The Purpose of Prophecy
January 9th, 1972 @ 8:15 AM
THE PURPOSE OF PROPHECY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-09-72 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor; first of all, would I express words of gratitude for the tremendous help and interest of our church, of our staff, of our leadership, in our Bible Institute. As the announcement was made, tonight at 6:00 o’clock, in this auditorium, we shall have a convocation of all of the adults of our church, looking forward to the meaningful program of that teaching outreach.
Then Tuesday night, this coming Tuesday night, we have the beginning of our spring semester. But we are also bringing into the church the teaching ministry of our institute on Sunday night. And in this, especially and particularly and unusually, all of our adult people can have a marvelous part. We shall speak of these things tonight at 6:00 o’clock in this great auditorium.
Today, after the absence of several months, today we begin preaching through the Book of Daniel. There have been three volumes published of the sermons delivered on the first six chapters of the Book of Daniel. And today we begin with chapter 7, preaching through the conclusion of the book, chapter 12, the last six chapters.
The first six chapters of Daniel are narrative. They are historical. The last six chapters of Daniel are all together prophetic. Mr. Zondervan talked to me last night about the number of sermons. I said, “I feel that there ought to be few enough in these last six chapters, that when the fourth volume is published, it will conclude the study of the book.” And he replied, “Not so.” He said, “Take all the time that you would like because we are more interested in the prophecy than we have been in the narrative. “So if it runs to two or three other books,” he said, “don’t hesitate. Just study and deliver the message, and we’ll publish them, however many you feel led of God to prepare.” So we will do that. We shall do that. We shall study and prepare the message, then, however many there are, we shall leave it in the hands and choice of God.
The message this morning is introductory. It is entitled, The Purpose of Prophecy. The seventh chapter, beginning the prophetic section of Daniel, begins with these words: “In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel had a dream and visions” [Daniel 7:1]. Then, in the eighth chapter, “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, the same kind of an introduction: “In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a thing was revealed unto Daniel, whose name was called Belteshazzar; and the thing was true, and the time appointed was long” [Daniel 10:1]. These are introductory words in the book concerning the prophetic visions that God gave to Daniel of the unfolding course of human history, to the consummation of the age.
Now the subject, the purpose of prophecy. First: the reason for the prophecy is the confirmation and authentication and affirmation of the true and only God and His living, immutable Word. It is a remarkable thing how the Lord God, in clear, white, glorious, and unmistakable light, is set apart in the Bible as being the One only who can speak of the future. He says in Isaiah:
Who hath declared this from ancient time? Who hath told it before? Hath not I, the Lord? 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, a 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.
[Isaiah 45:21, 46:9-11]
Why cannot a man prophesy concerning the future? because he cannot control the events. But God sets Himself forth in a brilliant light as the true God, because He can predict the future, having the control of the events in His hands. You have a remarkable confrontation in the Book of Isaiah concerning the ability to predict the future.
How can we know that God is the true God? And how can we know that this is the Word of God and not just some man-made piece of literature? By what decisive criterion can such a decision be made? There could be no finer test than the one that Jehovah God proposes here in the forty-first chapter of Isaiah. The Lord God says, Let Him who can predict the future be God [Isaiah 41:26]. Just like Elijah on Mt. Carmel said, “Let Him that can send fire from heaven be God” [1 Kings 18:24]. The great test here in Isaiah is, “Let Him be God, who can predict the future.” And the Lord God says to the false gods, and the false prophets:
Let them bring forth, and show us what shall happen: let them show the things that shall be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them. Show the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods.
Now is there a religion? Is there a faith? Is there a founder of religion? Is there a god in human history that dares to accept that challenge? There is none. There is no other God [Isaiah 45:21]. There is no other faith. There is no other religion. And there are no other prophets who dare to predict the future, and the reason lies in a clear and demonstrable fact. They would be proved inane if they dared to say what tomorrow might bring. Therefore, the Lord God says to these false prophets and false gods:
Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work is nought: an abomination is he that chooseth thee.
For behold there was no man; even among them, and there was no counselor, that, when I asked of them, could answer a word.
Behold, they are all vanity; their works are nothing: their molten images are wind and confusion.
[Isaiah 41:24, 28-29]
The test that the Lord God proposes to declare the true God is the test of prophecy.
