Having entered the 21st century the interest in prophecy has never been higher. It is true some are taking financial advantage of this by pumping out every conceivable publication on end-time predictions.
On the other hand there are sincere and genuine Christians and other interested persons who keenly interested in prophecy in general and the Book of Revelation in particularly. They yearn for any information which will help them understand this most apocalyptic book in the Bible.
Despite this interest in prophecy on the part of some there are two observable attitudes among some Christian groups. One view is that the study of prophecy is part and parcel to Christian belief and hope. They feel it should be studied to get some idea about the future and thus be like the wise man "who sees calamity and prepares for it." (Proverbs 22:3)
The other attitude is that prophecy is unimportant and really a waste of a Christians time. They express themselves in this vein regarding the Book of Revelation. They feel no one understands it and therefore much time spent in studying it is essentially a waste of time. "Why study Revelation?" they ask. "When it all happens we will know it. So there is no reason to belabor whether its futuristic prophecies are necessary. It is more important to develop Christian character and dwell on those inspirational aspects of Christianity."
It has been noted regarding the latter attitude above that it is generally expressed by persons who simply are not good students of any part of the Bible. Since they have not spent much time in the Book of Revelation they cannot really carry on a discussion on the subject and so would rather avoid it altogether.
What is the right Christ-minded attitude to have toward prophecy? Is prophecy's only purpose to build faith after it is fulfilled? Or, has some prophecy been provided so that a Christian might prepared spiritually and emotionally for those days ahead on the prophetic horizon. Let us consider this subject from a Biblical perspective.
That the Bible is a book which places much emphasis on prophecy can be seen by just the words "prophet" and "prophecy." The word group "prophet" occurs about 520 times in the Bible. The first occurrence is at Genesis 20:7, occurring most often in Jeremiah (100 times), and its last occurrence at Revelation 22:9. So, from Genesis to Revelation the Bible is a book about prophecy.
Jesus himself was called a Prophet. Indeed, this office was foretold by an earlier prophet 1,500 years before in Deuteronomy 18:15. This prophecy by Moses is quoted by Peter in Acts 3:18-27 and in doing so he predicts something for future:
"But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you--even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. For Moses said, `The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people.' [Deuteronomy 18:15] Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days. And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, `Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed. [Genesis 22:18]'" (TEV)
This Prophet from Galilee did indeed give many a prophecy. Among the most striking -- because we can examine it fulfillment -- was the desolation of Jerusalem. In doing this, Jesus alluded to the ancient prophet Daniel and Isaiah. This prophecy began a few days before Jesus' crucifixion. Consider a series of these taken from Matthew and Luke: (Luke 19:42-44; Matthew 24:15, 21, 22, 29-31)
"If you, even you [inhabitants of Jerusalem -- editor], had only known on this day what would bring you peace--but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another. [Daniel 8:11; Daniel 11:15] ... So when you see standing in the holy place `the abomination that causes desolation,' spoken of through the prophet Daniel [Daniel 9:27; Daniel 12:11]--let the reader understand-- [When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near.] Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. Immediately after the distress of those days [Daniel 12:1] the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. [Isaiah 13:10, 13] At that time the sign [Isaiah 11:12] of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. [Zechariah 12:12] They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky [Daniel 7:13], with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other [Isaiah 11:12]."
We have inserted those possible verses to which Jesus may have alluded in developing his prophecy about the desolation of Jerusalem and what would follow in prophetic time. Now, what was the purpose of this prophecy? May we suggest there are two kinds of prophecies in this context: vertical and horizontal. There are those prophecies not to be understood until their fulfillment and this we call vertical. Their purpose is to strengthen faith. Jesus mentions such when he says to his apostles: "And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place, you may believe." (John 14:29 RSV)
The other type of prophecy we call horizontal for it is some to be understood in advance so that some action may be taken. The prophecy above by Jesus regarding Jerusalem is clearly horizontal -- futuristic. Its purpose was to allow the disciples to know when to take action ahead of time -- before it was too late. Clearly, these disciples could not argue that prophecy was unimportant because "we will only understand it after it is fulfilled." In this case it would have been too late for many thousands of them living in Jerusalem.
Most off these above fall interwoven in these verses above in Matthew 24 and Luke 21 are horizontal prophecies about the end-times and the things the latter day Saints will experience prior to the Return of Christ. Jesus promises his apostles the night before his death that he would send a prophetic spirit which would help them to prepare for the future. Note how the Nazarene does this in John 16:13, "However, when he, the Spirit of true knowledge, has come, he will be your guide into all true knowledge: for his words will not come from himself, but whatever has come to his hearing, that he will say: and HE WILL MAKE CLEAR TO YOU THE THINGS TO COME." (BAS)
It seems clear that Jesus taught the importance of prophecy. He told his apostles they would be guided into "into all truth" (KJV) and this "truth" would involve "the things to come" or the prophetic future.
