How to Approach End-Time Prophecy

By David A. DePra

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World events are at a crisis point.  And as is always the case when world events reach a crisis point, the message of Christendom shifts somewhat towards what is called, “end-time prophecy.”  Books appear, Christian television shows invite prophecy experts as guests, and the subject creeps more and more into sermons.  Some Christians hold the Bible in one hand, and the daily newspaper in the other hand, and try to make them match.  There are even so-called modern prophets who begin speaking out what they say are end-time prophetic words from God.  


Of course, there are always individuals who are considered, “prophecy experts,” who present what has become the classic end-time scenario:  The great tribulation, the anti-christ, the coming apostasy, the rapture, and the return of Christ.  There is much more.  Of course, there are different versions of these events that are offered, and in differing order -- but when everything is said and done, these are the events that we are told are going to unfold in the near future. 


These end-time events are often summarized by a, “prophecy chart.”  Such charts can be found in many Bibles – going back a hundred or more years.  These common interpretations of end-time prophecy have become hard-fast dogma.  And many believers simply accept what is stated on these, “prophecy charts.”  They do so without actually asking:  Is this what the Bible teaches?


The fact of the matter is, we are never going to understand end-time prophecy by focusing ON end-time prophecy and trying to figure it out with our brains.  That is not the assignment given to the body of Christ.  Rather, the body of Christ is to be preoccupied with CHRIST HIMSELF.  HE is to be our life; He is to be our Truth.  We are to be giving ourselves to Him.  But if that is not happening, then we cannot understand much of the Bible – the way God means it – let alone end-time prophecy.  For any discernment of Biblical Truth – of end-time prophecy – must be based in a personal knowledge and realization of Jesus Christ.


The Necessity of Knowing Christ


Now, that brings to the forefront a huge question:  Does the church – in general; there are exceptions – but does the church have a true realization of Jesus Christ?  The honest answer is NO – in fact – millions of believers do not know they are supposed to realize Christ.  It is not as if most believers reject Truth.  Rather, they are blind.  Many believers do not know that they are supposed to see Jesus.  They are blind to the fact that they ARE blind to Christ.  Despite the reality of the Living Christ IN believers, and the desire of God to bring us into an inward realization of Him – this is rarely preached.  The church has been blinded and deceived.


If this is true – that the church is, in general, blind to Christ – then how could we possibly discern the Bible?  If we do not know the Living Word, how can we know the written Word?  How could our understanding of end-time prophecy be according to the Truth if we do not discern the Truth Himself?


Don’t misunderstand:  There are lots of smart people in the church who can read the Bible and draw some factual conclusions.  People can formulate Biblical doctrine.  But all that formulating Biblical doctrine does is tell us what we need to believe from the heart.  Biblical doctrine can, “make us wise unto salvation” – but the written Word cannot actually save us.  We have to do what the written Word commands us to do:  Believe and give ourselves to Christ.


Again, ALL discernment for the believer must be the outcome of an inward realization of Jesus Christ.  Without knowing Christ in an inward way, what we say is discernment is going to be on a theological and academic level.  This will not get us far.  And in the end, we may end up deceived about many things, including end-time prophecy.


God’s Purposes and the Purpose of the Enemy


One of the more significant mistakes the church has made on this matter of prophecy, including end-time prophecy, is to primarily apply it to THE WORLD.  Prophecy is made to be about WORLD events, nations, politics, leaders, history, and so forth.  People try to figure out what nations are being talked about in the book of Revelation; they want to use their brains to study and find out who is the antichrist, etc.  So much of end-time prophecy is made to apply to the WORLD.  Again – believers are apt to hold the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other – waiting for their prophecy interpretations to come to pass in the world.  We need to see that this is a dead end, and a recipe for deception.


There is a certain value to paying attention to what is going on in the world, and what is going on in politics.  We are told to pray for leaders.  Laws that are passed affect our lives and the lives of our children – and so they are not insignificant.  But we are in error if we think that it is through politics that the purpose of God is going to be brought to pass.  We are in error if we think that it is in the world that God is primarily working.  God works only in the world as a tool to accomplish His purpose in His body.  And it is in His body through Christ that prophecy applies – it is there that we find the primary purpose of God, and thus, the primary unfolding of that purpose as revealed in prophecy, including end-time prophecy.  If we don’t see this we will not get far.


The bottom line is this:  All prophecy is understood only as it relates to God’s purpose in Christ.  All involvement of nations, leaders, etc. -- are unto that end, and that end alone.  When considering any issue for this age, it must first be understood on a spiritual level.  Events that we see happening physically find their causation and root in the spiritual realm.  Prayer FIRST applies to the spiritual realm – the answers we see are the outcomes of what FIRST takes place in the spiritual realm.  This is a fact for both that which is of God, and that which is of the enemy.


