Once we begin to get our focus on the things that really matter about the end times, we will begin to think a lot more soberly about the times in which we live and will have less and less focus on the sensationalistic approach that many apocalyptic teachers try to incite us with.

Several months before the new millennium began, a lady called me wanting to know what our church was doing to prepare for Y2K.  She was, in my opinion, almost obsessed as she talked about how important it was for us to be ready.  Her whole objective was that when the disaster hit, we were to be in a position to minister to the folks who were going to be in need.  “What a wonderful chance to witness to our neighbors,” she insisted.  To her, the whole thing was a God-given opportunity to bring in a harvest for the kingdom of God.  As people were thrown into devastation, they were going to turn to the church for help and we were going to bring them into the kingdom by the droves.  We, like Esther of old, were put in position for such a time as this!  I had three major problems with her analysis of the situation.

The first problem I had with her scenario was that our church runs a food pantry three hundred sixty-five days a year for people who need emergency assistance, but I have yet to see a harvest of souls come from the soup lines.  I suspect that if the Christians did stockpile supplies to help people through the shortages that were supposed to have resulted from the projected computer glitches, our efforts would have resulted in satisfied sinners rather than hungry ones – but very few, if any, converts.

My second problem was that I didn’t notice anyone at Wal-Mart asking the people who were hoarding up Y2K rations and purchasing generators if they were Christian.  As best as I could tell, the sinners were able to stock up just as easily as the believers were.  Hence, I asked the question why this lady and so many others felt that the church was supposed to have the corner on the market of preparedness for Y2K.

But my real problem was, “If it was from God, why did a computer technician or some engineer – rather than a prophet – get the revelation and call out the warning?”  It seems that my Bible teaches that the prophets of God are the ones who are to receive the warnings of impending disaster. Amos 3:7 proclaims, Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.  God does not tell us to go to the secular analysts and get our predictions.  Rather, He promises that He will speak to His people first.  Genesis 18:17 gives us a living example when God warned Abraham of the imminent doom of Sodom and Gomorrah, And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?  The stories of Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon further bolster the message that it is through God’s people that the future is to be told.  In both of these cases, God gave a message to the secular authorities, but no one even knew how to begin to interpret the messages; it was only God’s men who could tell them that the cows and ears of corn spoke of coming famine, or that the statue of mixed metals predicted the coming world empires, or that the message on plaster in the banquet room was the nation’s “handwriting on the wall.”

Biblically, the prophets of God have always gone countercurrent to the news media and the secular advisors.  These worldly sources may have their fingers on the pulse of the times, but the prophets of God have their ears tuned to the One who holds the future.  First Kings chapter twenty-two illustrates this point.  All the secular prophets agreed but were wrong; one man stood against the tide, and he was right.

And Jehoshaphat said unto the king of Israel, Enquire, I pray thee, at the word of the LORD to day. Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said unto them, Shall I go against Ramothgilead to battle, or shall I forbear? And they said, Go up; for the Lord shall deliver it into the hand of the king. And Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the LORD besides, that we might enquire of him? And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, There is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may enquire of the LORD: but I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil. And Jehoshaphat said, Let not the king say so. (I Kings 22:4-8)

Jeremiah was another great example when he bought a piece of land while the nation was under siege.  If he had “followed the market,” he would have known that this was not the time to invest in real estate!  Yet, he followed the Word of the Lord and proved the secular prognosticators wrong. Chapter thirty-two records:

 Behold, Hanameel the son of Shallum thine uncle shall come unto thee, saying, Buy thee my field that is in Anathoth: for the right of redemption is thine to buy it. So Hanameel mine uncle’s son came to me in the court of the prison according to the word of the LORD, and said unto me, Buy my field, I pray thee, that is in Anathoth, which is in the country of Benjamin: for the right of inheritance is thine, and the redemption is thine; buy it for thyself. Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD. And I bought the field of Hanameel my uncle’s son, that was in Anathoth, and weighed him the money, even seventeen shekels of silver. And I subscribed the evidence, and sealed it, and took witnesses, and weighed him the money in the balances. So I took the evidence of the purchase, both that which was sealed according to the law and custom, and that which was open: And I gave the evidence of the purchase unto Baruch the son of Neriah, the son of Maaseiah, in the sight of Hanameel mine uncle’s son, and in the presence of the witnesses that subscribed the book of the purchase, before all the Jews that sat in the court of the prison. (Jeremiah 32:7-12)

Second Kings chapter seven tells a story of the time when the Syrians held the city of Samaria in a death grip and the prophet of God spoke a word that totally contradicted all that the news media and high-level advisors were saying.

