Should Christians study prophecy?

It seems that many Christians are unwilling to engage in serious study of books that speak of future events, like Revelation. Some do not even like to read those books. Christians shy away from the study of end times prophecy because of the difficulty in understanding the subject matter and the many different opinions taught about the end of the world. The study of the Bible’s teachings about the end times is certainly challenging, but is this a good reason to avoid the subject? Does the Bible give any reasons why Christians should study prophecy?

Christians should study prophecy because it is a significant portion of the Bible. Scripture contains over 31,000 verses and a quarter of them are prophetic in nature. Some of the prophecies have already been fulfilled, but there are many still awaiting fulfillment. Most of Revelation, large portions of Daniel, Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel contain prophecies of the end times. One of the longest recorded sermons of Jesus (Matthew 24-25) speaks of the end times. To neglect the study of prophecy is to neglect the study of large portions of the Bible.

Christians should study prophecy because it shows the faihtfulness of God. The prophetic passages reveal the wrath of God on sin, show how God is going to fulfill all the promises He made to the saints of the Old Testament and assure the Christian that salvation brings eternal blessings. The study of prophecy shows that God has kept His Word and that He will continue to do so throughout all eternity.

One of the common objections against studying prophecy is the rampant speculations and crazy predictions from the prophecy “experts’. God did not tell us His future plans so Christians could attempt to figure out exactly when Jesus is going to return or could create crazy speculations about the relation of lunar eclipses to the end times. Christians should study prophecy so they will know how to live in this life in light of Christ’s return.

God has revealed how Christians are to apply the prophetic passages. “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness.” (2 Peter 3:12) The return of Jesus, the establishment of His kingdom on earth, the judgment of the lost, the destruction of all things and the establishment of eternity should all motivate the Christian to live holy and godly lives in this world. The study of prophecy challenges the Christian to live today for eternity.

One caution must be given. While the study of the end times is good and profitable, care must be taken to not overemphasize its importance. The Christian ought to have an undersanding of all the Word. To neglect any portion of the Bible is dangerous. If a person only studies the prophetic passages, then significant and essential portions of the Bible will be ignored. The study of prophecy should not be neglected, neither should the study of prophecy cause the Christian to neglect the other doctrines of the Bible.

The difficult study of end times prophecies is worthwhile for every Christian. God promises, “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)

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What is God’s “still small voice”?

When seeking the will of God, some Christians counsel that we should be listening for the still small voice of God. When we are at peace, prayed up and waiting on the Lord, then He will speak quietly to the soul to make His will known.

The phrase “still small voice” comes from 1 Kings 19:12. At Mount Carmel the prophet Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a test to see who was the true God. Though 400 prophets of Baal spent most of the day praying for their god to send fire heaven, their false god did not hear. Elijah offered a simple prayer to Jehovah and God sent fire from heaven that consumed Elijah’s sacrifice and the altar it was offered on. After this dramatic victory, the Queen Jezebel swore to put Elijah to death. In fear for his life, Elijah fled. Over six weeks later he was 300 miles away at Mount Sinai. There on Mount Sinai God spoke to Elijah.

While Elijah was camped in a cave, a strong wind blew that broke the rocks in pieces, but God was not in the wind. An earthquake shook the mountain, but God was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but God was not in the fire. After all those terrifying events there came a quiet gentle whisper, the sound of silence. When Elijah heard the still small voice he went out of the cave and God spoke with Him.

The lesson many take from this passage is that God speaks to us quietly in a way that is often very hard to hear. If we will just listen carefully God will tell us His will. However, 1 Kings 19 has nothing to do with how Christians today find the will of God. Even if it did, the passage does not prove what is being asserted. God did not speak to Elijah in a still small voice. After Elijah heard the still small voice he went out of the cave. Then God spoke with Him. The conversation that Elijah had with God was clear and audible. God asked Elijah a question, Elijah answered and God gave Elijah specific instructions. When God began to speak with Elijah, there was no whispering involved. There was no gentle prompting of the heart. God spoke clearly.

If the still small voice is not God whispering to our soul, what is it? The still small voice was part of an object lesson to Elijah. Elijah was a fiery prophet who had just come from a great, dramatic victory. After the victory the people praised God, the prophets of Baal were put to death, God sent rain to end a 3 1/2 year drought. Things were going great, God’s power was on display and then Jezebel threatened Elijah’s life. In an incredible emotional reaction, Elijah fled to Mount Sinai.

