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Prophecy Avoided in Churches|
Q. I really enjoy the study of prophecy. But, it seems like many pastors avoid teaching it. Is there a reason for this? What's wrong with it? It makes sense of difficult times today for me.
This is a good question and not a simple one!
Book of Revelation Shunned
The study of prophecy is a "hot" issue and avoided for a number of reasons. For example, in our area alone we know of three pastors who refuse to teach from the book of Revelation. No wonder Jesus promised a special blessing to anyone who reads the book.
No other biblical book offers a special blessing like this to those who read it:
"Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it - for the time is near" (Revelation 1:3, NASB).
Apocalyptic Literature Avoided
Some of our local pastors state that they are just trying to avoid unnecessary conflict in their parishes. This is because there are some Christians who dogmatically believe that the book of Revelation is "apocalyptic literature" such as that found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and should never be taken literally.
Threat to Rome
Furthermore, they claim that the apostle John was writing during a time when a teacher preaching about a Jewish king or kingdom posed a direct threat to Rome. Anyone who threatened Rome risked getting his head cut off or being thrown to the wild beasts. So the apostle John wrote in symbols.
To Signify a Book
Interestingly, there is some merit to this position. A proper translation of Revelation 1:1 says that Jesus Christ "sent it (the book) and signified it through His angel to His slave John"… (HCSB)
To "signify" the book means that it is indeed written in signs or codes and is symbolic writing. However, it is clearly meant to be studied and understood.
All one needs is a good concordance to find out what the various symbols mean from the Old Testament writings. For example, the "stars" are angels, the candlesticks (or lampstands) are churches (v. 1:20) and so on.
Just because the book of Revelation is "apocalyptic" literature does not mean that it cannot be understood. Otherwise, Jesus would have never stated to the readers that a person is blessed who keeps what is written. How can you "keep" what you don't understand?
Book of Daniel
The book of Daniel in the Old Testament is also apocalyptic literature. Yet, over and over throughout the book the symbols are explained so that they are clearly understood.
Millennial, Amillennial, Preterism
Another reason pastors avoid talking about or preaching prophecy is because of the bickering and conflict that has come because of it. This has really become contentious and hateful lately.
Briefly, the millennium is Christ's thousand-year reign upon the earth after the dark tribulation days. It will be a time of bliss and peace on earth. The final chapters of Isaiah speak frequently of these future days:
"But be glad and rejoice
forever in what I create.
For behold, I create
Jerusalem for rejoicing
and her people for
gladness" (Isa 65:18).
…And there will no longer
be heard in her
the voice of weeping
and the sound of crying.
No longer will there be in
it an infant who lives but
a few days,
or an old man who does
not live out his days.
For the youth will die at
the age of one hundred
and the one who does
not reach the age of one
shall be thought accursed"
It is clear that the Millennium is a real period of time where people live much longer lives than they do today. Our planet will be a beautiful earth with animals and man living at peace with one another. However, it isn't the final "heaven." People still die, offenders are punished, and children are born.
Symbolic, to Jews Only, Pre or Post, or Never
Some believe there is no real millennium - it is just a figure of speech. Others think that this particular time on earth is meant only for the Jews and not for Gentiles. Some also think the rapture will occur before the Great Tribulation and Millennium occurs. Others think there is no rapture at all - it is just part of the Second Coming of Jesus. Others believe the Jews forfeited God's blessings and there is no longer a nation of Israel. Christians replace the Jews in God's prophetic calendar.
The fighting is rancorous and bitter. Sometimes it becomes clear that there is even virulent anti-Semitism springing up right within our own churches. We have observed a few Preterists show outward glee when it looks like Israel may be a nation no more, or when the Iranian leader threatens to shove Israel into the sea. One wonders how a person can be a true Christian with such hatred comprising their end-times viewpoint.
Those who don't believe in the rapture - a time when Christians will be snatched off the earth (1 Thess. 4:17) - sneer at and ridicule those who do.
Added to that many don't even believe in a real heaven! At best they believe heaven is a wispy, see-through, Saran-wrapped sort of existence. Yet, heaven and the New Jerusalem are clearly presented as real hope for a real existence in a real city. It has always been the Christian's blessed hope from early New Testament times.
Horror Bedtime Stories
There are some Christians who believe the rapture is a horrid thing to teach children! They think that it will frighten their young ones to preach about a time when believers will disappear off the earth and those left behind will suffer during the tribulation period. We have observed mothers and grandmothers chastise a pastor for preaching the truth of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 or 1 Corinthians 15: 50-55!
Then, there are the date setters who have always given the church a "bad rap." Many pastors don't want to be associated with those who have told their followers to sell all their belongings and wait on a hill for Christ's imminent return.
No one likes to be ridiculed - and pastors are no different than you or I.
Where is He?
Yet, the apostle Peter warned that in the last days "scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, 'What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created" (2 Peter 3:3-4, NLT).
Linear vs. Non Linear Thinking
These scoffers are guilty of thinking in "linear" terms. In other words, they believe that everything has always continued the same way and will continue to do so in the future. They avoid prophecy and the non-linear thinking it demands. To them, earth changes or cataclysms will never occur. They ridicule those who preach that disasters will occur during the tribulation period as surely as the flood destroyed almost all life on our planet once before (2 peter 3:5-7).
Signs of His Return
While it is true that no one knows the day or hour when Christ will return, we are commanded to observe the "signs" of His coming. The gospel writer, Matthew, said,
"You know the saying, 'Red sky at night means fair weather tomorrow - red sky in the morning means foul weather all day.' You know how to interpret the weather signs in the sky, but you don't know how to interpret the signs of the times!" (Matthew 16:2-3, NLT).
Jesus gave us clear signs to watch in Matthew chapter 24 and Luke chapter 21. He wasn't just kidding!
From reading the New Testament parables it seems clear that Jesus will likely return much later than we think or hope - that way more people will be saved before the end.
In fact, Christians could even possibly face the first or early part of the tribulation days - up until the Antichrist declares himself to be God (2 Thess. 2:3-4). Jesus will rescue us "from the wrath to come" (1 Thess. 1:10&5:9). But, God's wrath is displayed during the second three and one-half years of the tribulation period (Rev. 6:16-17).
In other words, it won't be perfect on earth one day and disastrous the next for all of us. We will see signs of increasing tensions, wars, threats, disasters, economic turmoil and other difficult things. Christians who believe in the rapture won't necessarily avoid all troubles, either!
But, regardless of what we "think" the Bible is our standard and provides answers to earnest seekers. There is no good reason to treat it like "magic" or something unclear and symbolic and not to be understood.
So unless it states otherwise readers can take the Bible seriously and interpret it according to usual, standard rules of interpretation.
The disputes and arguments over the "end times" are not worthy of our Lord and should be set aside for now. Christians are to seek peace and promote the love of Christ during our final days upon the earth.
Benware, Paul N. 1995. Understanding end times prophecy. Chicago: Moody Press.
Hitchcock, Mark. 2005. Could the rapture happen today? Sisters, OR: Multnomah.
Walvoord, John F. 1991. Major Bible prophecies. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Art Credits: "Fortune Teller" available from winegoggle.co.za
2nd. "Fortune Teller" available from msoci.com
Author Valorie Mays Emilio holds an M.A. in History from UCLA focusing upon early church history and a V.O.M. Certificate in Persecuted Church Ministries from Oklahoma Wesleyan University.
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