by Harry Honigh
The prophetic word is a collective name for all the portions of Scripture concerning the future. About events which, from the writer’s point of view, still have to happen. A great part of these prophecies is not yet fulfilled. Though maybe we will not take part in all what the prophecies foretell, the Bible is clear about the importance of the prophetic word: we cannot do without it.
Why is there so little spoken about the prophetic word these days? Why is it an often heard complaint, that so little is preached from the Old Testament? Why do many believers say that they ‘have not much use’ for it? There are several reasons for this, but one stands out head and shoulders above all: the replacement theology, the theory that says that the church has taken the place of Israel.
The replacement theology
Great parts of the church have since Origenes (185-254 A.D.) and Augustine (354-430 A.D.) adhered the teaching that we should not interpret the prophecies literally , but symbolically . Augustine was the founder of the replacement theology, which teaches that the church would have come in the place of Israel. This theory claims that Israel is finished since the rejection of her Messiah and that all it’s promises have gone on to the church. Since that time the greater part of Christianity has seen itself as the new Israel, as it were Sion, the spiritual Jerusalem on earth. The consequences of these teachings were disastrous:
a) The prophetic word in total, overall a third of our Bible, has become unreadable. Its direct meaning of the future stayed hidden for ages. For ages the prophecies were hardly read and explained. And when it is explained, one is subject to human fantasies. So in many places is preached that we live in the Messianic kingdom of peace and that satan is already bound.
The prophetic word is hardly read and it is so sad that few believers see that as a problem. It seems to be accepted as a fact. We say to believe the Bible from cover to cover and from word to word, but at the same time accept that such a great and important part of God’s Word remains unused.
b) The Jewish people is, (also) because of this replacement theology, rejected, discriminated and persecuted by the church. The Christian anti-Semitism is a large and black page in the history of the church. Millions of Jews have been murdered by people who called themselves Christians. Also during the holocaust, the systematic termination of six million Jews during the second world war, the nazi’s gratefully used the anti-Semitism that was present in the church. Unfortunately also in our time Christians shrug their shoulders about the worldwide problem of anti-Semitism. And as many do not know the future depicted by the Bible, as we know it, they neither see what worldwide dimensions the hate against Israel yet will become.
The monster of the replacement theology is probably born out of jealousy, by which it is still fed. The denial of God’s eternal plan with Israel is like a vale which covers the prophetic word until today. I would like to ask anyone who reads the prophecies as symbolic language:
Probably you do read the judgements spoken over Israel literally. But why were the judgements as a result of their disobedience meant literally and the promised blessings as result of their future conversion not?
Many prophecies spoken about Israel have been fulfilled: the exiles, the return, the coming of the Messiah, His suffering, death, resurrection and ascension, etc. It concerns hundreds of prophecies, which all have literally been fulfilled. When then the fulfilled prophecies have all come through literally, would the unfulfilled prophecies not be meant literally also?
Light is a dark place
There is still a third consequence of the neglect of the prophecies. They warn us namely for the coming of false teachers, seducers, false christs, false covenants, false religions, false apostles, worldwide defection and the (spirit of) the coming anti-christ. Many believers have become an easy prey because of this for all kinds of false teaching, with which satan tries to take down God’s Word and the churches in our time. in view of the increasing darkness of this peter writes:
“We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.” (2 Pet. 1:19)
When we read the portion in its context, we see that Peter aims at two things by this ‘dark place’. First of all our heart, which is fast to sin. But at the same time Peter speaks in this part from verse 19 about the temptations of the last days. The dark place is also the (religious) world in which we live, we, for whom the coming of the Lord Jesus is nigh. Peter points at the false teachers and seducers ‘who have forsaken the right way’ (2 Pet. 2:15), who have turned away from the holy commandment (2 Pet. 2:21). Is not this shocking? Not people from the camp of the unbelievers, but teachers ‘who have turned to their own vomit’ (vs. 22), mockers, who mock the return of Christ (2 Pet. 3:3), unstable people who turn the truth (vs 16) and wicked (vs 17). Paul calls them: if his ministers also transformed “as ministers of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:15).
this entire letter of Peter is in the light of the defection of the spiritual leaders, who drag people along with pious sounding messages. And against such temptations Peter says, there is only one remedy: the prophetic Word, which is very steadfast. We can know beforehand, we have the prophetic Word, we have the lamp whining in this dark world. But do we still make use of the light of this lamp?
