The Importance of Prophecy
Definition of a Prophet
Prophets were men raised up of God, especially in time of backsliding and apostasy, to call Israel back to God. Prophets were primarily preachers and statesmen who spoke on behalf of God. They gave a revelation from God that included both intellectual content and emotional persuasion, with a view of convicting the heart of Israel. Often the messages included offers of hope and encouragement. The message of the prophets had a twofold thrust. Sometimes they spoke to a local circumstance. At other times their message had also long-range implications (Isa. 7:1-11; Joel 2:28-32). Eventually, the message of the prophets became books in the Bible, so we can now study their words and attempt to determine what they were saying about the future.
The message of the prophets in the Old Testament generally dealt with Israel, the covenant people of God. The messages dealt primarily with Israel’s sin and failure and warned that God was going to judge them accordingly. Also, their message predicted a glorious future for Israel after God punished them.
Principles of Prophecy
As we see how God has fulfilled his Word in the past, it helps us place greater confidence in the promises of God for today. Many personal lessons can be applied to our lives from prophecy, for all Scripture, whether prophetic or historical, contains principles that can be applied to the lives of believers in every age.
The fact that God will keep his word is an undisputed fact to the serious student of prophecy. Many contemporary prophets and prophetesses are often wrong in their predictions. They could never be compared to the Old Testament prophets, who could never be wrong. The divinely ordained punishment of the false prophet was death by stoning (Deut. 18:20). With that in mind, to speak on behalf of God was a solemn responsibility.
God Kept His Promises
Today, we can pass through the ruins of cities God promised to destroy, or live in cities God promised to restore. Much prophecy remains to be fulfilled, but the fact that much has been fulfilled gives us great confidence. The Word of God will continue to be honored by the God of his word.
We must study prophecy because it is included in “all Scripture” that God inspired and revealed to us (2 Tim. 3:16; Deut. 28:29; Heb. 1:1). Some have refused to study prophecy because it is difficult or because Christians disagree over various interpretations in the Book of Revelation. But if God thought it was important to give prophecy to us, then we are obligated to study it thoroughly (2 Tim. 2:15). All Scripture, including prophecy, will teach us the nature and personality of God. Those who have never studied the Book of Revelation cannot fully comprehend what it means that God is still on the throne in the midst of our personal trials.
A study of Daniel reminds us that God is dealing sovereignly with the nations and great civilizations of the world. To ignore such a large percent of the Bible because it is difficult to understand, is to voluntarily reject much of what God has revealed to us about himself and his plan for our lives.
Bible doctrine was never taught by the apostles and prophets without personal application. Sometimes, these applications referred to the affairs of the nation, but they also applied to people. Hope, comfort, peace, soulwinning, holy living, and other areas of interest are taught in prophetic Scriptures.
Dangers of Interpreting Prophecy
As important as the study of Bible prophecy is, the student of the Scriptures must be cautious not to fall into certain common traps. Some have gone off on a tangent by always seeking new truth. Others have become proud or exploitative with their newfound knowledge of prophetic truth. Others who want to grow in their understanding of prophecy have a tendency to speak on areas where the Bible is silent.
Some Bible scholars have made the mistake of fixing dates and identifying the Antichrist, which have all been proven wrong. Sometimes minor differences of opinion in this area of Bible prophecy have become a major source of irritation, leading to breaks in Christian fellowship. An additional danger of prophetic studies is that some are so consumed with future events that they exclude the central focus of Scripture, Christ. The divinely inspired title of the final book of the New Testament, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:1), is a good guideline to all prophecy; ultimately it concerns him.
Beyond these dangers, there are other reasons why people end up with wrong views of prophecy. We need to make sure our motives and presuppositions are correct in prophecy. Sometimes, people have been wrong in their study of prophecy because they do not have all the data. The apostle Paul observed, “For we know in part, and we prophecy in part” (1 Cor. 13:9). Sometimes people have been mistaken because they only study prophecy to prove a point, which leads to pulling verses out of context to prove a theory rather than studying the context to find the truth. The presence of sin in the life of the student will hinder the study of the prophetic Scriptures, as it hinders the study of every part of the Bible.