CHAPTER 12: THE STUDY OF FUTURE EVENTS (ESCHATOLOGY)
The study of future events is called "Eschatology." Bible prophecy is history written in advance. It is accurate, reliable history because its Author is the Holy Spirit, who makes no mistakes.
Fulfilled prophecy is a magnificent proof of the supernatural origin of the Bible. To study it will make us realize anew the divine unity and reliability of the Word of God.
The time clock of human history seems to be sounding its final strokes. Yet millions of people have never heard the gospel. As we study prophecy, we should allow the Holy Spirit to challenge us as never before with the urgency of the hour, and with holy zeal to take the message of redeeming love to the ends of the earth before it is too late.
1. SPHERES OF PROPHECY
The various books of the Bible were written over a period of some fifteen hundred years. Many of the earlier prophecies were fulfilled before the entire Bible was completed. Their fulfillment is a guarantee that other prophecies, relating to what is still in the future, will similarly be fulfilled.
2. ALREADY FULFILLED OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECIES
Read Jeremiah 25:11 in the light of 2 Kings 25:1-21. The prophet Jeremiah declared that the "the holy land¡¨ would become a desolation, and that the king of Babyon would prove to ve a mighty conqueror. A few years later his prophecy was fulfilled: Judah was overthrown and entered upon her seventy years of Babylonian captivity. Or compare Daniel 5:27, 28 with 5:30, 31, where the announcement of the imminent transfer of Belshazzar's Babylonian Empire to the Medes and Persians is at once followed by the statement that in that night Belshazzar was slain and Darius the Mede took possession of his kingdom.
Other Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in New Testament times. For example, Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:22, 23. The virgin birth of Christ, prophesied by Isaiah, became a reality at the advent of the son of God. Micah's prediction (Micah 5:2) that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem was marvelously fulfilled at the Savior;s birth (Compare Matthew 2:3-6). The rejection and sufferings of our Lord were foretold by Isaiah (53:3-7). His crucifixion was announced in detail by the psalmist about a thousand years before it took place (Psalm 22:1-18). His burial was described in advance by Isaiah (compare Isaiah 53:9 with Matthew 27:57-60).
His resurrection was foreseen by David (compare Psalm 16:8-10 with Acts 2:25-31; 13:35-37). His ascension was proclaimed centuries before it occurred (compare Psalm 68:18 with Ephesians 4:8). Actually, so many Old Testament prophetic utterances were fulfilled in the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Christ that, even if we had no New Testament, we could reconstruct large portions of the life of Christ on the basis of what the Old Testament prophets foretold (see Luke 24:25-27).
3. NOT YET FULFILLED OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECIES
The Old Testament prophets faithfully recorded prophecies, not only concerning Christ's sufferings on earth, but also concerning the glory that should follow" (1 Peter 1:10, 11). The sufferings of the Son of God are past. His glory is still ahead. Read Psalm 2; Isaiah 9:7; 11:4-9; Micah 4:1-5; Zechariah 14:1-9. Such passages refer to events still in the future. Christ's dramatic return for the dread battle of Armageddom, His glorious reign over the earth-these have not yet taken place. But they are clearly delineated in the pages of the Old Testament. And just as the Old Testament prophecies concerning our Lord's first coming were meticulously fulfilled, so are these prophecies concerning His second coming sure of fulfillment.
4. ALREADY FULFILLED NEW TESTAMENT PROPHECIES
The Lord Jesus repeatedly told His disciples that He would suffer, be killed and raised again the third day (Matthew 16:21; 17:22, 23; 20:17-19). His predictions soon came to pass. He warned that Judas would betray Him (Matthew 26:24, 25), that His disciples would all be offended (Matthew 26:31) and that Peter would deny Him (Matthew 26:34). Events proved that His words were true.
After His resurrection He told His disciples that they would be empowered by the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8). This empowering occurred at Pentecost (Acts 2:4; compare Joel 2:28, 29). He stated that Jerusalem would be destroyed (Luke 21:20-24), a tragic event which took place in AD 70, when the capital fell to the armies of the Roman general, Titus.
5. NOT YET FULFILLED NEW TESTAMENT PROPHECIES
Innumerable New Testament predictions await fulfillment. Christ spoke about His second coming to receive believers unto Himself (John 14:3); about Anti-Christ and the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:15, 21); and about His coming in majesty to the earth (Matthew 24:29-31). All this is still in the future. The New Testament epistles abound in prophetic statements which await fulfillment. And the Revelation is a prophetic classic replete with predictions, as yet unfulfilled, concerning dramatic events to come.
6. THE AREA OF OUR CONCENTRATION
The remarkable precision with which Biblical prophecies have already been fulfilled fortifies our conviction that the Word of God is sure and that the prophetic picture of the future is accurate and trustworthy.
Those who have not yet trusted Christ as Saviour should sense, as they study things to come, that Christ's return may be very near and that they should turn promptly and humbly to Him for salvation before it is everlastingly too late.
