Because of the future aspect of Bible prophecy, it is perhaps the doctrine suffering most from vainglorious abuse. Just as fortune telling has always been popular if one is good at it, biblical soothsaying is financially lucrative and ego lifting. If Bible prophecy is bent into the same mystic mold, it too can be food on the table and flattering to the ego. The difference between the legitimate study of Bible prophecy and the “art” of witchery is the difference between humility of the soul and the aggression of the human ego. Unfortunately, an aggressive ego operating in a deceptive air of humility seems always to attract a following—a deadly pitfall to innocents.
Certainly Bible prophecy is a vital part of the fabric of Scripture, but that is because its essence is not of the elements of physics, but is the product of the very divine Spirit who authored it’s holy record. It’s basis of certain fulfillment is not found in the physical record, but in the Divine omniscience (all-knowing) of the Divine utterance. The physical record may be manipulated by human design, but God’s divine Spirit cannot.
Frankly, it should be an uncomfortable truth for every advocate claiming to have what is called a “Prophetic Ministry,” that there is no such thing! That’s a shocking statement in a Christian world agog on the plethora of modern Bible prophets. But please hear this truth and hear it well: God alone assigns fulfillments simply because it is humanly impossible to know for certain what God has not made plain to everyone already. The reason for this impossibility is obvious: Anyone who has enough human genius to anticipate what and when God intends to fulfill, even though God alone comprehends all the meticulously related prophetic elements, will also possess the power to surprise God himself, which is, of course, completely absurd. Just picture it: When God fulfills it, there stands Rev. Joe Knowitall, thumbs under suspenders, saying, “I knew it, I knew it all along! They don’t call me The Bible Answer Man for nothing.” The Lord scratches His head and asks, “Now how did he find that out?” Let me emphasize: God’s omniscience cannot be possessed by humans, but that is exactly the source of the prophetic future! God always knows. Humans can only guess. This truth will become clearer as this article progresses. True teachers of Biblical prophecy do not end sentences with exclamation marks, but with question marks. If not, they might be engaged, knowingly or unknowingly, in attempting to upstage God himself!
Lets be clear: God does indeed have a plan and purpose through the ages, but what we invariably fail to consider is that humanity’s power of free choice is very real, and a vital working element in that plan. God himself built it into humanity’s very fabric as a vital part of God’s own image by which he patterned us (Genesis 1:26, 27). God expects us to choose freely, not to just mechanically fulfill what God planned and purposed despite the free choice he instilled within us. Such a view would annul even human curiosity of what is ahead, because it’s driving assumption is, “what will be will be.” No! God gave us choice to take position for or against God’s plan and purpose through the ages, to the extent that God’s plan gets bypassed, thrown aside, or lies unfulfilled. We don’t like to hear that, but the despotic, blood-running, chaotic wreckage of human history belongs to depraved human choice, not a god with an evil bent.
So what are we saying with that? Just this: God, and only God, knows the true status of his plan at any given time of human history. Intellectual genius cannot logically know it, simply because only omniscience has the power to comprehend the perpetual, boiling, ever-changing, labyrinthine wilderness in the free will of the heaving human race. Every tiny twinkle of time brings a difference to the forefront of the present to shape the future. Think of it: Even he or she who dares to figure out future events of Bible prophecy, is himself only a part of the difference that shapes the future. Pray tell, how can a modern prophet warn others to change their ways (because of the dark future facing them if they don’t), when, if they actually heed his warning, the prophetic future will be changed from what the prophesier said it was going to be? And if the future is set in stone no matter how the hearer reacts to the message, then what would be the sense of warning them to change their behavior in the first place? As can be plainly seen, such a scenario gets complex and crazy! The prophetic future must always be true to who we, humanity, are in everyday reality, as proven by what we are doing and the living history of where we’ve been and what we did. It is a little crazy to ignore it. Our free wills which God created in us dictate that the future is not set in stone, but our past is. But when the present comes, God is the one who declares the fulfillment of prophecy, not human genius, and he will declare it in ways blind to ego-driven prophetic mavens.
Examples of this truth sit like monoliths in the record of Scripture.
Example: Jesus himself is an example. From the lips of every Jewish scholar of that day came Scriptural speculations concerning the coming of the Messiah. They debated it in the market place, preached on it in their synagogues, and even spent lifetimes studying the subject. It seems unbelievable to us today that when the Messiah actually came to them, they rejected him and even had him crucified! Think of it: These studious scholars had “searched the Scriptures” and determined for themselves that “out of Galilee ariseth no prophet” (John 7:52), but when God sent them the Messiah, all of their genius in theology, their meticulous study of Old Testament prophecy, and all their “prophetic ministry” could not possibly have pieced together all the whirling, changing, human circumstances of society, government, and shifting human masses that actually made the Messiah, Jesus, a Galilean!
