The Purpose of Prophecy
January 9th, 1972 @ 10:50 AM
THE PURPOSE OF PROPHECY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-9-72 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Purpose of Prophecy. It has been some time since I have preached on the Book of Daniel. I have finished the first six chapters, expounding that prophecy; and today, I begin the long series on the second half of the book. The first part of Daniel, chapters 1 through 6, are narrative; the second half of Daniel, chapter 7 through 12, are altogether prophetic. So, these messages that are prepared and to be delivered in these next several months will concern the great prophecies of God outlining the future of human history to the consummation of the age.
The Purpose of Prophecy. The seventh chapter begins, "In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel had dreams and visions" [Daniel 7:1]. The eighth chapter begins, "In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar a vision appeared unto me, even unto me Daniel" [Daniel 8:1]. Then in the tenth chapter, "In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a thing was revealed unto Daniel, and the thing was true, but the time appointed was long: and he understood the thing, and had understanding of the vision" [Daniel 10:1]. And so the chapters and the verses flow through the second part of the Book of Daniel.
Why prophecy? The Purpose of Prophecy. First: it is an authentication and a confirmation of the true God and the true Word of the Lord. In clear brilliant white, blazing unmistakable light, Jehovah God sets Himself forth as the only God who is able to predict the future. In Isaiah He declares, "Who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the Lord? and there is none other God beside Me" [Isaiah 45:21]. And again:
Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like Me,
Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure:
Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth My counsel from a far country; yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.
Why cannot a man predict the future? Because he cannot control the flow of events. But God can predict the future, for He says of Himself, "What I say shall surely come to pass" [Isaiah 46:11]. He is the sovereign God who reigns over heaven and earth. This therefore becomes the criterion by which God sets forth the test of whether a god is a true God or not, and whether a prophet is a true prophet or not.
What criterion could we use by which we could know in a decisive and unmistakable and authentic manner who is the true God and who is the true prophet? The decisive criterion offered by Jehovah in the Book of Isaiah is that concerning prophecy, who can predict the future.
For example, the Lord flings out the challenge to the false prophets and the false gods of his day when He says, "Let them bring forth, and show us what shall happen . . . let them show us the things that shall be, show the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods" [Isaiah 41:22-23]. Who can accept a challenge like that? There is no other faith, there is no other religion, there is no other prophet, and there is no other God.
Why is there not prophecy in other religions? Why do not these men who founded them predict the future? For the very apparent and significant reason, that had they attempted to do so it would have been most manifest that they were frauds and fools. But the Lord God, accepting the challenge, says to the other prophets and to the other gods,
Behold, ye are nothing, and your work is nought; an abomination is he that chooseth thee.
For behold, there was no man, even among them, no counselor, that, when I asked of him, could answer a word.
Behold, they are all vanity; their works are nothing: their golden images are wind and confusion.
[Isaiah 41:24, 28-29]
The great basic test of the true God, and the true faith, and the true prophet, and the true religion lies in this: can he predict the future?
Now, there has been no time in human history when attempts at prognostication have not been made by those who claim to be wizards and swamis and necromancers and clairvoyant in the magic art. Babel itself was the headquarters of the soothsayers and the astrologers. It was the headquarters of those who took sacrificial animals and examined their viscera, and especially their liver, in order to find omens of the future.
From the Babylonians it fell into the hands of the Etruscans, the seafaring Romans who became a part of the Roman Empire close to the eternal city itself. And all Rome gave itself to seeking in entrails of sacrificial animals to find what the future portended for them and their armies. In Greece there was no statesman or leader or businessman who did not seek from the Pythian prophetess at Delphi an answer for what the morrow might bring. And all history confirms that the ancient Roman and the ancient Greek found in those Sibylline Oracles nothing but enigmatic un-understandable utterances.
Today we are no different than the ancients in seeking through fortunetellers and soothsayers and necromancers and astrologers some answer for the future. In America, in our enlightened land, there are more than ten thousand swamis and fortune tellers and soothsayers and necromancers who claim to be able to predict the future. And some of them make fabulous salaries through counseling their wealthy clients concerning the morrow.
