Prophecy

It’s been said that two-thirds of the Bible is prophecy.  While I don’t know whether or not this is true, there are certainly an awful lot of predictions between its covers.  Let’s first take a look at a couple of examples that have a strong bearing on modern times, and then some other interesting ones.

Jewish Persecution

This is a very sensitive yet compelling place to start.  The Jews are God’s chosen people.  They hold a special place in His heart.  God calls Israel his “special possession” and “the apple of his eye.”1  Despite this, though, God himself warned the Israelites what would happen to them if they chose to forget him throughout history.  Some of God’s warnings are downright chilling.

Let’s consider some verses in the book of Deuteronomy.  As God prepared to lead the Israelites out of the wilderness and into the land of Canaan, “a land flowing with milk and honey,”2 he said the following:

“…be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today.  For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful!  Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt.  Do not forget that he led you through the great and terrifying wilderness…  He did [this] so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’  Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful…”3

Following this admonition, God told the people what would happen to them if they did or did not obey him.

“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world.  You will experience all [sorts of] blessings if you obey the Lord your God.

But if you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today, [many] curses will come and overwhelm you.

The Lord will cause you to be defeated by your enemies.  You will be an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.

You will suffer under constant oppression and harsh treatment.  You will go mad because of all the tragedy you see around you.”4

Now consider the words used in this warning.  Terms like “object of horror,” “constant oppression” and “you will go mad because of all the tragedy” leap off the pages of the Bible.  And what has happened from that moment until this very day?  The answer is that the Jewish people have suffered far more persecution for a far greater time period than any people on the earth, and God predicted it over and over.  In the 31st chapter of Deuteronomy, God said to Moses:

“After you are gone, these people will… abandon me and break my covenant that I have made with them.  Then my anger will blaze forth against them.  I will abandon them, hiding my face from them, and they will be devoured.  Terrible trouble will come down on them.

…they will despise me and break my covenant.”5

From this point on, the pages of the Old Testament are filled with the stories of God offering his people the choice between obedience plus blessings and rebellion plus punishment.  In almost every case, the people chose to go their own way and suffered the consequences.  The Israelites suffered many military defeats; broke into two groups that began fighting each other; and were eventually carried away into captivity.  (For more prophecies describing the future sufferings of Israel, see: Jeremiah 24:9-10, 29:16-19, 42:18 and 44:8,12; Ezekiel 5:14-15; and Daniel 9:16.)

The trouble continued all the way up to the “horrors” of the holocaust during World War II, during which 6 million Jews were murdered, and it persists to this day when the tiny nation of Israel is surrounded by hostile neighbors bent on its destruction.  To me, these prophecies are amazing.

Israel’s Survival & Political Significance

Stop and think about all of the mighty nations and empires that have come and gone over time.  Nations and empires like Egypt, Babylon, the Persian empire and the Roman Empire.  Now ask yourself, where are they today and what influence do they currently have on the world scene.  Now stop and think about Israel, tiny Israel – a nation that had no land of its own for many centuries until the 1948 War of Independence.  Now ask yourself, how central is Israel to the global political landscape today.  The answer, obviously, is it’s incredibly central and important.  The eyes of the entire world are fixed on Israel these days.  The fate of no other country threatens the global balance of peace like that of Israel – and keep in mind that there are nearly 200 countries in the world today.

If you were a betting man living during the time of Israel’s enslavement in Egypt, or during the time of any of the great world empires, the last country you would’ve picked to not only survive but to play such a central role in the world would’ve been Israel.  And yet that’s exactly what happened and it was predicted long ago in the scriptures.

Throughout the Old Testament, the prophets begged Israel to turn from its sin or face serious trouble.  As already discussed, Israel repeatedly rebelled and was punished quite severely.  Despite God’s deep disappointment with his chosen people, though, he revealed his plan to save a “remnant”6 of them from destruction, and eventually gather Israelites from around the world and restore them to their land.  Consider the words of the Lord delivered through the prophet Isaiah.

“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.  I have called you by name; you are mine.  When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you…  I will gather you and your children from east and west and from north and south.  I will bring my sons and daughters back to Israel from the distant corners of the earth.”7

(Additional verses can be found in Jeremiah 23:3-4, 29:14 & 31:10, and Ezekiel 11:17, 28:25 & 36:24.)  I can’t say for sure if these verses refer specifically to the establishment of an independent Israeli state in 1947, but it certainly seems like a clear first-step in the final gathering process.  I can say for sure, though, that in the past 60 years, Jews from around the world – from places like Russia and even the United States – have been returning to Israel.