7. THE ORDER OF PROPHETIC EVENTS
The Old Testament prophesied that the Messiah would come into the world. Some passages said that He would suffer (Psalms 22 and 69), others told of His glory (Psalms 2 and 72). The prophets wondered how both could be true (1 Peter 1:10, 11). The explanation is that Christ came and suffered at His first advent and will come again in glory at His second advent.
With regard to Christ's first coming, one prophet said that He would come to Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) and another said that He would come to Jerusalem, riding on an ass (Zechariah 9:9). Both of these were literally fulfilled (Matthew 2:1; 21:1-11). With regard to the second coming, some verses speak of His coming for His saints (John 14:3), while others speak of His coming with His saints (1 Thessalonians 3:13). Thus, there must be a time lapse between the two advents. We shall consider coming events in their chronological order.
8. PREPARATION FOR CHRIST'S RETURN
The way will be paved for the coming of the Savior. The "signs of the times" which indicate the imminence of His return. Sin, unbelief, formalism, false cults, indifference and callousness will abound. And certain specific historical events will take place. God's discerning people may behold some of these predicted events occurring today.
9. THE ADVENT OF THE LORD FOR HIS CHURCH (RAPTURE)
This is the first event in the prophetic program. All believers will be caught up to meet their Savior (1 Corinthians 15:51-56; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). We learn that the Lord will descend with a shout; believers already dead will rise first from the dead; living believers will be changed and given a new body; they will be caught up into the air and all this will be sudden. When will this take place? The Lord would have us to be ready and watching for Him at all times; thus no dates are given.
They will receive their rewards at His judgment seat and be forever with Him. "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:10). Believers will not be judged for their sins at this event because there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus¡¨ (Romans 8:1). At the judgment seat of Christ rewards will be given to believers for faithful, sacrificial service (1 Corinthians 3:13-15).
10. THE MARRIAGE SUPPER OF THE LAMB
When rewards for faithful service have been given, the marriage supper of the Lamb will take place (Revelation 19:1-8). The Lord and His own will enter into inexpressible joy.
11. DREADFUL EVENTS ON THE EARTH (THE GREAT TRIBULATION)
Earthquakes, storms, famines and epidemics are the common experience of mankind, and wars have caused the death of millions throughout the history. But the Bible speaks of the Great Tribulation (Revelation 7:14). In Matthew 24 Jesus taught about a coming period of trouble known as "the beginning of sorrows.¡¨ This will be followed by the greatest tribulation the world has ever known (Matthew 24:8, 21). Many more details are given in pictorial, apocalyptic form in Revelation 6-18. God will punish the Jewish nation for crucifying His Son, and so will allow them to be persecuted. Jew-hating Gentiles will go too far, and the wrath of God will for this and other reasons be poured out on the nations as well. At first men will be filled with fear (Revelation 6:15-17), but they will nevertheless refuse to turn to God in repentance (Revelation 9:20, 21; 16:9, 11).
The Great Tribulation will come after the Church is taken away (Revelation 3:10), and before Christ returns in glory. Daniel the prophet spoke of seven years of desolation (Daniel 9:27). The first three and one-half years may be calm and prosperous, but the last half will be terrifying. God will raise up witnesses (Revelation 11:3-12) to the truth during the tribulation also and many Jewish people will be converted and saved (Revelation 7:1-8) and many Gentiles will also be converted and saved (Revelation 7:9-17).
Antichrist will be revealed (Revelation 13:1-6, 11-18). The Great Tribulation will smite-the most intense, excruciating period of suffering ever known. If you are not yet a believer, put your trust in Christ at once. Then you too may escape the horrible agony which will grip the apostate earth culture from which the true Church will have been removed.
12. THE COMING OF THE SON OF GOD WITH HIS CHURCH
This is one of the crowning events of Biblical prophecy. The Lord Jesus will return to earth in power and great glory (Matthew 24:29, 30). When Christ comes, He will first appear to Israel. They will mourn as they remember how their nation rejected the Messiah (Zechariah 12:10).
The battle of Armageddon will be fought. Antichrist, the coming world dictator, will be overthrown. Christ will triumph over the massed military might of earth. He will demonstrate that He is King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:11-21).
13. THE JUDGMENT OF THE LIVING NATIONS
Then will come the judgment of the living nations (Matthew 25:31-46). Gentiles who have shown their faith in God by helping His people, the faithful Jewish remnant, will be admitted to Christ's kingdom. Others will be led away to eternal punishment. When all evil elements have been purged, Christ will set up His earthly kingdom.
14. THE MILLENNIAL REIGN OF CHRIST
Old Testament prophecy tells of a golden age in the future, when the Messiah will reign as King over the whole earth. In Revelation 20:4 He is seen reigning for a thousand years. The earth was put under a curse because of Adam's sin (Genesis 3:17, 18), and the ground now produces thorns and weeds. Paradise will be restored (Revelation 2:7) and the desert will "blossom like the rose¡¨ (Isaiah 35:1). Wild animals will be tame (Isaiah 65:25), and all creation will be delivered from suffering (Romans 8:19-22). There will be no war (Isaiah 9:7) and crime will be at a minimum.
