The Field of Bible Prophecy
“No prophecy of Scripture springs from any private release.”—2 Pet. 1:20, NW.
1, 2. What are some questions that pertain to the field of Bible prophecy? What are Bible prophecies?
DIVINE prophecies! What are they? Why are they used? Where do they originate? Who are used to transmit them? By what means and in what manner are they transmitted? Are there any keys which unlock them? Do they have more than one fulfillment? How may they be proved to be true? When may they be understood? In what sense do Jehovah’s witnesses prophesy today? To understand the vast field of Bible prophecy these and many other questions require answering.
2 At the outset, what are Bible prophecies? They are part of the host of divine revelations of Jehovah God recorded and preserved for us in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. A large part of the Bible is written in this form of sacred pronouncement. (Rom. 3:2, NW) Jesus indicated this when he said: “All the things written in the law of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms about me must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44, NW) Prophecy is the foretelling of something that is to occur in the future. It is the teaching or foretelling of future events beyond the power of natural man. Therefore prophecy that is true is a statement of facts and happenings made known ahead of time to take place in the future. Otherwise stated, prophecy is history written in advance.
3. Why has God chosen to use prophecy as a form of sacred pronouncement?
3 Why has God used this form of sacred pronouncement? It appears that God has chosen to state ahead of time many of his majestic purposes and their details in the form of prophecy as an evidence of his foreknowledge and of his mastery of the situation produced by the rebellion in Eden. Further, he used this kind of sacred pronouncement in order to hide or conceal sacred secrets which would serve as spiritual food for his servants to feed from at their unfolding in future generations. Many of these secrets had a surface or limited application at the time they were transmitted, but they were so presented as to contain deeper hidden matters to come to light in later times. (Eph. 3:5; Matt. 10:26, NW) The study of Bible prophecies and their fulfillments is necessary to arrive at an accurate knowledge of the truth concerning God and his incoming new world of righteousness. (Eph. 1:17, NW) It is necessary in order to build one’s faith in God and Christ Jesus, the King. The true religion’s being a revealed religion based on divine revelations, Christians as practicers of true worship do not follow the foolish course of many today who treat prophecy with contempt. Rather the true worshipers “make sure of all things” and “hold fast to what is right”, and this includes divine revelations in the form of prophecies.—1 Thess. 5:20, 21, NW.
4. How do divine prophecies originate?
4 Bible prophecies originate with Jehovah God. They do not spring from the genius of any man. “No prophecy of Scripture springs from any private release. For prophecy was at no time brought by man’s will, but men spoke from God.” (2 Pet. 1:20, 21, NW) Hence Jehovah God is the author of true prophecy. Jehovah is the great Author and Finisher of his works, and this is so indicated in Revelation 1:8 (NW), where it says: “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says Jehovah God, ‘the One who is and who was and who is coming, the Almighty.’” Only Jehovah God knows the end from the beginning and therefore can foreknow future events in accord with his purposes. (Isa. 46:9, 10, AS) Even Jesus Christ testified that the prophetic and other divine utterances through him were not of his own originality. (John 14:10, NW) Not only the giving of prophecy lies in Jehovah’s hands but also the interpretation thereof, as clearly demonstrated by Joseph when, interpreting Pharaoh’s dream, he said: “It is not in me: God will give Pharaoh an answer.”—Gen. 41:15, 16, AS.
ORDERS OF PROPHETS
5. Who are used to utter prophecies, and what three orders of them are there?
5 A prophet or a prophetess is one used to utter prophecy. In Hebrew the word for prophet is nahví. God’s spokesman Samuel states that in very early times prophets were sometimes known as seers. (1 Sam. 9:9) However, the Bible refers to all men used by God through whom prophecies have been transmitted regardless of time in history as “prophets”. In Biblical times there were three orders of prophets: first, those spoken of as general prophets; second, the line of the prophets; and third, the prophets referred to in the Christian Greek Scriptures. In the group spoken of as general prophets we find such men as Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Aaron, Moses and Jesus. All these were mighty spokesmen of Jehovah in their day, used to utter sacred pronouncements of world-shattering importance. Their prophecies have been recorded for us and are of great significance today.—Jude 14; Heb. 11:7; Gen. 20:7; Ex. 7:1; Deut. 18:15; Luke 24:19; Acts 3:22.
