How Bible Prophecy Works


"No prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Peter 1:21).

Do you suppose some prophet (well, any true prophet, that is) in ancient times ever said, "I think I'll issue a prophecy. Now, what could I predict?" Not hardly. "No prophecy was ever made by an act of human will."

Prophecy is God revealing to humans something that is going to happen, something He will do, so that they can be prepared and when it comes to pass they will not be surprised but know God was on duty. Sometimes, a prophecy speaks of something just around the corner and sometimes centuries later.

When the prophet Isaiah spoke prophetically of the coming Messiah-His birth, life, death, etc.-He was talking about things nearly 8 centuries in the future. Think of that! It's as though something was revealed in the 13th century to apply to us today. That was the Dark Ages!

One thing we must always keep in mind when coming to prophecy is that the determinative question is never "What did the speaker have in mind?" In many cases they had no clue what the prophecy meant or what God was up to.

Listen to the Apostle Peter: "The prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow." Now, get this: "It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you…" (1 Peter 1:10-12). He adds that these are "things into which angels long to look." Wonderful! Even the angels did not know what God was up to in Jesus; much less the prophets.

I awakened one morning thinking of what Elizabeth said to Mary in Luke 1. As Mary enters her house, the baby within Elizabeth, now some 6 months along, jumped. Elizabeth says, "How does it happen that the mother of my Lord has come to me?" (1:43). The question is not, "What did Elizabeth know?" or "What did she mean?" She may have found herself thinking, "Where did that come from" and "How did I know this?" (Pastors know the feeling. Many a time, we leave the pulpit reflecting on something in particular that came out of our mouths and wondering where it came from, that it was not something we had read or thought of. It was a God thing.)

Anyone coming to biblical prophecy should bring with them a hefty supply of humility and a willingness to acknowledge the sovereignty of God. This means we will "allow" (as if He needed our permission) Him to mean whatever He chooses a prophecy to mean and to fulfill it in His own time and manner.

Beware of anyone who is advertised as an expert in prophecy. The only expert I know sits on the throne of glory. The rest of us are just His children.

Joe McKeever is a retired Southern Baptist pastor from New Orleans, Louisiana. He blogs regularly at

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