The biblical prophets have much to say to us today, declaring not only what will happen but why—and how we are to receive this truth from God.
A common stereotype of a biblical prophet is an angry robed man with piercing eyes and a long beard shouting words of condemnation. Predicting the end of the world, he calls on people to repent, yet his fearful and threatening words fall on deaf ears.
The word “prophecy” is often associated with doom, destruction, depression, despair and death—with words like “Apocalypse” and “Armageddon” offering added drama.
But did you know that most Bible prophecy is not dire prediction? Through prophecy, God affirms His relationship with us and explains His involvement with the world. Through prophecy we come to understand the whole point of Jesus Christ’s first coming as well as the power of His future return!
Showing us what the future holds, God reveals His love for mankind in sending His Son to save us—not only in His past sacrifice but in coming back to build a society that will live by values that guarantee peace, prosperity and happy families and lives. This revelation is the gospel or good news!
Notice this encouraging prophecy in Ezekiel 36: “I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. You will be my people, and I will be your God. I will cleanse you of your filthy behavior . . .
“When I bring you back, people will say, ‘This former wasteland is now like the Garden of Eden! The abandoned and ruined cities now have strong walls and are filled with people!’ Then the surrounding nations that survive will know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt the ruins and replanted the wasteland. For I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do what I say” (verses 26-36, New Living Translation).
While this prophecy is specifically directed to the people of Israel, God will expand this promise to all mankind according to His plan. And we see in this prophecy how the root cause of problems is solved: Man’s stony, stubborn heart is replaced by a tender, responsive one. This prophecy is yet to be fulfilled on the scale described. Nonetheless, there is much here for us, as there is with Bible prophecy as a whole.
We ask, then, who are these prophets of the Bible, and what is their message for us today?
From one end of Scripture to the other
Remarkably, much of your Bible is prophecy. According to The Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy by J. Barton Payne, there are 1,239 prophecies in the Old Testament and 578 in the New, for a total of 1,817. These prophecies are contained in 8,352 of the Bible’s 31,121 verses, thus constituting 26.8 percent of the Bible’s volume. And many are yet to be fulfilled.
As for the prophets themselves, these were messengers sent by God to communicate His will to mankind. In the Old Testament, 15 books are named after prophets with familiar names such as Ezekiel, Isaiah and Jeremiah. There are other notables such as Moses and Daniel. The book of Psalms, along with many other Old Testament books, contains many prophecies as well. In the New Testament, the book of Revelation is nearly all prophecy. The apostle John wrote many prophetic statements here and elsewhere, as did Peter and Paul and other apostolic writers.
The greatest prophet of all was Jesus Christ, who was Himself foretold over a span of many centuries by other prophets. They recorded scores of distinct prophecies about His first and second comings. During Jesus’ ministry, He prophesied of the coming Kingdom of God, what it would be like and, most importantly, how we need to prepare for it.
The prophets of the Bible were a diverse group of men, with backgrounds ranging from shepherds to royal counselors to rulers. As their words were written down over such a long period of time, it’s obvious that most of the prophets could not collaborate with one another in person. Yet their writings all pointed to the same conclusion of man’s ultimate destiny, salvation and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on the earth.
The first prophecy occurs in the first chapters of the Bible in the Garden of Eden. It is an allusion to the clash between Satan and Christ. When God spoke to the serpent about his fate and future encounter with Jesus Christ, He said: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15). Satan was directly involved in the killing of Jesus, but the resurrected Savior eventually vanquishes the devil.
The very last prophecy in the Bible is Jesus proclaiming, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly’” (Revelation 22:20).
Between these two prophetic points lies an entire story that tells us what man is and what our relationship with God should be. As you come to understand this narrative, you will see an amazing story unfold about the purpose of life and our relationship with our Creator God in whose image we are made.
More than predictions
Prophets did far more than reveal future inside information. They taught about a relationship with our Creator and our responsibility to Him. By understanding prophecy, we see more clearly who God is and His love for and intended relationship with mankind.
Through prophecy we understand how evil will be eradicated. Prophecy shows how our existence will be elevated from mortal to divine status. It’s an inspiring story! Man’s history is not a patchwork of disconnected events. Prophecy ties it all together and gives our lives meaning.
We see that today’s struggles will lead to an amazing future. As Paul wrote: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption [or sonship], the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:20-23).
John further explained: “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:1-3).
We are promised a new world and a transformed, immortal existence ahead. That is our great hope!
The apostles appealed to the prophets of old as well as Christ for context and credibility in conveying the gospel message. Peter proclaimed: “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.
“For Moses truly said to the fathers, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren [referring to Christ]. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you. And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days. You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed’” (Acts 3:19-25 emphasis added throughout).
We see here, as elsewhere, a message of judgment as well as blessing.
Delivering vital truth
Throughout history, God has spoken through His prophets to inform and warn the world of what’s ahead: “Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets. A lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken! Who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:7-8).
Beyond Today is a prophetic work that does what our name suggests—shows from God what lies beyond today in the present age and the age to come. While not directly prophesying ourselves, we are communicating the hope and warning given by the prophets of old. Our tagline “A Magazine of Understanding” points to explaining the reasons for the way things are and where they are headed. It’s vital to know why catastrophic prophesied events will take place.
