I am the first to admit that there are instances where prophetic speculation is taken too far. Sometimes to the point where all Christians are put up to ridicule. Just take the Harold Camping fiasco as an example. But I believe that God has given us prophecy for a reason – and one of those reasons is to confirm His existence and control over everything.
“Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.” Isaiah 46:9-10.
We can know that all of Scripture is inspired when we see prophecy fulfilled with one hundred percent accuracy.
“And we have the word of prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:19-21.
The fact of the matter is that God sometimes uses numbers and numerical patterns in prophecy.
The prophet Daniel studied prophetic numbers:
“… I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.” Daniel 9:2.
And Daniel himself was given the numerical prophecy of the 70 Weeks. (See Daniel 9:20-24.) Like Daniel, I believe that we are expected to know where we are in prophetic time.
Remember that Jesus held the Jews accountable for knowing the time of the First Coming:
“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.’” Luke 19:41-44.
The problem lies in our interpretation of prophecy. We want to make things fit certain timelines. We get so anxious to move things along that we even get creative with prophetic math. This does not make it so, however.
The numbers that God has given us in Scripture are still valid. But we need to take a balanced approach when trying to determine prophetic timing. There is a saying: God is never late. He is always on time. I like that. He has always known when the Rapture and the Tribulation will occur. There has been no delay – just misinterpretations on our part.
So, you asked whether we should bother trying to figure out end-time dates. I say yes, but with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the whole of Scripture.
I say yes because God has put numerical prophecies in the Bible. He told Noah that the Flood would start in 7 days (Genesis 7:4); He told Abraham that his descendants would be slaves in Egypt for 400 years (Genesis 15:13); He told Joseph that the Pharaoh’s cupbearer would be restored and the baker would be executed in 3 days (Genesis 40:8-23). He also established a numerical pattern when he told Ezekiel to lie on his left side for 390 days to bear the sin of Israel and on his right side for 40 days to bear the sin of Judah. “I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin.” Ezekiel 4:5. Likewise, when Jesus prophesied that He would be resurrected in 3 days, He referred to a numerical pattern established by Jonah’s 3 days in a big fish. See Matthew 12:40.
God must want us to pay attention to the numbers that He has put into the Bible. Why else would He have put them there?
Someday, we will be able to look back and see everything with the clarity of hindsight. But I think that God enjoys it when we search the Scriptures on this side of eternity. I know that it is a thrill when I am rewarded with a new insight to a familiar passage. And I believe that He will reward anyone who searches His Word with the desire to learn more about Him.
– Lisa Taylor