I once knew a person who thought he had every detail of prophecy worked out. He had a chart to show when all the end-time prophecies would be fulfilled. He even thought he knew the year and day of Christ's return.
There was one problem.
The years and days came and went and the prophecies were not fulfilled. This person was a sincere student of the Bible. He feared God and obeyed His teachings. His mistake was not in having an interest in prophecy. It was in trying to predict the timing of events that God has not yet revealed. He failed to understand how God intends prophecy to be used by His servants.
How about you? Have you done the same?
Keep it in perspective
Prophecy has always held a fascination for people. We want to understand what lies in the future. Whenever a major world event occurs, people scurry to those who profess knowledge of its prophetic significance to try to find out what it all means. Every time a crisis erupts in the Middle East, we see an increase in traffic to our Good News Web site and that of our sister publication, World News and Prophecy. People eagerly read and download our prophecy material.
And that's fine; we want them to. But to what end? Is it to be wiser and smarter in prophecy than someone else? Is there the hope of saving oneself through access to special "secret knowledge" of these ancient prophecies? Whatever our motivation might be, we should be sure it aligns with the purpose and plan of God.
When we study Bible prophecy, we should keep in mind one fundamental principle. God alone knows exactly when and how it will all come together. When His disciples wanted to know the timing of the restoration of the Israelite kingdom, Jesus plainly said, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority" (Acts 1:7).
God alone knows when events like Christ's return will occur. Even Jesus, while in human flesh, said He did not know the day and hour (Mark 13:32).
With God in charge of the timing of the big events, our goal should be vigilance and understanding of the times and events of the world. With faith in God that a day of judgment is coming when God's Kingdom will be restored, we have other things to do. Prophecy, world events and the signs of the end of the age should be motivation to endure to the end.
Peter's charge to Church members
Near the end of his life, the apostle Peter desired that members of the Church understand some things about prophecy. He wanted them to maintain a balanced perspective that avoided all the extremes that come with the subject.
Peter knew his life was drawing to a close. For years many in the Church looked for and expected the return of Jesus Christ. But it had not occurred. Now Peter saw the need to remind people of certain basic principles. These would serve as a source of instruction after his death (2 Peter 1:12-15).
He began by encouraging them to diligently build into their lives the qualities of faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance and godliness. Brotherly kindness and love were to be hallmarks of their lives and help them abound in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:5-8).
These are the basic Christian qualities that form the character of those who seek to enter the soon-coming, everlasting Kingdom of Christ (verse 11). The Kingdom had not come in Peter's lifetime, but the fact that it would come was still a certainty in his mind that framed each day of his life.
No private interpretation of prophecy
Peter and the rest of the 12 apostles had been eyewitnesses of the power and majesty of Christ's earthly works. They saw and spoke with the resurrected Christ. All those events really happened. Their lives were changed forever by them.
The apostles connected the prophecies from the Old Testament to Jesus and understood their fulfillment. To Peter and John and the others, prophecy had been fulfilled in their lifetime. They well understood fully the messianic prophecies about Christ's first coming.
Through the decades following Christ's ascension, they had come to see that the time when the Kingdom would be restored, at Jesus Christ's second coming, was beyond their time. They would not live to see it. But this did not diminish the reality of that hope. This is what Christ's apostles and teachers wanted believers to understand. It is what we clearly see 2,000 years later.
Peter said, "We have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; 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" (verses 19-21).
A key to understanding Bible prophecy is to let the Bible interpret itself. Don't try to read into passages meanings that aren't there. Prophecy is not to be approached like a riddle requiring great mental gymnastics to solve. God's Spirit moved men to speak certain prophetic words, and God alone can interpret their meaning for us.
Vanity and self-importance can lead us to assign meanings to passages before God is ready to reveal to His servants the true understanding, as He will at some point. Amos 3:7 states, "Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets."
After a lengthy chapter in which Peter shows the folly of false teachers (2 Peter 2), he returns to the sure promises of God's revelation.
"Scoffers in the last days"
God's true teaching has always suffered attack in a world controlled by unseen evil spiritual forces. Doubt and cynicism have been directed toward the teaching of the prophets and the apostles by those pursuing their own agendas. Peter foretold that scoffers would come in the last days saying, "Where is the promise of His coming?" (2 Peter 3:3-4).
We live in an age of unbelief. We see a continual assault against faith and biblical truth. Popular books and movies call into question the divinity of Jesus. Countless theories are brought forth to discredit the accuracy of biblical stories. New discoveries of claimed "lost books" attempt to rewrite the story of the Gospels, casting doubt on revealed truth.
The ongoing debate between evolution and creationism as explanations for the origin of life keeps people arguing about a truth of fundamental importance to Christianity. Our society is designed to tear down rather than foster belief in God and the truth revealed in the gospel of the Kingdom of God. It is a reality of our daily life. Peter saw this in his day and sought to rally the faith and confidence of God's elect.
He wrote a succinct statement that summarizes the love of God for all ages: "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).
Here is the real reason to study prophecy and keep abreast of today's world in anticipation of the world to come!
God's patience with this world is remarkable and encouraging. He does not want anyone to suffer for sin and unrighteousness. Those who preach the gospel of peace know they hold the message that can turn people's lives around. The news of God's love for all, expressed through the sacrifice and life of Jesus of Nazareth, can turn despair to joy and sorrow to hope.
Such news is the reason for the dedication of the saints through history. It is the reason you hold this publication in your hands today. Behind it is a group of people who want you to hear the message of the Kingdom and turn your life around in worship of the true God.
The ultimate goal of prophecy
The prophesied events of the Bible will come to pass. A time of world trouble unlike any in past history, the time of "great tribulation," lies straight ahead of us. Christ's triumphant return is sooner than many would like to consider. And all this will catch an unsuspecting world by complete surprise (2 Peter 3:10).
Peter tells us why we should watch and understand our world. It is not to gain knowledge that swells our pride and ego. Its purpose is not to focus only on saving our physical lives. The real reason we study prophecy is to learn God's way and become motivated to live it better and share the good news.
"Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3:11-13).
We can help prepare for the coming of Christ by being involved in and supporting the efforts of preaching the gospel message, such as the one you are reading right now.
Here is the ultimate reason we study Bible prophecy—so that it might shape our thinking and eventually our character to become like God. Because we know this world is passing away and a new one is coming, we prepare today for a role in that coming Kingdom. It is real to us and drives each day of our lives with passion and zeal. It is the only goal worth sacrificing for.
For those who grasp that vision today and who pursue it diligently, there awaits a crown of righteousness that will not fade away.
Expand your mind and open your heart to the scriptures that reveal the reality of this present evil world and the coming events that will transform the world, ushering in the glorious Kingdom of God. Join us in this work and let your life become a living sacrifice for God!