Straight Answers to Honest Questions
by Arden C. Autry, Ph.D.
Question: How do recent world events line up with Bible prophecy concerning the end times?
Answer: In keeping with the general purpose of prophecy in the Bible, and specifically to heed Jesus’ words, we should focus on God’s agenda rather than on God’s timetable.
The general purpose of prophecy in the Bible is to communicate God’s perspective. Prophecy tells us how God sees things. From prophecy we learn what is truly valuable and what is at stake in human history. This is true for those many prophetic words (both OT and NT) which do not predict future events at all. In Isaiah, for example, you see many things that are not about the future but about God’s perspective on the present in Judah’s history. Many passages, of course, contain important predictions of future events (e.g., Jesus’ atoning death, Isa. 53). But whether the prophetic word is about the past, present, or future, it is vital because it reveals how God sees things. Not all prophecy is predictive, but it is all God’s Word. Scripture declares that the purpose of prophecy is “for edification and exhortation and consolation” (1 Cor. 14:3, NASB). That doesn’t mean it will always make you feel good. It means that, if heeded, prophecy will build you up and strengthen you to be faithful to God.
Even in predictive prophecy, God’s primary purpose is not that we know everything that will happen beforehand. As Paul says, “we prophesy in part” (1 Cor. 13:9). Partial predictions serve to teach us who is ultimately in charge of history. God predicts certain key events so that, when they occur, he will be recognized as the One True God, sovereign over human history and committed to his holy purposes (see Isa. 45:20-22). When we see that God predicted certain events in the past (such as the birth, death, and resurrection of the Messiah), we are encouraged to believe his promises for the consummation of his purposes on earth (i.e., the Second Coming, judgment, new heaven and earth, etc.).
This limited but important knowledge of the future enables us to live faithfully today, in keeping with the triumph of God’s purposes (see 2 Peter 3:11-14).
You don’t need to know everything about tomorrow in order to live right today, but it helps to know that right will prevail.
Twice Jesus was asked “timetable” questions by his disciples (Matt. 24:3-14; Acts 1:6-8). His response directed their attention back to the agenda of preaching, teaching, and spreading the healing realities of God’s Kingdom. He said, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority” (Acts 1:7). Our focus should not be on trying to discern how closely current events line up with prophecy. Such a focus almost inevitably leads to the kind of speculation Jesus said would be fruitless (Matt. 24:36). The end will surely come, but we cannot surely know when. We can be sure, however, that by faithfully continuing in our assigned tasks we will be ready, whenever it is. In the meantime, whenever we see something that reminds us of biblical prophecies, let it remind us about the agenda (preach the Word, make disciples) rather than treat it as a clue for guessing the date of the Second Coming.
Dr. Arden Autry is a graduate of Oral Roberts University, Trinity Evangelical
Divinity School, and Baylor University. He taught Greek and various Bible
courses at ORU for sixteen years. In 1994 he became Minister of Adult
Learning for FUMC. From 2006 to 2010 he and his wife June helped start
a Bible school in Galway, Ireland. He has taught in eight countries—for
churches, seminaries, and universities.
Arden has written for The Spirit-Filled Life Bible, The Complete Biblical
Library, distance learning courses for ORU, and numerous adult series for
FUMC. His hobby is writing Christian music.