The Purpose and Process Of Bible Prophecy
Lesson 2


Bible prophecy is a very broad and comprehensive subject.  Those who study prophetic things study the deep things of God.  Many people regard the Bible as “the Good Book” because the Bible promotes nobility, generosity and righteousness – all those good qualities that bring happiness and joy.  But the Bible is much more that a “Good Book”.

The Bible exists for the ultimate purpose of revealing what God is like!  The Bible not only tells us what out Creator wants of us, it tells us what His plans are and why!  If we know what He is like, and we know what He wants, then we can make an informed decision whether or not we want to love Him.

God gives prophecy to us so that we might trust Him.  He says, “…I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.  I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come… What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.”  Isaiah 46:9-11

Prophecy is a very important component in the plan of salvation.  The Bible teaches that salvation comes by faith in Jesus – but how can we have faith in someone we haven’t seen?  How can we love someone we don’t know?  God does not ask us to place our faith in Him without reasonable evidence.  Prophecy is a prediction of what God said He would do and history is a confirmation of what He has done.  Thus prophecy is a light that shines into the dark uncertainly of tomorrow.  When rightly understood, prophecy demonstrates and explains the character of God.  Peter said, “And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation.  For prophecy never has its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”  II Peter 1: 19-21

Prophecy also serves an important secondary purpose.  It serves as a road map to the Christian.  By understanding what God is about to do, Christians know when and how to prepare!  They know what to look for.  For example, God told Noah to build an ark because He was going to destroy the world with a flood.  Noah built an ark and saved his family.

Truth decay

Spirituality has decayed in America for the same reason it decayed in ancient Israel.  We have forgotten God just as Israel did.  See if you can find any parallels with Hosea’s day.

Hosea said,  “Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites, because the Lord has a charge to bring against you who live in the land.  ‘There is no faithfulness, no love, and no acknowledgement of God in the land.  There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed’…. My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge…but they do not realize that I remember all their evil deeds.  Their sins engulf them; they are always before me. …The days of punishment are coming; the days of reckoning are at hand.  Let Israel know this.  Because your sins are so many and the hostility so great, the prophet is considered a fool, the inspired man a maniac… (My people make promises, take false oaths and make agreements; therefore lawsuits spring up like poisonous weeds in a plowed field.” Selections from Hosea chapters 4-10.

When people lose sight of God, the quality of life deteriorates quickly; the evidence is all about us.  “…If I were called upon to identify the principle trait of the entire 20th century, I would be unable to find anything more precise than to reflect once again on how we have lost touch with our Creator.  Men have forgotten God.”  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Readers Digest, September 1986.

What does the Bible say some of the signs will be that indicates the end of the world?

“First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.  They will say, ‘Where is this coming he promised?’

Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”

II Peter 3:3,4

Jesus answered:  Watch out that no one deceives you.  For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ.’ And will deceive many.  You hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed.  Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the beginning of birth pains.” Matthew 24:4-8

Apostle Paul speaks

Paul told Timothy,  “But mark this:  There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power.  Have nothing to do with them.”  II Timothy 3:1-5 Paul encouraged Timothy by concluding; “…everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 

II Timothy 3:12

Jesus told His disciples, “They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.” John 16:2

But Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  Matthew 5:11,12

Paul describes the wickedness of people in the last days, “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.  They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.  They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, and ruthless.  Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”  Romans 1:29-32

Having ears that hear

There is more to understanding prophecy than meets the eye.  To the casual or uninformed reader, the Bible can be made to appear inconsistent and contradictory.  However, those who diligently search the scriptures with an open mind will find great beauty and harmony as the Bible speaks for and interprets itself.  The biggest problem we face with Bible study is that some things have to be believed before they can be understood, and other things have to be understood before they can be believed.

Jesus said to the Pharisees,  “He who belongs to God hears what God says.  The reasons you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” John 8:47   In chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation, Jesus uses a very interesting phrase seven times!  He says, “He that has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  This phrase means that those who listen for the voice of God will hear and understand what the Holy Spirit says!

