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Bible PROPHECY For BlockheadsA User-Friendly Look at the End Times
By Douglas Connelly
ZondervanCopyright © 2002 Douglas Connelly
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe End Is Near (or Something Like That)
* God knows the future-but has he told us?
* Reading the Bible for fun and prophet
* How to spot a prophecy fake
We all want to know the future. Think about your own life-your job, your marriage, your friends, your grades, your kids, your investments. We could have fabulous success and avoid most of life's problems if we could just get a glimpse of what the future holds.
The calendar change to a new millennium, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the continual shifting of political alliances in our world, the unpredictability of the economy-all these facts have sparked a renewed interest in the future, and particularly in the future according to the Bible.
67 percent of Americans (including one-third of those who say they never attend church) believe that Jesus Christ will return to earth someday.
49 percent believe that there will be an Antichrist.
44 percent believe that God will bring about the end of human history-and 20 percent think it will be within the next few decades.
We are very interested in what the Bible says about the future, but the problem is that prophecy seems to be such a confusing mix of different views, strange charts, mysterious visions, and weird symbols. It's too far-out for most people!
This book is written to help you sort things out with respect to God's plan for the future. We'll start with the basics and keep it simple and clear every step of the way. You may feel like a blockhead when it comes to prophecy, but you won't be a blockhead for long.
Prophecy is what God says about the future. He is the only person who knows with absolute certainty what will happen-and he knows it all. God hasn't told us everything about the future, but he has told us a lot. The good part is we can trust what he says. Here's God's own testimony about his ability to predict the future:
I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. (Isaiah 46:9-10)
In four words, God knows the future.
This book will explore what God has told us about future events. Some of what he says is scary; some is fabulous. Some elements in the future are clearly explained; some we have to piece together from a few hints. But it's all fascinating stuff!
Three kinds of readers will find this book helpful:
Reader #1: A Newbie
If you've never studied prophecy and get confused sometimes by all the jargon Christians throw around, this book will help you figure it all out. I've written with prophecy newbies in mind.
Reader #2: You've Been Around Awhile
Maybe you feel like you know a lot about prophecy, but you've only been exposed to one view about how future events will unfold. If you are saying, "You mean there's more than one view?" then this book is for you, too. I have tried to take a fair and honest look at all the major approaches to biblical prophecy. I have my own particular position, of course, but I've tried to give everyone a voice. You may find yourself changing some aspects of what you believe-or you may find your view strengthened by what you read about other positions. I don't try to cram one view down everyone's throat. I want this book to be a guide to help you make your own decisions based on all the relevant evidence.
Reader #3: You're Just Not Sure
You may not believe any of this prophecy stuff and you just picked up this book out of curiosity or even contempt. That's okay, too! I hope you'll approach what's here with an open mind. You may find your life changed by what you read.
My goal is to make the journey profitable and fun. I've taken a light-hearted approach but not a light-headed one. You will enjoy the journey, but it will also enrich your mind and maybe even transform your life.
God Has Spoken
God has given us information about the future in a unique book-the Bible. The word Bible means "the books." The Bible is one book, but it is also a collection of sixty-six individual books written over a period of sixteen hundred years by at least forty different authors.
The Bible is divided into two main sections-the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible) and the New Testament. The Old Testament focuses on God's interaction with the people of Israel. The New Testament, written later, focuses on Jesus and his early followers (called Christians). The Bible is the story of God seeking and rescuing people who were far from him.
The books of the Bible were collected over the years and arranged in the order we have in our present Bible. When the Bible began to be printed in book form around A.D. 1550, chapters and verses were added to make it easier to find a specific text. Today we have a standard way of writing references to Bible verses. Revelation 3:20, for example, means the book of Revelation (the biblical book), chapter 3 (the chapter number is listed to the left of the colon), verse 20 (the verse number is listed to the right of the colon). The Bible reference is the "address" of the verse in the Bible. You can pick up any Bible and find the book of Revelation (the last book in the New Testament). In the third chapter, verse 20, you will read these words spoken to the apostle John by Jesus:
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
Not every version of the Bible has those exact words, but the sense will be the same.
Down through the centuries the Bible has been translated into other languages from the ancient languages in which it was written. A translation of the Bible is called a version of the Bible. In this book I almost always quote from the New International Version (abbreviated NIV), the most widely used English-language version today. Other versions you may see or may own are the Authorized or King James Version (AV, KJV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), or the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). Catholic readers may have the New American Bible (NAB) or the Jerusalem Bible (JB).
All versions or translation of the Bible attempt to express accurately in a new language the meaning of the original writings. The best version for you is the one you will actually read!
Christians look at the Bible as more than just a collection of dusty religious writings. The Bible is God's word to us-God's truth written in human language. The Bible itself claims to originate with God, not with those humans who wrote it. This is not just human beings reflecting on who God is and how God acts; this is God revealing to human beings exactly who he is and what he has done.
That's important to remember as you read what the Bible says about the future. These are not the predictions of people naively hoping for a happy, pie-in-the-sky ending or of doomsdayers trying to scare people with stories of catastrophes. This is God telling us what he knows will happen and what he has planned to happen. God spoke the truth to the Bible's original writers, and he still speaks to us today through their writings.
You may not agree that the Bible is God's book. You may think that the Bible's statements about the future were simply the whacked-out ideas of some ancient hippies who were spaced out on first-century marijuana. (That idea has actually been proposed.) It's okay to be skeptical, but I hope you will pursue your interest in prophecy anyway. What you will discover as you read is that the Bible can defend itself. You may find God speaking to you when you least expect it!
The Key Players
Almost every book in the Bible has prophecy in it-some kind of prediction about the future or about an end-time event. A few biblical books, however, are almost completely about future events-future to the writer and future to us. You will have a jump start on your understanding if you have some background on these first-string players.
