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The Christadelphian | January 2017

In the magazine this month:

A sample article from this edition:

The value of Bible prophecy

The study of prophecy is not something best left to others. In this article the author explains what prophecy is, what it is for and how it benefits us all.

The recent Brexit vote has highlighted the sad fact that some in the brotherhood have not grasped the value of Bible prophecy in understanding what the Lord is doing, and intends to do, in our times. This is not surprising given the confusion about prophecy that has been generated in the last sixty years or so. Now is an opportune time to reappraise the value of revealed prophecy to our salvation.

“Surely the LORD God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7) [1]

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

From the beginning of the Christadelphian movement in the middle of the nineteenth century prophecy has been the foundation of our strong and robust faith. In fact, the first talk given by Brother John Thomas was an explanation of Nebuchadnezzar’s image recorded in Daniel 2. Daniel revealed to Nebuchadnezzar that, “there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days”. If that ancient king wanted to know what shall be, and God thought it sufficiently important to reveal it to him, surely so do we who live in the days when this prophecy is so close to fulfilment. It was Brother Thomas’ interest in Daniel’s prophecies that led to his rediscovery of Bible Truth which we believe.

But was Daniel a true prophet? Yes, definitely. The test of a prophet is given by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:18-22. If a prophet’s short term prophecies come to pass, then his long term prophecies will certainly be fulfilled. The four world empires have come and gone as Daniel foretold. The final denouement of the prophecy is therefore certain, and we would be so much the poorer in our faith and expectation if we did not understand it. It is fulfilled prophecy that is the real underpinning of our faith.

The Lord has given us prophecy because He knows that faith is based upon seeing His will being worked out. To reject prophecy is to reject so much of God’s word. We have been greatly blessed in the understanding of prophecy that has been passed down to us from our earlier brethren. Our Lord said:

“And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe.” (John 14:29; see also 13:19)

The apostles “confirm[ed] the word with signs following” (Mark 16:20). To us the word is more than amply confirmed by the prophecies that have come to pass. Peter wrote:

“We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.” (2 Peter 1:19)

Even the angels desire to look into the prophecies that have been given to us by the spirit –

“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.” (1 Peter 1:11)

To which Peter adds the exhortation:

“Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (verse 13)

All these ideas confirm the truth of the statement in Proverbs that, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). Prophecy is essential. We need a vision to give us purpose, an incentive to persevere through our trials knowing that “He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13; see also 10:22). Mercifully, our Father knows that unless we have a vision of what the end is and how it will be achieved, we will fail, and therefore He has set the hope before us that it may be in our hearts. We cannot live without hope. How sad if we do not make the most of the opportunity the Father has given us. Neglect of prophecy raises the question of whether we really do desire our Lord’s appearing?

What prophecy is

We naturally speak of prophecy as referring to future events. The Apostle Paul however, having exhorted us to “Follow after [love]”, says, “he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:1,3). So prophecy is “following after love” in a way that edifies (builds up), encourages and comforts us all.

Prophecy is a multifaceted aspect of the spirit’s teaching, so perhaps we should list what prophecy is:

