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A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days
By MARK HITCHCOCK
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2012 Mark Hitchcock
All right reserved.
Chapter One DON'T STOP THINKING ABOUT TOMORROW
People are fascinated with the future. Psychic hotlines, tabloid newspapers, and astrologers make a living preying upon people's innate interest in the future. Like someone once said, "I'm interested in the future because that's where I'm going to spend the rest of my life." But is this the only incentive for studying Bible prophecy? Was prophecy given just to satisfy our curiosity about the signs of the times and the end of the world? With all the different interpretations, many wonder why we should even study biblical prophecy. others have become disillusioned by date setters and other reckless speculators. So why is it important to study biblical prophecy?
Years ago the singing group Fleetwood Mac recorded a blockbuster song titled "Don't Stop," with the well-known line "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow." The Bible tells us the same thing. God's people are to think about tomorrow. We are to never stop doing so. While many reasons could be given for thinking about tomorrow and gaining a deeper understanding of biblical prophecy, ten key reasons stand out.
1. Prophecy Is a Major Part of Divine revelation
A seminary student who was also a pastor explained that he didn't preach on prophecy because "prophecy distracts people from the present." one of his professors observed, "Then there is certainly a lot of distraction in the Scriptures!"
In Bible study there's a principle known as the "Law of Proportion." This law simply means that you can discern the importance of a subject in Scripture by how much attention is devoted to it. Few people have any idea just how much of the Bible is prophetic in nature. The following statistics shed some light on the amount of prophecy in the Bible.
Number of Verses in the Bible 31,124 Number of Predictions in the old Testament 1,239 Number of old Testament Verses that Contain Predictions 6,641 out of 23,210 Percent of the old Testament that is Prophecy 28.5% Number of Predictions in the New Testament 578 Number of New Testament Verses that Contain Predictions 1,711 out of 7,914 Percent of the New Testament that is Prophecy 21.5% Percent of the Whole Bible that is Prophecy 27% Number of Separate Prophetic Topics in the Bible 7371
Consider these facts:
Of the 333 prophecies concerning Christ, only 109 were fulfilled by His first coming, leaving 224 yet to be fulfilled in the Second Coming.
There are over 300 references to the Lord's coming in the 260 chapters of the New Testament—one out of every 30 verses.
Twenty-three of the 27 New Testament books mention the Lord's coming.
Jesus refers to His second coming at least twenty-one times.
[There are] 1,527 old Testament passages [that] refer to the Second Coming.
For every time the Bible mentions the first coming, the Second Coming is mentioned eight times.
People are exhorted to be ready for the return of Jesus Christ over fifty times.
Applying the Law of Proportion, biblical prophecy warrants serious study. To disregard this much of the Bible is foolish. To say that Bible prophecy is unimportant ignores how much prophecy the Bible contains. Entire books such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation are prophetic. Many other books contain large sections of prophecy: Jeremiah, Joel, Malachi, Matthew, and the Thessalonian epistles.
Who would study American history and leave out almost 30 percent of the textbook? Who would go to medical school and call himself or herself a doctor yet fail to understand how over one-fourth of the body functions? Likewise if we call ourselves believers in Jesus Christ and followers of Him, it is critical that we understand at least the basics of Bible prophecy.
We see the importance of prophecy reflected in the lives of godly people in Scripture. The prophet Daniel, while he was in captivity in Babylon, carefully studied the book of Jeremiah and discerned that the seventy-year exile was nearly over (see Daniel 9:1-2). In Luke 2 an old man named Simeon and an elderly woman named Anna were both in the Temple when Jesus' parents brought Him there. Simeon and Anna knew from old Testament prophecy that the time of the Messiah's coming was near. They were "eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel" (Luke 2:25). "This salvation was something even the prophets wanted to know more about when they prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you. They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ's suffering and his great glory afterward" (1 Peter 1:10-11). We should eagerly follow the pattern of these godly men and women. We should be compelled to study prophecy if for no other reason than to follow the example of godly saints in Scripture who recognized its importance.
2. Special Blessing Is Promised on Those Who Study Prophecy and Pay Attention to What It Says
In Revelation 1:3, the Lord promises a special blessing on those who study the book of Revelation: "God blesses the one who reads the words of this prophecy to the church, and he blesses all who listen to its message and obey what it says, for the time is near." This is the only book in the Bible that contains this specific, unique promise. For this reason the book of Revelation has often been called the "Blessing Book." The inclusion of this blessing seems to anticipate that many would be tempted to neglect the study of Bible prophecy, especially the book of Revelation.
Revelation contains seven blessings scattered throughout its pages (1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7; 22:14). The blessing in Revelation 1:3 is the first and most comprehensive one. It is a blessing that anyone reading can enjoy.