Some people don’t want to hear the Word of God.  Jesus said, “Everyone who does evil hates to come into the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.  But whosoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done through God.”  John 3:20,21

The Apostle Paul said, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:14

Even more, Daniel says of the last days,  “Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked.  None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.”  Daniel 12:10 

The gift of prophecy

The ability to prophesy is a spiritual gift that comes from the Holy Spirit.  (1 Corinthians 12:28.)  Prophetic understanding is also a gift we should eagerly desire.  Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.”  Why should we desire the gift of prophecy?  “Everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” Corinthians 14:1,3

False prophets

The Bible indicates that every prophet is not a true prophet. “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”  1 John 4:1 Jesus warned,  “For false Christ’s and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect, if that were possible.”  Matthew 24:24 

Test the prophets

How do we test the prophets to determine if they are true or false?  Moses told the children of Israel, “If a prophet or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says ‘Let us follow other gods and let us worship them’, you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer…The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul.  It is the Lord your God that you must follow, and him you must revere.  Keep his commands and obey him.  That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery; he has tried to turn you from the way the Lord your God commanded you to follow.”  Deuteronomy 13:1-5

How should Bible prophecy be interpreted?

This is a very encompassing and important question.  Before discussing various “methods of interpretation”, study the following prophecy given by Malachi, how it was interpreted by Israel and the results.

Malachi predicts

“See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.  He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”

Malachi 4:5,6

Malachi’s prophecy was given about 350 years before Jesus was born.  The Jews interpreted this prophecy to mean that Elijah would physically come down from heaven and introduce the Messiah when He arrived!  (Elijah was taken to heaven in a whirlwind some 500 years before Malachi wrote these words.  II Kings 2:11.)  This prophecy demonstrates two interesting points:

Point 1

According to Luke 3:15 the Jews were anticipating the arrival of Messiah during the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar.  The Jews were not alone!  Evan the Samaritans anticipated the coming of Messiah!  (See John 4:25)  Israel expected Messiah to appear that very year because Daniel had prophesied it!  (This prophecy of Daniel will be studied later.)

In the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar, John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing by the Jordan River.  People went out to hear him for he spoke with a special power.  His message cut through the façade of religiosity and people were “pricked in the hearts” because of their sins.  There was something different about John the Baptist, and as his popularity grew, so did the jealousy of the religious leaders in Jerusalem.

One day the Pharisees of Jerusalem sent out a delegation of priests to the Jordan River to “inspect” this man that was causing such interest.  Their first question was, “Are you the Messiah?”  John answered, “No.”  Then they asked if he was Elijah.  Again John answered, “No.”  Then they asked if he was that prophet (a reference to the prophet that Moses predicted in Deut. 18:15).  John again said  “No.”  Then in desperation, they said, “Who are you?”  John answered saying, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord’.”  John 1:23

Satisfied that John the Baptist was neither the Messiah, Elijah nor the prophet predicted by Moses, the priests returned to Jerusalem with their report.

One of the “scriptural” reasons the Jews refused the Messiah is that Elijah did not descend from heaven to announce the arrival of Messiah as foretold by Malachi.  Would you have doubted that Jesus was the Messiah?

Point 2

The second point is that accurate prophetic conclusions can only be reached through the combined harmony of the scriptures and the Holy Spirit.

After Peter, James and John saw Jesus visit with Elijah and Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration, they came to Jesus and said, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”  Matthew 17:10

Jesus responded,  “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things.  But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished.  In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.’  Then the disciples understood that he was talking about John the Baptist.”  Matthew 17:11-13

Was John the Baptist the promised Elijah?  Yes or No.

No, John the Baptist was not the physical person of the prophet Elijah for John was born of Zechariah and Elizabeth.

Yes, John the Baptist was a “type” of Elijah.  Notice what the angel said to John’s father, Zechariah, before John was born.  “And he will go before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”  Luke 1:17

Jesus applies the prophecy

Jesus recognized the importance of John’s work.  He said,  “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he… And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.  He who has ears let him hear.”  Matthew 11:11,14

There’s that prophetic phrase again, “He who has ears, let him hear.”  This prophecy by Malachi has a meaning that can be applied more than once. (The different types of prophecy will be studied in a later lesson.)  From the Bible, it is clear that Jesus applied this prophecy to His first advent for those who were willing to receive it, but looking at the prophecy, we see that it primarily applies to another point in time: “the great and dreadful day of the Lord.”

Notice that Jesus said, “If you are willing to accept it, he (John the Baptist) is the Elijah who was to come.”  In other words, if you are willing to see a parallel, John the Baptist is a representative of those who will “prepare the way of the Lord” when the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives.  They will go forth in the spirit and power of Elijah just like John the Baptist to announce the coming Messiah.

The Prophets speak

When does Malachi speak of the “great and dreadful day of the Lord”?  Notice what a number a number of Bible writers say about that great and awesome day:

Amos says,  “Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord!  Why do you long for the day of the Lord?  That day will be darkness, not light.  It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him?”  Amos 5:18-19

Isaiah says,  “See, the day of the Lord is coming – a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger – to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it.  The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light.

