Do not dismiss prophecy
So far we have learned enough about prophecy in Scripture to know a few basic but very important facts. True prophecy gives glory to God guided by the Holy Spirit, and to reveal Jesus Christ to the world. “The bearing witness to Jesus is what inspires prophesying.” Revelation 19, 10.
John 16, 12-15 — I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
The Holy Spirit inspired prophets to give witness of Jesus for the glory of God, therefore true prophecy comes from the inner life of the Holy Trinity. No other kind of prophecy is true. People announcing great cataclysms and upheavals, soothsayers for profit, or those prophesying for their own glory, are not godly prophets.
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.
In the Catholic Church there are three sources of information that have to agree to confirm any belief, including prophecy: Holy Tradition, Holy Scripture, and the Magisterium of the Church. Those have to agree. To give an example: if per impossibile there was a prophecy aiming to declare that “Jesus is not the Son of God” that would be clearly conflicting with Catholic dogma. Such prophecy cannot be true.
We can also observe that divine prophetic warnings follow a coherent and cohesive pattern of helping the people of God on their way to salvation, reassuring them of the love of God. Examine these two passages of Scripture for example:
Hosea 6, 1-2 — ‘Come, let us return to the Lord; for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.
2 Peter 3, 8 — But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.
St Peter reveals to us a prophetic measure that we can apply to realize that Hosea was talking about God’s plan of salvation. So reading these two verses we deduct that just as Jesus resurrected on the third day, so humanity through the Church has the hope to be preserved through many trials for two thousand years (two divine “days”) and be raised up to reign with Jesus sometime on the third “day” or third millennium.
When considering private revelations approved by the Church, such as Guadalupe, Fátima, and others we should make very sure to understand them within the infallible frame of Holy Tradition, Holy Scripture, and the Magisterium of the Church.
Matthew 7, 15-20 — ‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.
False prophets cannot fake the fruits of the Holy Spirit for long. Before committing our trust to any private prophecy we have to check if it is approved by the Church. If a final approval is not available yet, we can check the prophecy’s internal integrity, and the “fruits” produced by it. Does it glorify God? Does it lead to prayer and repentance? (good fruits) or does it promote actions not compatible with Church teachings? (bad fruits.) For example the dream of the king of Babylon comes to us from Nebuchadnezzar, who was not a godly person. But once Daniel retrieves the dream and interprets it, the king is moved to give glory to the true God, and the lives of the wise men of Babylon are spared. Those are good fruits!
Prophecy requires learning
St Peter is a good example of how God prepares those he has chosen to be prophets. As soon as Peter is selected by God to be the leader of the twelve Apostles, he interprets Jesus’ prophecy the wrong way.
Matthew 16, 21-23 — 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. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
Is this an argument against papal infallibility? Certainly not. A short time before this incident the Holy Spirit led Peter to declare that Jesus was the Son of God, the Blessed Messiah. That magnificent declaration was made before the other Apostles and obviously approved by all of them and more importantly by Jesus himself! But later Peter took the Lord aside for a rebuke because Jesus was talking about the Cross. Peter was no longer standing with the other Apostles, perhaps he was following his own ideas fashioned after the political dreams of Jewish independence from the Romans. Unwittingly Peter was resisting Jesus’ mission — to liberate mankind from sin — while holding on to the prevalent political ideas of that time.
Luke 9, 28-33 — Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’— not knowing what he said.
About a week later Peter makes a strange proposal after witnessing the Transfiguration. His mind still holding on to human ideas, he proposes to make tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Luke makes the respectful observation that the newly appointed leader of the apostles was basically “talking nonsense” shocked as he was by the extraordinary vision of Christ transfigured. There is a lesson for us here. First Peter refused to believe a prophecy of the highest order, coming from the very mouth of Jesus. Then he interpreted in a material way something that was most obviously a spiritual vision. Even those in the highest positions can make mistakes when they don’t take their time to consider things carefully while holding on to their own prejudices. We are all like Peter, we have a lot to unlearn before we can wisely interpret prophetic words and events with the help of the Holy Spirit. In defense of poor Peter we must say that the other disciples were equally in the dark about the real mission of the Messiah.
Luke 18, 31-34 — Then he took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.’ But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
Later on, the same disciples that had seen the many miracles performed by Jesus, including the resurrection of Lazarus, fled at the first indication of trouble. They had not allowed the truth of Jesus’ prophecy to enter their hearts. In short, they did not completely believe his words.
Matthew 26, 56 — But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.’ Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
Later on Jesus reproaches them their lack of faith, when he appears to them on the road to Emmaus, and the angels do the same with the women that show up on Resurrection Sunday at Jesus’ grave, ready to embalm the dead body that was no longer there.
Luke 24, 25-27 — Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the Scriptures.
Luke 24, 4-8 — While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ Then they remembered his words.
While Jesus’ disciples did not quite grasp the meaning and importance of the Resurrection in those early days, someone was paying attention: their enemies! They listened to the words of Jesus and failed to believe him also but just in case they asked the Roman authorities to seal the grave to prevent someone from ‘faking’ a resurrection.
Matthew 27, 62-66 — The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, ‘Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, “After three days I will rise again.” Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, “He has been raised from the dead”, and the last deception would be worse than the first.’ Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.’ So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.
The right way to read prophetic signs
Prophecy requires us to focus, to pay careful attention and think. When the announced signs begin to come together we need to redouble our efforts to understand the application of what we have heard. We cannot simply dismiss it with the excuse that “no one knows the day or the hour.” Read the very words of Christ on this subject:
Matthew 24, 32-33 — ‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates.
Luke 21, 28 — Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’
These days many have the attitude of some of the Pharisees of Jesus’ time. They believe we are living in prophetic times but they are afraid of giving witness of Jesus, or gently let others know about the urgency of the time. Many simply remain silent about the advent of the Lord for fear of being labeled as a “Jesus freak.”
John 12, 42 — Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue.
Through the Revelation of St John we learn, from the mouth of an angel, that giving witness of Jesus is the very purpose, and inspiration of prophecy.
Revelation 19, 10 — 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 what inspires prophecy.’
Continued in You know neither the day nor the hour. 4