An Overview of Prophecy
Tim Temple

Introduction

If you feel that this is review for you, I want to remind you that Revelation, chapter 19, verse 10, says, “The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy.” It always ought to be a blessing to us to look at prophecy, no matter how familiar we may be with it because prophecy is designed to showcase Jesus Christ. Prophecy is designed to showcase God's power and to cause us to worship God as we see the fullness of His plan and the fact that He is in control of all of history. So I trust this study will be a blessing for you as I say that for most of you this will be review of things that we already know, but once in a while it is good to sit back and think again through some of the blessings God has provided for us. It may be for some of you reading these studies that this will be new information, and so we commit it to Him.

In Hebrews chapter 1, we have the beginning of the last days. Hebrews, chapter 1, verses 1-2, say:

Hebrews 1:

1God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
2Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;

In its broadest general sense, these verses tell us when the last days begin. The last days begin with the Cross of Jesus Christ—actually with the birth and ministry of Jesus Christ, but the Cross was the culmination of that ministry of Christ; so if we have to have a starting point for the last days, a starting time for the end times, that starting point, according to Hebrews, chapter 1, was the coming of Jesus Christ to the earth. Everything before that was in the past. God has always ministered to His people, but in these last days, He has spoken through His Son.

The author of this letter was using that term in one sense to mean that God has recently spoken to us in His Son. I believe that theologically it is referring to the windup of God's program. When Jesus Christ came, it was the fulfillment of all that God had promised. It was the beginning of the conclusion of God's program.

One of the reasons I mention that is that the skeptics often say, “You Christians have been talking about the Lord's return for 2000 years. Paul thought He was coming back in his day and He hasn't come back in all of this time, so maybe you are mistaken.” The fact is that the Lord Jesus Christ could have come back in Paul's day. There was nothing left prophetically to take place before the return of Christ that had not already taken place in Paul's day and Paul lived in the last days. Everything in the New Testament, in a general sense, is in the last days, so that is the starting point of our study. The last days, the final days of God's program, begin with the Cross of Jesus Christ.

That ushered in a period of time which has lasted thus far 2000 years and it is an unspecified time. We don't know how much longer it is going to last. Actually, that is not unusual because throughout the history of the Bible, believers did not know how much longer each era of biblical history would last. We, at Abilene Bible Church, teach a system of theology known as dispensationalism and many of you are very familiar with the tenets of dispensationalism. One of the problems of dispensationalism is that it tends to make us think in segments of time. We have the idea that back in the Old Testament they had their chart, too, and they knew exactly when their time period was going to end and when another one was going to begin, but that is really not the way it was. Abraham and Isaac really didn't know exactly when their era would end. They probably didn't even know there would be another dispensation and so on down through the years.

The Rapture of Believers

We are able to look back on those things and chart them out the way we do and we can look into the future with the specific things God has told us and chart them out. We take the references to various things that are going to happen in the future and plot them out in relation to each other timewise. We do not know how much longer this period of time is going to last, but the next thing that the Scripture talks about is what we call the Rapture of believers. Turn with me to I Thessalonians, chapter 4. There we have a specific reference to this Rapture. The word rapture itself does not occur in the Scripture. The word rapture is a translation of a Latin term used in the Latin translation of the Scripture known as the Vulgate and it has been translated over into English. A lot of our New Testament words in the English are carried over from the Latin translation of the original Greek New Testament.

One of the criticisms that comes up is why the word rapture is not even in the Bible. That is true. It is not, but the concept of being caught up to meet the Lord in the air is in the Scripture, and we find it in I Thessalonians, chapter 4. Notice verse 14:

I Thessalonians 4:

13But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
14For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
15For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
16For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
17Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
18Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

Those verses describe very clearly what we have come to call the Rapture of believers, the catching up to be with the Lord. Notice very carefully that in verse 16 it says that the Lord will descend from Heaven. Then verse 17 says, “We who are alive and remain shall be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” This will be a coming, not all the way to the earth, but a coming into the earth's atmosphere apparently, and then those believers who are alive will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air.

I want to come back to the details of the Rapture in just a moment, but let me point out to you some things about Israel. During the present age in which we live, there is no specific time about when the Rapture is going to occur. It could have happened in Paul's day. It could have happened a hundred years ago; it could happen a hundred years from now, but during this unspecified length of time before the Rapture takes place, the Scripture mentions at least three things that will happen to Israel. These things could have happened in Paul's day, but they didn't. They could have happened a hundred years ago, but not all of them have happened yet. These things are in Ezekiel, chapter 37. We are told that God will miraculously regather the Jews from all over the world into their homeland. We have seen in the last fifty years or so a large regathering of Israel, but apparently what Ezekiel, chapter 37, is talking about is something even more direct than that.

