Help for Today — Hope for Tomorrow
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[Gary Petty] Jesus Christ told His disciples to watch with the signs leading to His return. But today we see many Christian leaders making prophetic claims about news events that are just bizarre. How can we take up Jesus' directive to watch without falling for the endless carousel of headline prophets?
It seems that bad news produces headline prophets. Religious leaders who claim that a specific headline is a direct fulfillment of a biblical prophecy. You know, I remember when George Bush and later Barack Obama were elected president of the United States, there were religious leaders who declared that each of them was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. In the presidential election of 2020, dozens of major evangelical and charismatic religious leaders claimed that God had appointed Donald Trump to win the election. Well, the election showed otherwise. You know, Christians are to watch the world around us so that the events prophesied in the Bible won't catch us by surprise. But how can Christians keep focused on the predictive element of prophecy without becoming disillusioned by headline prophecies that misinterpret the latest news event? Well, today we're going to look at some important keys for understanding Bible prophecy and look at one headline that is important in understanding prophecy.
The purpose for biblical prophecy is to prove that God is the active ruler over the past, the present, and the future. Now understanding that there are central themes to biblical prophecy helps us realize that God is not only active in this broad, grand scope of human history, He's active in the lives of individuals. There are central themes that contain promises from God to those who have committed their lives to Him. Actually, Jesus gave a prophecy concerning a promise to His followers. One night, and it's actually the night before He was crucified, here's what He told His disciples. Jesus said to them, "Let not your heart be troubled, you believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you. And if I go," listen to this, "and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself that where I am, there you may be also" Jesus told His disciples that He was going to leave them. And not long after He made this promise, He was crucified, buried, resurrected, and then returned by ascending to His father. This prophecy that He gave for His apostles is still true today to His disciples today. You see, He is returning to gather us to Him. The Messiah has returned to establish God's kingdom on this earth is one of the central themes of biblical prophecy.
Now let's look at one of the most important prophecies that contain a far-reaching promise from God about the Christ or the Messiah, and the story flow of the Bible shows how God is actively fulfilling this promise. Almost 4,000 years ago, Abraham was called by God. The story of Abraham's life shows him to be one of the most faithful men to God in all of history. It is a personal story of his life successes and his life's failures and his relationship with God. The story of Abraham also contains predictive prophecies that sweep across time and involves all humanity. Now the prophecy I'm talking about here is found in Genesis, talking about Abraham in Genesis 22, and here's what God says to him. God says to Abraham, "Blessing I will bless you and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven, and as of the sand which is on the seashore, and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies." And listen to this, "In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed because you have obeyed my voice." There's actually two promises here. One, that God will make Abraham's descendants into a great people and two, in your seed, Abraham's seed, all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. And these two promises outlined God's interaction all throughout human history with human beings. The Bible shows that Abraham's descendants became the nation of Israel and this is why a major story flow of the Old Testament is the story of Israel.
Throughout Israel's history God sent them prophets, men specifically chosen to declare God's blessings and God's judgments and promises concerning their future. But the people of Israel, according to the Bible rarely worshiped God, they rarely obeyed Him. Eventually they ended up divided actually into two nations, a nation called Israel and a nation called Judah and the division was so great that they ended up fighting a war against each other. The biblical story of Abraham's descendants covers almost 2000 years of history. We look in the Bible and it predicted this would happen and it had happened. The eighth century BC, the nation of Israel was taken into captivity just as the prophets had foretold. The biblical history then centers on Judah, how eventually they were taken captive by the Babylonians, but the prophets told them something. They told the Jews that they would eventually be allowed to return to Jerusalem, and this Jewish return wasn't just something God could see in the future and predict. When we look at the Bible, we see the God was very actively involved in bringing the house of Judah back to Jerusalem.
Now, want to look at a prophecy that's in the Old Testament. This prophecy was given by Isaiah and is God who was speaking. "Who says of Cyrus. He is my shepherd and he shall perform all my pleasure." This is God talking, remember. "Saying to Jerusalem, you shall be built and to the temple, your foundation shall be laid." You know what's really amazing about this? When he gave this prophecy, Jerusalem was a thriving capital city of Judah. It wouldn't be sacked by the Babylonians until around 586. About a hundred years or so after the time of Isaiah's prophecy. The Babylonians would then be conquered by the Persians at around 559, a long time, many decades. After Isaiah, there was this king of Persia and his name was Cyrus. Modern archeology has confirmed that the Cyrus of Persia did send the Jews back to Jerusalem. It's a historical fact. It's not doubted in history at all. And remember, this was prophesied by Isaiah decades before Cyrus was even born.
