational Theology insist that God did not establish His unique relationship with Israel forever. They believe that, because Israel rejected Jesus in His First Coming, God permanently severed His special relationship with the nation and replaced Israel with the New Testament church. They claim that God will save individual Jews but that He no longer has a national program for Israel.
This erroneous belief affects their thinking concerning Israel’s right to exist as a national entity in the Middle East today. Such Christians neglect biblical prophecy or interpret it allegorically, which also causes them to reject the idea that God has irrevocably appointed Israel to play a future, key role in the fulfillment of His purpose for history.
God intends the study of biblical prophecy to purify our lives and change our priorities.
Two aspects of prophetic revelation serve such a purpose.
1. The Imminency of Christ’s Return. The English word imminent means “hanging over one’s head, ready to befall or overtake one; close at hand in its incidence.” Thus an imminent event is one that is always hanging overhead, constantly ready to befall or overtake a person. It is always close at hand in the sense that it could happen at any moment. Other things may happen beforehand, but nothing else must happen. If something else must take place before an event can happen, the event is not imminent. Nor can you count on a fixed amount of time transpiring before the event occurs.
Thus the imminent coming of Christ means His next coming is always hanging overhead, constantly ready to befall or overtake us, always close at hand in the sense that it could happen at any moment. Other things may happen before His coming, but nothing else must happen.
Since we do not know exactly when He will come, we cannot count on a fixed amount of time transpiring before His arrival. Therefore, we should always be ready for Him at any moment.
Many Bible scholars from various church and theological backgrounds have concluded that the New Testament teaches or implies the imminent coming of Christ in the following passages: 1 Corinthians 1:7; 4:5; 15:51–52; 16:22; Philippians 3:20; 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2 Thessalonians 3:10–12; Titus 2:13; James 5:8–9; 1 John 2:28; Revelation 3:11; 22:7, 12, 17, 20.
In James 5:8–9, the apostle James clearly indicated that, since Christ could return at any moment and confront His church saints as judge, Christians should be careful how they treat their fellow believers:
You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!
Christ’s imminent return should make a difference in the way we live. We should live holy, godly lives every moment of every day because in the very next moment, Christ could step through the door of heaven and confront us face to face.
The apostle John emphasized the same truth when he wrote the following to Christians: “And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (1 Jn. 2:28).
2. The Future destruction of the Present Earth and Universe. The apostle Peter wrote, “The heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Pet. 3:10). Peter foretold the future destruction of the present Earth and universe, including everything that mankind has designed and made during the history of this planet. All of our present material possessions will be destroyed.
In light of this certainty, Peter told believers, “Since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness?” (v. 11).
His point was this: The fact that the present Earth, universe, and all our material possessions will someday be destroyed should shape our values, priorities, and lifestyles. We should be holy in our daily conduct. Our desire to please and glorify God should motivate us and give us ultimate meaning and purpose in life—not money, material things, or the present world system. Because all earthly things are temporary and doomed for destruction, we should conform our values and priorities to things of the future eternal state (vv. 13–14).
Bible prophecy is an integral part of Scripture. Those who consider it irrelevant or fail to study it will wrongly divide the Word of Truth and fall into theological error.