Men of great economic power, magnates of industry, statesmen and politicians, movie stars, famous Americans do no other thing in making a decision than to seek out a fortune teller or an astrologer. And the people who read the astrological forecasts in our daily newspapers are legion; nor would there be a daily newspaper who dared not to print it. What about these soothsayers and fortunetellers? Can they predict the future? Let us take two.
We mention first Jeane Dixon, the psychic of Washington D.C. Like a gypsy she sometimes uses a deck of cards; sometimes she uses her astrological charts, charting the stars in the heavens; but her favorite means of peering into the future is through a crystal ball. There is no one who has been more famously publicized as being accurate in her predictions than Jeane Dixon.
The reason is, we do not mention and we do not publicize her egregious flops and blunders. Now I’m going to read some of them to you. In 1964, she assured her readers that the war in Vietnam would be over in 1965. Later she amended the date to 1966. Then she gave up. And in 1971 and 2 that war is still going on in Vietnam. In 1958, she predicted that in that year Red China and the United States would declare war against each other. In 1959, she predicted that in that year Red China would be admitted to the United Nations; she was not admitted until 1971.
She predicted that Walter Ruther would be a candidate for president in 1964; he didn’t even propose to run. In January 1968, she predicted that the Democratic nominee for president would be Lyndon B. Johnson; it was Hubert Humphrey. In 1968, she predicted that before the elections Dean Rusk would resign as Secretary of State; he never resigned.
In 1968, on the twentieth of October, she predicted that the men on the captured ship Pueblo would not be released by the North Koreans, but would be released after a long period of time through negotiations with the Russians. Actually, the crew of the Pueblo were liberated by the North Koreans, not by the Russians, and the North Koreans did it within just two months after Mrs. Dixon’s negative prognosis.
In 1968, she predicted that Russia will be the first nation to put a man on the moon, and that within three years. Actually, Russia hasn’t been able to put a man on the moon to this day in 1972.
The newspaper syndicate that distributes Mrs. Dixon’s column printed her prediction about Jackie Kennedy on October 20, the day of her surprise wedding to Aristotle Onassis. It threw the hocus-pocus industry into a dither and a thither. Why? Because Mrs. Dixon had written in her column that day, quote, "I still stand on my New Year’s prediction and see no marriage for Jackie." In 1967, she predicted that that year would see a cure for cancer, giving false hopes to uncounted thousands of sufferers.
But, the resplendent personality of all the assorted seers, and star gazers, and swamis is Criswell of San Francisco, California. There’s nobody like him. His TV show, Criswell Predicts, has been seen by uncounted millions. And his book entitled Criswell Predicts has been read by uncounted thousands. And he claims eighty-seven percent accuracy in his fantastic predictions that he makes for his wealthy clients. That’s the screwiest thing you ever heard in your life.
When I go to California, I go almost anywhere or appear on any stage but that somebody asks me, "Are you he, or are you his brother?" I have taken two of his predictions from his paperback crystal ball. Number one: "America’s foremost rock and roll singer will commit suicide during Easter week 1969." Not only was there no rock and roll singer who committed suicide, but there wasn’t a one of them that was even sick.
Listen to this fantastic prediction of Criswell. Quote – – you who listen on radio remember it’s Criswell of San Francisco, not this one here – – quote, "A scientist searching for an antiseptic spray will accidentally invent an odorless aphrodisiac which fills men and women with uncontrollable sexual desire. Entire water and heating systems will be filled with it, and people will flock to this country to get a whiff." He should have said, "a snort."
It becomes ridiculous. It becomes inane. It becomes silly when any man or any woman of any generation stands up to say, "I can tell you what will happen on the morrow." In contrast to that, Israel has a sure and clear word of prophecy.
God is not a man that He should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath He said, and shall He not do it? Hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?
Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither any divination against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God done!
[Numbers 23: 19, 23]
And Israel was interdicted from ever asking at the shrine or the feet of the oracle of a wizard, or an enchanter, or a soothsayer, or an astrologer, or a stargazer, or a fortuneteller.
