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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

God and Prophecy

Many Christians are enamored with the subject of Biblical prophecy. Indeed, it is safe to say that some folks are obsessed with the subject. A few individuals have devoted their entire lives and ministries to the subject. For many, the study and understanding of prophecy is of paramount importance to their faith, and they are deeply attached to their particular interpretations of the symbols and timelines that those studies and reasoning have produced. Moreover, many preachers and organizations have used the public's interest in prophecy as an advertising hook to get people into the pews of their churches.

What about prophecy? Is this obsession in some circles a healthy development within the Christian community? What is God's perspective on prophecy? What does Scripture say about how prophecy should be regarded and interpreted?

Various scholars have estimated that somewhere between one quarter and one third of the Bible is prophetic in nature. In fact, anyone who has even a passing familiarity with Scripture would readily acknowledge that most of the books of the Bible contain some prophecy (even those of the Torah, Psalms, Proverbs and the ones which are focused on history). When combined with the works of the Major and Minor prophets, this is plainly not an insignificant phenomenon. Hence, it would be ridiculous and illogical to dismiss such an integral part of the Bible as inconsequential or irrelevant.

Nevertheless, it is also clear from this evidence that somewhere between three quarters and two thirds of the Bible is not prophetic in nature. Hence, from this fact alone, one could reasonably conclude that prophecy is not the most important subject in the Bible. In short, we are appealing for perspective here. Prophecy is important, but it is not deserving of our singular focus and attention. In other words, the subject is not worthy of obsession.

Also, if we claim the Bible as our guide, we are forced to admit that it indicates that God attaches more importance to other principles and teachings. In short, Scripture clearly places some of the other teachings of Scripture above the understanding and fulfillment of prophecy. Let's examine a few instances of this to demonstrate our point.

First, it is apparent in numerous passages that the fulfillment of a prophecy was very often made contingent upon the behavior of the people to whom it was directed. God made certain promises to Abraham about the future if he would obey God's instructions. (Genesis 12:1-3) Moses informed the Israelites about what would happen if they obeyed God, and what would happen if they disobeyed the Lord. (Deuteronomy 28) Jeremiah said that God would not allow the bad things that had been prophesied against them to happen if only the people would repent. (Jeremiah 18:8 and 26:13) God did not permit the destruction of Nineveh that Jonah had prophesied because the people repented of their sins. (Jonah 3:5-10) Daniel predicted that King Nebuchadnezzar would lose his kingdom if he didn't repent of his prideful attitude. (Daniel 4)

In similar fashion, there are numerous instances in Scripture where the fulfillment of a prophecy was delayed because of God's great mercy and compassion. We are informed that God delayed the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah until Lot and his family could leave. (Genesis 19) After Isaiah had prophesied King Hezekiah's imminent death, the Lord added fifteen years to his life because "He" was touched by the king's tears and plea for mercy. (II Kings 20:1-6) God delayed the overthrow of the Kingdom of Judah until after the death of the righteous King Josiah. (II Kings 22:11-20) Peter said that God was deliberately withholding the fulfillment of "His" promises to the saints because "He" wanted more people to be saved. (II Peter 3:9)

In his letter to the saints at Corinth, Paul made clear that love was more important to God than the understanding and fulfillment of prophecy. He wrote: "And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity (love), I am nothing." (I Corinthians 13:2) He continued: "Charity (love) never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail...whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away." (verses 8-10) Clearly, prophecy is not even in the same league with love.

Finally, in terms of the prophetic utterances that he had just given to them regarding the end of the age, Jesus Christ told his disciples: "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only." (Matthew 24:36) He concluded: "Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing." (Matthew 24:45-46)

Thus we may all reasonably conclude that it is best to be engaged in doing the Lord's will - to be loving and building up each other. Scripture clearly indicates that that would be a better use of our time and energy than trying to determine who or what the Great Whore of Revelation represents or exactly how many years she will be allowed to reign. Although speculation can be fun, God is able to fulfill prophecy in whatever fashion "He" determines to be the most appropriate. What do you think?

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