At Mount Sinai Elijah saw the fire, felt the earthquake, heard the roaring wind, but God is not in them. God is not using those things to reveal Himself to His people. Instead, God was doing something else. God’s plan is not for a dramatic display of His power. God planned to do something even more effective- the quiet, almost unnoticed work. God was telling Elijah that He can and does work just as powerfully in the quiet as in the dramatic.

The still small voice of God is not the secret whisper of His will to your heart. The still small voice of God was an illustration to Elijah that God works in ways that are easy to overlook. God’s gentle goodness works powerfully to accomplish His perfect purposes. We do not need to listen for a still small voice in our hearts telling us God’s will. God speaks to men today just as clearly as He did to Elijah. His words are not audible, they are written down clearly for all to see and understand.

Why is Ecclesiastes in the Bible?

The book of Ecclesiastes is one of the most controversial and difficult books of the Old Testament. The author of the book, the time of its writing, the purpose of its writing and its message are all questioned by Bible scholars. While many books of the Old Testament are questioned by theologically liberal scholars even theological conservatives have raised serious questions about the book of Ecclesiastes.

Some Bible teaches have said Ecclesiastes give a cynical view of life that teaches everything is worthless. Some have said Ecclesiastes is a call to enjoy life to its fullest because everything comes from God. Some have said Ecclesiastes is an exploration of the failure of human wisdom. Some have said Ecclesiastes examines the folly of life without God. Some have said Ecclesiastes has no clear theme, and others have said Ecclesiastes is unified by a single clear theme that runs throughout the book. With all this difficulty in understanding Ecclesiastes many have wondered if it should even be in the Bible.

Ecclesiastes says it was written by the son of David, king in Jerusalem. The natural conclusion is that King Solomon wrote the book. Ecclesiastes was written at the end of Solomon’s life after a long season of great wickedness. Two major building projects define his life. During the first half of his reign Solomon led the construction of the temple of God in Jerusalem. Toward the end of his life he led the construction of many temples to false gods. At some time in his life Solomon began seek out the pleasures of work and leisure, wisdom and folly, wealth, possessions and women. After trying everything available, he declared, “vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”

In all his wisdom Solomon wrestled with the major questions of life: what good is work, what good is pleasure, what good are riches, what good is family, what good are all things? Again, he answered is “all is vanity.” Ecclesiastes examines all the ambitions of life: wealth, power, fame, wisdom, happiness, women, simplicity and concludes they are all meaningless. Ecclesiastes examines all the toils, successes and failures of life and declares that none of them last. Ecclesiastes examines life from every angle and finds life is without purpose.

The book of Ecclesiastes calls the reader to consider the futility and frustration of a life lived apart from God. Though much of Ecclesiastes expresses the hopelessness of living apart from God, the book does not leave the reader without a solution. When all is said and done, Solomon goes back to the principles he learned as a child and taught in Proverbs. When all other philosophies of life have been considered, the conclusion of the whole matter is, “Fear God, and keep His commandments.”

Ecclesiastes explains that life is unexplainable. No one will know all the reasons why. No one will see all their plans and dreams come to pass. Life will seem pointless and frustrating at times. Yet, God rules over all. Though man now suffers because of the curse of sin, life does not have to be pointless or hopeless. A life lived for God will be worthwhile. Ecclesiastes is a very profitable book of the Bible because it teaches all men the value of living according to God’s commands.

Why did the Israelites offer sacrifices?

From the time the tabernacle was built until the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., the Israelites regularly offered animal sacrifices to God. The number of sacrifices made is staggering. Every day two lambs were offered, one in the morning and one in the evening. The Israelites were commanded to bring trespass offerings to the temple anytime someone sinned against God or his neighbor. If a Jew became unclean by touching an unclean thing, by having an unclean disease, by having an unclean sore or by doing one of the many things that made him unclean he was to bring a sacrifice to the Lord to be made clean. The Bible gives no record of how many sacrifices were offered each day, but if even a small fraction of a percentage of the millions of Israelites brought a sacrifice each day, then hundreds or thousands of sacrifices were made every day. On the day of passover, one lamb was sacrificed for every family in Israel. Tens of thousands of sacrifices were made on that one day alone.

To modern sensibilities this seems cruel, or worse. The temple was practically a slaughterhouse. The sacrifices were required by God for a specific and special purpose. The sacrificial system gave a constant reminder of the consequences of sin. Killing animals is disturbing. That is the point. Man was meant to be disturbed by his sin. God required the Jews to make sacrifice to Him because the killing of animals was a continual reminder of the wages of sin. “But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.” (Hebrews 10:3)

From the very beginning (Genesis 3:21) the shedding of blood was required to cover sin. “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission.” (Hebrews 9:27) When God gave Adam and Eve the command to not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, He warned them that if they disobeyed they would die. God provided animal sacrifices as a covering for sin.

