Summary: Prophesy is less about strange words and more about speak God’s truth plainly to the present
Prophesy- The present or the future?
Over the past few months, I have had many people talk to me about the prophesies found in the bible, especially those given in the Revelation of John. The millennium has made it quite a popular topic of conversation, and for some people the idea of God’s coming into the world has been quite a real fear. In many of these conversations, I have often had to be quite firm in separating out the difference between the calendar change and the many different ways in which Christians have tried to understand the future of mankind.
In reading today’s passage from revelation, the first thing that struck me was how prophesy is from the popular ideas people have. For many, prophesy is a about telling the future, in this case, the end of the world. The truth is, the tradition of prophesy has been about speaking to the present.
The final words form today’s reading from revelation are:
The Witness of Jesus is the Spirit of Prophesy.
This is quite a strange statement, but it reminded me very strongly of the Jewish tradition of prophets. To be a prophet is not just to make a series of enigmatic and confusing statements about the future, but to witness to the life and teachings of Jesus. In the Old Testament, some try to understand the prophecies as obscure statements about the future, but in fact we find prophets giving witness to Gods teaching. Prophets were strange, often very unpopular men, who spoke about God’s nature, reminded people of what God’s law demanded, and told them, often quite bluntly, of how the future might be if the people of God ignored his teachings. We often read Isaiah as if he simply wrote to foretell the coming of Christ, and yet he spoke with both hope and challenge to the people of his time, hope for what God could achieve working with them, and challenging their constant temptation to forget their relationship with God. In the same way, the writer of the book of revelation reminds us that by witnessing Christ in our lives, we can be prophetic in the world around us.
I have often been told that the Christian faith is a crutch, something which is believed just to make us feel good, despite evidence to the contrary. We are often quite defensive when people say things like this, (I certainly have been on some occasions). And yet really, perhaps sometimes we should bite the bullet and accept that the witness of Jesus, the witness of all the generations over the last two thousand years, speaks to us of God’s faithfulness to us both in the present and in the future. We cannot pretend that the Christian way of understanding the world matches the harsh realism of some, because, fundamentally, we believe that the Christian Gospel is good news, not naiveté, but true good news. We dare to believe that there is hope, that there is a future beyond the grave, that there is love in the midst of suffering, and meaning to our lives. Witnessing this is prophesy, not guessing when the world is a about to end. I pray that we may be given the courage to cling to this good news in the days and weeks to come.