Knowledge and experience
Peter shows how prophecy, grace and knowledge are bound inseparable. Notice how in the first ten verses of his second letter he draws attention to knowledge. It begins with the knowledge which leads to bearing fruit (vs 8). Many see knowledge and experience as competitors of each other. It should handle about experience, the experience of faith and not about knowledge. The knowledge is often made questionable with cries like ‘rather a living faith than dead teaching’. In this way an improper contradiction is created, from which we should choose. But knowledge and experience are both right, or rather, they are both necessary. The one cannot do without the other.
One-sided attention for the experience soon leads toi idolatry with one’s own feeling, with words, objects and even Bible verses. So in the so-called Contemplative Christianity prayer techniques and ways are used, in which words and Bible verses are repeated endlessly, like Hindus do with their mantras.
Especially the prophetic Word is often portrayed as superfluous knowledge. Rick Warren for instance says in his book ‘Purposeful Life’: “If we want Jesus to come back sooner, then we have to focus on the fulfilment of our mission and not busy ourselves with unravelling prophecies.”(1) Nowhere in his book he points out the importance of the prophetic Word. Warren creates an improper contradiction. As if studying the prophetic Word cannot go together with serving the Lord and doing His will in our lives. First of all it begins with listening to God’s Word, the prophecies included, and only after that doing His will. Listening to God’s Word is a daily priority.
Now some might argue that the prophecies become only relevant in the time they will be fulfilled. One often hears: “For knowing God’s will for my life, is not the New Testament sufficient for me?” The answer to this is a definite ‘no’! The prophetic Word cannot be separated from the rest of the Bible. Paul writes to Timothy:
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2 Tim. 3:16)
This being ‘profitable’ of ‘all Scripture’ is therefore not free of obligations and applies to each book of the Bible, each verse of Scripture, yes, for each word in our Bible. Here too we cannot create improper contrasts. The words of Paul are just as important as those of the Lord Jesus, the prophecies are as important as the gospels and the letters. Don’t let yourself be talked into false contrasts.
In addition to what we call the ‘prophetic Word’, it is so much more than ‘only’ the books like Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc. For instance the Psalms include, besides great encouragements, also very many prophetic sayings. Take for instance the many Psalms which concern the judgment of the nations in the Great Tribulation, about the liberation of Israel and about the redemption of Israel and the following reign of King Jesus during the Kingdom of Peace (2). Encouragement and prophecy often go hand in hand in the Psalms, because prophecy is pre-eminently encouraging.
Also the stories of the Old Testament contain many prophetic sayings of the Lord, for instance to Adam and Eve, Cain, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Hagar, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, to Moses many times, to Pharaoh, etc.
And what to think about the many prophetic words of for instance Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Balaam, Deborah, Hannah, Samuel, David, Nathan and Salomon? There are also many Old Testament events which throw there shadow far forward and help us to understand better the time in which we live, like the building of the tower of Babel, the vocation of Abraham, Jacob’s struggle, the life of Joseph, the exodus from Egypt, the conquering of Jericho, the exile and return, the lives of David, and Daniel, etc. The well-known saying ’history repeats itself’ is certainly applicable to the story of Israel.
Also the Lord Jesus Himself gives many prophetic sayings. Often He speaks in prophetic images and in parables about the future of Israel and the nations. See for instance His speech about the end of times in Mathew 24. Many New Testament letters contain prophetic parts about the seduction of false teachers, the day of the Lord, the resurrection , the rapture to meet the Lord in the air, etc. And then we have also the book of Revelation, which is full of prophecy, as John himself says in Rev. 1:1,3 and 22:6-20; 18-19.
