The Merciful God of Prophecy: His Loving Plan for You in the End Timesby Tim LaHaye
LaHaye explores prophecy from biblical times to the future. Through perceptive study of Scripture and the attentive use of examples from The Book of Daniel to Revelations, the author reveals God's great plan for eternity.
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God Has Gotten
a Bad Rap
When someone speaks of "Bible prophecy," what images come to mind? What pictures do you see? More important, how do these images influence your concept of God? What sort of scenes do they paint in your consciousness?
If you're like many people, "Bible prophecy" conjures up frightening images of doom, of fireballs raining from heaven, of mountains crashing into the sea, and of the sky turning a deep, blood red (before it grows dark and inky black altogether). It makes you think of an angry God bent on destruction. It scares you, and you'd just as soon not think of it at all.
Although I'm no movie buff, I think two scenes from the 1984 blockbuster film Ghostbusters probably sum up as well as anything the picture most folks have of biblical prophecy. In the first scene, Winston and Ray are driving across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City when Winston asks, "Hey, Ray. Do you remember something in the Bible about the last days, when the dead would rise from the grave?"
"I remember Revelation 6:12," Ray replies. "'And I looked, as he opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became as black as sackcloth. And the moon became as blood.'"
"And the seas boiled and the skies fell," whispers Winston.
"Judgment Day," Ray concludes.
"Judgment Day," agrees Winston.
A little later in the film, all of the ghostbusters appear before New York's mayor, trying to convince him and other city officials to allow them to handle the crisis. "This city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions," says their leader.
"What do you mean, 'biblical'?" asks the mayor.
"What he means is Old Testament biblical, Mr. Mayor," replies Ray. "Real wrath-of-God-type stuff. Fire and brimstone coming from the sky! Rivers and seas boiling!"
"Forty years of darkness!" cries another. "Earthquakes! Volcanoes!"
"The dead rising from the grave!" shouts Winston.
"Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!" sneers their leader.
The movie plays these scenes for laughs, of courseit's supposed to be a comedy, after allbut nevertheless I believe it accurately captures the general public's attitude toward biblical prophecy. When many folks ponder the Bible's predictions about the future, they often dredge up mental images of terrifying calamities, as well as grim scenes of a furious God flinging one bolt of judgment after another at trembling sinners. Even many Christians feel this way.
Shortly after they were married, Tom and Carol2 very publicly declared to friends at their church that they did not intend to have children. When asked how they had made such an important decision, they both pointed to Bible prophecy.
"The Bible tells us that the world is going to get worse and worse," Carol explained. "There are going to be awful wars and terrible earthquakes. Thousands, maybe millions, of believers are going to be martyred for their faith. Why would I want to bring any children into a world like that?"
Tom wholeheartedly agreed. "It just doesn't make any sense to subject your own children to the awful time that's coming," he would say. "I mean, the apostle Paul says in 2 Timothy that 'there will be terrible times in the last days.' God says, 'People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of Godhaving a form of godliness but denying its power.' Paul even says to 'have nothing to do with them.' So why would we want to expose our own flesh and blood to something so atrocious as that?" (2 Tim. 3:1-5 niv).
A longtime friend of this couple, Barb, expressed similar feelings. "I haven't studied any of the 'end times' stuff and I don't read any of the novels on prophecy that are so popular right now," she said. "I don't read them because when you talk about the devil, that scares me. It's not like sci-fi, which is make-believe; Satan is a real power, not some scary monster. Also, because I am such a visual person, it's hard for me to get those images out of my head. So I have avoided prophecy, although I know I probably should study it so that I'm more prepared for the future and so that I can recognize some of the 'signs of the times' when they happen."
Barb's avoidance of Bible prophecy comes down to what we might call "the fear factor." Prophecies of hard times and coming judgment don't comfort her, they frighten her. They make her wonder what terrifying events might happen in the next minute, what might be lying in wait around the next corner.
"Prophecy makes me feel the way you do when you're watching a horror movie and something bad happens in the bathroomafter that you don't want to go in your own bathroom!" she explained. "I tend to want to avoid both conflict and fear; that's been my M.O. I also don't like thinking about the spiritual battle between evil and good. A few days after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center towers, my family attended a service in our community. One speaker talked about how we're really not battling an army, we're battling evil itself. And that kind of gives me the creeps because it is so less concrete than the other thing, which we could dominate."
When unspeakable acts of violence strike our worldlike the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and on the Pentagonit's almost impossible not to recall biblical images of future judgment. More than one witness to the destruction caused in New York City and Washington, D.C., described it to television reporters in these words: "It looked like Armageddon."
