The Preserving Power of Prophecy

Dane J. Griffin
Assistant to the President for Media Development
Michigan Conference of SDA

Tarot cards. Fortunetellers. The zodiac. Psychics.

People today will try almost anything to glimpse the future. The troubles, perplexities, and uncertainties of today's world drive its harried inhabitants to search whether tomorrow holds love, riches, glamourCor even a little rest!

But they're looking in all the wrong places, for God clearly says: "Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them" (Isa 42:9). To know the future we should study God's prophecies in the Bible.

Nothing takes God by surprise. God doesn't need a crystal ball. Through His omniscience, He can tell us tomorrow's headlines today. There's no need for us to fear the futureCGod lives there. We see the past with clear vision. God sees the future with perfect vision. Because of that, we can safely entrust all our needs and wantsCour whole life!Cto Him. His promises are as true and accurate and believable as His prophecies. He prophesies. It happens. He promises. He fulfills.

To Encourage Us. Prophecy. How few in the worldCand, unfortunately, even in the churchCtoday understand the importance and power of it! How few study it! How few let its certainty preserve them in troublous, uncertain times! Let us remember that God lives in the future. In His great love He gave us prophecy to help us believe in the God of prophecy. Notice these two passages:

"When Asa heard the prophecy of Oded, he took courage, and put away the abominable idols out of all the land of Judah and Benjamin, and renewed the altar of the Lord" (2 Chron 15:8).

"I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe" (Jn 14:29).

These passages clearly reveal the power of a proper understanding of prophecyCwhether predictive or proclaimingCand the reasons God gave it to us. This understanding can preserve our faith, filling us with courage when, like Asa, we face difficult tasks of reform. How? Prophecy shows that God's standards do not morph to mirror society and that He is in perfect control of events surrounding us. Prophecy helps us to restore and foster a vibrant, living religion in our lives, in our homes, and in our churches, because it establishes beyond doubt that God is our Creator and Owner and deserves our total worship and praiseCnot in the way we choose, but in the way He specifies. Prophecy helps us to discern between false worship and trueCGod's style of worship. How? Because, as we will see, prophecy is centered in the sanctuary above and in Christ's work of atonement going forward there.

And for the doubters, John 14:29 says fulfilled prophecy can lead hard, unbelieving hearts to believe in prophecy, and in the God of prophecy and His perfect plan for people's lives and for the world.

Opening Act or Omnipotent Acts? Now, some may be saying to themselves at this point, "Many of the people in the church today came into the church through a prophecy seminar. If prophecy directs us and refines us, why are we having the very troubles prophecy is supposed to prevent?"

Fair questions. Consider this answer. For too long, as Adventists we've seen prophecy merely as God's "drawing card," His opening night act to help us "pack the house" at the Revelation Seminar. Many honestly see prophecy as God's crystal ball, an extra-terrestrial magic show in which God flexes His "mystic muscles." For them, God is lowered to the realm of a psychic seeking to wow busy, distracted earthlings with His prophetic prowessCa kind of sanctified psychic.

Prop? Used as a stand-alone prop, prophecy can, indeed, "wow" a crowd. We Adventists have learned to use the "prop" well, perhaps too well. Daniel 2, 7, 8, Revelation 2, 3, 11, and other power-packed passages have riveted the attention of millions and have won scores to the truth. As the baptismal tank is draining, we stack those "prop passages"neatly beside it to await the need for drawing a future audience. Hence, prophecy's real purpose and power sit unused, untapped and unknown. We've let the witnesses tell only half their story, and as a result, their whole testimony has lost much of its God-designed power and purpose.

Simply put, a proper understanding of prophecy helps us preserve our faith in three distinct areas: 1) It gives us confidence in the reliability of God's Word. 2) It guards us against accepting false teaching. 3) It keeps our minds focused on the gospelCon Jesus and redemption and the sanctuary.

1. Confidence in the Word

In God's plan, prophecy prepares our hearts to receive God. Prophecy is not simply God predicting the future to impress us. Instead, prophecy is God showing in verity what will happen to prepare us not merely for the events themselves, but also to prepare us to trust the God who said those very events were coming; to believe implicitly in the veracity, validity, and relevancy of the entire Word of which the prophecies are a part! Fulfilled prophecy empowers us to believe that His counsels are important, and powerful, and appropriate, and timely, and true. "Every word of God [including prophecy] is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him" (Prov 30:5). While this text isn't claiming verbal inspiration for the very words of Scripture, it does mean that every prophetic theme and doctrinal reality certainly, purely is inspired! If we don't believe that, then our shield is faultyCfull of holesCand we have little, if any, defense from Satan's errors and sophistries.