In short: An important part of the Bible consists of prophecies or has prophetic dimensions. therefore we can state that the Word does not only contain prophecy, but that the Word is prophetic. Maybe that is what Peter means with ‘the prophetic Word’ in 2 Pet. 1:19. All Scripture breaths prophecy from beginning to end.
Do not put off
In many churches the preaching is confined to an approachable positive-only message, because of which there is no more room for the prophecies and words like: judgment, hell, tribulation, etc. but is not the joy of the glad tidings that we are saved from the judgment? without the background of the judgment over them who consciously reject the offer of God’s grace, the Gospel is a matter free of obligation.
The Biblical prophets and evangelists do take in these subjects in their preaching. Moses presented the Israelites not only the blessing, but also the curse (Deut. 28) Also the psalmists spoke continually about salvation from judgment. (see Ps. 76:6-9) And was Paul afraid to warn for the coming judgments? Absolutely not. In Romans 2:1-11 for instance he speaks frankly about Jews and gentiles going lost, if they do not repent. Also Peter does not mince matters and warns his readers for the day of the Lord: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therin shall be burned up.” (2 Pet. 3:10).
The Lord Jesus speaks for instance to the Pharisees continually about the judgment that awaits them if they do not repent. And when announcing the work of the Holy Spirit in our time He says: “And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness and of judgment.” (John 16:8)
That is the true work of the Holy Spirit in our time: convince of sin, convince of salvation, for who will listen and convince of judgment for who will not listen. No, there is nor a single Biblical ground for the positive-only message.
Teaching and picture of the future
Until now we dwelled on some reasons why the prophecies are read so little, like: the replacement-theology, underrating of the knowledge regarding the experience; the rising of the positive-only message, in which everything which is difficult, is omitted. Now we will regard very practically what is the benefit of the prophecies for us as believers in the year 2007. What is the use of it for us? What do we do with it? Why should we know what the future looks like? Why cannot we do without the prophecies?
Maybe you are used to test the teaching of yourselves and others? That is a good cause, as much as false teaching is poured out over us. But besides that you should also test what kind of picture of the future is put forth: Do these pictures of the future match the Biblical picture of the future? Soon you will realise that unbiblical pictures of the future are always associated with false teaching. And visa versa: the false teaching will always be associated with unbiblical pictures of the future. Those two are just as much tied together as the prophetic Word with the rest of the Bible. An unbiblical picture of the future is false teaching, maybe of the worst kind. Did not the Lord Jesus Himself say, while He wept over Jerusalem: “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes.” (Luke 19:42)
The people did not understand what God’s intention was with ‘in this thy day’. They expected liberation, the Kingdom of Peace, all matters which God had promised. But at the entry of the Lord Jesus in Jerusalem it was not the time for all those promises, that is to say not yet. First He had to die, should be buried and rise again, so that everybody could personally be cleansed of his/her sins. Even Peter could not imagine that the Lord first had to suffer and said to the Lord: “Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.”(Mathew 16:22) In a biblical picture of the future it is not just of concern that all the facts match, but foremost if the sequence matches.
The biblical picture of the future
So what is then the biblical picture of the future? Is that really subject to so many explanations? I do not think so. The Lord Jesus pictures us in Mathew 24 a very clear picture of the future for the world:
First there will come a time of great religious seduction, of backsliding, nature disasters, wars and persecution of believers (vs. 4-14) The Bible speaks about this period of false peace, of a false covenant (Dan. 9:27; John 5:43; 1 Thess. 5:1-3). This temptation will continue in the second period:
The period of tribulation, greater than the world has ever known or will ever know (vs. 15-28). We call this period also ‘the Great Tribulation’. Jeremiah calls this period the time of Jacob’s trouble, for in this Great Tribulation it will be about the siege of the people of Israel (Jer. 30:7). It will bec ome the seat of the fire of the world. Zachariah describes this battle for Jerusalem in the chapters 12-14. These first two periods last seven years together.
On this follows the return of the Lord Jesus (vs. 29-51). He will deliver Israel from her enemies and judge the nations because of their ungodliness and hate towards Him and the apple of His eye Israel (see a. o. Joel 3).
