Will the prophecies of Revelation come true?

Ruth Jacob

Everyone wants to know what's going to happen. We would all like to look into the future, where we're going but can't see, to get rid of the uncertainty that life throws at us. That's why countless people have their palms read, or pay a clairvoyant to peer into a crystal ball, and why they read the horoscopes. Those who scorn or frown on such things will happily watch the weather forecast. And this streak in human nature accounts for the popularity of books and films about "end-time" prophecies, particularly those in the book of Revelation. After all, it's in the Bible, so obviously it will really happen - so we can know the future if only we can work out what it all means.

A neglected but essential feature of this book, however, is that it does not call itself "The Revelation of What Will Happen," though that accounts for some of its contents. The full title of the book is actually "The Revelation of Jesus Christ." Well, fine. But doesn't it also tell us what will definitely happen - all the things God has foreordained to play out before the big finale?

In a sense, it does tell us what will actually happen - though perhaps in the same sense that the message YHWH told Jonah to give to Nineveh was what would actually happen.

Jonah, you may recall, was commissioned (some would say coerced) into going to the hated city Nineveh and announcing to the whole population, "In forty days Nineveh will be destroyed!!" That was his entire message: no conditions, no let-out clauses - just a done deal. But something happened that hadn't been predicted: before long, the whole city was doing everything they could think of to demonstrate their change of heart - fasting, changing out of their finery, sitting on the ground, praying, weeping ...

And when Jonah slipped away in the nick of time and prepared to enjoy the spectacle of destruction from a safe distance, he was more than a little peeved when the fire and brimstone performance failed to begin.

Jonah had been cheated. YHWH had definitely said that Nineveh would be destroyed that day, and then He didn't stick to the plan. Jonah's nose was put out of joint because he'd so wished Nineveh to be wiped out, what's more, think of the shame of associating himself with a prophecy that now wouldn't come true!

Not only that but, worse, how could he ever trust YHWH again, after saying He'd definitely do something and then pulling the plug? Jonah didn't want YHWH to be merciful, didn't want Him to be the kind of God who would relent of doing harm.

We often criticise Jonah for his callousness, but maybe we should also be looking at the source of his disappointment with his God. YHWH's decision to spare Nineveh was not based on His unchanging sovereign decree but on His true nature. Jonah complained that he hadn't wanted to deliver such a message precisely because he didn't like the fact that YHWH's nature is compassionate to the extent of risking looking weak, changeable, maybe foolish - in other words, not like a real god at all. A real god would have said, "I have declared destruction, therefore I will destroy": after all, it wouldn't do for a god to get a bad reputation.

Back in Jonah's day, YHWH might very well have smitten and destroyed Nineveh if they had ignored his message - but their repentance is not the reason He gives for changing His mind, only the number of lives, human and otherwise, which have been saved: "Shouldn't I have pity on Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?"

Jonah had a little more excuse than we do. He didn't have the benefit, as we do, of knowing how YHWH had acted once he was in human flesh. Jonah was not able to look back and see, as we are able to see, the ultimate weakness and foolishness of YHWH in undergoing death by crucifixion.

... So, to return to the prophecies of Revelation, could we ask whether the unpleasant events prophesied might have a different outcome, if the main players don't follow the expected and predicted courses of action, just as there was an unexpected outcome for Nineveh? Does the thought of that throw your world off balance? Does it make you ask, "If God says it will happen and then it doesn't happen, how can I trust God? If some prophecies don't come true, how can I be sure about the other ones? How can I be sure about the ones that say it's all right in the end?"

The answer I give is the answer I would give to Jonah: we should not be trusting in the sayings and prophecies even of YHWH half as much as His true nature of unfailing faithfulness, and it is that which will ensure everything is ultimately made right. His "weakness" and "foolishness" puts his faithfulness to us, his creation, far beyond His faithfulness to any words he might have spoken, or His reputation as a "god". The truest thing we can know about YHWH, the One who is becoming what He is becoming, is not words, but the revelation of the definitive Word of God - Jesus, dying on the cross.