You may remember the television newscaster who had one of the most memorable sign-off lines in American broadcasting: Walter Cronkite, who would end the CBS Evening News by saying, “And that’s the way it is.”
Biblical prophecy: perspectives for today and promises for tomorrow. When we know “the rest of the story,” it doesn’t matter how troubling the middle chapters are.
• Understanding Prophecy
• Unpacking Prophecy
While Cronkite’s two-decade run as a network news host was amazing, another broadcaster—this one on radio—was active for nearly six decades and had multiple memorable lines to his credit. Once established and popular, he began every news broadcast the same way: “Hello Americans! This is [name]—stand by for NEWS!” And depending on whether it was his midday broadcast or his evening broadcast, he would end each the same way: “[Name]—good day!” or “[Name]—good night!” And rather than reveal the name of someone who had done something criminal or offensive in the news, he would substitute a long, silent pause before moving on.
If you are of a certain age in America, you know exactly whom I am talking about: the legendary Paul Harvey. From 1951 to 2008, his radio broadcasts were heard by some 24 million listeners each week on 1,200 radio stations, 400 armed forces stations, and printed in 300 newspapers. He had the perfect voice for radio: deep and rich, with impeccable timing, flavored with whimsy and a smile.
Though Harvey’s trademark style was legendary, there was one phrase he used that became iconic. From 1976 until his death in 2009, Paul Harvey hosted a series called The Rest of the Story—stories with plot twists and turns unknown to the public at large. And no one could tell a story with a surprise ending better than Harvey. Americans waited for the last punchline sentence, followed by a trademark pause, then the famous words: “And now you know... the rest of the story.”1 (I can hear those words even as I write!)
What does “the rest of the story” do for us? It provides answers to questions; it releases tension; it provides background and context. But most of all, “the rest of the story” provides the end of the story. Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. When we know the beginning and most of the middle, we live with a measure of tension and anticipation until the end is revealed. Not having the end of the story revealed is like reading through a gripping novel full of mystery and drama only to discover that the last chapter has been torn from the book! We are desperate to find out “who done it,” as they say, and can’t get relief until we know.
The Bible is such a story—God’s story of redemption and reconciliation. We know the beginning stages (chapters) of God’s story, and we are living in the “middle” chapters right now. But what about “the rest—the end—of the story”?
Those who look at the history of humanity from a purely secular perspective can recite the beginning in a mechanical sort of way: the movement of people and nations without any coherent story line. And as for the middle chapters, our modern world is filled with problems and pressures from every angle that could be described as a global pinball machine—random events, again with no spiritual story line. And as for the future—the secularists can only ask, “Who knows?”
But those of us who view history as God’s story, playing out His plans and purposes, view the world differently. Not only do we see God’s hand at work in the past and present, but we also see “the rest of the story” coming in the future. And that is where biblical prophecy comes in: Prophecy tells us “the rest of the story.” That is the value of prophecy—it lets us breathe a sigh of relief; it tells us how the story ends. And by telling us ahead of time, it gives us hope, comfort, and assurance until the future arrives.
Prophecy is a big topic—let’s talk about what it is and how it benefits us.
Definitions first. The Greek word in the New Testament that we translate as “prophecy” or “to prophesy” comes from combining two Greek words: the preposition “before” and the verb “declare/say.” Combine the two, and you get the idea of speaking about something before it happens. That’s how we usually think about biblical prophecy—a prediction about the future.
We could call that kind of prophecy foretelling. But there is another aspect of prophecy we can call forthtelling—the act of speaking forth the words of God. Foretelling and forthtelling are two sides of the same prophetic coin. One is the actual prophecy (prediction) itself; the other is the act of speaking forth those words from God about the future.
First Corinthians 14:3 lists the benefits of prophecy, including edification (strengthening, building up), exhortation (encouragement), and comfort (hope). Those three effects of prophecy are important to remember when we talk about “the rest of the biblical story”—the part of the story that is yet to be experienced.
God has given us a broad prophetic outline of how the future will unfold and in some cases remarkable details. But as we wait for God to reveal all the details, the prophetic Scriptures can strengthen us, encourage us, and give us certain hope—in at least six ways.
Knowing what is coming in the future gives us perspective on what is happening now. Without biblical prophecy we might not understand the international resentment toward the nation of Israel, the gradual inclination toward a universal world order, the increase in natural disasters, the decline in the moral fabric of societies, and more. Since the Bible foretells all those realities, we are not surprised when we see them happening.
To perceive is to understand or interpret. Much biblical prophecy is written in apocalyptic or figurative language which requires understanding. So when John saw a vision of Christ returning to earth with a sharp sword coming out of His mouth (Revelation 19:15), we know it means He is coming to destroy and judge the nations. And that gives us an understanding about the future of rulers who govern unjustly and with evil intent. It lets us know the scales of justice will be balanced.
When God speaks about the future, it is the same as a promise. No biblical prophecy about events in the past has ever gone unfulfilled. And that gives us great certainty about prophecies related to the future—they, too, are promises of God in which we can trust. When we wonder if there will ever be a time when there will be peace on earth, prophecy promises, “Yes” (Isaiah 9:6-7). Will we ever be free of sickness, pain, and death? Prophecy promises, “Yes” (Revelation 21:4-5).
The same prophetic words that encourage you can be used by you to encourage others. Recall Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 14:3: Prophecy strengthens, encourages, and comforts. And there are many in this world who need all three. Prophecy—God’s promises about the future—can prop up those in danger of falling.
Peter wrote that the “prophetic word” can serve as a “light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). Like fresh batteries in a flashlight on a dark night, the prophetic Scriptures can empower us to stay on the path of God’s plans and purposes “until the day dawns.”
What is the purpose of a weather report or a travel advisory? Preparation. When we know what the future holds, we can make preparations today—the most important of which is embracing the Lord Jesus Christ and extending His Kingdom in the world.
Biblical prophecy: perspectives for today and promises for tomorrow. When we know “the rest of the story,” it doesn’t matter how troubling the middle chapters are. When the Author has given us a copy of the last chapters to read ahead of time, we can make more sense of the past and present parts of the story.
To read “the rest of the story,” be a faithful student of God’s prophetic Scriptures. Let God use them to strengthen, encourage, and comfort you as we approach the final chapter of His eternal story. “The rest of the story”—the best of the story—is soon to come!
1 “Paul Harvey,” Wikipedia.