6. Describe the line of the prophets
6 The second order, the line of the prophets, begins with Samuel and runs all the way down to John the Baptist. (1 Sam. 3:20; Luke 1:76; Acts 3:24) These were special spokesmen of Jehovah who were sent to give counsel to the kings and to the nation. After Solomon’s time when there were the two nations, Israel and Judah, each with its separate ruling house of kings, God provided for a line of prophets to serve each country. The line of prophets which served the northern kingdom of Israel began with Ahijah, and continued to include Jehu, the son of Hanani, Elijah, Micaiah, Elisha, Jonah, Hosea, Amos and the last one, Oded. (1 Ki. 11:29; 2 Chron. 28:9) All the other outstanding prophets of old, many of whom have Bible books named after them as writers, were spokesmen sent to the southern kingdom of Judah. Some of these were Gad, Nathan, Joel, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Ezekiel, Obadiah, Daniel, Zechariah, Haggai and Malachi. Only two prophetesses are mentioned in this order, namely, Huldah, the wife of Shallum, and Anna of the tribe of Asher. (2 Chron. 34:22; Luke 2:36) There were also bands of prophets called “sons of the prophets” who were used of the Lord. Some of the prophets like Elijah, Elisha and John the Baptist had disciples following them who did work similar to theirs.—1 Ki. 20:35; 2 Ki. 4:38; Mark 2:18.
7. What work did these prophets perform?
7 All prophets of this second order were valiant witnesses of Jehovah. They held themselves available for consultation on private and public matters. They issued public rebukes to violators of the law covenant whether they were kings or the nation itself. They predicted future events. Some of them performed miracles by the power of God. They uncompromisingly took their stand on God’s side of whatever issue was current in their time. They were ready to withstand the stream of public opinion and persecution rather than compromise in their devotion as prophets of Jehovah. Their loyalty and integrity amidst overwhelming odds was amazing, of which Paul writes: “As well as Samuel and the other prophets, who through faith defeated kingdoms in conflict, . . . stopped the mouths of lions, stayed the force of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from a weak state were made powerful, became valiant in war, routed the armies of foreigners. Women received their dead by resurrection; but other men were tortured because they would not accept release by some ransom, in order that they might attain a better resurrection. Yes, others received their trial by mockings and scourgings, indeed, more than that, by bonds and prisons. They were stoned, they were tried, they were sawn asunder, they died by slaughter with the sword, they went about in sheep skins, in goat skins, while they were in want, in tribulation, under ill-treatment; and the world was not worthy of them. They wandered about in deserts and mountains and dens and caves of the earth.” (Heb. 11:32-38, NW) What a monumental record in behalf of true worship by those called as God’s spokesmen! These proved prophets speak to us today in thunderous tones as the complete fulfillments of their prophecies unfold one after another in a mountain of judgment against this present generation.
