God's Purpose for Prophecy

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God's Purpose for Prophecy

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Is prophecy important? Between a fourth and a third of the Bible is prophecy. Some of its longest books, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, are prophetic. Many of its other books, such as Genesis, Psalms and Paul's epistles, also contain important prophecies.

One of Jesus Christ's longest recorded discourses, found in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21, is an extensive prophecy given shortly before He was crucified. And of course, the Bible ends with the book of Revelation, a series of prophetic visions describing the period from the early Church up through Jesus Christ's return and beyond.

So it's clear that prophecy is important to God. But why? Why is prophecy important to Him? And why should it be important to us? Scripture reveals a number of key purposes for prophecy, so let's be sure we understand them!

Prophecy reveals who and what God is.

Another way to express this would be to say that prophecy reveals God's greatness and power—power such that He is able to reveal the future.

The Bible begins with a testament to God's awesome creative power: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). The verses that follow describe how He set the heavenly bodies in order, separated land from ocean, populated the planet with plants, birds and sea and land creatures—His creative acts then culminating with the first human beings, Adam and Eve.

Many other biblical passages describe God's power, glory and majesty. (To learn more, read the online Bible study aid Who Is God?) And in Isaiah 42, He connects His creative power with His ability to reveal the future long before it comes to pass:

"This is what God the Lord says—the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: '. . . I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols. See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you'" (Isaiah 42:5, Isaiah 42:8-9, New International Version, emphasis added throughout).

No one or nothing can compare to God in his might and majesty. No other can speak and bring galaxies, stars and worlds into existence! No other can create living beings from nothing! And no other can declare what will happen before it takes place!

As human beings, we are used to thinking in the three dimensions of breadth, height and depth, and so to a limited extent can grasp God's great creative ability in those dimensions by viewing the world around us. But how does prophecy fit into that?

In one sense prophecy could be viewed as God exercising His creative power in yet another dimension, that of time—foretelling the future and then bringing it to pass when, where and how He sees fit. His abilities certainly far surpass anything human beings are capable of!

Prophecy reveals that God exists and that the Bible is His revealed Word.

Throughout the centuries, men and women can and have denied the reality of God, preferring to believe that He doesn't exist. This is nothing new. In the first century the apostle Paul wrote that people "did not like to retain God in their knowledge," since accepting His existence interfered with acting out their selfish and evil desires (Romans 1:28-32).

Today, however, people elevate denial of God to an art form—particularly in their efforts to explain away scientific evidence, such as the unbelievable complexity of DNA and the fine-tuning of the universe and our planet for the existence of life. (To learn more, read the Bible study aid Life's Ultimate Question: Does God Exist?)

So how do they deal with Bible prophecy? Here, too, critics sidestep the plain evidence and offer all kinds of convoluted reasoning to explain it away. But God offers this challenge to any who would doubt Him:

"This is what the Lord says—Israel's King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come—yes, let him foretell what will come . . . Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me?" (Isaiah 44:6-8, NIV).

Indeed, history itself is a witness that God foretold many events hundreds and thousands of years before they happened, then brought them to pass exactly as He said (see "What Are Some of the Bible's Major Fulfilled Prophecies?").

God is so sure of what He foretells that He has put it in writing well ahead of time where it can be easily disproven if it doesn't come to pass. Yet time and time again, what He has written has taken place just as He foretold! (To learn more, read the online Bible study aids Is the Bible True? and You Can Understand Bible Prophecy.)

The Bible is unlike any other religious "holy book" in many respects, but one enormous difference is that the Bible alone contains hundreds of prophecies that have been fulfilled just as they were recorded years ahead of time—and with hundreds more waiting to be fulfilled.

In Ezekiel 33:33 God tells us why He revealed the future to His servants and told them to write it down: "And when this comes to pass—surely it will come—then they will know that a prophet has been among them."

Prophecy shows that God is in ultimate control.

Not only can God reveal the future well ahead of time, but He can also bring to pass what He has foretold. In Isaiah 46:9-10 He declares plainly that no one or no thing can remotely approach His power, using prophecy as an example:

"Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come" (NIV). He ends this statement saying, "My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please" (NIV).

Clearly, only God can do this.

It's conceivable that some human beings with the latest and most powerful supercomputers—or with lucky guesses!—might make some accurate predictions about the future (though we have enough difficulty just predicting the weather a few days from now!). But how could they possibly approach God's record?

The biblical prophet Daniel, who served under the rulers of Babylon and the Medo-Persian Empire, said that God "removes kings and raises up kings" and "reveals deep and secret things" (Daniel 2:21-22). Daniel had no doubts when it came to this great truth about God. As you can read in the biblical book that bears his name, Daniel was a senior royal advisor to the court of Babylon with a front-row seat to God removing, restoring and replacing kings—and even striking down a mighty empire when it came time to move on to the next great phase of Bible prophecy.

The overall lesson? God is in complete and ultimate control, raising up and striking down kings and empires according to His plan and to fulfill His purpose!

Prophecy reveals the consequences of obedience and disobedience.

A theme found again and again in Bible prophecy is that choices and actions have consequences. One of the biggest mistakes individuals or nations can make is to assume they can act as they wish without those actions eventually catching up with them.

Paul summarized this very well in Galatians 6:7: "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap."

