[Note: This is the prepared text for a sermonette given to the Portland United Church of God congregation on Sabbath, February 19, 2022.]
It is said that roughly a third of the Bible contains prophecy, and yet if one looks at the aspects of the Bible that are talked about at considerable length in the Bible that are neglected in studying, prophecy is very high on the list. Even those who have a high view of biblical prophecy are often afraid of talking about it too much because it has been so often misused. What I would like to do today is provide some help in dealing with prophecy as a subject by looking at a single short prophecy that takes up two verses and then draw two lessons from this passage that can give us a means of understanding how the Bible deals with the subject of prophecy in the brief time available in this message.
Let us begin with the scripture itself. It happens to be one of the last scriptures in the entire Bible, and we find it in Revelation 22:10-11. Revelation 22:10-11 reads: “And he said to me, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand. He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.”” The second verse in this passage appears to hint at the fact that the knowledge of biblical prophecy does not tend to change the character of people, which is certainly something that we can see the signs of all around us. The first part of the passage indicates that although it has been more than 1900 years since the prophecy of Revelation was given to the aged apostle John, that its relevance began at the time it was given and was not only something that concerns end-time events.
We might think that this the usual way that prophecy was given, but a brief examination of the whole biblical context of prophecy and how it was treated indicates that the sealing of prophecy rather than leaving it unsealed appears to be the ordinary approach to such matters when the matter is brought up directly. Let us turn to the last chapter of the book of Daniel and look at the first four verses to see a parallel case to that of the last chapter of Revelation. In Daniel 12:1-4 we see the usual biblical treatment of prophecies. Daniel 12:1-4 reads: ““At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time. and at that time your people shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever. “But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.”” This particular passage provides us with much that is familiar to us from the Book of Revelation–the Book of Life, resurrection, eternal judgment, messages about the Great Tribulation and God’s final deliverance of His people Israel. Let us note, though, that the attitude of the book of Daniel is for this book of prophecy to be sealed. It was after the fact when prophecies came true, as they did throughout the centuries after Daniel was written, that Daniel’s prophetic value was confirmed. The prophesies of Daniel were not for the time of Daniel itself, but rather for the future, to provide history in advance.
It should be noted as well that the reference the sealing up of prophecy in Daniel is not an isolated occurrence. We find the same sort of reference in a passage in the prophecies of Isaiah. Isaiah 29:11-16 contains a similar passage to what we have seen so far regarding questions of morality on the one hand and questions of the sealing of prophecies on the other. Isaiah 29:11-16 reads: “The whole vision has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one who is literate, saying, “Read this, please.” And he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” Then the book is delivered to one who is illiterate, saying, “Read this, please.” And he says, “I am not literate.” Therefore the Lord said: “Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men, therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work among this people, a marvelous work and a wonder; for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.” Woe to those who seek deep to hide their counsel far from the Lord, and their works are in the dark; they say, “Who sees us?” and, “Who knows us?” Surely you have things turned around! Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay; for shall the thing made say of him who made it, “He did not make me”? Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?”
Looking at these three passages gives us two vital lessons. The first of them is that sealing prophecies was the norm in the Old Testament when dealing with relevance that was often centuries away. That is what we see in Isaiah and Daniel, with prophecies that involved the rise and fall of empires, as well as the birth and return of Jesus Christ, all of which was at considerable distance. In the case of Isaiah and especially the case with Daniel, the value of the book in telling the future was clearly seen when what had been prophesied came to pass–sometimes in great detail. Revelation, in contrast, does not only make claims about the distant future from the time it was written, but contains layers of meaning for the first century church that was the original audience of the book as well as for believers in every generation since then. Indeed, Revelation has been viewed in four layers of meaning–a meaning for the first century church that focuses on the history of the Roman Empire and the place of biblical Christianity within that empire, a meaning that extends in eras over the entire span of history between the first century and today, a meaning that focuses on the situation of humanity and believers at the time just before the return of Jesus Christ, and an allegorical and spiritual layer of meaning that applies to all believers at all times–and all these layers of reading Revelation are simultaneously true.
There is a second lesson to be learned from these passages. The knowledge of prophecies is not merely a matter of intellectual understanding. At the same time that Revelation, Daniel, and Isaiah talk about whether the prophecies contained in the books are to be sealed or not, there is a reference to the moral character of the people who read the books and fail to learn the appropriate lessons about divine judgment and God’s ultimate control over history. One thing that all of the authors agree on is that they are somewhat pessimistic about the moral results of reading or being told divine prophecies on people whose hearts are hostile to God and His ways. Some people live aware of God’s presence and control over the universe, and some deliberately suppress that knowledge, and so create the conditions by which the judgments of God against a rebellious world come to pass. What has been written in these and many other prophecies will come to pass whether or not the world responds to that knowledge with repentance and obedience. It remains for us to be committed to following God, which requires us to know what God wills and what God commands, and not to be complacent in ignorance no matter what dark times we find ourselves in.