Jesus warned that in the last days thousands would be deceived by false prophets (Matt. 24:11). He said that there would be many who would preach about Him, but would mislead the masses (v. 5). Workers of iniquity (lawlessness) would prophesy in His name (Matt. 7:22-23), but He would utterly reject them. These warnings are given to let us know that prophecy is a subject that can be easily misused and misunderstood. One thing Jesus warned against was setting dates. He said, “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Matt. 24:36). He told the disciples that only the Father knows the specific times and seasons, “. . . It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power” (Acts 1:7). But there are those who pay no heed to Jesus’ instructions, insisting they can know the month and the year of specific prophetic events.
The substantiation of any prophet is the fulfillment of his prophecies, and that what he says does not contradict the Bible. There is a difference between long-range prophecies and those that are quickly fulfilled after they are given. Yet gullible numbers of people readily accept the concepts of those who call themselves prophets without the slightest proof that what is spoken is inspired from God. It is entirely too easy to accept what is said when the fulfillment is intended for many years ahead. But, many prophecies have not yet been tested. What does the Bible tell us? “And when this cometh to pass, (lo, it will come,) then shall they know that a prophet hath been among them” (Ezek. 33:33). True prophetic revelation comes to those servants of God who are patient, not to those who conjure up “imaginations from their own hearts and minds” in order to gain a following.
Any Value Today?
One-third of the Bible is made up of prophecies. Obviously God intended us to benefit from them. Is there any value, then, in Bible prophecies for our time period?
To begin with, there is much that can be understood with respect to the overall framework of Bible prophecy. There is no need to doubt the validity of many unfulfilled Bible prophecies based on the prophetic failures of those whose predictions have failed. These prophetic failures came from “prophets” who assumed to know something God had not actually given them. What should be questioned is the attempt by those who are now assigning, or in the future will assign dates to specific prophetic events. Unless or until one receives a direct revelation from God that can be substantiated by the fulfillment of that revelation, there is little need to be alarmed.
Prophecy serves as a warning to those who fear God and are willing to heed. Likewise the fulfillment of a prophecy serves to chastise those who refuse to listen. The Bible prophesies of a coming Tribulation (Matt. 24:21), a tribulation that is destined to come upon a world that is full of evil. Because of the prophetic failures that have occurred in modern times, many have lost their fear of God. They now regard prophetic warnings in the Bible as merely “crying wolf.” Because specific events and the dates set for the fulfillment of these events did not materialize, many have rejected the Bible prophecies in general. They no longer take the matter of sin and disobedience to the Law of God seriously. There are many Bible warnings regarding the consequences of sin. God does not change the way by which He deals with men. Those who refuse to heed today’s warnings, as given in the prophecies, will suffer the same way as those who refused to do so in the Old Testament period. In the future, some short-ranged prophecies will be spoken by the true prophets of God (Rev. 11). The Bible tells us not to despise, that is, not to disregard prophecies (1 Thess. 5:20). The New Testament Church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20). Some New Testament prophets uttered short-range prophecies, but the New Testament includes many long-range prophecies intended for us. The penalty for refusing these warnings today will be just as severe as it was in the days of old.
In the general sense, all prophecy, sooner or later, affects the individual. What is not realized by many is that Christ was the God of the Old Testament (1 Cor. 10:1-4). The prophecies of the Old Testament-both short-range and long-range-were given to the prophets by Christ. Therefore, those who reject the Bible prophecies reject Christ. Specific prophecies will be given in the last days (Rev. 11:3). They will be inspired by Christ, who is now seated at the throne of God. What will happen to those who contemptuously reject these future warnings to be given to a sinful world?
And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand. He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be (Rev. 22:10-12).
Those who allow themselves to be overtaken by the dreadful warnings found in the book of Revelation, will be those who disregard Bible prophecy.
