Peter’s second epistle is filled with foreboding. As the apostle anticipates his death, he warns of false teachers “who privily shall bring in damnable heresies” (2:1) and “scoffers, walking after their own lusts” (3:3). He anticipates days filled with the darkness of departure. His words paint a gloomy picture, but not a hopeless one. Amidst the surrounding shade shines a brilliant light. “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts” (2Peter 1:19). The light of Scripture is both a comfort and a guide, dispelling the darkness, and directing the believer’s course until the glorious moment of daybreak.
Peter’s words describe a divine provision. “Prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (1:21). But even as he describes divine provision, he highlights human responsibility. We are to “take heed” to this “more sure word of prophecy” (v10). Prophecy that remains shut away in the clean pages of our Bible will not profit us. It is as we take heed to God’s Word, carefully and painstakingly reading, re-reading, and studying it, that we will know the comfort and the clarity of the light that it alone provides. In chapter three of the epistle, Peter brings before us the entire prophetic program, from the arrival of the day of the Lord to the commencement of the eternal day of God. He directs his readers to the full-orbed radiance of God’s great prophetic plan.
Peter’s final words are a mandate for the careful and comprehensive study of prophetic Scripture, not because it will make us more clever or better informed, but because it should make us more hopeful and more holy. With this in mind, the remainder of this article will outline some useful books to assist in the study of prophecy.
The variety of books on prophecy available to the student of Scripture is vast and varied. Care is always advisable when selecting books, and the range of prophetic interpretation in circulation means that it is wise to be especially cautious when buying books on prophecy. In particular, sensational works that attempt to interpret prophecy in light of current events, or vice versa, are best avoided. It is generally true that by their covers ye shall know them, and while sober typography and sober theology do not always go together, the presence of exclamation marks on the front cover is almost invariably a reliable indicator of an unhelpful book.
Over the past decade or so, a wave of “Rapture novels” has appeared. These books purport to present the events that will take place before the Rapture and during the Tribulation. These should be avoided. Though they may seem like a low-effort introduction to prophecy, these novels contain much questionable teaching, and will be of little help to the believer who wants to gain a Biblical understanding of prophecy.
It should go without saying that the best book to impart a Biblical understanding of prophecy is the Bible. We often allow ourselves to be daunted by the complexity of prophetic truth, by its presentation in types and symbols, and by the way it permeates all of Scripture. There is a great deal of truth to grasp and systematize, and there is no doubt that other books can help us do this. They should, however, be used as an adjunct to reading the Bible for ourselves, and not as a substitute for it. And while there will be much that, at first, seems obscure, the study of, and meditation upon, Scripture will yield enlightenment.
The key to studying a subject like prophecy is to get the big picture, the overarching structure, clear in our minds, and then to fill in the details. A grasp of dispensational truth is vital to a proper understanding of Scripture, and is a tremendous help in studying the Bible. In particular, a clear grasp of prophetic teaching is heavily dependent on distinguishing things that differ. An introduction to the Biblical truth of the dispensations is provided by the author’s The Dispensations: God’s Plan for the Ages (available from www.scriptureteachinglibrary.com.
The books of Daniel and Revelation are central to our understanding of Bible prophecy. Jim Allen’s commentary on Revelation in the What the Bible Teaches series and his commentary on Daniel are careful and detailed expositions of these two challenging books. John F. Walvoord’s treatments of these books are also worth having, and H. A. Ironside is as readable on these books as he always is.
The prophecy of 70 weeks is the backbone of prophetic revelation. A clear understanding of the prophetic structure revealed to Daniel allows us to get the rest of prophecy properly in its place. A number of works deal in detail with this prophecy. Sir Robert Anderson’s The Coming Prince is the classic work in this regard. Harold Hoehner refined Anderson’s calculations in his Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ. Alva McClain’s Daniel’s Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks is a concise but helpful treatment of the issue.
There is one book on prophecy that unquestionably falls into the select category of “must-have” books for Bible study. J. D. Pentecost is always worth reading, but Things to Come is perhaps his most valuable work. It provides a structured and comprehensive overview of Biblical prophecy, and builds its conclusions on the careful exegesis of Scripture. His footnotes often serve as valuable pointers to additional reading.
F. A. Tatford’s God’s Program for the Ages, is a useful, brief introduction to prophetic, and, to a lesser extent, dispensational truth. His commentaries on the Minor Prophets provide brief but lucid introductions to these oftentimes neglected books. His commentaries,Zechariah, Prophet of the Myrtle Grove, and Ezekiel, Dead Bones Live, are longer than the other volumes in the series, and provide detailed exposition of these two important books.
The Millennial reign of Christ is a subject that runs right through Scripture. A positive and comprehensive account of kingdom teaching, including, but not limited to, the kingdom in its millennial manifestation, is provided by Alva McClain’s classic The Glory of the Kingdom. A detailed critique of amillennial teaching is provided by David McAllister’s series of articles, “Amillennialism Examined,” which appeared in Assembly Testimony from July 1995 to March 1997. Another helpful series on the subject, “A Millennial or Amillennial Future: Which?” appeared in T&T from February to December 2010. Both series are available online.
This list is far from being exhaustive, but these works will help us to understand the framework of prophetic revelation. Filling in that framework will keep us busy, hopeful, holy and happy, until we arrive, at last, in the day of eternity.