Bible Prophecy: What prophecy means to all of us
by Reverend Allan A. MacRae
President, Faith Theological Seminary
Men are constantly attempting to make predictions about the future. Time after time each of us finds his decisions in daily life affected by his idea of the future. How we wish we could tell exactly what is going to happen. The man who plants a crop would like to know whether the weather will bring him a poor crop or a bumper crop. When his crop is ready, he is interested in predicting the flux of prices to know whether to sell at once or to hold for a higher price. The man who buys a house would like to know how the community is going to develop around him, and how soon it may be that his business will require him to move to another part of the country We constantly read predictions of the number of new school buildings needed to house the children that will soon be in attendance. Every one of us wonders what will be the state of the world ten years from now.
But all of us constantly discover that it is very difficult to make correct predictions about the future. We plan a picnic weeks ahead and then it rains. We invest in a company that makes a particular product and people start buying a different one. Time after time we find that our predictions are incorrect.
Many of us who lived through the days from 1929 to 1931 remember vividly how there was hardly a month in which some great business or financial leader did not declare that the turning point of the depression had now been reached and the boom would soon return. Yet the downward progress continued. The country was in the grip of forces beyond any one man's control.
In 1932, Roosevelt was elected president. Congress was ready to obey him on almost everything. Great federal works were begun and large sums of money pumped into the economy. Gradually the rise began and the New Dealers claimed that prosperity was rapidly returning. But after a few years a very considerable recession occurred and people began to doubt the efficacy of the New Deal in restoring prosperity. Later things again turned upward, and then made his famous statement: "We planned it that way." Doubters of the efficacy of government planning of economic life would feel more convinced of the truth of this statement if he had predicted the recession in advance. If government can really control economic situations, it should be Able to predict the turns ahead of time.
It is extremely difficult to make correct predictions of events a few months in advance. When we try look further ahead it becomes still harder.
During World War II it was constantly stated that the end of the war would introduce such a time of universal peace as the world had never seen. Many people talked about the great opportunities that would be open in China after the war. I never heard anyone suggest that within a few years China would be a closed world as far as most Americans are concerned. How wrong we were in our ink of what the future held!
When the war ended we immediately began to destroy great amounts of ammunition and of armament. The United Nations had been set up. Universal peace was expected. Yet within two or three years the whole feeling of the country changed, as it was proved that, in destroying Hitler, we had actually strengthened the power of an, even more brutal aggressor.
At New Year's time it is common for our newspapers and magazines to give the opinions of various people as to what the year ahead contains. Rarely does anyone bother to dig these out a year or two later. It is sometimes amusing to do so and see how rarely human predictions of the future turn out to be true.
Yet there is one book whose predictions of the future never fail. Since the Bible was given by the Maker of history, who controls all things, its predictions are certain to be fulfilled.
The Bible is not simply history written in advance. It tells of God's dealings with His people in the past, and shows His provision for man's happiness. It reveals the great principles that we need to understand stand if our lives are to be truly worth while. Occasionally it gives glimpses of what God has planned for the future. These glimpses can tremendous importance to us if we study them carefully.
We must not assume that we can simply grab a verse out of the Bible random and think that it will give us the key to the future. The Bible must always be studied as a connected book, and every verse interpreted in the light of context.
Sometimes it is said that you can anything by the Bible. The statement could be made of other book, if it is treated the people often treat the Bible.
An amusing illustration of the wrong way to handle the Bible came to my attention during the World War, when the governor of our states declared that the rationing to which Americans were then subject had been predicted in the Bible and quoted Isaiah 3:18: "In that day the Lord will take away . . . their round tires like the moon."
In the light of the context it is obvious that this passage has nothing to do with conditions in America in this century, but is a prediction of the destruction and depopulation that came to Israel within two centuries after Isaiah wrote.
The "tires" mentioned were not rubber tires. The word here is an English translation made three hundred years ago of a Hebrew word which does not describe tires, but some sort of "attire" ornament worn by the Hebrew men of the time.
In order to know what Bible prophecy means we must study it with the same care with which we would study any other difficult book. We must examine the context of each statement in order to get the basic ideas. We must study the words as they were used at the time when they were written in order to see exactly what is involved and what is not involved.
When we study the Bible in this way and find the thoughts that God led the writers of the Bible to put down, we discover that it gives us such knowledge as could never be secured from any other source. This includes knowledge of many important things about the future of the world.
We can trust Biblical prophecy because we can see how precisely it has been fulfilled in the past. Time after time about the future because we find the Old Testament prophets declaring what was going to happen ten or 20 or 100 years later, and then we see how the events turned out exactly as they said they would.
In I Kings 13 we read how an unnamed prophet predicted the coming of King Josiah, telling of his deeds, giving his lineage, and even specifying his name, 300 years before his time. In Isaiah 44 to 45, the prophet reveals the coming of the Persian conqueror, Cyrus, even giving his name in advance. Four hundred years ahead of time Daniel predicted the coming of the great Syrian persecutor, Antiochus Epiphanes He did not name him, but he gave considerable detail about his character and actions, telling about his humiliation by the Romans, his ultimate defeat by the Maccabees, and his miserable end.
On a visit to Bible lands today, we can see how the present condition in many areas are exactly as they were predicted by the prophets We can see the desolate ruins of Nineveh, uninhabited for over 2,500 years. Its utter destruction was predicted by the prophet Nahum. We can see the condition of Tyre, of Memphis, of Thebes, of Edom, Babylonia, of city after city and country after country. The ruins stand today as mute witnesses to fact that God enabled his prophets to tell exactly what was going to happen.