 Then Elisha said, Hear ye the word of the LORD; Thus saith the LORD, To morrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria.  Then a lord on whose hand the king leaned answered the man of God, and said, Behold, if the LORD would make windows in heaven, might this thing be? And he said, Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof. (II Kings 7:1-2)

The end of the story is that God did a miracle and released more than enough food to sustain the starving masses.  When they rushed for their portions, the king’s advisor who had proclaimed that the prophet’s words were impossible was trampled to death in the melee.

Because the secular prognosticators invariably turn out to be wrong when they try to predict the future, God actually challenges the rest of the world to try to prophesy.  Knowing and revealing the future is reserved for God alone.

Let them bring them forth, and shew us what shall happen: let them shew the former things, what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come. Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods: yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together. (Isaiah 41:22-23)

When God speaks and everyone else is dumbfounded – that is what makes all the difference in the world!  Unfortunately, many church leaders have begun to settle for being parrots of the secular trends rather than prophets of God.  Joseph was the only one in Egypt to see the famine coming.  Noah was the only one to foresee the flood.  When Agabus, the New Testament prophet of God, prophesied the coming draught in Israel, we have no indication that anyone except the Christians were prepared for the resulting famine.  According to I Thessalonians 5:3, it is when the rest of the world cries, Peace and safety, that destruction will come.  Only a true prophet will be able to discern the coming turn of events.  Believers should be the ones in a unique position because of special revelation from God.  Regrettably many are busy trying to be prophetic but proving themselves to be pathetic.  It could be said that when they tried to prophesy, all they could do was “prophelie.”

Why?  I believe that the answer is that much of the church has failed to live up to the prayer of Jesus in the seventeenth chapter of John that we would be in the world but not of it, I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.  They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. (John 17:15-16)  Evangelist John Bevere says it best, “The church has become a subculture rather than a counterculture.”  We have come to the place where we reflect the standard of society rather than standing out against it.  John illustrates his point by saying that Christians are seen as the conservative element in the nation.  That means that we blend in with all the rest of the non-liberals.  It was not so with the early church.  In John chapter eighteen, Jesus explained to Pilate that He had come to establish a kingdom that was not part of the world.  Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. (John 18:36)  The end result of failing to be a counterculture is that, as the standards of the culture move, our standards move with them.  We may be on the trailing edge, but we are still a reflection of what society as a whole is like.  A bit less cultured but just as perceptive is the old adage, “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.”  Much of the church has begun to look, talk, and act so much like the world that we can only describe ourselves as being worldly – a pox which will hinder us from being God’s unique spokesmen crying out in the wilderness and His singular lights shining out in a dark world.

I once read a news article about a tragic loss of several fighter jets and their pilots in a multiple plane crash.  The planes were flying in tight formation for a performance at an air show.  The pilot of the lead plane lost his bearing and took a nosedive straight for the ground.  All the other pilots ignored their instrument readings and followed the lead of their captain to a fiery death.  Like lemmings rushing to their deaths over the cliffs, these men senselessly destroyed themselves because they were so well conditioned to follow their example rather than their senses.  As we went through the Y2K hysteria, I continued to ask myself if the church were not guilty of having the same mentality.  Had we not progressed beyond the child’s game, “Follow the Leader”?  Even the great Apostle Paul lived with a constant concern that he might become misdirected and would lead others astray.  Therefore he constantly warned the believers to check that his message and lifestyle remained consistent and to disregard any message that he might communicate if it seemed off track.

