From the very beginning of Christianity the teaching of the Church had a strong eschatological content that follows the equally strong prophetic content of the Old Testament faith. It is obvious that a large portion of the Holy Scriptures is dedicated to prophecy. In spite of that there are many who argue that even a passing interest in prophecy is wrong, even sinful. That belief is based in a wrong understanding of the words of Jesus, found at the end of the parable of the bridesmaids:
Matthew 25, 13 — “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
To properly understand the importance of the study of prophecy we must first know what the Church teaches on that matter, then we will be able to discern how those prophecies apply to this age of history. In that manner we will be better equipped to “keep awake” as Jesus instructed. While it is absolutely true that we cannot possibly know the day or the hour of Christ’s return, it is also true that God in his mercy allows us to know the prophetic “week” when that will happen.
There are always a good number of deniers who are against the study of prophecy arguing that Jesus himself has warned us of the futility of such efforts. The anti-prophecy Christians frequently claim that the great mercy of God will always stretch the time a little longer thus prolonging indefinitely the completion of the prophetic times. They reason wrongly that “God will not punish because God is love,” reminding us of the parable of the prodigal son, and the story of Jonah where God forgives the sinful city of Nineveh, which he had promised to destroy. In this concept, God is the eternally patient Father who will wait forever for the conversion of his sons and daughters, therefore any expectation of divine judgment at the end of time is inconsistent with the idea of a loving and merciful God.
Often enough the detractors of prophecy assert that the world is filled with crazy people that keep announcing the end of the world, not only religious fanatics but also even some with scientific pretensions; and yet the world is still around and it has not come to an end. Some dismiss any interest in prophecy contending that “the world ends the day we die.” Others piously affirm that one should be ready always for the fulfilling of prophetic warnings, and thus to study prophecy is a waste of time.
The constant bombardment with false announcements of the end of the world has not resulted in greater awareness of the divine warnings. On the contrary it has generated a level of incredulity and much scoffing. Ironically that kind of attitude appears to be the fulfillment of St Peter’s prophetic utterance:
2 Peter 3, 3-6 — First of all you must understand this, that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts and saying, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!’ They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water, through which the world of that time was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the godless.
The divine sense and purpose
The Catechism of the Catholic Church rightly affirms that all prophecy points to Christ, and Christ is the fulfillment of God’s revelation.
Catechism of the Catholic Church §65 — “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.” (Hebrews 1, 1-2) Christ, the Son of God made man, is the Father’s one, perfect and unsurpassable Word. In him he has said everything; there will be no other word than this one. St. John of the Cross, among others, commented strikingly on Hebrews 1:1-2: “In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word – and he has no more to say. . . because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at once by giving us the All Who is His Son. Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behavior but also of offending him, by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty.”
It is rather obvious that prophecy is a very important part of Holy Scripture; God has put it there for a reason. The word of God goes out with a purpose, and will not return to God without results.
Isaiah 55, 8-11 — For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
The purpose of prophecy is not to scare but to serve as a corrective guidance and warning to the faithful, and to all others as a witness of Christ.
Wisdom 17, 12 — For fear is nothing but a giving up of the helps that come from reason.
Fear of prophecy is not from God but from the devil. We should not fear if we are faithful but we should remember the apostolic counsel not to be afraid. God had given us even His own Son. Why would he deny us his protection, or want to make us afraid?
Romans 8, 31-32 — What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?
Prophecies are a grace of God meant to help us ‘keep on the watch’ and pray. Some are warnings sent so that we may avoid evil, even deter some just and painful discipline from God by showing repentance and mending our sinful ways.
Luke 21, 36 — Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’
For our own good we must know and consider prophecy, and obey God’s instructions.
Hosea 6, 6 — Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets, I have killed them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light. For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings.
The very last chapter of the last book of the Bible, the Apocalypse of St John mentions prophecy very prominently. These two verses show two important things: the divine origin of prophecy, and the blessings that come from hearing and keeping the prophetic words.
Revelation 22, 6-7 — And he said to me, ‘These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place. See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.’
To keep these prophetic words we must study and meditate upon them to take advantage of that light from Heaven. Those who refuse the knowledge of prophecy remain “in a dark place” according to St Peter.
