How to study Bible prophecy for yourself.
Many in the Body of Christ are hearing the same message from the Holy Spirit these days: Christ’s return is getting near. They are getting this message NOT by just watching the TV news and the dramatic events around the world like earthquakes, tsunamis or seeds of democracy sweeping the Middle East but they are also hearing this message direct from the Holy Spirit.
We should not be too surprised at this because before Christ came the first time the Holy Spirit also told some folks that His coming was “right around the corner”:
And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. (Luke 2:25-26)
The great need in this hour is to know how to study Biblical prophecy for yourself. We can’t rest on the multiple and varied (and conflicting) End Time interpretations of those ‘scholars’ that have gone before us. It is now high time that each and every believer become equipped to study Biblical prophecy for him or herself!!
The starting point is to recognize that as prophecy was fulfilled at the 1st Coming of Jesus this is exactly how it will be fulfilled at his 2nd Coming.
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)
1. Start with a “literal interpretation” of any and all prophesies.
The simple, straightforward, literal meaning is to be the primary way to interpret prophecy. We begin with a simple, literal reading of the text and then we move to interpretation. Although much of the text may be applied to events that have already happened or will meet us today or tomorrow yet the whole text in many cases must be interpreted as coming to fulfillment “in the Day of the Lord”. (Psalms 2, 8, 10, 45-48, 50, 96-99, 110 would be great examples of this. We see a glimpse into the future during the reign of an ultimate King here on earth.)
If the simple, straightforward, literal meaning is clear we have no Biblical warrant to spiritualize it or to make it only symbolic. The best case of this I can think of is the allegorizing by many in the church, both centuries earlier and today, of Babylon, written of by numerous Prophets. They say Babylon will transform into Rome or London or some other city. Others say she symbolizes the Last Days “Apostate Church”. Again, we have no Biblical warrant or precedent to do this. Babylon is Babylon, a city on the Euphrates River!
The Biblical precedent is to interpret Scripture at its simple, “face-value” meaning. To take at face value means to “accept something exactly the way it appears to be”. We see this again and again when we turn from the Old Testament prophecies to their New Testament fulfillment.
> Jesus was delivered up for 30 pieces of silver. That was 30 pieces according to both the prophet Zechariah (Zech 11) and recorded by the apostle Matthew. (Mtt 27)
>Jesus rode into Jerusalem riding on a colt, on the foal of a donkey. (John 12:14-15 and Zech 9:9)
> Micah foresaw that Bethlehem would be His birthplace and it was! (Micah 5:2)
When the Wise Men came from the East they did not spiritualize the interpretation of Bethlehem. Bethlehem was Bethlehem.
“Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the descendants of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” (John 7:42)
Oh, for more Wise Men to be raised up in these Last Days.
The Word of God is sharp and clear. At time things that are going to happen are so terrific and astounding that people lose hope in a literal interpretation. Yet God comes through time after time for us with very exact and specific details.
One example that is so compelling on this point is from the book of Zechariah.
In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south. (Zech 14:4)
In case you want to spiritualize this passage you are going to have a hard time imagining a place called the Mount of Olives that is in front of Jerusalem and on the east. Of course, as most people know, this is exactly where it is!
> 1260 days is 1260 literal days. (Rev. 11:3,12:6)
Interestingly enough, God new ahead of time what confusion would come up as the result of these numbers so He actually expresses the same amount of time in three different ways!!
1260 days = 42 months = time, times and half a time (3 ½ years)
> 1000 years = 1000 literal years. (Rev 20)
If it was going to be 999 years God would have told us so in His word. It won’t be…
2. When in doubt, find out how the Bible has chosen to interpret Itself.
When Jesus told a number of diverse parables to describe the kingdom of heaven His disciples were quite naturally left stretched and a bit out in the dark. But thankfully they asked Jesus for a private explanation. Well, because they did this we can be certain that how Jesus interprets His own parables is how we also should interpret them!
Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” (Mtt 13: 36)
Here are some the explanations Jesus gives them:
The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man
The field is the world
The good seed are the sons of the kingdom
The tares are the sons of the evil one
The enemy who sowed them is the devil
The harvest is the end of the age
The reapers are angels
That is a bundle of “insider information” that Jesus gives not only His 12 disciples but to the whole church!
We will find this same principle from Daniel to Revelation.
“The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings.” (Daniel 7:24)
“The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast.” (Revelation 17:12)
3. Discerning between Simple, Figurative and Symbolic Prophecies.
Basically there are 3 types of prophetic language:
Simple- God is love.
Figurative- God is my Rock and my Fortress.
Symbolic- “Offer up your only son Isaac.”
When the statement is simple we go straight to the literal meaning. In figurative and symbolic prophecies we need to look past the imagery and the objects (i.e. a seven headed beast with crowns and 10 horns Rev. 13/17) and find a literal meaning in the real world.
I quote from one of my all time favorite authors concerning the Prophetic Scriptures:
An Indian may come to me and say in simple language, “I desire to make peace with thee” or he may use figurative language and say, “Let us bury our weapons beneath the tree of peace”; or he may say nothing, but, silently, in symbolic action, may dig a grave beneath an olive tree, and there deposit his bow and his battle-axe: the modes of communication are in the three cases different, but the same substantial fact is conveyed by all, viz., “his desire to make peace with me. (B.W. Newton)
4. Don’t read the meaning of our culture back into biblical symbols/imagery. Use Scripture!
I close with various texts that actually describe different animals and sundry items directly from the Word of God. This is to be our guiding principle when it comes to difficult symbolic interpretations from prophetic texts.
There are three things which are stately in their march, Even four which are stately when they walk: The lion which is mighty among beasts, And does not retreat before any, (Prov. 30:29-30)
The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion. (Proverbs 28:1)
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. (Isa. 53:7)
Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? (Luke 14:34) Salt renders food pleasant and palatable, and preserves from putrefaction.
Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. (Luke 12:1) He spoke another parable to them, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.” (Mtt 13:33)
“The Jews identified fermentation with putrefaction; so leaven stood for all that was rotten and corrupt.” W. Barclay
My hope and prayer is that is this day and hour Father God will raise up many Simeons, who like the forerunner of old, are righteous and devout and looking for the Second Coming of Jesus and have the Holy Spirit upon them!