Where Are We in Prophecy (And How Can We Know?)

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It’s been the question for the ages: Where are we in light of Bible prophecy? Isn’t there a formulaic, set-in-stone time line somewhere we can use along with Holy Writ that would facilitate our study of end-time events? Surely there’s some religious organization with sufficient biblical scholarship that has published a study aid replete with graphs and charts pin-pointing just where we are in (what surely seems to be) the end of the age?

With so many interpretations and opinions of the Bible from age to age, and as many doctrines and dogmas as there are religious denominations, how can a curious observer of current events have a credible clue as to what’s going on in this crazy, upside-down world when it comes to prophecy? There’s a simplistic answer to that question, but it may not be the easy answer.

Volumes of books and reams of brochures and pamphlets on eschatology have been published over the years, and certainly much can be learned from this material. Aside from the vast aggregate of information available from multiple sources, what can we do? And how can we begin to find out where we are, prophetically speaking?

Anyone interested in prophecy is probably familiar with the Bible to one extent or another and knows of the end-time prophecies of Daniel and Revelation. However, those books may not necessarily be the best starting places for the purposes of this piece. I think Jesus’ Olivet prophecy recorded in Matthew 24 and Luke 21 is as good a place to begin as any, specifically Luke 21:36, which says this: Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man (NIV). It has to start here, because if we’re not paying attention, we’re going to be oblivious to what’s happening. Watching is a multifaceted activity which far transcends being tuned in to cultural, moral, and geopolitical developments and trends. While that’s important, it’s equally—if not more—important to be aware of how we’re conducting our own lives.

One could easily be a casual observer of world events and still know what’s going on, but it would be dangerous to be cavalier when it comes to self-examination. If we stand before the Son of Man and have neglected to grow and overcome as a result of constant self-examination, our eternal reward may not be the reward we were hoping for. If we’re constantly monitoring our own conduct and watching world events unfold, we’ll be reading the Bible regularly to see how God dealt with ancient Israel, Judah, and the neighboring nations, what he expected of them, and what happened to them when they refused to obey. The Bible will show what’s expected of us individually and as a country.

The Bible can be a difficult read. Wisdom, understanding, and knowledge are three key ingredients to figuring out prophecies. We can acquire these essential keys by faithfully reading God’s Word and requesting he give us tools. Throughout the Book of Proverbs we’re encouraged, even admonished, to seek wisdom and understanding. (Proverbs 6:16 — How much better it is to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is rather to be chosen than silver!)

Daniel and his three friends were given wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. (Daniel 1:17 — As for these four boys, God gave them knowledge and skill in all writing and wisdom. And Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams). These gifts from God can be ours as well if we enthusiastically seek him and ask in a spirit of humility.

One thing to keep in mind about prophecy is it’s often dual in nature. When reading the writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, as well as the minor prophets, we’re reading ancient history written in advance. But it wasn’t necessarily meant to become history, because those prophecies were given as warnings of what would happen if those people didn’t repent and change their ways. Those prophecies became history as a result of the people not heeding the warnings.

Jonah’s prophecy is a good example of a prophetic warning that was heeded. Jonah came to town, prophesied a simple warning, Yet forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed! And, much to Jonah’s chagrin, they did repent. Jonah’s prophecy was not history written in advance; and prophecies that are yet to be fulfilled might not happen if and when individuals and/or nations repent and turn back to God. They were written as warnings for the ancients (too late for them—they’re history) and for us. But it’s not too late for us; we could still repent, if we only would.

Many prophecies are written as if in stone—not because the future has already been determined by God, but because he knows human nature and can know with virtual certainty how mankind will react under various circumstances and situations. Other prophecies found in Daniel and Revelation regarding world ruling empires, the return of Jesus Christ, his 1000 year reign on earth, and the promise of the resurrection for all people, among other prophecies, are an absolute certitude. We just don’t know the time frame.

