Bible Prophecy—It’s Purpose in God’s Plan
Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.—Amos 3:7
By Charles Redeker
The Bible as God’s gift to us is a book of great diversity! It contains history and law, types and symbols, poetry and promises, devotion and doctrine, parables and paradoxes. Much of it also contains prophecy. In the Old Testament alone there were sixteen different prophets who authored seventeen books of prophecy; hence one of the three division of that work is designated as “The Prophets.” (The other two are “The Pentateuch” and “The Holy Writings.”
In the New Testament, the book of Revelation is devoted merely to outlining events that would occur all through the Gospel Age, culminating in the establishment of the kingdom. In addition, many prophecies are interwoven throughout the other books of this Testament. The sayings of Jesus were so frequently associated with predictions of future events that some consider him to be among the greatest of the prophets (Acts 3:22, 23).
Considering such weighty emphasis upon prophecy in the Scriptures, we may properly ask regarding its purpose in God’s unfolding plan. Why did our heavenly Father cause so much of his word and revelation to consist of prophetic utterances that spoke of future times, circumstances, and events? All Scripture, we understand, “is profitable for doctrine. for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). But what is the special role that prophecy holds in influencing the life of the believer?
Before proceeding, let us look more closely at the words “prophecy” and “prophet.” In modern usage, a prophecy is thought of as a prediction of a future event, especially when made under divine influence or direction. To this should be added what commonly accompanied such declarations in biblical times: rebuke for sin and a call to repentance. It is estimated that more than half of the prophetic utterances in the historical books and those of the major and minor prophets fall under this latter category. Thus a prophet was one who delivered the divine message or interpreted God’s will, and this generally entailed the foretelling of future events.
One author has described the function of a prophet as two-fold: to “forthtell” and to “foretell.” Forthtelling sets forth the message of the Lord by teaching, warning, exhorting, and comforting. Foretelling involved the prediction of future events, whether of people and nations, or of Messiah’s coming reign. A surprisingly large number of prophecies deal with our Lord’s return and detail circumstances involved in this event and in the setting up of his kingdom upon earth.
Bible time prophecies are a yet more specialized and exacting form or prophecy. These lay out a period of time required for the unfolding of a given event and thus permit a specific year to be determined. It is a fascinating study to see how some time prophecies were hidden in Bible types or in seemingly vague wording of Scripture, awaiting God’s due time for them to be understood.
To Reveal the Glory of God
Our first consideration fittingly pertains to God, the source of all true prophecy. In fact, God claims to be the only one capable of foretelling the future: “I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done” (Isa. 46:9, 10). “Who then, like me, can call and declare . . . things yet to be and that shall come to pass? Let them declare on their part” (Isa. 44:7Rotherham).
God has also challenged all others to manifest this clear evidence of divinity: “Let them . . . tell us what shall happen . . . or let us hear the things that are to come. Tell the events that are to happen hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods” (Isa. 41:22, 23 Leeser). As most are aware, the accuracy of worldly prophets who attempt to penetrate the future with their predictions is very low indeed, and hardly exceeds that of chance occurrences. Neither the astrologers and magicians of the past nor the scientists and intellectuals of today have been able to shed any light on future events. Yet God, speaking through his prophets, is able to do just that, demonstrating his glory and his unerring wisdom.
To Establish the Bible’s Credibility
The Bible as a book is unique in that it contains literally hundreds of prophecies that span thousands of years and that have witnessed equally as many fulfillments. Other sources may venture opinions or suggest reasonable outcomes of events, but they amount to little more than hopes or outright guesses. Only the Bible, as the word of God, has proven consistently reliable in its predictions dealing with empires, nations, civilizations, and events, often very specific and detailed in their coverage.
It has been said that prophecy is greater than miracles in establishing faith in the Bible. A miracle that occurred, say 2,500 years ago, fades into the mist of time and cannot be confirmed today. But a prediction of antiquity, if preserved in writing, especially if appearing at odds with known facts at the time and therefore most improbable of ever occurring, yet fulfilled later as stated, amounts to very convincing evidence.
The credibility of the Bible as a whole is greatly enhanced when the accuracy of its prophetic forecasts is considered. Careful reflection shows that these predictions are of an order and detail that preclude the possibility of historical facts being mere wrested to fit the outcome. Numerous recent archaeological findings have further validated certain Bible prophecies by indirectly confirming their early origin. This has disarmed the critics who contended for later dates or had supposed they originated after the historical events they depicted had occurred. Now even skeptics are being forced to admit the accuracy of the Bible without being able to provide a satisfactory explanation!
As a sincere truth seeker considers the claims of the Bible as the word of God the overwhelming testimony of fulfilled prophecy encourages an overall faith that will accept the divine revelation in its entirety. This builds confidence in the yet to be fulfilled promises and a willingness to accept its broader teachings and precepts.
To Enlighten the Believer
Bible prophecies provide a whole range of information related to the divine plan that is useful to the believer. Especially do they reveal the steady progress that is being made in the outworking and final culmination of that plan. Such developments as the punishment of Israel, the coming of Messiah in his role as Suffering Servant, the lease of power to the gentile nations, the rise of the Antichrist system and the persecution of the saints, the cleansing of the sanctuary, and many others were all predicted in Scripture and find clear fulfillments in history. Thus step by step we are able to recognize the approach of the climax of God’s purpose in the establishment of his kingdom and the blessing of mankind.
Another era of enlightenment is in the time prophecies relating to the end of the age. There are forecasts of the harvest of the gospel age, the parousia of our Lord, the great time of trouble, the times of restitution, the day of judgment, and Israel’s returning favor. All of these and more have enabled the Lord’s people to be fully aware of the significance of the distressing events taking place about them. Surely this insight into the purposes of God and recognition of our position along the stream of time amounts to a wonderful blessing.