Bible scholars are divided about whether this that we have seen in the past few years is a fulfillment of Ezekiel, chapter 37. I tend to think that what we have seen in the last few years is kind of a precursor, a kind of forerunner, of that regathering; and what Ezekiel describes in chapter 37 is actually a miraculous regathering of the Jews to their homeland, but we are seeing that already taking place whether it is a miraculous thing that God will do in a real rush. At least what we have seen so far is leading up to that and picturing that. We have seen thousands and thousands of Jews from all over the world returning to their homeland.

Regaining Control of Jerusalem

Then Isaiah, chapter 24, verse 23, tells us that they will regain control of Jerusalem. As you know, Israel is in possession of Jerusalem since l967, but they do not yet even now have control of the whole city. The Arabs and Muslims have very tenuous grasps, but probably technically have control of Jerusalem at this point in time, but the Scripture tells us that the day will come when Israel will regain Jerusalem. Again, technically that does not have to take place before the Rapture, but we know that during the seven years the Jews will be in charge of Jerusalem, and so somewhere along the line that will have to take place.

A Russian Invasion

Then a third thing that will happen to Israel between the Cross and the Rapture is a Russian invasion described in Ezekiel, chapter 38-39. Those chapters tell us how Russia will come down from the north with allies and actually invade Israel and would wipe Israel off the face of the earth except that God will miraculously turn them back and their army will be devastated—not totally wiped out, but huge numbers of their army will be destroyed—and Russia basically will be incapacitated because of that miraculous turning back by God.

Many Bible scholars feel that the Russian invasion of Israel will be a part of the warfare that goes on during that seven year period, but I believe this is something that will take place before the Tribulation begins. One primary reason for that is that Ezekiel, chapter 39, tells us that the cleanup of the remains from that battle will take seven years. If that battle took place even a year or two into the seven year Tribulation, then that would extend some of the cleanup into the 1000 year reign of Christ. The description of that 1000 year reign of Christ, as I understand it, would not give room for cleanup from some kind of a horrible battle. However, the Russian invasion and the carnage that results and the cleanup—the burial of the bodies and the disposing of the wreckage, etc.—would fit with the kinds of things that will be going on on the earth during the Tribulation. Although there are some pretty impressive prophecy teachers who do not teach it this way, in my opinion, this will take place maybe very close to the Rapture, maybe even right after the Rapture of the Church—some time very near the beginning of this seven year Tribulation period and very possibly before the Rapture. In fact, you are aware of conditions in the Middle East today and you can see a real possibility of Russia's stepping in with the various allies that are mentioned there in Ezekiel, chapter 38-39. This scenario is becoming more realistic all the time.

Those are three watchwords that we might keep in mind about Israel during this present length of time in which we are. You can see all of these things are in the works—the regathering of Israel, the regaining of Jerusalem, and the Russian invasion. All of this makes us think the Rapture is very, very near to our own day. Of course, Jesus told His disciples that the knowledge of that is really reserved for the Father in Heaven, and in fact He tells us not to speculate about the day or the hour. At the same time, we do have these various signals and things to look for, and it is thrilling to me to see how these various things are falling into place and the Rapture of the Church may be very near. As I said, it could have taken place a hundred years ago, but it didn't, and it could be a hundred years from now before it takes place.

I am old enough now to have lived through several dates that people speculate about. I can remember a fellow preacher explaining to me that he hoped the Lord did come back before the 1980s because if He didn't, the political situation and the economic situation in the 1980s would be so horrible that we wouldn't want to be alive on the earth anyway. You may feel that that is the way it was in the 1980s, but I am telling you that it was not anything like that particular prophet was predicting. It just leaves egg on our faces to say that the Lord is bound to be here by such and such a year. Only the Lord knows that. At the same time, it is interesting to see how the various things fall into place.

Coming back to I Thessalonians, chapter 4, we have described for us this Rapture of believers, this catching up to be with the Lord. Let me remind you that verse 18 tells us that this information is designed to comfort believers. It is not designed to scare us. It is not designed to shake us over the pits of Hell and make us get right with the Lord. It has been used that way with some impact, but the basic purpose of these verses is to comfort us that this is not going to go on forever, that the Lord is going to come back. No matter how bad things get, we always have the wonderful realization that the Lord is going to come and set things right.

