Predictions! Which do you trust? The weather report? Tabloid headlines? Whether silly or serious, predictions are intriguing. Why? Because our knowledge of events is normally restricted to the past and present. The future is a mystery. Prophecy is NOT prediction. Prophecy is divine communication, the revelation of God's truth. Some Bible prophecies contain predictions which fall into four categories -- those fulfilled in the past, those fulfilled in the present, those to be fulfilled in the future, and those of "dual fulfillment" (those which have been partially fulfilled, with more fulfillment yet to come).

The Last Things

Eschatology is the "study of last things," the study of events which have to do with the end of human history. Since earlier predictions have been fulfilled with astounding accuracy, the remainder seem to be certain (Second Peter 1:19-21). Prophecy has been called "history written before it happened" because God knows "the end from the beginning" (Isaiah 46:10).

A Prophetic Calendar

The prophecy of Daniel contains a time-line of prophetic events. Within the framework of "seventy sevens," an outline of history moves toward the fulfillment of all "vision and prophecy" (Daniel 9:24-27). This time-line depicts a succession of world governments up to God's eternal kingdom under "Messiah the Prince" (Daniel 7:13-14). But the time-line is broken by a space that Jesus called the "times of the Gentiles" (Luke 24:21), during which salvation is offered to the world (see Romans, chapters 9-11, especially 11:25). When the time-line resumes, God will return His favor to Israel and history will quickly come to a close. When Israel became a nation in 1948, many people felt it marked the beginning of the last period of history.

End Times Events

The Great Tribulation. The Old Testament refers to a final "judgment day" bringing an end to evil, but also bringing salvation to God's people ("The Day of the Lord" in Joel 3:14-17). Though judgment days occurred in history (Isaiah 13, verses 6 and 9), an ultimate day became a central theme. During this day of darkness and disaster (Ezekiel 30:3 and Amos 5:18-20), which was described by Jesus as "great tribulation" (Matthew 24, Second Thessalonians 2, Revelation 6-13, and Revelation 15-18), the whole world suffers, and God's people are severely persecuted. Another feature of this time is widespread deception (Matthew 24:4 and Second Thessalonians 2:3). The deception culminates in a blasphemy called "the abomination of desolation" -- a shrine to the evil world leader, or "Anti-Christ" (Matthew 24:15, Revelation 13:2, and Second Thessalonians 2:8-12).

The Rapture. Christians who are alive when Jesus returns will be "caught up" to meet Him "in the clouds" (First Thessalonians 4:17). This is a sudden event -- an instant transformation (First Corinthians 15:50-54 and Philippians 3:20-21). Much speculation shrouds the "rapture", and there is debate among Christians as to when it will occur. We (of Calvary Chapel) believe that the Biblical evidence supports a "pre-tribulation" rapture.

The Return of Christ. Jesus promised to return for His followers, and this is the great hope of the New Testament period (John 14:3, Acts 1:9-11, etc.). This will be His parousia ("coming", like the arrival of a king), His apokalupsis ("unveiling," Revelation 1:7), and His epiphania ("appearing" in which He "shines forth," Second Thessalonians 2:8). It is also the day of resurrection for all believers (First Corinthians 15:21-23) and the day of judgment for unbelievers (Second Thessalonians 1:7-8).

The Millennium. When Jesus returns, He will begin to reign over the entire earth for a thousand years. During that time, the earth will be a paradise, and completely without violence, without sorrow. At the end of the millennium, sin will resume briefly -- and then it will be abolished forever (Revelation 20:1-10).

The Judgment. At the end of time, all humanity will appear in God's court (Revelation 20:11-15 and Second Corinthians 5:10). Those who know Jesus as their Savior are listed in His "Book of Life," but the actions of everyone else are found in His "books" (Revelation 20:12). Though believers in Jesus escape judgment, the quality of our work is tested (First Corinthians 3:11-15).

Appication to Our Lives

When studying prophecy, it is easy to mis-use and to mis-interpret Scripture. Too often, people believe they've found a match between predictions and specific, current events. We should not be dogmatic about our discoveries, and we should not exploit the fear that people often feel when they hear about these things for the first time. Christians need to be humble because there is far more to "the end times" that we do NOT know than there is that we DO know!

Peter asked, "What kind of people ought you to be," knowing that the world will come to an end? He answered, "You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God ..." (Second Peter 3:11-12).

This is the message of prophecy -- worship God (Revelation 19:10), live "upright and godly lives in this present age" (Titus 2:11-14), and keep watching for Jesus' return (Matthew 24:42-44).