 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. (I Corinthians 9:27)

Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain. (Philippians 2:16)

That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. (II Thessalonians 2:2)

For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you. (II Thessalonians 3:7)

But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8)


Accurately and Precisely Discerning the Voice of God

We need to accurately and precisely discern when God speaks and what He says.  As Paul made his final journey to Jerusalem, he was confronted on at least two occasions by well-intended believers who had truly heard from God, but were advising him to do exactly the opposite of the God-ordained plan for his life.  The two stories are recorded in Act chapter twenty-one:

 And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem…And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus.  And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.  And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem.  Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.  And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done. (Acts 21:4, Acts 21:10-14)

Even though the prophets were truly hearing from God concerning Paul’s destiny, they were motivated by their own personal desires in delivering the message and advising Paul in how to act on the word.  Had Paul not been in tune with the Holy Spirit and cautiously avoided any human misdirection, he could have totally missed the plan and purpose of the Lord.  Had he not accepted the sentence of imprisonment, many of the most powerful letters of all history would probably never have been penned and the gospel may never have reached into the emperor’s very household. (Philippines 1:13, 4:22)

Another powerful illustration can be found in the story of Joseph after Potiphar’s wife’s false indictments landed him in prison.  While there, two of the fellow inmates each dreamed a dream.  Likely these men did not know of Joseph’s record as a dreamer; otherwise they would certainly not have turned to him for interpretations of their dreams because his dreams had cost him his family and his liberty and had nearly cost him his very life.  In addition, nothing in any of his dreams had come to pass!  Regardless of the circumstances, these two men opened their hearts to their cellmate and spelled out the images they had seen in their night visions.  For the butler, there had been three branches of grapes that he squeezed into juice to serve Pharaoh.  Joseph interpreted the dream as a sign that in three days the butler’s head would be lifted up so that he would be re-established in his position in the king’s court.  Inspired by the favorable interpretation of his companion’s dream, the baker spelled out the details of his own dream of having three baskets of pastries on his head that the birds began to peck and eat.  He must have been elated to hear Joseph’s interpretation as he said that his head would also be lifted up in three days.  However, the similarity between the two interpretations ceased at this point in that the baker’s dream was signifying that he would be hanged within three days.  The fascinating point in this story is that both dreams had exactly the same interpretation but totally opposite meanings.  Each dream meant that the dreamer’s head would be lifted up in three days; however, one’s head was lifted up in a position of authority while the other’s head was to be lifted up in a noose.  Precisely the same wording, in the Hebrew original as well as in the English translation, took on radically different – in fact, totally opposite – meanings depending upon the situations into which they were spoken.

When Jesus came to sojourn among us in a human tabernacle, He fulfilled a number of prophecies that pinpointed at least three different entry points through which He was to step into human history.  Micah 5:2 had said that He would hail from Bethlehem, Hosea 11:1 prophesied that He would come out of Egypt, and Isaiah 11:1 in the Hebrew original seems to locate him in Nazareth.  Because of all the seemingly conflicting prophecies, many of the biblical scholars had simply thrown up their hands and concluded that there was no way to determine where the messiah would come from, a conclusion that left them in a state of total confusion.  In addition to not being able to discern where He was coming from, they were equally at a loss to understand any of His statements about where He was going.

 Jesus answered and said unto them, Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true: for I know whence I came, and whither I go; but ye cannot tell whence I come, and whither I go. (John 8:14)

Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come.  Then said the Jews, Will he kill himself? because he saith, Whither I go, ye cannot come. (John 8:21-22)

Even His closest disciples had difficulty understanding Him when He spoke of His going away.