The Tribulation

The next thing timewise that is mentioned in the Scripture is a seven year period and that is a period that is specified. Some of these other periods of time have not been specified, but this particular period is. Turn to Daniel, chapter 9. In this chapter and chapter 8, God had shown Daniel a dream, and he prayed about that dream. In chapter 9, beginning with verse 24, God gives Daniel the explanation of his dream. He says:

Daniel 9:

24Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.

God said, “There are certain things that I am going to accomplish in the rest of the human race and the rest of the time that is allotted.” He said in so many words, “I am breaking this down into seventy weeks.” When we have talked about this passage in detail at other times, we have pointed out that the word weeks in the Hebrew is a word somewhat like our word dozen, and it means literally sevens. It means seventy sevens are determined upon your people, and we use it in a generic kind of way. If you go into a donut shop and you say, “Give me a dozen,” they won't ask, “A dozen what?” They may ask what flavor, but they know that you are talking about donuts. In this chapter, the context is years.

Daniel had read in the book of Jeremiah that seventy years were determined for their captivity, and he could see that the captivity was nearly over. He began to ask God to reveal it to him and God said, “Daniel, seventy weeks of years are determined for your people”—not just seventy individual years, but seventy sevens of years. During those seventy sevens of years, certain things are going to be accomplished. He lists them in verse 24.

Beginning in verse 25, He breaks that down into time periods. In verse 25, He says:

Daniel 9:

25Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.
26And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself…

Based on those verses, the Bible scholars prior to Jesus' day and the Bible scholars who were alive in Jesus' day could determine exactly when He was going to be born. They could have known, and in fact the wise men did know, when He was going to be born because God had spelled it out here calendar-wise. At least in a general sense, they knew. Their historical records had been lost at various times and recovered, and their record-keeping was not as accurate maybe as ours is today, but in a general sense, at least, they could have known when the Messiah would come.

Then He describes something that will happen that had not yet taken place on the earth. In the middle of verse 26, we read:

Daniel 9:

26…and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.
27And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.

That last week, that seventh week, has not yet taken place. If this is totally new to you, let me urge you to get our tapes. We have taught this in great detail. The study of the book of Daniel is one place where we have taught this and another is a prophecy overview that we did a couple of years ago where we went into a great deal of detail about the way these weeks all line up and fit with history. If you notice in verse 27, he will confirm the covenant with many for one week, then he will break the covenant in the middle. There is nothing in history up to now that fits with those details. All these other things have historical precedent that fit with an explanation, but this one does not. Bible scholars down through the years who have tried to compare biblical dates have lined it up this way: This present time in which we are living is an interruption in the seventy weeks of years that is described in Daniel, chapter 9. Sixty-nine of those weeks have already taken place, but then there is this 2003 year interruption, then that seventieth week will take place. We believe that by comparing Scripture with Scripture, those seven years will take place between the Rapture of the Church and the return of Christ.

The Battle of Armageddon

The book of Revelation is a detailed description of those seven years and all the things that will take place during those seven years, but the thing that is the culmination of that seven years is a battle that is described in Revelation, chapter 19, know as the Battle of Armageddon. Turn to the book of Revelation. We will not be looking at chapter 19 specifically, but in a moment I want us to look at some references in chapter 20. Revelation, chapter 19, describes what some prophecy scholars believe is a campaign—a series of battles—that culminates with the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Whether it is a campaign or one climactic battle, the point is that in Revelation, chapter 19, it tells us that there is the gathering together to praise the Lord for His victory over the AntiChrist who in chapter 18 has gathered the armies of the world to do battle against Christ; and Christ appears in the heavens with His armies to put him to flight and that climactic battle takes place. As a result of that, Revelation, chapter 20, tells us that Satan is cast out of Heaven and into what Scripture refers to as the bottomless pit and is chained there for a thousand years.

Let me digress here for just a minute and remind you that one of the several things that this tells us is that Satan is not in Hell at this time. Satan still has the ability to go into the presence of the Lord and to accuse believers, and Revelation tells us that that is what he has been doing all these years. He doesn't stay there, but he still has the right to come before God and make accusations. One of the purposes of the book of Job is to demonstrate how Satan does that and there is nothing to indicate that he has been cast out from the ability to come into Heaven until we come to Revelation, chapter 20. Notice, beginning with verse 1:

Revelation 20:

1And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.
2And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,
3And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.