8. Who are the Christian prophets, and what work did they do?
8 After the days of Jesus another order of prophets is mentioned in the Scriptures who are designated generally as Christian prophets. In the building up of spiritual Israel, that is, the Christian congregation under a new system of things, various groups of servants and their specialized services were required to develop the organization. “And he gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as missionaries, some as shepherds and teachers, with a view to the training of the holy ones for ministerial work, for the building up of the body of the Christ.” (Eph. 4:11, 12, NW) Some of these prophets mentioned by name in the Bible are Agabus, Barnabas, Symeon, Lucius and Manaen. (Acts 13:1, 2) These Christian prophets seemed to be outstanding spokesmen in the early church and are said to be second to the apostles. Indeed the “household of God” is said to be built upon the apostles and these prophets. (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 2:19, 20) It appears these Christian prophets were traveling speakers for the governing body of the congregation in Jerusalem going from city to city to visit the companies of Christians. Not only did they give lectures, and talks on the fulfillments of the prophecies recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures, but they also uttered prophecies of future events such as did the prophet Agabus. (Acts 11:27, 28; 21:10, 11; 1 Cor. 14:3) They were used to utter new revelations of spiritual knowledge which gradually became incorporated in the general beliefs, procedures and practices of the early congregation. Many of these revelations are preserved for us in general in the Christian Greek Scriptures.—1 Cor. 14:31-33; Eph. 3:3; 1 Thess. 4:15; 1 Tim. 4:1, NW.
9. Did Christian women prophesy? Give example. What happened to the gift of prophesying?
9 Women, too, had the privilege of being used to utter such new prophetic revelations. Note the case of the four virgin daughters of Philip the missionary in Caesarea. But women who did such prophesying were counseled by Paul to be certain to have their heads covered as a sign of their subjection to their Head Christ Jesus. (Acts 21:9; 1 Cor. 11:5, NW) In the surprisingly short time of that first generation of Christians the Christian congregation came to be well-established as to doctrine, organization and preaching service. The gift of prophesying together with the other gifts of the spirit aided in setting this new system of things on a sound basis. So when that generation of Christians passed away those gifts of the spirit also came to an end. (Acts 2:17, 18; 1 Cor. 13:8, NW) Likewise this meant the end of divine prophecy. For God’s revealed will had then been completely pronounced and brought to a close in the final Revelation as transmitted to John, the last of the apostles, in the year 96. We are living now in the days of the final fulfillment of all the sacred secrets stored away in the Bible. There is no longer any need for new prophecies to be uttered in our time.
10, 11. Describe the means God used to transmit divine prophecies.
10 The prophets used to transmit prophecy were moved by an unerring means and in a wonderful manner. It is by inspiration that this was brought about. “All Scripture is inspired of God,” says Paul at 2 Timothy 3:16 (NW). The Greek word here translated “inspired of God” is theópneustos, which compound word literally means “God-breathed” or “breathed by God”. After his resurrection and shortly before his ascension into heaven and thus before his disciples received the power of the holy spirit at Pentecost A.D. 33, Jesus illustrated this means of inspiration. It is written: “Jesus . . . said to them again: ‘May you have peace. Just as the Father has sent me forth, I also am sending you.’ And after he said this he blew upon them and said to them: ‘Receive holy spirit.’” (John 20:21, 22, NW) So as Jesus had illustrated, a few days later the actual event occurred when 120 of Jesus’ disciples were inspired with holy spirit. The record reads: “And suddenly there occurred from heaven a noise just like that of a rushing stiff breeze, and it filled the whole house in which they were sitting. And tongues as if of fire became visible and were distributed to them, and one sat upon each one of them, and they all became filled with holy spirit and started to speak with different tongues, just as the spirit was granting them to make utterance.”—Acts 2:2-4, NW.
11 The holy spirit, therefore, was the specific means employed not only at Pentecost but also in all cases of inspiration. God’s holy spirit is his active force and is not a personality. It is God’s energizing force which he uses to produce visible results and to accomplish his purposes. It is manifested in many ways, that is, it produces different visible results, yet it is all the one and same active force originating from God. Paul enumerates some of its many manifestations: “But the manifestation of the spirit is given to each one for a beneficial purpose. For example, to one there is given through the spirit speech of wisdom, to another speech of knowledge according to the same spirit, to another faith by the same spirit, to another gifts of healings by that one spirit, to yet another operations of powerful works, to another prophesying, to another discernment of inspired utterances, to another different tongues, and to another interpretation of tongues. But all these operations the one and the same spirit performs, making a distribution to each one respectively just as it wills.” (1 Cor. 12:7-11, NW) Notice that prophesying is one of the listed manifestations. Peter also supports Paul that it is the spirit that is the means employed by God in moving his prophets. “For prophecy was at no time brought by man’s will, but men spoke from God as they were borne along by holy spirit.”—2 Pet. 1:21, NW.
