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The Renewal of Interest in Bible Prophecy

The Renewal of Interest in Bible Prophecy Video

Bible prophecy is ultimately concerned with the return of Jesus Christ. It could be argued that all sixty six books of the bible are concerned with this event. Jesus himself promised that he would return but did not give us the day or the hour of his return. He did however warn us to be watchful, stay alert and be aware of the signs of the times pointing to his return.

The ancient church fathers taught about the return of Christ. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Hippolytus among others. They taught of a personal return of Christ to rule the Earth. However over the centuries the issue of bible prophecy became subsumed into other church matters. The serious study of bible prophecy was not generally a matter for ordinary believers outside the confines of the church establishment. It is certainly true that over the centuries there were many predictions of Christ's return by various clerics as well as an assortment of mystics and astrologers. These were largely superstitious and not based on serious examination of the scriptures.

It was only after a revival in interest in the study of scripture as the Word of God that there was a renewal of interest in the serious study of bible prophecy. In England this revival began even before the reformation. John Wycliffe, a priest and theologian who lived from 1328 to 1384, was a critic of the exclusive nature of the church establishment and wanted the bible translated into the English language. He actually completed a translation from the Latin Vulgate bible into Middle English. His followers became known as Lollards which was a derogatory term but these people were able to read the bible for themselves. The result of this was that they started to question some of the teachings of the church such as the worship of saints, transubstantiation and the infallibility of the pope. 

Wherever people could read God's word for themselves they started to question false theological teachings. This process was accelerated in the 16th Century when William Tyndale, an English scholar and cleric, produced an English translation directly from Hebrew and Greek texts rather than from Latin translations. His work was also printed on printing presses which enabled it to reach a wider audience. Tyndale is listed in Foxe's Book of Martyrs which records, among other things, something that he said when serving as a schoolmaster in Gloucestershire. The following is taken from Foxe's Book of Martyrs.

There dwelt not far off a certain doctor, that had been an old chancellor before to a bishop, who had been of old familiar acquaintance with Master Tyndale, and also favoured him well; unto whom Master Tyndale went and opened his mind upon divers questions of the Scripture: for to him he durst be bold to disclose his heart. Unto whom the doctor said, "Do you not know that the pope is very antichrist, whom the Scripture speaketh of? But beware what you say; for if you shall be perceived to be of that opinion, it will cost you your life:" and said moreover, "I have been an officer of his; but I have given it up, and defy him and all his works." It was not long after, but Master Tyndale happened to be in the company of a certain divine, recounted for a learned man, and, in communing and disputing with him, he drave him to that issue, that the said great doctor burst out into these blasphemous words, and said, "We were better to be without God's laws than the pope's." Master Tyndale, hearing this, full of godly zeal, and not bearing that blasphemous saying, replied again, and said, "I defy the pope, and all his laws;" and further added, that if God spared him life, ere many years he would cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scripture than he did.

This anecdote illustrates the strength of the movement in the country for ordinary people to know God's Word. Tyndale's translation was regarded as such an affront to the Catholic church that he was eventually executed for heresy while living abroad in the Netherlands. His dying prayer was "Lord! Open the King of England's eyes." The King being Henry VIII. Within four years, four English translations of the Bible were published in England at the king's behest including Henry's official Great Bible. All were based on Tyndale's work.

As God's Word became more widely available so the interest in bible prophecy grew. Over the years people started to examine the prophecies in scripture in order to gain an understanding of God's purposes. One of the most famous was Sir Isaac Newton who lived from 1643 to 1727. Best known as a mathematician and physicist Newton was also a bible believer and theologian. He was not a believer in the Holy Trinity and was consequently not in line with orthodox Christian belief but he did have a great reverence for the bible and accepted it as the true inspired Word of God. He wrote extensively on the subject of prophecy in letters, notes and published material. His book, Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John (London: 1733) is fascinating for it's analytical rather than religious approach to bible prophecy. In chapter ten he examined the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks in Daniel chapter nine (see page on The Seventy Weeks of Daniel). Newton actually calculated that the seventy weeks, or 490 years, ended in 34 AD and consequently believed this was the year of Christ's crucifixion. His methods weren't so different from those of modern bible interpreters. He basically understood that Daniel's prophecy gave a timeline for the Messiah. As he wrote in chapter ten of his book:

"Thus we have in one short prophecy, a prediction of all the main periods relating to the coming of the Messiah."

Newton remained fascinated with bible prophecy all his life. There is a letter he wrote in 1704, which is now held in Jerusalem's Hebrew University, where he predicts that the world will end in 2060 AD. He does this by taking the date  of 800 AD when Charlemagne was crowned king by the pope and adding 1260 years, taking this number from the Book of Daniel. There is not room here to go into all his reasoning but this gives us an insight into the seriousness with which he took the study of prophecy.

Interest in prophecy grew as the availability of the Word grew. A major milestone in the development of the study of bible prophecy was the Powerscourt meetings held from 1830 to 1841 at Powerscourt House near Dublin. The topics covered were varied but there was an emphasis on the return of Christ and the restoration of the Jews. This interest in the restoration of the Jewish people was a constant theme of those who believed in the truth of God's word and we can see it in the works of such people as Grattan Guinness and Sir Robert Anderson. The brethren were always at the forefront of this Christian Zionism and in particular John Nelson Derby. Their influence to a greater or lesser degree reached to the highest offices of state and influenced such figures as Lord Shaftsbury, Lord Palmerston, David Lloyd George and Lord Balfour. The culmination being the Balfour declaration of 1917 promising the Jewish people their own homeland.


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