We study Bible prophecy expecting to understand what’s going to happen along with hopefully some idea of when. Yet along the way, there are several discoveries you won’t expect or maybe prefer not to find. For example, God’s special place to protect us from the Great Tribulation is not in heaven and how we get there takes a bit more than professing Jesus. Disappointing, for some, is the constant failure of date setters. Yet there are still good timing clues available, enough to raise the prospect of having to wait way longer for the Second Coming than anyone dreamed. Perhaps most surprising is why it’s OK if you don’t study (or understand) Bible prophecy at all?
So You Want to Study Bible Prophecy?
If you decide to study Bible prophecy, you may learn more than you bargained for. Like many, when I first started my studies, I intended mainly to answer a question of "when?" I wanted to know when the Great Tribulation was going to start. I'd know from that when Jesus was coming by adding 1260 days to it (Rev 11:3).
Although I never did find the answer I set out to learn, I learned quite a bit that I was not looking for. Some of the lessons were hard to take. Nevertheless, I'd rather know the truth rather than be in the dark blissfully ignorant. If you are of that mindset, then this article is for you. I cover five of the more surprising but important lessons I have learned from Bible prophecy. Some are challenging, some are comforting or and some are a big relief. Read on:
You Can Count On “Date Setters”...To Fail
This subject heading is not so surprising to the average skeptic or believer who does not study Bible prophecy. As a matter of fact, failed “doomsday dates” like 2000 (Y2K), 2011 (Harold Camping) and 2012 (Mayan Calendar) prove for most Christians that Bible prophecy is not understandable and therefore a waste of time to study. So, they don't...
But beginning Bible prophecy fans believe those dates failed for specific different reasons and are not an excuse to stop trying to find that hidden clue in the Bible telling us when everything happens. They maintain hope that someone—maybe even them—will be able to get the Bible to render a date for Jesus' return or the rapture. As I said above, I used to be one of them, yet I no longer am. Why not?
First, I failed in my own attempt to map Daniel's 70th week to the calendar (my thinking until around 2001 was 2000-2007). There's nothing like trying to beat your head against a wall to realize how real that wall is. This failure helped me notice how everyone else was failing with their date fixing. For as far as I cared to look back in history, doomsday date setting had been tried and failed. I could no longer ignore it as much as I wanted to believe Bible prophecy would tell us a date. Finally I realized that Jesus had already told us no one knows the time (“day or hour”) but I did not want to believe him. Now I did; just as the majority of Christians already had.
Matthew 24:36 (HCSB) — “Now concerning that day and hour no one knows—neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son—except the Father only.
I was officially done with ever inventing or or believing in a date attached to a Bible prophecy.
The End Is Not “Nigh”...Nor Even “Imminent”
That understanding led to another surprise. When I accepted what Jesus plainly said about not being able to figure out the date of his return in advance from the Bible, I finally could see what he actually did tell us about timings of end times events. He did not leave us in the dark. In fact, he gave us something nearly as good as a date on a calendar. What he told us has the same benefit that a date has of letting us know when the end is near and when it is not.
You see, instead of watching the calendar for a date, Jesus told us to watch for what I now call “fig leaves milestones.” The Parable of the Fig Tree teaches us this principle, right before the admonition quoted above about not knowing the date.
Matthew 24:32-33 (HCSB) — 32 “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: As soon as its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 In the same way, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near—at the door!
What he was saying here is that what he had described in the previous 31 verses were key to knowing whether it was time for him to come or not, just as one could cite the lack of leaves or buds on a fig (or other deciduous tree) (Lk 21:29) as evidence that summer was not near. If you doubt this, just notice one of these earlier verses where he spells it out so clearly that you will wonder as I did how I ever missed the plain explanation he laid out for knowing how to tell whether the “end is nigh” or not.
Matthew 24:6 (HCSB) — 6 You are going to hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, because these things must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines, and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these events are the beginning of birth pains.
Mark 13:7-8 (HCSB) — 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, don’t be alarmed; these things must take place, but the end is not yet. 8 For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
Luke 21:9 (HCSB) — 9 When you hear of wars and rebellions, don’t be alarmed. Indeed, these things must take place first, but the end won’t come right away. 10 Then He told them: “Nation will be raised up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be violent earthquakes, and famines and plagues in various places, and there will be terrifying sights and great signs from heaven.