12, 13. What were some of the manners in which the holy spirit conveyed God’s message to the prophets? What was verbal or plenary inspiration? Illustrate.
12 In what manner, then, does God’s holy active force “breathe” upon his amanuenses, the prophets, and ‘bear them along’ to receive the divine pronouncements or revelations? The Bible indicates there were several manners that were employed during the four thousand some years in which prophecies were divinely recorded. They were (1) verbal or plenary inspiration, (2) inspiration while under the influence of music, (3) inspiration by visions, (4) inspiration by dreams and (5) inspiration by trances. There was yet a sixth method which was by direct angelic interviews. Each of these will be considered in turn.
13 Plenary means that which is complete, entire, unqualified. By verbal or plenary inspiration is meant a verbal communication where the prophecy or utterance is completely or entirely dictated word for word. The sacred pronouncement is dictated accurately, expression by expression, very much as an official dictates a letter through his secretary. While the “finger of God” wrote word for word the Ten Commandments, yet the rest of the large body of rules comprising the law covenant seems to have been given to Moses in the plenary manner. “And Jehovah said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel. And he was there with Jehovah forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water.” (Ex. 31:18; 34:27, 28, AS) True, it was a legal code that was dictated by God’s angel to Moses, but Paul shows that the entire body of Mosaic law was so well designed as to serve also as a vast field of Bible prophecy.—Heb. 10:1, NW.
14. Describe the divine utterances made through Jesus.
14 Another study of plenary utterance of divine revelations is that of the case of Jesus Christ while he walked on the earth. On the occasion of his baptism at the Jordan A.D. 29 and his anointing with the holy spirit, Jesus had ‘the heavens opened up’ to him, which enabled him to recall his prehuman associations with the Father in heaven. (Matt. 3:16, NW) This made it possible for him to recall all the multitude of personal conversations he had with heavenly authorities in the ages past of his ancient existence. Jesus’ spirit-begetting and receiving the gift of the spirit now made it possible for him to repeat verbatim the pronouncements God discussed with him and in turn transmit them to man on the earth. So here we have plenary communication in its highest form, with Jesus Christ serving as the greatest prophet that ever was appointed by God. Hear Jesus’ own words in support of this. “I have not spoken out of my own impulse, but the Father himself that sent me has given me a commandment as to what to tell and what to speak. Also I know that his commandment means everlasting life. Therefore the things I speak, just as the Father has told me them, so I speak them.” (John 12:49, 50, NW) This makes Jesus Christ the greatest authority in the universe aside from Jehovah himself. What force this adds to Peter’s quotation of Deuteronomy 18:19: “Indeed, any soul that does not listen to that Prophet will be completely destroyed from among the people”! (Acts 3:23, NW) But some will say that Jesus did not record his plenary utterances while on earth. True, Jesus did no Bible writing himself, yet he made ample provision for the recording of his verbatim utterances and this again by means of God’s active force. Jesus said: “But the helper, the holy spirit which the Father will send in my name, that one will teach you all things and BRING BACK TO YOUR MINDS ALL THE THINGS I TOLD YOU.”—John 14:26, NW.
15, 16. Describe and give examples of inspiration that was accompanied by the playing of music.
15 The second interesting manner of inspiration was that which accompanied the playing of music. Some may reason that the playing of the harp or musical instrument was in order to quiet and compose the mind of the prophet that he might better receive the impressions of God’s spirit. But evidently it was for prophetic illustration, because the harp is symbolically used to represent the means of sounding forth harmoniously, impressively and with more power the message of God. This accompaniment of the harp to prophecy by inspiration is referred to at Psalm 49:3, 4, which reads: “My mouth shall speak of wisdom; and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding. I will incline mine ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying upon the harp.” Another prophecy accompanied by music was Psalm 78:2, which says: “I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old.” Jesus, a speaker in parables, is the one who fulfills the above prophecy.—See Matthew 13:34, 35, NW.
