The Purpose of Prophecy
What does God want us to learn from Bible prophecy? It’s quite likely Christians in every generation since Christ’s death have believed he would return in their life-times. And, so far, they have all been wrong. What is the purpose for Bible Prophecy, then, if it’s not to know when Christ will return?
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For Further Consideration
For more about God’s salvation plan check out many presentations and series’ on the Biblical Festivals
Here is a link to a Christian website that discusses the return of Christ in a balanced matter.
There was a small group of men in a congregation I pastored years ago. These men were the salt of the earth. They were servants, if there ever had been any. I recall walking into the men’s room one day at church and seeing one of them standing in the corner. It wasn’t apparent what he was doing there. On my way out, I made some joking comment about this being a strange place to hang out. After he got done laughing, he told me that one of the toilets was working slowly and he figured it was about to overflow, so he was ready for it. Now, that’s servant leadership! Because of their attitude, diligence, and their respect for others, they were respected and loved by the congregation. I really like all of them, personally, individually.
Every Wednesday night, this group of friends – these congregational leaders – would gather at one of their houses and they would study Bible prophecy to see if they could figure out when Christ was going to return. That’s what they told me. They would arrive, the briefcases would open, out would come the thick Bibles with margins filled with notes, along with many charts containing timelines of biblical and other historical events. Of course, this had been going on for a long time before I got there. This was primarily a bonding event. It was a social thing for them. They would argue their points and disagree with each other all in good fun.
One day I asked one of them if they knew that Jesus said nobody would ever know when He was going to return – not even He, because the Father had not yet revealed it. And he smiled and told me they all knew that, but just sitting together studying about it over the years had taken them all over the Bible and to every page of it. So, quite often, their studies had branched out to other topics and issues, including church history, the life of Christ, His teachings and Christian living.
I noticed also that their study had never produced a date or even the speculation of one, because they were grounded in that statement that Jesus Himself made – about nobody knowing the date. Nobody had ever become unbalanced or strange. Just the opposite. They all knew their Bibles well. They were all examples of Godly lives. They had all become pillars in the congregation. So, since they were all benefiting, they kept at it.
This presentation is not about all the prophecy in the Bible – just about the prophecy of Christ’s second coming. If there is no set date, what is the purpose of these prophecies? What can we gain from it?
Let’s read Matthew 24:3 to get started here.
Matthew 24:3 – As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” They wanted to know when! Some things just don’t change. We’re still asking those same questions, aren’t we? We want to know when, too.
Here’s what Jesus said – a few verses down in verse 36 of Matthew 24:
V-36-44 – But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage – life was just going on – until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
So, that’s his point. We’re not going to know when. What does He want us to do, based on that then? He wants us to always be ready. It’s crossed my mind that every Christian that’s been interested in the Bible – that would be the people that are truly converted people and have God’s Spirit in them – may have thought, based on what He said in Matthew 24 and 25, that His return was imminent in their own lifetime. Because the picture He gives, in some cases, is so general – wars and rumors of wars? Well, there’s always been wars and rumors of wars, for example. And what happens is – I think – people want to know when He’s coming – that’s why we ask the question – and we look at what He says about what’s coming, and then we look at world events, and we try to manufacture a scenario that would allow those circumstances to fit into it, because of our desire to see Him return, we kind of fudge the facts a little bit and make it fit our scenario. Can’t do that. And I’ll explain why at the end.
So, we don’t know when, so always be ready. I think that’s the point. And He wanted us to be ready, so He made it appear like it could happen at any time.
Now, this scripture, I have to tell you on a personal note, has taken on a new meaning for us in this last week. We live right across a US highway from a national forest. Currently, a 60,000 acre fire has just crossed the highway about seven miles south of us. A number of homes have already been evacuated. All that would need to happen for our home to be at risk, I think, would be a change in the wind direction. So, the word ready has increasing relevance for us today. Our bags are packed and we’re just waiting to see what’s going to happen next.
Now, in Matthew 24, Jesus continued in verse 45:
V- 45-51 – Who then is the faithful and wise servant – who doesn’t know when He’s coming back, right? – whom his master has set over his household – like Christ has set us – to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards – in other words, he’s no longer living a good Christian life – the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. So, not a good thing.
So, notice that the state of readiness is not like waiting for the word to evacuate from the fire. It’s about a person’s spiritual condition. Are we committed to the point of death? Are we straying from the path? What are we doing? Are we doing what we want, living our lives outside God’s law – the bit in our teeth, no longer sensitive to the directions God gives us? Well, we can’t have that. We’ve got to always be submissive to God – sensitive to His direction.