Simon Peter said unto him, Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered him, Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards. (John 13:36)

And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. (John 14:4)

But now I go my way to him that sent me; and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou? (John 16:5)

The mix was even more stirred up by the current misconceptions concerning the messiah.  Was he to come as a suffering servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) or a conquering king (Psalm 24:1-10)?  Jesus seemed to deliberately cloud the issue when He referred to Himself as the “Son of man.”  When He used this term as He queried concerning how people perceived Him, the question could have been interpreted as a multiple-choice quiz:


  1. A) The messiah – I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. (Daniel 7:13)
  2. B) A prophet – Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. (Ezekiel 3:17)
  3. C) A normal human – What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? (Psalm 8:4)

Jesus acknowledged that it is only by revelation from God Himself that Peter could know which answer to choose when the disciple proclaimed Him to be the Christ (the Greek term for the Hebrew word “messiah”) who is the Son of the Living God. (Matthew 16:16)


 Three Hindrances

There are at least three major influences that make us subject to the evil of the world.  The first may come as a major surprise: theology.  To get a glimpse of how theology can hinder our ability to accurately and precisely hear what God is saying, let’s climb with Jesus and His closest disciples to the top of the Mount of Transfiguration.  Matthew chapter seventeen records the story of how they saw the Lord transformed before their very eyes and witnessed the supernatural visitation of two long-deceased Old Testament figures.

 And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.  And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.  While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.  And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.  And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid.  And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.  And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead. (Matthew 17:1-9)

Peter’s bumbling about building three tabernacles was an obvious contradiction to the impetus of the moment.  First, the point of the transfiguration was to send them forth to the world, not to get them to settle into a sanctuary; secondly, the appearance of the Old Testament leaders was to show their supportiveness to Christ, not their equality to Him.  If there were to be any tabernacles built at all, there would have been only one to Jesus – not three.  But the real punch line of this story is in the following verses.

 And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?  And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things.  But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them.  Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist. (Matthew 17:10-13)

Twice, Jesus has spoken directly to them concerning the coming crucifixion and resurrection: in verse nine, He commanded them not to tell the vision to anyone until after the Son of Man is risen from the dead; then in verse twelve He referred to the suffering of the Son of Man.  Yet neither of these prophetic words seemed to register with the disciples.  Even though these close disciples had been privileged to experience a touch of heaven itself, their minds were still too carnal to hear what Jesus was saying plainly to them.  They were so interested in solving the theological issue of Elijah’s return that Jesus’ prophetic revelation went right over their heads.  The disciples were too concerned about the coming of Elias to catch hold of what Jesus was showing them about His suffering, death, and resurrection.

The other two obstacles to being able to accurately and precisely discern the times are diabolical deception and our own human flesh or carnality.  Mark chapter eight recounts another story of the disciples’ failure to comprehend the spiritual impetus of the moment.  This account is even more startling than their encounter on the Mount of Transfiguration.

 And Jesus went out, and his disciples, into the towns of Caesarea Philippi: and by the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them, Whom do men say that I am?  And they answered, John the Baptist: but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets.  And he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ.  And he charged them that they should tell no man of him.  And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.  And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him.  But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men. (Mark 8:27-32)

The shocking part of this story is that Peter is not only witnessing the supernatural as he did on the Mount of Transfiguration; this time he is actually participating in it first-hand.  In this passage, he was operating in the revelation gifts when he discerned that Jesus is the Christ.  However, when Jesus spoke plainly to him concerning His death and resurrection, Peter rebuked him and tried to disavow the coming events.  Even though it was by divine revelation that Simon was able to acknowledge Him as the Christ, Jesus didn’t hesitate one second in accusing Peter when he faltered over the revelation of the crucifixion.  There were two accusations levied against the apostle in that story.  First, he was accused of being Satan; next, he was rebuked for thinking human thoughts rather than God’s thoughts.  The Apostle Paul addressed both of these issues in the second chapter of I Corinthians.  First, he discussed the diabolical delusion.

 Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (I Corinthians 2:6-8)

Here, he explained that the devil cannot understand the truths of God no matter how plainly they are spelled out before him.  He had available to him all the Old Testament prophecies describing the divine plan for Christ’s crucifixion; yet, because he was not able to decipher them, he actually fulfilled God’s plan through the actions by which he intended to destroy it.  Had he had any comprehension, he would not have orchestrated the crucifixion.  Paul went on to say in II Corinthians 4:4 that he perpetrates this same blindness concerning the Word and will of God upon the humans who allow themselves to become subject to him.

The second issue Paul addressed was our carnal inability to comprehend spiritual truths.

Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.  But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (I Corinthians 2:13-14)

We can see many examples of this problem throughout the scripture.  In Daniel 8:27, we learn that while the prophet was receiving such powerful revelations from God that his physical body was actually overwhelmed, those around him were at a loss to comprehend what was happening to him – much less what the Lord was speaking to him.  And I Daniel fainted, and was sick certain days; afterward I rose up, and did the king’s business; and I was astonished at the vision, but none understood it.  In II Kings 6:17, the prophet Elisha had to pray that his servant’s eyes would be opened so he could see the army of the Lord that was assisting them.  In John 12:29, we read the story of the people’s response when God spoke in an audible voice from heaven.  Some said that it thundered, and others said that it was an angel, but no one recognized it as the very voice of God Himself.  When Jesus supernaturally spoke to Saul on the road to Damascus, the men with him saw the blinding light but didn’t hear the voice of the Lord. (Acts 22:9)  We find many other examples as we read through the New Testament.

 And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken. (Luke 18:34)

They understood not that he spake to them of the Father. (John 8:27)

This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them. (John 10:6)

For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not. (Acts 7:25)

Generally, the inability to discern the messages from God is associated with having a sinful heart that is unwilling or undeserving of spiritual knowledge.

 Our fathers understood not thy wonders in Egypt; they remembered not the multitude of thy mercies; but provoked him at the sea, even at the Red sea. (Psalm 106:7)

 They have not known nor understood: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand. (Isaiah 44:18)For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. (Matthew 13:15)

 For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. (Acts 28:27)

Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. (Hebrews 5:11)

  A Vision Whose Time Has Not Yet Come

One other reason given in the scripture that we may not be able to discern spiritual truth is that we are not yet ready to receive it.

 These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him. (John 12:16)

Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end. (Psalms 73:17)

Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. (Matthew 16:12)

In Daniel 9:2, we read, In the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.  Daniel had been a brilliant student all his life; in fact, the story recorded about his early school days testifies that he was ten times smarter than all his classmates. (Daniel 1:20)  Yet it was only as an octogenarian that he was able to read and understand a message that was recorded in plain language at least three times in the writings of the prophet Jeremiah. (Jeremiah 25:11-12, 29:10)  The simple reason is that until it was time for the deliverance of Israel from their captivity and their return from exile, there was no need for the message to be revealed.  It was an idea whose time had not yet come, and there was no reason for the vision to be unraveled in advance of its due date.  Daniel 10:1 confirms, 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, but the time appointed was long: and he understood the thing, and had understanding of the vision.

Later in the book, Daniel received another vision that was for a time so far distanced from his own personal ministry that the Lord directed him to seal the message for the time being with anticipation that the proper time for its understanding would come at a specific point in the future, But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased. (Daniel 12:4)  A similar command is given to John the Revelator in the tenth chapter of the Apocalypse:

And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not.  And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer: But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets. (Revelation 10:4-7)

The disciples who walked along the Emmaus Road with the risen Lord are described in Luke 24:16 as having their eyes “holden” so that they would not recognize Him.  Apparently, the Lord had a specific purpose in revealing Himself to them through the breaking of bread.  To avoid spoiling the impact of that revelation, He prohibited them from being able to recognize Him until – with split-second timing – He opened their understanding.

 God’s Will

God intends for us to seek for the answers to the mysteries that present themselves in our lives.  It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter. (Proverbs 25:2)  In both the Old and New Testaments we are challenged over having not understood or queried into the meaning of these spiritual questions.

 Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth? (Isaiah 40:21)

Jesus saith unto them, Have ye understood all these things?  They say unto him, Yea, Lord. (Matthew 13:51)

God desires that we have complete and comprehensive understanding. And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding. (Daniel 2:21)  In the opening chapter of his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul prayed one of the most significant apostolic prayers in the New Testament – that they would be able to receive this kind of supernatural revelation:

 [I] cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power. (Ephesians 1:16-19)

In what seems almost like an answer to this kind of prayer, the story of Job concludes with his testimony that he had supernatural direction to speak forth the mysteries of God even though he could not mentally comprehend them.

 Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. (Job 42:3)

As believers, we are always encouraged to ask for revelation.  However, we must not be afraid to admit that we don’t understand and to inquire of the Lord for understanding.

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. (James 1:5)

But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him. (Mark 9:32)

But they understood not this saying, and it was hid from them, that they perceived it not: and they feared to ask him of that saying. (Luke 9:45) 

As we personally and spiritually mature, this process of discerning the mysteries of God should become easier and our comprehension keener.

 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. (I Corinthians 13:11)

But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Hebrews 5:14)

In the same way that God may choose to keep a revelation hidden from some, He seemingly hand-picks others to comprehend His mysteries.

 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. (Matthew 13:11)

And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables. (Mark 4:11)

And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand. (Luke 8:10)

Great joy came into the community and the lives of the individuals when the Word of the Lord was clearly explained to the people during the time of the resettlement after the return from the Babylonian captivity.

 And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them. (Nehemiah 8:12)

Our lives will be similarly brought to fulfillment and fullness when we, too, learn to clearly discern His messages to us and when we become like the children of Issachar for our present generation. (I Chronicles 12:32)

Even though we may wish to console ourselves with the fact that even the closest disciples of Jesus were subject to the same lack of discernment we are often plagued with, we really cannot find much solace in these stories.  If Jesus scolded Peter so harshly, need we think that we will somehow avoid reprimand?  But more importantly, we must be keenly aware of the detrimental effect our lack of discernment will have as we make wrong decisions and take false moves.

 Three Filters

The Bible is replete with stories of those who were able to see what others simply overlooked or looked at but failed to discern.  One very powerful story comes from the life of the prophet Daniel.  When the finger of the Lord inscribed a message on the wall, none of the highly educated men present in the banquet hall could understand or decipher its meaning.  The professionals were called in to unravel the mysterious communiqué, but they too were at a loss.  Finally, the elderly sage Daniel was beckoned.  When he looked at the inscription, he found words that everyone present was able to read: mene, tekel, and upharsin – the names of coins that each person present likely was carrying in his pocket.  However, there was one thing different when Daniel read the words: he saw that each word had another meaning when used in everyday usage.  Instead of seeing the words grouped together as pocket change, he was able to discern that there was another meaning that could be conveyed.  With this in mind, he prophesied the imminent demise of the wicked kingdom.  In Daniel chapter five, the queen mother gave a description of Daniel as she told her son why the prophet should be called in for consultation.

 There is a man in thy kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, I say, thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers; Forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and shewing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar: let Daniel be called, and he will shew the interpretation. (Daniel 5:11-12)

Yet, if we follow the story of Daniel into chapter seven as he continued his prophetic ministry during the next regime under which he served, we will see the story of a future vision that left him perplexed and questioning.

 I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.  And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.  I Daniel was grieved in my spirit in the midst of my body, and the visions of my head troubled me.  I came near unto one of them that stood by, and asked him the truth of all this.  So he told me, and made me know the interpretation of the things. (Daniel 7:13-16)

This prophet who had such a glowing reputation as an interpreter of dreams and visions – and lived up to it – found himself at a loss to sort out his own revelation and had to seek angelic assistance in determining the meaning of the divine message.  Herein we see one of the first principles we must learn concerning understanding of those supernatural messages we receive from the Lord: if there is any doubt, seek outside counsel.  In most cases, we will likely not have an angel standing close by to consult with, but it is fairly certain that God will have placed wise and godly advisors and counselors in our lives to help us through these questioning periods.  In Ephesians chapter four, the Apostle Paul told us that this is the purpose of the five-fold ministry in the church.

 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive. (Ephesians 4:11-14)

In the second chapter of his first epistle, the Apostle John assured us that we have an even better source of instruction in the internal abiding of the anointing of the Holy Spirit:

 But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him. (I John 2:27)

But it is the Apostle Peter who, in the first chapter of his second letter, related to us from his experience on the Mount of Transfiguration and directed us to an even more sure way to know the prophetic voice of God.

