Do you get grief from other Christians when they find out you like Bible prophecy? Do they try to convince you to stop studying it, to save you from "deception?" Join the club. Bible prophecy is not popular with most Christians for several reasons which they will be sure to share with you. Learn what these common objections are and how to answer them--if not for their sake at least for your own satisfaction. Be certain you’re doing nothing wrong to study prophecy which is actually something encouraged in the Bible.
Christians Against Bible Prophecy?
You might think that studying Bible prophecy is a sin given the negative opinions Christians have on the subject. In fact, if you are interested in Bible prophecy, you've probably learned to keep it to yourself so you are not judged or criticized by others over it. Am I right?
The truth is, despite it being a major part of the Bible, Bible prophecy is not of concern to most Christians. More often that not, they view it as negative thing. They may not want you to study it or at least not to bring it up in conversation at church (what if a new believer hears and gets confused or deceived by it?). If you do bring it up, you may be rebuffed with one of several common criticisms of Bible prophecy.
Thanks to my website, I get to hear these objections all the time outside of church. If a typical anti-prophecy Christian stumbles upon my site, they commonly chastise me for wasting my time studying prophecy, making predictions (actually something I don't ever do), interpreting prophecy wrong or "leading people astray." (It's hard for me to take offense at this when it demonstrates how badly they misunderstand what I'm about.)
If most people Christians don't care about Bible prophecy, it is understandable. The bad fruit of prophecy pundits is well known and historically well-documented. There have been many embarrassing cases in the history of Bible prophecy study (remember Harold Camping?). Also, when was the last time you heard a teaching on prophecy for the Sunday sermon? Pastors who teach on prophecy are rare. They don't understand Bible prophecy either so what's the point in bringing up such a disturbing topic?
Those who do claim to understand prophecy seem to only make one failed prediction after another. So why should we study prophecy or care what it says? How can we understand it correctly where others have failed?
There are good answers for these objections. Here then are some common objections along with my thoughts on them:
"Bible prophecy is a distraction from the Great Commission of teaching about Jesus and salvation"
This is probably the most common objection I hear. I bet many Christians assume this position because their pastors never teach on the subject of prophecy. It can't be important, right? Others hear this objection voiced directly by respected religious leaders. For example, Rick Warren in his popular book The Purpose Driven Life had this to say (on pages 285-286):
Today there's a growing interest in the second coming of Christ and the end of the world. When will it happen? Just before Jesus ascended to heaven the disciples asked him the same question, and his response was quite revealing.
He said, "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
When the disciples wanted to talk about prophecy, Jesus quickly switched the conversation to evangelism. He wanted them to concentrate on their mission to the world. He said in essence, "The details of my return are none of your business. What is your business is the mission I have given you. Focus on that!"
Strong words, yes; but accurate? No.
The passage he is referring to is at the beginning of Acts right before the apostles witness Jesus ascending into the clouds. They did not ask about Bible prophecy; they asked if he was going to restore Israel's kingdom at that time. As Jews, this was the expectation they had for the Messiah to do when he came. Since Jesus had not ended Roman rule before his death, perhaps now that he had returned from the dead he was finally ready to take over the government. Of course, they still did not understand that this first coming of the Messiah was as the suffering servant only and that he would not step into the role of Messiah the king until a second coming much later. Jesus' reply was essentially that it was not for them to know when his second coming would be (Acts 1:7).
This, by the way, is what Jesus said earlier to the apostles on the Mount of Olives (Mt 24:36) right after giving them a wonderful long prophecy called the Olivet Discourse (!) (Mt 24; Mk 13; Lk 21). Obviously if Jesus did not want us to study prophecy, he contradicted himself by spending time giving many prophecies for the end times. Even the Book of Revelation is said to be the "revelation of Jesus Christ" (Rev 1:1).