Example: Peter, speaking of Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, spoke the words of Acts 1:20. Please read it. But until all the infinite, complex pieces came together in Judas himself, not one human head of genius could possibly have calculated that Psalm 109:8 was even prophetic!
Example: Until Jesus was actually crucified, Psalm 22 could not possibly have been construed to be the fulfillment of it with the approval of the Jewish priesthood, and by the hands of a Roman government which did not yet even exist at the time Psalm 22 was penned!
God’s Spirit inspired the writers of the New Testament to record such accounts for the whole world to read and believe their fulfillment. We read of no Old Testament prophet who preached or wrote down the meticulously detailed future fulfillment before the new Testament fulfillment took place! Again, God alone assigns fulfillment of prophecy after the fact simply because it is humanly impossible to know what God has not made plain to everyone already. Until then, we, from the lowest to the highest, can only speculate about the fulfillment.
But there is more, far more, to this subject of Bible prophecy. But what is left can only be enjoyed by faith and humility, not by egotistical genius. You see, there is a fact of Scripture which seems to have been shuttled aside for the sake of convenience. We, humanity, are the very embodiment of Scripture’s purpose of prophecy. Think about it: Without us, prophecy is nothing, a meaningless word. That being true, it is therefore patently ludicrous to think we, the objective essence of prophecy itself, can rise above ourselves to explain it’s destiny, and so curtail or change it by ceasing to be the object of it. That would be like firing a bullet at a target, but it awakens to itself in route and stops midair to explain where it is going and when it will get there! That act, if possible, would annul the very purpose in pulling the trigger in the first place by altering the trajectory and timing toward the target.
But wait. It gets far more complex. Our sloppy, egotistical handling of Bible prophecy is the result of our slipshod understanding of God’s infinite character. When it comes to Bible prophecy, Isaiah 55:8,9 appears to have puddled and ran off our craniums. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts your thoughts.” Add to that God’s infinite ability in the very act of knowing itself. In his infinite power above us, he not only has the infinite power of recall, but he has equal power to forget on purpose! We have neither. He can do both at will. We cannot. Nevertheless, we become fools by attempting to construe concrete images of our infinite God, using the materials of our puny, finite minds. Many a genius has tried, but ego built a straw effigy of their own image, which sent millions of souls astray. This had an enormous impact on the subject of Bible prophecy.
Jeremiah 31:34 and Hebrews 8:12 tell us specifically of God’s power to not remember on purpose. That is, to forget on purpose. Understanding this of him is infinitely important to us. Why? Because that divine power is why God could create Adam in God’s own image. That image is the reflection of God’s own freedom of will. It animates us, allows us to choose our own way, to move about freely on our own apart from God’s power to manipulate us. If that were not true, there would be nothing worth remembering or forgetting, since himself would be the independent force of action, rendering recall a useless function.
As we said, this is very complex, but it has everything to do with Bible prophecy. Now let’s expand the complexity. Consider Mark 13:32, “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.” When we stumble over that textual boulder, “Neither the Son,” our intellect does a somersault to couch it in human dimensions. In vain, we might add, because it still sits there like a boulder telling us there is information known by one person in the triune Godhead which the other two persons in the Godhead do not! Some scholars take this to mean that Christ now knows because he has been glorified and sits next to the Father in heaven. Not so! Matthew 24:36 is very specific in saying “My Father only,” (Italics mine), which also excludes the third person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit! Therefore the divine picture is starkly clear: God the Son sits by his Father in heaven, and God the Holy Spirit moves throughout heaven and earth, and yet only God the Father has divinely elected to know some particular prophetic information specific to the behavior of humanity, eventually culminating in Christ’s return to planet Earth to judge the nations. Now I ask you: Where does that leave today’s Bible prophecy preachers? If God the Father alone knows “that day and that hour,” together with all the meticulous details leading up to it, then how, pray tell, can a modern prophecy preacher or teacher even come close to foretelling divine secrets which even two members of the Godhead do not? Yes, Bible prophecy is a wonderful, inspiring subject to study. But we should be extremely discerning and wary in doing so because of those whose purpose is vainglorious recognition. (Better known as an ego trip).