Listen to the Word of God: "There shall not be found among you any that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer," [Deuteronomy 18:10-11], somebody who proposed to bring up the dead and find out things future from the dead, "For all of these things are an abomination unto the Lord [Deuteronomy 18:12]. These nations which thou shalt possess hearkened unto those observers of times, and unto diviners; but as for thee, the Lord thy God will not suffer thee to do so" [Deuteronomy 18:14].
Then God made the announcement: "Through Moses, the Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto Me; and unto Him shalt thou hearken" [Deuteronomy 18:15]. We are never to find recourse ever to a witch, or a fortuneteller, or an astrologer; but we are to ask from God Himself. And the prophecy is that God will give us a sure and a clear word.
And that certain and final word, the outline of the future, the unfolding of the morrow has been clearly written down through God’s prophets, "holy men who spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" [2 Peter 1:21]. As we look at the outline of human history it is no other thing than a commentary upon the immutable prophetic Word of God.
Josephus the Jew will write, Gibbon the cynic will write, Hume the infidel will write, and Newman the Christian will write. They write down facts, and lo the books that they write are nothing but commentaries upon the prophetic revelations of God. And the generals, and strategists, and rulers, and statesmen who parade across the stage of human history seeking glory for themselves or for their armies or for their nations do no other thing than demonstrate the predicted sovereignty of Almighty God. Why prophecy? The purpose of prophecy, it is first of all to confirm and authenticate the true God and His true Word.
What is the purpose of prophecy? Second: it is to authenticate and to confirm the messianic ministry, deity, and lordship of Jesus Christ. It is the method used by the Lord Himself. In the twenty-fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, it is written, "And beginning at Moses and the Prophets, the Lord Jesus, risen and raised from the dead, expounded unto His disciples the things concerning Himself in the Holy Scriptures" [Luke 24:27].
When it says, in the Book of Acts, that Paul and Apollos convinced their hearers that Jesus is the Christ [Acts 18:28], instructing and teaching out of the Holy Scriptures, where did they learn that method? They learned that method from the Lord Himself. For there is no affirmation and there is no confirmation of the reality of the life and character and purpose of Jesus like the predictions, the prophetic predictions in the Bible itself.
May I give you an illustration of that? In the closing verses of the first chapter of 2 Peter, Peter describes his seeing the Lord Jesus glorified, transfigured on the Mount of Transfiguration [Matthew 17:1-5], when the deity of the Lord shown through. And Peter describing that says, "We saw the glory of Christ, and we heard the voice from heaven saying, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" [2 Peter 1:16-18]. But having seen it and having heard it, Simon Peter writes, "But we have a more sure word of prophecy" [2 Peter 1:19]. Eye might deceive, ears might be mistaken; but the Word and the prophecy of God shall stand true forever [Isaiah 40:8]. And the great authentication of the messianic ministry and deity of Christ is found in the prophetic Word.
Look at the marvel of that for just a moment. In the Bible, in the Old Covenant, there are almost countless prophecies concerning the life and ministry and the characteristics of the coming Messiah. They are innumerable:
· He is to be born of a woman; born of a virgin [Isaiah 7:14].
· He is to be of the seed of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob, of Judah [Genesis 21:12, 22:18, :10; Numbers 24:17].
· A Son of David to reign on his throne forever [2 Samuel 7:13].
· He is to be born among the lowly [Isaiah 53:3].
· Crucified among thieves, laid in a tomb with the rich [Isaiah 53:9].
· He is to be betrayed by a close friend and disciple [Psalm 41:9].
· His hands and His side are to be pierced [Psalm 22:16].
· A bone of Him is not to be broken [Psalm 34:20].
· The third day He is to be raised from the dead [Psalm 16:10, Hosea 6:2].
· He is to ascend into glory and come with the angels in power [Isaiah 63:1, 15].
Oh, how many delineations will you find of Christ in the Old Covenant!