It was one of these apostles present when Jesus uttered the above in John 16:13 who was later to write concerning the importance of paying attention to the words of prophecy. Note this in 2 Peter 1:19-21,
"Now because of this we have the word of prophecy on a stable foundation. You do well if you pay attention to (prophecy) in your hearts as if it were a lamp illuminating the way through a dark wilderness, until that future time when the dawn approaches and a morning star rises on the horizon. However, realize this first that any prophetic Scripture is not of some human origin or personal interpretation. Rather God spoke to humans who were enraptured by the holy spirit." (21st Century Version of the Christian Scriptures - NCMM)
No one could argue from this that Peter considered prophecy unimportant. Rather, he says to "pay attention to it." Certainly Jesus would not ignore any prophecy of the Great Prophet after the likeness of Moses for he himself had told the Jews when quoting Deuteronomy 18:15 at Acts 3:23, "Any person who does not listen to that Prophet will be destroyed completely." With that thought in mind we ask: What was the greatest of that Great Prophet's prophecies?
Jesus was among the future great spiritual leaders who left behind no written scriptures. When he ascended on high he left behind only that truth found in the hearts of his disciples. However, he had promised them he would send a spirit helper, a spirit of prophecy, that would "guide them into all the truth ... and reveal future things." (John 16:13) What might be included in this prophetic help?
Though Jesus wrote nothing during his life time he was to send a letter in seven parts to seven churches very near that modern trouble spot in south eastern Europe. This was a letter from the Risen Lord. Most Christians have never read this Christine epistle. Very few have studied it seriously. What is it?
Read Revelation 1:1-3 (examine the footnotes a-g) --
"A revelation of Jesus Christ which The God gave to hima to show his slavesb those things which will happen suddenlyc; and Jesus signified it sending it through an angel to his servant John who testifies that everything he saw is the Word of The God and the testimony of Jesus Christd. Favored by God is anyone who readse (or hears this reading) these prophetic words and also obeysf these things in writing -- for the time draws nearg." (NR)
Realizing this is a precious letter from our Lord, there are several points we do well to consider here.
Obviously, this divine blessing begins with reading the Book of Revelation. Is this all that is required, however? Just a cursory reading of the book out of a passing interest as part of a program to read the whole Bible, as if that were enough? It would not seem so.
Something read is virtually useless if it is not understood at least in principle. Perhaps there is a principle on one occasion when the Law of God was read to Israel: "And they read from the book, from the law of God, clearly; and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading." (Nehemiah 8:8 RSV) If this effort was put forward to "understand" the Mosaic Law, what kind of effort should be put forward to understand someone greater than Moses?
Indeed, a prophecy very much linked with Revelation predicts such effort to understand. Note this in Daniel 12:3, 10: "Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. .. Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand." (NIV) So, the very prophets involved assure us that "understanding" is possible and, indeed, warns that the "wicked will not understand." This ought to motivate the wise and purified to pursue a true understanding of Revelation.
It is true there are many difficult things "hard to understand" in Revelation just as there were in Paul's epistles. (2 Peter 3:16) Yet there are times in Revelation where the intelligent, or those with the mind to, should apply themselves to come to an understanding. (Revelation 13:8; 17:9) Truly, one wall be blessed if they do so.
Now how Revelation comes to its conclusion when the angle of apocalypse, speaking for both The God and His Son Jesus Christ:
(Revelation 22:6, 7, 10 NCMM)
And now the angel told me: "These words are completely trustworthy. Indeed, the Lord God who inspired the prophets sent forth His angel to reveal to His slaves those things which will suddenly occur. And, behold! I am arriving suddenly! Blessed with favor is anyone observes the prophetic words of this small Bible." The angel also told me: "Do not seal up this small Bible's prophetic words -- for the time approaches."
The translation by Weymouth renders Revelation 22:10 this way: "Make no secret ... of the meaning of the prophecies contained in this book for the time of their fulfillment is now close at hand."
Yes, the Book of Revelation is not now a "sealed" or closed book. It is open for our understanding. And we are blessed, indeed, if we make it our constant study. By this we demonstrate our love for its author, Jesus Christ, inspired by his Father, God. Surely, Christian discussion groups, home churches, and large congregations ought to make this letter from our Lord an ongoing study.
But, you ask: "How can I understand Revelation? I cannot make heads or tails of it." The key to understanding is discussed in “Seal not this Book!”.
Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller
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