When I was a senior in high school I saw a book on my dad’s bookshelf titled, The Millennium. I asked him what it was about and he said, “You’re too young to understand. Maybe someday we can talk about it.” It didn’t take long to realize my dad’s response was code for, “I don’t have a clue what it’s about and I sure can’t explain it.”
I remember hearing other adults speak about future things. There were some common themes: It’s too hard to understand. It’s not that important. It doesn’t really matter. I guess we’ll find out in the end.
Contrast those statements with the words spoken to Daniel regarding the meaning and understanding of the prophecies he had proclaimed, “…many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase.” When Daniel pressed for more answers, he was told, “…none of the wicked will understand, but those who have insight will understand” (Daniel 12:4,10). God wants us to understand. Even in The Revelation, admonitions are given to listen carefully and pay attention to what is being said of the future (Revelation 1:3, 22:7).
Those words to Daniel and John are compelling to me. Is God saying that as time progresses these prophecies will become clearer and clearer, and those who spend time studying these prophecies will increase in understanding? It seems that is a major part of what God is conveying to Daniel, and I have found it to be true in my own life. Every time I study a prophetic passage, I make new and clearer discoveries.
There are some common dangers of delving into the study of the future. It can merely become an academic adventure, or it can become an obsession to salve our curiosity. Some can watch the news and see the end of the world just around the corner from every world event.
Yet there are a number of very good values in studying what the Bible teaches about future things. It helps us look at the world more through God’s eyes and less like the rest of the world. It helps us see the progression of evil before it happens. It reminds us that there is a spiritual battle going on in this world, and we are reminded that in the end, God wins! Believers win! Sin and its impact on us and the rest of the world will be done away with. It gives us hope with pictures of no pain, no suffering, no tears. God has a plan and it is ultimately for good (Revelation 21:4).
Near the end of my years in seminary I learned another good reason for understanding prophecy. My wife and I were among four couples who would have a professor and his wife over for dinner and get to know them while picking their brains for crumbs of wisdom that might impact our own lives. One of those professors we invited was the president of the seminary, Dr. John F. Walvoord, who has long been recognized for his study and writing in the field of prophecy.
One of our friends asked Dr. Walvoord, “Why have you devoted so much of your life studying and writing about prophecy?” The sage among us paused and then responded with words very close to these, “Well, I’ve lived and learned enough at this point in my life to recognize that prophecy is often the crucial turning point for many students of Scripture. It can be the place where many begin to compromise the way they interpret the whole Bible.”
That was a totally unexpected answer. As we pressed for clarity, he told us story after story of students, professors, theologians and pastors who once had a solid way of interpreting the meaning of the biblical texts but then went away from that when it came to prophecy. They might say prophecy should be interpreted in a different way than other Bible literature. It’s all allegorical or figurative, generalized statements that don’t really mean what they say. They couldn’t believe those kinds of things could happen today. It didn’t fit their preconceived ideas or a predetermined theology.
Then he related how these once solid students of Scripture eventually began to compromise how they interpreted other parts of Scripture. And over time they either abandoned the faith altogether or compromised their theology so it would fit what they wanted the Scriptures to say. Personal beliefs and theological presuppositions became the source of authoritative truth for them, rather than the Scriptures themselves. But how we handle prophetic literature in the Bible will eventually dictate how we interpret all of Scripture.
This series is a glimpse into my study of prophecy over the last 40+ years. I will make no claims that I have it all figured out. I will do my best to let the Scriptures be the authoritative source of truth. Not my theology. Not my preconceived ideas. Not my idea of what seems plausible. Not my fears of what others will think. I hope you will be challenged, as I have, to be one who understands more and more, to listen carefully and studiously, and pay attention so we can respond appropriately to what God is doing progressively in His overall plan.