The simple answer to this objection is that Bible prophecy is still part of the Bible. All of it is was preserved for us and is profitable for study. It would be a safe bet that people who say we should not study prophecy are unaware of what prophecy says on the topic:
Revelation 1:3 (HCSB) — The one who reads this is blessed, and those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep what is written in it are blessed, because the time is near!
Quite clearly, God promising a blessing for doing something is encouragement to do that thing.
Can it become a distraction from our calling to love other people? Sure. Even good things blessed by God can distract us from our responsibilities or from doing our best. Does that make them wrong or to be shunned? No. A balance must be struck. Forbidding the study of Bible prophecy or putting down those who do is not the solution.
"Jesus said, 'no one knows the day or hour” meaning we should not study Bible prophecy."
Jesus did say that, but is that really what he meant by it? Especially when, as mentioned above, Jesus ironically said that right after giving his signature prophecy, the Olivet Discourse. If he meant we should not study Bible prophecy, then why did he tempt us by giving prophecies that would become part of the Bible?
The idea behind this objection comes from a common misunderstanding on the purpose of Bible prophecy. Judging from how people have misused Bible prophecy, it naturally seems to most that prophecy's purpose is to tell us when Jesus is coming (without really telling us, as in through hidden messages).
"Depart From Me, I Never Knew you!" - Jesus
Jesus predicted that he will tell many sincere believers to basically "get lost" instead of welcoming them into the Kingdom. So...who are they and what did they miss or do wrong? In this study, get those answers and the one requirement for salvation Jesus taught (that Christianity misses) so that you can make sure you don't hear these dreaded words yourself!
However, that's not the purpose of prophecy. Revelation tells us its purpose for us:
Revelation 1:1 (HCSB) — The revelation of Jesus Christ that God gave Him to show His slaves what must quickly take place.
We're given prophecy so we can know what will take place. As for the exact time when it will all end, we cannot know that, at least not far in advance. That's pretty clear and all Jesus meant. See my article on what no man knows the day or hour means exactly in context.
When you study the Book of Revelation, you learn much about God's plan for us and for his enemies. It reveals tremendous things about his character and ways. For example, you read that God is going to imprison Satan to keep from deceiving the world and also that he is going to then let him out to deceive again. Crazy, right? But not really, actually it's quite brilliant and loving of him. (See my article Satan in Prophecy for more on that.)
Simply put, prophecy is a blessing to study, if you so choose.
"Prophecy experts only seem to set one date after another and nothing ever happens."
I completely agree on this point. They certainly do. That's why I don't heed prophecy experts who set dates or make predictions =).
However, I do not shut out the latest prophecy theories and interpretations. I never know what I might learn. Although it's tempting, we want to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We can still study Bible prophecy directly from the Bible and glean what we can from Bible prophecy experts to help us understand it. Especially from those who are not stuck on the date-setting treadmill.
"Prophecy is sealed and no one can understand it"
Judging from all the confusion out there, this is another fair assessment. for people who are unfamiliar with Bible prophecy. Since nobody agrees on what prophecy means after hundreds of years of trying, it seems fair to conclude that no one is able or supposed to figure it out. Many think it's either there to humble us or to be only understood after the fact in hindsight to confirm God does indeed declare the end from the beginning (Isa 46:10).
Also, it's true that Daniel was told to seal up the words of his prophecy:
Daniel 12:4 (KJV) — But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book...
However, if we keep reading the rest of that verse and chapter it goes on to say:
Daniel 12:4, 9-10 (KJV) — ...even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased. 9 He said, “Go on your way, Daniel, for the words are secret and sealed until the time of the end. 10 Many will be purified, cleansed, and refined, but the wicked will act wickedly; none of the wicked will understand, but the wise will understand.
In other words, the seal was not to be in place forever, but it would be unlocked in the "time of the end" so that the wise would understand. The time of the end is characteristically when many would go to and fro to increase knowledge. Since "going to and fro" is a Hebrew idiom for searching, and people search or surf today on the Internet to gain knowledge instantly like never before, I think the end time described is now here or has been here since the revolution of the Internet changed all our lives. (For more on that, see this video.)
