Prophecy has been something that has captivated mankind for centuries. It’s a mystery that is found in the lore of civilizations around the world, often times as related to a religion (though not always). Prophecy, as it’s typically understood, can be categorized as a predictive forecast of an event or series thereof. That, then, begs the question What makes bible prophecy different? It’s a good question and also one that I could write a book on, but for the sake of time (yours and mine) I will try to summarize as much as possible.
What Makes Bible Prophecy Different?
There are a few ways that I could answer this but I will go with three.
- Bible prophecy is both predictive and exhorting– When we hear the word prophecy we typically think of a prediction, usually in the context of a great struggle or crisis. While this is one form of biblical prophecy it’s not the only one. It is common in the Old Testament books of the prophets, as well as in the New Testament epistles to find examples of God speaking through His servants a word of encouragement or correction rather than condemnation. A keen example would be that of Solomon at the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem where he tells the people that later generations would turn away from God (i.e. predicting the event) but that God would forgive them if they humble themselves, pray, and turn from their evil ways (exhortation to repent)(2 Chronicles 7:14).
- Bible prophecy is poly-applicable– Okay, I kind of knew this for years, but I don’t feel like it really hit me until last summer. When we read prophecies in the Bible it’s applicable to the individual as well as the collective in a number of ways.
First, there is a direct, or literal, application. Namely, the prophecy is given to a particular person or group of people for a particular reason at a particular time. Most of us who read the bible read prophecies that way and move on to the next verse.
Second, there is a universal, or personal, application. We see this in the 2 Chronicles verse above. While that warning and exhortation are for the Jewish people at the time of the dedication of the first Temple it has an implied impact on us as well. It prophesies about the nature of God that if we too humble ourselves and repent of our own
presumptuous sins, that we will be forgiven by our Father who loves us.
Finally, there are at times a non-linear application. When Jesus is speaking of the End Times He mentions something about the abomination that causes desolation. That event, for those who have been following along, occurred during the Seleucid rule of Judea when Antiochus IV Epiphanes established a pagan alter and sacrifice (the abomination) in the Temple (desecrating it). But when Jesus says that, he’s referring to a future event, meaning that the abomination that causes desolation was foreshadowing an event to come at a later time.
Types of Predictive Prophecy
Throughout the bible we find prophecies. Most surround the coming Messiah (i.e. Jesus). Some involve imminent warnings of the consequences of the sins of the nation. Still others speak of the End Times (the Last Days, or Latter Days).
The majority of bible prophecy revolves around the Messiah; his promised coming, his promised victory, and his promised return. In each of these prophecies we see Jesus, sometimes as a portrait and sometimes as a silhouette.
The bible is also full of warnings to people and nations. Amos 3:6-7 reads:
“Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done [or allowed] it? For the Lord does nothing without revealing His secret to His servants the prophets.” (Notation added)
We see this when Jonah warns Ninevah, when Noah builds the ark and preaches righteousness, and when Jesus speaks through John to the churches in Revelation 1-3.
The End Times
Finally are the most cryptic (and some would argue the most interesting) prophecies in the bible: those relating to the End Times. We find some of these prophecies in the Book of Daniel, in the Book of Revelation, as well as many other books. These prophecies are the hardest to interpret because most haven’t happened yet.
Over the next few months I’m going to cover these things in much more depth, and hope that you join me for the journey. Until next time.