5 Mistakes to Avoid When You Can’t Understand Prophecy

Can Words of knowledge, Christian prophets, popular prophecy books and videos or conspiracy news outlets help you understand what Bible prophecy says or what the future holds? Find out why they only bring more confusion, anxiety and fear to Bible prophecy students—and learn what approach works to understand Bible prophecy directly so you can bypass these unproductive dead ends.

What Do These Theories All Have in Common?

(Besides all being epic fails...)

  • "RFID Chips/Verichip are the mark of the beast" (2004)
  • "Jesus will come back in 2015 at the last of four blood moons" (2008)
  • "The CERN supercollider will create a black hole, destroying earth" (2012)
  • "God may curse the US with economic collapse in the shemitah year of 2015 as in 2008 and 2001" (2014)
  • "Many 'words' agree that the rapture will be on Passover/Pentecost/Trumpets" (perennial)
  • "A Puerto Rican prophet says an asteroid is going to hit Puerto Rico and create massive tsunamis and earthquakes" (2014)
  • "This YouTube video captured a black horse flying in Saudi Arabia meaning the Rapture/Tribulation/End is near!" (2014)

Give up?

What they have in common is that they are all examples of predictions or concerns that came from extra-biblical sources. They represent an attempt to know the future in ways other than from plainly reading what Bible prophecy describes for us.

You may not have fallen for any of these specific ideas, but if you're into Bible prophecy, you should be aware that you are predisposed to believing Christians with theories on the future mixing prophecy and science or news. Eventually a compelling theory will come along with your number on it. You will allow yourself to suspend disbelief thinking the originator of this theory may be onto something that everyone else has missed...

But why do we let ourselves get diverted from just sticking with pure Bible prophecy, which most Christians would agree is the only proven reliable source of details on the future?


Bible prophecy is incredibly hard. The more we try to read it, the more confused we get. If no one else can understand it or agree on what it says, what hope do we have? (Sound familiar?)

Therefore, we look for help from other sources to try to peel back the veil on Bible prophecy and the future.

But do these other sources really help?

Let's cover the commonly encountered "supplements" to Bible prophecy that Christians use, and explore why they suck us in so well and why they only make things worse.

I'll address them in order from most reasonable to the more desperate measures to know what is going to happen in the world.

1. Christian "Prophets"

If you want to understand the future or what the ancient prophets have written (Bible prophecy), who better to turn to than modern prophets?

That's assuming there are actual prophets today of the stature of biblical prophets and assuming you can find one and verify they are what they claim to be.

But it's also assuming a prophet is what you should seek for this task. There happen to be instructions and predictions in Bible prophecy itself on who will be able to understand prophecy and how, respectively.

The Bible does not instruct us to seek prophets to understand it. Both Daniel and Revelation talk about the necessity of wisdom to understand (Rev 13:18). This comes up most clearly in Daniel 12 when Daniel confesses he did not understand the prophecy given to him by the angel:

Daniel 12:8-10 (HCSB) — 8 As for me, I heard but could not understand; so I said, "My lord, what will be the outcome of these events?" 9 He said, "Go your way, Daniel, for these words are concealed and sealed up until the end time. 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.

Notice there are three factors to understanding prophecy and none of them have to do with having prophets or even having the Holy Spirit:

  1. "Time of the end" - It was not possible to understand prophecy until our time, perhaps the time since 1995 when it was possible for "many to go to and fro" (internet search) and "increase knowledge" (search results=library at our fingertips).
  2. "Not wicked" - Righteous believers
  3. "The wise" - Not all the righteous, but only the wise among them.

Not all believers are righteous and wise; only a minority are. What do they do differently when it comes to reading Bible prophecy? I'll save explaining that for the end.

What about self-proclaimed modern Christian prophets with predictions and warnings to share with the body? Even if we don't need them for understanding Bible prophecy, should we not listen to them as they may be sent by God to warn us, right?

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Sure, if you find someone that passes the prophet test, I'm all for listening to them. I hope to meet a real prophet one day, myself. But I'm still waiting.