But whether one agrees we are already in the time of the end or not, the fact remains that the seal was not meant to discourage us from studying it. It was meant to discourage Daniel from worrying about his own sealed prophecies. Apparently he was one person who would not understand his prophecies before he died (Dan 12:13).
“We don't need to know Bible prophecy because...the rapture can happen at any moment, etc.”
Again, I agree with the first part, but not the second.
It may surprise you to hear a prophecy teacher say this, but I don't believe we need to know Bible prophecy. I used to think and teach that (even in early editions of my book). In my first years of research, I thought I was obeying "clear" instructions in the New Testament telling believers to learn prophecy. Now I see that there is no way something that few people have had access to to study could be required or classified as a need. It is optional, but as stated above, a very good option to consider given the blessing and benefits associated with it.
As far as the rapture being able to happen at any moment, Jesus himself disagreed with that doctrine in the Olivet Discourse. He stated that "until you see [...] the end is not yet/not by and by." To find out what events he said signaled the end times, check out my article on the Parable of the Fig Tree.
Personally, I study Bible prophecy because I want to, the same reason for why I do many things. If others don't want to, they don't have to. But if they did, they might just discover the truth about the rapture. =)
“You'll be deceived if you study Bible prophecy”
I have bad news for people who raise this objection. We're all already deceived:
Revelation 12:9 (HCSB) — So the great dragon was thrown out—the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the one who deceives the whole world.
Thankfully, it turns out deception is not quite as bad as it's made out to be. We go in and out of deception in many ways constantly. It's an unavoidable part of learning. Like Eve, we all start out with weak discernment and fall for just about everything. While it certainly hurts our pride when we discover how many false things we have believed, we have to keep moving forward to grow. Even though this opens us up for more deception, it's the only way to keep growing in the discernment we need to discover past deceptions and prevent future ones. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
That said, I can attest to the fact that if you study Bible prophecy, you will be deceived. I have to laugh now at some of the things I used to believe as a result of developing an interest in Bible prophecy. For a short time, I believed Y2K (year 2000 computer bug) could be the end of America, among many other goofy things. However, with a couple more years of study under my belt, by the time I heard about the theory of Planet X blindsiding earth on May 15, 2003, I could immediately see there was no merit to the date. As readers of my book know already, I did find the Planet X doomsday theory very similar to the strange star Wormwood I was having trouble making sense of in Revelation. Encountering that flawed doomsday theory radically transformed my understanding of Revelation.
Obviously, if I had been paralyzed by fear of being deceived again (like I was by Y2K), I never would have made that breakthrough.
"I'm a pan-rapturist/pan-millennialest; I believe it will all pan out in the end!"
You'll commonly hear this one when the subject of the rapture is brought up, the number one Bible prophecy topic of discussion. It's also probably the most debated topic with so many views on rapture timing (pre-tribulation rapture vs. mid-tribulation rapture vs. post-tribulation vs. pre-wrath rapture).
When people say this, they are politely expressing that they see no point to arguing or even discussing a topic that is so contested and divisive. If the experts cannot figure this out, then what hope does the lay believer have? Rather than waste time studying such a difficult topic or causing offense arguing it, they are choosing to opt out.
As such, I have to respect this answer. They are right, it will pan out in the end. I would agree with this, bless them, and move on.
See, we don't need everyone to be like those of us who want to study prophecy despite its many pitfalls and challenges. Those of us who are interested can study with the assurance that we are gaining in knowledge, discernment and even blessings (Rev 1:3).
May your own "searching to and fro" be blessed!
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Tim is the author of this site (since 1999) and the book Know the Future that explains Revelation literally at last--including the key event of Wormwood (Rev 6-8). To read more from Tim and not miss a single new article, sign up for his free newsletter above.