While working through our new doctrinal statement about the End Times, I asked our church members why God gave us prophecy? In other words, why did God feel the need to tell us what would happen in the future? The group came up with several good ideas which we wrote on the chalk board. In this message I would like to expand on those ideas by looking at specific reasons listed in the Bible.
- God gave us prophecy to show us who He is (Isa. 46:9-10).
When I was young, I delivered the newspaper to my neighborhood. The first newspaper was the Citizen Journal and the second was the Columbus Dispatch. I remember one customer often complaining that I delivered the newspaper too late for him to read it before leaving for work. To this man, reading the newspaper was an important way to start the day and not having his newspaper ruined it.
Imagine if you were given a newspaper that told you what would be happening next week, next year, or even hundreds of years before the events happened. This is what Bible prophecy does. It shows us what will happen in the future. Eve was given prophecy about her future child. Abraham was given prophecy about his future descendants. Daniel was given prophecy about the future world empires.
While prophecy reveals events that will happen in the future, it also shows us something about God.
It shows us that He knows the future.
God told the Israelites that He declared the end from the beginning. And many times these prophecies were given many years before they were fulfilled. While some might be able to guess what might happen with the stock market or political races, none have been able to predict what will happen hundreds of years in the future. Only God does that. This is because He is God and is not limited by time as we are. He declares what will happen in the future, because He knows what will happen.
It shows us that He plans the future.
God also told the Israelites that what He desires to happen will happen. His counsel (meaning what he decided to do) will stand. His pleasure (whatever He wants to do) will be done. By this we understand that God is in control of what happens in the universe in the past, present, and future. He is in control.
Some years ago, there were some theologians who taught Open Theism—that God doesn’t plan the future, He only reacts to it. This doesn’t jive with real prophecy. Just think about the first prophecy mentioned in the Bible. God told the serpent that the seed of the woman would crush his head (Gen. 3:15). Was this something God was hoping would happen or something that He had planned all along. When you consider that Jesus is called the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8), you suddenly realize that God had everything planned even before Adam and Eve sinned.
- God gave us prophecy to warn us (1 Thess. 5:2-3).
As I was studying the End Times, I was happy to be reminded that God cares about people enough to warn us of the future. Think about the Book of Revelation. It is an entire book dedicated to telling the world what will happen in the future. At the end of it, God shows to us His desire for people to leave their sin and come to Him.
Rev. 22:17 – “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.”
This shows that God does love the world and wants people to turn from their sin. But this is not the only place. We also find some warnings in 1 Thessalonians 5.
It warns us of an unexpected future (1 Thess. 5:2).
As you may recall, this epistle contains several mentions of future events. In 1 Thessalonians 5:2, God warns us that the coming Day of the Lord (the Tribulation) will come as a thief in the night. A thief doesn’t schedule his arrival but comes at a time that you are not expecting.
Last year, we had a delivery driver ring our front doorbell. He tried to deliver a bag of McDonald’s food to us. This was totally unexpected because we hadn’t ordered any. After talking things through, we found out that he was at the wrong address.
The prophecy given by God warns that judgment will happen not in our timing but at a time that the world will not expect. So they should listen and ready themselves before it happens. Why? Take a look at the next verse.
It warns us about coming destruction (1 Thess. 5:3).
God’s prophecy in this verse warns that this unexpected event will not be the “peace and safety” promised by some. Instead, it will be sudden destruction filled with pain. And there will be some who will not escape. That sounds like a serious warning. But why would God tell his enemies that these things are going to happen? He warns them by prophecy so that they can turn from their sin to Him before it happens.
- God gave us prophecy to motivate us (Matt. 24:45-51).
When you think of motivational speakers, you usually think of people who can talk you into doing better. They use emotional stories and clever statements to make people want to do what they did not before. These can be helpful at times, but they don’t have the same value as the motivations given by biblical prophecy.
When Jesus talked about the end times, He did use stories. But they were always designed to motivate us in our response to God. Think of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins or the parable of the talents. In both cases, Jesus was motivating people to be ready. He also used another story to motivate us about His future return. This story was about a master who left two servants in charge of his household while he was gone.
It motivates us to be faithful (Matt. 24:45-47).
The first servant was considered faithful and wise because of how he responded. While the master was away, he took care of the household and made sure there was enough food for the family. When his master returned, the servant was rewarded by a promotion within the household.
The thought of Jesus returning should motivate us to be more faithful. We know that the Lord could return at any moment. And that thought makes us want to do what He would be pleased with. We want to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And this is one of the reasons why God gives us prophecy.
It motivates us to avoid judgment (Matt. 24:48-51).
The second servant was considered evil because of how he responded while his master was away. Instead of taking care of the household, he beat his fellow servants, became a drunkard, and was unprepared for the master’s return. When he did return the servants was severely disciplined.
The thought of Jesus returning should motive people to avoid punishment. Because of the description of the punishment, I think that this part of the parable is best applied to unbelievers. But the point is still valid. The prophecy involving Jesus’ return ought to motivate all people to escape the coming judgment.
- God gave us prophecy to comfort us (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
When a Christian dies, we face grief because we loved that person and wish that he or she was still with us. But is that grief inconsolable? For a Christian it is not. And the reason why we have this kind of hope is the comfort given to us by biblical prophecy. Consider what Paul revealed to Christians.
It comforts us about dead Christians (1 Thess. 4:13-16).
From what Paul says, it appears that the Thessalonian church was unaware of what happened to Christians when they died. They knew about the coming return of Christ, but they didn’t know what happened to Christians who died before it happened. Paul cleared this up in these verses.
He told them that the dead in Christ would not be left behind. The fact that they had already been buried would not keep them from being taken to heaven with Jesus. When the Lord descends from heaven, when the archangel’s voice is heard, and when the trumpet of God is sounded, all dead Christians will be resurrected and will rise to be with Jesus before those who are living. But what about Christians who are still alive?
It comforts us about our future (1 Thess. 4:17-18).
Paul reveals here that after the deceased Christians are raised, the next in line are all living Christians. We who are alive and remain will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And following this, we will be with the Lord forever. What a wonderful time that will be.
Is it any wonder that this knowledge of the future would comfort a Christian today? Not at all. Paul tells us to comfort one another with these words. I think that this is good advice for both those who have lost a Christian loved one or who are looking forward to their future with the Lord. God gave us biblical prophecy to comfort us today. As we see what God has in store for us, we can set aside our worries and rest in the knowledge that we will someday be with the Lord forever.
What have we learned during our study? We have learned that biblical prophecy was not just given to us to know what will happen in the future. God has specific reasons for giving it to us. Can you remember what these reasons are?
1. God gave us prophecy to show us who He is (Isa. 46:10).
2. God gave us prophecy to warn us (1 Thess. 5:2-3).
3. God gave us prophecy to motivate us (Matt. 24:45-51).
4. God gave us prophecy to comfort us (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
Each of us came to this message with different thoughts and experiences. There is no way that I could know what you were thinking before hearing what was said. But the God who plans the future does know. And I am sure that as you heard this message, He reminded you of something that you needed to hear. God knows the future, wants us to be warned ahead of time, wants to motivate us, and wants to comfort us. Whatever your need was, I hope that you can see God’s goodness in what He has revealed about the future.