Prophets were to speak up when the covenants between God and the nation were violated. National leaders were aware of prophetic warnings, but few heeded. Today, God continues to warn the world at large of coming calamity as a result of destructive lifestyle choices, but the words are scorned. As God tells Jeremiah to say, “This is a nation that does not obey the voice of the Lord their God nor receive correction. Truth has perished and has been cut off from their mouth” (Jeremiah 7:28).
That is what’s happening in our society. Where can we turn? What news can you trust on television or the Internet? Totalitarian governments tightly control information. And now we have hundreds of media outlets presenting information sharply slanted to their bias.
The job of a prophet is to deliver truth to people despite the overwhelming challenge of being heard. God’s servants, regardless, have the responsibility to tell the truth and warn the world, crying aloud and showing our nations their sins (see Isaiah 58:1).
Facing an upside-down world
Isaiah wrote of the widespread inversion of morality in these terms: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:20-21).
That is the state of our nations today! We are becoming increasingly morally sick as our leaders and educators are losing any ability to properly differentiate between right and wrong.
The ancient prophets condemned child sacrifice. While seemingly unthinkable today, a contemporary parallel leaps to mind: In America alone we have snuffed out the lives of 60 million newly conceived lives. These are not just “human tissue”!
The prophets decried social injustice and violence suffered by the vulnerable and disadvantaged. But now we see rampant lawlessness and violence in the name of standing against these.
Never in the history of mankind has there been so much confusion about sexuality and gender. The LGBTQ abbreviation keeps expanding with more letters. One of God’s earliest descriptions of mankind concerned gender: “He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created” (Genesis 5:2). Many now claim that limitation to only two genders, male and female, is evil.
We are a voice crying aloud that the end of civilization is at hand unless there is repentance, which means changing how we live. We have proclaimed that message loudly in this magazine and on our Beyond Today television program.
National punishment and redemption
We read in 2 Kings 17:13-15 of God sending His servants to call His people to repentance: “Again and again the Lord had sent his prophets and seers to warn both Israel and Judah: ‘Turn from all your evil ways. Obey my commands and decrees—the entire law that I commanded your ancestors to obey, and that I gave you through my servants the prophets.’ But the Israelites would not listen. They were as stubborn as their ancestors who had refused to believe in the Lord their God.
“They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their ancestors, and they despised all his warnings. They worshiped worthless idols, so they became worthless themselves. They followed the example of the nations around them, disobeying the Lord’s command not to imitate them” (NLT).
Through Jeremiah God said this to the nation: “Your injury is incurable—a terrible wound. There is no one to help you or to bind up your injury. No medicine can heal you. All your lovers—your allies—have left you and do not care about you anymore. I have wounded you cruelly, as though I were your enemy. For your sins are many, and your guilt is great. Why do you protest your punishment—this wound that has no cure? I have had to punish you because your sins are many and your guilt is great” (Jeremiah 30:12-15, NLT).
Both Israel and Judah faced invasion and captivity by the Assyrians, and later in Jeremiah’s day the Babylonians invaded Judah and carried the remainder of the nation away captive. These words of warning will likewise come on the people of our modern nations who for now shrug off God’s warnings about their lifestyles.
Yet, just preceding these stern words, God also promises a redemptive path: “‘So do not be afraid, Jacob, my servant; do not be dismayed, Israel,’ says the Lord. ‘For I will bring you home again from distant lands, and your children will return from their exile. Israel will return to a life of peace and quiet, and no one will terrorize them. For I am with you and will save you,’ says the Lord. ‘I will completely destroy the nations where I have scattered you, but I will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you, but with justice I cannot let you go unpunished’” (verses 10-11, NLT).
While some of the people of Judah returned to resettle their land, the northern Israelites remained scattered. So this prophecy is ultimately for the future.
Prophecy for then, now and time to come
The most amazing aspect of the prophets is that their work was not limited to their nation or to their century, but could include New Testament fulfillment and extend further out to all nations into eternity. This is sometimes called duality. In Isaiah 52:7-10 we see a multilayered prophecy:
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’
“Your watchmen shall lift up their voices, with their voices they shall sing together; for they shall see eye to eye when the Lord brings back Zion. Break forth into joy, sing together, you waste places of Jerusalem! For the Lord has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem.
“The Lord has made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (Isaiah 52:7-10).
In the initial fulfillment, this prophecy encourages the Jewish captives in Babylon to prepare for their return back to Jerusalem. Rejoice, for God reigns! The people are redeemed. This was fulfilled.
Another level of fulfillment is in Jesus Christ and the gospel, as He came preaching the Kingdom of God. Jesus is Redeemer and Savior through His death and resurrection.
Yet another layer of fulfillment is seen in verse 10, which moves to the global scene that includes “all the nations” and “all the ends of the earth.” This brings us to end-time fulfillment, with the Church preaching the gospel to all the earth as Jesus instructed.
And still further fulfillment occurs in the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth and then eternity beyond—a message we today must take to heart.
The prophets, we see, communicated God’s inspired words. They did not always understand what they were writing, but it’s amazing in its richness and wisdom. In reading their words, one is peering into the very mind of God and discovers a wealth of knowledge about who we are and where we’re going!
Let God’s words through the biblical prophets speak to you—and respond with a tender heart as He directs!