How Can the Future Be Known?
Almost everyone has the means for knowing the future, but few realize it. What is it? How can its dependability be verified?
THE past is an open book to anyone who wants to read it, but that cannot be said of the future. The future consists of blank pages in the book of history. Nothing can be learned from them unless there is some means of foreknowing what will be written on them.
It has been an age-old desire to have that foreknowledge. The ancients tried to gain it by studying the position of the stars, the flight of birds, the condition of an animal’s liver, the appearance of water when poured into a vessel, the position of objects that are dropped on water, and by consulting the dead. The king of Babylon employed some of these devices before attacking Jerusalem. Regarding this the Bible says: “The king of Babylon stands at the parting of the ways, at the fork of the two roads, practicing divination; he shakes the arrows, he consults the teraphim, he inspects the liver.”—Ezek. 21:21, AT.
The passing of the centuries since the days of Babylon has not caused the desire to know the future to fade away. It is as strong as it ever was. Fortunetellers abound in almost every country of the world. One authority on the subject estimated that Americans alone pay some 125 million dollars annually to people who profess to have the ability to foretell the future.
No matter what some people may imagine, the future cannot be seen in crystal balls, cards, tea leaves or in a person’s palm. Neither can the future be learned from mediums who claim they are in contact with the dead. The people who make claims of having the power of foreknowledge are false prophets. The future is a blank page to them, just as it is to everyone else. As long as people are willing to pay them they are willing to make a pretense of being able to look into the future.
Some persons may appear to have knowledge of future events because they occasionally make accurate predictions. But such predictions can be made by almost anyone who is a shrewd judge of personality or a watcher of world trends. Knowledge of how a person thinks makes it possible to predict what he will do under certain circumstances.
FUTURE IS KNOWN TO GOD
The future is not a blank to the supreme Sovereign. He can know what will be written on those pages whenever he pleases. He has stated: “Remember the first things of a long time ago, that I am the Divine One and there is no other God, nor anyone like me; the One telling from the beginning the finale, and from long ago the things that have not been done.” (Isa. 46:9, 10) In times past he inspired men to write about the future, and what they wrote can be read in the Bible.
Not all persons who have claimed to be Jehovah’s prophets were actually inspired by him. Regarding such false prophets in Israel Ezekiel said: “Thus says the Lord GOD, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! They have spoken falsehood and divined a lie; they say, ‘Says the LORD,’ when the LORD has not sent them, and yet they expect him to fulfil their word.” (Ezek. 13:3, 6, RS) Jeremiah spoke similar condemnation against the false prophets who said Jerusalem would not fall. He said: “Do not listen to your prophets and to your practicers of divination and to your dreamers and to your practicers of magic and to your sorcerers, who are saying to you: ‘You men will not serve the king of Babylon.’ For falsehood is what they are prophesying to you.”—Jer. 27:9, 10.
As there were false prophets then, so there are today. They will not hesitate to delude people into believing that they have knowledge of the future. An accurate knowledge of the future cannot be gained from such people.
WINDOWS TO THE FUTURE
The prophecies recorded in the Bible are true and dependable. They are windows to the future. The fact that many of the Bible’s prophecies have been fulfilled gives us basis for having faith in those that are yet to be fulfilled.
What prognosticator today could accurately foresee that a famine-stricken city would have food in abundance the next day or that a scoffer at this prophecy would see this abundance but would not be able to eat a mouthful? The prophet Elisha was able to do this because God gave him knowledge of what had not yet taken place. This happened in the ninth century before Christ when the armies of Syria were besieging Samaria. “Elisha now said: ‘Hear, you men, the word of Jehovah. This is what Jehovah has said, “Tomorrow about this time a seah measure of fine flour will be worth a shekel and two seah measures of barley worth a shekel in the gateway of Samaria.” ’ At that the adjutant upon whose hand the king was supporting himself answered the man of God and said: ‘If Jehovah were making floodgates in the heavens, could this thing take place?’ To this he said: ‘Here you are seeing it with your own eyes, but from it you will not eat.’”—2 Ki. 7:1, 2.
During the night God caused the attacking Syrians to hear the sound of war chariots. They imagined that the king of Israel had hired the help of the Egyptians and the Hittites. In great fear they fled toward their own borders, leaving all their possessions behind. The people of Samaria now had more than enough to supply their needs. “And the people proceeded to go out and plunder the camp of the Syrians, and so a seah measure of fine flour came to be worth a shekel and two seah measures of barley worth a shekel, according to the word of Jehovah. And the king himself had appointed the adjutant upon whose hand he was supporting himself to have charge of the gateway, and the people kept trampling him in the gateway, so that he died, just as the man of God had spoken.”—2 Ki. 7:16, 17.
Elisha did not look in an animal’s liver; he did not throw arrows on the ground; he did not look for signs in the stars or in flights of birds and he did not consult with the dead. His power to tell future events came from God, not from divination.
An example of knowing the future hundreds of years in advance is found in what Joshua said at the time the city of Jericho was destroyed. God caused him to utter this prophecy: “Cursed may the man be before Jehovah who gets up and does build this city, even Jericho. At the forfeit of his first-born let him lay the foundation of it and at the forfeit of his youngest let him put up its doors.” (Josh. 6:26) This prophecy was fulfilled about five hundred years later in the days of King Ahab. “In his days Hiel the Bethelite built Jericho. At the forfeit of Abiram his first-born he laid the foundation of it, and at the forfeit of Segub his youngest he put up its doors, according to Jehovah’s word that he spoke by means of Joshua the son of Nun.” (1 Ki. 16:34) No human, by his own power or by divination, could have foretold this.