Though the sacrifices covered sin, they could never take it away. “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:4) The sacrifices of the Old Testament were a foreshadowing, a picture ahead of time, of the sacrifice that would come which would be able to take away sin. Animals sacrifices pointed ahead to the only One who could be a full substitute for sin. The sacrifices were a picture of a promised deliverer who would wash away sin. The sacrifices showed the wages of sin and pointed to the One who would take away sin forever. “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.” “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:12, 14)

Is the story of Jonah true?

The story of Jonah and the whale is one of the most iconic tales in the Old Testament. The story has a flair of the dramatic. The prophet of God refuses to preach a message of mercy. A terrible storm turns calm when the prophet is thrown into the sea. A huge sea creature swallows the prophet and spits him up again, alive, three days later. In the end, the reader discovers the hero is really the villain. The book of Jonah is incredible, but is it true?

None deny the remarkable nature of the book of Jonah. It stands out among the prophets. The text itself presents the story as if it is a factual account. Nothing in the book of Jonah indicates it is a fable. The only reason to suppose the story of Jonah is not true is because of the miraculous events it contains. However, any God who can part the Red Sea, can feed an entire nation with a daily supply of manna for forty years, can keep three men from burning to death in a furnace and can cause a city to collapse when some priests blow their trumpets can certainly keep a man alive in a large ocean creature for three days, can direct that creature to the shoreline and can cause the creature to regurgitate the disagreeable prophet at the proper time. Jonah is full of miracles, but the presence of the miraculous is not proof of fiction.

Most importantly, Jesus treated the story of Jonah as if it was true. When the scribes and Pharisees demanded a sign from Jesus that He was the promised Messiah He told them the only sign they would see was “the sign of the prophet Jonah.” (Matthew 12:39) Jesus then said he would spend three days in the tomb like Jonah was three days in the whale. Jesus warned the skeptics by pointing to the repentance of Nineveh. The Ninevites will condemn the scribes and Pharisees because they believed the preaching of Jonah, but the religious leaders refused to listen to the One greater than Jonah. In that conversation Jesus treats the story of Jonah as if it contained actual history. He does not respond to the tale of Jonah as if it was just a Jewish fable designed to teach a lesson on obedience or compassion. Jesus represents Jonah as historical truth that pictures the greater historical truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Does it matter if Jonah is true or not? As with all the miraculous events of the Bible, it matters a great deal if the events actually occurred or if they were fictions created by the prophets to teach deeper spiritual truths. It matters because the rest of the Bible responds to the miracles as if they were real events. If the Bible cannot be trusted to distinguish between moral fable and genuine history, how can it be trusted to distinguish between theological truth and religious error? The stories of the Bible matter. If the Bible is not reliable in matters of history, how can it be reliable on matters of salvation?

Why did God give the Law to the Israelites?

No Israelite was ever saved by keeping the law of Moses. No obedience could make them righteous before God. (Romans 3:20) Since the law could not save, why did God give the law to Israel? Speculations abound about the purpose for the law, but speculation is not necessary. The Bible gives several specific reasons why the law was given.

God told the Israelites the law was to protect them from idolatry. (Deuteronomy 4:9-14) The nations in Canaan and the nations surrounding Canaan worshiped many false gods. The law served to remind Israel their God is the only true God. The law reminded them of the mighty miracles God performed when He delivered them from Egypt and brought them into the promised land. The law was given so Israel would only worship Jehovah and so Israel would remain confident in Him. (Psalm 78:5-7)

The law was given to set the Israelites apart from the Canaanites and other pagan nations. The Israelites were set apart from all the rest of the world by God. Through the keeping of the law the Israelites secured their position as a “kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” to the Lord. (Exodus 19:6) This unique status was reflected in their keeping of the law. Because God is holy, He gave the law to His people to teach them to be holy as well. (Leviticus 20:7-8) Because Israel was set apart for God the law was given to keep them set apart.

God gave the law to convict men of sin. (Romans 3:19; Galatians 3:22) The law makes clear that no man can meet the standard of God’s of perfect righteousness. Because of the law no person has any excuse before God. Everyone is guilty. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:10)

The conviction of the law goes hand in hand with the Christ oriented purpose of the law. The law was given as a teacher to drive people to Jesus. (Galatians 3:25) By showing the impossibility of perfect obedience, the law points sinners to the only One who can make the unrighteous righteous. The law does not save, but the law points humanity to the salvation that is only possible by faith in Jesus. This has been the law’s purpose since it was first given. Before Jesus was born the law pointed men to the promised Christ. The many sacrifices of the law were a constant reminder to the Israelites that death is the wages of sin and a constant reminder of the promise of God to send a deliverer who would suffer the wages of sin in their place.