2 Peter 1, 19-21 — So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
Those who have the light are no longer in darkness but they also have the duty to guide others from darkness to light. To bring the light of Christ to the world is the mark of a true Christian, our duty is to give witness of Jesus Christ.
Revelation 19, 9-10 — And the angel said to me, ‘write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are true words of God.’ Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, ‘you must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’
Many in the Church have lost the zeal to bear witness of Jesus, including some who by virtue of their holy orders hold a prophetic office. The result of that lack of testimony is a proportional lack of knowledge that can only have bad consequences. The same happened a long time ago among the Israelites. The prophet Hosea was sent by God to announce judgment, but also to renew the faith of the people by letting them know that once their faults were purged, God had for them a promise of restoration. Hosea is considered by many as the greatest prophet of his generation. He prophesied for about six decades. There was such spiritual darkness in Israel in Hosea’s times that he was the only prophet of his generation to leave a written record of his preaching. Studying Hosea we learn that ignorance of prophecy can have dire consequences for the people of God and even worse consequences for the priests who neglect their duty to guide the flock.
Our duty to learn and teach
Hosea 4, 4-6 — Yet let no one contend, and let none accuse, for with you is my contention, O priest. You shall stumble by day; the prophet also shall stumble with you by night, and I will destroy your mother. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.
Consider what happened during the time when Jesus was unjustly condemned to death by the very religious authorities whose duty was to lead the people to the Messiah. The following Pentecost, St Peter addressed the people and reminded them that in their ignorance they had committed the greatest crime in history! The religious authorities of Jesus’ time had the Messiah in front of them and did not recognize him because they were completely in the dark about the hundreds of prophecies pointing at Jesus proving beyond any doubt that he was the Christ!
Acts 3, 12-19 — When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, ‘You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you. ‘And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.
Later St. Paul confirmed the words of St Peter when the addressed the Jewish religious authorities of his time with these words:
Acts 13, 26-27 — ‘My brothers, you descendants of Abraham’s family, and others who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent. Because the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize him [Jesus] or understand the words of the prophets that are read every sabbath, they fulfilled those words by condemning him.
Certainly great harm is done by not knowing the prophecies of God. Imagine what would have happened if the people of Jerusalem would have recognized that Jesus was the Messiah! What a glorious realization that would have been! What a great crime would have been avoided! The same can happen to believers in every generation when the faithful decide neither to pay attention nor to learn about the prophecies of God. That is why St Paul advised the Thessalonians not to be a hindrance to the Holy Spirit or despise prophetic scriptures. Notice that he asks them to test everything. Christians should be well trained and able to distinguish false prophecy from true prophecy. The study of Holy Scripture is essential to achieve that goal.
1 Thessalonians 5, 16-22 — Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.
That obligation clearly stated by St Paul is not limited to one age of the Church. That is the obligation of every generation, more so for those who sense that the “end of times” has arrived. For those times God has promised through his prophets that the spirit of prophecy shall increase.
Joel 2, 28-32 — Then afterwards I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants, in those days, I will pour out my spirit. I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.
Reading the book of Joel we learn that God will make the gift of prophecy abundant among his people at the time of need. Even those who are in a low position in life — such as very young people, or the elderly, even servants — will be prophets at a time when God will multiply the signs on heaven and earth. At the end of this passage we see that the objective is the salvation of many! Therefore ignoring prophecy at such a time may result in the loss of many souls.
The need to understand
What will we do with that abundance of signs if we have not prepared ourselves by studying, comparing, meditating, and properly interpreting what is before us “testing everything; holding fast to what is good”?
Most obviously we must prepare ourselves diligently and know the prophecies well, most particularly those contained in Holy Scripture because we can be certain of their divine origin. We can use those as a ruler to measure private revelations that are sprouting everywhere in our time, fulfilling the predictions of the prophet Joel.
If we do not know the prophecies in Holy Scripture, how are we going to understand what is coming to us by way of private revelations? How could we tell a prophet of God from a charlatan?
When we examine the prophetic expressions in Holy Scripture we know that they are true. A great number of prophecies in Scripture have come to pass. We will also learn about time. Many prophecies in Scripture include the time of their fulfillment. Many of those prophecies with associated times of completion have come to pass as predicted, when predicted.