Now, let’s say there were just ten of those prophets, and let’s say they average just five characteristics a piece. That they should come to pass, what even ten prophets said, speaking five characteristics, that they should by chance, by blind chance come to pass, would be one chance out of one quadrillion, one hundred twenty-five trillion, two hundred billion, one hundred million, and six zeroes thereafter. And that those prophecies should come to pass at one time in one Man is beyond the power of numbers to express. The great authentication of the deity, and the person, and the reality of the lordship, the messiahship of Christ is to be found in the prophetic word.
Revelation 19:10, "For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" [Revelation 19:10]. The burden of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus. All of the prophets point to Him:
· Moses in the Torah, describing Him by symbol and type and word.
· David, the sweet psalmist singing of the Christ to come, the great coming King [Psalm 22, 110:1].
· Isaiah, standing as though he were by the cross [Isaiah 53], an evangelist as much so as Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.
· Daniel outlining the great cycle of human history and the coming kingdom [Daniel 2:26-45, Daniel 7, 9:20-27].
· And Malachi, closing the Old Testament covenant with the final prediction and prophecy that "the Sun of Righteousness is coming with healing in His wings" [Malachi 4:2].
The Bible is one; it is not two. God is one, not two. The Jehovah of the Old Testament is the Jesus of the New Testament. We don’t have two religions or two faiths, there is one [Ephesians 4:4-5]. The Old Covenant pointed toward Him, the New Covenant looks to Him in reality after His coming. Christ is in the Old Testament just as much as He is in the New Testament. I can preach from the Old Testament the Lord Jesus just as fully and clearly and really and truly as I can preach the Lord Jesus from the New Testament. They are both one.
Whether it is Isaiah standing describing the sufferings of Christ [Isaiah 53], or whether it is Matthew [Matthew 27:32-50], they are one. Whether it is Daniel the seer, outlining the course of the future, or whether it is John the beloved disciple, both drink from the same well. Both of them are inspired by the same God, and both of them speak as they are moved by the Holy Spirit [2 Peter 1:21]. They are one in the same.
The God that reigned over Babylon is the God that reigns over Dallas. The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. The Old Covenant and the New Covenant all speak of Christ. Every prophet, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Malachi, all of them, they proclaim the one Savior. They look forward to the one sacrifice. And their hope is based upon the one and the same foundation.
Above the mercy seat in the ark of the covenant were two cherubim, one on one side, the old covenant, one on the other side, the new covenant, and the tips of their wings touched [1 Kings 6:27]. And both of them looked full upon the hilastērion, the mercy seat, the propitiatory. Whether in the Old Covenant looking down, whether in the New Covenant looking down, both of them in adoration before the sacrifice of the Son of God [Exodus 25:17-22]. The purpose of prophecy: to affirm, to authenticate, and to confirm the reality, the truth, the messianic lordship and deity of the blessed Jesus.
Why prophecy? Not only the authentication, the confirmation, the presentation of the true God, not only the authentication and confirmation of the deity and the messianic lordship of Jesus; but last, the purpose of prophecy to affirm, to confirm, and to authenticate to us the promises of God for the future. When I hold the Bible in my hand, two-thirds of it is prophecy, by symbol, by type, or by overt statement; two-thirds of that Book are prophetic.
One half of those prophecies have already come to pass, literally, actually, really. Therefore, have I not cause to be persuaded that if God has fulfilled one half of them, actually and literally, the same Lord God will also fulfill actually and literally the half that remains?