I’ll tell you this, also – I don’t want to paint that as too judgmental a picture – not being ready can also less than direct disobedience. In Matthew 25, He said:
Matthew 25:1-13 – The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them – started out on the trip with half a tank of gas, maybe – but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps – so, they were ready. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps.
The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But, he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ I mean, there is going to come a point where you have to be ready or not. Watch therefore – Jesus says – for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
So, did these girls sin? Well, maybe in a way, but more, they were just careless. They were foolish, like He said. So, the reason He says that is, we can all be careless and foolish. Most of the people I know who consider prophecy as the most important part of Christianity don’t feel the need to study the kind of Christian living topics we cover at liferesource.org. They have not yet realized one of the major aspects of the prophecy they love to study is they drive toward spiritual readiness, which is an aspect of Christian living. It’s a part of Christian life. We can study prophecy all we want, but if it doesn’t lead us toward a balanced Christian life, what good is it? We might never get to see Christ’s return. So, that’s something to think about.
Let’s move to something else we need, as well, in Matthew 34:4:
Matthew 24:4-5 – And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.” That’s the first thing He said after they asked Him what was going on.
I was thinking about the last election and Wuhan virus situation. There was so much contradictory information out there – from all the government agencies, from the left, from the right – it was impossible to see what was really happening. And people were making money from that. It didn’t matter what was true or not to them. This same kind of confusion is going to be created in the name of religion when Christ returns. There will be so much out there, it will be hard to understand – so much so that even God’s true followers could become confused unless they are spiritually mature.
Now, why do I say that? Well, I have this saying I like to say: Truth is where you find it. It doesn’t matter who is saying it. If it’s true, it’s true. Now, some people mix truth with lies, so you have to know the difference. Right?
So, let’s look in Hebrews 5:11 for an important aspect of this. Paul’s talking to the whole church at this point. He says:
Hebrews 5:11 – About this – and that’s what he talked about before verse 11 – we have much to say. And it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. It’s like trying to explain physics to a one-year-old. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food – you all are still spiritual babies – for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food – the word of God – is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
So, to be able to withstand the onslaught of the devil’s lies he’s going to spread, we have to be sophisticated in our ability to distinguish good from evil. He said, “You guys have been in the church long enough to be able to do that, but you’re not doing it.” We look at that scripture and we say, “Well, I can do that.” Well, be careful, because the spiritually immature are the people that blow that off. They don’t know how hard that is. They think it’s simple. They think whatever they see and however they decide it, that’s right. That’s not how it works.
So, why is discerning good from evil so important? Well, everything – everything that you read, everything that you see on TV, everybody you hear talking, every sermon you’ve ever heard is a picture of the two. I’ve never given a perfect sermon. And that means there are some mistakes in every one of them. Everybody is like that. It helps to be able to tell the difference.
There’s a movie – The Shack – you’ve probably heard of it. It’s a story about a man whose daughter was kidnapped and murdered. It’s not a real story. It’s an allegory. He gets depressed. He shuts down. His kids withdraw from him and he from them. His wife keeps trying to reach him, but he is unreachable. In this story, he meets God – all three of them (the way they think of about it). Right? And the one that’s the Holy Spirit is a woman. So right there, many people are going to turn off the TV or stop the DVD player. It’s wrong. It’s not a good thing. They’re teaching false doctrine. When he meets God, who is an African-American woman, they really go off on it. Well, later in the movie, God the Father is played by an African-American man. So, the point they’re making is that God can change Himself to help us. The idea is that God presents Himself in different ways. So, is that true? God isn’t a male, but He presents himself that way to us, because He thinks that’s best for us. And the reason, in the movie, that they presented Him as a woman was because his father was abusive. When he asked the black female, who is God, about it, she says, “Given your relationship with your father, I didn’t think you were ready for Me that way.
So, has God ever presented Himself in the Bible in different ways? Now, I’m not saying that God has ever presented Himself as a female, because I don’t think He has, but I’m just pointing out something godly that the writer is trying to do, even though he got the male thing wrong. So, they got some things wrong that are not biblical. Okay. But, when it comes to other core issues – the really important things – like forgiveness, God’s love, God’s brilliance, God’s patience, God’s power, God’s plan, our stubbornness, our judgmental attitudes, our anger, our foolishness, our spiritual immaturity, they’re right on the target! Right on the target – perhaps in a way that is so right, none of us may have ever thought of those things before. I know some of it was news to me. I thought it was pretty brilliant the way they explained God. Of course, if we stop watching, we’re never going to learn that, will we? But because God, in the movie, is portrayed as a black grandmother, the spiritually immature are going to miss out on something they desperately need to learn. And that’s because they can’t discern good from evil and keep the good.
