Prophecies and end times
What are prophecies? Should we listen to modern day 'prophets'?
A couple of suburbs down the road from my place is a big billboard on a major road. It says “Judgement Day is coming. 21 May 2011.” According to this billboard, the end of the world is coming and it’s only weeks away. There seems to be a lot of people recently who are saying that they have prophesied the end of the world. They point to events such as the floods in Queensland, the earthquake in New Zealand, the tsunami in Japan and say that the end of the world is coming any day now. That these disasters are a sign from God that he’s getting ready for the end game. The people behind this billboard are even prepared to name a date, based on their understanding of the Bible and some creative mathematics.
Should we listen to these so-called prophecies? Are they reliable? Can we really know the date when Jesus returns?
I have my doubts. Let’s just say I plan on getting a photo of myself in front of this billboard on May 22nd.
Prophecy in the Old Testament
The role of the prophets in the Old Testament was to communicate God’s will to his people. Through his prophets, God would make himself known: who he is and what he expects of his people. While there was some element of telling people the future, this was always in the context of revealing God’s plan to rescue people from sin. For example, when Israel was sent into exile, God used prophets such as Isaiah and Daniel to tell people that these events were punishment for their disobedience but that God would return them to the promised land.
Prophecy in the New Testament
The nature of prophecy changed when the New Testament kicked into gear. With the arrival of Jesus there was no longer any need for the old-style prophets. Their job was to reveal God. And they did a good job. But now, here was someone who could do it so much better. In John 14:6-7, Jesus says “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God. We no longer need the Old Testament prophets to point us to God because Jesus does a superior job. We don’t need new messages from God because we have Jesus.
But there is still prophecy in the New Testament after Jesus goes to be with his Father in heaven. In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul talks about the gift of prophecy in the Corinthian church. There is a debate going on in the church over the use of prophecy compared to speaking in tongues. Prophecy here is used for strengthening, encouragement and comfort (1Cor 14:3). It is meant to be intelligible (1Cor 14:9), and build up the church (1Cor 14:12). And here’s the most important thing 1 Corinthians says about prophecy: "if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”(1Cor 14:24-25). Prophecy convinces someone that they are a sinner and that they need to turn back to God.
So what is prophecy really all about?
Sounds to me from 1 Corinthians that prophecy is simply telling people the gospel. Prophecy is pointing people to Jesus and saying that you need Jesus as your saviour. Prophecy is this day and age is opening up the Bible and pointing to Jesus, the ultimate revelation of God. The Bible is God’s message to us. All Scripture is God-breathed (2Tim 3:16). Which gives us an important tool when dealing with people saying they have new words from God. Because the Bible is God’s word and we know that God is unchanging and has given us all we need to know for salvation and for living, then all prophecy must be consistent with the Bible. If a so-called prophet says they have a message from God and it doesn’t agree with what the Bible says, then they are a false prophet. They’re not speaking words from God but from somewhere else.
So what about the end of the world?
We know from the Bible that the end of the world will come with the return of Jesus. Ever since Jesus first showed up, people have being trying to find out the day and date of the Day of The Lord. But God was very deliberate in not telling us. Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. (1Thes 5:1-2). There will be no warning. There will be no advance notice. There is no secret code in the Bible that you can use to mathematically calculate the exact day the world will end. Jesus will return like a thief in the night.
Are the natural disasters we are currently experiencing pointing towards the end of the world? Yes and no. Yes, they are signs that this world is not right. That we need a saviour. But we have been receiving these signs for thousands of years. We are closer now to the return of Jesus then ever before. He could return tomorrow or he could return in a thousand years. We just don’t know.
So what do we do? Be alert but not alarmed. Prepare for the return of Jesus. Live your life like he could return tomorrow. Spread the Good News of Jesus and live your life in such a way that pleases God. But don’t panic. Don’t be anxious. Don’t be afraid. There have always been disasters. There will continue to be disasters. But Jesus will return. And when he does, all will be well in the world.