The law was a wonderful gift given to the Israelites. Those who believed God could say, with David, “Oh how I love thy law.” The restrictions and requirements seem severe to modern readers, yet each command was given by God for a good purpose.

Why should I read the Bible?

It is that time again, time to make a list of New Year’s resolutions that you will keep for a few weeks and then slowly forget about. While there are many good resolutions to be made, one worth the Christian’s consideration- and keeping- is the resolution to read the Bible more in 2018.

Some Christians have been reading the Bible religiously (pun intended) for years (the author knows of one Christian lady who has read through the Bible every year for over 45 years). Some have never read the entire Bible. Some read the Bible one time and thought once was enough. The Bible is not always easy to read. Some parts are difficult to understand, some are very foreign and some are troubling. Despite these difficulties reading the Bible is worth the time and effort.

Scripture does not command the Christian to read it at least once a year. The Bible does not command a specific reading schedule, but what the Bible says about itself should motivate Christians to want to read it. Saving faith comes through the hearing of the Word of God (Romans 10:17) and the child of God has been born again through the ministry of the Word (1 Peter 1:23). The Bible was written for our edification and instruction (Romans 15:4), for our spiritual growth (1 Peter 2:2), for our teaching, correction, rebuke and training (2 Timothy 3:16) and for our equipping in good works (2 Timothy 3:17).

The Bible commands the Christian to mediate on it (Psalm 1:2), to allow it to abide within (John 15:7) and to be doers of it (James 1:22). The Bible is to be read, explained and applied in the church (1 Timothy 4:13). The Bible praises those who know it and study it (Acts 17:11). The book of 1 Peter says that those who have been born again will hunger for the Word of God. The natural desire of the child of God is to want to read His Word.

The Christian should regularly read the Bible. While a Bible reading plan is helpful to guard against only reading the easy or more enjoyable parts it is not necessary. What is necessary is the regular reading of the Word. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable.” (2 Timothy 3:16) The If the believer is to profit from the Word, if he is to grow in maturity and if he is going to be equipped for every good work, then reading the Bible is the least he should be doing.

The Word of God is eternal (1 Peter 1:25). Scripture is alive and powerful (Hebrews 4:12) The Word of God will never fail (Matthew 5:18). The Bible is perfect, holy, just and brings great profit to the reader. It gives warning, wisdom, salvation, rejoicing and understanding. It is true and righteous. To the child of God the Bible is more desirable than gold and sweeter than honey. (Psalm 19:7-10) The question is not why you should read the Bible. For the Christian the real question is, why would you not read the Bible?

Here are some plans to help you get started.

Does the Bible say anything about Vampires?

Vampires have become a favorite monster for modern Americans. Bram Stoker’s creation gripped minds and reshaped our culture. The vampire made its film debut in 1921 and has appeared on the screen dozens of times since then. Bela Lugosi, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Wesley Snipes and many other movie stars have played vampires on the big screen. Abraham Lincoln even sidelined as a vampire hunter. Hundreds of books and short stories have been written about vampires. Twilight has been just one of the many books, television shows and movies to make a killing off vampires. Vampires are everywhere. Does the Bible say anything about them?

The vampire as we know it is a creation of the 19th century imagination. The Bible does not mention Dracula or vampirism. Maybe the closest direct reference might be found in the Old Testament command to the Israelites forbidding drinking, or eating, the blood of any creature. While the Old Testament command does not necessarily apply to Christians today (New Testament Christianity allows for the eating of blood sausage, if you want), the Bible views blood as something special. The command against eating bloody meat was “The life of the flesh is in the blood.” (Leviticus 17:11)

The Bible recognizes the importance of blood to life and it stresses the importance of blood for forgiveness. The sacrificial system given by God to Israel showed every day the necessity of blood for forgiveness. The book of Hebrews says, “Without shedding of blood is no forgiveness.” Jesus’ death on the cross brings forgiveness through His blood that was shed. At the last supper Jesus reminded the disciples of His blood that would be shed for their forgiveness. The Lord’s Supper is a continual reminder of the blood of Jesus. Blood is a big deal in the Bible. Perhaps this is one reason the stories of undead men and women who live on the blood of their victims so stir the minds of mankind.

