Updated: Apr 1
I recently read an article analyzing and attempting to fact check the common held Seventh-day Adventist view of meaning behind the Biblical book of Daniel. Regardless of the points made in that article, it got me thinking. How important is Bible prophecy in our ministry efforts today? If it is important, what does its role in our discussions and actions look like?
For clarity, prophecy is defined as a prediction. It is the telling of something, typically a person or an event (or both), that is yet to come.
The prophetic books of the Bible are broken into two categories: "Major" and "Minor" prophets:
The minor books tend to focus on prophecies that have already taken place. We see them predicted in their respective books, and later on, in the Bible we see them fulfilled. The major books also reveal prophecies that are later proven in events found in scripture, however many of the major book prophecies appear to have more than one meaning. They address something in their near future as well as something later on.
Another important book when it comes to prophecy in the Bible is the book of Revelation which "revealed" to John what the end of the world would look like. In this description, we see what people often refer to as "Armageddon" implying the end of the world. There is even a movie called Armageddon where disasters overtake the world!
Christians overall seem to agree that Revelation is discussing the end of the world. This includes the judgment of people who still have not accepted Christ by the time the world ends, the return of Jesus to take his followers to heaven, and the experience of hell. The book describes terrible natural and societal disasters that will occur. The book ends the destruction of Satan as well as a detailed description of what heaven will be like once Earth is destroyed and eventually recreated.
Seventh-day Adventists have a much more detailed analysis of prophecy than many other denominations when it comes to end-times events. Seventh-day Adventists believe that the world is currently in a specific phase of what we know as the tabernacle process. Much like the tabernacle of the Old Testament, it is believed that there is a tabernacle in heaven. Jesus, who has returned to heaven is currently in the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle interceding for the people of the world. This is Biblical- Jesus is often even referred to as a High Priest in scripture. We want people to accept Jesus so that he may intercede for them. This is why we as Christians are called to spread the gospel in this current time.This is symbolized by the letters of the churches in Revelation 1-3. While those churches did occur in the past, they also had similarities to time periods of the future. They discuss the challenges Christians will face at different points in history. Through each time period, our call is to minister despite our struggles. The more people who know about Jesus, the better (The Three Angels Message, Revelation 14) Jesus can only intercede, or ask for forgiveness, for the sins of the people who believe in him. Jesus can also only intercede for so long. At some point, the world, which is getting progressively worse both physically and morally, must end (Revelation 17).
Adventists believe there will be a time when this intercession will stop. There is a reference to a scroll that is opened and eventually sealed up in Revelation 5-7. Towards the closing of the scroll, natural disasters occur, diseases break out, and civil unrest becomes severe (Revelation 15).
We must pause here a moment and look at this logically. If all this time God has been trying to get people to realize that he exists, it makes sense that it would take extreme measures to do so. I'm not saying God is causing the problems, but there has to be something in the world to reveal to people that God is real. If he is real, what the Bible asks us to do (accept Jesus, confess our sins, actively try to live righteously) is valid. God cannot judge or allow people to be left out of heaven if they never knew good and evil existed in the first place! The Bible alludes that in this time of suffering people will discover that there is something supernatural that exists after all... and they will start turning to religious leaders for help.
Revelation 12-13 describes characters that many people feel confused about... and for good reason! This is uncharted territory! Nearly all of this is up for speculation because we are dealing with events that haven't happened yet. However, Adventists believe that the characters of this portion of the Bible speak on the Catholic church and it's eventual returning rise to power. Specifically, it is thought that the pope will play a large role in persuading government leaders and rulers to enforce a Sunday law. A Sunday law would be a mandatory church attendance of services on Sunday for all people.
Again, this pairs well with logic. If everyone discovers they've been living in "sin" and if they believe that is what is causing their torture (through the natural disasters, etc.) it makes sense that they would be desperate to "appease" God. If you are acting out of fear rather than a relationship with Jesus or personal knowledge of the Bible, you will be quick to accept whatever religious leaders tell you is the solution.
Surely the pope of all people would know what to do right? The pope is regarded by many people as the ideal religious leader that exists in the earth. Think about it... even presidents of the United States now journey to receive the pope's blessing when they enter the office. Despite the obvious corruption of the Catholic church in the past (and in the present though you have to dig to find it), people are starting to view the pope as a docile, loving, wise person.
There is also talk of an antichrist who will come down on earth impersonating Jesus himself. Again, because so many people on earth will have never read the Bible, they won't be able to decipher that this antichrist is the devil himself rather than Jesus. They will be convinced he is the real deal because he will perform miracles and cause extraordinary things to occur. Much like people in Biblical times, who only believed in Jesus because of his signs and wonders, people will only believe in the antichrist for what he can show off.
Amidst all this craziness, Adventists believe they (and likely others who believe similar to them) will be persecuted. We will be persecuted because we will want to go to church on Saturday instead of Sunday. We may also be attacked because of our rejection of the antichrist and our take on the state of the dead (more on that in a different post). It again would make sense for this to occur because if the world is in panic mode to appease God, and the pope is saying the only way to appease God is to go to church on Sunday, people who don't want to go to church on Sunday will look like a threat. They will look like they are going against a peaceful resolution with God.
Naturally, all of this is speculation. While I believe this understanding of scripture is inspired and true, it is also in the future. There is no way, other than taking things by faith, to prove 100% that this will actually happen. It won't be a "sure thing" until it has come to be. This is a problem for many people, and it is one of the main reasons modern faith-based leaders and organizations avoid the topic of prophecy altogether. Even Adventists, who used to boldly preach End Times events, have worn themselves out. They are embarrassed because for so long they said we were living in end times, yet there is still no Sunday Law and no Anti-Christ.
So, does any of this even matter?
Well first off, let's talk about how NOT to use prophecy. Prophecy is not meant to be used as a scare tactic to force people to believe in God. God is a loving being. I believe God wants an authentic relationship with us that is driven by curiosity and care. It is important for us to be interested in our origins and the universe around us. It is also important for us to be kind and understanding of each other. Prophecy is not meant to be used as the primary focus of our ministry. The primary focus of our ministry is Jesus. If people love and seek after a strong relationship with Christ they will be prepared for end-time events regardless of if they deciphered prophecy or not. Prophecy should never be allowed to become a roadblock in connecting with people. If we spend more time trying to prove our perspectives or debate others on how wrong they are about their understanding of the predictions, are we truly acting Christ-like? There are current issues at hand that deserve our efforts and brainpower. Prophecy is important, but it's not more important than living well in the present moment.
With that in mind, there are some definite benefits to studying prophecy. Prophecy shows the validity of the Bible. When we read predictions that were made and then later read how they came true, this gives us evidence that the Bible is credible. It also gives us reason to believe that future predictions may also come to fruition. Prophecy helps us better understand other parts of the Bible. Because the messages in prophecy take a bit more thought and effort to retrieve, we often end up studying other parts of God's Word in an effort for deeper understanding. I believe anything that encourages us or motivates us to do that, is beneficial. The Bible is also very inter-connected and prophecy plays a role in connecting those dots. Finally, prophecy will someday help us verify God's intent for us in the last days. Although the predictions of Revelation haven't come into play yet, someday they will. Knowing that the world eventually has to end, causes us to have a sense of urgency in our ministry work today. Some day when we feel our faith growing weak as chaos controls our reality, we will have the End Time message of the Bible to help us maintain a clear, and educated perspective.
For a more clear and in-depth understanding of the book of Revelation and End Time Events, I recommend the following: