Prophecy and the Seduction of Fortune-tellers: Reflections in 2 Peter

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Prophecy and the Seduction of Fortune-tellers: Reflections in 2 Peter

Upon reflecting on the nature of prophecy, the difference between modern prognosticators (of the religious and political stripe) and the biblical prophetic word should be increasingly apparent. But have you ever asked yourself what will it look like, the fulfillment of prophecy that is? It is possible to preach something for so long and not really be aware that what is happening all around oneself is the outplaying of God’s will in history (i. e. eschatology)? Within the Christian tradition, you can find as many opinions on the subject as there are people in the church. Part of the dilemma is hermeneutical (biblical interpretation) and part of it is its fulfillment. Admittedly, most of the time, unless the Bible gives a specific date or historical referent (place, person, event) it is difficult to understand the significance of any one event until later. The events of 31 A. D. (Jesus’ death, resurrection, and entrance into the first phase of His High Priestly ministry) and 1844 A. D. (the entrance into the second phase of His High Priestly ministry) were and are better understood in hindsight for three major reasons. First, as we have a deeper biblical understanding and its consequent practical implication our relationship with Jesus grows deeper. Second, as we look back on other contemporaneous world events it helps us put prophetic events into a larger context, thus deepening our understanding of its universal import. Third, it keeps us humble and yet confident that God’s Word can be trusted. Peter’s emphasis on the prophetic Word teases out these points and it is to this we turn.

We Were Eyewitnesses

Peter situates the Christian prophetic word in the person of Jesus Christ. Every biblical prophecy should start with, speak about, and end with Jesus Christ and His majesty. Else, we run the risk of thinking like and being seen as mere fortune-tellers who follow cunningly devised fables (2 Pet. 1:16). I say this because it is becoming fashionable to see “prophetic significance” in many events pertaining to but not limited to Opus Dei, the Jesuits, the Illuminati, etc. Much of this is speculative at best and may have nothing to do with Daniel and Revelation’s portrayal of the Antichrist.[1] People often forget that anti in Greek can mean in place of and in opposition to.[2] So, the prophetic word carries import for Christians inasmuch as any entity is trying to subvert Christ’s person, ministry, authority, purposes, and promises. Every prophecy in the Hebrew Bible looked forward to the Messianic era where the hoped-for and promised Seed (Gen 3:15); Star (Num 24:17); Anointed One (Ps 2:2; Dan 9:25); Shepherd-King (Mic 2:10–13; Ezek 34); Second David (Hos 3:4–5; Amos 9:11–15); Stone (Dan 2: 44–45); and the Son of Man (Dan 7:13) would come and restore which was lost at the fall of mankind (Gen 3).

Encapsulated in Peter’s experience on the Mount of Transfiguration was every hope from Genesis 3:15 to that moment on the mount. Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets, which bear testimony of the Messiah’s glory. They also represent those who will be resurrected and those who will never experience death because they will be alive when Jesus returns. Peter emphasizes that “we” were eyewitnesses. When Peter wrote this, there were others alive who could and did verify what he was relating to the church (Matt 17:1–8; Luke 9:28–36). There were three times when God the Father vindicated Jesus’ Sonship: (1) at his Baptism (Matt. 3:17); (2) as He was preparing for Passover (John 12:28), and the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:2–8).

Did you notice that only those of faith heard the pronouncement clearly? At His baptism, the text says that the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit descending like a dove. We are not told in the text if anyone else heard it. Ellen White notes that John was given a sign by God by which he would know the “Lamb of God,” and when he saw the “heavenly dove” rest upon Jesus he pointed to Him and cried out, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the World!” John 1:29. (The Story of Redemption, p. 196–197) In the book of John, the crowd said they heard thunder, or an angel speak, but Jesus heard and clarified the meaning of the divine attestation (John 12:29–30). And only Peter, James, and John were allowed to see Jesus in His glory on the Mount (Mark 9:2), only after Peter had borne witness to His Messiahship, and He told them not to tell anyone until He rose from the dead (v. 9). The Spirit that inspired the written word is the same Sprit that gives the faithful people of God the eyes of faith to understand prophecy (2 Pet. 1:21). So, Peter’s focus on the majesty of Christ undergirds his understanding of the prophetic Word. For him, prophecy was no esoteric belief in “secrets” that only the “wise” know. Christianity is not Gnosticism.[3] Jesus is the focus of the prophetic word!

Something More Sure

Living in the spiritualistic cauldron that was the Roman Empire, Peter’s assertion that “we” have something more sure was a necessary balm to the confusion of his time and especially for ours. He describes prophecy in a specific way; it should give clarity to the darkness of this sin-sick world. It was and still is possible to look back on the events surrounding the death and resurrection of Christ and understand its powerful impact in a world where the substitutionary death of someone and the resurrection from the dead is seen as suspect. The problem with fortune-tellers or that type of mindset is that the importance of Jesus’ substitutionary death and resurrection play little to no part in understanding the future. Peter says, for Christians, the prophetic word points to a future that consummates in the “Day of the Lord.” For the righteous, that day will dawn and the morning star (Rev. 22:16) will arise in our hearts.

Sadly, the way much prophecy is taught, Jesus is not central and/or left out of the picture altogether and people are left more scared than they are encouraged that Jesus is our Savior as we surrender completely to Him and put our trust completely in His merits. He will sustain us through hardships (2 Pet. 1:3, 4) and as He clarified, corrected, and comforted while He was on earth, so He will now (John 14:1–6). Consider Ellen White’s focus on Jesus, the center of our prophetic message:

“Several have written to me, inquiring if the message of justification by faith is the third angel’s message, and I have answered, ‘It is the third angel’s message in verity.’”-The Review and Herald, April 1, 1890.

“The righteousness by which we are justified is imputed. The righteousness by which we are sanctified is imparted. The first is our title to heaven; the second is our fitness for heaven.”-The Review and Herald, June 4, 1895.

For Peter and for us Jesus must be central to our prophetic understanding. How do we recognize the counterfeit to salvation? Knowing Jesus personally and understanding His salvific work in type and symbol (OT) and in fulfillment and expectation (NT). The darkness of deception will only be exposed by the true Light. In fact, the second chapter of 2 Peter shows us how the Light of Life shines brightly and reveals the folly of the wicked. Notice, Peter says that false prophets arose “among the people” and brought in deceptive heresies “even denying the Master who bought them.” (2 Pet. 2:1). Yes, we must be on our guard. We are not fortune-tellers, and only as we acknowledge the true Light will He lead us, and so we should follow.

Read the Sabbath School Lesson for this week, “Prophecy and Scripture.”

 Read more commentaries on this quarter’s Adult Sabbath School lesson.

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Notes.

[1] My point is not to dismiss the deceptive nature of these entities, but to put the focus on the prophetic word where is should be, our need for faith in Christ, hope in His promises, and love for Him that is stronger than anything else. Prophecy has a moral purpose for Christian growth! See Louis Were, The Moral Purpose of Prophecy (Sarasota, FL: First Impressions, 1998 [6th prin.]).

[2] See Walter Grundmann et al., “Χρίω, Χριστός, Ἀντίχριστος, Χρῖσμα, Χριστιανός,” TDNT 9:493–523.

[3] “Greek gnosis, ‘knowledge’; a second-century heresy that challenged and sought to subvert the early church.” Alan Cairns, Dictionary of Theological Terms (Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International, 2002), 196.

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Jerome Skinner, earned his Ph.D as an Old Testament scholar at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. He focuses on the Psalms and Wisdom literature and on practical Christianity. Jerome is active in following American Christianity and social issues.