If you read Jesus' words in all three accounts of the Olivet Discourse, you can see a few things.
- He told us that the end was “not yet” or “right away” meaning not imminent.
- Ironically, the news items prophecy fans often point to as signs of the end (“wars, rumors of wars and rebellions”) are lumped in under “don't be alarmed these things must take place but the end is not yet.” They are not end time signs at all.
- It continues not being the end like this until what is called the “beginning of sorrows/birth pains” that include earthquakes, famines and plagues in all (not “various”) places at once.
In other words, surprisingly, until you specifically see the entire world going into chaos exactly like the parallel prophecy in Revelation 6-8 describes, we should not be expecting the end to happen or believing those who in error teach that.
For more on this and how star Wormwood of Revelation is responsible for this, see Earthquakes in Prophecy or my article on Nemesis.
We Don't Go Through the Tribulation...In Heaven
When you talk about the dreadful things like Wormwood spoken of in Revelation, a typical Christian is quick to assure you that “we believers don't go through the Great Tribulation because God plans to rapture everyone before that.” They expect that we are going to be watching all this happen from heaven. Or they hope. Most are only believing what they have been told and most have never heard any other rapture scenario than the pretrib one. They have never heard of post-trib rapture.
The surprising truth from New Testament verses on the subject of the rapture is that it serves not as an escape plan but as a reward plan for God's servants the prophets and saints (Rev 11:18). It's when and how we get our new glorified spiritual body that provides eternal life (1Co 15:52). This is why all the verses on the timing of the rapture talk about it coming after the Great Tribulation (Mt 24:29-31) and after the Antichrist comes “first” (2Th 2:3). That's the time for our reward, right before the Millennium starts and we all reign over the non-glorified survivors.
This is where Christians who believe in a pretrib rapture get upset. If the rapture happens after the Great Tribulation, then that must mean we will all be left on earth to “go through the Great Tribulation.” They typically launch into arguments that Jesus would never abandon his bride to such a horrific fate because he does not want a beaten up bride, etc.
However, you can't really call it “going through the Great Tribulation” if you are divinely protected and untouchable, can you? The twist here is to realize that God does not need to move us into a whole other dimension off the planet in order to protect us from the Antichrist. He can protect us anywhere, just as he did for Jesus from the Jews who wanted to kill him, as he did for Daniel in the lion's den, as he did for Daniel's three friends in the fiery furnace and as he did with ancient Israel in Egypt while the ten plagues rained down on the Egyptians around them.
This is exactly what he will do again as Revelation explains in talking about the saints as a figurative woman:
Revelation 12:13-16 (HCSB) — 13 When the dragon saw that he had been thrown to earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child. 14 The woman was given two wings of a great eagle, so that she could fly from the serpent’s presence to her place in the wilderness, where she was fed for a time, times, and half a time. 15 From his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river flowing after the woman, to sweep her away in a torrent. 16 But the earth helped the woman. The earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the river that the dragon had spewed from his mouth.
For more on this, see my article on the rapture secrets.
We Don't Need To “Watch” the News....or Study Conspiracies
Apart from fear or curiosity, another motivation to study Bible prophecy is obedience, especially coupled with a misunderstanding of this command of Jesus:
Luke 21:36 (KJV) Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.
He has many other “watch” commands if you search the Gospels. Like many do, I made the mistake of taking the instruction too literally. I felt it was a command to spend time watching for the fulfillment of Bible prophecy. So I spent time scouring TV news and Internet for any signs of what Jesus had warned would come. This even included the fringe and conspiracy theory websites out there. I read WorldNetDaily, DebkaFile.com, Watch.org, and others I can no longer remember. I believed that one of these sites would one day reveal that what Jesus was telling us to watch for had finally happened!