The climactic point of that seven-year period is Satan's being cast into this bottomless pit. Then begins a thousand-year reign of Christ. Before we talk about that thousand-year reign of Christ, let me go back and point out something else that a lot of Christians disagree about. There are many, many Christians who talk about the return of Christ and who are thinking in terms of one climactic return of Christ to the earth. We believe in two separate events. My dad uses the analogy of a drama in two acts with a seven-year intermission in between. The first act is Christ's appearing in the clouds, described in I Thessalonians, chapter 4. The second act is His coming all the way to the earth, and that is a good way to describe it. In the Scripture, the references to the return of Christ are, without exception as far as I know, references to His returning all the way to the earth. So technically speaking, when the Scripture speaks of the return of Christ, it is talking about what is described in Revelation, chapters 19-20. The reference that says most clearly that He comes all the way to the earth is Zechariah, chapter 14, verses 1-4. These verses tell us specifically that His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives. He will come to the earth and, in fact, will physically stand again on the Mount of Olives.

But, I Thessalonians, chapter 4, is talking about a different event. This speaks of the Rapture of the Church. As my dad illustrates with his description of a drama in two acts, there is a general sense in which we consider both of these together to be the return of the Lord, but there is that intermission of seven years.

Let me point out why we believe these are two separate things. There are Christians who read I Thessalonians, chapter 4, and they think that is just another description of the return of Christ, but if you think about it, there are some real differences between I Thessalonians, chapter 4, and Zechariah, chapter 14. It is also mentioned in Hosea, chapter 3, verse 5, and Hosea, chapter 5, verse 15. First, we know that these are two separate appearances because in I Thessalonians, chapter 4, it clearly says that we will be caught up together to meet Him in the air. Zechariah, chapter 14, says that He will come all the way to the earth. Either it is a contradiction in the Bible or we are talking about two separate things. With the Rapture, He will appear in the air. With the Return, He will come all the way to the earth.

The second feature is that the Rapture of the Church has no time and date attached to it. I Thessalonians, chapter 4, doesn't say anything about when that will take place, but the Return of Christ describes at least the conditions in which He will return and that is conditions of great warfare at the end of the Tribulation period. Zechariah, chapter 14, describes time of terrible warfare on the earth and so there is another difference between I Thessalonians, chapter 4, and Zechariah, chapter 14, making us see again that these are two separate events.

Then a third difference is that the Rapture affects only those who have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior. I Thessalonians, chapter 4, talks about those who are alive and shall remain who shall be caught up together in the air to meet the Lord. I Thessalonians, chapter 1, verse 6, makes this same kind of reference. The Rapture deals only with believers. Unbelievers will be left behind. Apparently, only believers will hear the trumpet of God in I Thessalonians, chapter 4, and be caught up to meet Him in the air. At best, it will just be a confusing thing to unbelievers, but in Revelation, chapter 1, verse 7, it says that when He returns as described in Zechariah, every eye shall see Him. So with the Rapture, only some will see Him; with the Return, everybody will see Him. These differences make us realize that we are talking about two separate things and by putting that together with Daniel, chapter 9, we can see that there is a period of time between these two events.

The Millennial Reign of Christ

That leads to the next major time period, which is the thousand-year reign of Christ. Notice in Revelation, chapter 20, verse 3, where Satan was cast into the bottomless pit for a thousand years. Then immediately after that, in verse 4, we read:

Revelation 20:

4And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; [notice this] and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

So here is a reference to the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ will reign on the earth for one thousand years. Notice verse 5:

Revelation 20:

5But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
6Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.

Two times in the span of three verses we read in very literal terms of Jesus Christ's reigning on the earth for a thousand years. One of the features of that time will be that Satan will be chained in the bottomless pit. The Old Testament had promised to David that the Messiah would sit on David's throne, that He would be the heir of David's throne. That is why it was so important to give the lineage of Jesus back in Matthew and in Luke, to show that Jesus of Nazareth was of the lineage of David and was qualified (one of many ways He was qualified) to be the Messiah, that He would actually reign in Jerusalem, continuing as part of David's royal family. That fulfillment also is of all of the promises to Israel about having the rule over the whole earth. There are many promises to Israel as a nation that were not fulfilled by the time of 70 AD when the final destruction of Jerusalem took place. That one thousand year reign of Christ gives the opportunity for those things to be fulfilled—all nations worshipping at Jerusalem, for example, and the Messiah's ruling over the whole world from Jerusalem. All of those things are features of the one thousand year reign of Christ.

