I once overheard an individual state that they could not understand the book of Revelation. In frustration they said that they were unable to sort out whether the rapture would take place before, in the middle of, or after the seven years of tribulation. Confused by the deep symbolism found in the prophetic books of the Bible, especially Revelation as noted, they seemed to be close to giving up. It is unfortunate to stumble across this, especially when I myself have been a close student of prophecy, and have spent a great deal of time studying the particular book in question. It saddens me to see Christians about ready to give up on prophecy due to a struggle to understand the Bible.
But I do understand the problems which lead to that final decision to not bother studying Revelation. It seems there are quite a few cryptic symbols in the pages of holy writ. Bible Prophecy in general tends to be characterized by deep symbolism, as though many of the prophetic books of the Bible were written in code. Perhaps if the book of Revelation were written this way, it would make sense. Deep symbolism used as a form of a code protects the messages of the Bible, which otherwise would not bypass the scrutiny of persecutors, especially if any of them are mentioned in the prophecies of holy writ.
But unfortunately this places Christians in the position of having to decipher the codes of Bible Prophecy, in order to understand the messages that God has given to us. As noted, some seem to struggle with the task, and even give up, especially due to confusion from pre-established viewpoints and where they fit into the scope of final events. Alongside the cryptic nature of prophetic books of the Bible, it would seem there are as many views of prophecy as there are denominations in Christendom. If this is indeed the case, what is the Christian to do?
We need not be discouraged by the cryptic symbols of the Bible. God never intended for deep symbolism to be a hindrance to the faithful Bible student. The book of Revelation itself contains a promise for those who read it, which says: “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.” – Revelation 1:3.
There is therefore a blessing pronounced on those who attempt to undertake the study of this specific prophetic book. Other Bible promises are also well suited to the different prophetic chapters, parables, dreams, and visions across the Scriptures. James 1:5, Mark 11:24, and John 16:13 could perhaps bring encouragement to struggling students of Bible Prophecy.
The abundance of views concerning prophecy however are a different matter. An example of this boils down to issues surrounding the rapture, the seven years of tribulation, the sequence of the rapture, and other events connected to prophecy. This is in addition to the fact that while some say all of prophecy will be fulfilled in the future, others teach it was all fulfilled in the past. Prophecies surrounding the antichrist are made to be about one man who will stamp out religion with Hitler-like fury [thus bringing about the seven years of tribulation], or it is claimed that he was Nero during the days of the Roman persecutions.
As stated above, even those who hold to the idea of the rapture cannot agree as to whether it will occur before the tribulation, during the tribulation, or after the tribulation. It creates a quagmire for the Christian to wade through and struggle with as they sit back confused, trying to determine which of the views is correct. This is where I want to make a radical suggestion.
I do not want to be perceived as though I personally hold to disbelief in the second coming of Christ. That would unquestionably be nothing short of heresy. But if any of the multitudes of views regarding prophecy have confused you and made it difficult to study Bible Prophecy and final events, I want to encourage you. I would suggest that you for the moment forget about trying to learn the sequence of the rapture in relation to the tribulation.
If you do not live in a country where there is a lot of persecution, take advantage of your religious freedom. Think and study for yourself freely in spite of what anyone at your church believes, teaches, or preaches. I propose that you conduct an experiment in which you lay aside all pre-determined views of Bible Prophecy. This includes the rapture, its sequence [pre-trib, post-trib, or mid-trib], the idea of a one-man antichrist, whether or not he will come in the future or if he was Nero, and any other views which you know other people personally hold.
After doing this, take every Bible Commentary in your house and put them in a place in which you will not be tempted to use them. You do not want their ideas to become your own. Then get down on your knees and spend some time in prayer. Claim the promises listed here in this post [Revelation 1:3, Mark 11:24, John 16:13, James 1:5]. After that, take a concordance or Bible search engine and dive into the word of God. Use the methods of study outlined on this blog. Then let me know if this helps you to better understand the teachings of Scripture on these points for yourself.
But beyond this, the difficulties of established views and cryptic symbolism may trigger some to ask why Christians should even bother studying prophecy in the first place? Afterall shouldn’t we just focus on evangelism? Would salvation not be a better study for the Christian to dwell on? Perhaps these seem like good questions on the surface, but in reality they convey the idea that prophecy is somehow unimportant, or that other matters should receive more attention from the Christian. Evangelism for instance can be supported and made more effective by a thorough study of the prophecies in connection with history.
The particular school of prophetic interpretation you believe in has an influence on this. However the ability to demonstrate the fulfilment of Bible Prophecy in history is something which has won souls in the past. This is because it in effect proves the inspiration of Scripture, and provides facts and evidence upon which a person may base their faith and make intelligent decisions for the truth. When supported by evidence that the events actually occurred in history, and the books were written before the events took place, than the Christian is equipped with powerful arguments in support of the truth.
Thus abandoning the study of prophecy because it is more important that we “focus on evangelism” is like going into battle without a sword, armor, or a shield. As for Salvation, it is of course important that every Christian, especially those engaged in evangelism, have a thorough understanding of the nuts and bolts of how to be saved. I can agree that everything else should be put on hold until you understand this, but some reach a state in their Christian experience where they do understand these issues. Therefore it is a little ridiculous to use salvation as a means of dismissing the study of the prophecies. The term “excuse” comes to mind.
But effectiveness in evangelism is not the only reason Christians should consider studying prophecy. It constitutes one of the reasons, as when one studies the issue thoroughly enough a powerful argument for apologetics is produced. But note what Peter had to say about the matter.
“We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.” – 2 Peter 1:19
It would seem that the “sure word of prophecy” is something that Christians would do well to pay attention to. This is clear from Peter’s words “whereunto ye do well that ye take heed.” Other versions render this literally as, “and you will do well to pay attention to it.” Scripture teaches that prophecy is to receive our attention, thus I would suggest that no Christian who is serious about their faith can dismiss the prophecies of Scripture in favor of other concerns. Beyond Peter’s admonition to pay attention to prophecy, consider the following.
The prophecies surrounding the second coming of Christ contain numerous warnings about deception. You can see these warnings in passages such as Matthew 24:4-5, 24:11, 24:23-24, and 2 Thessalonians 2:8-9. That knowledge would lead us to seek to be thorough Bible students in general and to practice discernment, but you would not have this knowledge unless you had taken the time to study prophecy. It may also leave you without an understanding of what needs to happen in your life in order for you to achieve a readiness for the final events.
If we take also for instance the prophecies surrounding the mark of the beast, a thorough understanding of these issues might also help you to avoid receiving it yourself. You would be capable of discerning precisely what the mark is, and have a decent enough knowledge of how to escape it. But a neglect of attempting to study them would leave you without that knowledge. Thus you would be unable to identify it when it arrives, and could theoretically be deceived into receiving it.
A thorough understanding of the prophecies connected to the final events is undeniably of great benefit to the Christian. In view of this fact, if you’ve ever felt frustrated at the deep symbolism and the varying beliefs regarding the prophecies, take courage. A study of prophecy is not only beneficial but important, and therefore it is worth a little perseverance on your part.