What on earth is prophecy for?

First Sunday of Advent

“As you do all this, you know what time it is. The hour has already come for you to wake up from your sleep. Now our salvation is nearer than when we first had faith. The night is almost over, and the day is near. So let’s get rid of the actions that belong to the darkness and put on the weapons of light. Let’s behave appropriately as people who live in the day, not in partying and getting drunk, not in sleeping around and obscene behavior, not in fighting and obsession. Instead, dress yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ, and don’t plan to indulge your selfish desires.”
Romans 13:11-14 CEB

I remember a teaching series from my childhood on the biblical book of Revelation. In those days, our family attended church twice on Sunday (morning and evening) and then again on Wednesday evening. The pastor, my father, taught weekly on Sunday nights for nearly a year from the book of Revelation.

Although I have forgotten most of the content, I do remember two things about that Revelation series. First, Revelation was treated as a prophecy of the future. It was thought that we could read Revelation and through this reading be sure of exactly how the future would unfold. Second, the very specific things that were taught in that setting in rural Washington State in the early 1990s as to what Revelation meant for the future have by now completely fallen apart.

The primary point of Bible prophecy has never been to know with certainty the exact details of what will happen in the future. This approach emphasizes special knowledge, and it is no surprise to me that many who take this approach are arrogant and prideful in the belief that they know what others do not. The purpose of God is not to make us smarter than other people or more arrogant than other people, so this should be a clue to us that this approach to Bible prophecy is misguided.

The primary point of Bible prophecy has always been to know what is true of God and true of the future in order to impact and shape what is true right now. Faith is trusting God in the face of an uncertain future. At the point when the future is no longer uncertain, faith is not needed. The purpose of Bible prophecy is exactly in line with what we see in Romans 13:11-14. When the Bible speaks about the future, the focus is not on knowing the future but on knowing God. What we know of God and the future from the Bible is intended to change how we think and live right now.

Prophecy is not focused on the future, rather it is focused on how the future ought to impact the present. What is true of the future should change what is true right now. Read Romans 13:11-14 in light of this. What should be true today because salvation in Jesus Christ is closer than ever?