Welcome to the second study in this series on “Bible Prophecy and You.” The closer we get to the actual end of this age, meaning the end of man’s rule of the world under Satan’s influence, the more it seems we see would-be prophets making their own predictions about end-time events—about Armageddon, the second coming of Christ or “the end of the world”!
Religious authors make lots of money from books (“apocalyterature”), movies and websites with a focus on the “end of days.” Incidentally, the Bible assures us that the human race will not be completely destroyed. That is comforting since many doomsday prophets predict that we will be wiped out by nuclear war, by global warming or cooling, by an asteroid or comet, or by an attack from extraterrestrial aliens!
Instead of studying God’s revelation, the Bible, many people instead focus on nonbiblical and antibiblical predictions. These include interpretations from astrology, from psychics like Nostradamus or Edgar Cayce, from Egyptian pyramids or Mayan calendars, from paranormal visions, from conspiracy theorists or from demonic mediums and mystics. In recent years predictions based on “blood moons” have caused excitement and sold millions of books, but these have not panned out. What should we learn from this?
Most long-range predictions are no better than wild speculation. But our Creator God does want us to know many things about the future! If we’re willing to study and obey His Word, He’ll open our eyes to understand His perfect prophecies. This series of lessons aims to give you a foundation for understanding biblical prophecy.
The deluge of false predictions—how to separate truth from counterfeits
There is a real Satan the devil who is determined to keep people from understanding God’s truth about the future. This enemy’s main method is to produce a mind-boggling smoke screen of false teachings and predictions—in hopes that people will never find the truth in all the confusion.
A reader in Texas tells this story:
“I came from a Protestant background and had read the Bible my whole life. But years ago, a friend told me that if I wanted to understand the Bible, I would have to ask God to open my eyes to His truth. This sounded so odd to me, but nonetheless, I did ask God to open my eyes to His truth. Then it was amazing. Things I had read over my whole life and assumed I understood took on a whole different meaning.
“All during the time I was searching, I was asking God every day to continue to open my eyes to His truth and wisdom, and He was. I also saw how often the Bible warns about religious deception and how Satan deceives the whole world.
“Without realizing it at the time, I was beginning to put on the armor of God described in Ephesians 6 to protect me from Satan’s deceptions. God was letting me know when I was hearing and seeing something that was not His truth. I also soon realized I needed God’s Spirit to help me separate truth from lies and to not be conformed to this world. It is a constant battle, and we need God to win.”
Listen to God’s prophecies and “beware of false prophets”
When the disciples of Jesus Christ asked Him about “the end of the age,” He gave an amazing detailed prophecy of what to expect in the future leading up to the end. Because they were on the Mount of Olives or Mt. Olivet overlooking Jerusalem at the time, this prophecy (recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21) is called the “Olivet Prophecy.”
In this prophecy, Jesus made it clear what His followers must do before “the end.” He said, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness” (Matthew 24:14, emphasis added throughout). God has commissioned His Church to tell of the wonderful future that is ultimately coming—as well as the terrible events that will usher in that time. His people are to warn the world of the dire consequences of sin and tell of the wonderful results of obedience to God.
However, Jesus also warned, “Beware of false prophets” (Matthew 7:15). A true prophet did not fabricate any pronouncement—he was a messenger for God’s revelations. In fact, if any prediction “does not happen or come to pass,” that proves the individual is not God’s prophet (Deuteronomy 18:21-22).
There have always been plenty of self-appointed “prophets.” But God said: “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran. I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied” (Jeremiah 23:21). Would God say the same thing today regarding many people who claim to speak for Him in predicting the future?
In this study you will learn how you can distinguish between false ministers and God’s true ministers. And you will see how extremely cautious we need to be when we hear someone making predictions about the future!
What was Paul’s warning about false religious leaders?
“But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it! . . .
“For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works” (2 Corinthians 11:3-4; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
Satan the devil “deceives the whole world” (Revelation 12:9). He never lets up in his efforts to use false ministers and others to mislead people. Outwardly they usually seem spiritual, but their messages are counterfeits—mixtures of truth and error. As Paul said, what they preach is actually “another Jesus” and “a different gospel.” The Bible warns about false messages and false messengers repeatedly (to learn more, request or download our free study guide Is There Really a Devil?)