Many prophets in the Bible were shown scenes of “The great day of the Lord” that takes place at the end of the world.  Consequently, they concluded the end of the world would soon occur and wrote accordingly.

The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.  I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins.  I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless.”  Isaiah 13:9-11

Ezekiel says,  “For the day is near, the day of the Lord is near – a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations.”  Ezekiel 30:3

Joel says, “Alas for that day!  For the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty.  The Lord thunders at the head of his army; his forces are beyond number, and mighty are those who obey his command. The day of the Lord is great; it is dreadful.  Who can endure it? The sun will be turned to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.”  Joel 1:15, 2:11,31

Obadiah says, “The day of the Lord is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.”  Obadiah 1:15

Zephaniah says, “The great day of the Lord is near – near and coming quickly. Listen!  The cry on the day of the Lord will be bitter, the shouting of the warrior there.”  Zephaniah 1:14

Peter says,  “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.”  2 peter 3:10

A number of scriptures clearly point to the second coming of Jesus as the predicted great and dreadful day of the Lord!  Notice John’s description of the great and dreadful day of the Lord’s wrath.  “I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake.  The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind.  The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.  Then the kings of earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty and every slave and every free man hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains.  They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!’ For the great day of there wrath has come, and who can stand?”  Revelation 6:12-17

Apocalyptic structure

Apocalyptic prophecy is defined in this series as prophecy that deals with a predicted sequence of events that takes place. This means that apocalyptic prophecy predicts a certain sequence or order in which things come to pass.  By comparing history with fulfilled prophecies, we can find our chronological position in the sequence.  Even more, by carefully following consistent rules of interpretation, we can determine certain processes or events that will take place in the future.  The rules of interpretation will be applied in later studies.  For now, you need to become aware of three important rules.

The books of Daniel and Revelation (unlike the other book’s of the Bible) contain apocalyptic prophecy.  These books are unique in that they alone lay out a sequence of events that mark that passage of time so that we can tell where we are in God’s timetable.  Apocalyptic prophecy always has a beginning point and ending point in time.  By knowing the beginning and ending points of a sequence, we can discover our place and time in the sequence.  Because apocalyptic prophecies have a beginning and ending point in time, they cannot have multiple fulfillments.  An apocalyptic sequence can only occur once.

All prophecies of the Bible are subordinate to apocalyptic structure.  This means that apocalyptic prophecy holds greater weight in terms of chronology than non-apocalyptic prophecies.  For example, we read earlier that Amos, Ezekiel, Joel, Obadiah and New Testament prophets believed the great day of the Lord was “near”.  There’s no question that they saw in vision led them to conclude that the “Day of the Lord” was near.  In Revelation, John too, indicates the fulfillment of the things he saw were also “near or soon.”  The problem is that the prophets did not understand how their visions fit into the overall chronology of apocalyptic structure.  No one prophet was shown everything that God intends to bring about.  Paul sums up the process of prophetic revelations saying, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways.”  Hebrews 1:1. Each time God speaks to a prophet about the end of time, more detail is provided.  By first understanding apocalyptic structure, the details from various prophets can then be put in place!  A prophecy is not fulfilled until all the specifications and the chronology of the prophecy are both met.

The language problem found in some of the apocalyptic prophecies clears up when the prophecy becomes applicable.  In other words, when the prophecy becomes applicable, the language of the prophecy becomes applicable.  For example, John begins Revelation by saying, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place…” Revelation 1:1. The words “must soon take place” cannot be represented to mean 2,000 years from John’s day.  If we identify an item as symbolic, we must produce applicable scripture to explain the meaning of the symbol.  Students cannot makeup their own interpretations of symbols.  The Bible must interpret itself.

The significance and importance of these rules will be seen as we apply them in our series.

The promise of Elijah remains

In closing, the point must be clearly made that the world will yet see a fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy since it involves the “great day of the Lord.”  What form will Elijah be in?  Will it be the actual person of Elijah as the Jews anticipated or will it be a number of people around the world filled with the spirit and power of Elijah?  Revelation explains the mystery and the mystery you will soon understand!


  1. In this section we learned that prophecy has two major functions:



  1. Truth decay was predicted as a sign of the last days.  Give three examples:




  1. How can we identify a false prophet?
  1. What does the expression,  “Let those who have ears to hear” mean?
  1. T or F Jesus said if we were willing to accept it, Elijah did appear as prophesied.
  1. Give three adjectives of the great and dreadful day of the Lord:




Memory Verse  - Isaiah 46: 9-11

“I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.  I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come…What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.” 



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