Why Bible Prophecy Is Important
- Bible prophecy is a major theme in the Bible.
In Bible study there is a principle referred to as “The Law of Proportion.” This law simply says that you can tell the importance of a certain subject in Scripture by how much space is devoted to it. Applying this principle to prophecy, we discover that more than one-fourth of the Bible is predictive prophecy.
In the Old Testament there are over eighteen hundred references to the return of Christ. Of the 260 chapters in the New Testament, there are more than three hundred references to the Lord’s return — one out of every thirty verses. Twenty-three of the twenty-seven New Testament books give prominence to this subject. For every prophecy in Scripture concerning the first coming of Christ, there are eight on Christ’s second coming.
Both the proportion and prominence of the prophetic theme in Scripture argue for its importance.
- An understanding of prophecy helps us to interpret and apply the Bible accurately.
A knowledge of end-time events gives us a framework upon which to hang the rest of Scripture. I believe that it is impossible to properly interpret and apply the Bible without a basic understanding of prophecy. Let me illustrate what I mean by looking at a passage from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah:
No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days,
Or an old man who does not live out his days;
For the youth will die at the age of one hundred
And the one who does not reach the age of one hundred
Will be thought accursed. (Isaiah 65:20)
What period of time is in view here when there will be no infant mortality and people will live to be one hundred years of age? Obviously, this was not true in Isaiah’s lifetime or in ours. Today infants die daily and only a few adults live to have their centennial birthdays announced on The Today Show.
Some might believe that Isaiah is describing life in heaven. Yet, Isaiah says that people will die after the age of one hundred. Will there be death in heaven? Revelation 21:4 promises that in heaven “there will no longer be any death.”
So if Isaiah is not referring to our life now or our life in heaven, what period of time is in view here? Isaiah was looking forward to Christ’s rule on earth during a period we call the Millennium, described in numerous Old Testament and New Testament prophecies. This will be a unique time in world history when Christ will be reigning from David’s throne in Jerusalem for one thousand years. Although it is difficult to comprehend, some believers during this period will possess their resurrection bodies, but other believers (the Tribulation saints) will enter the Millennium in the natural bodies and be subject to death. It is this period of time that Isaiah is describing. Yet, without a basic understanding of the Millennium it is impossible to comprehend this prophecy.
A basic understanding of Bible prophecy not only helps us to interpret the Bible correctly, but also to apply it accurately. Consider these familiar words of Jesus Christ:
“For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.” Then the righteous will answer Him, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink?” . . . The King will answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:35-40)
How many times have you heard someone quote this passage and then make the application that the purpose of the Church is to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the lonely? Last year our church opened our new $130 million church campus in downtown Dallas. Having led church building programs before, I prepared our congregation for the predictable criticism that would come not only from unbelievers, but from Christians as well: “Think of all the hungry people you could have fed with that money.” I reminded our congregation that when Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume, a man in the room objected, saying, “Lord, that perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor” (paraphrased from John 12:5). The man’s name was Judas Iscariot. Jesus’ reply to Judas is one you don’t often hear quoted: “You always have the poor with you . . .” (John 12:8). Jesus was not indifferent toward the plight of the disadvantaged in society, but He was reminding us that God is interested in more than just meeting the physical needs of people. God is also concerned with satisfying our spiritual needs, and He has charged the Church with that unique responsibility. Every other organization in society—including our massive government—is focused on addressing people’s physical needs. Only the Church of Jesus Christ is dedicated to meeting people’s spiritual needs.
If that is true, how are we to understand Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 about our treatment of the hungry, unclothed, and imprisoned? As you study the context of these verses you discover that they are part of the Olivet Discourse that actually begins in Matthew 24 and describe the events that will lead to the return of Christ. In Matthew 25:31-45, Jesus explains the standard by which He will judge those who survive the Tribulation when He returns. They will be judged by how they treated the 144,000 Jewish witnesses during the Tribulation. For a person living in the Tribulation to clothe, feed, or comfort one of these witnesses would be a sign of his salvation since it would be tantamount to ministering to Christ Himself.
Even though these verses refer to a specific group of people living in a future period of time, Christians freely rip these verses out of context and attempt to apply them to the Church today. While ministering to those who are hurting is both noble and Christlike, it is not the primary mission of the Church. God intended the Church to be more—much more—than a sanctified relief agency. An understanding of prophecy is necessary to interpret and apply the Bible correctly.
- An understanding of Bible prophecy motivates us toward godly living.
The Bible never divorces prophetic truth from practical application. In 2 Peter 3, the apostle describes the return of Christ, the destruction of the earth, and the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. But then he adds these words:
“Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Peter 3:11-12).
In World Aflame, Billy Graham tells of an incident when former President Dwight Eisenhower was vacationing in Denver a number of years ago and his attention was drawn to an open letter in a local newspaper. Six-year-old Paul Haley, dying of cancer, had expressed a wish to see the president of the United States.
Spontaneously, in one of those gracious gestures remembered long after a president’s speeches are forgotten, the president decided to grant the boy’s request. One Sunday morning in August a big limousine pulled up outside the Haley home and out stepped the president of the United States. Eisenhower walked up to the door and knocked. Mr. Donald Haley, the father, opened the door. He was wearing blue jeans, an old shirt, and a day’s growth of beard. Behind him was little Paul. Their amazement at finding President Eisenhower on their doorstep could hardly be imagined.
“Paul,” said the president, “I understand you wanted to see me. I’m glad to see you, Paul.” The president shook Paul’s hand and the two walked together and conversed for a while. They shook hands again, and the president departed.
The Haleys and their neighbors talked about this kind and thoughtful deed of the president for years afterward. Only one person was not entirely happy about it—Mr. Haley. He could never forget how he was dressed when he opened the door.
“Old jeans, that faded shirt, my unshaven face. What a way to greet the president of the United States,” he lamented.
I can tell you something even more embarrassing than that. One day the sky will part, the trumpet will sound, and Jesus Christ will suddenly appear. Unfortunately, many Christians will not be properly “dressed” for His return. They will be wrapped up in the faded clothes of materialism, immorality, and personal ambition instead of the bright linen clothes of righteousness described in Revelation 19:8.
Let me ask you a very personal question. If the Lord were to return today, would you be embarrassed by the appearance of your life? If so, I pray that this study of the end times will be a powerful incentive for you to clothe yourself in holy conduct and godliness as we look forward to His certain return.
Taken from Perfect Ending © 2014 by Dr. Robert Jeffress