 For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.  For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.  And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.  We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.  For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. (II Peter 1:16-21)

He insisted that he was not deceived by other men’s stories but was an actual eyewitness to the supernatural visitation on that mountain; yet, he still affirmed a more unquestionable source than his own incomparable experience: the written Word of God.

So we see that we have three filters through which we must pass each dream, vision, and prophetic word so that we can rest assured that we are interpreting it accurately: godly counsel by the leadership God has placed in our lives, the witness of the Holy Spirit inside of us, and the confirmation of the Word of God.  Notice one additional thing that Solomon shared about the revelatory nature and power of the written Word as he wrote to his son in the opening chapter of the book of Proverbs.

 The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel; To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion. A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings. (Proverbs 1:1-6)

As he penned this missive, which is to eventually become part of the canonized Word of God, the wise man insisted that what he was writing was the actual source of understanding all wisdom and the answer to all of life’s mysteries and questions.

Three Responses

Once we get past the deception that would keep us from recognizing the true prophetic voice of God, we must be prepared as to how to respond when we do hear that voice.  I believe that our first line of response would be to intercede.  As soon as Abraham understood that destruction loomed over the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, he stepped into the courageous role as a bargainer for their preservation. (Genesis 18:23-32)  Moses went a step further and actually put his own life on the line as he negotiated for Israel’s destiny in Exodus 32:9-14.  However, we must remember that intercession alone has its limitations.  When the people of Israel had determinately set their own course and refused to respond to the Lord’s correction, the Lord revealed to the prophet Ezekiel that even Noah, Daniel, and Job themselves could not deliver them if they were there to intercede. (Ezekiel 14:12-21)  Certainly, we can always pray, but we must pray according to the will of God. (I John 5:16)  We must realize that sometimes the revelation is only a warning; at other times, it is an ultimatum.

Secondly, we can speak out.  The book of Jonah paints a graphic picture of a prophet whose words – regardless of his personal attitude – saved an entire nation.  I’m sure that Jonah had legitimate enough reason for not wanting to go to Nineveh.  After all, this was the capital of the Assyrian nation that had mercilessly razed his own country.  The prophet Isaiah described their ravaging as if the countryside had been shaved with a razor from head to toe. (Isaiah 7:20)  The landscape was totally denuded, not a tree was left standing, every field was mowed down, and the cities were burned to the ground.  All that was left in the wake of the marauding army were the ashes of what was previously the homes of happy families, heaps of rubble on the sites once graced with beautiful cities, and piles of corpses as indicators of the former bustling communities.  My guess is that Jonah’s only consolation concerning his commission was that he was able to declare their imminent destruction.  When the city surprisingly repented and called out to God for mercy, the prophet was immeasurably upset that God relented on His threat.  Though there are some valuable lessons to be learned from the dynamic interaction between the prophet and God, we must limit our present discussion to the fact that one prophet’s warning saved an entire city.

Our third line of response can be to take action and motivate others to act.  A great illustration of this principle comes from the life of Joseph when he prompted the king of Egypt to become pro-active concerning the prophesied years of drought by storing up twenty percent of the harvest each year during the seven good years of plenty.  I must admit that had I been in Joseph’s sandals that day, I would have suggested stockpiling fifty percent of the increase.  The math seems fairly simple: if you are going to have to live for fourteen years on only seven years of crops, you need to make each year’s crop count for two years of consumption; therefore, save half of it for later use.  Against all human logic, he only set aside one fifth of the harvest.  Why?  Because he was following the vision exactly as God gave it to him – and that just so happens to be the only way to succeed!  Similarly, the New Testament prophet Agabus motivated the first century church to actively prepare to take care of the saints who would be affected by the famine that he foresaw.  An old expression tells us that to be forewarned is to be forearmed.  Yet we are truly forearmed only if we believe the forewarning enough to act on it and to motivate others to also follow suit.