Jesus Christ also notes that, just prior to his return to the earth, we should be watchful of events in Jerusalem.  In Luke 21:20, he states:

“And when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you will know that the time of its destruction has arrived… And Jerusalem will be trampled down by the Gentiles until the period of the Gentiles comes to an end.  And there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars.  And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides.  People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken.  Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory.”8

As we mentioned in the previous section, Israel today is surrounded by hostile nations.  These nations’ feelings towards the Jews range from strongly disliking them and trying to hide it (e.g., the Saudis) to utterly wanting them destroyed and vocalizing it (like the Iranian leadership).  Then there are groups like Hezbollah and Hamas who cause all sorts of problems for Israel from the north (Lebanon) and south, respectively.  There is constant tension in Israel and fear of attacks.  Frankly, the only thing preventing a significant attack is Israel’s close ties with the U.S.  If this relationship were ever to deteriorate to the point where Israel could no longer count on the U.S.’s military support, look out.  Israel would almost certainly be attacked in short order.  (Christians believe such an attack is prophesized in the book of Ezekiel, chapters 38 and 39.)  One could imagine such a scenario as the U.S. grows increasingly weary from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is pressed by other matters (the cost of the Katrina cleanup, for one) on the domestic front.

All of this brings to mind something I saw on the cheezburger.com Web site. It was a table of the civilizations, nations, empires, and others that have tried to destroy the Jewish people. The first column listed them, including Ancient Egypt, the Philistines, the Assyrian Empire, the Babylonian Empire, the Persian Empire, the Greek Empire, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, crusaders, the Spanish Empire, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and Iran. The second column indicated their status, which was “GONE” for all of them except Iran. Just below the table it said: “The Jewish people, the smallest of nations, with a friend in the highest of places! So… be nice!”

Clearly, Israel’s survival throughout the millennia and its central role in end times is both extremely unlikely and amazing, and it’s predicted in the scriptures.

Christ’s Coming

I’ve heard various estimates for the number of Old Testament scriptures that point to Jesus Christ’s coming – some exceeding 1,000.  To arrive at one of the higher estimates, though, you have to include the entire list of similarities, “prefigurements,” symbols and foreshadowings.  To a person unfamiliar with the Bible, many of these seem vague and confusing.

What’s most interesting to me is the uncanny similarity between certain Old Testament verses and the things that happened to Jesus.  For example, Isaiah chapter 53 describes a servant of God who was rejected by his people, beaten and whipped, and led away to be slaughtered – all so that he might bear our sins.  The account also includes several other unique details of the circumstances of Jesus’ crucifixion.

In Psalm 22, David cried out to God in the middle of an intense trial.  Parts of the Psalm provide a uncanny foreshadowing of the fate Christ would suffer a thousand years later.  He writes about being scorned, despised & mocked; his hands and feet being pierced; and people casting lots for his clothes – all things that happened to Jesus.

I’ve included a sampling of these types of scriptures below.


Various people have calculated the odds of Jesus satisfying only a handful of the prophecies to be astronomically low.  (One estimate of him satisfying just eight prophecies came in at 1 in 1*1017.)9  Whatever the odds truly are, it’s clear they are prohibitively low.  Furthermore, the thing that strikes me as I read through the Old Testament is the unified message of these prophecies, a message about a Messiah who would come and suffer so that our sins would be forgiven.

As you think about this section, consider what Jesus said to doubters following his resurrection:

Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures.  Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?”  Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.10

End Time Prophecies

Before closing out this section, let’s take a moment to look at just a handful of “end time” prophecies along with observations for each.  Without question, we live in interesting times.  It seems to me that a great deal that has been prophesized about the period just preceding Christ’s return is coming to pass today.  Read on and judge for yourself.

Daniel 12:4 – [During the end times,] “Many will rush here and there, and knowledge will increase.”

Many of the things we take for granted today – routinely flying between continents, sequencing the human genome, and instantly communicating with people around the globe – were unthinkable not too many years ago.  Furthermore, the pace of technological development/advancement is only accelerating.  These days, scientists are working on efforts like the development of molecular computing technology based on DNA and other substances, and technologies they hope will eventually extend our lives forever.  As an example, a recent Wired Magazine article described a gene editing technique called Crispr-Cas9 which makes it “…easy, cheap, and fast to move genes around – any genes, in any living thing, from bacteria to people.”11 The article went on to say that the revolutionary technique “…could at last allow genetics researchers to conjure everything anyone has ever worried they would – designer babies, invasive mutants, species-specific bioweapons, and a dozen other apocalyptic sci-fi tropes.” One scientist described its development as a “monumental” moment in the history of biomedical research. When you realize that man has been around for thousands of years, yet the great surge in technological development only began during the industrial revolution, it makes you wonder what it means that these things are happening now.

