In the United States, there were approximately 1.7 million new cases of cancer diagnosed in 2018.1 Globally, there were at least 25 ongoing, armed conflicts with vast humanitarian, political, and economic consequences.2 In 2016, 815 million people were undernourished.3 Many people look at these statistics of human suffering and wonder where God is in all of this. Does He see our suffering? Did He know all of this would happen? Why doesn’t He do something about it?
From cover to cover, the Bible is replete with prophecy. Some prophetic words provide comfort and encouragement during ordeals. Others pierce men’s hearts and move them to action. Hundreds of the Bible’s predictions have been fulfilled while others await their fruition. Prophecy reveals important messages from God and provides a lens through which to interpret our world and our circumstances.
The English word prophecy derives from prophéteia, which means “the gift of communicating and enforcing revealed truth.”4 A prophet is one who possesses that gift. He or she is responsible for declaring God’s Word with absolute fidelity (Jeremiah 23:18-22).
Exodus 4 provides a beautiful illustration. When Moses objected to speaking before Pharaoh because of his own insecurities, God appointed his brother, Aaron, to be his prophet. “So [Aaron] shall be your spokesman to the people. And he himself shall be as a mouth for you, and you shall be to him as God” (Exodus 4:16). Likewise, God supplies His prophet with what needs to be said, but the prophet is the one to say it. A true prophet appointed by God takes no credit for his words, recognizing that his revelation is God’s and not his own.
Prophecy’s Two-Fold Purposes
Prophecy can have two purposes: to forthtell the present and to foretell the future. Forthtelling is prescriptive. It speaks the truth of God, not for the future but for today, for purposes of edification and exhortation and comfort (1 Corinthian 14:3). Foretelling is predictive; it describes something that will happen in the future. It is also capable of edifying, exhorting, and comforting.
Whether it is predictive or prescriptive, prophecy always points back to God. Before its fulfillment, prophecy conveys an important message from God. After its fulfillment, prophecy produces praise to God.
Prophecy Points to Messiah
Much of biblical prophecy foretold the promised Messiah and awaits His Second Coming. It anticipates a time when the nations will recognize Israel’s God as King (Isaiah 2:1-4; Zechariah 8:1-23). Jesus prophesied about His own Second Coming through the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. Like the traveling ruler, Jesus will return unexpectedly to settle accounts with every person. We will each be summoned to give an account of how we have used our resources and gifts when the Lord returns.
This truth comforts the faithful and warns the unrepentant. As a builder determines the soundness of a wall with a plumb line, God will evaluate our holiness against His holiness and righteousness. His faithful servants will have nothing to fear. They can expect God to substitute Christ’s holiness for theirs while rewarding their efforts with praise, additional responsibilities, and joy (1 John 2:2; Matthew 25:21, 23). If we fail to meet His standard of holiness, He will have no choice but to tear us down and cast us out in judgment (Amos 7:7-17). God’s judgment may seem harsh, but He never acts without fair warning. “Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).
Prophecy Produces Praise
Ultimately, prophecy produces praise to God. It reminds mankind of God’s faithfulness in the past and His promises for the future (Habakkuk 3:3-15). In Luke 24, Jesus explained for the disciples how He fulfilled prophecies throughout the Old Testament (verse 27). When they understood the significance of this, that He was Messiah and had conquered death, they marveled and were full of joy (verse 41). After Jesus ascended to heaven, Luke tells us what His disciples did next: “They worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God” (verses 52-53).
Fulfilled prophecy proves that God is who He says He is. Mathematicians have calculated that the chances of one person fulfilling 48 Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah are one chance in ten to the 157th power. Friend, Jesus fulfilled three hundred! Those odds are unfathomable. It’s doubtful that the disciples calculated this before they began praising and worshiping their risen Lord. So, having gained this perspective, how much more should we praise Him for His fulfilled promises?
Recognizing False Prophets
True prophets command our respect as those chosen to communicate God’s plans and purposes, and they are often imitated. Since ancient times, false prophets have deceived people by conjuring up counterfeit prophecies. How can we know the difference? Scripture gives us several warning signs of false prophets.