We should listen with an open mind to those who prophesy. But the listener should also be aware how prophecy is revealed. The true prophets of God did not conjure up notions and ideas out of their own minds and hearts, or by what they derived from Bible study. Prophecy is not revealed by arranging Bible texts and assigning dates. Prophecy is revealed by direct revelation only and is substantiated by fulfillment. Short-range prophecies quickly substantiate God and the prophet who uttered the prophecy. Long-range prophecies take much longer, but they also substantiate God and the prophet-in the case of the prophet, usually long after his death. Any prophecy spoken by any man that does not come to pass, or which needs an adjustment or date change, did not come from God. It is the result of the “imagination of the prophet’s own heart.” Such prophets should not be given serious consideration (Deut. 18:22; 13:3).
Fulfilled prophecy demonstrates the infallibility of God’s Word. Therefore, prophecy can serve as a basis for faith. Fulfilled prophecy proves God’s existence and the dependability of His word. Short-range prophecies have particularly demonstrated this. See for example Acts 21:10-11. Many of the long-range prophecies have not yet been fulfilled, but we can have confidence they will be, based on the fact that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). Prophetic failures are the result of men who have arrogated to themselves an office God has not given them, and they have assumed to forecast the future based on their own interpretations of the times and seasons. These prophetic failures have confused and shattered the faith of many, who have not realized this usurpation.
The reader should keep in mind that prophecy is not an end in itself. Eventually prophecy shall fail, that is, cease (1 Cor. 13:8). The ultimate gift in God’s sight is not prophecy, but rather love (1 Cor. 13:13). The Bible defines love as the keeping of God’s commandments (1 John 5:3). This means reverence and respect for God and outgoing concern for one’s fellow man.
Prophecy should not be confused with doctrine. Doctrine is absolute. Those who set dates for prophesied events are only guessing, based on what they think will take place and when. It is a mistake to reject doctrine on the basis of prophetic failure. Most who become enamored with prophecy merely revise the dates that have failed to materialize. They do not seem to be able to learn that God does not reveal specific dates except by means of direct revelation. As these new dates fail to materialize in the fulfillment of the prophecy, they change to newer dates. This in itself should tell any intelligent person such prophecies are not from God. God alone knows the times and seasons!
Prophecy-What Is It?
A prophecy, in the general sense, is a forecast. A prophecy is a message from God which reveals His intent and purpose. His intention is made known in advance; man is not allowed to claim knowledge superior to God.
A prophecy is also called a burden. As such, it is a responsibility or charge placed upon the one who receives the prophecy. “And in the morning came the word of the LORD unto me, saying, Son of man, hath not the house of Israel, the rebellious house, said unto thee, What doest thou? Say thou unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; This burden concerneth the prince in Jerusalem, and all the house of Israel that are among them. Say, I am your sign: like as I have done, so shall it be done unto them: they shall remove and go into captivity” (Ezek. 12:8-11). Many of these pronouncements of burden were preserved in God’s Word and are labeled prophecy as such (2 Chron. 9:29). Many of these prophecies are long-range in nature and look forward to terrible events yet to come. Examples of long-range prophecies include the coming of Christ (Acts 3:22-24), the resurrection from the dead (Ezek. 37:7-10), and the future deliverance and salvation for Israel (Ezek. 34:28).
Prophecy in the New Testament is not limited to forecasting the future. It includes any inspired speaking, regardless of the subject. Even the mysteries of God are included in prophecy (Rev. 10:7). So, prophecy is the relating of those things which reveal the intent and purpose of God. It includes that advance knowledge of what will take place in the future. And it is not generally understood until the time of its fulfillment.
Prophecy Is Inspired by God
The Apostle Peter wrote, “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy [Spirit]” (2 Pet. 1:21). This is affirmed in the book of Nehemiah. “Yet many years didst thou forbear them, and testifiedst against them by thy spirit in thy prophets. . .” (Neh. 9:30). The prophets gave the fathers of old the messages from God (Heb. 1:1). See 1 Samuel 10:6, 10-11; 19:20-23, and Numbers 11:25-26. By means of direct revelation, messages came to the prophets in various ways. The prophets spoke as they were inspired by the Holy Spirit. At other times messages came in the form of visions, or dreams, or words directly from God, or words spoken by angels. See the following Scriptures for examples: 2 Kings 3:15-20, 2 Chronicles 15:1, Jeremiah 19:1, 14; 37:6-10, Ezekiel 2:2, Isaiah 1:1, Amos 1:1, Micah 1:1, and Numbers 12:6-8.