So why would God be so involved in Jewish history? Well, He had promised Abraham that through his seed all nations would be blessed. God's promises to Abraham, first that his descendants would become a great people. And secondly, in his seed all nations would be blessed is just one key to understanding Bible prophecy.
On Beyond Today we're excited to help you in your prophetic studies. We offer you a free copy of "You Can Understand Bible Prophecy." Now, one chapter in the study guide covers nine fundamental keys to understanding prophecy including the role of the Messiah. We're talking about that today, duality and prophecy and cause an effect in prophecy, something that you don't think about much. Now you can get your free copy of "You Can Understand Bible Prophecy" by calling the number on your screen, or going to beyondtoday.tv and downloading or ordering your free copy.
We've been showing how a lot of the Old Testament is about God's interaction with the descendants of Abraham. Why? Well the answer is partly found in a letter in the New Testament, something written by the Apostle Paul. So we're going to go to the New Testament to find this answer. He's writing to the church in Galatia. And here's what Paul writes. "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made." We read that. Now this is thousands of years after that. He does not say, and to seeds as of many, but as of one, and to your seed who is Christ. Remember I said at the beginning of the program, that the purpose of biblical prophecy is to prove that God is the active ruler of the past and the present and the future. A central theme of biblical prophecy is the remarkable story of God's promises to Abraham and how He interacted with Abraham's descendants to bring about the seed, Jesus, who will bless all the nations of the earth. And this is the greatest headline of Christianity. This is the greatest prophetic headline of Christianity.
The Old Testament contains dozens of prophecies about the Messiah that are quoted in the New Testament by the New Testament writers, to prove that Jesus is this Christ, this Messiah. But you know when we go back to the Old Testament, we find other prophecies about the time when God directly intervenes in human history to establish His rule, His kingdom on the earth, and this is something that Jesus did not do the first time He came.
One Old Testament example is when God used a Babylonian king named Nebuchadnezzar and a prophet named Daniel to predict when and actually we did a Beyond Today program explaining this event and it's titled “Who Will Be the Final Superpower?” In that program, we cover the prophetic message of Nebuchadnezzar's dream, and you will be able to watch “Who Will Be The Final Superpower?” It's available on beyondtoday.tv. Nebuchadnezzar's prophetic dream covers thousands of years of human history. But today I want to just look at one aspect of that dream, not go through all of it as we did in that other program. What I want to look at is how this dream message ends, how this dream message ends.
What is it that is the final point that God is making here? And here's what Daniel is inspired to tell Nebuchadnezzar. He says, "And in the days of these Kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, and the kingdom shall not be left to other people. It shall break in pieces and consume all those kingdoms, and it shall stand forever." A kingdom is going to come and subdue all human kingdoms, and this prophecy is actually a link between God's promise to Abraham and Jesus' promise to His disciples. You see this prophecy tells us that there's four great ruling empires that will culminate with the establishment of God's kingdom on earth. And Jesus told His disciples that He was leaving but that He was coming back and returning for them. Jesus came the first time as Savior. But according to the prophecies, He is returning a second time as King of kings and one of the things He does is He gathers His followers to Him.
Now there's more to this story and it's going to actually lead us to an actual headline that is a partial fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Now let me lay the groundwork of this prophetic thing we're talking about, this event or this headline. Jesus, born of God's Spirit and a Jewish woman named Mary, prophesied that Jerusalem would once again be destroyed and the descendants of Abraham, again, taken into captivity, he actually told them that, it's part of what is called the Olivet prophecy. And the Romans came along and destroyed Jerusalem again in 70AD. It was destroyed in the Old Testament. Jesus said it's going to be destroyed again and it was.
