Will a lion roar in the forest when he hath no prey? Will a young lion cry out of his den, if he have taken nothing?” asks Yahweh through the prophet Amos. The question to those familiar with lions in ancient times is rhetorical. Obviously the answer is, “No”! A lion is not going to signal his design to his intended prey; he will not roar until he has taken his quarry. Yet God has signalled his intentions to men in the Scriptures, that they might take warning and mend their ways. “Surely the Lord Yahweh will do noth­ing”, continues Amos, “but He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets.” So that what might be a secret to the world, is plain to the student of Scripture if he is prepared to prayerfully labour in uncovering it.

Unintelligible mystery has been the stock in trade of the false prophet, from the Chaldean impostors of Nebuchadnezzar’s court, to the pulpits of Christendom today. “There is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets”, asserted Daniel. That secret is with them that fear Him. “Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven”, Christ told his disciples.

Is it Important to Understand Prophecy?

Brother Robert Roberts wrote in 1872 in response to the view that the prophecies of Revelation were not necessary to be understood since they all re­lated to the future: “With such a state of mind with regard to the important directions he has given for the guidance of his servants in the Apocalypse, it is impossible they could enter upon that co-operation which has for its basis an intelligent apprehension of the mind and will of Christ. Christadelphians… could not admit such an element of corruption among them.” (his italics)

This is to say, a great revolution will sweep this globe at the coming of Christ and it will be the work of a new revolutionary government to break in pieces the political fabric of this world, liberating the nations from their current ignorance and delusion.

Now if we are to play a part in this revolution it is clear that we should be at least conversant with the plot to which we belong. Furthermore, God is prepared to add His blessing to our life if we seek to understand the Prophetic Word.

The promise of ruling the world is outlined for us in Revelation 2:26,27. Would we feel comfort­able with this sort of power in the hands of a novice, who was ignorant or uncertain of the plan to which he was operating? If we are serious about a rôle in Christ’s government then surely we will acquaint ourselves with what that position involves.

Silence in Heaven

An understanding of prophecy is not only essential for a future rôle but is relevant to our present rôle as workers together with God. In Revelation 8 we read that there was “silence in heaven about the space of half an hour” as the seventh seal was about to be opened. The whole purpose of God seemed to pause, the seven angels with their seven trumpets stand poised, about to sound as the wheels of his­tory cease to turn. What does God await? Another angel strides forward bearing a golden censer and there was given him much incense that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints. The smoke of this incense ascended up before the Throne of God. Not until then did the angel take coals from the altar and hurl them to the earth and there were thunderings and lightnings and an earthquake as the events of the seven trumpets erupted. In this aside the purpose of God waits for the prayers of the saints, which mingle with the incense of the angels themselves and ascend to the Throne on high. Thus the saints were able to co-operate with the Divine family in heaven in bringing to pass the fulfilment of prophecy. If the saints were to be involved in prophecy to this extent, should they not understand it? They were expected to find their place in the Divine scheme and play their part.

There is a Right Way to Read Prophecy

There is a right way to read prophecy because there is a moral basis to prophecy. Predicted judgments fall on the guilty because they deserve punishment. Nations like Assyria and Babylon were periodically punished because of their harsh treatment of God’s people. Jerusalem was destroyed because it cruci­fied His Son. Russia will invade Israel because the nation needs to be humbled before it can accept the Son of God.

In a similar way the great system of European apostasy has received periodic affliction because of the shameful treatment of God’s people and the blasphemy of His Name. The God that punished Nebuchadnezzar’s arrogance reacted the same way to Roman arrogance and visited Papal iniquity when it was deserved. Any interpretation that fails to take into account God’s reaction to this degree of evil in relation to His people has failed to appreciate the way God works. A future interpretation of the Apocalypse would see European conflicts as totally unrelated to any Divine scheme—a view which is contrary to the way God has worked in the past.

Similarly, to fully appreciate the prophecies concerning the regathering and conversion of the Jewish people, it is necessary to understand the Scriptures related to the New Covenant in Christ. It is necessary for the Jews to undergo a period of probation in which they are to be brought under the discipline of the covenant and finally be reconciled back to Yahweh (Ezek 20:35). This is a process of intellectual, moral, and physical cleansing and in­volves the work of Elijah after the return of Christ and Armageddon.

The doctrinal principles of reconciliation pre­cede and dictate our understanding of the prophe­cies of Israel’s restoration and redemption.

The Reliability of Prophecy

If we examine the way God utters His predictions we find that the majority are clear and unambiguous. He alone can foretell the future, “declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand and I will do all my pleasure” (Isa 46:9,10). When specific prophecies have been fulfilled we can draw strength and encouragement. We can objectively analyse each prediction concerning Tyre, Sidon, Israel, Babylon, Egypt and so on, and unhesitat­ingly conclude that the Bible is the Word of God.

