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Introduction to Prophecy

Who can predict the future with unerring accuracy?

The Bible contains many prophecies. Some apply to the past, giving us a clear view of God's faithfulness and the unfailing accuracy of His Word. Others apply to the very day in which we are living, revealing present truth and guiding us through current conditions in the world. Still others apply to the future, giving us insight and hope. The latter category is growing quite small as there are relatively few prophecies yet to be filled.

The prophecies in this study are primarily from Daniel and Revelation. They cover the spectrum of earth's history and foretell of major events including mighty empires, religious powers, plagues, Armageddon and Christ's 2nd coming. They examine the Bible evidence that show God can accurately foretell the future. Indeed, history unfolds event after event exactly as the Bible predicted. Only God's word has achieved this.

"Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure" (Is. 46:9-10).

The study of prophecy is a very rewarding activity. Today, all have the advantage of looking back over thousands of years of history and seeing the accuracy and exact precision of Bible prophecy unfolding. What a faith building opportunity! As prophecies yet to be fulfilled come ever nearer, we can be assured that they will be fulfilled with the same exactness.

Three Main Concepts Revealed in Prophecy

  • Jesus Is Our Saviour - Jesus' activities to save His people are the central focus of prophecy. His ministry in the heavenly sanctuary appears repeatedly and all prophecy culminates in His deliverance of His people.

  • The End Is Near - Our position in time is very near to the end of all the prophecies. "And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh" (Luke 21:28).

  • Prophecies Parallel Each Other - For example, Daniel's prophecies present the realm of Greece in four different parallel descriptions;
    • (a) the thighs of brass on Nebuchadnezzar's image (Dan. 2),
    • (b) the leopard with 4 heads (Dan. 7),
    • (c) the goat with the notable horn that is replaced by 4 horns (Dan. 8), and
    • (d) the realm of Greece divided toward 4 winds (Daniel 11).
    Each prophecy provides different details, expanding and clarifying meanings. Seeing the same entity represented by different symbols in different prophecies, and seeing the same time frame repeated in different prophecies is common. Charts help make it easier to identify those repeating entities through visual comparisons and color coding. Recognizing repeating patterns dramatically helps in understanding prophecy.

Steps for Using These Prophecy Studies

  1. Begin with prayer.
  2. Read the prophecy's overview.
  3. Read the prophecy in your Bible.
  4. Read the study notes and look up the referenced Bible verses.
  5. View the accompanying charts and additional resources.
Note: Throughout these studies, the word "realm" is used to refer to the great empires or kingdoms symbolized in prophecy (e.g. Daniel 11:2 - "realm of Grecia"). This avoids confusion with terms historians use to distinguish between different phases of a realm, such as the Roman Kingdom (753-509 BC), the Roman Republic (509-27 BC) and the Roman Empire (27BC-478 AD).

Purpose of prophecy

  • "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7). Having insight into the future is not unusual for God's people. Throughout history, He sends warnings ahead of time and a prophet consistently precedes major events.

  • "And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe" (John 14:29). God reveals the future to prepare His people for future events and to increase their faith. As we look back in history and see how prophecy has come true, we can also be secure in believing God's Word about future prophecies and His saving power.

  • "Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand" (Rev. 1:2-3). A better understanding of Jesus' ministry and character are gained by studying prophecy. The book of Revelation is the testimony of Jesus, which is prophecy (Rev. 19:10), and those who read it are blessed (AA 584.2).

Prophecy is to be understood

The first text in revelation reads "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass" (Rev. 1:1). The word "revelation" means to be revealed or disclose. Future things were revealed to show us what is coming. It does take studying, but the rewards are immense (CCh 171.3). You can understand prophecy.

Jesus said not to be deceived in regards to last day events. Other Bible writers also warn us to not be deceived. We are instructed over and over to seek truth, that Jesus is truth, and that His Word is truth. He gave us the Bible, all of the Bible, including the prophetic portions, for our benefit and understanding. "We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." (2 Pet. 1:19-21).

Reason for the symbolism

The various images in prophecies, including beasts that resemble a lion, bear, leopard, ram, goat, lamb and others can seem difficult to understand. However, the Lord had a reason for giving the messages as he did. Confusion can be cast aside either by studying the prophecies or by paying no attention to them. Why is prophecy cloaked in symbolic language?
  • Jesus "signified it by his angel unto his servant John" (Rev. 1:1). Jesus chose to communicate His testimony using signs and symbols.

  • "Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand" (Luke 8:10). Spiritual knowledge is only gained by those who submit to the Spirit (I Cor. 2:14). Truth is like treasure; found only by earnest seekers.

  • Many of the prophecies were revealed while the prophets were in captivity in a hostile foreign land. Cloaking the meanings may have protected the messages from being destroyed.

Calculation Keys

In calculating prophetic times, the following criteria is used:
  • 1 year = 360 days. The Jews used a lunar calendar (each month began with a new moon), which had 30 days per month (Gen. 7:11, 7:24, 8:4). Multiply 30 x 12 to get 360 days in a Jewish year. This is confirmed in Rev. 11:2-3 where 42 months and 1260 days both refer to the same time period.

  • 1 prophetic day = 1 literal year. Precedence for using the "day for a year" principle appears in Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:6. Furthermore, the symbolism and internal logic within Daniel and Revelation reveal and necessitate this principle. For example, in Daniel 9, it was prophesied that the Messiah would appear 69 weeks after the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. The comprehensive decree that enabled the restoration to occur, was given in 457 BC. Sixty nine literal weeks (483 days) was less than two years later, and the time of the Messiah was still hundreds of years away. However, exactly 483 years later (69 weeks = 483 days), Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit at His baptism and began His public ministry. The precise dating of this prophecy, using two well-known events, establishes a solid principle of prophetic interpretation.

  • There is no zero year. The year 1 BC is followed by 1 AD.

Interpretation Keys

  1. The stories and imagery of the Old Testament unlock the symbols in prophecy. In Revelation, nearly all of the imagery, context and symbols come directly from the Old Testament. Studying the context and meanings portrayed in the original story gives insight into prophetic meanings.

  2. Understanding Jesus' ministry in the sanctuary unlocks many prophetic symbols. Look for His love, long-suffering, intercession and righteous judgments to be revealed during each stage of history. The plan of salvation unfolds in prophecy and helps us understand timeframes.

  3. The Bible interprets itself. For example, the prophet Daniel establishes many precedents early on that can be used to understand later verses in his book. This is also true throughout the Bible. When all texts regarding a subject are examined, great insight and clarification are found. "For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little" (Is. 28:10).

  4. Truths in prophecy build upon one another, repeating the same concept in different ways. The same parallel timelines are repeated, but with different detail in each.

  5. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned (I Cor. 2:13-14). Therefore, the Holy Spirit's wisdom must always guide. Start each study with humble prayer and a committment to God's will through His Word.

Additional Resources

Introduction to Prophecy (interactive presentation)

Getting Started

Begin studying prophecy by looking at Daniel's first prophecy, Nebuchadnezzar's Image (Dan. 2)