Now I'm going to look at an Old Testament prophecy about the coming of the Messiah, not as savior, okay, not as a baby in a manger. He comes the second time as King of kings. So let's go to Zachariah, and here's the prophecy that God gives to Zachariah. "The burden of the word of the Lord against Israel. Thus says the Lord who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth and forms the spirit of man within him. Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall happen in that day, I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples. All who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it." This prophecy is about a time when a large confederation of nations gather to fight against Judah and Jerusalem. Now, notice something else that happens in this prophecy about all these nations gathered together. It hasn't happened yet. And there's something important that happens at this time to those people, those descendants of Abraham from the tribe of Judah who are there at the time, they have to be there for this to happen. He says in verse 10, "And I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the spirit of grace and supplication. Then they will look on me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son and grieve for Him as one who grieves for a firstborn." At this time, when nations are gathered to fight against Judah and Jerusalem, God will pour out His Spirit on the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And then take note of what we just read. Then they will look on me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one who mourns for his only son.
You see this as a reference, it's actually used in the New Testament. It's a reference to the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ. The Jewish people will realize that Jesus is the Messiah and they will mourn for their blindness. Now if you read through the rest of this prophecy, Zachariah calls this time when the Jews in Jerusalem see this second coming, not the first coming, the second coming of the Messiah. He calls it the day of the Lord. It is a time when God will establish His kingdom on the earth to bring peace and solutions to the great problems of humanity. You know, after the Bar Kokhba Revolt in the 130s, the Romans expelled the Jews from Jerusalem. For many centuries, there was only a very small Jewish population in the Palestine. And then in 1948, there were headlines all over the world announcing that the Jews had returned to their homeland and the modern nation of Israel was established. Now realize something, it was only after the events of 1948 that the prophecies of Zachariah could happen. There were no Jews there. It couldn't happen yet. This was a real headline prophecy. Those prophecies in 1948. Knowing when a current event actually fits the biblical prophetic framework, it could be difficult.
Our free study guide "You Can Understand Bible prophecy" can help you navigate the headlines by showing some of the basic themes of biblical prophecy. You know, one chapter gives insight to the beast of Revelation 13, the two witnesses, the seven seals of Revelation, the abomination of desolation and the day of the Lord which is what we're talking about here today. You can get your free copy of "You Can Understand Bible Prophecy" by calling the number on your screen, or by going to beyondtoday.tv and downloading or ordering your own copy.
The day of the Lord prophesied by Zachariah is one of the major biblical prophetic themes. And it's a time when God intervenes in human affairs, a time when he punishes evil, a time when Jesus Christ returns to rule over all the nations, all the races, all the tribes and empires as the one family of God. The Apostle Paul tells Christians about this. He talks to the Christians in Thessalonica about how to prepare for this. How do we prepare for this? What he tells them in Thessalonica is just as important for us today. So listen to what the Apostle Paul says. "But concerning the times and the seasons brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night." Here Paul tells Christians that they should know the signs of the day of the Lord. We know these things are going to happen, but it does come as a thief in the night, in other words, many people were surprised. Knowing the themes and continuity of the Bible helps us avoid misinterpreting headline prophecies. He goes on, he says, "From when they say peace and safety, then sudden destruction comes upon them as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape."
We know from Jesus Olivet prophecy and the book of Revelation that terrible global catastrophes, disease, pandemics and wars will proceed the day of the Lord. But in the midst of this global upheaval, there's going to come a time, a short time, when things seem to be getting okay, peace, peace, but it's not real. He says in verse four, "But you, brethren," he's talking to Christians here, "are not in darkness so that this day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We're not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep as others do, but let us watch." Let us watch. Christians have the light of God's word to prepare us for the day of the Lord and though this is going to be a terrible time, Christians can overcome fear with the power and the help of God. He says, therefore, let us not sleep and then he actually gives four things, four things for them to do. He says, "Be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation,"
You know in this spiritual sleeping, and part of it can be caused from too many headline prophecies, we jump back and forth emotionally, pulled all over the place, missing what God's actually doing and we start sleepwalking through our Christianity. And he says, here's how you don't sleepwalk through Christianity. First of all, you're sober, in other words, you're serious about being a child of God and a disciple of Jesus Christ. And you know, this is more than a quote. Being sober here, we have to understand the reality of what it is to be a child of God. He said putting on the breastplate of faith. You know, the only way to clearly navigate the confusion and difficulties of living as a Christian in the dark ages before Christ's return is to trust in God and in trusting His word and His love and His power in your life 'cause it's His power that makes the difference. He said in love, God's love. You know the world that we live in is going to become more and more polarized and divided. The result is that Christians can become cold-hearted without compassion. We prepare for the day of the Lord according to Paul by being a living example of God's love to other people. That's how we prepare. And then he said the hope of salvation.
You know, if your only hope is in political movements and social programs, boy, you're going to be disappointed 'cause it's only through God, through Jesus Christ, that we can be saved from the troubles and burdens of our lives and give us hope of a future when the Messiah reigns on the earth. You see, living without seriousness, faith, love, and hope. So, how do I prepare? How much food do I save up? No, we have to do these things because not to have these things is like going into battle, like Paul said, without any armor on. And then here's how he ends this passage, he says, "For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." If you have truly repented of your sins, dedicated your life to faith and in God to the point of giving up everything you have, you have to have to give up everything you are, you've given it to your Creator, then you will receive salvation through Jesus Christ and you don't have to worry about the wrath to come because you will be safe.
Let me ask you a quick question here. Have you ever wondered about what happens after the millennium when Jesus reigns on the earth for a thousand years? The last chapter of today's free study guide is titled “Beyond the Millennium” and you will find that after the millennium there's a time of God's judgment and God will create a new heaven and a new earth. "You Can Understand Bible Prophecy" will give you insight into the story flow of prophecy and God's purpose for you. There's an awesome future God wants to give you. You can understand Bible prophecy, call the number on your screen or go to beyondtoday.tv.
Biblical prophecy can be baffling and it's often misunderstood. Christians must avoid getting so caught up in overreacting to headline prophecies that we become confused and emotionally distraught. Now, on the other hand, we have to be aware of events and headlines that may be fulfillments of prophecy. You know, in 1948 was obvious if you understood the prophecy. One key is the study of the Bible's overarching themes so that we can, as Paul said, know the times and the seasons, not all the specifics, but we'll know the times and the seasons. Paul solution is to not become overwhelmed by events and headline prophecies, but to concentrate on your relationship with God and to grow in your spiritual life. Think about what he said here, right? He said, we have to be sober. We have to be serious. We have to be serious about what it means to be a child of God. We have to be serious what it means in our lives to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. This isn't just, oh good, I'm a Christian, and you sleepwalk through life spiritually speaking. He's talking about we can't sleep. We have to be awake. We have to be sober. And we have to think about the seriousness of being a Christian.
Wearing the breastplate of faith we're going to have to trust in God even when it doesn't seem like there's any solution, even when things are bad, that God loves us, God cares for us. God has chosen you if you're a Christian. If you're not a Christian, you need to think about becoming a Christian because God is going to take those people. Jesus says I'm returning for them specifically. Not He's coming for the world, He's coming for them specifically. Then we have to actively show the love of God. We can't hide in a hole and say, oh good God loves me, I can hide out. If we're going to prepare for the day of the Lord, we have to be actively showing the love of God to other people. We have to interact with people. This is tough. This is tough stuff. And the last one, he says experiencing the hope of salvation.
Where is our hope? So many people have a lost hope and ideas of what's going to save the world and fix the world, and it doesn't get fixed until Jesus Christ comes back. That's salvation. That's when the world gets saved because the Creator sends His Son back to save us. The day of the Lord is coming, but be concerned, not about all these physical things, but the hope of salvation.
[Narrator] Please call for the booklet offered on today's program "You Can Understand Bible Prophecy." You will learn about amazing biblical prophecies that came to pass centuries later exactly as they were predicted. You will see how God keeps His promises and covenants and how those promises explain the news you see every day. It shouldn't be a mystery. Order now, call toll-free 1-888-886-8632, or write to the address shown on your screen. When you order this free study, we'll also send you a complimentary one year subscription to Beyond Today Magazine. Beyond Today Magazine brings you understanding of today's world and hope for the future. Six times a year, you'll read about current world events in light of Bible prophecy and godly principles to guide you toward a life that leads to peace. Call today to receive your free booklet "You Can understand Bible Prophecy" and your free one-year subscription to Beyond Today Magazine 1-888-886-8632, or go online to beyondtoday.tv.
Hi, I'm Gary Petty, a pastor with United Church of God. If you're looking for a church that encourages living with the word of God really teaches, you found the right place, visit ucg.org to find a church near you. We're looking forward to meeting you soon.