Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Understanding Prophecy

One area of scripture that leads to a lot of controversy is prophecy.  Some believe God finished the prophecies with the completion of the Bible, while others believe it is an ongoing gift in the church.  With new prophecies given daily.   Some have devoted their entire ministry, arriving at widely divergent interpretations of what the prophecies mean.  As a result, some have concluded that the study of prophecy is a waste of time because it is impossible to understand.   Others say these things are not relevant to us today. 

II Timothy 3:16-17 tells us, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”   A great deal of scripture is comprised of prophecy, so obviously, those who refuse to study it are missing out on things they need to know in order to be fully equipped to please God.     In I Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul makes it clear that an understanding of some prophecy is the basis for our hope for eternity. 

“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.  For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.  For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.  Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” 

Without an understanding of the Lord’s return, there is no reason to continue to as a Christian.  All hope effectively ended when Christ died on the cross if the prophecies are to be ignored.  Our faith is based on the premise that he will fulfill those prophecies about his return.   Clearly, a proper understanding of those prophecies is crucial for us to develop a proper spiritual relationship with God.   A ministry which does not teach people about the prophecies cannot fulfill the great commission, because they are not teaching everything Christ has taught us.   At the same time, a ministry which focuses solely on prophecy cannot equip people for day to day service of God because not all scripture is focused on the future.   

The first step in understanding prophecy is to understand the biblical meaning of the word.  Our English word specifically implies foretelling the future by some means, and this is meaning most people associate with prophecy.  The biblical word refers to telling people what God has said, and does not necessarily refer to foretelling the future.  In Deuteronomy 18:18-22 God gave some very specific  guidelines about prophets. 

“I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.   And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.  But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.

And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken?  When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him. “ 

The prophet was to speak only what God had said.  He was not to change it or tell them what he thought, and the people were to take his words as being from God.  A prophet who spoke in the name of other gods or made a prophecy which did not come from god was to be killed as a false prophet.  They would know whether the message was truly from God or not by  watching to see whether the prophecies were fulfilled.  This principle is still in effect. 

The study of prophecy requires the same efforts as the study of any other passage of scripture, including a proper understanding of the words, the grammar, and comparison to other scriptures.  In addition it requires a study of the history to see whether some of the prophesied events have taken place in the past.  This gives us another way of checking our understanding of the prophecies.   If we take the time to apply those principles we can be sure of our understanding of the prophecies.    In future posts we will see how these principles affect our understanding.   

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