The prophet was obliged to speak the words that had been given him. But, the real proof that the message was from God was the fulfillment of the prophecy! Short-range prophecies could be quickly substantiated. Many long-range prophecies are yet to be fulfilled. But, they will be substantiated eventually. God promises, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). There is not one example in the entire Bible that one ever interpreted a Scripture and by that means forecast a specific date for a specific event. Every example of prophetic insight based on reading the Scriptures is the result of an interpretation of what had already happened or was happening at that given moment. Prophetic pronouncements relative to specific events in the future are not ascertained by reading the Scriptures. They come by means of direct revelation only!
General prophetic knowledge and understanding can be gained through reading the Scriptures. But specific dates assigned to specific events in the future can only be guesswork unless given by direct revelation. The setting of dates for prophetic events is a mistake continually made by those enamored with prophecy. The fact is: In every case where specific dates are associated with prophetic events, it is only after the event takes place that the understanding of the prophecy comes to light. To repeat, there is not one single Bible example where a specific prophetic date in the future was revealed by an interpretation of the Scriptures. Daniel understood, by what he read in Jeremiah 25:11-12, the length of the captivity of Judah. But, in Jeremiah the length is clearly given. Compare Daniel 9:2 with Jeremiah 25:11-12. Sadly, though, many continue to believe Bible interpretation is the key to setting future prophetic dates, even though they must continually revise their dates.
The Nature of Prophecy
Prophetic messages were generally directed against those to whom they were intended, though there are exceptions (Jer. 28:8). In addition, they were direct, timely, and often meant for the time period in which they were given. The meaning of such prophecies could not be misunderstood. The credentials of the prophet who uttered such short-range prophecies could be quickly substantiated. Short-range prophecies were intended to “make a point” during the time period in which they were given. Long-range prophecies, while based on the prevailing conditions of the time, were intended for the distant future. Often the theme for these prophecies was God’s government to come, not God’s government for the nation of Israel at that time. These prophecies often speak of Jesus Christ, of the Millennium, the deliverance of God’s people from their oppressors, the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation, and the restitution of all things. Often the short-range prophecies, as well as the long-range ones, were indictments for the rebellion and disobedience of the people of Israel.
At the time the Bible was written, false prophets were rampant. These prophets have caused untold suffering and misery. They are just as rampant today as they were in times of old. Until the Kingdom of God is established, false prophets will continue to wrongly influence the masses. Why does God allow these false prophets to exist?
For one thing, God allows false prophets to aid and abet the evil desires of men. Notice an example of this in 1 Kings 22. King Ahab wanted to take back Ramoth-gilead from the Syrians. “And the LORD said, Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramothgilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner” (1 Kings 22:20). Read this fascinating account. You will see how a lying spirit (a demon) offered to use the false prophets in Ahab’s court to deceive the king into going. The demon said, “. . . I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he [God] said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so” (1 Kings 22:22). Because of his wickedness, God had determined to slay Ahab, so He allowed a demon, using false prophets, to accomplish His purpose.
God often allows false prophets as a means of testing His people. This reason is mentioned in Deuteronomy 13:3. “Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” The character-building process requires many tests. This is seen in the New Testament as well. Notice 1 Corinthians 11:19. “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.” Also 1 John 4:1. “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” Those who are enamored by the esoteric, the mystical, by unproven signs or wonders, and by unsubstantiated miracles, will soon fall prey to false prophets. They are victims of what they see, not what they hear, and they often fail to pay close attention to what they hear. They do not compare it with the Word of God. The Bible warns, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20). False prophets try to mislead those who adhere to the Truth of God. Those who choose to follow men, rather than the Word of God, will suffer dearly. False prophets, whose primary goals appear to be pecuniary gain and having a following, often become cult leaders. Those who follow them are completely unaware of the trap in which they find themselves.
