We started this new series in the hope to reach more Christians who never hear about end time prophecies in their churches. For this reason we are only touching on the very basics of prophecy.
- THE PURPOSE OF END TIME BIBLE PROPHECY
The Bible is very clear on the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and this should bring great excitement to any true believer’s heart. He is the subject of Prophecy. It begins and ends with Him. Revelation 19:10 says, “The essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus.” Jesus said: “I tell you this beforehand, so that when it happens you will believe that I AM the Messiah” (John 13:19). He repeated the same idea in John 14:29: “I have told you these things before they happen so that when they do happen, you will believe.” Sadly though, only a few churches preach on end time events to prepare their members for this glorious day.
Many Old Testament passages refer to this great event while 23 of the 27 New Testament books also explicitly address the Second Coming of Christ. Prophecy covers 27% of all Scripture and of the 333 prophecies concerning Christ, only 109 were fulfilled during His first coming, leaving 224 yet to be fulfilled during the Second Coming. Jesus Himself often referred to His Second Coming and His followers are commanded nearly fifty times to watch out and be ready for His coming. As much of the Bible relate to prophecy, a study of the end time events gives us a much better understand of the entire Bible.
Bible prophecy is important because it tells us where we are heading to. It helps us to understand why things happen as they do and it motivates us to endure these difficult times, knowing that there is hope for the future. It also changes the way we live as we are constantly aware of His imminent return. Prophecy can also be used to awaken people to their need for Christ.
There are no unforeseen circumstances with God as He rules sovereignly over His world. He knows everything (omniscient), is present everywhere (omnipresent), and possesses all power (omnipotent). Only the true God can accurately predict the future as He not only rules the ages, but also controls the events in the life of every believer.
Many prophecies have come to pass exactly as the Bible said they would, which provides us with absolute proof that the Bible is the inspired Word of the Sovereign God. Prophecies separate the Bible from every other religious book ever written and prove the divine inspiration of the Bible. The Four Great World Empires in Succession and Israel’s independence in 1948 are two of the greatest examples thereof.
There are the three things in eschatology that all Christians believe will happen regarding the end times: 1) the literal, physical return of Jesus Christ to the earth; 2) the bodily resurrection of the dead; and 3) the judgment of all people. We will address all of these things as we go along.
My overall view of the end time prophecies is futuristic and premillennial, and based on a consistent, literal interpretation of the Bible.
- BLESSINGS AND WARNINGS
Revelation is the only book in the Bible that contains specific, unique blessings, also called beatitudes, and there are seven of them.
- Revelation 1:3 – “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” The book of Revelation is the only book of the Bible with a direct blessing promised to those who read it, hears it and take heed and obey to it.
- Revelation 14:13 – “Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.’” People who become believers and die during the tribulation will find rest and reward with Christ.
- Revelation 16:15 – “Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.” Jesus warns those in the tribulation, just prior to the Battle of Armageddon, that He will soon come as a thief. Those who will remain faithful in Him will be blessed.
- Revelation 19:9 – “Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ And he added, ‘These are the true words of God.’” The marriage supper between the Lamb and His Bride, the church, will take place in heaven, and God’s people from all ages will celebrate.
- Revelation 20:6 – “Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.” The various resurrections mentioned in the Bible are divided into two general categories: the first resurrection is the resurrection of the justified, and the second of the unjust (Daniel 12:2; Luke 14:14; Acts 24:15). The first resurrection leads to eternal life while the second resurrection leads to the second death (Revelation 20:13–15).
- Revelation 22:7 – “Look, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy written in this scroll.” Again, Jesus promises a blessing to those who keep or obey the teachings of Revelation.
- Revelation 22:14 – “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.” Salvation comes from having one’s robes washed in the Lamb’s blood (Revelation 7:14)— it paints an amazing picture of the purity that comes with salvation and the price Jesus paid for our redemption (see Ephesians 1:7). Only blood-washed believers have the right to partake of the tree of life from which mankind has been barred since the Fall; only those with robes of righteousness have access to the Holy City (see Psalm 118:20; Isaiah 35:8).
Revelation 22:18-19, however, also contains a stern warning to those who add to or take away from prophecy. “For I testify together to everyone who hears the Words of the prophecy of this Book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add on him the plagues that have been written in this Book. And if anyone takes away from the Words of the Book of this prophecy, God will take away his part out of the Book of Life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which have been written in this Book.”