A true prophet in the biblical model does not expect everyone to take him at his word that he speaks for God. Nor does he issue threats to people who question him or ask for proof (as many modern Christian prophets do). A true prophet is capable of performing signs and wonders to establish his office, and willing to do so (if he is not already established and does not need signs, like John the Baptist was already in Israel - Mark 11:32).

A true prophet has a solid, well-known track record of his words coming to pass (1Sa 3:19-20).

Think about it, folks. If there was a true prophet like Samuel, Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Paul, or Peter in today's internet-connected world every believer with an internet connection would already know about him. Word would spread like wildfire about his miraculous signs and/or him making regular specific accurate predictions. He would be so distinct from the typical hit-or-miss self-proclaimed "believe me, I'm a prophet!" types that we are all used to, that we would all be hugging each other that God "cared enough to send the very best."

In the meantime, God already sent us prophets with prophecy to figure out. The key is to study and interpret it right way, not to look for new revelations from new prophets.

2. "Prophetic Words" / "Words of Knowledge"

What's a "word of knowledge?" It is basically a revelation from God that comes to a non-prophet. They are real, they do happen, but as we'll see, just like with prophets, finding a real one presents a dilemma.

To illustrate, here's an example from a Christian lady:

I heard the Lord this morning say to me that “there is a CLASH coming!” This was confirmed to me tonight at our live streaming prayer and bible study time..The Lord spoke to me and said that “there is a CLASH coming that will bring the separation not only of a the saint/sinner but this is at a deeper level and it is in the church! He said that in this next presidential election that there would be a dividing of the religious and those that had relationship with the Lord. He said “My true church will emerge out of the 'clash of kingdoms' She will arise out of that which is profane and become a pure bride without spot or wrinkle..”

Notice the typically vague language in the details of the prediction ("a clash", "a separation", "a dividing", "what is profane"), centered on some kind of visitation of God for the church or nation.

Although this one does not show it, they also often feature God speaking in "King James Bible English" complete with "thou's" and words ending in -eth. That sounds more like the words of the God most of us grew up with reading in our King James Bibles. But it does make one wonder if the word is coming more from the human spirit than the Holy Spirit.

Someone sent me the above word with the comment, "it breathed new life in me to hear that we will have a very Godly President next term. Any thoughts on this?"

I explained to her that I have read many "words" early on in my research into Bible prophecy. After reading and waiting on many, I finally stopped because of several problems I saw with the vast majority of "words:"

  • They are not scriptural or break Scripture (e.g., "words" promising a pretrib rapture soon).
  • They are so vague they remind me of horoscopes, meant to be general enough to come true on the average day or for the average person.
  • The specific ones that read like Bible prophecy never come true.
  • No consistency; if someone claims to have had a specific word that come true, that person never is able to pull that off again. It does not pay to hang on their every "word" (pun intended).

To sum this up, "words" are a lot like lottery tickets. While people do indeed become rich by buying lottery tickets and while God does indeed give accurate "words" to some believers, you have to go through so many lottery tickets and "words" to find a winner, that it's not worth pursuing either to get to your goal of either wealth or knowing the future.

Instead, your best strategy in either case is to work diligently. You can know the future only by diligently studying Bible prophecy.

3. Popular Prophecy Books

Moving right along, up next are the published prophecy stylings of our trusted Christian (and Messianic) pastors, mega-pastors, teachers and best-selling authors.

Certainly these successful or learned men have gained the valuable insight needed to properly interpret Bible prophecy for us. Reading their best-selling books should at last give us the help we need to understand what Revelation was meant to tell us (Rev 1:1-2), yes?

Unfortunately, that is not the case for a very simple reason. These theories are made up of 99% confirmation-biased speculation and 1% actual Bible text. This applies to all of these popular titles:

  • Left Behind
  • The Harbinger
  • The Four Blood Moons: Something Is About To Change
  • The Mystery of the Shemitah
  • The Islamic Antichrist

How could this be? If this is true, how do they get away with it?

First of all, book authors are adept at finding verses that seem to support their points (also known as proof-texting). For example, the "four blood moons" theory can draw upon several verses talking about "a blood moon." The Mystery of the Shemitah draws upon the real 7th year Sabbath year verses of the Old Testament.

Secondly, if Bible prophecy is hard and most Christians do not understand it, then how can we expect them to discern when a book completely mishandles Scripture as in the preceding examples? Few can.

Thirdly, even if readers have doubts about what a book is teaching, most lack confidence in themselves to truly believe that they can be right and the author of a published book can be wrong. Especially when they are nobody who has not even read the entire Bible yet--while the author is a famous mega-pastor with a seminary degree or famous best-selling author. No contest!

Fourthly, most of the time the books are saying things that appeal to Christians. "The rapture will come before we suffer." "The Antichrist will come from the Muslims, who we all can already see murder and terrorize Christians by beheading." "God is speaking to us today in the heavens, if we'll just listen!" "God is about to curse America in accord with ancient Biblical patterns, because we've turned from God."

But you don't need any great biblical literacy to know that popular, speculative prophecy books do not hold the key to understanding Bible prophecy or the future. Just look at their results, their track record:

Are they known for their success at predicting specific events? No.

Do they teach readers to organize and prophecy themselves? No. They cannot look up a verse citation for every point that clearly (untwisted, in context) supports the point made.

These popular books leave readers having to trust the "expert opinion" of the author, hoping he is right and that they did not waste their time again with another speculative theory that proves false or is replaced by another theory later.

I guess at least sometimes the reader is entertained by some very creative storytelling. Some of them even accurately file themselves under "fiction" like Left Behind and The Harbinger did.

P.S. If you are one of the believers in the dire economic predictions of The Shemitah, don't waste your time writing me to tell me I'm wrong when you can profit on this reliable information by investing your hard-earned dollars based on Cahn's insights. Don't let it deter you how the US economy has been on a bull run since 2009 with dollar highs, or you may miss out! =)

4. (YouTube) Prophecy Videos

Continuing on our downward quality trend, we come to YouTube prophecy videos. We've all seen some as they are all free.

Everything that was said about popular prophecy books is true about these videos. I have yet to see one that is centered on a literal explanation of prophecy, free of speculation, sensationalism, date setting. Any videos made like that are not likely to be popular or seen by many, anyway.

Also, at least with popular prophecy books, there are layers of review before a book gets accepted and published; agents, editors, proof-readers, and fact-checkers. Many will have vetted a manuscript before the publisher invests money into printing and distributing an author's ideas.

Youtube, on the other hand, lets anyone self-publish their half-baked, wacky theories. No minimum standards. No vetting.

Don't get me wrong, some of these videos are skillfully made and grabbing with charts and figures.

In the end, that's really their main selling point. It's video! Video is easier to consume than text. You merely watch instead of having to read. (Unless it's one of those tedious prophecy videos that are full of scrolling text and music. Ugh.)

Video is also more convincing. If you write an article about a black horse flying in the sky you'll get a ho-hum response, even if you include a snapshot. However, if you make a YouTube video of this black horse and tie in the black horseman of the Apocalypse from Revelation 6, you now have something that will spread! (You can safely trust that most will overlook that the horse in the video lacks a horseman on it like Revelation's black horse has and share it with others)

To sum up, video is such a persuasive medium compared to text, it tends to let even the worst prophecy ideas spread because it makes them seem more compelling than they actually are.

If the video is not training you to understand Bible prophecy directly, it's probably not doing much more for you than an entertaining cat video would. =)

5. Conspiracy News

Conspiracy theories are the last resort for most Christians. Only the more radical Christians pay them any heed.

They hope to get insight into what "the enemy" or "NWO" is up to by reading news sites and forums like:

  • WorldNetDaily.com
  • Infowars.com
  • BeforeItsNews.com
  • AboveTopSecret
  • NowTheEndBegins.com
  • ...and many more

Now, before such Christians get mad and stop reading, let me be clear I'm not saying all conspiracy theories are false. There are conspiracies or conspiracy fact. Satan is the biggest conspirator in history and he's still out there directing evil plans in the world.

However, Satan's existence and his conspiracies are confirmed by the Bible and Bible prophecy.

A conspiracy theory, on the other hand, is an unproven or unprovable conspiracy, hence the label "theory." Most conspiracy theories cannot be confirmed in the Bible or by anyone who would do the legwork to find proof. They generally are not based on hard, verifiable, replicable, untampered evidence. They can usually only offer heresay (second-hand witness testimonies).