An interesting instance of a prophecy that showed knowledge far beyond what any mere man could have had is found in Ezekiel 30:13, which contains the words "and there shall be no more a prince of the land of Egypt." When Ezekiel wrote, Egypt had been known for centuries as the absolute monarchy in the world. Its Pharaohs had been able to force their people to erect great pyramids larger than any other structure built in ancient times. Thousands of people had to endure years of tedious labor in order to construct these mighty edifices which stand today as mute witnesses to the autocratic power of the mighty princes of Egypt. Seldom had the Egyptians had a ruler who was not of Egyptian blood. They had always regarded foreign domination as extremely distasteful, and for well over 2,000 years great Egyptian rulers had wielded autocratic power over the land. The prophet declared that all of this was to come to an end, and a complete change in Egyptian conditions would occur.
Not long after Ezekiel wrote these words Egypt was conquered by invaders from Babylon. Such conquests had occurred before, but rarely. When they did, the Egyptians had always succeeded within a comparatively short time in driving out the foreigners and re-establishing their independence. This time it was different. The Babylonians ruled Egypt as part of their empire for several decades. Then it became part of the Persian empire and was ruled by Persian representatives for over two centuries. Alexander the Great conquered the Persian empire. After his death one of his Greek generals named Ptolemy, seized Egypt, and his descendants controlled the land for 300 years. Cleopatra, the last of the Ptolemies, was conquered by, Caesar, and the Roman emperors ruled Egypt for five centuries. Then it was conquered by the Arabs, who controlled it until they in turn were conquered by the Turks. When at last in 1922, Egypt again independent nation, its not of Egyptian blood, but was the great-grandson of Mohammed Ali, the clever Albanian who by murder and deceit had secured control of Egypt in 1805, so that for over a century he and his descendants had controlled the land while giving nominal allegiance and paying tribute to the Turkish empire. Even this line of Albanian princes ceased in 1952 when Egypt became a republic. Now, a native Egyptian, Colonel Nasser, has seized dictatorial power over Egypt, but he has not taken to himself a royal title. God enabled Ezekiel to predict that an unbelievable change in Egypt would occur, and his prophecy was so literally fulfilled that for 2,000 years Egypt remained without a prince of Egyptian blood. How different from the attempts of mere human beings to predict the future!
It is a fascinating study to see how, hundreds of years ahead of time, the Old Testament predicted the very place where Christ would be born, the miraculous nature of his birth, the place where he would begin his preaching, his wonderful work of healing, and above all, his death in order that those who would put their trust in him might be saved.
Crucifixion was of Roman method of execution. David, who lived 1000 years before Christ, never saw or heard of crucifixion. Yet God enabled him, in the first two thirds of the 22nd Psalm, to predict with amazing accuracy, not only the details of crucifixion in general, but the very special details of the crucifixion of Christ. In the latter part of the song he predicted its results, declaring that it would lead to rejoicing and praise in the very ends of the earth and that multitudes in every land would turn to the Lord because of it.
In 1914, a prominent American was about to start for Holland. He told his minister that he was going to visit the Hague Tribunal, and in glowing terms he described the effectiveness of this splendid organization for the maintenance of world peace, and told of the wars that it had averted. He said, “Never again will the world to see a great war.”
The minister said, “That’s not the way I read my Bible. It is true that there are clear biblical prophecies, such as Isaiah 11:1-9, that a great era of universal peace and happiness is coming. Isaiah 11:9 reads: ‘They shall not hurt or destroyed in all my holy mountain.’ But we must not forget that the verse ends with the words: ‘for the earth that shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.’ A wicked world will never have lasting peace. It is divine intervention by the return of Christ that will produce the great era of world peace, not human effort. Your Hague Tribunal sounds like a beautiful idea but I don’t see any hope of its succeeding in its objective.”
The man was unconvinced. He was so certain that their Hague Tribunal would accomplish its purpose that he tended to think of the minister as an old mossback, putting too much stress on the words of an ancient book. But events moved so rapidly that even before he reached Holland, World War I had broken out.
After the war, the League of Nations was set up, and it was declared that the world would now be made safe for democracy, but the minister was still unconvinced. He said: “The Bible says that the age will end with wars and troubles, not with peace established by the efforts of ungodly men.” After only one quarter century, a world war began, far greater and more destructive than the first one. The League of Nations was quietly shelved. When the war ended, the United Nations was established, and it was assumed that the instrument would soon make war a thing of the past. Yet very soon the cold war broke out, occasionally bursting into hot war, and always threatening to become a universal conflagration. Again the Bible prophecy was proved to be right.
Many Bible students wonder whether the atom bomb, the hydrogen bomb, and other instruments of destruction now becoming known to various nations, show that the terrible days predicted in the Book of Revelation are at hand. If so, disaster is ahead for those will continue to defy the principles of righteousness. But those who put their trust in God’s Son, and seek to build their lives according to the patterns he sets forth in the Bible, no that ultimately they will share with Christ in the government of a renewed and cleansed world, in which peace and happiness will be universal, exactly as Bible prophecy declares.
The study of Bible prophecy is difficult, but rewarding. God has revealed many facets of his plan. How thrilling it is to watch events as they unfold, and see the working of his mighty hand!