This warning is given specifically to those who distort the message of the Book of Revelation as Jesus Himself is the Author of Revelation and the giver of the vision to the apostle John (Revelation 1:1). Moses gave a similar warning in Deuteronomy 4:1-2, where he warned the Israelites to listen to and obey the commandments of God, neither adding to nor taking away from His revealed Word. Proverbs 30:5-6 also contains a similar admonition to anyone who would add to God’s words: he will be rebuked and proven to be a liar.
Allegorical or so-called “spiritual” interpretation of prophecy should always be avoided, except where it is clear that symbolism is used. Peter says in 2 Peter 1:20-21, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the 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.”
- INTERPRETATIONS OF PROPHECY
Eschatology refers to “the study of the last things.” We need to distinguish between the “last days” for the church, which is the age we are now living in, and the last days for Israel, which are still in the future. “End times” is a broad umbrella term, while the term, “last days” is more specific.
In the Old Testament, the term “last days” relates to Israel and includes the time of the tribulation, the coming of the Messiah as well as the establishment of His millennial kingdom on earth (Deuteronomy 4:30; Isaiah 2:2; Jeremiah 30:24; Ezekiel 38:8, 16; Micah 4:1). For the Old Testament prophets, the church and the church age were mysteries they had not seen (Ephesians 3:3-9).
Moving into the New Testament, the term “last days” mainly refers to the last days of the church and the church age (1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 3:1; James 5:3; 1 Peter 1:20; 2 Peter 3:3). The last days for the church commenced with Christ’s First Coming and will close with the Rapture. Therefore, the entire current church age is called the “last days.” Christ could come at any time and when the Rapture takes place, the end time events will begin in full force.
End times include the Rapture, the Tribulation, the second coming of Christ, the Millennium Kingdom, and eternity.
“DAY OF THE LORD”
The Old Testament specifically refers to the “Day of the Lord” nineteen times, but in many other places it also refers to “the day” or “that day.” The New Testament mentions the Day of the Lord four times (Acts 2:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Peter 3:10).
The day of the Lord always relates to the times when God intervenes directly and dramatically in history, either to judge or to bless, whether in the past or as He will do again in the future. In almost all of these past, historical days, they prefigure the final, future Day of the Lord.
The future Day of the Lord is a period that will begin with wrath and judgment upon the wicked and Christ-rejecting world and is better known as the seven-year Tribulation. The Day of the Lord will continue throughout the Millennial reign of Christ and the creation of the new heavens and new earth, which is a time of unparalleled blessing. Christ will be in the midst of the believers, ruling over the earth, and will bless the nation of Israel.
We are currently still in the church age, often being referred to as the day of grace.
INTERPRETATION IN GENERAL
One of the key reasons why people are sceptical about Bible prophecy is because there are so many different views among Christians.
The key cause for these differences is linked to the method of interpreting Scripture, and even more so, prophetic Scripture. This is called “hermeneutics.” The basic principles of interpretation that one follows lead to the conclusions he or she is drawing from a specific piece of Scripture.
Bible prophecy is full of symbolism, which seems difficult to interpret. Unfortunately, most Christians therefore allegorize or “spiritualize” all prophetic passages. This leads to inconsistencies and causes a great deal of confusion.
When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, do not seek for any other sense or alternative meaning. Take every word at its ordinary, literal meaning, unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages, clearly indicate otherwise.
The most difficult part of interpreting prophecy is understanding the meaning of the symbols. Bible prophecy uses a broad spectrum of symbols—a huge statue, horns, beasts, stars, and various coloured horses to only name a few. It’s critical to remember that when symbols are used, they always refer to something that is literal.
When interpreting symbols, no interpreter has the freedom to make a symbol mean whatever he or she wants. First look at the immediate context for explanations of its meaning. Second, if a symbol has no clear interpretation in the immediate context, consider the larger context of the entire book where the symbol is found. Sometimes you may even need to consider another portion of Scripture. In many instances, the same symbol was also used in other passages or books of the Bible.
As so much of the Bible was prophetic when it was written, and since it all originates from the same divine Author, many passages throughout the Bible discuss the same persons and events, without contradicting each other.
Another important point is to carefully distinguish between what has already been fulfilled and what remains unfulfilled, to accurately interpret prophecy and put together a prophetic outline.