Moreover, even if you do encounter a true bonafide "leaked plan of the enemy," there is no guarantee it has not changed or that it will succeed according to plan. In life, most big plans fail. Imagine how hard it is to pull off a big old evil plan in secret.

Conspiracy theories are at such a low level of reliability and probability that to lower your threat threshold that low as to include them into consideration would mean wasting your time worrying about and planning for thousands of threats. You would be a nervous wreck who never got any sleep. Where do you draw the line?

Take it from me. I have studied and watched conspiracy theories since 1998. I can say they deserve their theory label. They have not proven to be predictively useful in all this time.

Those who ignore them are not missing out on any vital information. Those who do study them do not have any survival advantage over those who do not.

The most common result I have seen of reading conspiracy sites is not understanding, but instead confusion, anxiety and fear. A large percentage of the people who come to me asking for help have been reading too many conspiracy theories and feel overwhelmed at it all. I'm happy to say that I am able to help many of them find comfort in "a more sure word of (Bible) prophecy" (2Pe 1:19) with the explanations in my articles and book.

What About Having "Many Confirmations"?

Some will admit that on their own any of these sources are not enough and do tend to fail. But what if lots of these intersect and "confirm" each other?

For example, what if there are a dozen independent Christians all sharing "words" predicting judgment from God "this year?" What if this year has four blood moons and it is also a Shemitah year?

Well, what's zero times anything? It's still zero. If any of these unreliable sources intersect, they are still unreliable and do not confirm anything.

Even if there are 400 "words" agreeing. Let me share a Bible story with you from the life of King Ahab that shows this. He was wanting to go to war against the King of Syria with the help of King Jehoshaphat of Judah, his vassel at the time. Jehoshaphat consented with one requirement:

1 Kings 22:5-6,13 — 5 And Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, “Inquire first for the word of the Lord.” 6 Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said to them, “Shall I go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?” And they said, “Go up, for the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.”

Jehoshaphat was not convinced by these prophets of Baal. He requested a prophet of Yahweh God, Micaiah.

1 Kings 22:13 — And the messenger who went to summon Micaiah said to him, “Behold, the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king. Let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.”

Micaiah at first went along, but when pressed to tell the truth, he contradicted the 400 prophets of Baal by predicting defeat for Israel and the death of Ahab. His word alone proved reliable when Israel lost and Ahab was killed by a Syrian archer.

The Lesson: Only the Word of God Is Reliable

If you think about it, Christians face the same situation today as Ahab and Jehoshaphat did.

When it comes to discovering what the future holds, we can pay attention strictly to the words of the prophets of YHVH God (prophecy in the OT and NT), or we can seek out other methods as described above. King Saul even sought out a witch on the eve of a battle with the Philistines (1Sa 28:7).

While Bible prophecy is indeed hard, it is possible to make sense of it. You simply need to know the right way, the way "the wise" do it, that Daniel 12 predicted would be known and used in the end time to understand prophecy.

There is a reason that only a few wise know how to read the Bible. Most Christians have never even read the entire Bible, let alone have studied it diligently to become biblically literate. Further, through exposure to hundreds of sermons, studies and books, Christians have been trained to accept the practice of proof-texting, or taking verses completely out of context to prove whatever doctrine is desired. Verses can be allegorized to mean anything the preacher or teacher wishes. And who among the audience is qualified to say it's wrong?

As opposed to that approach, is the approach of Jesus. He did not take verses out of context or read them allegorically. He read passages literally (John 10:35), more literally than the religion of his day did, too. Yes, even prophecy. John 10:35 is a quote from a Messianic prophecy in the Psalms.

If you want to understand prophecy, follow Jesus' lead. Learn to read things as literally as possible and as directed by the context. Or you may find out later that you are wrong because you did not take that passage literally enough!

That is the only approach that works, the approach I have learned the hard way, the approach I use in all the articles on this site and in my book, Know the Future.

If you want to understand Bible prophecy the right way, literally, and save time doing so, my book is available and supports the writing of further articles like this.

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Tim McHyde

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.

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