What About Biblical Prophecy?
The church sees prophecy in the following contexts. First, there is a past aspect to the gospel, in which Christ was foretold to be the Messiah. That is “prophecy,” prophecy fulfilled, and it points to the redemptive work of Jesus (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47 and John 5:39-47). Two examples of such prophecies are Deuteronomy 18:15 and Isaiah 53.
There is also a present aspect to the gospel. This tells us we are forgiven of our sins, we are justified and sanctified, and we live in grace as Christ lives in us. Those realities were also “prophesied” or foretold in Scripture. The teaching about salvation, in that sense, can be called a “prophetic message.”
There is also a future “prophetical” aspect to the gospel — that Christ will return and restore God’s rule to the whole world. The dead in Christ will be resurrected and receive their inheritance to eternal life.
Some people focus on only part of the future aspect, sometimes to the detriment of the basic message of salvation. Much of the teaching is of a speculative nature that eventually proves to be wrong. Many have taught that there will be a “Great Tribulation” on America and Britain before Jesus returns. Some claim that the “beast power” originating in Europe will attack the United States and persecute Christians. Herbert Armstrong speculated that these events would occur in the 1930s. When they didn’t, a new time frame of 1972-1975 was eventually given as the years when these events would occur. Other prophecy teachers have set dates of 1988, or 2012. People are trying to use certain portions of Scripture, such as Revelation, as a blueprint or guide to the meaning of current events.
We now hold to a broader view of prophecy. Preaching the gospel is different from trying to discover in what year or age “the end” may arrive or what specifically might happen in the world at a given time. That is not the purpose of biblical prophecy, as all the failed predictions during the last 2,000 years have shown.
Admittedly, speculative prophecy can be more exciting than the gospel. People listen to the “warning” and hope to escape the “Great Tribulation.” The church will supposedly escape this time of trial by being taken to a place of safety. This is considered “inside knowledge” that no one knows except the favored “elect.”
Actually, speculative use of prophecy parallels an old covenant message that was a national warning to Israel to repent as God’s people and nation. The Old Testament includes numerous messages that are classic prophecy. Ezekiel had a “watchman” function for the nation of Israel. However, that message of national repentance and restoration to a physical land no longer applies in a literal sense, since God is calling individuals from all nations and ethnic groups to spiritual salvation.
The gospel is not about the modern identity of nations. Christ’s sacrifice is the central plank and fulcrum of God’s plan. Acts 4:12 is one of the pivotal Scriptures of the Bible: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
Jesus Christ is not the property of a few nations or church fellowships. He belongs, in a manner of speaking, to the whole world. In that context, the identity of a nation is insignificant, since God is no longer dealing with a single nation. Rather, his salvation is given to people of all nations. In light of the New Testament and the centrality of Christ in God’s plan of salvation, the identity of nations is of no consequence. In Galatians 3:28 we read, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
As human beings we remain Americans, Chinese, Egyptians, English, Germans, Greeks, Indians, Sudanese or members of some other national group, even after conversion. Yet, in this life we are offered the opportunity to participate in God’s nature and become a part of the “Israel of God,” his church (Galatians 6:16). Today, the church is composed of Spirit-filled Christians from all nations, and is the true Israel.
The new covenant message goes to the whole world. It is a message of hope that salvation in Jesus is given to everyone who accepts him as Savior and is willing to live in faith. While this message may not have the drama that “watchman” prophecy preaching did, it is the most important message that could be preached. After all, this message affects our eternity.
Any attempt to pinpoint the exact years when the “end time” will occur is fundamentally flawed. (In fact, the biblical writers see the “end of the age” as beginning with the redemptive work of Christ.) We do not need to discern when “the end” might come – we need to leave the future in God’s hands (Acts 1:6-7; Matthew 24:36, 42, 44). As Christians, our job is to “watch” our own spiritual attitudes to be sure we are in a relationship of faithful love with our Creator. We have no need to watch world events in that sense. God is sovereign and will take care of his own. In the resurrection of the dead to eternal life, all God’s people share the ultimate victory that was won by Jesus Christ.