This truth is clearly elucidated in Jesus' words to the Jews: "Had ye believed Moses [the prophet], ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me" (Jn 5:46). You see, once we begin to doubt any prophecy as God gave it, or to ignore its importance, our shield is damaged and Satan's deceptions can begin to assail us. A carelessness in interpreting and teaching prophecy will eventually lead to a carelessness in interpreting and teaching other Bible truths as well. It's not a matter of if, but when!

Prophecy Misapplied. That's precisely what happened to the Jews in Jesus' day. They were very focused on Messianic prophecies. They taught those prophecies ardentlyCthey would compass land and sea to make one convert. But because they carelessly misapplied prophecy, wrongly applying the prophecies of Jesus' glorious, powerful second coming to His first coming, the result was disastrous. The very prophecies God designed should help them lead people to Jesus and prepare them for His first coming became a roadblock to accepting the truth for their time. Simply put: Because its leaders misinterpreted prophecy, the Jewish nation rejected the Lamb of prophecy. He didn't fit in their prophetic pasture.

What happened to them can and will happen to us if we repeat their mistakes (1 Cor 10:11, 12). The truth is, a misapplication of prophecy can color and kill even the plainest, most impressive signals of God's plan and will in our lives. That's why Jesus warns us about having an "evil heart of unbelief," a lack of faith in the truth of His inspired word (Heb 3:7B4:2). (See also 2 Tim 4:1-4; Ps 119:89; Ac 20:28-30; 2 Pet 3:16.)

2. Prophecy Prevents False Teaching

In the four lists of the spiritual gifts God gave to help His church (Rom 12:4-8; 1 Cor 12:4-11, 28-31; Eph 4:11-16), only one gift appears in all four lists: prophecy!

Why would God consider prophecy so important? Perhaps because prophecy edifies the church, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:22: "Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe." What is prophecy a sign of to believers? That God is who He says He is (Heb 11:6); that He is in control of world affairs; that He and His Word can be fully, completely trusted.

Clear Focus. Solomon penned the same principle a thousand years before: "Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he" (Prov 29:18). Prophecy helps the church and its members maintain a clear focus and, as Solomon wrote, it helps them remember the importance of obedience to God's law. That divine truth is reemphasized in 2 Chronicles 20:20: "Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper." Without a clear understanding of the importance of prophecy and what it does for the church, spiritual prosperity dwindles and the focal point of God's law begins to blur.

And that's precisely why Paul wrote these words to a young, "green" ministerial intern named Timothy: "This charge I commit unto you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare"(1 Tim 1:18).

Fight, with prophecy? What can you fight with that? Prophecy is one side of God's "sharp, two-edged sword"! Prophecy is God-ordained to help us quench the fires of doubt kindled by the sparks of higher criticism; to untwist the tight tornadoes of relativism; to melt the chilling ice of skepticism; to evaporate the flash floods of secularism; to give the water of life to parched souls who've wandered too long in the dry, dreary deserts of formalism. Prophecy is Jesus' voice ringing powerfully, clearly over the troubled waves of a doubting, tempest-tossed church: "Peace, be still!"

To us as truly as to Israel of old, God speaks the words today: "I have declared the former things from the beginning; and they went forth out of my mouth, and I shewed them; I did them suddenly, and they came to pass. Because I knew that thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass; I have even from the beginning declared it to thee; before it came to pass I shewed it thee" (Isa 48:3-6).

Massage for Stiff Necks. The skepticism and stubbornness of stiff necks and hard hearts are penetrating and paralyzing the church today. You've probably noticed the stiffness. "God's Word just isn't relevant to the issues of today." "How can a God of love destroy sinners?" "Why can't women be ordained as pastors?" "We can't really be certain if there's a sanctuary in heaven." "The Bible is an inspiring book, not necessarily an inspired one." "Practicing homosexuals shouldn't be excluded from membership, they're God's children, too."