Now there has never been a time when the world, both ancient and modern, has not sought out soothsayers, and fortunetellers, and necromancers, and those versed in the manic arts in order to predict the future.
Babylon, where Daniel lived, was the headquarters of the soothsayers and the necromancers in the ancient day. They were the headquarters of that unusual approach, whereby the priests searched the viscera—and especially the liver—of sacrificial animals in order to find omens for the future. From the Babylonians, it came into the hands of the seafaring Etruscans; and from them, into the Romans. No Roman would make any decision without first examining the entrails of animals, seeking to predict the future.
In Greece, any Greek who had a great decision to make would make his way to the Delphian oracle and there lay his question before the Pythian prophetess, who entranced and in clairvoyance tried to answer the question. But even the ancient Greek and Roman despaired of the enigmatic answers of the Pythian Sibylline oracles. In ancient days, in every way possible, there was effort to discern the future. It is no less so in this day and in America at the present time. There are more than ten thousand soothsayers, necromancers, fortunetellers, swamis in the United States who make a living, and sometimes a fabulous one, by telling their clients what tomorrow will bring.
One of the most astonishing developments in modern American life is the astrologers and those who seek by astrological answers in every daily newspaper some answer about the morrow. Your politicians, your statesmen, your leaders in government, leaders in finance, great movie stars, successful people, many, many of them make crucial decisions on the basis of what these fortunetellers say. Can they predict the future? Can they?
Let us take two. A famous one is Jeane Dixon, the psychic of Washington, D.C. Like a Gypsy, she sometimes uses decks of cards to tell fortunes. Sometimes she uses astrological charts. Sometimes, and most of the time, she will use the crystal ball. Well, what are the predictions of Jean Dixon? Published abroad are the predictions that she says that come true, but what about those that are egregious blunders? Let us look at some of the predictions of Jeane Dixon to see whether or not she is able to foretell the future.
Here is one. 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. The war is still going on in Viet Nam, in 1972.
In 1958, Mrs. Dixon 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 U.N. She was not admitted until 1971.
She predicted that Walter Reuther would be a candidate for president in 1964. He didn’t even run. In January, 1968, she predicted that the Democratic nominee for president would be Lyndon 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 October 20, 1968, 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 captivity through negotiations with the Russians. Actually, the Pueblo crew was liberated by the North Koreans, and not by the Russians, and that within just two months after Mrs. Dixon’s negative prognosis.
In 1968, she had predicted that Russia would be the first nation to put a man on the moon, and that within three years. 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 the twentieth of October, the day of her surprise wedding to Aristotle Onassis. It threw the hocus-pocus industry into a dither. Why? Because Mrs. Dixon had written that day in her column, quote: “I still stand on my New Year’s prediction and see no marriage for Jackie Kennedy.”
In 1967, she predicted that that year would see a cure for cancer, giving false hopes to uncounted thousands. Who can predict the future?
Now there has been no resplendent personality among these swamis like Criswell of San Francisco, California. I never go west but that people ask, “Are you he? Or are you his brother?” He has a famous TV program. He wrote a book, Criswell Predicts, and he claims eighty-seven percent accuracy in his fantastic predictions that he makes for his wealthy clients.
I’m going to choose two of his predictions out of that paperback crystal ball. Here is one, quote: “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, there were not one of them that were even sick.
All right, here’s a second one from his famous book—quote—now, you listen to this: “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, “to get a snort”; such inanity!
Israel, and God’s chosen people, had a clear and sure word of prophecy. In the Book of Numbers:
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? Or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?
Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there divination against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What God hath done!
[Numbers 23:19, 23]
In the Book of the Bible, Israel and us, we are definitely interdicted against consulting with astrologers, and fortunetellers, and soothsayers, and necromancers.
There shall not be found among you one that . . . useth divination, or an observer of times, or any enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.
All that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord . . .
For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the Lord God hath not suffered thee so to do.
And then Moses added: “The Lord thy God shall raise up unto thee a Prophet”—a capital “P,” the Lord Christ—“the Lord thy God shall raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto Him shalt thou hearken [Deuteronomy 18:15].
God’s people are to listen to the immutable, infallible word of prophecy, as they look at the future. We’re not to seek unto astrologers, or diviners, or those gifted so-called with clairvoyance or the manic arts. We’re to look to God.