For example:  There has always been evil in this age, because humanity has always had the potential for evil within.  But we have now crossed a line in this age – we are in territory that we have never been in before.  Evil is out in the open as never before – which makes it easy to infect others – including children.  Evil and perversion are not only being tolerated, but are being celebrated.  Evil has become the NEW NORMAL.  That is new territory on a new and more wicked level. 


One example of this is homosexuality.  Same sex marriage, open homosexuality in the media, transgender, etc. – these have become widespread in a shockingly short period of time.  And despite the relatively small percentage of people that actually participate in such things, these perversions have overtaken society.  Some are even demanding the removal of any reference to gender in our vocabulary.  Do we think that this kind of thing is the result of mere mortals who have gotten off into immorality?  It is NOT.  These things are the result of the spiritual forces of wickedness – spiritual forces we cannot see – working their way into human souls and using human vessels to spread their evil. 


All of this is happening right NOW.  In fact, the target of much of this has become CHILDREN.  Many are demanding the kids as young as grade school be allowed to decide for themselves – with the help of their teachers – to have sex change operations.  There is a widespread effort to separate children from their parents – in a moral and spiritual fashion – putting the children in the hands of those who practice and celebrate perversion.  Again – can we see what is happening here?  The enemy what to destroy the next generation before that generation even gets started.  This is new territory.  It is the Devil himself seeking who he can find through which to work these evils.  And there are more and more people who are providing that material in themselves for him to work with.


It is the desire of the enemy to destroy what a human being IS.  This requires the destruction of the moral nature in humanity.  It requires the destruction of conscience.   This is best accomplished through the destruction and corruption of gender.  When a person gets to the point where they have no moral foundation, they have nothing but corruption.  And this, in turn, provides an open road for the enemy to bring humanity down to lower and lower levels.


If you examine this – the erosion of the moral fabric of humanity – and the celebration of perversion as normal – these issues are going to eventually bring these evils directly into conflict with Christianity.  And this is exactly what the enemy is going to do – he is going to paint Christianity as evil.  Christianity will be labeled as unloving, hateful, and intolerant.  Eventually, the Bible will be considered to be a book of hate. 


But we can talk all we want about the world attacking the church.  That is going to happen.  But the real issue is not that which comes from the church from the OUTSIDE. The real issue is that is happening from WITHIN the church.  Perversion has already taken root.  Initially, and gradually, heterosexual immorality was accepted in churches.  Then came the ordaining of homosexual clergy.  Then came the acceptance and performing of same sex marriage in churches.  Rather than help people OUT of sin, the churches have become a place to find affirmation of sin as NORMAL.  This has been allowed because there are many in the churches, including leadership, who are NOT actually in Christ.  They are not saved.  There is no holiness.  Therefore, whatever will please the masses, and keep the money flowing is permitted.  Whatever will avoid persecution is considered, “good policy.” 


All of this is already in motion – and who knows how far it will go?  But make no question about it – the enemy is not going to be content to corrupt the world.  He wants to destroy believers, that is, to destroy those who ARE the church.  This is the end game.  And it is what end-time prophecy is all about.  End-time prophecy, before it is about world events, is about spiritual events that begin in the spiritual realm.  That is what the book of Revelation unfolds.


Spiritual Revelation


All prophecy is the story of Redemption.  It is the story of the ultimate triumph of Jesus Christ as Lord – and the impact of Christ upon humanity and the forces of evil.  It is the story of Jesus Christ as Lord in His people, and the administration of His Lordship through His people.  But ALL of it begins and is anchored in the reality of the spiritual realm – merely reflected in the physical realm.  This is vital to see in order to maintain the correct perspective with regards to prophecy.  If we limit prophecy to the outward world – instead of realizing that it is all about God’s purpose in Christ – we will miss the Truth.


But that being said, we do need to talk about some facts with regards to end-time prophecy.  For example, it is a fact that Jesus Christ is going to return to this earth.  It is also a fact that there is going to be a rapture.  We are told that there is going to be an apostasy before the return of Christ.  And anti-christ is likewise a reality stated in scripture.  Those are FACTS we can know – and there are many more.


BUT -- the problem here is INTERPRETATION.  What does God MEAN by what He says?  Over the last 120 years the church has gathered up all of these events and interpreted them into hard-fast doctrine.  As mentioned earlier, there are prophecy charts everywhere that tell us exactly what these things mean, and in what order they are going to occur.  Question any of it -- and in some places you will be accused of being a heretic.  Somehow lost in the shuffle is the essential of knowing the Person of Jesus Christ.