Matthew 24 – When asked for signs of his return and the end of the world, Jesus said to look for several things including:

– Wars breaking out near and far.  (Verses 6-7)

As already noted in the Human Nature section above, it’s estimated that between 188-to-262 million people were killed in the 20th century alone by war, homicide, genocide and dictators.12 This number doesn’t even consider all the people who were affected by these deaths (friends, relatives, loved ones) nor does it account for all the people who were hurt by others but didn’t die. The Washington Post called the past century “a hundred years of bloody warfare” while outlining its “many episodes” of genocide and other crimes against humanity.13 The Center for Systemic Peace notes that there have been 324 episodes of major armed conflict in the world between 1946 and 2014 (35 of them ongoing).14 The Global Terrorism Database cites over 140,000 incidents of terrorism from 1970 to 2014.15 The United Nation’s Children Fund notes that there were 55 civil wars worldwide between 1990 and 2004.16

– Famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world.  (Verse 7)

According to the World Food Progamme, there are 842 million undernourished people in the world today.17 The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates the number to be 795 million.18 The good news is that these estimates have dropped in the past 25 years (i.e., from about 991 million in 1991), with the most pronounced progress occurring in developing regions.19 The not-so-good news is that there is emerging malnourishment in developed countries, like the 49.1 million people in the United States who are living in “food insecure” households.20 Furthermore, the UN Development Program warns that hundreds of millions of people in developing countries are at risk of falling back into poverty (and, in turn, malnourishment) if certain setbacks occur.21

With respect to earthquakes, four of the 10 most deadly earthquakes in the past 115 years have occurred since 2004, including the deadliest one in Haiti that killed 316,000 people, injured over 300,000 others, and left 1.5 million people homeless.2223 The death toll from the 2004 quake that caused the tsunami in Sumatra stands at 227,898 people, the third highest death toll ever.24 Even when recent earthquakes didn’t claim hundreds of thousands of lives, they often caused tremendous problems. For example, while the 2011 Japan earthquake/tsunami didn’t make the top ten fatality list, the total estimated damage due to the quake is $300 billion, and 230,000 people are still living in temporary housing.25 Other residual effects from the Japan quake include the “Fukushima plume,” a large body of radioactive water that hit America’s west coast in 2014.26 While trends in earthquake activity can certainly be debated, the distribution and severity of earthquakes over the last 10 years is intriguing to say the least.

– The threat of human extinction unless Christ intercedes.  (Verse 22; see also Mark 13:20)

Just 60 or 70 years ago, this would have been considered unthinkable. Now, with the advent and spread of nuclear weapons, the ever-increasing negative impact man has had on the global ecology, threats from space, and the potential for biological/genetic abuses, this doesn’t seem like such a stretch.

2 Timothy 3:1-5 – “…in the last days there will be very difficult times.  For people will love only themselves and their money.  They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful.  They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control.  They will be cruel and hate what is good.  They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God.

When I tried to write a short blurb on this scripture, I was a bit overwhelmed. I felt like I could write a book and still not do it justice. In western culture, many people seem to be chasing some combination of wealth, fame, power, and pleasure, and often with little regard for how they behave and/or who they might hurt, offend, or negatively influence. I thought of Miley Cyrus, the Kardashians, Bernie Madoff, Enron, Floyd Mayweather, reality TV “stars”, ugly social media exchanges, people who don’t return phone calls or respond to e-mails, and so on. Then I thought about Kathy Griffin and her infamous “Suck it Jesus” comment while accepting an Emmy award back in 2007. Actually, the full line she said was, “Suck it Jesus, this reward is my god now.” Wow, I thought. This one line captures so many things at once – love of self, scoffing at God, disregard for the sanctity of sex, hatred of what is good, etc. – and all in front of a packed auditorium of cheering people. Then I looked at the comments below the YouTube video of her speech. It seemed like the majority of people were praising her, and many of them were piling on more insults towards Jesus and Christians. One man gushed, “This is the greatest line ever spoken by a comedian!” Others were far cruder, writing things about God and Christ that would’ve been considered unimaginable and shocking not long ago. What can one say about such things, except that we’re in deep trouble.

Revelation 6:5-6 – While describing the sequence of events just prior to Christ’s return, the apostle John wrote about seeing a black horse, “…and its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand.  And a voice… said, “A loaf of wheat bread or three loaves of barley for a day’s pay…”

According to the United Nations Development Program, “1.2 billion people live with $1.25 or less a day… [and] almost 1.5 billion people in 91 developing countries are living in poverty with overlapping deprivations in health, education and living standards. [Although] poverty is declining overall, almost 800 million people are at risk of falling back into poverty if setbacks occur.”27 The World Bank estimates that 2.2 billion people lived on less than $2 per day in 2011,28 and another source estimates that over 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 per day.29

Revelation 13:16-18 – This verse contains the famous “mark of the beast” passage in which people without this mark on their right hand or forehead cannot buy or sell anything.