In Jesus’ Olivet Prophecy, what was His first warning to His disciples?
“Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?’” (Matthew 23:3).
“And Jesus answering said to them, ‘Take heed that no one may lead you astray, for many shall come in my name, saying [that] I am the Christ, and they shall lead many astray’” (Matthew 23:4-5, Young’s Literal Translation).
“And Jesus answering them began to say, ‘Take heed lest any one may lead you astray, for many shall come in my name, saying [that] I am (he), and many they shall lead astray’” (Mark 13:5-6, YLT).
Jesus meant for us to beware of the many churches and religious leaders claiming to represent Him, teaching that He is the Christ or Messiah but not teaching the Bible accurately. Some are insincere and have wrong motives. Others are sincere but sincerely wrong! Some will even “show great [miraculous] signs and wonders to deceive” (Matthew 24:24). It will be easy to be misled and confused if we aren’t continually turning to the Bible to see what is true and what is false!
What additional warning did Jesus leave His disciples?
“Then, as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and donations, He said, ‘These things which you see—the days will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down.’
“And they questioned him, saying, ‘Teacher, when, then, shall these things be? and what is the sign when these things may be about to happen?’ And he said, ‘See [that] ye may not be led astray, for many shall come in my name, saying [that] I am (he), and the time hath come nigh [or near]; go not on then after them’” (Luke 21:5-8, YLT).
In the end time, many religious leaders (and nonreligious people) would be saying that we are in the end time! That can have two bad consequences: First, since that part of their warning message is true, it influences people to believe the rest of their message is true. Second, with all the counterfeit messages around, it makes it much harder for people to find the truth and discern God’s true messengers!
Regarding the end time, what is the most common question people want answered?
“Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?” (Mark 13:4).
“When will these things be?” Naturally we all are curious about when Christ will return and when other prophesied events will take place. Even after Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples were still asking when (Acts 1:6). Because of this curiosity, many preachers and writers make lots of money by predicting when Christ will come or when “the world will end.”
But can anyone figure out exactly when Christ will return?
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (Matthew 24:36).
“And He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority’” (Acts 1:7).
No, we can’t know the exact time! Jesus told His disciples that the time is up to God the Father. But Jesus did say that we should “watch” for signs that will indicate how far along we are in the prophesied sequence of events and where events are taking us (Matthew 24:32-44).
How can you recognize a false minister even when some of his or her predictions turn out to be true?
“And when they say to you, ‘Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:19-20).
“If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’—which you have not known—’and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
“You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall put away the evil from your midst” (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).
If a false minister is not correctly teaching all of God’s Word, there is “no light” in him. If he is not teaching obedience to God’s commandments, he was not sent by God. Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 when He said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” (Luke 4:4). Likewise, true ministers of God will be striving to teach every word of God.
What is much more important than knowing when Christ will return?
“Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:42-44).
“Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants.
“But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Luke 12:35-40).
We must be ready spiritually at all times. Even if you knew exactly when Christ would return, you still would not know when you will die. That can occur at any time. So God wants us to stay ready and prepared by staying close to Him—loving, obeying and serving Him every day.
In other studies, you will learn more about major end-time events prophesied in the Bible and about what the true gospel is, what the Kingdom of God is and how you can prepare for eternal life in that Kingdom.
By the time Paul wrote his second letter to the Church members in Corinth, the influence of false teachers was so bad that a large portion of his letter (2 Corinthians 10:1-18; 2 Corinthians 11:1-33; 2 Corinthians 12:1-21; 2 Corinthians 13:1-10) was devoted to helping the members to see the many things that were wrong with the attitudes and actions of those teachers and the errors in their teachings.
Read 2 Corinthians 11:2-15 and jot down two lists for comparison—the characteristics of the false teachers versus the characteristics of Paul. Or if you like to mark notes in your printed Bible, you might instead make little markings in the margins to call attention to the characteristics that Paul is emphasizing. This exercise will help you to be better prepared to know what to accept and what to reject when you hear or read something that is supposedly a biblical teaching.