  1. All God’s promises are prophecy.
  2. Our Lord’s life, death and resurrection were all foretold by the prophets. Even the high priest “prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation” (John 11:51).
  3. The development of apostasy in the Church is foretold as an essential warning to the faithful.
  4. Prophecy is not just in the Old Testament prophets. Much of the Lord’s teaching, especially the parables and the Revelation, are prophecy. For example, in the prophecy of the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8) the Lord is comforting his disciples. He forewarns them that after his ascent to heaven, though they would resemble an unavenged widow, experiencing intense persecution from their Jewish enemies, if they remain faithful and pray continually for relief, then God would speedily avenge them. And so He did. The Jewish State of Judaea came to an end in AD 70 and persecution from that source ceased. This gave the parable an immediacy and relevance that sustained the saints through their trial. It has also done so to those who have experienced similar persecution ever since. On every occasion this has occurred, God has intervened to bring relief. The book of Revelation is a history of His bringing relief by bringing judgement on their enemies again and again. How valuable this was for those suffering to be able to understand their times and to know that relief was coming.
  5. Since history repeats itself, past events recorded in the Bible are also prophetic of what is to come. Prophecies still to be fulfilled are based on God’s past dealings with the nations. The vision of Nebuchadnezzar’s image in Daniel 2 and the four beasts of Daniel 7 are examples of this. So is David’s slaying of Goliath, which foreshadowed Christ’s victory over Israel’s enemies; Melchizedek’s priesthood foreshadowed that of Christ (Hebrews 7); the rivalry between the two sons of Abraham paralleled by Israel’s covenant at Sinai compared with the Jerusalem covenant in Christ (Galatians 4:22-31); the life of Joseph types so closely our Lord’s own experiences (see Elpis Israel, fourteenth edition, pages 274-279); the brazen serpent on a pole made by Moses illustrates the death of Jesus (John 3:14,15); Israel’s exodus from Egypt is to be mirrored by a second exodus at the Lord’s return (Ezekiel 20:34-38); the death of 185,000 Assyrians outside Jerusalem in Hezekiah’s days speaks of the coming destruction of Gog’s forces, the latter-day Assyrian, at Armageddon (Isaiah 30:30-33), as does the hail that destroyed five kings of the Amorites in the days of Joshua (Ezekiel 38:22; Revelation 16:21); and the work of Elijah is to be completed amongst Israel when Christ returns (Malachi 4:4-6) etc. This is what makes these historical events so fascinating and inspiring to read.
  6. The major books of the Bible – e.g., Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, the Gospels, Revelation – and the smaller prophets, all speak of what is still to come. Much has already been fulfilled, so we can be certain that it is the last time. Christ repeatedly warns us to “watch”. What are we to watch if not the signs of the times?
  7. Estimates have been made as to how much of God’s word is prophecy. This is an impossible exercise – just about the whole of the Bible is prophetic. Even the account of creation in Genesis 1 and 2, though to be taken literally, is also prophetic by extension: for example, Jesus Christ appeared on the fourth millennial day as the sun did on the fourth literal day. And he is “the Sun of righteousness with healing in his wings [rays]” (Malachi 4:2).
    The Divine principle is delineated by our apostle as, “Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual” (1 Corinthians 15:46).
  8. Prophecy gives us our vision of the kingdom. Throughout God’s word He has given us wonderful and inspiring visions to sustain us through the evil days of our probation so that we can understand what God is working amongst the nations to bring us to the coming day of glory. This is how we are given the spiritual strength to endure to the end and be saved. We are reserved to be partakers of the divine nature, “to comfort all that mourn … to give unto [us] beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning … the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness … everlasting joy shall be unto them” (Isaiah 61:2,3,7, see also 2 Peter 1:4).

Beware of false prophets

It might seem surprising when we realise just how many passages there are in the Bible warning us of false prophets. This is obviously a very important matter. On that note I might also point out that we are too late in the day now suddenly to find out what prophecies of the last days are about, as if the brotherhood did not already know. I remember Brother Dennis Gillett saying to me in 1980, “If God used Brother Thomas to raise up the Truth, and as a Christadelphian we must believe that, then I can’t see that God would leave him widely astray on prophecy, can you?” Quite so!

So let us be warned by Christ and seek to understand at least an outline of sound Bible prophecy lest we are led astray by false ideas.

“For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things.” (Mark 13:22,23)

In the same context the Lord promised, “But he that endureth to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 10:23).

Peter wrote –

“That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets [in the Old Testament], and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour: 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 Peter 3:2-4)

But things don’t continue as they were as the recent Brexit vote, so significant to those who do understand the meaning of the prophecies, has shown us.

John, when introducing his readers to the development of antiChrists, also warned, “Beloved, believe not every spirit [teacher], but try the spirits whether they be of God: because many false prophets [Greek, ‘pseudo-prophets’] are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1-3). This unholy movement has found its full development in the papacy (Revelation 16:13; 19:20; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-15).

The truth in the last days

Our Lord has made it clear that the truth of God will be raised up again at the time of the end. There are three passages that make this clear – Matthew 24; Luke 21, and Revelation 16. Revelation 16 in particular is addressed to the last generation of saints who hold the truth and who will see the nations being gathered to Armageddon:

“Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.” (Revelation 16:15)

We should be so thankful for our Lord’s advice. None of us would want to ignore the Lord’s warning specific to this generation.

Revelation is the bridegroom’s last letter to his bride. It would be difficult when our bridegroom comes to have to explain to him why we have not read his last letter to us. Yes, it is difficult to understand, but we do have such marvellous writings in the brotherhood to help us. Brother Robert Roberts’ Thirteen Lectures on the Apocalypse, for example, is a most helpful introduction to the letter.

Prophecy has a moral, life-saving purpose

Jude’s short epistle was the last exhortation to the ecclesia before the overthrow of Judaea in AD 70. In it Jude stresses Enoch’s prophecy of coming judgement and therefore the need to remember the words of the apostles that there would be mockers in the last time and to build ourselves up in the faith by word and prayer, thereby keeping ourselves in the love of God (Jude 14-21). In Ephesians, Paul reminds us that we are “alienated from the life of God through ignorance ... [and] blindness [of] heart” which leads to an unclean life. “But [we] have not so learned Christ” (Ephesians 4:18-20).

Absolute confidence in God and His word is engendered when we see God’s hand continually working amongst the nations to protect His people and further His purpose. Without this assurance there will inevitably come a crisis of faith. But we can be sure that “the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men” (Daniel 4:17).

Let our apostle give us a final word:

“But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-6)

Paul Cresswell

[1] All quotations are from the KJV, unless otherwise noted.

 

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