A resurgence of fascination with biblical prophecy has spawned religious debate over interpretations of the visions of Daniel, Jesus Christ’s prophecy of the end of the age shortly before His crucifixion and the apostle John’s mysterious images in the book of Revelation.
However, there are practical concerns behind these intriguing curiosities. People want to know about the future. We are living in turbulent times. Many are concerned about the state of the world, and some discerning souls are turning to the Bible—the prophetic passages in particular—for solace and insight.
A Newsweek article titled “The Way the World Ends” states: “Of all the books of the Bible, none has fired the imagination of the West more than the last, the mysterious Apocalypse [or Revelation]. The four horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Whore of Babylon, the deceitful Antichrist—these are just a few of the powerful and troubling images that Revelation injected into Western art and consciousness.
“Its prophecies have been of even greater consequence: the return of the Jews to the Holy Land, the millennial kingdom of Christ on earth, the Battle of Armageddon and the promise of a new heaven and earth have justified numerous wars and revolutions and inspired utopias and religious sects of every sort” (Kenneth Woodward, Nov. 1, 1999).
How can we understand biblical prophecy? Are there rules to the strange images and predictions? Where do we even start?
A pivotal passage
Let’s begin by looking at divine predictions given to the prophet Daniel in the sixth century before Christ.
Daniel was a young Jewish man who had been taken captive by the Babylonians. According to Daniel 2, the Babylonian ruler, King Nebuchadnezzar, had a disturbing dream and decided that it possessed a hidden message. He called his astrologers and sorcerers together and commanded that they tell him the meaning. Of course, by their own human power they couldn’t.
God, however, revealed to His servant Daniel the dream and its meaning. The Creator looks out across the expanse of time, understands what humanity will do and determines how He will intervene in human history to bring about His ultimate plan for mankind.
Daniel appears before the king and proceeds to proclaim that Nebuchadnezzar’s dream involved an image of a man. We pick up the story in verse 32. Daniel tells the king: “This image’s head was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay.
“You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.”
Daniel continues: “This is the dream. Now we will tell the interpretation of it before the king. You, O king, are a king of kings. For the God of heaven has given you a kingdom, power, strength, and glory; and wherever the children of men dwell, or the beasts of the field and the birds of the heaven, He has given them into your hand, and has made you ruler over them all—you are this head of gold.
“But after you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours; then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth. And the fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron, inasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and shatters everything; and like iron that crushes, that kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others.
“Whereas you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; yet the strength of the iron shall be in it, just as you saw the iron mixed with ceramic clay. And as the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly fragile. As you saw iron mixed with ceramic clay, they will mingle with the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay.
“And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.
“Inasmuch as you saw that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold—the great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation is sure” (verses 32-45).
God reveals the meaning
The image of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream may seem unfathomable, except that God, though Daniel, reveals the meaning. This simple prophecy supplies a major framework for many prophecies throughout Scripture. Nebuchadnezzar’s image concerns four great empires, beginning with Babylon. From our historical vantage point today the elements of the prophecy become clear.
The Babylonian Empire was followed by three other empires. First came the Persian Empire that destroyed Babylon’s rule. The Persians were, in turn, conquered by the Greeks under Alexander the Great. The Greek Empire eventually was gobbled up into the Roman Empire.
All this was recorded centuries before it came to pass. Fulfilled prophecy proves the divine inspiration of the Bible! But all of the prophecies of Daniel 2 aren’t just for the past. He foretells that the fourth empire will exist at a time when the Messiah comes to rule the earth.
Let’s go back and reread verse 44: “And in the days of these kings [the 10 kings represented by the toes of the image] the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.”
Here is a vital key to understanding end-time biblical prophecy. Before the Messiah comes to rule over God’s Kingdom on the earth, there must first be a revived fourth kingdom, a resurrected Roman Empire, involving 10 rulers.
When will the Messiah return?
Did you know that between a fourth and a third of the Bible is prophetic? Much of that information is concerned with what it calls “the end time.”
It seems that many generations have thought that they were living in the time just before the return of Christ. The Newsweek article mentioned earlier states: “In the 12th century, for example, the Crusaders saw the recapture of Jerusalem from the Muslims as a defeat of the Antichrist. Christopher Columbus set sail thinking his voyage to India would hasten the return of Christ to earth.
“For the same reason, Oliver Cromwell readmitted Jews to England after the English civil war, thinking his victory would establish the New Jerusalem on British soil. Isaac Newton wrote a book on biblical prophecy, hoping to prove that Ôthe world is governed by providence.’ In Puritan New England, America’s greatest theologian, Jonathan Edwards, studied John’s Apocalypse and calculated that the millennium of Christ’s kingdom on earth would begin in the year 2000.”
Jesus prophesied, as recorded in Matthew 24:22 Matthew 24:22And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
American King James Version×, that unless He returns to intervene, all humanity will be destroyed. This horror is precariously possible with modern nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The Messiah won’t return until many prophesied events take place first—things like world wars, disease epidemics on a global scale and a rise in natural disasters.
No one knows the exact time of Christ’s return. Jesus Himself said, “Of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.”
Jesus Christ’s focus: Be prepared
Jesus also commanded His followers to be aware of events and how they relate to prophecy. Just after saying that no one knows the day or hour of His return, He told His disciples, as recorded in Mark 13:33-37 Mark 13:33-37 33 Take you heed, watch and pray: for you know not when the time is.
34 For the Son of Man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch.
35 Watch you therefore: for you know not when the master of the house comes, at even, or at midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the morning:
36 Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping.
37 And what I say to you I say to all, Watch.
American King James Version×:
“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!”
Christ’s instructions to watch mean more than just being aware of events. His followers are to be spiritually prepared for His return. In Luke 21:34-35 Luke 21:34-35 34 And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come on you unawares.
35 For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth.
American King James Version×Jesus says:
“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.
“Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Will you be ready?
Are you being prepared for the return of Christ? Are you living your life in complete dedication to God and His ways? Is your religion a social club or a dynamic force of change in your life? The purpose of The Good News radio program and magazine is to challenge you to go to God and have Him change your life.
Why were your born? There is a big difference between grasping your future, and simply going on the way you have been. The choice is up to you. GN