Two long chapters of the Bible—Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28—spell this out clearly. They're commonly known to Bible students as the "blessings and curses" chapters. They're called that because they describe in considerable detail what happens when a nation chooses to obey and honor God (blessings) and what results when a nation turns its back and disobeys Him.

"Now it shall come to pass," begins Deuteronomy 28:1-2, "if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God . . ."

The chapter goes on to describe blessings of agricultural and other material abundance, good health, national respect and prestige, victory in conflict, divine protection, good weather, national wealth and more.

"But it shall come to pass," the chapter's warning begins Deuteronomy 28:15, "if you do not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you . . ."

As might be expected, the curses that follow are the opposite of the blessings just listed—agricultural and material decline, "rebuke in all that you set your hand to do," diseases, drought, military defeat, mental illness and confusion, oppression by foreigners and invaders, natural disasters and more.

"Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and gladness of heart, for the abundance of everything, therefore you shall serve your enemies," God declares (Deuteronomy 28:47-48). The warning continues with graphic and sobering details of what happens when civilization and moral standards begin to completely break down, leading to utter depravity. Leviticus 26 presents the same outcome.

Sadly, the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah failed to heed these warnings, and they stand as a stark example to nations such as the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and others who've been greatly blessed by God but now increasingly deny Him and trample His laws and Word underfoot. Their fate is likewise spelled out in prophecy if they refuse to turn from that treacherous path!

Prophecy reveals God's will—that He wants all to receive His gift of salvation.

There's no question that much of Bible prophecy is grim and at times frightening. It's a sobering subject for the reasons described above—God wants us to understand the painful consequences that will follow from choosing the wrong way and the blessings that come from obeying Him. Just as a wise parent warns his children of the pain that will result from disobedience, so does God warn us as His children.

God doesn't want any of us to suffer. In one of the Bible's great books of prophecy, Ezekiel, He says: "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 33:11).

But the prophecies of the Bible almost always end with hope and good news. This is because, as Paul told Timothy, God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4).

And Bible prophecy reveals how that wonderful truth will play out! To understand more fully, read the Bible study aids What Is Your Destiny? and The Gospel of the Kingdom, and be sure to read the article "The Next Age for Man—What It Will Be Like".

Prophecy reveals God's plan for humanity.

Bible prophecy reveals that God is working out an incredible plan here below—a plan for how He will bring us to salvation and eternal life in His divine family! Notice a few key prophetic statements from His Word that hint at the marvelous future awaiting those who surrender their lives to Him now:

"I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty" (2 Corinthians 6:18). Don't spiritualize this away—He means it literally!

"Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 John 3:2-3).

God's promise is that as His divine children, we will be like the glorified Jesus Christ!

"Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years" (Revelation 20:6).

Few realize this truth, but God's plan for us is to serve Him as priests and to reign with Jesus Christ when He establishes the Kingdom of God on earth! (To learn more, read the free online Bible study aid What Is Your Destiny?)

Prophecy should motivate us to repent and turn to God.

In Jeremiah 25:4-5 we see Jeremiah himself summarizing the message of God's prophets to His people: "The Lord has sent to you all His servants the prophets . . . They said, 'Repent now everyone of his evil way and his evil doings . . .'"

We see that another of God's purposes for prophecy is to urge humankind to repent—to turn from our own evil ways and to wholeheartedly follow God. The apostle Peter, in 2 Peter 3:9, tells us: "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (NIV).

In Jeremiah 18:7-8 God says: "The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it."

We see this in the remarkable story of the prophet Jonah, whom God sent to the Assyrian capital city of Nineveh to tell them of their judgment and impending doom for their wickedness. But Jonah detested the Ninevites for their cruelty to his people, the Israelites, and refused to go—fleeing instead in the other direction. You probably remember what happens next—God had Jonah swallowed by a great fish and three days later spewed out on land, which changed his mind. This time he went as he'd been told to.

He delivered his message, and much to his chagrin the Ninevites believed God and repented. They fasted, put on sackcloth (a sign of mourning), and even had their animals and cattle wear sackcloth and go without food and water. As a result, "God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it" (Jonah 3:10).

Sadly, despite God sending prophets to warn various peoples of impending destruction, the bloody and evil Ninevites were among the very few who did repent. Perhaps they had grown so evil that they finally realized something was deeply wrong.

The key lesson for us is that they repented and changed. Can we? Can you?

The message of every prophet of the Bible is that if you turn your life around, if you listen to God and heed His warnings and change, you can avoid the terrible times prophesied to come on our world. (To learn more about the seriousness of the times in which we live and how God wants us to respond, read "Two Seconds After: What Will You Do When Crisis Overtakes the World?".)

All prophecy is ultimately a message of hope. We have God's assurance that He is in perfect control, that He is a God of love (1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16), that His desire is for us to turn to Him in heartfelt repentance and turn our lives over to Him. If and when we do so, He promises to bless and care for us, intent on fulfilling His purpose for us.

He tells us what we must do in Isaiah 55:6-7: "Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon."

God shows us in His Word His vital purposes for prophecy. More than anything, He gives us prophecy to help us understand who and what He is and how much we need Him.

He's ready, willing and able to answer us when we call out to Him. Now He's waiting for you to take that step!


[Read the articles What Are Some of the Bible's Major Fulfilled Prophecies? and How Are We to Prepare for Momentous End-Time Events?]