Why Study Prophecy?
To anyone who knows anything at all about the Bible, it should be evident that we are living in prophetic times wherein the stage for God’s future program is rapidly being set for the fulfillment of long-promised events. One look at this restless, warring, sin-sick world around us is evidence enough that we are living in the “last days” of this age of grace (cf. 2 Tim. 3:1-9).
What is prophecy? Actually, the meaning of the term may be said to be threefold, being (1) a for-telling in the sense of bearing a message or revelation for God, such as Haggai who was “the Lord’s messenger in the Lord’s message” (Hag. 1:13); (2) a forth-telling or the actual proclamation of the message itself; and (3) a foretelling or proclamation of future events. In a more restricted sense the word has reference to future events from the time of their utterance, prophecy having been briefly defined as “history written in advance.”
While there are groups of Christians which have given the prophetic Scriptures their proper place and emphasis in preaching and teaching, the Church as a whole has neglected them. As a result, various cults and “isms” have developed which have not only given undue emphasis to prophecy, but have mixed in a great deal of error with their teaching, and this, to the confusion and delusion of multitudes (e.g., “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” “British Israel-ism,” “Armstrongism”).
Many unsaved people have a veritable mania for reading, hearing and discussing prophetic subjects, but because they do not know the Lord they have no genuine understanding of God’s Word (1 Cor. 2:14). Then, too, there are some Christians who seem to be taken up with nothing but prophecy, having little regard for the rest of the Bible. The attitude of these, coupled with the uncertain sound trumpeted by the Church, causes many believers either to neglect prophecy or to avoid it altogether.
Basic to every reason that may be given for studying prophecy is the fact that no less than sixteen books in the Old Testament are prophetic with between fifty and seventy-five per cent of it prophetic in character. One twentieth of the New Testament is prophetic, making almost one-fourth of the entire Bible prophetic. To neglect or avoid prophecy, then, is to end up with a considerably abridged Bible.
In view of the preceding comments let us now consider seven valid reasons for studying Bible prophecy, the first being because
It Concerns Our Saviour (Acts 10:43; Rev. 19:10)
The Lord Jesus Christ is the primary subject of the Scriptures, and that He is the theme of the Old Testament is confirmed by Christ Himself (Luke 24:25-27, 46; John 5:39). Thus, as Revelation 19:10 declares, He is also the subject of prophecy, for the very spirit of the prophetic Word is to testify of Jesus.
Referring to the Lord Jesus, Eric Sauer has said: “He is the crown and the shining star of all prophecy” (Eric Sauer, The Dawn of World Redemption, p. 155). Dr. Sauer has further stated: “The Old Testament tells what Christ is, the New Testament tells who He is, and in such a way that it becomes manifest that he alone knows ‘Jesus’ who recognizes Him as the ‘Christ’, and he alone knows who the ‘Christ’ is who knows that He is ‘Jesus.’ So do the two Testaments correspond to the chief names of the Redeemer; the Old to the name of His vocation, Christ, the New to His personal name, Jesus; but both are inspired by one Spirit and explain each other.” (Ibid., p. 156).
A second basic reason for studying prophecy is that
It Confirms Our Faith (2 Pet. 1:19)
Fulfilled prophecy is one of the greatest evidences that the Bible is indeed God’s Word, not man’s. Concerning Christ’s First Advent alone, not to mention the prophecies concerning Israel and the Gentile nations, there are over 300 Old Testament prophecies, all of which have been fulfilled to the letter. At least twenty-four Old Testament prophecies regarding the events centering upon the Lord Jesus Christ’s death were fulfilled within a twenty-four hour period at the time of His passion (e.g., Matt. 27:46 with Psa. 22:1; John 19:24 with Psa. 22:18).
Regarding Christ’s Second Advent there are over 300 New Testament prophecies and, on the basis of fulfilled prophecy concerning His First Advent, there is no question but what every detail regarding His Second Advent shall be fulfilled to the letter.
Thirdly, prophecy should be studied because
It Corrects Our Thoughts (2 Tim. 3:16)
Have you ever felt like the Psalmist in Psalm 73:2-16? I have! The balance of the Psalm discloses the Lord’s answer to the problems and perplexities which surround us through the Psalmist’s own experience. A knowledge of prophecy enables the believer to know what the Lord’s overall purposes are, and with confidence and certainty he can look to the One who holds the future, knowing that some day all evil shall be justly judged, all sin will be put down forever, and Christ shall be enthroned throughout His creation. It is the Word of God that will keep our thinking on the right track, remembering that almost one-fourth of that Word is prophetic.
A fourth vital reason for studying prophecy is that
It Cleanses Our Lives (1 John 3:3)
“That blessed hope” should have a practical cleansing effect on our daily lives. Living in the light of it should, and will, prompt confession of sin, weed out unbecoming conduct and conversation, and deliver us from those “weights” which hinder our running well in the race set before us (cf. John 17:17).
Still another major reason for studying prophecy is that
It Compels Our Service (Rev. 20:11-15)
To contemplate from God’s prophtic Word what it means for the lost around us to perish without Christ compels us to serve with our Lord in every possible way to get out the gospel message, for the time is short wherein we may do His work down here (cf. John 9:4; Eph. 5:16; Col. 4:5).
Sixthly, studying prophecy is such that —
It Conforms Our Ways (Col. 3:1-4; 2 Pet. 3:10-14)
The Apostle Paul’s consuming ambition is expressed in Philippians 3:10 the last line reading, “being made conformable unto His death.” He elsewhere expressed God’s great purpose for His saints, and that is, that we “might be conformed to the image of His Son” (Horn. 8:29). The study of prophecy, and especially those passages concerning Christ’s future glories, will help us to conform our ways to His that we might be true ambassadors for Him in this world and become more like Him (cf. 1 John 4:17). Christ’s interests and coming glories should be our supreme interests as those who represent Him. We should seek to “follow His steps” (1 Pet. 2:21), which will mean a minus sign thrust through the upright “I” of self (cf. John 12:24; Gal. 2:20; see Rom. 12: 1-2).
Finally, we should study prophecy because —
It Comforts Our Hearts (1 Thess. 4:13-18)
Apart from such prophetic passages as 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 it would be a sad and grim task indeed to stand by the graveside of a loved one in Christ with no certainty of the future order of things, and always left wondering what will take place in that coming day. Such a glorious and classic passage as this dispels all doubt, filling the heart with comfort and cheer, yes, even joy midst sorrow.
Perhaps there is no more fitting capstone to our brief study of this highly important and practical subject than the words of the Apostle Peter in 2 Peter 1:19: “The word of prophecy was fulfilled in our hearing! You should give that word your closest attention, for it shines like a lamp amidst all the dirt and darkness of the world, until the day dawns, and the morning star arises in your hearts” (J. B. Phillips trans.).