In Revelation 17 and 18 we see the end of commercialized religion. A simple spiritual order will suffice in the millennium. Sickness and death will be the exception rather than the rule. People will live to a great age (Isaiah 65:20). Those who are spared to enter the millennial kingdom may not be many in number but the world's population will increase, and the Christ the King will provide for all. All who enter the kingdom will be sons of God (Matthew 25:34). Their children born during the millennium will have the opportunity of being born again, and many will be. Satan will be bound (Revelation 20:2) and his hosts of evil spirits will also be restrained.
In Isaiah 60:12 we see that Israel will be the leading nation of the world. This place will be given to her by the King of Israel, the Lord Jesus Christ. The twelve apostles will join the Lord Jesus in ruling Israel (Matthew 19:28). Christians are members of Christ's body, they will go wherever He goes (John 14:3).
15. THE LOOSING AND DOOM OF SATAN
During the millennium, with Christ on the throne, all men will be forced to obey. At the end of the thousand years, Satan will be loosed for a time (Revelation 20:3). He will gather an innumerable army for the last great effort to overthrow the throne of God. This army will all be destroyed by fire from heaven (Revelation 20:9); Satan will be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10) and all resistance to the reign of God will be over forever.
16. THE JUDGMENT OF UNBELIEVERS OF THE GREAT WHITE THRONE (THE SECOND RESURRECTION)
Then will come the Second Resurrection. We have observed that the dead in Christ rise from among the dead at the rapture, before the kingdom is set up but the resurrection of Christ guarantees that all men will rise again (1 Corinthians 15:22).
Every non-believers will stand before God complete with body, soul, and spirit. Only the unsaved will appear at the Great White Throne, where the books will be opened and every man judged according to his works. The Lord will sit on the throne as Judge (John 5:22). There is no salvation for those who have rejected Christ in this world (Revelation 20:11-15).
17. THE NEW HEAVEN AND THE NEW EARTH (THE ETERNAL STATE)
Time is like a tiny beach surrounded by an infinite ocean of eternity. Before the creation of the world there was a measureless period called eternity. When time ceases to be measure, we will come to the eternity of the future. "From eternity to eternity thou art God¡¨ (Psalm 90:2). The word "eternity¡¨ means an endless period of time.
This universe, defiled by sin, will be destroyed by fire, and God will create new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3:10-13). Isaiah says the old will not be remembered (65:17). John had a vision of the new heaven and earth (Revelation 21:1). During the millennial period of the present earth, righteous shall rule (Isaiah 32:1), but in the new earth righteousness shall dwell (2 Peter 3:13). Redeemed man in eternity will not be as limited as he is now (note: even better than Adam in the time period at the Garden of Eden!)
The reign of believers will be forever (Revelation 22:5). We will be with Christ (John 17:24). We will be joint-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). We will be like Christ (1 John 3:2). We shall at His right hand for evermore (Psalm 16:11)!
18. THE LORD JESUS CHRIST IS THE ONLY WAY TO SALVATION
There is only one God, there is only one way to salvation. What is that way?
Is it by prayer? No
Is it by good deeds? No
Is it by paying money? No
Is it by doing the best you can? No.
Is it by becoming a local church member? No.
Is it by becoming a follower of a religion system? No.
What, then, is the way to Salvation?
The Lord Jesus Christ said, "I am the way." (John 14:6) He is the only way. No mere human leader or religious system showed us the right way to Heaven. We are faced with a decision. We can take the road which leads to eternal life and Heaven or we can take the road which leads to eternal death and Hell.
God wants us to choose the way to eternal life. Satan wants us to choose the way to eternal death. God will not force us to take the way to Heaven. We have a free will. We can choose the place in which we want to spend eternity. We must choose today. Tomorrow may be too late to make our choice. We may be either dead or the Lord Jesus Christ may have already come to rapture His saints to Heaven.
But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up¡K." (2 Peter 3:8-13).
If you want to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour, then you must pray to God, "I am a sinner, I deserve to go to Hell. I believe the Lord Jesus Christ died for my sins. I accept Him now as my personal Saviour and will seek to live for Him from this time forward."
19. BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR FURTHER STUDY
Charles J. Woodbridge - Bible Prophecy (Moody Bible Institute).
R.E. Harlow - Basic Bible Doctrines (Emmaus Bible College).
Tatham, C. Ernest - Bible Prophecy (Emmaus Bible College).
Pentecost, J. Dwight - Things to Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Co. 1961).
Anderson, Sir Robert - The Coming Prince (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications).
Epp, Theodore H., compiler - Brief Outlines of Things to Come (Moody Press 1952).
Feinberg, Charles Lee - Israel in the Spotlight (Moody Press 1975).
Smith, Wilbur Moorhead - Egypt in Biblical Prophecy (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House 1957).
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