Notice the blessing in Revelation 1:3 is threefold.
The one who reads. In the early church, few people had a personal copy of the Scriptures, so someone would read them aloud to the people. Today this blessing extends to all who read this grand climax to God's prophetic program.
All who listen. Just to hear the book of Revelation—and other prophecies of the Bible—read is a great blessing in troubled times like our modern world.
All who obey. It is not only important to read and hear Bible prophecy but also to obey what is written. We should diligently pay attention and watch for signs of the end times.
Any believer in Christ can receive the unmitigated blessing of God by simply reading, hearing, and paying attention to the things written in Revelation and in the other Scriptures that reveal the consummation of human history. Why would anyone want to miss out on this blessing?
3. Jesus Christ Is the Subject of Prophecy
Prophecy is all about Christ. It begins and ends in the person and work of the Savior. Revelation 19:10 says, "The essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus." The truth of this verse is certainly borne out in Scripture. The very first prophecy in the Bible in Genesis 3:15 promises a Deliverer who will crush the head of the serpent. Enoch's ancient prophecy recorded in Jude 1:14-15 prophesies the second coming of Christ. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is filled with prophecies that ultimately point in some way to the Savior. Look at some of the ways Jesus is revealed in prophecy.
1. the seed of the woman who will crush the serpent's head (Genesis 3:15)
2. Shiloh ("the one to whom it belongs") (Genesis 49:10)
3. the Passover Lamb (Exodus 12; John 1:29; 1 Corinthians 5:7)
4. the star from Jacob (Numbers 24:17)
5. the Great High Priest (Psalm 110)
6. the prophet (Deuteronomy 18:18)
7. the King (2 Samuel 7; Luke 1:32-33)
8. Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6)
9. a righteous king (Isaiah 32:1)
10. "My servant" (Isaiah 53:2)
11. a man of sorrows (Isaiah 53:3)
12. the smiting stone/the smashing rock (Daniel 2:31-35)
13. the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13)
14. the Anointed one (Daniel 9:25-26)
15. the Son who will rule the world (Psalm 2)
16. "My shepherd," "My partner" (Zechariah 13:7)
17. the Lord of the Temple (Malachi 3:1)
18. the resurrection and the life (John 11:25-27)
19. the glorified, risen Savior (Revelation 1)
20. the Lord of the church (Revelation 2–3)
21. the Lamb of God (Revelation 5:6ff)
22. the judge of the nations (Revelation 6–11)
23. the miracle-born man-child (Revelation 12)
24. the coming King (Revelation 19)
25. the Lord of heaven and earth (Revelation 20–22)
The Names and Titles of Christ in Revelation
1. Jesus Christ (1:1)
2. faithful witness (1:5)
3. firstborn of the dead (1:5, NASB)
4. ruler of the kings of the world (1:5)
5. Alpha and omega (1:8; 22:13)
6. who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty (1:8, NASB)
7. Son of Man (1:13)
8. the First and the Last (1:17; 2:8; 22:13)
9. the living one (1:18; 2:8)
10. the one who holds the seven stars in His right hand (2:1)
11. the one who walks among the seven gold lampstands (2:1)
12. the one with the sharp two-edged sword (2:12)
13. the Son of God (2:18)
14. the one whose eyes are like flames of fire, whose feet are like polished bronze (2:18)
15. He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars (3:1, NASB)
16. the one who is holy and true (3:7)
17. the one who has the key of David (3:7)
18. the Amen (3:14)
19. the faithful and true witness (3:14)
20. the Beginning of the creation of God (3:14, NASB)
21. the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah (5:5, NASB)
22. the Root of David (5:5; 22:16, NASB)
23. the Lamb (28 times)
24. their Lord (11:8)
25. a son who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron (12:5, NASB)
26. Faithful and True (19:11)
27. the Word of God (19:13)
28. King of kings and Lord of lords (19:16)
29. the Beginning and the End (22:13)
30. the bright morning star (22:16)
Studying Bible prophecy is vital because its very essence gives witness to Jesus.
4. Prophecy Gives Us a Proper Perspective in Life
There is a story of an airplane lost over the ocean in the middle of a hurricane. The captain decided it was time to inform the passengers of the dilemma, so he turned on the intercom. "I have some good news and some bad news," he began. "The bad news is that our guidance system has malfunctioned and we have no way of knowing where we are or which way we are going. The good news is, we're making great time!" Many people today are like the people on that plane. They are making great time, moving quickly through life, but they have no clue where they are, which way they're going, or where they are going to land. As a result they lack proper perspective about life, and their focus is only on today.