When we read through the Olivet prophecy, we can know that it’s dual, and some, if not all, of the content has happened. That’s when our knowledge of history can be helpful. With a little discernment, some deductive reasoning, and a powerful search engine, we should be able to know much of what has already happened in that prophecy and what has yet to happen. For example, in Matthew 24:15, Jesus refers to the abomination of desolation and he cites Daniel’s mention of the same thing. At Daniel’s writing, there were to be two abominations of desolation, one of which occurred in the second century B.C. (post-exile) when Antiochus Epiphanes defiled the Temple by sacrificing swine before an image of Zeus. When Jesus spoke about the abomination of desolation, he was referring to one yet to come, to a future Temple, because he wouldn’t have been prophesying about a past event. With some basic background information we can often determine what’s already happened and what’s going to happen.

With that brief background in mind, maybe we can somewhat determine where we are, or at least what has yet to happen prophetically. There are benchmarks in prophetic writings we can use to determine where we are. For example, we haven’t yet experienced the Great Tribulation, nor have we seen heavenly signs or the rise of the last world ruling empire. And we’ve yet to be introduced to the two witnesses. What we are experiencing at this time is the apparent onset of punishments for our disobedience to God. Those blessings for obedience and cursing for disobedience are delineated in Deuteronomy 28 and 29, as well as Leviticus 26.

Leviticus 26:16 warns that God will bring upon us sudden terror as one of the punishments of disobedience. Apart from the bombing of the World Trade Towers on September 11, 2001, and the most recent terrorist bombing at the Boston Marathon, we tend to forget how many terrorist acts there have been in this country. Most readers will be surprised to know that since 1972, there have been 70 terrorist attacks in the United States and 3,101 Americans have been killed. (See, http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/pages/americanattacks.htm).

An apt description of our society is found in 2 Timothy 3:1–5: But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

Likewise, the first chapter of the Book of Romans describes what’s going on in our world. Since the 1960s, we’ve been de-institutionalizing God. We did so gradually at first; but now we are expunging God from every aspect of society at warp speed. The Apostle Paul explained in Romans 1:20–32 what happens when society rejects God:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, and no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

The above passages are just two examples detailing our culture and likening us to the latter days. These descriptive accounts can help determine where we are in prophecy. They are benchmarks. And, as future events unfold, we can more or less be aware of what’s to come.

Israel has long been surrounded by its enemies but it’s just been in the last few years that the Muslim Brotherhood has been ramping up their collective power. With their recent rise in Egypt, Libya, and now Syria, we can see how Israel is being squeezed even further by those who wish to destroy her. They are working in conjunction with Iran, the mother of Israel’s enemies, which may soon be a nuclear power. Remember what Jesus said in Luke 21:20: When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near.

Indicators of where we are in prophecy are recorded throughout the prophetic writings. When we read the Bible with dedication, we’re able to see the warnings given to ancient Israel and Judah. The signs of their times are also the signs of our times.

The Prophets of the Old Testament recorded how corrupt the kings, princes, and priests were prior to the ultimate destruction of Israel and captivity of Judah. The love of money and power abounded in government, business, and religion, resulting in tyrannical despotism. Their society was riddled with violence. Sexual decadence of every variety was justified because it involved religion. The worship of Baal and Molech involved detestable temple prostitution and child sacrifice. Everything that went on in ancient Israel and Judah prior to their demise was appalling to God.

One of the most important keys to a prophetic time line is having knowledge of how God dealt with Israel and Judah. What were they doing that led to their destruction and captivity—and are we guilty of the same deplorable sins? The simplistic answer of how we can know where we are in prophecy is to know the Bible inside and out. To become a student of prophecy is to become an ardent student of the Bible.


Rich Glasgow

Richard Glasgow, Ambassador College graduate and avid student of Ron Dart, brings the Minor Prophets and the Book of Daniel to life. Intriguing lessons you'll never forget!

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Image Credits: Joel Montes de Oca