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Why Your Future Matters Today
By Robert Jeffress
WORTHY PUBLISHINGCopyright © 2014 Robert Jeffress
All rights reserved.
Why Study Bible Prophecy?
Have you ever read the novel Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan by Morgan Robertson? The novella tells the story of a magnificent ocean liner named the Titan that strikes an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York and sinks in the middle of the ocean. You are probably thinking, "This sure does sound like the real story of the Titanic." Yet Robertson's novel differs from the actual event in several ways. The ship in Futility was 1,800 feet long while the real Titanic was 1,882 feet long. The Titan was able to displace 66,000 tons of water, while the Titanic was able to displace 70,000 tons of water. Yet both ships were triple-screw ocean liners that could travel up to twenty-five knots per hour and transport three thousand passengers.
You might wonder why Morgan Robertson would bother to write a novella that so closely approximated a real-life event. And why go to the trouble of varying some of the facts ever so slightly including the name of the ship: Titan versus Titanic ? The reason is quite simple. The Titanic sank on April 14, 1912. The novel Futility was published in 1898—fourteen years before the actual event!
It is amazing to think that a book written more than a decade earlier could so accurately forecast a historical event like the sinking of the Titanic. But it is even more fascinating to realize that the Bible is able to foretell with laser-like accuracy events that will occur hundreds and even thousands of years after it was written. One can hardly turn a page of Scripture without finding some reference to a future event. Yet, in spite of the large amount of space devoted to prophetic themes, few Christians have a clear understanding of the events that will lead to the return of Jesus Christ. Maybe you are one of those Christians who:
reaches for Tylenol when your "Read Through the Bible" plan lands you in the book of Daniel;
thinks about changing churches when your pastor announces a year-long study in the book of Revelation;
breaks out in a cold sweat if a new Christian asks you to briefly explain the terms "Rapture," "Tribulation," and "Millennium";
wonders why you should purchase this book instead of Seven Scintillating Secrets for a Sensual Marriage.
Why People Resist Studying Prophecy
Evangelist Billy Graham once observed that "the most neglected teaching in the church today is the second coming of Jesus Christ." Why is that? As I have talked with both pastors and laymen about prophecy I have discovered four major objections to studying Bible prophecy:
1. "The subject is too confusing to understand."
Most Christians are convinced that you must possess a seminary degree (or at least some skill in reading tea leaves) to comprehend the events surrounding the return of Jesus Christ. Not long ago I was visiting with the pastor of one of the largest churches in the denomination in which I serve (Southern Baptist). This man has an earned ThD from a respected seminary and preaches to thousands of people each week. He said, "Robert, would you please write a simple book explaining Bible prophecy so that people like me can understand it?" If this doctor of theology feels inadequate to understand prophecy, it's no wonder that thousands in his congregation will never hear a series of messages on books of the Bible like Daniel and Revelation.
One of my closest friends is convinced that God never meant for us to understand prophecy: "If God really wanted us to understand these things, why didn't He make them clearer in Scripture?" My response is, "God has clearly explained end time events in Scripture." As an example I have directed his attention to Matthew 24–25.
As Jesus and His disciples were leaving the temple, Jesus remarked that one day every stone of that magnificent place of worship would be torn down. Obviously shaken at such a statement (How would you respond if someone told you that one day the church you attend would be completely leveled?), the disciples asked the obvious question: "Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" (Matthew 24:3).
We know from history that about forty years after the disciples' question, the Roman conqueror Titus entered Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. But it is clear from their question that this is not the only event with which they were concerned. They also wanted to know when Christ would return and what signs would precede His return and the end of the age. Notice what Jesus did not say in reply to their inquiry: "Boys, there is no way you could understand these events—especially you, Peter!"
Or, "This is nothing you need to concern yourselves with. Trust me. Everything will pan out in the end."
Or, "You shouldn't care about the end-time events. All you should be concerned with is sharing the gospel with as many people as possible."