1 Peter 3, 17-20 — For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water.
2 Peter 2, 4-6 — For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of deepest darkness to be kept until the judgment; and if he did not spare the ancient world, even though he saved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood on a world of the ungodly; and if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction and made them an example of what is coming to the ungodly.
When we analyze the two scriptural passages above, we learn about a few important points. From 1 Peter 3, 17-20 we learn that God’s patience is limited with the willfully disobedient. We also learn that what the prophetic events registered in Scripture are themselves a prophetic model for future generations. That is confirmed by St Paul in the following verse.
1 Corinthians 10, 11 — These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, to whom the end of the ages have come.
The forced deportation of the ten tribes of Israel by the Assyrians is another good example of prophetic times coming to an end, and of the consequences of ignoring, even making a mockery of the just warnings of God through the prophets.
2 Kings 17, 22-23 — The people of Israel continued in all the sins that Jeroboam committed; they did not depart from them until the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had foretold through all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day.
2 Chronicles 36, 15-16 — The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling-place; but they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words, and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord against his people became so great that there was no remedy.
Many generations later when the greatest prophet — Jesus of Nazareth — was rejected and later murdered, Jerusalem and all the land of Judea paid a high price for not heeding God’s warning. In the year 70 a.D. Roman troops surrounded the city of Jerusalem eventually breaking into the city and destroying the Temple. All of those disgraces could have been avoided if the people of God would have known the times of the Messiah’s arrival which was predicted by the prophets of Israel hundreds of years before.
Luke 19, 43-44 — Indeed, the days will come upon you [Jerusalem], when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.’
Times and seasons
Some of the events prophesied in Holy Scripture come with an exact time of completion. We will select some of the most important and analyze them.
It is also important to remember that these remarkable prophetic fulfillments are very valuable apologetic tools when dealing with educated atheists who know well the timetables of history. For example there is a pair of similar events we can use to show that God is in control of time. Only God can use history as a big canvas where he paints the story of salvation.
In 587 b. C. the Babylonians invaded Judea and laid siege to Jerusalem. On the 17th day of the month of Tamuz the Babylonian troops broke through the defensive walls of the city. A few days later they were able to fight their way through to the Temple, which they destroyed on the 9th day of the month of Av.
More than 600 years later, on 70 a. D. the Romans came. Titus Vespasianus laid siege to Jerusalem, breaking through the walls on the 17th day of Tamuz. The Temple was destroyed again on the 9th day of Av, a date of mourning to all religious Jews to this day. That remarkable coincidence appears to show that God is in control of the time and manner in which some important events occur in history.
There are numerous prophecies that have terms, or appointed times that God has arranged for a purpose known only to himself. What we must understand is that the prophets have registered these appointed times in Holy Scripture for our instruction, to strengthen our faith.
The 69 weeks of years
Daniel 9, 25 — Know therefore and understand: from the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the time of an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks; and for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with streets and moat, but in a troubled time.
The 70 weeks of years
Daniel 9, 24 — Seventy weeks are decreed for your people and your holy city: to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint the Holy of Holies.
The 1290 and 1335 days
Daniel 12, 11-12 — From the time that the regular burnt-offering is taken away and the abomination that desolates is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety days. Happy are those who persevere and attain the thousand three hundred and thirty-five days.
The 2300 evenings and mornings (1150 days)
Daniel 8, 14 — And he answered him, ‘For two thousand three hundred evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state.’
The 3 1/2 times
Daniel 7, 25 — He shall speak words against the Most High, shall wear out the holy ones of the Most High, and shall attempt to change the sacred seasons and the law; and they shall be given into his power for a time, two times, and half a time.
The three days of the Resurrection
Matthew 16, 21 — From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (See also Matthew 17, 13 and 20, 19)
The 1260 days, 42 months, or “time, times, and half a time”
Revelation 11, 3 — And I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy for one thousand two hundred and sixty days, wearing sackcloth.’
Revelation 12, 6 — and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.
Revelation 13, 5 — The beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months.
Revelation 12, 14 — But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to her place where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time.
There is no more time
Revelation 10, 5-6 — Then the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and the land raised his right hand to heaven and swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it: ‘There will be no more delay.’
The Heavens are God’s time-keeper
Matthew 2, 1-2 — In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’
Psalm 19, 1-2 — The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims the work of his hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.
Continued in You know neither the day nor the hour. 2