Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Introduction to Eschatology: What Prophecy Is

Warning: the point of this brief series isn't to tell you what's going to happen--how Biblical prophecies are going to play out. In fact, that's where we begin: the goal of Biblical prophecy is not simply to be a more accurate version of newspaper horoscopes. Prophecy has little predictive force from that standpoint. Rather, the goal of prophecy is to glorify God--and secondarily to encourage his people to believe. Let's begin by looking at those two in order.

Glorifying God. Prophecy is a way that God verifies his credentials. After all, he's omniscient, so he must be prescient as well. You'll find this idea a lot in the Old Testament prophets, but the clearest statement is probably in Isaiah.

41:22-23 "Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear."


41:26 "Who told of this from the beginning, so we could know, or beforehand, so we could say, 'He was right'? No one told of this, no one foretold it, no one heard any words from you."

This is echoed in Rev 19:10--At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." The spirit or essence of prophecy is witnessing to Jesus.

However, modern prophecy experts tend to focus on themselves and how clever they are to have figured out all the items on their amazing charts. But again, prediction as such isn't the goal. We glorify God when we realize that he knew all along what would happen, and we are comforted by his knowledge and power: God is in control.

Encouraging belief. This is the second goal. In John 14:29, Jesus said, "I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe." Note that this had nothing to do with satisfying curiosity, which apparently has little or no importance to God. But the modern approach to prophecy assumes that satisfying curiosity is a big concern, perhaps the biggest concern.

I'll revisit this verse next time to explore why prophecy has little or no predictive power in the modern sense of forewarning.

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