Instead, Jesus answered the disciples' question with a lengthy explanation concerning end-time events. Although Jesus refused to answer the question "when" (in verse 36, Jesus confessed that even He did not know when these events would occur), He clearly answered "what" will happen:
And Jesus answered and said to them, "See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will mislead many. You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end ... Therefore when you see the Abomination of Desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains ... But immediately after the tribulation of those days the Sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:4–6, 15–16, 29–30)
In chapter 3 we will discover that Matthew 24–25 gives us a very simple outline of the end-time events that includes the Great Tribulation, the return of Christ, the judgments, and Christ's thousand-year rule on the earth.
2. "No one can know when Christ will return."
Bill and Janet are friends of ours who keep up with the latest fads in eschatology (a word describing the study of end-time events). Years ago they took seriously Edgar Whisenant's prediction that the Rapture (an event explained in the next chapter) was slated for 1988. However, they decided to prepare for this event in a most unusual way. They drained their savings account, loaded their van, and headed for—not the Millennial Kingdom—but the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida.
I will admit that their response to the return of Christ is unique; nevertheless, it illustrates one reason so many people are skeptical about a study of the end times. Bible prophecy "experts" have turned a lot of people off of the subject of studying the end times by violating a very basic principle in the Scripture: we are never to set dates concerning the Second Coming of Christ. No one knows the date any prophetic event will occur. For example, the Old Testament prophet Daniel did not know when the end would come:
"He [the angel of the Lord] said, 'Go your way, Daniel, for these words are concealed and sealed up until the end time'" (Daniel 12:9).
Although the apostle Paul probably thought he would live to see the end-time events unfold, he confessed that the Day of the Lord would come unexpectedly:
"Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night" (1 Thessalonians 5:2).
While on earth, even Jesus Christ Himself admitted that He had no idea when He would return:
"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone" (Matthew 24:36).
If the prophet Daniel, the apostle Paul, and Jesus Christ could not give a date for the end of time, you would think that would discourage others from doing so. Think again. History is filled with those who have made false predictions about when the end of the world would occur:
Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) thought the world would end in 1656: "There are but 155 years left ... at which time ... the world will come to an end," Columbus prophesied.
Martin Luther (1483–1546) didn't think the world could exist past three hundred years from his time.
The psychic Edgar Cayce (1877–1945) predicted the Second Coming of Jesus Christ in 2000.
In more recent years radio preacher Harold Camping falsely predicted that the Rapture (the removal of all Christians from the earth prior to the Great Tribulation, an event that will be discussed in chapter 4) would occur on September 6, 1994; September 29, 1994; October 4, 1994; and on March 31, 1995. With a track record of four failed predictions, he next predicted the Rapture and the Judgment Day would take place on May 21, 2011, with the world coming to an end on October 21, 2011. In March 2012, Camping admitted that he had erred and planned to research the Bible more fervently to correct his previous mistaken predictions. As my daughters are fond of saying, "Thank you, Captain Obvious!"
At the end of 2012, the world focused on the Mayan calendar, which abruptly ended with the entry of December 21, 2012. People around the world panicked that this could signal the end of the world, causing NASA to release a video in early December 2012 reassuring the world's population that the planet would survive beyond the so-called Doomsday.
In a column for CNN Belief Blog, I noted that the problem with all of these false predictions is that they discourage people from making the necessary preparation for the real event when it actually occurs. Remember the boy who cried wolf once too often? The villagers were so hardened to the boy's false alarms that they were unprepared when the wolf finally arrived.
Make no mistake about it, the end is coming, but God has not told us when—and for good reason. Just as every teacher knows how unproductive and unfocused students are the week before school lets out, God knows how tempted we would be to neglect the responsibilities He has entrusted to us if we knew the date for the end of the world or the end of our life here on earth. That is why God refuses to show us His calendar and instead instructs us to focus on our assignment.
So, if it is impossible to know when major prophetic events will unfold, why bother to study Bible prophecy at all? Not long ago, I arrived at the Los Angeles airport late in the evening and needed a shuttle to take me to my hotel. I called the shuttle service and asked when the next van would be available to transport me to the hotel. Although they could not tell me when the van would arrive, they told me what to watch for: a blue van marked "SkyLark" that had a sign reading "Wilshire." During the next twenty minutes many vans stopped in front of the loading zone ... orange vans, white vans, red vans. There were even a number of blue SkyLark vans with signs reading "Disneyland" or "Hollywood." Had I boarded any of those vans I would not have arrived safely at my destination. However, eventually the right van with the right sign arrived, and I knew to get on. Why? Even though I had not been told when, I had been told what to look for.
In the same way, none of us knows when the Lord will return. Nevertheless, God has given us a clear indication of what to look for so that we will not be deceived by those false Christs that have appeared in every generation and would lead us in the wrong direction.
3. "There are too many different interpretations of prophecy for the subject to be that important."
Some time ago I was on a panel answering questions about theology. On the panel with me was a well-known speaker and author on the subject of apologetics. When someone asked a question concerning prophecy, he said, "I'd better let Robert answer this one. You see, I am not a premillennialist, postmillennialist, or an amillennialist. I am a panmillennialist. I believe everything will 'pan' out in the end." Chuckle, chuckle.
Granted, there are a number of differing interpretations concerning the end-time events. If you have been confused by terms like "premillennialist," "postmillennialist," and "amillennialist," or "Pretribulation Rapture" and "Posttribulation Rapture," this book will help you to understand these often confusing terms. Nevertheless, the fact that there are a number of different interpretations about end-time events does not mean there is not one correct interpretation.
Perhaps you just cringed when you read that phrase "one correct interpretation." That's understandable. We live in an age where anyone who claims his or her interpretation to be the correct interpretation is viewed with suspicion and disdain. How many times have you heard people say that "everyone is free to interpret the Bible as he chooses"? That statement is true—but only partially. While everyone has the freedom to draw his or her own conclusions about the Bible, not everyone's interpretation is equally valid—especially when it involves the subject of Bible prophecy. Consider the words of the apostle Peter:
"But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation [emphasis mine], for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Peter 1:20–21).
Don't allow the variety of opinions concerning prophecy to cause you to throw up your hands in despair (Can you think of any truth in the Bible about which everyone agrees?). Although many of the details about end-time events are concealed and, therefore, open to speculation, the Bible gives us a clear outline of the events that will lead to the return of Christ.
4. "Bible prophecy has nothing to do with everyday life."
Admittedly, most people are not nearly as concerned with the beast described in Revelation 13 as they are with the beast for which they work five days a week at the office. Trying to make it through one jam-packed week of work, soccer practices, homework, and church activities is difficult enough without trying to figure out the mystery of the seventy weeks described in Daniel 9. Why should I worry about some future Tribulation when I have plenty of my own problems right now?
Yet, knowing where we are going in the future should greatly impact how we live in the present. For example, the highway department in our state decided to construct a major double-deck expressway through the center of a city where I once pastored. Although they did not announce when they will begin the project, all of the restaurant owners and small businesses that lined that highway began selling their property and relocating. Why? The new thoroughfare would eventually reroute traffic away from their establishments, ensuring their demise if they remained. Even though these small businesses did not know when these future events would transpire, the fact that it was going to happen demanded immediate action.
The same principle applies to biblical prophecy. God has clearly revealed what awaits earth and all of her inhabitants. A major reconstruction project is guaranteed. The certainty of the return of Christ, the destruction of the present earth, and every person's individual judgment by God should motivate us to action now.
Why Bible Prophecy Is Important
Hopefully you have discovered some answers to the objections you have heard from others (or may have had yourself) to studying Bible prophecy. But you may still be wondering why you should invest both your money and your time in a book like this.
1. Bible prophecy is a major theme in the Bible.
In Bible study there is a principle referred to as "The Law of Proportion." This law simply says that you can tell the importance of a certain subject in Scripture by how much space is devoted to it. Applying this principle to prophecy, we discover that more than one-fourth of the Bible is predictive prophecy. In the Old Testament there are over eighteen hundred references to the return of Christ. Of the 260 chapters in the New Testament, there are more than three hundred references to the Lord's return—one out of every thirty verses. Twenty-three of the twenty-seven New Testament books give prominence to this subject. For every prophecy in Scripture concerning the first coming of Christ, there are eight on Christ's second coming.
Both the proportion and prominence of the prophetic theme in Scripture argue for its importance.
Excerpted from Perfect Ending by Robert Jeffress. Copyright © 2014 Robert Jeffress. Excerpted by permission of WORTHY PUBLISHING.
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