Has the church learned nothing over the last two-thousand years as to the folly of establishing hard-fast doctrine regarding end-time prophecy?  Remember the Y2K fiasco?  There were Christian ministries everywhere guaranteeing that when the clock hit midnight on January 1, 2000 that the world was going to end as we knew it.  Many popular TV ministries shouted this warning.  There were even supposed computer experts backing up their claims.  And many ministries had claimed to have found passages of scripture that they said predicted exactly the disaster they were preaching.  But NOTHING happened.  We could go back into history – recent history or thousands of years in the past – and find similar claims that failed. 


At the very least, the history of failure by the church on this matter of end-time prophecy ought to make us question as to whether we ought to blindly accept what is taught NOW.  Despite the fact that certain events – such as the Second Coming – are going to happen, should we not question the interpretations that people present as to the unfolding of these events? 


For example, most believers believe that there are TWO second comings – TWO returns of Christ.  The first is said to be when the rapture takes place – when Jesus comes FOR His people.  The second return is supposedly after the tribulation when Christ comes WITH His people to begin the millennium.  Millions of people believe this – despite the fact that there is not even a remote suggestion by Jesus Himself, or in the epistles, that Jesus will return to this earth twice.  No.  It is always THE return of Christ.  But you see, once I demand a tribulation, and that the church must escape such a tribulation, I have to come up with a way in which the church can escape this tribulation – without beginning the millennium.  So, people have pieced together a bunch of verses and made them to say that Jesus will return to earth and rapture His people to heaven, where they will all wait in heaven during the tribulation, and the come back down to reign and rule.  This has become hard-fast doctrine to the point where few question it – and yet it is utter fabrication.


Another example:  “Anti-christ.”  It is commonly accepted that anti-christ is an individual who is going to appear.  People spend time trying to figure out the identity of the anti-christ and the meaning of, “the mark of the beast.”  But in doing so, they completely ignore what the entirety of scripture has to say about these matters.  Antichrist – in fact, John says, “MANY antichrists” -- had already been at work back in the first century.  So before any individual is considered, we need to understand the spiritual meaning and goals of the spirit of anti-christ.


Likewise people expect a 7-year period called, “the great tribulation.”  Does the Bible actually teach this?  Or is this doctrine the product of a predisposed interpretation?


Of course, then there is the entire book of Revelation.  Most consider this book to be a catalog of end-time events from which we can construct a prophecy chart.  In reality, however, the entire book is a SPIRITUAL vision given to John – in which God revealed spiritual realities and events. Most of what is written in this book is not physical events – but spiritual events. That is what is revealed in this SPIRITUAL vision that John had IN THE SPIRIT.


The book of Revelation is NOT a catalog of end-time events.  Rather, it is exactly what the first verses say that is:  A revelation or unfolding of the PERSON of Jesus Christ – and a revelation of His redemption in His people, and His restoration as Lord of all.  This is unfolded in that book using physical object to reveal spiritual reality.  World events are brought in only as they relate to Jesus Christ as Lord.


The Believer’s Approach to Prophecy


Jesus Christ said something to his disciples before He died that establishes a spiritual principle on this matter of prophecy – it tells us what our approach ought to be to Bible prophecy.  He said:


And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, you might believe.  (John 14:29)


What was Jesus saying?  Was He saying that they could not trust His words until His words came true?  No.  Was He saying that He expected them to understand His word BEFORE it came to pass?  No.  Rather, Jesus was telling them that they could NOT understand or interpret His words presently with their limited understanding – but that they would later understand what He meant WHEN – and ONLY when -- what He promised would come to pass.  THEN they would realize what He meant.  And at that point, they could look back and remember what He said.  It would strengthen their faith.


To put it another way, if God says something, we can always believe His Words are the Truth.  But we may not presently be able to know what those true words MEAN.  Anyone can read what God says, but it often takes a growing experience of Jesus Christ to realize fully what God MEANS.


This is the key to understanding Bible prophecy.  We can expect certain events, such as the return of Christ.  But we cannot fully grasp the meaning of any end-time event, or how it will actually unfold -- UNTIL it unfolds.  To try to do so is folly.


This is exactly how it often works in our walk with Christ.  We may believe that God has spoken to us.  We may think we understand.  But then when things unfold we discover that we did not understand – or at least we had only a shallow understanding.  Why?  Because our understanding only grew as we grew to know Christ.


Yet despite the fact that for two thousand years lots of very intelligent people have assured us that they do understand Bible prophecy, those people have repeatedly been proven WRONG.  So what are we to say, that, “this time,” they are right.