Now the glory of the prophetic word is that God hath outlined the great course of human history. He sees the end from the beginning, and He reveals it unto His servants the prophets. Whether it be Josephus the Jew, or Gibbon the cynic, or Hume the infidel, or Newman the Christian, when they write down the facts of human history, lo, they are nothing but commentaries upon the revealed, foretold Word of God.
These strategists, and generals, and rulers, and kings that strut across the stage of human history, find themselves—even though they do so for self-glory, or to bring glory to their armies, or to their nations—they find themselves doing the providential will of God, under the government of the great Jehovah Almighty of heaven and earth. Why the purpose of prophecy? To authenticate and to confirm the one, true God and His Word.
Second—and we’re going to finish this morning, even though we’re going to be a little late; I’ll tell you that so you can sit at ease for just a little while—second: the purpose of prophecy is to affirm and to authenticate the messianic ministry of Jesus Christ, His deity, His lordship, and His atoning efficacy. Prophecy sets forth Christ in a glorious, pure, white, celestial light. It is the great authentication that Christ is what He said He was, and can do, and will do, what He says He is able to do.
In the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Luke, it is the method by which Christ taught His apostles. “And beginning at Moses, and the Prophets, He taught them in all things in the Scriptures, the things concerning Himself” [Luke 24:27]. Paul and Apollos, by the Scriptures, convinced his listeners that Christ is the Son of God [Acts 9:19-22; 18:24-28].
One of the most remarkable passages to me in the Bible are the closing verses of 2 Peter, chapter 1. In those verses, Peter says, “On the mount, we saw the glorified, deity of Christ shining through, the transfiguration, and our ears heard the voice: This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” [2 Peter 1:16-17; Matthew 7:1-5].
Yet Simon Peter says, “Though our eyes saw it, and though our ears heard it, we have a more sure word of prophecy” [2 Peter 1:15-19]. For eyes might deceive, and ears might be mistaken, but the prophecy of God shall stand forever! The great authentication of the ministry of Christ, the deity of our Lord, lies in His fulfilling the prophetic Scriptures.
I want you to look at that for just a moment. The miracle of the prophecies concerning Christ, all through the Old Covenant—all the way through—there are innumerable prophecies of the life and characteristics of the coming Messiah: born of a woman [Genesis 3:15]—virgin born [Isaiah 7:14], of the seed of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah [Genesis 22:18; 21:12; 49:10; Numbers 24:17]; a King on the throne of David [2 Samuel 7:13]; a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief [Isaiah 53:3]; born in Bethlehem [Micah 5:2], crucified in Jerusalem; not a bone broken [Psalm 34:20], piercing His hands and His feet [Psalm 22:16; Zechariah 12:10]; betrayed by His friend and disciple [Psalm 41:9]; buried the third day, rose again [Isaiah 53:9; Psalm 16:8-11]. How many of those details are meticulously, pointedly, prophesied in the Bible—some of them thousands of years before He was born?
Now look, let’s say there were ten prophets, and let’s say they spoke an average of five [prophecies] each concerning the characteristics of the coming Messiah. That such prophecies—even that little group—that such prophecies should come to pass by mere chance would be one chance in one quadrillion, one hundred fifty trillion, one hundred billion, two hundred million; and that they would all come to pass at the same time, in one Man, is beyond the powers of numbers to express.
There is no greater miracle than to see in Christ the summation of all of those marvelous prophecies, concerning the coming One, the Savior of the world. That is the burden of prophecy: Revelation 19:10, “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” The burden of prophecy is the coming King, the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s the burden of the Torah that Moses wrote, talking about Him. It is the song of David, singing about Him. It is the glorious language of the state-court preacher, Isaiah, describing Him. It is the burden of all of the prophets. Malachi closes the prophecy with the promise of the coming of the Son of God [Malachi 4:1-6].