Daniel is the Old Testament point man when it comes to prophecy. You may know him as the man who survived the lions' den, but he has a lot more on his résumé than that. Daniel spent most of his life in the city of Babylon, far from his homeland in Israel. He worked for a succession of pagan Babylonian kings. Sometimes Daniel held positions of honor, and sometimes he was forgotten-until a crisis arose that required the expertise of a person in touch with God.
Over the years, through visions, dreams, and direct communication, God gave Daniel an incredible amount of information about Israel's future. Some of what God told Daniel came about in the four hundred years that followed Daniel's death. Daniel accurately predicted the rise of the Persian Empire, the conquests of Alexander the Great, the division of Alexander's kingdom, and the persecution Israel would suffer under an evil Syrian king. Daniel's predictions were so accurate that critics of the Bible say that Daniel had to have lived after all these events happened. He must have only pretended to write an ancient document. No one (the critics say) could have predicted Israel's history so precisely hundreds of years earlier. Well, no one but God, that is! And that's exactly what Christians claim. Daniel wrote accurately about the future because he wrote under God's direction. I'm sure Daniel didn't even understand some of the stuff he wrote, but he put it down at God's command.
Two-thirds of Daniel's predictions have already been fulfilled-it's ancient history-but that final third is of vital interest to us. Our logic in this is easy to follow: If part of Daniel's prophecies happened precisely as he predicted, we can safely assume that the rest of Daniel's prophecies will take place in the future just as precisely. If his predictions about an evil Syrian king came true, it's not hard to believe that his predictions about a still-future evil king will also come true.
What puts the final stamp of approval on Daniel's book for me is that Jesus believed Daniel really existed (he referred to "the prophet Daniel" in Matthew 24:15). Jesus even quoted Daniel's writings as an accurate portrayal of events related to Jesus' future return to earth in glory (Mark 14:62 quotes Daniel 7:13).
Daniel will have a lot to say to us about how God's future plan will unfold.
Another key Old Testament player on the prophecy team is Ezekiel. Zeke was a powerful preacher, a creative communicator, and at times was a little weird! He lived in Babylon, like Daniel did, but he didn't minister in the king's palace. Ezekiel's audience were the thousands of Jews who had been deported to Babylon from the homeland of Israel. They were a sad, despondent group, but Ezekiel tried to keep their eyes focused on the awesome majesty of God.
Ezekiel tells us how God will restore his people Israel in the future. What seems spiritually to be a valley of dry bones, dead and unresponsive to God and beyond hope, will miraculously emerge as a new people, filled and energized by God's Spirit. (That sentence is based on Ezekiel's most famous vision-the valley of dry bones-recorded in Ezekiel 37.) Ezekiel also pictures the Messiah's future Kingdom and the glorious Temple that will be the place of our worship during that Kingdom (Ezekiel 40-48).
The prophet Zechariah focused on the Messiah's Kingdom, too. But instead of emphasizing the glory of the Kingdom, Zechariah emphasized the glory of the King.
Zechariah lived in Jerusalem after the captives in Babylon returned to their homeland. They returned to a destroyed city and a desolate country. Zechariah's job was to remind the people that God had not forgotten his promises. The Messiah would still come; the Messiah would yet rule over the world. God had not forgotten.
Other Old Testament Voices
Other Old Testament books that speak at some length about future events are Isaiah, Joel, and Zephaniah. Even some of the psalms are prophetic and tell us about the Messiah's ultimate victory over evil and the majesty of the coming Kingdom.
The first four books of the New Testament tell the story of Jesus-from four different perspectives. Jesus talked a lot about the future for both the nation of Israel and his new movement called the church. Many of Jesus' parables focused on future events. The Gospels also record some of the Bible's clearest promises about Jesus' return. One scholar has counted 238 verses from the Gospels that speak to Jesus' second coming-more than half of the verses in the entire New Testament on the subject.
Matthew, the author of the first Gospel in our arrangement of the New Testament, records more of Jesus' predictions than any of the other Gospel writers. Matthew was one of Jesus' closest followers during his ministry, so he was writing down the things he had heard directly from Jesus. Matthew wrote to present Jesus as the King, and we learn in his Gospel how we are to live as loyal subjects of King Jesus. We also learn about the Kingdom in this Gospel-the Kingdom today and the Kingdom in the future.
One of the longest sermons Jesus gave about the future is recorded in Matthew 24 and 25. It's called the Olivet discourse (because Jesus spoke the words on the Mount of Olives, looking down over the city of Jerusalem). That's also when Jesus made his important statement that "no one knows" the day when Jesus will return-no one except God the Father. (Check it out in Matthew 24:36.)
First and Second Thessalonians
These two letters written by Paul, one of the most significant leaders of the early Christian movement, fill in some details about the future that are only hinted at in other books. Paul makes prophetic statements in some of his other letters, but most of what we learn from Paul about God's future plan is drawn from these two letters.
The premier book of the Bible on future events is the book of Revelation. It was written by the apostle John (another one of Jesus' closest followers) when he was exiled on the prison island of Patmos. Domitian, the Roman emperor, was trying to wipe out the Christian community, and so he sent John, the last living apostle, into exile. Too bad for Domitian that God had other plans! God gave John (and the rest of us) a powerful story of the triumph of Jesus over all evil forever.
John received the message of Revelation in a series of visions. Some are visions of heaven; some are visions of earth. They are filled with symbols and images and beasts and angels. For example, in Revelation 5:6, John looked into heaven and saw a lamb standing in front of the throne of God.
Excerpted from Bible PROPHECY For Blockheads by Douglas Connelly Copyright © 2002 by Douglas Connelly. Excerpted by permission.
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