Jesus himself, speaking of "the end," told his disciples that when that time comes, "Nations will be in anguish and perplexity . . . Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken" (Luke 21:25-26 niv).
Now, I freely admit that such terrifying imagery doesn't bring comfort in the usual sense (in fact, I don't think it's meant to). But I am convinced that even such knee-knocking terminology is designed to communicate God's immeasurable mercy, grace, and love. God is not some celestial ogre who delights in inflicting catastrophe, but a loving Lord who does everything he can to help us escape divine judgment. He uses Bible prophecy not to frighten us, but for at least three other purposes: to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he exists; to warn us of the real dangers that lay ahead; and to encourage us into accepting his gracious offer of life, happiness, and ultimate satisfactionforever.
From my perspective, the popular images of prophecy as a "downer" are all wrong. They completely misrepresent the loving nature of God and what he plans to do with the inhabitants of planet earth.
Of course, I can well understand how such a huge misunderstanding can take place. Why? Because many years ago I shared the very same viewpoint.
At a summer camp when I was fifteen years old, I dedicated my life to the gospel ministry. Even from that early age, I knew I wanted to serve Jesus Christ and tell as many people as possible about his amazing love.
Five years later, after serving two years in the Air Force, I entered a Christian college to study to be a minister. Shortly after classes began, I met a beautiful young woman named Beverly. I fell in love with her almost immediately and eventually married her, but I almost missed the opportunity to discover what a real gem she truly is. On our very first date, I nearly torpedoed any chance I had at winning her heart. Truth be told, I just about scared her off.
At our school, students on dates couldn't hold hands or do anything really exciting. We were allowed to talk and that was it. So in two hours of conversationwith eagle-eyed chaperones lurking nearby with rifles and telescopes (or so it seemed to me)she asked a few questions about the future and about heaven.
Without much thought, I blurted out, "I really am not too nuts about going to heavenyou know, floating around on a cloud, strumming a harp. I'm musically tone-deaf, anyway. It just doesn't grab me."
My lovely date looked at me with incredulity in her eyes and stammered, "Well, don't you love God?"
"Do you want me to be honest?" I asked.
Understand, I came from a background where God had been pictured as an angry taskmaster who sat glumly on the judgment seat, eagerly waiting for us to do something sinful so that he could zap us with a lightning bolt. I grew up thinking that God just couldn't wait to condemn all kinds of people to hell.
So I flatly told Bev, "To tell the truth, I really don't even like God."
Today, of course, I realize how close to blasphemy such a statement isbut it's exactly how I felt at the time. Fortunately, God knows the condition of our hearts and he judges according to our hearts, not necessarily by some of the stupid things we say.
After recovering from the shock, my gracious wife-to-be sat up straight and asked me in her very direct and spiritual way, "Well, if you don't like God and you don't want to go to heaven, then why are you here?"
A sensible question from a most sensible and practical woman. But I thought I had a perfectly logical answer.
"You don't understand," I said. "I love Jesus. He saved me, he called me to preach, and he's the reason I'm here."
So far as I was concerned, that answer explained everything. I loved Jesus with all my heart. I knew that Jesus loved me and that he had died for my sins so that I might live forever with him. I felt excited, even thrilled, about the opportunity to win people to Christ. I went to that school so that I could more effectively tell others about Jesus.
But I had no idea how Jesus and God connected. To me, they seemed as different and as contrary to one another as could be imagined. Therefore I could enthusiastically declare that while I loved Jesus, I disliked God.
Do you know what was wrong? I knew practically nothing of what the Bible actually teaches about God. I had not rejected God, but rather a grotesque caricature of him that has become very common in our world.
I'm convinced that one of the main reasons so many men and women in our society feel such aversion toward God is that they have no idea how gracious and merciful and loving he really is. They suffer under a Ghostbusters view of God, a distorted picture that sees the Almighty as dour, angry, ill-tempered, and eager to mete out horrific judgment. And amazing as it now seems to me, I once was a card-carrying member of that nervous club.
After our unusual date, Bev returned to her dormitoryyou might even say she fledand told her roommate, "I just had a date with the craziest guy I've ever met. I will never date him again." (So much for that vow, after fifty-five years of marriage!)
This sad event occurred a long, long time ago, and today I can say that I truly love God with all my heart. Once I studied every verse in the Bible about who and what God is, I gained a completely different view of him. Once I discovered the truth about Godthat he is really merciful and gracious and looks on us with such inexhaustible love that he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to become the Savior of the worldmy whole world changed. To bring about this change and to open my eyes to his true nature, God especially made use of a famous story from the lips of Jesus.