Test the Prophets
The people of God are warned not to listen to the prophets who speak from the imagination of their own hearts-imaginations which God says are vanity (Ezek. 13:4-9). In spite of signs and wonders that may be given (Deut. 13:1), the real proof rests in fulfilled prophecy, and whether or not the prophet speaks according to God’s Word. Also, true prophets are preachers of righteousness. Righteousness in the Bible is defined as obedience to the commandments of God (Ps. 119:172). Keep in mind, however, that false prophets sometimes utter prophecies that are fulfilled (Deut. 13: 2), but many of their prognostications will fail. A true prophet of God is not substantiated by any percentage of fulfilled prophecies. All his prophecies will be fulfilled. Any prophecy that does not come to pass has been the result of presumptuousness on the part of the prophet. He has spoken from the imagination of his own heart. This is why those who purport to utter prophecies as a result of their personal study of the Bible are prone to assume they have the answers. In reality, they are speaking from the imagination of their own hearts.
The true prophets of God generally forecast evil (Jer. 28:8). One who prophesies of peace must especially be watched. Only when his prophecy comes to pass can he be trusted to be a true prophet of God (Jer. 28:9). If he speaks of good things only, and fails to show the relationship between sin and its consequences, he is not speaking for God (Jer. 8:10-11). True prophets of God stand on the merits of God, not on their own merits. Whatever the prophet says will be substantiated by God, because he will not speak his own ideas. He will not go by feelings and emotions. God will not allow any of his prophecies to fail. The true prophet will not speculate, make guesses, surmises, or in anyway lead anyone to believe that his personal ideas are from God. There will be no doubt in his mind that God has revealed truth to him. He will not conjure up what he thinks the Bible says as a result of personal conclusions based on Bible study. As we have seen, God reveals Himself to His prophets by His Spirit, or by dreams, visions, angel messengers, or speaking directly. To repeat, there is not one single example in the Bible of any specific future prophecy revealed in advance by the individual Bible study of the prophet.
The true prophets of God do not presume. They patiently wait for God to make His will known regarding any specific event in the future. Their prophecies will be specific. Their basic function is to turn the people back to God. They will never attempt to gain a personal following, nor will they use prophecy as a personal scare-tactic to get the people to look up to them. They will boldly speak what God has given them, never embellishing His words to make them say anything other than what God has stated. They are realistic and know that, for the most part, the people will not heed. They know there will be punishment ahead for those who continue in their evil ways. Regardless of the response from the people, true prophets will not yield to any pressure, and they will refuse to give up their convictions. They are not engaged in a popularity contest. They know they must uphold the truth and the revelation given them regardless of the cost personally. The inevitable consequence will be persecution (Matt. 23:31, 1 Thess. 2:15).
Many of the prophecies uttered in the Old Testament period were not understood by the prophets themselves-long-range prophecies in particular. Both Daniel and Peter made this plain.
And I heard, but I understood not: then said I, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things? And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand (Dan. 12:8-10).
The Apostle Peter wrote:
Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy [Spirit] sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into (1 Pet. 1:10-12).
There was no need for the prophets to understand events destined to take place in the far future. Failing to understand was not a problem for the short-range prophecies, however, as these were fulfilled shortly after they were spoken.
Jesus often spoke of His Second Coming. He said, “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Matt. 24:36). We stated at the beginning of this article that some, in the past, assumed to know more than Christ. They concluded that while Jesus said we would not know the day or the hour, we could know the month and the year. The year and the month were then assigned. This assumption later led to much embarrassment when their date for Christ’s return failed. They failed to take into consideration what Christ said in Acts 1:7, that knowing the times and seasons was reserved for the Father only. The fulfillment of specific prophecies relating to dates is reserved by the Father. Unless God chooses to reveal this specific information to a prophet, we would be wise not to assume anything. But, we can know the general times in which we live and the general prophecies that apply. Christians can certainly know the end is near. But how near remains to be seen. The Bible does not substantiate that one can extrapolate from the Bible the specific times and dates of prophetic events destined to take place in the future. Anyone who does so is assuming.