So, if we’re so immature that we can’t find both the good and the bad in a movie, what chance do we have when we go up against the devil’s disinformation campaign? Think about it. When it comes, it’s going to be a mixture of truth and lies. What are we going to do with it? Will we be able to sort it out? Are we practiced at it? Or, are we so judgmental that we’re blinding ourselves? Every time God engages you, or me, or any other person, He has to discern the good and the bad in us, because we’re all a mixed bag. What if He was like we sometimes are in finding something bad in us, He would just reject us outright? Well, thankfully, He can see all of that. Can we?
So, there’s something to think about. Let’s move to the next point. Let’s go back to when? That was the question they asked. The disciples asked when was He going to return? When we all these things happen?
So, Jesus had just said something that stimulated them to ask that question. So let’s read it in Matthew 24:1 and 2. It says:
Matthew 24:1-2 – Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to Him the buildings of the temple. But He answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” In other words, they were pointing out the temple to Him, and He was pointing out to them the temple of God, in all it’s greatness, with all the reverence that the Jews had for it, was just a physical thing. And He was bringing something much greater – more important – to the table.
So, not to keep our eyes on the temple, as they did in times past, but now to the state of our relationship with the great God, His plan, Jesus’ return to the earth to a physical and spiritual kingdom that’s going to eclipse anything we can imagine. And they got it. They said, “Oh, okay. The temple’s not important. When’s all this other stuff going to happen? Tell us, when?” So, that was good that they got that.
So, that’s another benefit that we can gain from studying prophecy, if we study it the right way. We can understand that God’s Kingdom in coming and it can help us keep our eyes on the end goal. It’s a promise that God makes to us. So, studying prophecy can build faith and keep us focused. John said, “Come, Lord Jesus!” He was on that – all over it – and never lost that. He said that in his very old age. So, if we study what John wrote, we can have that same attitude.
So, how does one study Bible prophecy without becoming unbalanced and without leaving off Godly character and love?
One thing that I think puts it all in its proper perspective is to understand that all the prophecies about Jesus’ second coming are not to tell us when, but what. What’s going to happen just before His return? He said, “You can tell spring is coming when you see the leaves starting to come out on the trees – or the buds. Right? So, it’s a way to prepare. It seems to me that, if we listen closely to Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 and 25, all the other prophecies about His return included, then, when it really starts to happen, we’ll know what’s about to happen, but not before. I’ll give you an example:
He talks about the abomination of desolation in Matthew 24. Well, that’s a historical event, even in Jesus’ time. Some hundreds of years before Christ was born, a dictator sacrificed a pig on the altar in the temple. That was called the abomination of desolation. Well, something similar to that is going to happen again in Jerusalem – maybe not with the temple – to have a sacrifice, you have to have an altar. Read Matthew 24 and 25 and see if you don’t agree with me – not when, but what. He gives a lot of signs about things that are going to happen. Some of them have happened all down through history and some are going to be one-time things that are going to be completely unique.
Now, Peter sums all this up for us. Here’s what happens to us when we study prophecy the Godly way – the purpose of it. In 2 Peter 3:11, he said:
2 Peter 3:11-13 – Since all these things are thus to be dissolved – see, God is coming and we’re to learn from our study, along with His judgment, that He is coming. That’s the big one. He’s coming! And then he continues: …what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness. Some people have disconnected those two things. They love to study the Bible prophecy, but they haven’t made the connection between it means they’re going to have to get ready. They’re going to have to live godly lives. There’s something more important that just studying scripture and making timeline charts. The friends I talked about earlier, they got that. So, the importance of living the Christian life is something we also can learn from studying Bible prophecy. And then in verse 12: …waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God. – the waiting for I get, but what about the hastening? Does that me that we have something to do with when it happens? Maybe it’s not us waiting for God, but God is waiting on us. Maybe we’re not ready enough. Maybe there aren’t enough of us? I don’t know what that means, actually – because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to His promise, we are waiting – we’re mindful of the new reality of Christ on earth. And then he says: …for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
So, there it is! It’s not an isolated study that we’re involved in. It’s all together. What does it mean that Christ is going to come, and that there’s going to be a new heaven and a new earth? Well, it means something very important for every person. If you have the ears to hear, then you will know what to do. You’ll start getting ready. You’ll be living your life in preparation for it and waiting for it – waiting for it in a good way. Some people are very impatient and tell God He’s impatient. That’s not what we need to do.
So, study prophecy and become 1) more believing in God, 2) more ready for Christ’s coming, 3) more spiritually mature, and 4) more determined as we patiently, yet eagerly, wait for Christ’s return, more aware of the signs leading up to His return. If we do those things, We’re really going to be ready. And that’s what God wants for us.
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