Can prophecy massage such cricks out of necks and soften such hard hearts today? Of courseCif those necks will lean and those hearts turn toward an open study of God's word. A God who knows the future so perfectly and can describe yet-undone deeds so precisely can be perfectly and precisely trustedCand His counsel must be valid, all of it. That knowledge will drive genuine truth seekers to seriously search for all His revealed will in every area of their lives. How can they doubt the counsel of a God who has proved Himself to be all-knowing and in perfect control of earth's events? The Knower of the future can be perfectly trusted as a Guide for the present.

Still Relevant. The thoughtless, shallow claim that parts of the Bible are not relevant today falls powerless before the accuracy of fulfilled prophecy. What Daniel wrote hundreds of years before Christ was very relevant to an event that occurred more than 2,000 years later when the papacy fell from supremacy in a.d. 1798. If prophecy happens just as God said it will, then all His other words and counsels and reproofs must be seen as just as sure and just as true, for "all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Tim 3:16).

When it comes to inspiration, all texts are created equal. There's no difference of inspiration between prophecy or parable; between beast or baptism; between dates or doctrines. In reality, the truth of the gospel is validated in that it agrees fully with prophecy. And as such, no one part of the Bible is less important, less inspired, less relevant than another. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:2, prophecy helps us to understand the Bible's mysteries and its knowledge. It's the key that unlocks the purposes and secrets of God (Amos 3:7).

Examples. But exactly how does a proper understanding of prophecy prevent false teachings? Here's one example from many that we could cite.

Question: Is there a sanctuary in heaven? Fufilled prophecy's answer: Did the Saracens scourge the world for 150 years (Rev 9:1-12)? Did the early Muslims ravage the Roman Empire for 391 years and 15 days (Rev 9:13-21)? Did the Ottoman Empire fall on August 11, 1840 (Rev 9:15)? Did Rome persecute the church for 1,260 years (Dan 7:25-27 and others)? Then there is a sanctuary in heaven and there is a cleansing there that began on October 22, 1844, for the same prophetic lines foretold all these events! In light of these prophecies, to say there is no sanctuaryCor even to question its existenceCis like questioning whether there was ever an Ottoman Empire or a Catholic church!

Does God destroy sinners? Prophecy clearly answers the question. Is the Bible inspired? Can we overcome sin through God's power? Prophecy answers these and many other questions perplexing some in our church today!

But history reveals that prophecy has always fought error!

Nebuchadnezzar's dazzling display on the plain of Dura showed his erroneous belief that the door of Babylon's world rule would always be open in spite of God's prophecy to the contrary. God shut Nebuchadnezzar's "door" by keeping the "leaved gates" open! (See Isa 45:1.)

Alexander thought he had built an empire his seed would control forever. God plucked up his seed by the roots.

The papacy thought it would sit a "queen forever." Then 1798 interrupted its eternity.

The Ottoman Empire fall? The world scoffed. On August 11, 1840, the world gasped!

"I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him" (Eccl 3:14). Fulfilled prophecy should drive us to fear tampering with God's inspired WordCany part of His Word and in any manner!

Never Out of Date. You see, we can't improve on God, nor must we try to. We can't second-guess His principles, "inclusify" His counsels, or soften His perceived "harshness." Prophecy proves that all the truths of God's Word are relevant today, even though written thousands of years ago. His Word will never be out of date, because prophecy proves that God lives in the futureCHe is as undatable as He is unchangeable! And if He lives in the future, then He saw our day in Daniel's day, knew what we would face, and inspired His prophets and other Bible writers to write relevant words for us. And just to prove to us that He knew this whole relevancy issue would arise, He inspired Paul to write: "All these things happened unto them [Israel] for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor 10:11-12).

That's why God's purposes know no haste nor delay, because God knows precisely where He is going, what He will see along the way, what He will face once He gets there, and just how He will solve any problem after He arrives! Now, that's relevant.

3. Prophecy Keeps Our Gospel Focus Clear

Many hundreds of years before Jesus' birth, prophets foretold His coming. Between then and Jesus' first advent, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome in turn revolutionized the world. Jesus fulfilled those ancient prophecies in His birth, life, and death on the cross. YetCand don't miss this pointCwhen Jesus met the two travelers to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) who were devastated by His death, He gave them, and us, a relevant lesson we should never forget.

When He sought to free their minds from their prophetic paralysis, He could have said: "Look, folks, it's Me, Jesus! I've risen from the dead!" Talk about relevant! Instead, the relevant, risen Savior pointed them back to the ancient writings, some written over a thousand years before: "Beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (Lk 24:27).