The Day of the Lord

Interestingly enough at the end of that one thousand year period, Revelation, 20, verse 3, says:

Revelation 20:

3 …and after that he must be loosed a little season.

Here is another of those places where the wisdom of God is demonstrated as different from the wisdom of men. We would have wiped our hands and said, “Well, the Satan problem is taken care of. We've got him in the pit; he is chained there.” But in God's wisdom, He will allow Satan to be released for a little time at the end of that thousand-year period. The Scripture goes on to tell us that when Satan is released from that pit, he comes back to the earth and he goes around gathering up those who will rebel with him against God. The amazing thing is that he finds some who are willing to gather with him; but at that time, which I call Satan's final rebellion, the Day of the Lord takes place and the Lord appears in the air and just with the word of His mouth puts an end to Satan's final rebellion. II Peter, chapter 3, verses 1-12, describes that Day of the Lord and he describes the complete destruction of the present physical universe as we know it. The heavens and the elements that are in them will melt, and we look for a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.

It is interesting that there will be a new heaven and a new earth, but eternity will begin with a new heaven and a new earth. Everything that is in this present physical universe will be completely destroyed in response to that final rebellion of Satan.

The question is, why would God allow Satan to be released for that little season? Let me remind you that it is the wisdom of God and therefore we do well not to overexercise ourselves in trying to figure out something that is God's wisdom, but I think it demonstrates that even in that thousand-year period of time, salvation will be by faith in Jesus Christ, and although at the beginning of the thousand years, everybody who enters into that thousand-year kingdom is a believer, at the end of the period there will be those who will reject Christ and be involved in that judgment of death. Only believers will be allowed to live through the Battle of Armageddon and go into the Millennium.

Although people will live a lot longer during that period, for it says that a child shall die at one hundred years old, they will have children and grandchildren, and each individual will be responsible to accept Jesus Christ as Savior. We would think that that would be much easier to do because Jesus Christ will be physically present here on the earth during that time and righteously reigning from Jerusalem; but apparently even under those conditions, with the curse lifted from the earth, etc., there will be individuals who are not willing to bow their hearts and bow their wills to Jesus Christ and accept Him as their Savior.

Satan will find some of those to rebel with him—people from all over the world who have not accepted Jesus Christ as Savior. I personally believe that that is the reason that Satan is allowed to be released at the end of that thousand-year period—to demonstrate as a final illustration of the fact that salvation is only by faith in Jesus Christ. Salvation is not inherited. We are not automatically believers because our parents were believers or because our grandparents were. As someone said, “God has no grandchildren.” Every individual must accept Jesus Christ for himself even during those wonderful conditions that will prevail on the earth during that thousand-year reign of Christ. This is God's final way of demonstrating that.

There are people in our day who say, “Well, if I just weren't tempted so much. If Satan didn't bother me so much, then I would be able to live for the Lord.” During that period of time, Satan will be bound in a pit. He won't be bothering people. There are people who say, “If I just didn't have to work so hard. If I didn't have so many problems, I could live for the Lord.” During that period of time, the curse will have been lifted from the earth and at least people won't have to spend time weeding the garden. Things will be much, much better. Everything that would tend to interfere with living for the Lord will be removed during those thousand years, yet there will still be people who do not accept Jesus Christ as Savior.

Conclusion

To conclude our study, that brings us back to the point that the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy. That is what this is all about—accepting Jesus Christ as Savior and living for Him. That is the only reason God has laid all of this out for us—to give us confidence in the fact that He is in control of history and to put Jesus Christ in His proper place as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Two things I would say to you: Only you know your own relationship to the Lord. This is the time to examine your heart and make sure that you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior. It doesn't have to do with how good or bad conditions are, or how righteous or holy your grandparents may have been. It is a personal transaction. I would say to those who may be reading this printed lesson, these same truths apply to you. Jesus Christ has made it possible for us to have a relationship with God, and that is the only way to have a relationship with God. The future history of the world is laid out primarily to demonstrate that point. So again I say, today is the day of salvation, and salvation can be yours through accepting the fact that God poured out His judgment on Jesus Christ for your sins. God will forgive your sins if you will just accept Jesus Christ as your sin-bearer, as your Savior.


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