FOUR MAIN VIEWS CONCERNING THE TIMING OF EVENTS AND THEIR FULFILLMENT
- Preterist (Past)
Preterists, like R.C. Sproul, are of the opinion that most, if not all, prophecies had been fulfilled in the first century by the events leading up to and surrounding the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.
Extreme preterists even believe the the Second Coming and the Resurrection of believers are past events. They view the Resurrection as a spiritual event. They go as far as telling that we are beyond the Millennium and are presently living in the new heavens and new earth.
Moderate preterists believe that the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 fulfilled most of Revelation’s visions. They believe that Jesus returned in AD 70 in a “cloud coming” to destroy Jerusalem through the Roman army and that Nero was the “beast” in Revelation 13.
Partial preterists believe that the coming in AD 70 was a judgment for the Jews but not the final judgment coming at the end of history. Moderate preterists however believe in a literal, future Second Coming, the resurrection of the dead, and a final judgment.
Preterists spiritualize and allegorize the text of most prophetic passages when events don’t fit what happened in AD 70. The main problem for preterists is that John wrote Revelation in AD 95, twenty-five years after Jerusalem was destroyed.
- Historicist (Present)
Historicists interpret Revelation and many other prophecies as an overview of church history from the time of the apostles until the Second Coming. It is their desire to make Revelation relevant to readers in every generation. They frequently disagree on the meaning of symbol, which leads to a general lack of consensus among them as well as lots of speculation.
- Idealist (Timeless)
Idealists do not consider Revelation as a prophetic book of future events but as a depiction of the ongoing struggle in a Christian’s life between good and evil and as an inspiration for believers to endure their setbacks and sufferings. Idealism originated as a result of the allegorical method of interpretation used by church fathers like Origen and Clement and gained traction with the amillennial view of Augustine. Sadly, the idealistic view is the main view among scholars today. It completely fails to give concrete meaning to the symbols of the book.
- Futurist (Future)
Futurists interpret most prophetic texts as describing real people and events yet to appear on the world scene. Futurism was the dominant view of the early church. Among Futurists are the likes of Irenaeus, Hippolytus, John Walvoord and John MacArthur. Every generation of futurists lived with the hope that Revelation’s prophecies could be fulfilled in their time and this spirit of expectancy makes the prophecies relevant for every generation. It is the only view that consistently applies the principles of literal interpretation. Just as Genesis told us how everything began, it makes sense that the prophecies of the end times, especially Revelation, would tell us how everything would finally come out in the end.
THREE VIEWS OF THE NATURE AND TIMING OF THE MILLENNIUM
The Millennium is a period of one thousand years when Satan is bound and Christ reigns (Revelation 20:1-6). Christ’s rule will bring unprecedented peace and justice to the earth.
A-millennials believe that there will be no future, literal, earthly, one thousand-year reign of Christ, but that the Kingdom is spiritual in nature and is presently being fulfilled as Christ reigns in heaven and in the hearts of His people on earth. The one-thousand-year time frame is understood as symbolic of a long period of time during the current age. The believe that Satan has already been bound.
Post-millennials teach that Christ will return to earth after the Millennium. The Millennial Kingdom is not a literal thousand years but a golden age that the church will usher in by the preaching of the gospel during this present age. The golden age will arrive gradually as the gospel spreads throughout the earth, until the whole world is eventually Christianized. The Millennium will grow on earth as Christians exercise more and more influence over the affairs of this planet. Ultimately, the gospel will prevail, and the world will become a better place, after which time Christ will appear to usher in eternity.
This view holds that Christ will return to earth at His second coming and will usher in a literal one-thousand-year earthly reign. For pre-millennials, the Millennium is still to come, after the 7 year tribulation, when Christ will return.
The prophets often spoke a divine message for their own day, and their message was always closely tied to a predictive element of future judgment for disobedience or future blessing for obedience.
Old Testament prophets often blended the two comings of Christ, sometimes even in one verse. Many of the events that took place were simultaneously foreshadows of what is yet to come, often in greater proportions. The long-time gaps between two events is often being referred to as “prophetic skips.” The Old Testament has several examples. Today, with further divine revelation in the New Testament, we can discern the time gap between the two advents.
THE CHURCH AGE
We are currently living in the church age, which began on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and will end dramatically with the Rapture. During the church age, Jews and Gentiles who come to faith in Christ are being formed into one body with Jesus Christ as the Head.
