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Why is understanding of prophecy important… but is it enough?

There are many Scriptures that focus on the importance of prophecy. In fact, depending on different estimates, prophecy in the Bible takes up between 25% to 33% of all that is written. It is there for a reason – and if we ignore Bible prophecy, we are ignoring a large portion of God’s Word!

In 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21, we read: “Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good.” We are admonished to prove what is written in the Word of God where there are hundreds of prophecies in both the Old Testament and in the New Testament. There are those who may try and forecast future events with varying degrees of success and plenty of failures, but only God tells of many events in His Word without any mistakes or errors. When prophecies come to pass, the accuracy of the Bible is proved.

Prophecy is, simply stated, history written in advance.

In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, we read: “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 complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Many today look at many sources to try and forecast the future. The writings of Nostradamus, the Koran, Buddha, Confucius, the Book of Mormon and other sources are often consulted, but the Bible could be the last place that many would look – if they looked at all.

God knows all the stars by name (Psalm 147:4), the hairs on everyone’s head are numbered (Luke 12:7), He knows when a sparrow falls (Matthew 10:29) and declares the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:9-10). Our God is the one true God, and what He says in His Word is true (John 17:17).

2 Peter 1:19-21 shows how prophecy is not from men but from God: “And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts;  knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation,  for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” Biblical prophecy is inspired by God, and so is the proper understanding of prophecy (Revelation 19:10; John 16:13).

The Church of the Eternal God and its affiliates, the Global Church of God in the UK and the Church of God, a Christian Fellowship in Canada, as well as the Kirche des Ewigen Gottes in Germany, have produced many booklets on prophecy – Europe in Prophecy, The Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord, The Fall and Rise of Britain and America, The Book of Zechariah – Prophecies for Today, Germany in Prophecy, Middle Eastern and African Nations in Bible Prophecy, Biblical Prophecy – From Now Until Forever and the Ten European Revivals of the Ancient Roman Empire, plus other booklets that contain prophetic details. In addition, many prophetic issues have also been addressed in sermons, monthly member letters and our weekly Q&As. Prophecy has been well covered by the Church of God and this will continue to be the case.

The importance of “watching” is emphasised in Luke 21:34-36: “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.  For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.  Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” We have to be watchful in seeing how world events play out in a prophetic way and also watching our own spiritual condition.

Events are now taking place that are fulfilling prophecy, and Romans 13:11 should give us the necessary prod to take note of the times we are living in: “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.” We have to be patient for the return of Christ, as it states in James 5:7-8: “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain.  You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”

Of course, we know that scoffers and mockers will come at the end time (see 2 Peter 3:3), and this is not helped by a succession of failed date-setters for Christ’s return in spite of Jesus saying that “… of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (see also Mark 13:32). However, we can discern the signs of the times (see Matthew 16:3), and the fact that we are in the end-times can be seen by all that is going on around the world – Europe heading for military and political union, debt crises in most countries, earthquakes and devastating and destructive weather patterns causing terrible wildfires and flooding, the coronavirus pandemic, wars, famines, religious deception, the downfall of the USA and the UK, and much more.

We do need to keep abreast of what is happening, but we do have to keep this in perspective, realising that the depth and breadth of our knowledge about prophecy, all by itself, will be insufficient for us to make it into God’s Kingdom. Mere knowledge of anything, including the Law and the Word of God, without being accompanied by action, is never enough. At the return of Christ, we will not have to sit an examination about how much we knew and understood prophecy or God’s Law or anything contained in His Word. Understanding, in depth, the seals, trumpets, woes and plagues that will take place at the time of the end will not be enough. Nor will all of the other prophecies that are written about in quite a number of books in the Bible. What will really matter is how we have applied what we knew and how we lived our lives, how we have grown and overcome, how obedient we have been to God and His Law and His Commandments, and how we have treated and dealt with other people.

It is unfortunate that some do get rather confused on such issues. Prophecy can become all-consuming to some who are unbalanced in their Christian lives. The same is true for extensive and never-ending Bible study if it does not lead to applying to ourselves  what we have read, followed by action and change of what is wrong. In Matthew 22, Jesus was asked a question by a lawyer: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”  Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (verses 35-40).

Further instruction is given on where our focus for living should be. James 1:26:27 states: “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.  Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”

The golden rule in Matthew 7:12 is something that should be very close to our heart: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” We should do unto others as we would want them to do unto us; it is simple but very effective.

In Matthew 25:37-40, Jesus is talking about the time when the Son of Man will judge the nations: “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?  When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?   Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’  And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” This is behaviour and approach that must be an integral and imbedded part of our way of life.

If this is not the way that we live our lives, then there is a stern warning in Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness [or: who are transgressors of the law]!’”

One more reference should show where our priorities should be. In 1 Corinthians 13:8 we read: “Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.”

There will come a time when prophecies will all be fulfilled and finished. We must keep in touch with what is happening in the world today and how such events are in line with biblical prophecy, leading to the return of Jesus Christ. It is helpful to know where we are in the timeline of prophetic events, as it is important to know what the Bible says on any given topic, but much more important is how we live our lives which is the basis on which we will be judged. Some, unfortunately, put far too much emphasis on trying to second guess God and predict Christ’s second coming with specific dates. Prophecy can become the be-all and end-all of some people’s interests. That is not balanced.

Rather, understanding biblical prophecy and viewing world events in light of biblical prophecy ought to help us to become better Christians and motivate us to lead more righteous lives, realizing that the time is near and that only so much time is left. The recent shameful developments in Afghanistan show us how quickly events can happen.

We need to be balanced individuals, ensuring that our behaviour and attitude to God and fellow man is dealt with as a matter of top priority. By doing so, we will be afforded the same reward that those in the parable of the talents were given in Matthew 25:20-23: “So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’  His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’  He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’  His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’”

Prophecy is vital in helping us to warn the nations of what is to happen in the near future (see Ezekiel 33), and is also vital in helping us to prepare for the second coming of Christ. While waiting for that wonderful event to happen, we have to get on with the job of being a watchman and, at the same time, live a life pleasing in the sight of God which will ensure our eternal future. That is the balance that we need!

Lead Writer: Brian Gale (United Kingdom)