Examining Prophecy: What is Bible Prophecy?

Bible prophecy; to some it’s an uncomfortable and confusing topic that only brings doom and gloom. To others it’s one of many claims by Christians that herald the “end of the world” often seen through news headlines poking fun at the idea, but what is Bible prophecy really? What does the Bible really say on the subject? Prophecy makes up around 1/3 of the Bible so for the Christian, it’s an important area to gain at least a basic understanding in not just for the times we live in but to have a better knowledge of what the Bible is talking about. In my opinion and from what I’ve heard from other Christians as well, not a lot of churches touch on the subject of prophecy. This could be either because it’s a relatively “difficult” subject to get into for some or they don’t want to “scare” their congregation. My goal with this new “series” – Examining Prophecy – is to take a look at some key prophecies in the Bible, their significance, their relation to us in this current time, and explain it all in a way that makes sense using historical facts, archaeological discoveries, technological advancements, etc.

I also want to dispel some preconceived ideas regarding Bible prophecy. For the most part many people don’t actually have a good grasp of what’s written in the Bible. I don’t say this to shame or insult anyone but rather to state an already known fact. Even in the church, not a lot of Christians study the bible in their personal time let alone non-Christians. Obviously there are exceptions to this and there are individuals (both Christian and non-Christian) who take time to study the bible out. The problem this brings though is that people who aren’t familiar with the bible take their ideas (which for the most part aren’t biblical), impose those views on the Bible without actually understanding what it says or looking into it themselves and then they make false claims about it in which other people who also don’t understand the Bible then take those claims as truth. Then these people take those ideas they got from others and use it as a lens to view the bible and the cycle of misinformation repeats itself. Part of what I want to do is dispel these ideas and show what the Bible actually says.

Definition of Prophecy

First we need to understand what prophecy is. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines prophecy as 3 things:

  1. “an inspired utterance of a prophet”
  2. “the function or vocation of a prophet; specifically the inspired declaration of divine will and purpose”
  3. “a prediction of something to come”

Also, what is a prophet?

  1. “one who utters divinely inspired revelations…”
  2. “one gifted with more than ordinary spiritual and moral insight…”
  3. “one who foretells future events”

From these definitions we can see that a prophecy is a foretelling of future events usually attributed to a supernatural or divine source (i.e. God). In the Bible, we mainly see this when prophets are in direct communication with God. God reveals his plans and purposes to his prophets and then that is delivered from the prophet to the intended recipient(s) of the message. However, biblically speaking, prophecy isn’t ONLY the revealing of future events by a prophet. There is also the gift of prophesy which some people are given (by God) and is used in specific situations to speak into someone’s life (Romans 12:6). This gift is meant to edify and build up believers in the church and not necessarily used as a means to communicate future events. However, I will be focusing on the former.

So how can we judge if something is indeed prophetic in nature? How can we test these prophecies? From the above definitions, we can set up a criteria which we can use going forward to analyze prophecy in the Bible. Note that this is solely based on the definitions of “prophecy” and “prophet” I presented earlier and is from my understanding of these definitions in light of what the Bible also says. There are no true defined rules for analyzing prophecy and this shouldn’t be seen as the only way to do so.

  1. Foretelling of future events – the prophecy would have had to be written before the event took or takes place
  2. Divinely inspired – the original source of the prophecy is divine (from God in this case) and as such the “author” of the prophecy (the one who wrote it) can’t have knowledge of the event at the time it was written (it’s beyond human comprehension in terms of how it can be fulfilled, for example due to the technology of the time)
  3. Evidence for the fulfillment – Prophecies that people claim to have been fulfilled should have historical basis; we should be able to use history, archaeology, science and other methods to see if what is said to have been fulfilled truly was.

And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously…” (Deuteronomy 18:21-22)

What’s the purpose of Prophecy?

“For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Revelation 19:10)

Personally, I enjoy studying prophecy; learning about the deeper meaning, context, and how it fits in the general narrative of the Bible and the world outside. However this isn’t all it’s about. Prophecy and everything else in the Bible is meant to lead the reader to one thing, one person, and that is Jesus. Prophecy isn’t to scare, but to prepare the believer and give hope of the expectation of what’s to come. For those who don’t believe, it’s meant to show that this indeed comes from a divine, supernatural source beyond that of man, “And now I have told you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe.” (John 14:29)

The 7 Churches of Revelation (2)

From the secular viewpoint, prophecy isn’t real. If you don’t belief in God or the supernatural, there’s no room for prophecy as well. Often times when I attempt to use prophecy as a means of justifying the Bible’s supernatural origins, I’m told that Nostradamus wrote some prophecies, or that prophecy is too vague to begin with so it will be fulfilled eventually, or that other religions also have their own prophecies so how is Bible prophecy unique? Although these are legitimate assertions, they do have problems in light of what the Bible says.

Although I don’t have all the answers, what I can offer is historical insight into these prophecies and how they fit into our world today. Through the recent advancements in technology and current events we have a better context we can use to view Bible prophecy. My goal for this series is to help other Christians better understand Bible prophecy and what it means for us, break down Bible prophecy for the skeptics, and show through different findings that it would be very difficult or impossible for a normal human being to have written many prophetic texts with their own knowledge. At the end of the day, what I present to you is a mix of what I’ve learned through research and how I interpret the text. I recommend you use what I’ve presented as a starting point for your research as well.

“Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21)

 

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