But not all God’s predictions are easy to under­stand. Why is that? Why was Daniel given prophe­cies couched in sign and symbol? Why wasn’t the message made plain?

The answer given to Daniel was “none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall under­stand” (12:10). Does this mean that if we don’t understand we are wicked? Not necessarily. If we can adopt a spirit like Daniel which yearns to un­derstand, then God will bless us with understanding. We may never uncover all the answers, but we have this assurance from Christ: “seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you”.

Christ also said: “Unto you it is given to know the mystery [or secret] of the Kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear and not understand” (Mark 4:11,12). God conceals with an expectation that His people will search the matter out. An uninterested or doubting spirit will not be rewarded.

This might seem a hard saying, but the fact is that prophecy was given in symbol to indicate that the same Divine principles guide the development of God’s purpose whatever the time or place. God has made prophecy relatively simple to understand by virtue of this rather neat device. Events in Scrip­ture actually appear to cycle. Similar events occur wherever like conditions prevail; the plot is always the same, just the actors change. Why? Simply because human nature is so predictable and God’s principles don’t change.

Understanding prophecy suddenly becomes much easier, much more predictable. All we need to really know is the character of God.

Even though the people of Ezekiel’s time did not know Russia they recognized the God-defying traits of the Assyrian hinted at in Ezekiel’s choice of words and knew that God’s principles of operation against them would be the same.

The same Nimroudian spirit will be present in the latter day Assyrian Russia. There are only two protagonists on the world stage, the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of men; the parties that oc­cupy these roles vary from time to time throughout history. Those that know the character of God and the nature of man will recognize the correct actor in the symbols under which they appear, and just as importantly, will see their own place in history as it unfolds on the world stage. For what is character but the determination of incident and incident but the illustration of character.

One of the great blessings of studying the Pro­phetic Word is to appreciate the overall workings of God in relation to Russia, Europe and the Middle East. We will never know all the details, but it is comforting to understand that the general trend of increasing European unity, of rising Papal influence, of intensifying Russian and European co-operation and of Arab polarisation into two camps (one cau­tiously neutral, the other virulently anti-Semitic) are all following prophetic expectations that have been extant within the brotherhood since its inception.

We know that Israel will undergo a final great crisis of Armageddon, before the Redeemer comes to turn ungodliness from Jacob. Until then, God has promised to preserve the Jewish people, come what may, for His servant Abraham’s sake. Yahweh has staked His honour and existence on that promise and it has been tested more than once in history (Isa 43:1–10).

We have seen this promise dramatically hon­oured, not once, nor twice, but many times in the history of modern Israel. In 1948, abandoned by the British, the Jews were left to fight for their national life with a few old rifles and salvaged equipment, against foes that were sworn to annihilate them. To the amazement of the world they survived. It was the same story in 1956 and in 1967, when they ef­fectively won against a three-pronged Arab attack in two days.

Ezekiel chapter 38 describes a latter day invasion of the land of Israel, newly brought back from the sword, against a nation that is “dwelling safely” (v8). This “peace and safety” is defined in Ezekiel 39:25,26 as a time when they live in trespasses and sins and hence can only refer to a time prior to the events of Ezekiel 38. In recent months we hear almost daily reports of the way in which Israel has vigorously asserted her national sovereignty and safeguarded the security of her people against the Palestinian threat. Yet Ezekiel is clear, the real danger to Israel lies far to the north in the land called “Rosh” (Hebrew for chief in v2). The real enemy is Russia.

The Warning of Prophecy—The Lion Hath Roared

When Russia does invade and Christ intervenes, Israel’s gratitude and remorse becomes the basis of the national reconciliation that follows. There will not be multiple invasions of the land. Why? Because only one will be needed for God’s righteousness to be upheld and for reconciliation to take place. To miss this is to ignore God’s principles of reconcilia­tion documented and attested throughout the history of His dealing with men. The shock waves from the “great shaking in the land of Israel” will extend throughout the whole earth, so that all men on the face of the earth shall shake at God’s presence. There will be no bystanders when Russia invades Israel—it will affect every living person on the earth (Ezekiel 38:19,20).

We can’t remain ambivalent about the true meaning of prophecy.

It is important for us to realise that God will bring every work into judgment in the day when He brings to light the hidden purposes of the heart. In that day every knee will bow and every tongue confess He is a just God and a saviour. The lion hath roared, who will not fear? The Lord Yahweh hath spoken, who can but prophesy?