My friend made a statement that shocked me.
He declared he had zero interest in unfulfilled prophecy. Yet, he self-identified as a Christian of many years who believed the Bible.
Granted, there are a lot of so-called prophecies “out there” that are absolute nonsense, but we will focus on unfulfilled prophecies in the Bible. I also acknowledge that some well-meaning people distort and misuse prophetic texts from the Bible, but we are not dealing with that here.
Asked the reasons for his position, my friend told me he had listened to people who wanted to talk about nothing else— mapping out the future in minuscule detail based on their understanding of the Bible. He wondered why these people did not seem to explore such practices as prayer, evangelism, or serving the poor. To him, the focus on unfulfilled prophecy looked like a pointless obsession, so he concluded it was irrelevant.
He also had listened to heated debates among sincere Christians. Some contended that the Return of Christ would be pre-Millennial, others post-Millennial, and others a-Millennial. Some argued there was no Rapture, while others argued just as vehemently there was. Even then, they disagreed on whether it was pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, post-tribulation, pre-wrath, and so on.
He grinned as he repeated the witticism,
“I suppose I’m a pan-Millennialist. I believe it will all pan out in the end.”
So, is my friend right? Is there any reason or benefit to study unfulfilled prophecy in the Bible?
You’ve heard the saying, “Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.” It’s a warning that when you get rid of unwanted elements (i.e., dirty water), ensure you don’t throw out the essentials (i.e., the baby).
I can understand my friend’s desire to avoid the confusion and distaste left by argumentative people. But dismissing unfulfilled biblical prophecy altogether was “throwing out the baby.”
My response was to ask whether he believed that Jesus Christ would return to earth physically sometime in the future.
He acknowledged that he believed that but was no longer interested in the finer details that some saw as crucial.
Fair enough, it looked like the “baby hadn’t been thrown out” after all— he still believed in the future physical Return to earth of the Lord Jesus.
To avoid quibbles about the meaning of “prophecy,” our discussion will focus on unfulfilled or predictive prophecy. Some may use the word “eschatology.” In this context, eschaton is the Greek word for “last,”— so eschatology is the study of last times or last things.
Here are two reasons why biblical prophecy is essential.
First, there is a lot of unfulfilled prophecy in the Bible. Some have been fulfilled since it was written or declared – but much remains unfulfilled. It is estimated that about one-quarter to one-third of the Bible is prophecy. That’s a lot.
Based on sheer volume, prophecy is important.
Second, there have been significant godly people throughout biblical history who were prophets. These people include:
Their service was vital to God and his people.
Unfulfilled or predictive prophecies also have practical benefits.
For instance, in John 14, Jesus told his disciples that he would be going away and that he would be returning. These prophetic statements referred to his Ascension into Heaven after his Crucifixion and Resurrection, followed by his Return. In this context, he states:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled …” (14:1);
“Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (14:27b).
The disciples were distressed at the Lord’s impending departure. Imagine what would have happened if he had not told them what would take place. He told them of the future to assure them they were not being abandoned— he was coming back for them. Jesus purposed to give the disciples peace and hope in the present.
We could multiply examples to demonstrate the present practical purposes of unfulfilled prophecy. Here is what Bible scholar A. Berkeley Mickelsen writes:
Every item of predictive prophecy was given to a particular historical people to awaken and stir them to righteousness by revealing in part what God will do in the future. Any disclosure of the future was given to influence present action. … The future aspect of prophecy was intended to instruct, to reprove, to encourage, to call people to repentance.
This is confirmed by another scholar, J. Robertson McQuilkin:
A great deal of predictive prophecy of Scripture is yet unfulfilled. In the time before a prophecy comes to pass, it is designed to affect present thought and conduct, not to satisfy curiosity concerning the future.
Here is a sampling of some more “predictive prophecy” and the intended influence upon our present thoughts and actions.
1. Paul’s eschatological teaching in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 ends with this purpose for influencing present action (4:18):
therefore encourage each other with these words [in the present].
2. Peter’s eschatological statement, “The end of all things is near,” is immediately followed by this present practical impact (1 Peter 4:7):
Therefore be clear-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray [in the present].
3. John writes of the future coming of the Lord with this goal in our present (1 John 3:1-3):
Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself [in the present].
Take some time to look at other prophetic statements about future events. Here are two to get you started:
In each of these texts, what is revealed about the future, and what is the intended impact for present thought and conduct? (Hint: sometimes a “therefore” helps.)
Let me know what you find (contact me here).
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