Welcome to the third study in the “Bible Prophecy and You” series. You may have wondered: Why prophecy? What is its purpose? What are the benefits? That’s what this study is about.
We’re all curious about the future and what’s in store for us personally. And our loving Creator doesn’t want His people to be in the dark and worried with fear of the unknown. So He inspired the Bible to be a guidebook and map for our life’s journeys.
Bible prophecy does indeed satisfy much of our curiosity about the future, but God has greater purposes for it than just that. These are wonderful spiritual purposes!
In this study, you’ll learn God’s purposes for giving us prophetic revelations about both the future of the world and your future personally!
Why is Bible prophecy important? Why did God reveal so much about the future through His prophets? What are God’s reasons for wanting us to understand the prophecies?
A reader in Texas says this of her experiences learning about prophecy:
“When I began to understand the Bible and Bible prophecy, I thought wow—so many of my big questions are being answered!
“It was so comforting and inspiring to learn God’s long-range plan for mankind. What a blessing that God lets us know in advance what to expect and how we can be prepared. What I had been taught in another church left me somewhat confused and fearful. Now the more I understand what the Bible teaches about the past, present and future, the more peace I feel.
“More and more I could see that God is in control, He can protect us from anything, He has a time for everything, and He knows what’s best for each of us. Now that I know the great examples of faith in Bible history and God’s promises and plan for the future, I have courage, peace and confidence that God is working out His will in my life.”
God’s prophets did much more than pass along predictions
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). Therefore all Bible prophecies came from God. God’s prophets were merely the messengers who spoke and wrote down the revelations from God. Some prophecies apply to nations, some to individuals and some to both. Many prophecies are conditional, especially those that apply to individuals, as we will see.
People mistakenly assume that the prophets were only predicting. No, they had a dual role. God sent them to predict or foretell the future and to preach (see, for example, Jonah 3:2-4). And what did they preach? They preached that people should repent of their sins and turn to God—“to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life” (Ezekiel 3:18).
God will bless and save all who repent of their sinful ways and turn to a life of obeying and serving Him. You see, God’s prophets were sent to motivate people with a “carrot and stick” message. Prophecies included both warnings about punishments and promises of rewards.
In Deuteronomy 11:26-28, we read a concise summary of the kind of message God’s prophets were to preach: “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God . . . and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God.”
Let’s now examine some of God’s main purposes for giving us His prophecies.
Is fulfilled prophecy a proof of God?
“Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure [that is, whatever I please],’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man who executes My counsel, from a far country. Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it” (Isaiah 46:9-11).
Notice again, God said: “I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning . . . Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass.” As we’ll see in studies 5 and 6 in this series, we have plenty of proof of the supreme power of God. His many, many prophecies always come to pass exactly as He foretold because He makes them happen!
Is fulfilled prophecy a proof of the Bible?
“Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21).
At times, God’s prophets just wrote down what they heard God say to them. At other times, they “spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” Every single biblical prophecy of a past event has been fulfilled perfectly, and we will examine some of them in future lessons. As future prophesied events happen, we will have even more proof of the divine inspiration of the Bible.
Does knowledge of prophecy help us to interpret world news and events?
“Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near—at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch.
“Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” (Mark 13:28-37).
Yes, prophecy enables us to intelligently “watch” with understanding. Because Bible prophecy is accurate and reliable, it gives us a foundational worldview and framework by which we can analyze the news. By it, we are able to sort out what has long-range significance from the flood of news that does not. Jesus told His disciples, “Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see” (Luke 10:23-24).
Does advance knowledge prepare us so we will be calm and courageous when hardships come?
“These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble . . . These things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them. And these things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you” (John 16:1; John 16:4).
“When the time [of trials] comes,” Christ does not want us to “stumble”—to be shocked, to panic or to fall away. This is a major reason our loving God “reveals His secret to His servants” (Amos 3:7). When God’s prophecies come to pass exactly as He foretold, that strengthens our faith to trust Him for care and protection.
Does God give people understanding and warnings before holding them accountable?
“And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:47-48).
God is completely fair and merciful. He holds people accountable for what they know, being willing to overlook their “times of ignorance” (Acts 17:30). God will not finally judge anyone without first teaching and warning about the dire consequences of sin as well as revealing the wonderful results of living His way (see also James 4:17 and John 9:41).
What primary commission did Jesus give to His disciples—to His Church from that time forward?
“He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation’” (Mark 16:15, New International Version).
The “gospel” means good news because it is primarily about Jesus Christ’s return to establish the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14). But the message also includes a “witness” or warning about the end-time trials leading up to Christ’s return (see Matthew 24:14). As John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ’s first coming (see Matthew 3:1-3; Luke 3:2-6), this preaching of the gospel prepares the way for Christ’s second coming.
Christ’s commission to His Church can be compared to the duty given a “watchman.” What does that mean?
“Again the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Son of man, speak to the children of your people, and say to them: “When I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from their territory and make him their watchman, when he sees the sword coming upon the land, if he blows the trumpet and warns the people, then whoever hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, if the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be on his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet, but did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But he who takes warning will save his life.
“‘“But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.”
“‘So you, son of man: I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me . . . Say to them: “As I live,” says the Lord God, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?”’” (Ezekiel 33:1-7; Ezekiel 33:11).
A watchman was to sound a warning whenever he saw danger approaching. Today, God’s Church serves in the role of spiritual “watchman.” This partly explains why prophecy is so important and why God wants His Church to teach and preach His prophecies. God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Read Jonah chapters 3 and 4 and see what spiritual lessons you can learn. Because the basic facts of a story like this are turned into a children’s story, people often neglect to read it seriously. This is a good example of a conditional prophecy (see Jeremiah 18:7-10). Jonah told the people of Nineveh that if they didn’t repent of their sins within 40 days, God would destroy the city.
This is a story with a happy ending. The Ninevites did repent, and God spared the city for many years to come. In the same story, you’ll see how Jonah had to learn some lessons the hard way.
Write down the main lesson God was teaching the people of Nineveh and the main lesson He was teaching Jonah. What are the main lessons He is teaching you through this prophecy?