After that the promised Kingdom of Peace, the fulfilment of many Old Testament promises for Israel and the world, will commence. This Kingdom of Peace will last a 1000 years. Only than the time of the new heaven, the new earth and the new Jerusalem will commence.
We see that quite a lot has yet to happen, before the time of peace for the world begins. It is remarkable that the Lord Jesus does not speak at all about this Kingdom of Peace in Mathew 24. At that time it has not come up yet. In answer to the question of the disciples for the completion of the world (or age, Greek aion), He focuses the attention on what first has to happen (vs.6) before He will return. His first words are: “Take heed that no man deceive you” (vs. 4). That warning for seducers comes back as an echo continually in Mathew 24. Evidently seduction of the believers is the characteristic of the end time.
What is the nature of this seduction? It consists of neglecting of what ‘has to happen first’, of the sequence of the occasions. The Lord says for instance in Luke 21:9: “But when ye shall hear of wars and commotions, be not terrified: for these things must come to pass; but the end is not by and by.” And that is what we see round about us today. Some Christian leaders come with great promises of peace and prosperity, but they do not want to know what ‘has to happen first’. Knowingly the prophetic Word is ignored, in order to seduce the people with their own picture of the future. To what purpose? To belong, for influence and power in the world, for money? We do not know, but according to verse 11 they will ‘seduce many’ (see also Marc 13:6) Herewith this ‘Christian’ peace which is preached, is a false peace. In the light of Mathew 24 many will still reveal themselves as heralds of the false peace. We find their books on the bookshelves of Christian bookshops. We saw already in the first part of this study that the New Testament warns in many places for the coming of these false teachers out of our own circles.
Some characteristics of false teaching
Watch the sequence in Mathew 24: First there is tribulation, backsliding and judgement, only after this Christ brings the Kingdom of Peace (the wedding-hall and rewards in chapter 25) Exactly there we recognise a great part of the false teachers of our time.
Instead of wars, famine and plague, they foresee the ‘solution of the worldwide problems’:
Instead of worldwide falling from the faith, temptation and rebellion against God, they preach a worldwide spiritual awakening;
Instead of a large worldwide war against Jerusalem, they foresee an increase of cooperation and peace, which shall lead to ‘the Kingdom on earth;
And instead of a future for Israel as head of the nations, they preach a worldwide dominion and glory for the Church on earth.
they motivate their pictures of the future with verses belonging to the Kingdom of Peace. In order to use these verses they have to be spiritualised Israel, Sion, house of Jacob, the tribes of Israel, Jerusalem, the daughters of Sion…., it is all applied to the Church. While the Bible says that Christians are citizens of a Kingdom in heaven (Phil. 3:20), in their view the Church has an earthly calling. Most favourable Israel has still a place within the triumphant Church, but usually they do not speak of Israel at all. These views are in fact modern varieties of the old replacement theology, the great enemy of Israel. To ignore or spiritualise the Biblical prophecies is at this moment one of the most important characteristics of false teaching. Millions of people are blinded because of false pictures of the future, often called God’s dreams for the world, so that they do now know what will belong to their peace at present. They do not know (any more) of a false peace which awaits the world and for which the Bible warns so gravely:
“But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a women with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.”(1 Thess, 5:1-4).
Believers who neglect that warning run the risk of working together towards the establishment of the false peace and become vassals of the antichrist.
Rise of the unity of religion
Besides this coming false peace there is yet a second point of temptation, that those who neglect the prophetic Word, usually do not recognise. When we read Rev. 13 for instance, we see that in the future a worldwide unity of religion will come into being, in which adoration of the antichrist is central. Also the whore Babylon (Rev. 17 and 18) will play an important part in this. The heralds of this unity of religion originate already very early in the Church history, already in the first centuries there was forced search for unity within the Christian church, which led to the Roman Catholic church in the fourth century. Through the centuries uncountable false teachings have crept in to this church.(3) In spite of this we see during the last fifty years a strong strife to come to unity again through inter-religious dialogues, which unfortunately are at the expense of the truth. The urge for religious unity namely reaches out to other religions also. On different levels arise consultations between Jews, Muslims, Christians, mormons, hindi, budists, followers of new-age, etc. And the goal is to seek for a form of unity. He who is familiar with the prophetic Word sees how slowly but surely the unity of religion of Babylon and the beast is coming closer here.