16 After the prophet Samuel had anointed Saul as the first king over all Israel, Samuel told Saul that as a sign that Jehovah was with him he would meet up with a band of prophets with a psaltery, a timbrel, and a pipe and a harp and that he would prophesy among them. Just as Samuel had foretold, Saul did prophesy in accompaniment with music. (1 Sam. 10:5, 6, 9, 10, AS) What Saul said in prophesying among the prophets may not have been predictions of things to come but only praises and prayers to God; still it was done under the influence of God’s spirit. (1 Sam. 19:20-24) Another specific case of inspiration under music is that of Elisha on his meeting up with the military expedition of Kings Jehoram and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom against the king of Moab.—2 Ki. 3:15-17.
17, 18. Describe inspiration by vision. Give examples.
17 After the days of Samuel, the record shows that many of the prophets received inspired revelations in the manner of visions. (1 Sam. 3:1, AS) It appears that when a prophet received a vision, the impression of the revelation, utterance or picture of God’s purpose was made upon his conscious mind. During such period of consciousness when the prophet was wide awake the active force of God would ‘bear along’ or superimpose the divine impressions so vividly upon the mind of the prophet that he could clearly remember every detail. It seems the vision was then left for the prophet to describe in his own words under supervision of the unerring spirit of God. To the extent that the prophet was left to his own words of description and expression, he was not a mere automaton or robot, but had the divine guidance in order to express truthfully the things showed to him so vividly. The very fact that all the many prophets wrote their prophecies and revelations in their own varying styles bears out the above suggestions. Otherwise the messages conveyed through visions to the many different prophets would have been plenary inspiration where the word-for-word style would be similar, because it was the one active force that had moved all these different servants to write.
18 Examples of inspiration by vision are numerous in the Scriptures. Jehovah spoke to Abraham in a vision, which is the record of one of the few visions prior to the days of Samuel. (Gen. 15:1) Note how Samuel was awakened to consciousness to receive his first vision. (1 Sam. 3:2-15) Of the prophet Nathan it is written: “According to all these words, and according to all this vision, so did Nathan speak unto David.” (2 Sam. 7:17) Some of the other prophets who had visions which they recorded are Isaiah, Ezekiel, Obadiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and the apostle John. (Isa. 1:1; Ezek. 1:1-3; Obad. 1; Nah. 1:1; Hab. 2:2; Rev. 9:17) As to the vision of the transfiguration of Jesus it is interesting to notice that Peter, James and John were awakened out of deep sleep to receive this vision.—Matt. 17:9; Luke 9:28-32, NW.
19. Describe inspiration by dream. Give examples.
19 In addition to visions during hours of wakefulness, some persons, as Pharaoh, Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, were given prophetic dreams, dreams inspired and hence unerring in meaning. These dreams or night visions seem to be where the individual experiences the active force of God superimposing a picture of God’s purpose upon the subconscious mind while the person is asleep. In Daniel’s case the impression upon his mind was so vivid that he had no difficulty in recalling all its details. He was left to describe the dream and record the same in his own words. (Dan. 2:19, 28; 7:1-3) False prophets are spoken of as having lying dreams contrary to God’s word.—Jer. 23:28-32.
20. Describe inspiration by trance. Give examples.
20 Akin to visions and dreams is the trance. It appears that while in a state of deep concentration of mind or in a sleeplike condition the active force of God superimposes a picture of his purpose or a vision upon the mind of the one so entranced. As in the cases of straight visions and dreams the inspired one is left to describe the vivid revelation in his own words or expressions. There is the example of Peter who while very hungry fell into a trance where he realistically saw “some sort of vessel descending like a great linen sheet being let down by its four extremities upon the earth, and in it there were all kinds of four-footed creatures and creeping things of the earth and birds of heaven. And a voice came to him: ‘Rise, Peter, slaughter and eat!’” (Acts 10:10-16; 11:5-10, NW) Note the slight variations Peter makes in the two accounts of this trance, thus indicating he was left to express himself in his own words. Another case of a revelation given by trance is that of Paul while he was praying in the temple in Jerusalem.—See Acts 22:17-21, NW.