Prophecy Points to Jesus. Jesus taught us all, right then and there, that in the struggle of societal evolution, God's Word survives because it is the fittest! Not a single word is on an endangered species list (see Heb 13:8; Jer 6:16). Why did Jesus point those two sorrowing friends back to Moses and the prophets? Because prophecy points to Jesus. Because prophecy points to the sanctuary. Because prophecy points to the gospel, and to justification and sanctification and salvation. And if those themes are not relevant at every time, in every age, in every society, for every people, then we are, of all men, most miserable.

Indeed, prophecy, then and now, points to Jesus and to His work of redemption: to Phase 1 at the cross (Dan 9:24-27), to Phase 2 in the sanctuary in heaven (Dan 8:14; Rev 11:18-19, etc.), and to Phase 3 during and after the millennium at His third coming (Rev 20). Prophecy shows us how God worked for man's salvation from the first war in heaven (Rev 12) to the final peace on earth (Rev 21, 22). Sounds pretty relevant, doesn't it?

Jesus Learned through Prophecy. Consider this: When just 12 years old, Jesus began to see that He was the antitypical lamb. In other words, He started to understand that on Nisan 14, at 3:00 in the afternoon, in a.d. 31, He would die as a ransom for the sins of the world. How could He begin to understand all that when He was only 12 years old? Because He was a student of prophecy, including the 70 weeks of Daniel 9:24-27. And He was a student of the sanctuary and its feasts and sacrifices, all of which pointed to His lifework and mission. (See The Desire of Ages, pp. 80-82; Lk 2:49.)

And here's the point: A study of the sanctuary and of prophecy must always exist together. One cannot be rightly understood without the other. A perversion or manipulation of one will repaint the picture of the other. It's no accident that before many major prophecies unfold in Revelation (the 7 seals, 7 trumpets, and 7 plagues), something precedes them in the heavenly sanctuary (Rev 1; 5; 8:1-5; 15:5-8).

Every time prophecy--the 1,260, the 1,290, and the 1,335 days; the 150 years of Revelation 9:5; the 391 years and 15 days of Revelation 9:15; the 62 weeks, the 7 weeks, the divided week; the 42 months--every time prophecy was given by God for one major purpose: to validate and focus attention on the longest time prophecy of the Bible, the 2,300 days and the beginning of Jesus' work in the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary. God said that in "the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound [October 22, 1844], . . . there should be time no longer," or no more prophecies based on time (Rev 10:6, 7). With the opening of the door that no man can shut in heaven, time prophecies met their purpose, they had done their job.

Bad Prophecies, Bad Fruit. Yet some in our church teach that there will be another, literal 1,335, 1,260, 1,290, and 2,300 days before Jesus comes, and totally ignore--or try to rewrite--God's clear declaration in Revelation 10:6 that "there should be time no longer." Still others ignore God's definitive statement that the four beasts of Daniel 7:17 "are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth," and say that there will be yet another bear or lion or leopard. But, if that's true, then there wouldn't be four world kingdoms, as God pronounced, but five or six or eight. No! "Let God be true, but every man a liar" (Rom 3:4) must be our motto when approaching such themes. (See Isa 14:26, 27.)
            In reality, there can no more be two correct interpretations of prophecy than there can be two correct gospels! According to Ephesians 2:20, the "apostles [their gospel teaching] and prophets" are the very foundation of the church, with Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone." So, if we try to alter any part of the foundation, we are, in essence, attempting to change Christ Himself, for His name is "the word of God" (Rev 19:13).
            Yet, in accepting such prophetic perversions today without question, or merely with a curious, careless indifference, we allow our prophetic "roots" to be tampered with and our gospel "tree" to gradually, almost imperceptibly fade and bear mixed doctrinal fruit!
            The gospel and prophecy alike come from God (2 Pet 1:21). Neither can be tampered with without eternal consequences. That's why Paul wrote: "Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed" (Gal 1:8). In like manner, the stongest warning against "truth tampering" in the entire Bible is found in Revelation 22:18, 19, where God warns that if anyone dares to "take away" anything from His prophecies or "add unto" them, He will take that person's name from the book of life and add the seven last plagues to him.
             Despite God's strong warnings, some Adventists began tinkering with prophetic truth, and now many are rewriting the truths of justification and sanctification, the sanctuary, God's final destruction of sin and sinners, proper Sabbath observance, worship styles, leadership issues, and much more.
             Blessing Promised. Revelation 1:3 promises a blessing for all who: a) read prophecy (study it for themselves); b) hear prophecy (listen to others teach it); and c) keep the things that are written therein (make prophecy's truths a part of their lives). The same promise is given again in Revelation 22:7. What "things" are written in prophecy?
             Consider this partial list of "things" written in prophecy:
             1. The Sabbath (Rev 1:9; 14:12; 22:14)
             2. Health message (Dan 1: Rev 14:7 in light of 1 Cor 6:19, 20)
             3. The heavenly sanctuary (Dan 8:14; Rev 4:1-5; 8:1-6; 11:19; 15:5, 6; etc.)
             4. State of the dead (Rev 20:5, 13; Dan 12:13)
             5. Investigative judgment (Dan 8:14; 7:9, 10; Rev 11:18, 19; 10:7-11:2; etc.)
             6. Victorious living (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 26;  3:5, 12, 21;  12:11;  14:4, 5; etc.