There has never arisen a defender of the faith like Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullian. He was a Carthaginian, the son of a Roman centurion. He was brilliantly educated as a lawyer. When he was about forty-five or fifty years of age he was dramatically converted to the Christian faith. And he is the greatest apologist and defender of the Christian religion that has ever lived. He defended it against Hellenistic philosophy and pagan religions, and he did it brilliantly and eloquently and mightily. His words are like torrents flowing down, creating channels of their own. He is the first of the great Latin fathers. He was born about 140 AD; died about 220 AD. He wrote in Greek at first; all of his Greek books have been lost, but his Latin books are still extant and you can read them. There are none like them ever since. From his Apologeticus, his apology, his defense, from the twentieth chapter of the Apologeticus, I read from Tertullian:
Whatever is now done was foretold. Whatever is now seen was first heard. If earthquakes swallow up cities, if islands are invaded by the sea, if foreign and domestic wars distract states, if kingdom rises up against kingdom, if there are famine and pestilence and slaughter in diverse places, if the humble are exalted and the lofty are laid low, if justice is rare and iniquity abounds, all these have been predicted by the providence of God. While we suffer these calamities, we read of them. When we recognize them as the objects of prophecy, the truth of the Scriptures which predict them is proved. The daily fulfillment of prophecy is surely a foolproof of revelation. Hence then we have a well founded belief in many other things which are yet to come, namely, the confidence arising from our knowledge of the past, because some events, still future, were foretold at the same time with others which are past. How can we then be blamed for believing also what is predicted representing the future, when our confidence is founded upon the fulfillment of prophecies relating to the present and the past?
The same Lord God who fulfilled His prophecies in these generations and centuries past is also the same Lord God who shall fulfill the unfulfilled prophecies in the future. And the purpose of that is to give confidence, and assurance, and victory to those who believe in God. With what quiet and in what confidence can the Christian face the future, whatever the turn and whatever the fortune.
In the day of Isaiah, when Egypt and Assyria were tearing the world apart, Isaiah said to Israel, "In returning and in rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in peace shall be your confidence" [Isaiah 30:15]. When a leaf falls by the blowing wind we are not to be shaken. God has a plan and a purpose through the ages. And whatever happens is but the outworking of the great sovereign plan and purpose of Almighty God; the assurance to His people.
If there is death, He has promised a better resurrection [Hebrews 11:35]. If there is war above the smoke of battle, we see the coming Prince of Peace [Isaiah 9:6]. If the heavens and the earth are dissolved by fire, we look for a new heaven and a new earth [Revelation 1:1]. If the city decays and is destroyed, we look for another city, the New Jerusalem coming down from the hands of God out of heaven [Revelation 21:2]. "Yea, if the very sun is blotted out, we look for the Sun of Righteousness to rise with healing in His wings" [Malachi 4:2]. There is light and there is glory in the assured promises and predictions and prophecies of God our sovereign Keeper and Savior.
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory and power of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exigency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
We are troubled on every side, but not distressed: we are perplexed, but not in despair.
We are forsaken but not cast down; we are persecuted but not lost and crushed.
Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal bodies . . . For which cause we faint not; for though this outward body perish, yet the inward spirit is renewed day by day.
For our light affliction which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;
While we look not at the things that are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
[2 Corinthians 4:6-18]
And those eternal, invisible things of God are revealed unto His people by the prophetic Word. "The flower fadeth: the grass withereth, but the word and prophecy of God shall stand forever" [Isaiah 40:8]. This is the purpose of prophecy.
Our time is far spent. We sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, from the balcony round, you, on the lower floor, you, coming into the fellowship of the church or giving your heart to Christ, while we sing the song and make the appeal, would you come and stand by me? There’s a stairwell at the front and the back and on either side if you’re in the balcony, and time and to spare, come. Down one of these stairways, "Here I come, pastor, and here I am." On the lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, make the decision now in your heart. Make it now. And in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. You, or a couple you, or the family you, that’ll be the greatest step you’ll ever make in your life, that first step toward God. And let angels attend you in the way while you come. Make the decision now. And in this moment, when you stand up, stand up coming. Do it now. Make it now. Come now, while we stand and while we sing.
THE PURPOSE OF PROPHECY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Authentication, confirmation of the true God
A. How can we know the true God? Isaiah 41:26
B. No other religion is able to prophesy because it can’t
C. Quandary of the ancient and modern world, no one can predict the future
II. Authentication, confirmation of the Messianic majesty of Christ, His deity
A. Method of Jesus
B. Miracles of Christ
C. The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy
D. One true religion of Old and New Testament
III. Today’s false prophets, always wrong