It would be meaningless for God to behave in such a manner in the Godhead without his infinite ability to allow humanity to behave apart from God’s governance on the Earth. No, we can decide for ourselves that God will not be in control of our lives. We can earn for ourselves the consequences of violating his laws. That very freedom and ability is the heart and soul of Bible prophecy because it is humanity’s trail of sordid history of going somewhere of our own making, not a divinely prepared mold we are compelled to fill. God’s omnipotence does not violate his image of freedom within us. In his sovereignty he is able at the outset of any given moment of any one or all of humanity’s exercise of free choice, to know the conclusion of the particular circumstance brought by that choice. But in the very next choice he can then also see that particular conclusion, and so on and on for every single free choice, perpetually all our lives. Every choice counts toward the conclusion of final judgment. This applies to individuals, multitudes, nations, the world. In the end, free choice runs its course, and fair judgment will be rendered by the Judge of all the Earth. It can be said of this that God always knows the end of our journey, while also allowing our full freedom of choice during the journey.
It is also clear that such information in our hands would be detrimental to God’s purpose in us. There are those who advocate a Divine sovereignty which predetermines all things and all events regardless of human choice. But if God’s sovereignty was so stunted that he was confined to predetermining the events of history, we could get our minds around it and consider it. But that is the problem with it. The very instant we comprehend it logically, God is no longer sovereign, we are! Great theological tomes have been written about that, although only two words are needed: Faith and humility. We do not need stiff Eton collars, but ragged holes in our knees, worn there through prayer and humble worship.
Christ’s Olivet discourse tells us we can observe the signs of coming events, but we are specifically told that the knowledge of the day of his return is forbidden to us, and that it is impossible for us to know. So our preaching and teaching of Bible prophecy should be with utter humility, not dogmatism. The most frequent words on the lips of any teacher of the subject should be, “I don’t know,” or “I’m not sure.” The moment we hear a prophetic teacher or preacher even come close to naming a specific day of Christ’s return, that is our cue to stop listening. Further, caution is in order when any preacher dogmatically advocates a year or season of his return. They might be right, but their dogmatism could be a red flag leading to date setting. Be careful!
Finally, we should think soberly on God’s very purpose in foreshadowing the future in the first place. It is perfectly clear in Scripture that God provides it as a serious prompt for us to live holy, dedicated, unselfish lives in the present! A great deal of information in the New testament epistles concerning Christ’s return was meant to stir them to live for him in their present. That is still the purpose! Hear this, church, we are supposed to live for God day by day in present reality, not as dreamers of the future.
Taken to extremes, the subject of Bible prophecy can reduce us to a life of fear of what is coming in the future. Jesus addressed this in Matthew 6:34: “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: For the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” The great Adam Clarke could not have seen this truth better than his comment on this verse: “…Carking truth [that is, truth that makes us anxious] is not only useless itself, but renders us miserable beforehand. The future falls under the cognizance of God alone: We encroach, therefore, upon his rights, when we would fain foresee all that may happen to us, and secure ourselves from it by our cares. How much good is omitted, how many evils caused, how many duties neglected, how many acts of injustice authorized by those timorous forecasts of what may happen; and those faithless apprehensions concerning the future! Let us do now what God requires of us, and trust the consequences to him.”
The whole idea of this truth is clearly stated in Deuteronomy 28 where God admonishes the children of Israel to be holy in God’s sight in the present in order to have a blessed future, and not sin against God in the present and reap a bitter harvest for it in the future. He stated concretely that if they served him correctly, he would give them “Days as of Heaven upon the Earth” (Deut. 11:21). It is starkly clear in this that their prophetic future rested solidly on their chosen behavior! Furthermore, it can be seen by all humanity in this one passage among many that God’s position in the matter is that when it comes to our freedom of choice, we are in control, not God, and that is God’s choice! Well, sure enough, Israel made the wrong choice and suffered the exact horrendous future God warned them to avoid. The aftermath of Israel’s foolish choice was not God’s foreordained plan at work; otherwise, we make God look foolish for even giving Israel a choice when it was really already God’s fore-ordered plan of future events. Such logic borders on the absurd!
The true logic of Bible prophecy is forthright and clear for all to see: We order our own prophetic future, precisely proven by the wreckage of our past choices! Our sad history is indelible, and God’s pristine, holy character shouts at us that he does not run a wrecking yard, we do! And let us understand perfectly that the same human power of choice that created our horrible wrecking yard, has the God-given power to clean up the mess in our future! When all is finally said and done and judgment is past, it will be as clear as the noon day that we either lived in our present for God, or we didn’t. The future we fretted over will not be criteria to judge us for what we were going to do.