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Lotteries, Las Vegas and biblical Prophecy

One of the spring rituals for many people is filling out brackets for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.  You have to pick the winner of sixty-three games that are played over six rounds. There are sixty-four teams in the tournament so the first round features thirty-two games. Picking the winners of these games is “easier” because it’s already determined who is playing. Picking the winners in the rounds after that get tougher because if the teams you picked in the first round don’t all win—well, let’s just say your bracket can go south in a hurry. I speak from experience on this matter.

This year about 13 million people submitted their brackets to ESPN. After the first round, there were no perfect brackets left. Everyone had missed at least one game. It wouldn’t seem that making 32 correct picks would be that difficult but there it is. This should tell us something about lotteries, Las Vegas . . . and biblical prophecy.

When you look at text like Daniel 2 or 7, Isaiah 53, or Psalm 22, it’s important to remember that we’re not to approach them as prediction hunters who want to strip mine statements about the future with no regard for the context in which they occur. These texts were not written to us (although they are for us). They address people in their time and have a message for them. Embedded in these messages are predictive elements, but it’s never a good idea to divorce these elements from their message.

In Daniel 2, Nebuchadnezzar has the dream of the four part statue that is destroyed by a rock cut out of a mountain. After telling the king what his dream was, Daniel explains that the four parts of the statue represents different kingdoms that God will raise up (v. 36-38, 4:17). The stone cut out of the mountain represents God’s kingdom which will be established in the days of the fourth kingdom (v. 44).

From a predictive viewpoint, this is an amazing text because it (along with Daniel 7), speaks of three kingdoms that will arise after the Babylonian kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar. We know from history those kingdoms are the Medo-Persians, the Macedonians (Greeks), and the Romans. We also know it was in the days of the Romans that Jesus comes and establishes His kingdom (Mark 1:14-15). So Daniel 2 gives a rough outline of the next six hundred years of history. Pretty impressive when you consider we can’t even pick the winners of this week’s basketball games!

But these predictions are part of a larger message for the Jewish people of Daniel’s time. That message is that God is still in control. It would be easy for the Jewish people to buy into the accepted notion of the day that when your nation is defeated it is because your god doesn’t measure up. Daniel will develop throughout the book that Israel is in captivity because of their unfaithfulness, not God’s weakness (9:5ff). After Babylon, there will be three more Gentile kingdoms that will rule them. But God will remain faithful to His purposes and establish His kingdom in the days of Rome. Though they are in for centuries of foreign rule, there is hope on the horizon.

It’s a powerful message and a timely reminder that God’s fingerprints are all over the Scripture.

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