When Jesus wanted his audience to grasp the passionate love of God for them, he told them three short but powerful stories (Luke 15). All of them memorably illustrate the Father's longing to find and bring home all of his lost children.
In the third of these stories, a young man from a wealthy family demands and gets his inheritance long before the death of his father (the time when custom said he ought to receive the money). He leaves home and spends his entire fortune on wild living, eventually winding up broke and friendless and working in a pigpen. One day, surrounded by hogs that eat better than he does, he comes to his senses. He realizes that even his father's servants enjoy a better life than the one he is enduring. So he picks himself up and sets off for home, determined to ask his father for work as a hired hand.
Meanwhile, his dad sits patiently on the veranda, scanning the road and praying each day to see his wandering son return home at last. On this day, while the son is still a long way off, the father recognizes the tired silhouette of his boy hobbling down the road. And what does he do? Does he sit there with folded arms and a scowl on his face and say, "Well, let's see if this foolish boy can make it all the way up to the bunkhouse. Then I'll give him a piece of my mind"? Not on your life! The father leaps off the veranda and runs to his son, embraces him, covers his dirty, pigsty face with kisses, and treats him to a homecoming party, complete with the best fresh beef in the county.
As I sat in a Bible class one day, studying this parable, I suddenly realized that the real story is not so much the prodigal, but the father of the prodigal. Jesus was portraying God as the prodigal's father! Our Lord wanted us to realize that his Father, God Almighty, was just like the merciful father in this story.
And for the first time I grasped the gracious, loving nature of God.
At that moment the lightbulb went off in my head. At once I understood that God isn't sitting up in heaven, arms crossed, trying to prevent people from entering. Instead, he stands with arms wide open, trying in all conceivable ways to usher as many people into heaven as possible.
The Bible insists that when any of us makes it to heaven, we do so only because God has made it possible (Matt. 18:14; John 6:37, 39-40, 44; 1 Tim. 2:3-4; 2 Pet. 3:9). If he can discover any way for us to make it safely through heaven's gates, he'll see that it happens. This is the truth about our gracious God. He reaches out to bring us to his side, where he has stockpiled "pleasures forevermore" at his right hand (Ps. 16:11).
That's the truth about God! Our Lord is a loving Father. And believe it or not, Bible prophecy reveals God's kind nature as almost nothing else can. So deeply do I believe this, that I've dedicated the rest of my life to helping others grasp this breathtaking truth.
People are interested in prophecy today as never before. I can't adequately express how thrilled I am at the way God is blessing the Left Behind fiction series that Jerry B. Jenkins and I are writing. I have to pinch myself. People all over the country ask me how and why the series took off the way it did. The truth is, I don't know. All I can say is that God loves to honor his prophetic Word. When we began, I certainly had no idea of what was to come. Initially, I envisioned only one book.
I got the original idea seventeen years ago while sitting on an airplane, and it burned in my soul from that day on. Although I was a successful nonfiction author with forty titles in print, I had never written fiction. At first I thought, You know, I should try on my own to write a story based on prophecy. At the time, three of my nonfiction-writing friends wrote novels. I picked up their books, thinking, Hey, if they can do it, so can I. But then I actually read what they had written. And I quickly realized the truth: None of us can write good fiction.
I profited by that experience and asked the Lord to hook me up with an experienced author of fiction. I did some looking, found a promising candidate, and together we wrote a book.
I paid him to throw it away.
It cost me a fortune to toss a 550-page book in the trash, but the final product just didn't have the quality I demanded. It didn't feel like my book; it didn't speak to my heart.
Then I met Jerry B. Jenkinsand the rest, as they say, is history. At the time of this writing, more than fifty million books from the series are in print worldwide. We estimate that at least one hundred thousand readers have so far made a decision to receive Christ as their Savior through the influence of these novels.
Now can you see why I have a deep passion to declare the mercy and love of God through the medium of Bible prophecy? I want to counter the false notion that only gloom, doom, and despair await this troubled world. Much to the contrary, the Bible proclaims that God has a magnificent plan for our future, a plan that reveals his mercy. When properly understood, prophecy shows us the astonishing steps God will take to help a maximum number of people enjoy a spectacular eternity with him.
We should all stand amazed at how many future events God has revealed, primarily in order to show us his love and mercy. Even now he is carefully and relentlessly at work, superintending the course of world events in order to bring about the glorious future he has foretold. Some important prophetic events appear to be unfolding even now, in our own day.