To Stimulate To Activity
Such knowledge is also strengthening and stimulating to the Lord’s people. It enables them to be spiritually awake and provides the tools needed to be about [the] Father’s business. We are not to be complacent with the insights that prophecy provides, nor hide out light under a bushel. There is a work to be done and a message to be proclaimed (Matt. 24:14).
In this connection we think of Jesus’ words, “The night cometh when no man can work” (John 9:4). The realization that the time is short provides added incentive for zealous activity in the Lord’s service. The true gospel of the Kingdom needs to be proclaimed to a fearful and perplexed world about us. Bible prophecy has strengthened us; let us use it to strengthen and encourage those about us (Isa. 61:1-3).
To Comfort and Encourage
When these things come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your [deliverance] draweth nigh (Luke 21:28). What could be more cause for rejoicing to the Lord’s people than to recognize by the eye of Bible prophecy that we are approaching unto Mount Zion and the grand fulfillment of our hopes (Heb. 12:22-29)! While we cannot take pleasure in the suffering and pain inherent in the birth pangs of the kingdom, we do rejoice in the prospects of peace and life and blessing that await a very trouble humanity.
There is also encouragement that we receive as believers in the prophecies and in noting their realistic fulfillments. We are confident that we have not been following cunningly devised fables but a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto [we] do well [to] take heed (2 Pet. 1:16, 19). We are convinced of the divine origin and outworking of these matters, which is so heartening and uplifting to us as God’s people. Again, this in turn leads to a heightened desire to be found faithful in doing the work of the Lord and in letting our light shine out to others.
To Test Our Faith
We have witnessed so many end-time fulfillments of Bible prophecies in our own lifetime that one might almost think that faith in this area is hardly required any longer. And yet, as we reflect on this matter, we see how vital faith remains as an element in the development of the Lord’s people, even to their closing experiences this side of the veil. It was necessary that the patriarchs and saints of past ages be tested, frequently in respect to a promise of God or a predicted event in their day; and so likewise it is for us.
Think of the experiences that must have befallen Noah and his family as they endured the reproaches of their contemporaries in patiently carrying out God’s instructions in building the ark and awaiting the due time for the deluge (Gen. 6:12-22). Think of Abraham and Sarah as they contemplated God’s promise of a son and heir, and yet realized the impossibility from the human standpoint for such an occurrence at their advanced age (Gen. 18:10-14). Or of the Israelites when they had been taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar and longed for the day of promised restoration (Jer. 29:10-14).
For the experiences of the Lord’s people at the end of the age, the matter of the time of their deliverance also has become a test. Major disappointments accompanied the failure of expectations of the church’s glorification in 1844 and 1914, and other anticipated dates have come and gone. Yet we are now assured that God’s program is on track and his timetable correct: “For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it [seem to] tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry” (Hab. 2:3).
Bible prophecy provides a test of our faith along yet another line. Sometimes we find that secular history is at variance with the Scriptures in regard to chronology and other significant dates. There appear to be differences, for example, in the dates which are derived for the destruction of Jerusalem in Zedekiah’s day (606-607 B.C. versus 586-587 B.C.) and in calculating the twentieth year of the reign of Artaxerxes (455 B.C. versus 445 B.C.).
The date for Jerusalem’s fall is critical in establishing many unique harmonies of the divine chronology; that of the twentieth year of Artaxerxes is the basis for calculating the start of a crucial biblical time prophecy pertaining to the first advent of our Lord—the sixty-nine weeks reaching to Messiah the Prince (Dan. 9:23-27). It is not easy to resolve such issues, and our faith may need to be called upon to assist in arriving at a conclusion that harmonizes with our overall beliefs. Thus our faith continues to be put to the test.
To Develop Christian Character
Finally, Bible prophecy is very instrumental in helping to shape and formulate our character. The message of the prophets of old was all but lost upon the rulers and people of Israel, with very few exceptions; but we dare not ignore nor gloss over it in our own lives. There is a personal aspect to the many warnings of wayward conduct that were issued in the past and we need to listen to what God would have us do today.
How does the knowledge of what must soon come to pass, or in fact is already occurring, affect us as the Lord’s people? Are we diligent in making every effort to develop that character which is pleasing to the heavenly Father and useful as an instrument of his blessing to others? Are we so thrilled with the vision of the future and by the increasing evidences of the nearness of the kingdom that we are doing all in our power to develop the fruits and graces of the Spirit and to be like our Lord?
This is perhaps the most basic and vital aspect of Bible prophecy that confronts us today. How we respond to it will determine whether we will receive the abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that we so much desire. And as the Apostle Peter reminds us, “He that lacketh these things [the mature development of Christian character] is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins” (2 Pet. 1:5-11).
Though the world seems immersed in the clouds and gloominess of the present “day of the Lord,” the early light of the morning is spreading upon the mountains and can be discerned by the believers who are spiritually awake (Joel 2:1, 2; Isa. 60:1, 2). These earnest students of the prophecies are fully aware of the realities of the present, and have been blessed by the administration of their Lord in the early dawn of the new day (Psa. 46:5). For all such the Apostle Peter has one final admonition:
“Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation [manner of life] and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God. . . . Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.”—2 Peter 3:11-14
What, then, is the role of Bible prophecy in the plan of God? In summary, it is:
1. To reveal the glory of God.
2. To establish the Bible’s credibility.
3. To enlighten the believer.
4. To stimulate to activity.
5. To comfort and encourage.
6. To test our faith.
7. To develop Christian character.