What this means has been greatly debated for a long time. Does it refer to people who can live their lives without interference because they think (forehead) and do (right hand) was it right according to this “beast,” or are people’s rights denied because of something specific they lack on/in their head or hands because of their beliefs. While I cannot say for sure, I find it fascinating that the latter scenario is not hard to imagine these days. Increasingly, our transactions are handled electronically. Our paychecks can be deposited directly to the bank, we can buy nearly everything with a credit card, and we frequently use services like PayPal and Bitcoin to settle Internet transactions. These transactions are made possible in part by things we know (e.g., credit card numbers, account numbers, passwords, etc.). There are also transactions that are based on what we have (e.g., an E-ZPass device) or what we are (e.g., our fingerprints). I’ve been reading that more and more retail stores, school cafeterias, etc. are testing fingerprint readers as a means of accepting payment for goods. Many believe we will soon reach a point where cash and other tangible payments for goods and services are a thing of the past. Now all this is well and good, but imagine what the wrong government or some other authority could do with such a system if they wanted to blacklist certain people. Food for thought.

Summary

Since very early in biblical history, the words of the prophets have been despised by those who heard them.  The prophets were called crazy (Hosea 9:7-8) and told to shut up (Amos 2:12).  They were hated, taunted, mocked and in many cases killed by the very people they were sent to help.  We even killed Jesus Christ, the greatest prophet of all.  Unfortunately, things are as bad today if not worse.

Long ago, the Lord speaking through the prophet Amos said, “When disaster comes to a city, isn’t it because the Lord planned it?  Buy always, first of all, I warn you through my servants the prophets.  I, the Sovereign Lord, have now done this.”30 The Lord also said through Habakkuk, “…these things I plan won’t happen right away.  Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled.  If it seems slow, wait patiently, for it will surely take place.”31  Finally, Peter in the second half of the first century wrote, “But you must not forget, dear friends, that a day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.  The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise to return, as some people think.  No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to perish, so he is giving more time for everyone to repent.  But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief.”32

Don’t be pessimistic like those around you.  Take heed of the warnings contained in the Bible.

– – –

  1. Deuteronomy 32:9-10 – New Living Translation & New International Version.
  2. Deuteronomy 31:20 – New Living Translation.
  3. Deuteronomy 8:11-18 – New Living Translation.
  4. Deuteronomy 28:1-2,15,25,33-34 – New Living Translation.
  5. Deuteronomy 31:16-17,20 – New Living Translation.
  6. See Ezra 9:8; Isaiah 6:13, 37:32 & 65:9; Jeremiah 50:20; and Micah 2:12 for some examples.
  7. Isaiah 43:1-2,5-6 – New Living Translation.
  8. Luke 21:20, 24-27 – New Living Translation.
  9. Ravi Zacharias & Norman Geisler (Editors), Who Made God?  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003, page 95.  Professor Peter Stoner’s cited.
  10. Luke 24:25-27 – New Living Translation.
  11. http://www.wired.com/2015/07/crispr-dna-editing-2/
  12. Figures gleaned from two Web sources: http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/welcome.html; and http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/warstat8.htm#Murders.
  13. David Bosco, Crime of Crimes. Washington Post, March 6, 2005, Page B1.
  14. http://www.systemicpeace.org/warlist/warlist.htm
  15. http://www.start.umd.edu/gtd/about/
  16. Celia W. Dugger, UNICEF Says a Billion Children Now Suffer Deprivation Worldwide. The New York Times, December 10, 2004
  17. http://www.wfp.org/hunger/faqs
  18. http://www.fao.org/hunger/key-messages/en/
  19. Ibid
  20. http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/impact-of-hunger/hunger-and-poverty/hunger-and-poverty-fact-sheet.html
  21. http://hdr.undp.org/en/2014-report
  22. http://www.statista.com/statistics/266325/death-toll-in-great-earthquakes/
  23. http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/12/world/haiti-earthquake-fast-facts/
  24. http://www.statista.com/statistics/266325/death-toll-in-great-earthquakes/
  25. http://www.livescience.com/39110-japan-2011-earthquake-tsunami-facts.html
  26. http://www.newrepublic.com/article/116969/fukushimas-radioactive-plume-hit-us-2014-should-we-worry
  27. http://hdr.undp.org/en/2014-report
  28. http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty/overview
  29. https://www.dosomething.org/facts/11-facts-about-global-poverty
  30. Amos 3:6-7 – New Living Translation.
  31. Habakkuk 2:3 – New Living Translation.
  32. 2 Peter 3:8-10 – New Living Translation.