Though the Bible does not directly address vampires, it does address major themes that are found regularly in vampire stories. Murder, immorality and the demonic are appear often in vampire tales. Many vampire mythologies attribute the vampire’s power to the devil. These things are all negatively addressed in Scripture. Many vampire stories portray these and other wicked practices in a positive light. While most people realize vampire stories are nothing more than fantasy, filling the mind with fantasy that exalts evil is dangerous for the Christian. Ephesians 5 forbids Christians entertaining themselves with the glorification of wicked behavior, “But fornication, and all uncleanness . . . let it not once be named among you.”

One important principle to remember when considering the latest vampire novel or blockbuster vampire flick is found in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

What is the New Covenant?

Jeremiah 31 says, “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” When Jesus first gave the Lord’s Supper to His disciples He told them, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” What exactly is the New Covenant?

The short answer is that the New Covenant is another covenant with Israel made by God after the Israelites repeatedly showed themselves to be unable and unwilling to keep their end of the Mosaic Covenant. Unlike the covenant made at Mt. Sinai, the New Covenant is not conditional. The Mosaic Covenant required the Israelites to obey the Mosaic law to receive the blessings promised. The New Covenant requires nothing of the covenant people. God does everything required under the New Covenant.

Even while making the Mosaic covenant God spoke of the New Covenant. After prophesying the failure of Israel to keep the Mosaic covenant, Moses tells of the time to come when God will establish His people in righteousness. In Deuteronomy 30:6 it is promised that God will “circumcise thy heart” so the Israelites will love God with all their heart and soul. He says in Leviticus 26:44-45, “neither will I . . . break my covenant with them: for I am the Lord their God. But I will for their sake remember the covenant of their ancestors . . . that I might be their God.”

According to Ezekiel 36:26-27 the new covenant will be fulfilled when God puts a new heart and a new spirit in the Israelites. God will give them His Holy Spirit so that they will keep the law of God. Their obedience will not be because of the external compulsion of the law but from the internal desire of the transformed heart. According to Ezekiel 36:28-30 the new covenant will be fulfilled when God restores the Israelites to the land and gives them the full extent of the promised land.

Through the death of Jesus Gentile Christians have been made beneficiaries of the new covenant. The New Covenant promises in Jeremiah and Hebrews are promises of forgiveness. God will not remember the sins of His people. When Jesus restores the Israelites to the promised land, the saved Gentiles will have a heritage in that land. They will be part of the people of God who enjoy the blessings of the New Covenant. The New Covenant is God’s restoration of Israel to their land and the transformation of all the redeemed so that they will desire and perfectly obey His commands.

Why did God prefer Abel’s offering over Cain’s?

Genesis 4 begins with the story of Cain and Abel. The account is well known as the first murder in human history. Cain and Abel both brought offerings to God. Cain was a farmer and his offering was the fruit of his crops. Abel was a shepherd and his offering was a firstborn from his flock. God looked favorably on Abel’s offering but not on Cain’s. Cain was very angry over his rejection and in the end murdered his brother. What made Abel’s sacrifice acceptable to God?

Genesis says little about why God accepted Abel’s offering. In Genesis 4:7 God tells Cain, “if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.” God’s assessment of Cain’s sacrifice was that Cain did not do good, but Genesis does not tell us in what way Cain erred.

Hebrews 11 adds a little insight to Abel’s sacrifice. “By faith Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice.” The reason God accepted Abel’s sacrifice was because Abel made his offering “by faith”. The difference between Cain and Abel was faith.

Cain brought an offering to God. He obviously believed in God and believed God should be worshiped. Cain’s lack of faith was something other than doubt about the existence of God. The rest of Hebrews 11 describes faith as believing God’s Word to be true and obeying His commands. In some way Cain did not believe and obey God’s Word.

Hebrews 11:4 says that God spoke well of Abel’s gifts. This may suggest that the kind offering Abel brought was part of what made it acceptable to God. The description of Cain’s offering and Abel’s offering in Genesis 4 seems significant. Cain brought produce, Abel brought a sheep. The pattern of sacrifices found later in the Bible reveals that God required His people to offer animal sacrifices. As Hebrews 9:22 says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” While Genesis does not say that God commanded Cain and Abel offer animal sacrifices, maybe Cain’s sacrifice was rejected because he did not obey God’s requirements for sacrifice.

In Genesis 3:15 God promised Adam and Eve He would send a deliverer who would rescue them from the horrors of sin. Maybe Abel was accepted because he believed God’s would send a deliverer and his offering was a reflection of his faith in God’s promise.

Possibly one of these suggestions is the correct answer. Possibly a combination of both. The Bible does not give a definite answer. Some questions cannot be fully answered with all the details we would like. The Bible clearly states that Abel’s sacrifice was accepted because he offered it by faith. Even today faith is required to come to God. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a reward of them that diligently seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6)