by David Jeremiah
The situation was grim in the South Pacific in February 1942. American forces were trying to hold the Philippines, but relentless Japanese attacks were making it impossible. President Roosevelt ordered the commander of American forces, General Douglas MacArthur, to withdraw to Australia. On March 12, 1942, MacArthur and his leaders boarded small PT boats and made their way to the Philippine island of Mindanao, where planes then took them to Australia.
Eight days later, in Australia, MacArthur made the famous speech in which he told the Philippine people, “I came through and I shall return.” Officials in Washington, D.C., vetting the speech, asked him to change his words to, “We shall return.” Typical of MacArthur, he ignored them and said, “I shall return.” He was making a personal statement about the future; he was taking personal responsibility for changing the lives of the Philippine people.
In the broadest sense, General MacArthur was prophesying—making a statement about the future. And we all are “prophets” in that way; we all make claims about the future in major or minor ways: “Tomorrow I’m going to...”
But there is a catch: To be a prophet, what someone says about the future must come true. That was a standard Moses established for the second generation of Israelites before they entered the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 18:21-22). That standard establishes something profound in the biblical story: God wants to speak to His people about the future. And the way we know God has spoken prophetically is if what the prophet says comes true.
Credibility has a lot to do with it. In General MacArthur’s case, the Philippine citizens had good reason to believe MacArthur would return to help them given his stature and record. And indeed he did. On October 20, 1944, MacArthur waded ashore on the Philippine island of Leyte with the president of the Philippines and other military and civilian leaders. Less than a year later, on September 2, 1945, MacArthur accepted the formal surrender of Japan to Allied forces.
It is possible, however, that circumstances could have been different. MacArthur was not infallible or divine; his prophetic words—“I shall return”—could have gone unfulfilled. Therefore, we have to be careful about whose prophecies we believe.
Unfortunately, some people give no more credit to the prophetic words of the Bible than they do to the words of an ordinary person—which is a shame, given the impact God intends prophecy to have.
When the church at Corinth was giving priority to the gift of tongues in their meetings, Paul reminded them of the power of prophecy: “But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men” (1 Corinthians 14:3). Yes, we think of prophets ministering in the Old Testament, but they were active in the New Testament era as well. A prophet named Agabus prophesied that if Paul went to Jerusalem, he would be arrested. Agabus’ credibility (track record) as a prophet was so strong that Paul’s coworkers urged him not to go. He went anyway and Agabus’ words were confirmed (Acts 21:10-14, 33). Philip the evangelist “had four daughters who prophesied” (Acts 21:9).
Before the Word of God was complete and the canon of Scripture was closed, the people of God needed “edification and exhortation and comfort”—and we still do. In the transitional period of Acts, the Church relied on the Old Testament prophets as well as prophets in their midst. Since prophecy and apostleship were gifts for the foundation of the Church, not for its continuance (Ephesians 2:20), the source of our “edification and exhortation and comfort” is the words of the prophets in Scripture, not prophets in our midst.
- Edification means to build up. Prophecy builds our faith as we witness the omniscience of God on display through fulfilled prophecy. The God who fulfilled (and will fulfill) the prophets’ words is the same God who knows your and my every need. Fulfilled prophecy builds our confidence in God.
- Exhortation means to come alongside for encouragement and strengthening. Part of the immediate reason for Old Testament prophecies—like those of Daniel—was to let the nation of Israel know that God would keep His promises to His people. Yes, they were going to experience discipline for their sins, but they were also going to remain the apple of God’s eye. The God who never let go of Israel is the God who will never let go of us.
- Comfort means to come alongside for consolation. None of God’s servants were closer to the heart of God than His prophets to whom He revealed His plans (Amos 3:7). The more Daniel matured as a prophet in Babylon and Persia, the stronger he became because he knew the plans of God! The God who revealed the future to His prophets is the God who has given us those prophecies in His Word.
Why Not Prophecy?
As I mentioned, too many Christians and far too many pastors and teachers ignore biblical prophecy saying, “It’s just too hard to understand! It’s so confusing! I don’t know what it means! It divides Christians into camps!”
First, let’s agree on something: Prophecy is part of the “all Scripture” that is given by God and is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Therefore, to ignore prophecy is to ignore something God has given for our good.
Take the book of Daniel that is highlighted in my Agents of Babylon teaching series and book. The doctrines of the omniscience and sovereignty of God are on full display in Daniel. Pagan kings are reproved as they ignore God and His prophet (and we are thus warned not to repeat their folly). One king, Nebuchadnezzar, was corrected as he saw the power of God and the exactness of fulfilled prophecy. Daniel’s jealous peers, as well as kings, were instructed in righteousness as they observed Daniel’s righteous, faithful, and committed life of obedience to His God.
All of those same things will happen to us as we study the lives of the prophets and the words from God that they spoke and wrote. What follower of Christ would not want all those effects in his or her life? Therefore, why not prophecy?
Yes, prophecy can be more challenging to read than, say, the history of Exodus or Acts. It can even be more challenging than rigorous epistles like Romans and Hebrews. But here’s a fact: Prophecy in the Old Testament is like Jesus’ parables in the New Testament—filled with truth and riches for those who will apply their heart, pray for understanding, and mine each verse like they would search for hidden treasure (Proverbs 2:1-6; Matthew 13:10-17).
The specific prophecies of the Bible build five spiritual dynamics in our life—all of which we can find illustrated in the prophecies of Daniel:
- Perspective. When King Nebuchadnezzar saw that his kingdom was only one of four that would fill the known world of his day and that God’s kingdom would eventually replace them all, he gained a new perspective (Daniel 2:46-47).
- Purpose. Prophecy—knowing the future—helped Daniel realize his purpose in life as a spokesman for God in a corrupt culture (Daniel 2:48).
- Patience. Daniel would die before some of his prophecies were fulfilled, which gave him patience to wait on God’s timing (Daniel 12:4).
- Power. When Babylon’s wise men failed at interpreting a dream and Daniel succeeded because of what God showed him, he demonstrated the difference between the power of man and the power of God (Daniel 2:10-11, 27-28). Confidence in prophetic truth gave Daniel power to speak boldly to a king who could have taken his life (Daniel 4:27).
- Praise. When Daniel saw prophecies of Jeremiah on the verge of fulfillment, he was moved to praise the “great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant” (Daniel 9:4).
If the fulfillment of an army general’s prophetic promise in 1944 was enough to bless the nation of the Philippines, how much more should the prophetic promises of God be a blessing to a world that will know and believe them?
Let us agree with the apostle Peter: “And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19).