In the days of Ahab, the prophet Elijah told that wicked king of Israel: “This is what Jehovah has said: ‘In the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth the dogs will lick up your blood, even yours.’ And also as regards Jezebel Jehovah has spoken, saying, ‘The very dogs will eat up Jezebel in the plot of land of Jezreel.’” (1 Ki. 21:19, 23) What Elijah foretold proved to be as true as if he had been relating something that already had happened. It was history in advance.
Ahab was killed in a war chariot and “they began to wash off the war chariot by the pool of Samaria and the dogs went licking up his blood.” (1 Ki. 22:38) Elijah’s prophecy became history. Queen Jezebel met a frightful death by being thrown from an upper-story window and then trampled beneath the hoofs of Jehu’s chariot horses. “After that he came on in and ate and drank and then said: ‘You men, please, take care of this accursed one and bury her, for she is the daughter of a king.’ When they went to bury her, they did not find anything of her but the skull and the feet and palms of the hands.” (2 Ki. 9:34, 35) She had been eaten by the dogs, as Elijah had foretold.
Another example proving the accuracy of Bible prophecy is found in Daniel’s prophecy about the time when the Anointed One, Jesus Christ, would come. “Know therefore and discern, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the anointed one, the prince, shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks.” (Dan. 9:25, AS) These sixty-nine weeks of years are equivalent to 483 years. Counting from 455 B.C., when the command to rebuild Jerusalem went forth, 483 years brings us to A.D. 29. It was at this time that Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River and was anointed by God’s spirit. That was when he became the Messiah, or Anointed One. Thus the Anointed One, the Prince, had come. Three and a half years later, or in the middle of the seventieth week of years, he was cut off from human life, as Daniel foretold: “And after the threescore and two weeks shall the anointed one be cut off . . . and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease.” (Dan. 9:26, 27, AS) His sacrificial death in the middle of that seventieth week of years brought to an end the Mosaic Law with its oblations or offerings. Thus what Daniel spoke was accurate knowledge of what would happen more than 500 years later.
These are only a few of many Bible prophecies that could be mentioned as having been fulfilled. By means of those that are still due to be fulfilled we are able to know what will be put on some of history’s blank pages of the future. It should be kept in mind that God does not grant a view of the future so that people might satisfy selfish desires. He does not give information that people imagine fortunetellers are able to give. What the Bible makes known to us about the future is always in connection with God’s purposes.
WHAT IS AHEAD
The Bible clearly reveals the future of this world. By the word “world” we do not mean the earth but the nations upon it, under the system that controls them. What is its future? The prophetic answer is not prosperity and glory, but destruction. When the apostle Peter was inspired to speak about it he referred to the present system of things as the “heavens and the earth that are now.” He said: “The world of that time suffered destruction when it was deluged with water. But by the same word the heavens and the earth that are now are stored up for fire and are being reserved to the day of judgment and of destruction of the ungodly men.” (2 Pet. 3:6, 7) In another place the Bible says God will assemble the nations to pour upon them his indignation.—Zeph. 3:8.
The wicked invisible ruler of this world will be restrained from interfering with human affairs. This was seen by the apostle John in a prophetic vision of the future: “I saw an angel coming down out of heaven with the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he seized the dragon, the original serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. And he hurled him into the abyss and shut it and sealed it over him, that he might not mislead the nations any more until the thousand years were ended.”—Rev. 20:1-3.
At Revelation 20:4, we are told that Christ and a body of associates will rule for a thousand years. This will be the same thousand years during which Satan is bound. Since this will necessarily follow the destruction of the present world, over which Satan has been the invisible ruler, we can look forward to the earth’s having one thousand years of peace with no disturbance from Satan and his seed. Verses seven to nine inform us that Satan will be released for a short time at the end of that period and will then be destroyed.
Prophecy reveals that during this period of one thousand years when Christ rules over the earth as King the curse of death that we inherited from Adam will be destroyed. It will have no further power over Adam’s descendants because Christ’s ransom sacrifice will have brought release from it. “He must rule as king until God has put all enemies under his feet. As the last enemy, death is to be destroyed.” (1 Cor. 15:25, 26) This means mankind will have been brought to a state of human perfection as was enjoyed by Adam before he sinned.
Our look into the future also reveals that multitudes who have died will be brought back to life by resurrection. Regarding this Jesus Christ said: “Do not marvel at this, because the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28, 29) On another occasion he revealed the future by not only mentioning this resurrection but also saying that resurrected persons who exercise faith will never die again. “He that exercises faith in me, even though he dies, will come to life, and everyone that comes to life and exercises faith in me will never die at all.” (John 11:26, footnote) Eternal life will be granted to earth’s inhabitants at God’s appointed time.
These marvelous events and changes are yet to come. They are some of the things that will be written on history’s blank pages of the future. We can know for certainty that they will take place because God has caused them to be written in his Word as history in advance. This inspired Book that sits on almost everyone’s bookshelf is the means by which you can know the future.