Monday, August 18, 2008

Missing the Point of Prophecy

This article originally appeared at SharperIron.

Without a doubt, prophecy is one of the most popular genres of Scripture. An announcement that the pastor will begin a Futureseries through 1 Chronicles may incite some yawns, but the attendance might swell if he decides to preach through Revelation.

While prophecy is an important part of Scripture, its study can become an end in itself. It can become all about detailed charts, a haughty denouncing of others' perspectives on the Millennium, and dogmatic—yet unwarranted—speculation. To avoid these errors, we must keep in mind the purpose of prophecy.

Knowledge without Obedience

The danger of familiarity with prophecy—indeed, with any portion of Scripture—is that even if we apparently interpret it correctly, we can still miss the point. We can easily become self-deceived hearers and not doers of the Word (James 1:22). When we fail to make applications to our lives, we fail to truly grasp the reason God gave prophecy—all while congratulating ourselves on how much we know about the end times. King Herod obtained a correct interpretation of the prophecy of Micah 5:2 from the priests and scribes (Matt. 2:5-6), but those prophetic experts failed to walk a few miles to go worship the One who came to fulfill such prophecy.

I used to think that passages like 2 Timothy 4:3 referred only to those who overtly rejected Scripture's authority, thinking that those who "have itching ears" and "heap up for themselves teachers" were liberals. A discussion with a friend helped me realize that, sadly, there is a way for professed Bible-believers to fall prey to a form of this error as well. This mistake happens when we simply want to listen to a preacher for the aesthetic value or because we like his style or because we want to learn but not obey. God warned about such hearers in Ezekiel 33. They invited others to come hear the preacher (v. 30), they complimented the preacher (v. 31), they considered the preacher's words as music to their ears (v. 32), yet failed to obey the message (v. 31-32). They wanted their ears tickled, but their hearts were far from God. And it is also possible for those enamored with prophecy to fit the same description.

Knowledge that Leads to Worship and Holiness

Contrast Ezekiel's hearers with the standard John gives his readers in 1 John (NKJV, emphasis added):

And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming. If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.

Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. (1 John 2:28-3:2)

Paul gives this reason for his exhortations to obedience:

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14, emphasis added)

And notice Peter's admonition in light of the coming judgment on the world:

Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Pet. 3:11-13, emphasis added)

According to God's Word, the anticipation of our Savior's return should produce in us a hope that manifests itself in righteousness. We must be holy people who are zealous of good works (Titus 2:14). We must not become so obsessed with details (or speculations) about the future that we miss the fact that God wins and that we should live before His face at all times.

Our growth in purity is the point of prophecy. A proper study of prophecy should fuel a holy longing to meet our Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ, face-to-face. It should motivate us to prepare for that glorious day by pursuing holiness now. Our lives should show that we are not ultimately citizens of this time and place, but that we look forward to an eternal kingdom and a new heaven and new earth, where righteousness dwells. We should not be puffed up by knowledge, but seek to "worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (Rev. 19:10). May we so preach, teach, and live.

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