KEY PROPHETIC PASSAGES
Although all prophetic passages make a unique contribution, there are three main sections of the Bible that contain the essential keys to understanding the future. These three sections are (1) the book of Daniel, (2) the Olivet discourse (Matthew 24-25), and (3) the book of Revelation. There are however also other important passages such as Ezekiel 38–39, Zechariah 12-14, 1 Thessalonians 4–5, 2 Thessalonians 2 and many more, spread throughout the Bible.
Daniel 2 provides the first and most basic prophetic outline regarding the times of the Gentiles. It uses the symbol of a huge statue to describe the four main gentile empires that ruled the world throughout history, as well as the final empire, belonging to the Antichrist.
In Daniel 7, the prophet has a night vision in which four great beasts emerge from the sea: a winged lion, a bear, a four-winged leopard, and a terrible beast with iron teeth and ten horns. Another smaller horn appears among these ten horns, replacing three of them. Comparing these beasts to the statue in Daniel 2, we see that they represent the same gentile empires, yet from a different perspective.
The times of the Gentiles began with the Babylonian Empire in 605 BC, followed by the Persian Empire, which replaced Babylon in 539 BC. The Persians in turn were overthrown by Alexander the Great in 334–331 BC, and Greece was succeeded by Rome, which lasted until AD 476.
However, the ten horns in Daniel 7 do not seem to match the historic Roman Empire. Daniel says, “Its ten horns are ten kings” (7:24), but those ten leaders have never existed. This absence indicates that the Roman Empire will be revived or reunited in the end times and will ultimately be headed by the “little horn,” which is another title for the final Antichrist. His rule, and the times of the Gentiles, will be terminated when Christ, the smiting stone, the Son of Man, comes to establish His Kingdom. “His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14).
In Daniel 9 we learn about the 70 weeks (or 490 years) of Daniel.
Daniel 9:25 mentions the first sixty-nine weeks: 7 weeks + 62 weeks (483 years or 173,880 days)
Daniel 9:26 represents the time between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks (An unknown period, including the current age)
In Daniel 9:24-27 God answers to Daniel’s prayer, but He goes far beyond the restoration of the people from Babylon to Israel’s ultimate and final restoration under the Messiah. The 490 years relate to the Jewish people and the city of Jerusalem, not to the church. Christ’s death on the cross made provision for sin, but Israel’s acceptance of this sacrifice will not be realized until they repent at the end of the seventy weeks, in conjunction with Christ’s second coming.
God’s prophetic clock for Israel stopped at the end of the sixty-ninth set of seven. We are living in this gap between week sixty-nine and week seventy—it is called the church age. The church age will end when Christ raptures His bride, the church. Since the church was not around for the first sixty-nine weeks from 444 BC to AD 33, it makes sense the church will not be here for the final week of years either.
Daniel 9:27 relates to the seventieth week (seven years). God’s prophetic clock for Israel will begin again after the church has been raptured, when the Antichrist comes onto the scene and ratifies a seven-year treaty with Israel (Daniel 9:27).
The Antichrist will break his covenant with Israel at its midpoint (after 3½ years) and set an abominable statue or image of himself in the rebuilt Temple of God in Jerusalem (Matthew 24:21; Revelation 13:14-15). The final 3½ years will be the “great tribulation” Jesus talked about in Matthew 24:21.
At the end of the seven years, God will slay the Antichrist (see Daniel 9:27; 2 Thessalonians 2:8; Revelation 19:20). This event will mark the end of the seventy sets of seven and the beginning of the one-thousand-year reign of Christ.
The Olivet discourse was Jesus’ response to His disciples’ question about the destruction of the Temple and the end of the age. This sermon, therefore, addresses the seven-year Tribulation period that will occur just before Christ returns. In Matthew 24:15, Jesus says, “The day is coming when you will see what Daniel the prophet spoke about.” Jesus directly appeals to the prophecies of Daniel and specifically to Daniel 9:27.
In the context, “this generation” probably refers to those living during the Tribulation who will personally witness the events described in Matthew 24:4-31.
Chapters 1–3: The current Church Age
Chapters 4-5: The affairs in heaven
Chapters 6–19: The Tribulation
Chapter 20: The 1000 year Kingdom Age
Chapters 21–22: The Eternal Age