“Papa, buy for me asbestos.”
My 5-year-old boy pleaded with me recently. Like any curious parent, I asked him why he wanted asbestos.
It turns out that they had been binge reading the apocalyptic book of Revelation. They had also been binge-watching YouTube videos that are connected with the second coming of Christ. There was mention of people running to the rocks to hide from Jesus. There was mention of impossibly scary beasts that menacingly bestraddle the globe. And there was mention of a lake of fire, hence the request for asbestos (a fire retardant). These kinds of word pictures can give any child a bad nightmare.
Yet the experience of my boy is not a unique one. To many people, the prophetic portions of scripture only elicit visceral fear and disconcerting anxiety. To some, the prophetic portions are buried in a thick incomprehensible mist. They deem this as unintelligible gibberish. For instance, the American philosopher Thomas Jefferson described the book of Revelation as the “ravings of a maniac.”
But is this what Jesus, the scriptwriter, had in mind?
Quite the opposite!
A university colleague of mine has an email signature that is deceivingly simple but quite profound. It reads, “God Is In Control”.
Prophetic passages, more than other portions of scripture, powerfully reveal a God who is in charge. This should be very reassuring. Especially in this time that the world is in the middle of a scary movie called COVID-19.
Consider this. According to the Bible, the Passover lamb, who represented Christ (1 Corinthians 5:7), was to be killed at a particular time, on a particular day, and in a particular month. The Bible says:
“Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.” (Exodus 12: 5, 6)
Ancient Jewish tradition described this time from when the sun started to set until it had completely gone down, approximately 3-6 p.m. In actual practice, however, Jews normally killed the Passover at about 3:00 PM.
But that is not all, the year that Christ died was prophesied by the Prophet Daniel.
Daniel, in the 8th chapter of the book that bears his name, had just witnessed the desolating work of some entity whose activity was manifested through various political kingdoms. In Daniel 8: 13 Daniel heard a question concerning how long this desolating work would last. He got the answer in the subsequent verse:
“Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.”
This prophetic period commenced with the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem (Daniel 9:25). History tells us that this commandment was given in 457BC by King Artaxerxes of Medo-Persia. The year of Christ’s death was specifically mentioned in this beautiful prophecy. Thus:
“And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease.” (Daniel 9:26, 27)
Of course, the sacrifice and oblation would cease when the real sacrifice was hanged on the cross.
Wow! Students of Bible prophecy, especially Daniel, had the huge privilege of knowing the years of Christ’s ministry and the specific year of his death. And then, from the study of the feasts, especially that of the Passover, they would know the month, the day and even the time that Christ would die on the cross!
And so, it is no surprise that when Christ began his ministry he announced that, “The time is fulfilled.”
Now witness how all these prophetic events reveal a God who is in charge.
First, picture Christ being hauled before Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest in the early morning of that fateful day. There is a lot of commotion and questionings, all apparently spontaneous yet behind the scenes, God looks at his watch. The watch that was revealed through the prophecies of Daniel and the feast of the Passover.
From Caiaphas, Christ is taken to Pilate. Again he is subjected to a series of spontaneous questions. The event appears confused, unplanned, and undirected. Yet behind the scenes, God glances at his watch, pulling strings to ensure that His word in Daniel and Exodus is fulfilled.
Then Christ is taken to Herod. Herod thinks he is in control of the process including how long he should spend questioning his self-assured victim. But this proud ruler only has the deceiving illusion of control because behind the scenes, God looks at his watch.
On the road to Calvary, it looks like a ramble. There is no military order. Symon the Cyrene comes to the rescue of Christ at one time. He does not know that his time to act a part in the grand drama is curtailed and specified. Because behind the scenes, God is looking at his watch.
Then when this drama comes to a tumultuous end; at the time appointed, about 3:00 PM, Christ breathed his last exactly according to prophecy.
To any ordinary observer, these prophetic events unfolded spontaneously and in a disorderly fashion. But a student of prophecy sees a God who is in control, ensuring that meetings do not continue for a second longer or end a minute earlier.
Many prophecies of Daniel and Revelation talk of powers that come to the scene of action. They play their part and exit the scene. Some are specifically given an allotted time. We read of 1,260 years or 42 months. We read of 1,290 days and 1335 days. You wonder why God wants us to sit down with calculators. Yet these seemingly tedious computations reveal something profound. God is in control of time, people, and events.
There is a lot of confusion about the events we are currently witnessing. However, Christians should know that the program of coming events is in the hands of God.
God is viewed by many in prophecy as a scriptwriter. Yet the picture of God as a scriptwriter is far from perfect or even true. This is because a scriptwriter carefully crafts the plot and the part that each character will act in the drama. The movements, actions and expressions of each participant are laid out in advance with pinpoint precision. This view of God can plunge us into a cold winter of dreary fatalism. Why should our actions matter knowing that the good or the bad will eventually come to pass as God laid it out in prophecy?
In the drama of life, however, every person chooses the part that they shall act. G.K Chesterton states:
“According to most philosophers, God in making the world enslaved it. According to Christianity, in making it, He set it free. God had written, not so much a poem, but rather a play; a play he had planned as perfect, but which had necessarily been left to human actors and stage-managers.”
If God is a scriptwriter, then prophecy shows that he is not your ordinary scriptwriter. He determines the endpoints and the great events but the details of the script and how it will play out is left to human actors and stage managers.
Just imagine that God, who in prophecy decreed the end of Babylonian captivity, is still made to plead with the King of Persia for 21 days probably for its fulfillment! (Daniel 10:14-KJV). Yes, it is humbling that many times God pleads with us and waits for us to take his side in the great controversy between Satan and Christ and to bring about the fulfillment of prophecy.
Yet God is not helplessly imprisoned by the freedom and free will that He gives to human actors and He sometimes directly intervenes. Why does He do this? Because He is still in charge. He will not let the play take any course and just drift along. And so we see a Pharaoh in stubborn freedom resisting the fulfillment of prophecy and God directly and powerfully interposing to bring about His eternal purposes.
So God may as well speak of man’s freedom, “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed.” (Job 38: 11-KJV)
Ellen White observed,
“In the annals of human history the growth of nations, the rise and fall of empires, appear as dependent upon the will and prowess of man. The shaping of events seems, to a great degree, to be determined by his power, ambition, or caprice. But in the word of God the curtain is drawn aside, and we behold, behind, above, and through all the play and counter-play of human interests and power and passions, the agencies of the all-merciful One, silently, patiently working out the counsels of His own will.”
The world may appear to be on auto-pilot like the wheels that Ezekiel saw in the first chapter of his book. However, a careful study of prophecy reveals that all these random movements are under the direction and control of God.
How reassuring especially during these uncertain times!
Don’t think about asbestos. There is something more profound.
 White, E. G. (1903) Education. Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, p. 173.