God does love this world! Bible prophecy proves it! And this great message of divine love has become the passion of my heart. I'm in my mid-seventies, and I feel a strong compulsion to do whatever I can in the time I have left to encourage men and women to earnestly study Bible prophecy.
One of the most important books of prophecy, Revelation, says, "Blessed [or happy] is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; because the time is near" (1:3).
Do you want to enjoy the greatest possible happiness? Then you must strive to understand Bible prophecy. God promises in his Word to give a special blessing of happiness to all those who seek to grasp what he has revealed about the future. Those who neglect the prophetic plan of God lack something essential in their lives, particularly in relation to their understanding and appreciation of Jesus. It may be that you have little desire to understand Bible prophecybut do you want to know Jesus better? If so, then you must invest some time in God's prophetic word. Don't forget that the Book of Revelation does not merely disclose future events, but is particularly "the Revelation of Jesus Christ" (Rev. 1:1). If you want to know Jesus as he truly is, you cannot afford to bypass Bible prophecy.
Amazing treasures await those who plunge into the world of Bible prophecy. For there we learn that if the Scriptures teach us anything about God, it's that he is for us. He is not against us! He calls us to obey him, not because he needs our puny efforts, but because he wants to bless our lives. And as we will discover, the key to opening the door to God's blessing is to say, "Here's my life, Lord. Do with it whatever you see fit."
Still, you may wonder, But how does Bible prophecy reveal to us the mercy of God? That's what this book is all about. We'll see how he has used prophecy in the past to communicate his amazing grace, how prophecy can help us right now to experience his abundant love, and how prophecy will continue to convince men and women of God's gracious intentions, right up to the very end of history. All of that is to come in the following pages.
But we can say, right off the top, that from cover to cover, Bible prophecy powerfully proclaims the grace, mercy, and love of God to those who believe in him.
Find that hard to believe? Then I suggest you turn to the very first book of the Bible, Genesis. There you will discover that God was thinking prophetically as soon as the first humans sinned. Only moments after Adam and Eve took a bite out of the forbidden fruit, God declared to the evil one who had enticed them to sin, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel" (3:15). That's an amazingly gracious prophecyat least, for the man and the woman! Even at this darkest of hours, our merciful God prophesied that he would send the Christ (the Seed of the woman) to defeat Satan ("he shall bruise your head") by dying on the cross ("you shall bruise His heel").
Imagine! Even before his special creatures had sinned, God already had designed a remedy, a potent solution for their estrangement from himin fact, the only solution. For only God himself, in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, could die for the sins of the whole world.
How hard could it be to love a God like that?
What's more, God has woven this gracious thread of prophecy all the way through the Bible. The word grace first appears in Scripture in Genesis 6:8, when we read that, "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord." The last book in Scripture, Revelation, opens with a reference to God's grace (1:4) and closes the same way (22:21). The middle of the book reminds us of the greatest act of grace in history, that Jesus Christ was "slain from the foundation of the world" (13:8).
Why this concentrated focus on grace? To give us courage, strength, and hope, particularly in uncertain times like these.
Prophecy tells us that from the very beginning of history to its last gasp, God shows himself to be merciful, gracious, and loving beyond all imagination. And from the first book of the Bible to the last, prophecy declares that God has crafted an astonishing plan to bless untold millions of redeemed human beings with eternal life, eternal significance, and eternal joy.
I say it again: No one has to be afraid of the God of prophecy!
In fact, there is only one kind of god we do have to fear: the one who doesn't exist, the one who rubs his hands together and grins each time we fail, thereby earning his angry judgment. That is a god to fear.
Happily, that is not the God of the Bible. That is not the God of prophecy. The God of Scripture is for us. He is always available to us, always attentive to our needs. And prophecy assures us that his ears are always attuned to our cry.
Just the other day I saw a bumper sticker that made me both smile and reflect. Its message featured just two lines, but they say a lot about our times:
Where are we going?
And why am I in this hand basket?
Bible prophecy shouts loud and clear, "You can know where you're going; you don't have to remain in the dark. And you do not have to stay in a place that takes you exactly where you don't want to be!"
I love Bible prophecy because it reveals a kindhearted God who is merciful and gracious beyond all expectation. But perhaps most marvelous of all is the open invitation he gives to each one of us: Come and see! (Ps. 66:5; Isa. 66:18).
I say, let's take him up on his offer.
© 2002 by LaHaye Publishing Group LLC.
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