21. Describe yet a sixth manner of transmitting Bible prophecies to prophets.
21 A sixth manner of transmitting Bible prophecies was by angelic interview. Here we find face-to-face communication between the prophet and a spirit messenger sent by God to convey the revelation. We have the example of the angels visiting Abraham to give him the prophecy concerning the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. (Gen. 18:16-21) Then there is the case of the angel of Jehovah who spoke to Moses out of the “fiery flame of a thornbush” and gave him the prophecy concerning the deliverance of Israel from Egypt and their possessing the Promised Land. (Acts 7:30, NW; Ex. 3:1-8) Then remember how Jehovah’s angel Gabriel appeared face to face to Zechariah, the priest, and foretold that he was to be the father of John the Baptist. (Luke 1:11-13, NW) This same angel, Gabriel, also appeared face to face with Mary foretelling that she would give birth to a son who was destined to be the king to sit forever on David’s throne. This enabled Mary to later compose the inspired prophetic song recorded at Luke 1:26-33, 46-55, NW. So angels effectively transmitted prophetic messages.
VERTICAL AND HORIZONTAL RAPTURE
22. What is a vertical rapture? What is a horizontal rapture?
22 There is a final interesting matter to consider as to the manner in which the prophecies were transmitted by the holy spirit of God. And that is where the transmitted revelation may additionally be spoken of as either a “vertical rapture” or a “horizontal rapture”. These terms describe the time feature of the actual inspired picture or revelation. By “rapture” is meant the experience when by vision, dream or trance the holy active force of God ‘bears along’ the prophet’s mind to see things of God. If while in this rapture when under the influence of the spirit the inspired servant is given exalted visual powers to see what actually exists in earth or heaven at that point of time, such is referred to as “vertical rapture”; vertical in the sense that what has been revealed to him is a picture or concerns a matter that exists at that time and does not pertain to the future. Hence such a “vertical rapture” would not be strictly a prophecy. Now where under the influence of God’s active force the inspired servant sees a revelation pertaining to something to occur in the future, then such is referred to as a “horizontal rapture”; horizontal in the sense that what was seen is to happen down the stream of time. Therefore such a “horizontal rapture” would be a revelation that can be considered a prophecy to have its fulfillment in the future.
23, 24. Give illustrations in the Bible of vertical and horizontal raptures.
23 An excellent example of a “vertical rapture” is the case of the apostle Paul where so realistically in a vision he was carried away in mind to see the highest heavens where God dwells. He vividly saw the paradisaic spiritual prosperity that existed in God’s organization in Paul’s day then and there. He says he saw and heard unutterable words which it is not lawful for him to speak or record. (2 Cor. 12:1-4, NW) What Paul saw was no prophecy but an actual insight into the operations of God’s masterful invisible organization. Doubtless this enabled Paul, not only to be such a stout advocate for strict adherence to principles of theocratic organization in the early congregation, but to introduce additional organizational procedures and counsel based on this experience of vertical rapture.—1 Cor. 7:25, NW.
24 On the other hand most of the revelations that are prophecies are obviously examples of “horizontal raptures”. A specific example is that of the book of Revelation which records John’s great vision of the day of Jehovah wherein we now find ourselves since 1914. John actually indicates back there in the year 96 that he was being carried down the stream of time in the vision he received, because he says: “By inspiration I came [by horizontal forward movement] to be in the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a strong voice like that of a trumpet, saying: ‘What you see write in a scroll and send it to the seven congregations.’”—Rev. 1:10, 11, NW.