There is but one religion in the Bible; there’s not two [Ephesians 4:5]. There is one God in the Bible, not two [Ephesians 4:4]; in the Old Covenant called Jehovah [Psalm 83:18], in the New Covenant called Jesus [Matthew 1:21-25]. The same Lord God that ruled and reigned in Babylon rules and reigns today in the city of Dallas! The same Lord God that held the nations in the palm of His hands in the ancient world holds the nations today in the palm of His hands. There is one faith and one Lord [Ephesians 4:5]; there is one religion. And a man can preach out of the Old Testament just as well as he can preach out of the New Testament, for they both present the same glorious Savior Lord God. Whether it is from Daniel, or Isaiah, or David, or Jeremiah, or Malachi, or Zechariah, they all speak of one Savior, and one sacrifice, and one foundation of hope and assurance for the world that is yet to come. It’s like the angels on the ark of the covenant, “This one, this one; this is the Old Testament, this is the New Testament.” And the tips of their wings touch [1 Kings 6:27], and both of them look down upon the hilasterion, the propitiary, the mercy seat; and both of them adore and worship—the angelic hosts signified by the cherubim, Him who is alone the Son of God” [Exodus 25:17-22]: The purpose of prophecy: to authenticate the true God [Isaiah 41:22-23]; the purpose of prophecy, to confirm, to authenticate the messianic deity of Jesus [John 5:39].
Third and last, the purpose of prophecy: that God’s people might be filled with hope and assurance. The Bible is about two-thirds prophetic in type, in symbol, or in actual statement. Two-thirds of the whole Bible is prophecy. I’ll bet two-thirds—one-half of it at least—is yet to be fulfilled. We can look back over the fulfilling of half of it. Half of it has been fulfilled, literally, actually, really and truly; and that is an earnest and a harbinger of the other half that will yet—in promise under God—be fulfilled.
I’m going to read a passage out of the Apologeticus—the Latin apology, defense of Quintus Septimus Florens Tertullian. He was the greatest defender of the Christian faith who has ever lived. He was a Carthaginian, born about 120 AD, died about 220 AD: a brilliant man, the son of a Roman centurion, educated as a lawyer, gloriously, dramatically converted when he was about forty-five to fifty years of age.
He took his vast intellectual endowments in defense of Christ in the faith against Hellenistic philosophy and against the pagan religions of the Roman Empire. Three of his books were written in Greek. They have been lost. But his extensive works in Latin—and he was the first great Latin father—his extensive works in Latin are still extant, and I’m going to quote from the twentieth chapter of his Apologeticus. Listen to it—quote:
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 slaughters, in divers places. . .if the humble are exalted and the lofty are laid low; if justice is rare and inequity 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 full proof 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 of it, still future, were foretold at the same time with others, which are now 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.
If God, who alone knows the future, hath predicted it and half of it is fulfilled, then do we not have assurance and confidence that God will also, literally, and truly, and actually, and really, fulfill the future? However, the turn of human history, the Christian can live in quietness and in confidence as that famous verse in Isaiah, when Egypt and Assyria were tearing the world apart, Isaiah said to the people of Israel, “In returning and in rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength” [Isaiah 30:15].
However the turn of the world and however the turn of life, God has a purpose, and He rules and reigns above human history. We therefore shall not be dismayed or distracted or seemingly face destruction, for a leaf shaken by the wind fails and falls to the ground. We live in optimism, and in assurance, and in confidence of an ultimate and final victory!
If there is death, God hath promised a better resurrection! [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. If there is war, above the smoke of battle, we see the coming Prince of Peace [Isaiah 9:6]. If there is the dissolution of heaven and earth, God will make—by promise—a new heaven and a new earth [Revelation 21:1]. If the city decays and is destroyed, we shall have a new city: a New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven [Revelation 21:1-2].
If the very sun is blotted out, the Sun of Righteousness shall rise with healing in His wings [Malachi 4:2]. It shall be the life and the glory of God thus to give the kingdom, and the future, by prophecy and in fulfillment, to His people. “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” [2 Corinthians 4:6].
But we have this treasure, I know, in earthen vessels, that the excellency of 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; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also 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 and exceeding eternal weight of glory;
For 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 4:7-11, 16-18]
And the things that are not seen—the things that abide forever—in eternity, are the things God has revealed to His children in the prophecies of the living, immutable, unchanging word of God [Isaiah 40:8].
We must sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family, a couple you, coming down this aisle: “Here I am, pastor. I decide for Christ, and here I come.” Down one of these stairwells, at the back, at the front, on either side, if you’re in the balcony, in the throng of people on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front: “Pastor, I have decided for Christ, and here I come.” Make it now. Do it now. Make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. “Here I am. Here I come.” Do it now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.