A hallmark of false prophets is that they are self-serving and prideful. Rather than magnifying the glory of God, they magnify themselves, seeking prosperity and popularity. God’s prophets carry messages that challenge His people to repentance and endurance, while false prophets tell people “what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3, NIV). They often live a lifestyle that is inconsistent with God’s priorities. Numbers 22 describes a prophet for hire named Balaam who “divined” for financial gain and favor with the princes of Midian and Moab.
God’s prophets do not live the lifestyle of the rich and famous. They routinely endure persecution and hardship. When Jesus sent out the twelve disciples to proclaim the Good News, He warned them to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” because He was sending them out “as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16).
False Prophets Deny Scripture
Another characteristic of false teachers is their denial of the inspiration or authority of Scripture. Second Timothy 3:16 states, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” If a prophet is truly speaking on God’s behalf, his words will not contradict a single word of Scripture (2 Peter 1:21; Matthew 5:18). God does not change and neither does His Word. Anyone who rejects the Bible rejects its Author and cannot be His spokesman.
Ultimately, false prophets will be debunked because of unfulfilled prophecies. In Jeremiah 28, a man named Hananiah claimed to be God’s prophet and directly defied the true prophet, Jeremiah. He prophesied that God would dethrone Nebuchadnezzar within two years and liberate Judah. Not only was he wrong, the exact opposite happened: Nebuchadnezzar’s grip on Judah tightened, and the Lord put Hananiah to death two months later.
Two Tests of Prophecy
The Lord gives us clear instructions for testing the words of a prophet in Deuteronomy 18:21-22:
Of course, this test only works after the oracle has been discredited. In Matthew 24, Jesus warns us that, in the end, many will come claiming to be Him. In fact, the presence of many who claim to be the Messiah will be a sign of the end of the age (verses 3-5, 23-27). These soothsayers “will deceive many” (verse 5).
The apostle John warns believers to be wary and provides an additional test for the validity of prophecy:
Prophecy and Peace
Our world yearns for peace. Science seeks to create physical harmony by curing diseases like cancer and heart disease. Society strives for social harmony by performing random acts of kindness, finding inner peace through meditation, improving work-life balance, eliminating prejudice, resolving to be happy, and pithy sentiments like “Be the change.”
At the surface, these are commendable goals, but they are powerless to transform lives. They are band-aid solutions that do nothing to cure the cancer engulfing our souls, inciting our wars, and encouraging our apathy to others’ misfortunes. If we desire peace, we must embrace the Prince of Peace.
Over seven hundred years before Jesus was born in a dirty Bethlehem stable, the prophet Isaiah predicted, “Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And his name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Jesus Christ was born into adversity. He was the Son of a poor, unwed mother in an occupied nation, yet He possessed the power of peace.
The Suffering Servant
God did not spare His own Son from hardship because He was ordained to be the Suffering Servant prophesied by Isaiah 53. In John 12:23-26, Jesus stated:
God’s children are not immune from suffering. Joblessness, illness, and tragedy find us all. Yet, knowing that God is sovereign above our circumstances, that He loves us, and that He is for us can provide peace in troubled times.
Will there be peace on earth? If so, how will it be accomplished? Is there a solution for the injustice in our world? Where does God fit in with all of this? In my upcoming article, Understanding Old and New Testament Prophecy, I’ll answer these questions and more. In the meantime, I hope you’ll study the Prince of Peace. You may download my e-book, Master and Other Names of Jesus, to aid your study.
1American Cancer Society, Cancer Facts & Figures 2018 (Atlanta: American Cancer Society, 2018) 1.
2“Global Conflict Tracker,” https://www.cfr.org/interactives/global-conflict-tracker#!/global-conflict-tracker, accessed on December 26, 2018.
3“Conflict and Climate Change Challenge Sustainable Development Effort: UN Report,” https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/06/1012662, accessed on December 26, 2018.
4“Prophéteia,” https://biblehub.com/parallel/2_peter/1-21.htm, accessed on December 27, 2018.