This organisational unity is something far different from the Biblical call for unity, which almost always concerns the local church. Around us we see that organisational unity often is at the expense of the truth. The Biblical unity is based on the truth.
Not only in some key truths, as they are sometimes called, but on the whole truth of God’s Word. That part of the Bible that is mostly quoted to motivate the necessity for worldwide unity, is the prayer of the Lord Jesus in John 17. If this part can actually be interpreted so universally, than this unity should at least be based on the truth of God’s Word, as the Lord prays: “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth”(John 17:17).
The evangelical Kingdom theology
The evangelical movement has always characterised itself by a strong vision on the prophecies and on the future of Israel. During the last few decades this situation is slowly but surely changed. The prophecies are no longer solid food, resulting g in the fact that this knowledge is rapidly disappearing. Many preach for instance that the Church faces a time of revival and world dominion. In this they merely fit the future of Israel , which shall be at the head of the nations in the Kingdom of Peace, to the Church in this time. Great American movements as Kingdom Now, Prosperity Gospel, Christian Reconstructionists, Dominionists preach that the time is ripe to establish God’s Kingdom on earth. Then Christ will return. They have great influence on charismatic movements in the U.S. and also on the neo-evangelicals, like Robert Schuller (Hour of Power), Bill Hybels (Willow Creek), Rick Warren (Purposeful Living), Bruce Wilkinson (The Prayer of Jabes) etc. Rick Warren, for instance, with his new PEACE-plan, in which he cooperates with the new-age man Kenneth Blanchard, wants to bring this better world closer. He wants to plant churches, fight against hunger, poverty, diseases and illiteracy. And the perspective in all these good things is – and herein hides the lie – that this will lead to a better world. In that future perspective there is no room for the end scene as the Bible teaches. Their perspective of the future fits perfectly well with the optimistic thoughts of the new-age movement. Many of these Christian leading men do already speak the language of new-age and work together with new-age people. Important Biblical truths recede to the background or have already disappeared. We should not be surprised that the preaching is often legalistic. Where there is no vision for (God’s plan) for Israel, constitutional services will have the pre-eminence and all kinds of legalistic phenomenon will find their way into the churches, like soaking, the labyrinth-prayer, the breathing prayer, the waving of flags, etc. Let us take to heart Paul’s call: “Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light; For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth. Praying what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.” (Eph. 5:6-12).
Concluding we can put it that in our time several old enemies of the Lord and of Israel appear on the scene again: the replacement theology, the false peace and the worldwide religion of unity. They go hand in hand and help each other into the saddle. Through the globelisation (also because of internet) all this, more than ever, takes place on a worldwide scale. It spreads like a virus. That in the process there is little or none attention for Israel, needs not be mentioned. Israel simply does not fit the profile. It is the worldwide church they openly say, which will finish, where Israel failed: the establishing of the new, better world.
Let us hold fast to the entire Word, the prophetic Word included, so that we may discern what is of importance. In order that we may stand on the solid ground of the Biblical ‘goodness, righteousness and truth’ (Eph. 5:9) In order that we might live from the Biblical unity and truth.
1) Rick Warren – Purposeful living – Page 293
2) I mention some: Psalm 2, 9, 20, 21, 22:28-32, 24, 45, 47, 48, 54, 59, 68, 72, 76, 82, 83, 89, 93, 94, 96, 98, 99, 102, 110, 122, 124, 129, 132, 145, 146, 147, 148 and 149.
3) Alexander Hislop – The two Babylons, Inter Euro Publishing, Winterswijk
4) See for instance: http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blanchard.htm and http://www.letusreason.org/Popteac26.htm and http://www.crossroad.to/articles2/05/peace-un-1.htm#1