Bible prophecy is important because it tells us the end of the story. It is our guidance system and tells us where we're going. It reveals that just as our world had a definite beginning in Genesis 1:1, it will also have an ending. History is not an endless recurrence of reincarnations. This world will not continue on forever through infinite cycles of history. Bible prophecy reveals to us that there is an end. It reveals to us that there is a purpose and a goal—for this world, for creation, for humanity, and for everyday life.
Knowing this truth gives us meaning, perspective, and purpose and helps us embrace hope in life. If a person really believed that this world would continue on forever with no ultimate goal, it would lead to hopelessness and despair. It would mean there would be no existence beyond the grave, no ultimate justice, no tying up of the loose ends of human history. Bible prophecy tells us that there is a time when every wrong will be righted and every right will be rewarded. There is a consummation of human history and this present world. Bible prophecy is the vehicle God has given us to reveal his plan for history and to provide a goal in our thinking about life and its ultimate meaning and purpose.
5. Prophecy helps Us Understand the Whole Bible
There's a story about a preacher whose parishioners said he was the best they had ever heard at taking the Bible apart, but the problem was he couldn't put it back together. Sadly, this describes far too many Christians. Many Christians faithfully read their Bible but really have no idea what they're reading because they lack a framework for understanding the pieces and putting them in the proper place.
Understanding God's plan for the future gives a person the best framework possible for understanding the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. As Randall Price observes, "To be a student of the prophetic scriptures is to be a student of the Scriptures in their entirety." While there is certainly much that we don't know about the future, prophecy reveals God's plan for the Jewish people, the Gentile nations, and the church of Jesus Christ. Bible prophecy clarifies many things in God's Word and in the world around us. A person without a basic understanding of prophecy will be lost in large sections of the Old Testament and in several books of the New Testament, and he or she has little hope of "accurately handling the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB).
6. Prophecy Is a Tool for evangelism
I have listened to the testimonies of hundreds of people through the years, and I am amazed by how many people first began to think about their relationship with God as a result of Bible prophecy. The first Christian book many unbelievers read is a book on Bible prophecy. God often uses the prospect of the last days and the coming of Christ to awaken people to their need for Christ.
This phenomenon shouldn't surprise us, because Bible prophecy fascinates everyone—even unbelievers. People today have a sense that our world is getting near "closing time," that things are not "business as usual." Most people have the same basic questions about the future: What's going to happen to the world? Are these the last days of the world as we know it? Is Jesus really coming back? Will the human race survive in the future? Is there life after death? Are heaven and hell real?
The Bible answers all these questions about the future, and we can and should use this knowledge to share Christ with others as God opens the door of opportunity. I like the way Randall Price puts it: "What good is it to be able to understand the seven heads described in Revelation 13:1 if we don't use our own head? of what profit is it to discern the ten toes of Daniel 2:41-44 if we don't move our own two feet? And what value is it to know about the great mouth that speaks lies (Daniel 7:8; Revelation 13:5), unless we open our mouth and speak the truth? In every generation where prophecy has been properly proclaimed, the results have been a harvest of souls to the glory of God."
7. Prophecy helps Protect People from heresy
From the earliest days of Christianity, the true teachings of the church have been attacked and corrupted by false teachers. Almost every book in the New Testament contains at least one section that addresses false teaching. Some of the more notable sections are 2 Corinthians 10–12; Philippians 3; 2 Timothy 3; and Titus 1. In some cases the whole book is devoted almost entirely to combating false teaching and the corrupt lifestyle it produces (Galatians; Colossians; 1 Timothy; 2 Peter; and Jude).
In a few instances the false teaching that erupted in the early church concerned speculation about the last days and the coming of Christ. In 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul corrects a false teaching that the Day of the Lord has already come. Then in chapter 3 he commands some of the people to go back to work and quit sponging off the other believers. Apparently, they had applied the false teaching about the Tribulation period to their lives and had quit working. In 2 Peter 3 a group of scoffers took the false teaching in another direction, mocking the idea that Jesus was coming back at all.
The same kinds of speculative errors have continued throughout church history. William Miller was a date setter who gained a large following by predicting that Jesus was coming back in 1843. When Christ didn't come, he then revised the date to 1844. Since Miller's day there have been hundreds of date setters who have led throngs of people to sell their belongings and wait for Jesus in their pajamas on some mountaintop. Most recently, Harold Camping has set dates for the Rapture, in 1994 and 2011, only to be proven wrong.
The Jehovah's Witnesses often appeal to Bible prophecies to gain a listening ear. My wife told me that, when they came to our house, their opening appeal was about the Bible's predictions of future conditions of life on the earth. Mormons have a confused, corrupt, yet very appealing view of the last days and the afterlife that draws in new converts every year.
Excerpted from THE END by MARK HITCHCOCK Copyright © 2012 by Mark Hitchcock. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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