 7. God's mercy and judgment (Dan 4:25-27; Dan 5; Rev 6:16, 17; 2:4, 5, 23; 3:18, 19; 14:9, 10, 19, 20; 19:13 tied with Isa 63:3; etc.)
             8. Infallibility of Scripture (Dan 2:45; 7:17; 12:9; Rev 1:1, 3, 7; 11:3-11; 19:13; 22:6; etc.)
             9. Current validity of God's chain of command (Rev 1:1 tied with 1 Cor 11:3 shows clearly God's chain of command on earth and His desires for church leadership).
            You see, just as a clear perception of prophecy and the sanctuary showed Jesus His God-ordained mission, they will also show His church and its members their mission for today--to preach and teach the nine truths outlined above, and many more. If we lose our vision of prophecy ("Where there is no vision, the people perish," Prov 29:18), we will lose our clear vision of the distinctive message for these last days. Why were we the only church preaching all of these messages for so many years? Because we were the only church that correctly understood prophecy--indeed we are the prophesied "remnant" that would "keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus," "which is the spirit of prophecy" (Rev 12:17; 19:10).
            "More Sure" Word. Through divine inspiration, Peter called it "the more sure word of prophecy" in his day (2 Pet 1:19). Why did he make such a declaration? For one, because Jesus, in His death in the midst of the week of Dan 9:24-26, validated the entire 2,300-day prophecy of Daniel 8:14, from which the 70 weeks were "cut off." Simply put, the whole plan of salvation, the entire gospel, was guaranteed in that one event. But also, Peter was making another profound pronouncement.
            Notice that in 2 Peter 1:16-18, Peter refers to being an "eyewitness" to Jesus' majesty on the mount of transfiguration, and an "earwitness" to the very voice of God announcing that Jesus was His "beloved Son." Then Peter says "we have a more sure word. . . ."
            In the commentary, William Burkitt's Notes on the New Testament, Burkitt wrote these insightful words about this passage: "Observe here, that the Scriptures, or written word of God, are a more sure word to us than any voice from heaven, or revelation whatsoever; not that there was any uncertainty in the Lord's voice uttered from heaven at Christ's transfiguration, but because that transient voice was heard only by three, and might be mistaken or forgotten; whereas the Holy Scriptures are a standing and authentic record, and a most sure ground for faith to build upon. . . .
            "Learn hence, that the written word of God is a surer word, more to be depended and relied upon than any voice from heaven, though attested by the greatest and most eminent apostle, and consequently to be more heeded and regarded by us . . . for the testimony of an angel, at the highest, is but the testimony of a creature; but the testimony of the sanctifying Spirit is the testimony of God himself; it is therefore the sure word that we are to attend unto; and that revelation of God's will, being final, is and ought to be attended to, before any pretended or real revelations whatsoever."
            In short: If we question the authority of God's written word in any sphere, we would question that same word if spoken by His own voice in His very presence.
            May God help us to "take heed" to the "more sure word of prophecy" as it shines in the "dark place" of today's "gross darkness" (Isa 60:1). May prophecy may no longer be a "prop" simply to draw a crowd, but a powerful preserving tool to help us prepare a people for the great events that prophecy has predicted will soon be upon us. May God's church truly believe that prophecy "came not in old time by the will of man" but by the infallible utterance of the Holy Ghost giving timeless, trusted truths relevant for God's last church upon the earth.