Bible understanding itself comes as a result of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 26). The revelation of the coming, as well as the purpose, of Jesus Christ was not understood until after the event happened (Eph. 3:1-6, Rom. 16:25-26). General prophetic truth, as a part of God’s inspired word, can be understood, but specific events and dates revealed in advance are reserved for the Father. Even the disciples did not understand the prophecies concerning Christ. They were given this understanding shortly before Christ ascended into the heavens (Luke 24:44-45). An example of the revelation of a specific event in advance, and the time it would be fulfilled, can be found in 1 Samuel 9:15-16. Christians are to live by faith. It is not God’s intention for His people to know specific dates for the fulfillment of prophecy. To do so, God would thwart His own purpose in teaching us to live by faith, not by sight.
Even today, there are those who scoff and deny the general times in which we live. Peter wrote,
Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation (2 Pet. 3:3-4).
This denial of the reality of the times in which we live is the method used to justify their ungodly lifestyles. Many of these people were shattered by the prophetic failure of 1972. They now believe nothing. What they failed to understand is that prophetic dates and events are not revealed in advance by God except by means of direct revelation. These dates and events are not revealed doctrine. They are the result of prophetic assumption! Also, these people have failed to realize that most prophetic events are not understood until after the event happens! Literally dozens of prophecies regarding Christ were not understood until after they happened. It was not God’s intention that they be understood in advance. The just must live by faith, not by prophetic insight (Hab. 2:4). The fact is: Prophetic details are generally made known to the generation they affect after the prophetic event takes place. See again Luke 24:44-45. The apostles corroborated this principle in the book of Acts. They saw that events prophesied in the Old Testament were being fulfilled in their days. See Acts 2:25-27; 3:24-25; 8:32-35.
Learn by Mistakes
The prophetic binge of the past, with its attendant failures, disillusioned many of God’s people. Those who were not disillusioned merely changed the dates and clung to the same old ideas. Thousands completely lost confidence in the doctrine because they confused prophetic dates with the many other truths of the Bible. They could not distinguish between prophecy and doctrine. The result is that thousands have turned from the way of life God revealed to them. Had they understood prophecy is not revealed in advance, except by direct revelation, and that prophecy is not generally understood until after it happens, they would not have abandoned the truth. They failed to live by faith; they failed to realize that prophecy was never intended to be the basis of their convictions.
God’s way of life is important, but prophecy shall eventually cease (1 Cor. 13:8). God’s way of life shall never cease. Prophetic utterances are of value only when certified by God by their fulfillment. The misuse and misunderstanding of prophecy is what disillusioned many. Prophecy was used as the means to incite fear and to build the Church membership. Those who are disillusioned with prophecy and have turned from the way of God delivered to them, will not likely return to Him until the awful events prophesied in the future begin to happen. Maybe by then they will realize the error of their ways. Their disillusionment with prophecy will not circumvent the coming Tribulation. Those who follow every prophetic adjustment and change of dates made by the Church because they believe the “Church is responsible” will suffer right along with those in high office who make the adjustments.
The people of God must learn to wait for God to reveal the time for the fulfillment of any prophecy. They must never assume they have the capability to know in advance the times and the seasons. That is in the hands of God. Our responsibility today is to watch and pray-that is, to know our own spiritual condition, and with God’s help, through prayer, make every effort to live up to the Truth given us. While we need to be aware of the general times in which we live, we must never think we can set specific dates to specific events. To do so is to assume the prerogative of the Father. Far too many of God’s people have allowed the misuse of prophecy to destroy their faith. It is God’s Word and His way of life that will judge us. We will not be judged by prophetic insight. We must not confuse prophecy with the sure Word of God. God’s Word will never fail. Assumed prophetic dates will fail. We must not confuse the two!