How Not to Ignore Bible Prophecy: A Q&A with Stan Guthrie

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Not only is Stan Guthrie the author of A Concise Guide to Bible Prophecy: 60 Predictions Everyone Should Know (Baker Books, 2013), he is a longtime friend. Therefore, it is my privilege to offer you this interview on his new book:

What got you interested in the topic of Bible prophecy?

Growing up, I had been taught that the universe was blind and purposeless, and mankind little more than a cosmic accident. In high school, however, I became fascinated by Bible prophecies, arrested by the idea that God was bringing history to an eschatological climax. I began devouring books such as The Late, Great Planet Earth and There’s a New World Coming. Because of these books, I understood the gospel for the first time and placed my faith in Jesus and his death on the cross for my sins.

Because of my interest in prophecy, I actively scanned the headlines for evidence of a “revived Roman Empire,” the anti-Christ, and other Dispensational signs of an around-the-corner apocalypse. One of my prophecy authors interpreted Jesus’ words that “this generation shall not pass away until all these things take place” (Matthew 24:34) to mean that Christ would come no more than 40 years after the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948. When 1988 came and went with no Second Coming—or even a Rapture—I could feel my theological balloon going flat.

How did this mistake affect your faith?

At some point, I decided that prophecy was not a “serious” topic for mature Christians. While Bible prophecy can help us see at least partially into the future, it can also be spiritually dangerous if misused. Just look at what happened two years ago to followers of Harold Camping, who predicted the return of Christ not once, but twice. Some of these folks spent their life savings to buy space on billboards warning their fellow citizens to get ready. We all know how that turned out!

Setting dates for Christ’s return is a regular theme in church history, is it not?

Indeed. Looking foolish is an equal opportunity endeavor for Christian prophecy buffs. Anabaptists predicted the end of the world would come in 1533; Presbyterians foresaw it twice, in 1695 and in 1763; Adventists, in 1844; Mennonites, in 1889 and 1891; and the Assemblies of God, around the time of World War I. In more recent eras, evangelical leaders such as Chuck Smith and Hal Lindsey have also blundered with Bible prophecy. How much safer to ignore Bible prophecy altogether!

So what turned it around for you?

Anyone who spends any time at all in Scripture will quickly discover that God’s Word has hundreds and hundreds of prophecies. Christian apologist Hugh Ross has estimated that there are 2,500 prophecies in the Bible—500 of which still await a future fulfillment. You’ve got to wonder, what are all those prophecies doing there if we’re supposed to ignore them?

Well, the Bible is very clear that we’re not supposed to ignore prophecy, which is meant not only to give us assurance about the future, but to impact our lives today. As the apostle Peter wrote:

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! (2 Peter 3:11-12)

A focus on prophecy helps put our everyday existence into an eternal perspective. We are not mere animals at the mercy of time and chance. Biblical faith reminds us that history is going somewhere. The prophecies tell us where.

They also tell us Who. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible’s prophecies introduce us to a God who is sovereignly directing history for his own glory and his people’s good. From his promise that Abraham is blessed to be a blessing (Genesis 12:1-3) to the prediction of a new heaven and earth (Revelation 21:1-3), we see God’s plan unfold perfectly in the history of Israel; in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ; and in the sure promises of his coming kingdom.

And we need to remember that prophecy is as much about forth-telling as it is about foretelling. There is almost always a moral dimension to prophecy. My faith has been both strengthened and deepened as I have studied the lives and ministries of the prophets, who were very much the moral reformers and evangelists of their day. They were more like Martin Luther King Jr. and less like Nostradamus!

So how do we get a better handle on prophecy—besides buying your book!

We need, first of all, to have a basic grasp of biblical history—that, for example, Abraham came onto the scene around 2000 B.C., David assumed the kingship around 1000 B.C., the Babylonians destroyed the temple in 586 B.C., and the Romans sacked Jerusalem in A.D. 70. We also must learn some principles of hermeneutics, such as context. Too often we simply assume that nearly every prophecy speaks to our modern situation, or highlights events that are future to us. How ethnocentric of us! We need to study the principles of biblical interpretation and grasp what the prophecies meant to their original audiences before we mine them for current applications.

One author I read back in the day interpreted Ezekiel’s prophecy of the Lord leaving the Jerusalem temple (Ezekiel 10) as an “end times” event, when clearly it refers to God’s judgment on Israel at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 B.C. Once we start to get a handle on hermeneutics and biblical history, we will be better prepared to decide how to interpret Bible prophecies.

There are various prophetic systems that people follow today, and you can be a faithful Christian whether you are a Dispensationalist, a Preterist, or whatever. But wherever you come down on Bible prophecy, there are at least three bedrock principles we all need to hold onto: (1) Christ is coming back (Acts 1:11); (2) no one knows the day or the hour (Matthew 24:36); and (3) we must keep in balance this world and the world to come (1 Corinthians 10:31; Luke 21:25-28).

My new book—A Concise Guide to Bible Prophecy: 60 Predictions Everyone Should Know—is all about learning from the Bible’s prophecies, no matter which eschatological system you choose.

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