Oh, how I was mistaken. Although I ended up learning a lot of conspiracy theory and watching supposed conspiracy plans, none of it ever proved predictively useful. Still, I don't consider it a waste of time because my discernment was improved by considering them. I am better off for it. (I cannot say the same for many people who follow conspiracy sites. They end up very scared about the future and worried about what to do. I'm constantly helping people who find me on the Internet to rationally look at the conspiracy theories they are believing and make decisions based on reasonable assumptions and probable outcomes rather than the radical merely possible scenarios of conspiracy theories.)
I was surprised to learn later through rereading these passages enough times in different Bible versions that I had missed what Jesus was saying. He was not telling us to watch anything at all as if our survival depended on not missing some fleeting news event. If you read it in a modern translation, you can see what he was really trying convey:
Luke 21:36 (HCSB) — But be alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place and to stand before the Son of Man.
In other words, don't get distracted or lose focus. If you study the other passages and parables warning believers to watch, you will find it never is connected with a consequence of missing some key signal event needed to be safe. It has to do with not backsliding into seeking pleasure and sinning or otherwise acting like the lost world around you.
Not Studying or Not Understanding Is...OK
Early on in my studies, the more of it I came to understand, the more I became convinced that it was important for everyone to study Bible prophecy. After all, it tells us what is going to happen and, as I shared above, even what the actual escape plan is for believers. I came to believe it was irresponsible to not study the Bible. If believers did not study their own Bibles, which they claim is the Word of God, then they would deserve whatever happened to them, or so I thought.
In the last several years I began to see a number of problems with this line of thinking:
- First, I realized that not everyone has the combination of patience, time, literacy, critical thinking skills (read: “wisdom” Dan 12:9) to understand Bible prophecy properly. If most people's life depended on understanding it, then they would be lost.
- Second, even those of us who think we understand the essentials correctly still have a major problem. The escape plan of the Bible mentioned above is incomplete. We don't know exactly where the “place prepared” is nor when exactly to flee there. Further, we're going to be going alone as few are going to believe our opinion of what it means is more right than anybody else's divergent interpretations.
- Third, even with those details taken care of, most people are still going to need great help to make such a move. They lack finances, health, cooperation of their spouse or practical ability to make such a move. In a word, they need God's divine providence for this move just the same as the Israelite slaves in Egypt did. Unless God sends us a prophet leader like Moses who has the God-given authority and signs to get everyone on the same page and moving in the right direction at the right time with God's miraculous help flowing to make it all possible for everyone, we're all stuck.
In other words, no matter how much we all study Bible prophecy or teach it correctly, very few will believe it or be able to act on what they believe. It's not up to the Bible or any of us so-called “watchman” (I hate that term) to get the job done. It's above our pay grade and authority grade.
Nevertheless, I constantly run into people who are still under this paradigm. They will try to correct me on my understanding of Bible prophecy and even beg me to change my mind, since, if I don't listen to them and their "right" opinion, through my supposedly mistaken teaching I'll be “leading people astray.” To be honest, the people who worry about being deceived or people deceiving can be quite unpleasant and intolerable. Yet, I know all too well what that kind of anxiety feels like. You so much want to save everyone from deception that you do not realize how unlovingly and arrogant you are coming across because you lack any credibility or authority to be telling people what to do. You only have your opinion, just as they do.
In the end, the solution is that a prophet must come and correct all of us on our ignorance and our misunderstanding of God's end time plan as revealed in Bible prophecy. The Bible tells us Elijah the prophet is coming to turn our disobedient hearts to “the understanding of the righteous” (Mal 4:5=Lk 1:17). A real prophet has authority, credibility and missing revelation needed to get the job done.
That job includes getting attention so that believers do not miss him and his important message and warnings. Because his authority and power will be different from the typical Christian prophets that believers are used to seeing, you can be sure he'll make waves and get a lot of attention. The Bible does not say how, but I have an idea. Based on how reliably false prophecy theories and predictions spread and arrive in our inboxes, imagine how much more so the amazing signs and accurate predictions of a true prophet will do likewise. When he starts his ministry, you'll hear bout him faster than you can say "viral video."
In the meantime, study Bible prophecy not to save yourself or learn everything you will need to know for the end times. Instead do it because it is the word of God that reveals God's mind and character that also promises a blessing for those who study and keep it (Rev 1:1-3). Then when Elijah comes, it will be a little easier for you to receive what you had some idea about was coming.