Probably the strongest acid test of our commitment to what we believe is our willingness to invest in it.  If we really believe the prophetic word, we will put our money where our mouth is.  Jerusalem in AD 70 was under siege by the Roman army – not just any battalion, but the top legion of the empire.  The troops under the direction of Vespasian had the Holy City within their grasp when news came from Rome that Emperor Nero had died.  Vespasian wheeled his troops around and rushed home to claim the title of world monarch for himself.  In his stead, Vespasian sent his own son Titus back to finish the gory task of razing the Jewish capital.  The new commander zealously went after the prize his father had left behind.  Jerusalem’s desolation was so ruthlessly executed that Josephus’ record of the carnage dwarfs any modern horror story’s script.  Women feared to set foot into the streets to pull in the bodies of their wounded or dead sons and husbands.  The streets ran like rivers of blood and the air was putrid with the stench of rotting human flesh.  So many Hebrews taken as live captives were crucified that the Romans totally deforested the Judean hills in their ravenous quest for wood to build crosses.  Once the timber supply was depleted, the Jerusalem wall itself became a gigantic execution machine with hundreds of victims nailed into its solid stone face.

Yet, for one special community in the city, historians report a radically different story.  The people known as Christians, when they saw Vespasian approach and retreat, remembered the warnings that their Lord Jesus had shared nearly forty years before.  One evening He had sat with His followers on the Mount of Olives looking out upon the panoramic view of the Golden City.  Before them stood the glorious temple, newly rebuilt and magnificently refurbished under Herod the Great.  Constructed of massive stones that defy modern engineers to explain how they were brought into position, overlaid with gold, wrought with the most exquisite handiwork of human capability, the temple rose as a monument to God and His chosen nation.  Jesus, gazing upon this spectacle, sighed to His followers that this crowning jewel of man’s achievements – this apex, this zenith of human endeavor – would soon be nothing but rubble.  He went on to explain that they would have a warning and be given time to flee before the invading deluge inundated them in its destructive sweep.  Jesus warned His disciples that when they saw an army encompass the city that it was time for the believers to flee. (Luke 21:20-24)  They should not even go back into their houses to gather up their possessions. (Matthew 24:17)  When Vespasian’s army unexpectedly retreated, the believers knew that this was the chance Jesus had promised for their escape.  Dr. Luke has recorded for us in his account of the Acts of the Apostles that the early Christians had sold their possessions and laid the money at the feet of the apostles to be used to feed and clothe the widows and orphans.  They had all things in common, providing enough for each person’s need and a treasury for evangelizing the unbelievers. (Acts 2:44-45)  So when they saw the prophesied sign, no one was tempted with earthly things – they had none!  All they had were the beloved widows and orphans and the precious converts.  Throwing their arms around these precious souls, the Christians marched triumphantly through the gates of Jerusalem.

The unbelievers danced in the streets when the invading armies pulled back, but their joy soon turned to wails as Titus appeared over the horizon.  The Christians, unlike Lot’s wife, had left no treasure in the city and did not even look back.  They marched out to safety, a new life, and a world mission.  Because they had really believed what Jesus had said on the crest of that hill overlooking the city, they had spent the four intervening decades investing in the ministry rather than in real estate.  Now, they were able to celebrate victoriously while others suffered deadly consequences.

 Earlier in our study we looked at the story of how the prophet Jeremiah bought land even though he knew that the Babylonian army was posed to invade the land, sack the cities, and confiscate the property.  In his case, the prophet also had a revelation that the land would be returned to its rightful owner within his own lifetime; therefore, he could invest in property – or, more accurately, we should say that he could safely invest in the vision!  For the first century Christians, there was no revelation concerning the restoration of the property; therefore, their only safe investment was in the souls of men.  In reality, the return of the land after the destruction in AD 70 did not come until 1948 – nearly two millennia later – an awfully long time to wait for your real estate to appreciate.


Lights in a Dark World

It is my prayer that the church will wake up to the fact that we really are not standing out against the present evil age as much as we like to convince ourselves that we are.  I agree with the prayer of the Apostle Paul that the church would truly become the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life. (Philippians 2:15-16)  We may be prophets to the nation, we may be prophets to our families, or we may be prophets to just our own lives; but regardless of our sphere of influence, we must be the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord. (John 1:23)