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3.1. Can’t God Prophesy

Perhaps the most puzzling statements encountered in the discussion of the purpose of the book of Revelation are those which assert that this most prophetic of New Testament books is not about predictive prophecy:

The fact [is] clear, that the book is not a prediction of the great movements in the world and the Church in the later centuries of European history, or in the centuries which are yet to come. . . . these and many like inquiries all proceed from an utter misconception of the character of prophecy.1

St. John did not write a textbook on prophecy. Instead, he recorded a heavenly worship service in progress.2

While we might agree that the book of Revelation is not a textbook and records a heavenly worship service, to imply the book is not about prophecy goes too far. Even Chilton himself seems inconsistent on this point. 3

Beckwith confidently tells us that the book cannot be about “great movements in the world,” whether in European history (which we would tend to agree with) “nor in . . . centuries yet to come.” With a stroke of the pen he asserts that God had no intention of revealing historical events yet future. Even Chilton must admit: “John himself reminds us repeatedly, [the book] is a prophecy.”4 Not just a prophecy, but “completely in keeping with the writings of the other Biblical prophets.”5

And how did God utilize the other biblical prophets? As all interpreters ought to be quick to recognize, prophecy was never given primarily for its predictive content. It was always given with an emphasis on motivating its hearers to repent and return to God. Perhaps the quintessential example is that of the prophet Jonah who was sent to a people he despised and delivered a prophetic message which had its intended effect of turning the Ninevites to God and avoiding judgment (Jonah Jonah 3:5-10). The minute we lose sight of the motivational motor behind God’s prophetic Word is the time when we begin to distort and cheapen what God wants us to understand. And so it is with the book of Revelation. It is a book of revealing, especially of the true character and righteous judgment of Jesus Christ. This message is set within the context of real-world history with an emphasis on a coming time of wrath and judgment which should serve as a huge motivator for those who do not yet know Jesus Christ to consider their error! But for all this, it is equally an error to deny the plain predictive aspects of biblical prophecy. One need only consider how Herod was informed of the predicted birth place of the Messiah (Mtt. Mat. 2:5-6 cf. Mic. Mic. 5:2) or how Jesus arranged to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey (Mtt. Mat. 21:2-5 cf. Zec. Zec. 9:9) in order to fulfill Zechariah’s prediction concerning the Messiah in order to see that prophecy includes a predictive element. Has not God Himself said:

Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure,’ (Isa. Isa. 46:9-10) [emphasis added]

Why would these interpreters be so quick to assert that John’s message is light on prophetic content or not really dealing with predictive events anchored in history? The answer lies in their motives. They desire to interpret the book from a preterist perspective which denies the future application of its contents. Let the reader beware: much of what is written concerning the book of Revelation is flavored by the predisposition of the commentator. It is our intent in the introduction to our work to attempt to acquaint the reader with a number of these predispositions so that he will be better equipped to judge for himself the validity of the conclusions of such interpreters.

In response to those who minimize the predictive element of the book of Revelation, Couch states: “Why can’t Revelation be a treasure house for the prophetical archaeologist if it is indeed a book of prophecy? Can’t God write prophecy? Can’t He give us the plan of the ages?”6

It is important to understand what the book claims for itself. The words prophecy, prophesy, prophesying, prophet, and prophets are forms used twenty-one times in the writing. And the way these words are used leaves no doubt that the book is forecasting events yet to come. No other New Testament book uses this term about itself in such a clear way.7

This prophetic content is not intended for mere head-knowledge, but like all of God’s written revelation, it must travel the 18 inches from our head to our heart with the express design of affecting a change in our daily living:

The anticipation of seeing Jesus when he comes should cause us to live and act in a godly manner. As John wrote, we will be like Jesus when He appears (1 John 1Jn. 3:2), and so “every one who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1Jn. 1Jn. 3:3). [Peter] also wrote of this cleansing effect of prophecy when he wrote about the new heavens and the new earth. “Beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless” (2 Peter 2Pe. 3:14).8


Notes

1 Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001), 303.

2 David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance (Tyler, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), xii.

3 “The book of Revelation is not an apocalyptic tract; it is, instead, as St. John himself reminds us repeatedly, a prophecy (Rev. Rev. 1:3+; Rev. 10:11+; Rev. 22:7+, Rev. 22:10+, Rev. 22:18-19+), completely in keeping with the writings of the other biblical prophets.”—Ibid., 27.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Mal Couch, “Interpreting the Book of Revelation,” in Mal Couch, ed., A Bible Handbook to Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001), 51.

7 Mal Couch, “The Literary Structure of Revelation,” in Mal Couch, ed., A Bible Handbook to Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001), 81.

8 Mal Couch, “Bibliology in the Book of Revelation,” in Mal Couch, ed., A Bible Handbook to Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001), 89.