Jesus was clear on this matter of prophecy.  We need not guess as to His intention:  He stated that we can understand the MEANING of a prophecy only once the prophecy comes to pass.


We know that is what He meant because it is exactly what happened.  The disciples did not expect Jesus to die and be raised – despite the many times Jesus told them that it was going to happen.  Indeed, they did not have an accurate interpretation of the prophecies of the OT, of the Messiah, and of the kingdom of God.  They expected Jesus to set up a material kingdom in their day.  It was only after Acts 2 they there were able to gather up all that Jesus has said to them and realize what He meant.  And they were then able to grasp the Truth because Christ had come to dwell within them via the spirit of God.


So, the disciples who has spent three and one-half years with Christ did not understand what He meant by what He said.  Are we any different than those disciples who actually walked with Christ?  Look at the church today.  Does the church evidence a grasp of the Truth?  Does the church evidence Christ?  No.  Rather than be more advanced in our understanding of Jesus Christ than the disciples we would do well to understand Him as well as they did.  The point is, all discernment for a believer is dependent upon our personal realization of the Light and Truth Himself.  This is not about brain power, or the ability to dig into the Bible and study prophecy.  Anyone can read what the Bible says and offer an opinion.  But only if we know Christ can we know the mind of Christ – and know what the Bible means by what is written.


So the question MUST be asked:  Is it possible that the generally accepted – indeed, is it possible that the generally DEMANDED interpretation of Bible prophecy -- is WRONG?  What if we have some facts right – I’m sure we do have SOME facts right -- but is it possible that our interpretation of those facts, and what those Bible verses mean, and how they will unfold, is completely wrong?


The Bible even tells us that even the OT prophets did not understand the fulfillment of what they were writing.  Yet they knew what they were writing was the Word of God. 


Some folks might object and claim God would never let us be that far off the track.  But God would allow his people to be deceived.  Read the NT.  Much of it was written to correct deception, and to warn against it.  If the key to discernment is to know Christ, then the path to deception is ignorance of Him, or rebellion against Him.  The first disciples did not understand what Jesus was said for the three and one-half years they spent with Him.  But they did understand later because their hearts were open.  And open heart to Christ makes it possible to understand Christ – which makes it possible to know the Truth about what His Word says.  There is simply no other key to knowing what God means by what He says on any matter, including Bible prophecy.


There are many believers today who are absolutely convinced that end time events are going to unfold according to the standard prophecy chart.  Indeed, they are counting on it; they have a certain amount of faith invested in that assumption.  There are many, for instance, who are convinced that the church is going to, “escape the tribulation.”  But what if events DO NOT unfold the way in which they have interpreted the Word of God?  Will they be able to say, “Well, I thought I knew what was going to happen, but I was wrong.  Thank you, Lord.” 


Well, we had better be open to the Lord on these matters.  The scribes and Pharisees were the Bible experts of their day.  They had what amounted to an OT prophecy chart – that is, “they knew,” how the Messiah had to come, and what He would do when He appeared.  But their own hearts and bias had opened them to a false interpretation – literal instead of spiritual – at the core.  Because they were blinded by tradition and had a hardened heart, the very Messiah for which they were waiting stood before them – worked miracles and taught Truth – but they called Him a devil and handed him over to the Romans.


It is entirely possible that today’s church is headed down the same path.  There is a great danger found in having a hardened expectation of end time events.  What if prophecy unfolds in a way that is contrary to my interpretations?  If I stick to my interpretation instead of waiting to see God’s Word unfold I could actually refuse to believe that what is unfolding is of God.  This is what the Pharisees did, and it is actually what the disciples initially did – thankfully, they were eventually willing to see the Truth.  Or, what if the enemy orchestrates events that seem to fulfill my expectations?  I will walk right along with the deception because it agrees with my prophecy chart.  The point is, if we do not allow God to fulfill His Word His way in His time we are going to be left to our own religious bias, our pride, and our limited understanding. 


If end time apostasy is going to be able to deceive, it must look like end time revival.  And for it to look like end time revival, it will need to look like end time prophecy fulfilled – not according to the mind and purpose of God, but along the lines of prophecy according to the mind of man.


The final question on this matter of end time prophecy – once we realize that we will understand the meaning only as it unfolds – is to ask how we can be sure of our understanding even at that point of unfolding?  Our discernment of the fulfillment of prophecy will only be as good as our discernment of Christ Himself.  Indeed, if we have come to know Christ, and trust Him, we will even be at rest if we can’t seem to understand.  Faith will fill that void.


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