Attitudes to Prophecy
Donald Cameron, Clovenfords, Scotland
. . . the wise, the simple, the mockers and fools
God in His supreme wisdom has chosen to reveal to us by many means within His written word a vast treasury of prophetic information. Much has already been fulfilled; much more has yet to be fulfilled.
The opening chapter of Proverbs lists four classes of people: the wise, v. 5; the simple, v. 22; the mockers, v. 22 (equally well translated as ‘scoffers’ or ‘scorners’); and lastly, the fools, or foolish, v. 22. The three latter classes are seen as being without excuse, inasmuch as wisdom is readily and freely available. This wisdom is God’s wisdom which is stated as, ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding’, Prov. 9. 10. Obviously, these classes apply to a great deal more than attitudes to the Bible’s predictive prophecies but it is not difficult to see it has a significant relevance in this area. Let us take a brief look.
Latter-day scoffers are directly associated with attitudes to God’s faithful promises about Christ’s return. ‘There shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, ‘’Where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant’’’. Peter then goes on to define this God-given evidence of His promises, 2 Pet. 3. 3, et seq. Scoffing about any truth in the Bible is a deliberate affront to God and an act of rebellion.
The term used by Solomon for ‘fool’, in Proverbs, implies a sense of self confidence, and thus of trying to live without God’s direction. Wilful forgetfulness is a characteristic of fools. However, as believers, we have no right to call any person a fool, Matt. 5. 22; God reserves that right for Himself, Luke 12. 20, and we must accept God’s evaluations. Admittedly, the word which Jesus used for ‘fool’ in Matthew 5 verse 22 is stronger than the word in Proverbs.
Nowhere is it more clearly seen than in Proverbs that the wise and the intelligent are by no means always one and the same. One may be an intelligent ‘scoffer’, or ‘fool’, in God’s sight. 1 Corinthians chapter 1 verses 18 to 25 remind us of the fact that the wisdom of the world is ‘foolishness to God’. A babe in Christ may possess more wisdom than the cleverest of intellectuals.
We accept that the predictive prophecy of the Bible in its most obvious and simplest meaning is wiser than following the Greek philosophical approach of hidden meanings and profound mysteries. Who was wise in God’s sight 2000 years ago? Aged Simeon and Anna, waiting on God for the fulfillment of His word; or the chief priests and scribes to whom Herod turned when the wise men came to him? The religious leaders were able to give Herod ‘chapter and verse’, but somehow had neither interest in nor commitment to the Messianic prophecies.
Of course, there are predictions which will remain unclear until the approaching or actual time of fulfillment. The wise student of prophecy handles these with reverence and caution, expressing views but never insisting upon his particular view. The statement, ‘None of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand’, in Daniel chapter 12 verse 10, reminds us that a major element of spiritual perception is required with God’s revelations, and that sometimes full advance comprehension is neither intended nor possible.
The ‘simple’, as found in Proverbs, are not the persons with the merits of simplicity, but those who ‘ignore or disdain’ wisdom. While wisdom is always available, pursuing it involves diligence. We should seek her as silver, and search for her as hid treasures, Prov. 2. 4. This, firstly, brings an understanding of ‘the fear of the Lord’ and of ‘righteousness and justice’, 2. 5, 9. A study of Bible prophecy helps us to understand why God must ultimately judge the world in righteousness, when He will do so and how He will do it. In a world in rebellion and that does not know where it is heading, it is foolish for Christians not to make themselves conversant with such topical and relevant matters. Too often we are apologetic over God’s judgements.
There are many reasons for the wise to be conversant with the main revealed truths of Bible prophecy. § We are encouraged and sometimes even ordered to give heed to prophecy. The Lord Jesus, whilst on earth, heavily endorsed this. Prophetic understanding is a unique privilege given to those whom He was to call henceforth His ‘friends’ rather than ‘servants’ as previously, John 15. 15. Why do so many rebuff our Lord’s graciousness? Prophecy is designed to warn as well as to encourage, to prepare spiritually and to lead to holy living as well as to provide comfort to the heart.
But there are other reasons why we need an understanding of prophetical truth which are rarely mentioned, yet currently are of the greatest significance. One could say that the more pressing the need to study prophecy, the greater is the inattention that is paid to it by Christians. We focus here on only two of these pressing needs.
Dispelling needless ignorance
Every believer should understand the basic relationship in time and eternity between body, soul and spirit, the elements of the human trinity, and the contrasts between believers and nonbelievers in relation to them. It is shameful that cult missionaries should be able to knock at the doors of professing Bible-believing Christians and find out their haziness in understanding these simple matters. One encounters the most preposterous statements like that of a so called ‘priest’ on the day a celebrity died, who confidently asserted that there would be a party in heaven that night! The great prophetic passages such as 1 Corinthians chapter 15 and 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 have so much to teach us, if only we study them carefully. There seems to be a fear that we will be seen to be eccentric if we express an interest. Well, eccentric simply means ‘out of centre’. Are we ashamed to be out of centre for Christ?
Putting environmental concerns into a biblical perspective
Today, a large number of people are concerned about the survival of life on this planet. Our daily newspapers are full of fears, frightening predictions and hopeless initiatives. Scientific research is producing contradictory solutions and stirring up heated debate over the financial and social cost of remedial programmes. We are shown photographic proof and are swamped with terrifying statistics. Here are three contrasting approaches found among Christians to this environmental crisis:
1. Some join with the world in its fears and participate enthusiastically in ‘green’ initiatives, assuming this to be an appropriate course of action.
2. Some subscribe to what a humorist has described as ‘Pan-Millennialism’. In other words they have no idea what God has revealed about these matters, but trust that it will all ‘pan out’ for the best! They tend to have a fairly hazy idea of those prophecies which foretell long-term blessing for the earth held in ‘blind’ faith rather than ‘vital’ faith.
3. Some, thankfully, take the trouble to discover, and it is not very difficult for it is all in the Bible, what God has revealed, especially in the book of the Revelation and through a number of the Old Testament prophets, things concerning judgement to come. They know that these matters are within our Creator’s control and believe that the church will be called home long before these promised disasters reach the peak of fulfillment. I sincerely hope that you belong to this group.
Naturally, most Christians in any of these groups, recognize that God has given us certain responsibilities for the planet. While we must at all costs beware of labelling those who do not share our prophetic convictions as ‘fools’, or ‘simple’ we would, however, urge those Christians who have no answer to give to those who despair for our environment, to stop seeing those passages in the Bible which actually graphically describe men’s worst fears only. Also, I urge them to think that these prophecies are literal and not allegorical and that they do not concern events which occurred centuries ago or have no bearing on the future.
If you are ‘Post-Millennialist’, and convinced that the world is progressively being Christianized and that no Great Tribulation lies ahead, would it not be wise to look around you at the state of the world? Daniel the prophet foretold of a time of unprecedented and never to be repeated suffering, Dan. 12. 1; and the Lord Jesus Himself foretold the same things, Matt. 24. 21. Ask yourself whether this has ever happened on the predicted scale spoken of?. Bear in mind that in Peter’s second letter reference to scoffers is linked with a failure to see the future relevance of God’s judgement on a sinful world.
If you are an ‘Amillennialist’, accepting a worsening world situation, but expecting no future glorious and righteous Millennial reign of Christ, please read carefully from Revelation chapter 19 verse 11 through to chapter 20 verse 15, remembering that the chapter break is a later addition. Note that the Lord Jesus is said to be returning in power to strike the nations and those that rule them with a rod of iron, 19. 15. This was as promised by the Father to the Son back in Psalm 2 verses 7-9. Read Isaiah and the closing chapters of Zechariah. Ask whether it is conceivable that God is not going to ensure that ‘the head which was once crowned with thorns’ will one day be crowned ‘with glory’ on the planet where He was crucified, see Zech. 12. 10; 14. 3, 9. We do well, if with an unashamed and childlike faith,we hold fast the clear voice of the prophetic scriptures and ‘believe God’ rather than men.