LET’S TALK PROPHECY

0 IMPORTANCE OF PROPHECY

ALL PROPHECIES ARE FROM GOD

“Search from the book of the Lord, and read: Not one of these shall fail; Not one shall lack her mate. For My mouth has commanded it, and His Spirit has gathered them.” (ISAIAH 34:16)

Isaiah understood that his words were the words of the Lord and not his own. It also tells us that Isaiah meant that his prophecy should be understood literally. “After Edom has become a wasteland, men will take out the scroll and verify that Isaiah’s predictions came true.” (Wolf)

“Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD, Or as His counselor has taught Him? With whom did He take counsel, and who instructed Him, And taught Him in the path of justice? Who taught Him knowledge, And showed Him the way of understanding?” (ISAIAH 40:13-14)

God needs no counsel, no instruction, no teacher, and no one to show Him the way of understanding. Our instruction from the Lord is not to seek for all kinds of mystical or hidden spiritual messages in the prophesies but to occupy until Jesus comes. When we read the prophesies and realize how quickly they are coming into fulfilment, there is not much time left to shine our lights in the darkness.

“Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel, And his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: “I am the First and I am the Last; Besides Me there is no God. And who can proclaim as I do? Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me, Since I appointed the ancient people. And the things that are coming and shall come, Let them show these to them. Do not fear, nor be afraid; Have I not told you from that time, and declared it? You are My witnesses. Is there a God besides Me? Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one.” (ISAIAH 43:6-8)

God is Master of both the past (the former things) and the future (new things). Being the Master of both the future and the past, God also has the present well in hand and therefore He can declare… “new things, even before they spring forth.”

“Thus says God the LORD, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it, Who gives breath to the people on it, And spirit to those who walk on it: “I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness, And will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the Gentiles, To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the prison, Those who sit in darkness from the prison house. I am the LORD, that is My name; And My glory I will not give to another, Nor My praise to carved images. Behold, the former things have come to pass, And new things I declare; Before they spring forth I tell you of them.” (ISAIAH 42:5-9)

Peter’s message in the New Testament is also very clear. “And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” (2 PETER 1:19-21)

“Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, And He who formed you from the womb: “I am the LORD, who makes all things, Who stretches out the heavens all alone, Who spreads abroad the earth by Myself; Who frustrates the signs of the babblers, And drives diviners mad; Who turns wise men backward, And makes their knowledge foolishness; Who confirms the word of His servant, And performs the counsel of His messengers; Who says to Jerusalem, ‘You shall be inhabited,’ To the cities of Judah, ‘You shall be built,’ And I will raise up her waste places; Who says to the deep, ‘Be dry! And I will dry up your rivers’; Who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd, And he shall perform all My pleasure, Saying to Jerusalem, “You shall be built,” And to the temple, “Your foundation shall be laid.”’ (ISAIAH 44:24-28)

Here God proves that He is who He claims to be by announcing the name of a deliverer for Israel’s Babylonian exiles – and Isaiah wrote this more than 200 years before Cyrus fulfilled this prophecy. The prophet alluded to the king who would bring about Israel’s release from captivity in Isaiah 41:2, but in this passage, he mentions him by name! With such amazingly specific claims, God proves who He is through predicted and fulfilled prophecy. No other god, or any other religion can do this.

“Remember this, and show yourselves men; Recall to mind, O you transgressors. Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure.’ (ISAIAH 46:8-10)

The essential point is that God’s people must remember that He knows the end from the beginning and is in control of all things. We can have tremendous courage in our God when we understand and remember who He is and what He does.

“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” (ISAIAH 55:8-9)

The rain and snow eventually do return to heaven, but not before accomplishing their purpose on earth. Even so, God’s Word, when He sends it down from heaven, does not return to Him void. Instead, it always fulfills His purpose on earth.

THE BIBLICAL HISTORY OF PROPHECY

God sent prophets throughout history to guide and warn His people. One of the first things Jesus did after the resurrection, was to rebuke some of his disciples for being “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25).

The prophets were most prominent after the tribes of Israel divided into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. All of the great prophets, lived during these few centuries, from roughly 800 B.C. – 450 B.C. Most of them prophesied before the Babylonian Exile, but there were also a few (Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi) thereafter. In the historical books in the Old Testament we also read of other prophets, such as Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Prophets arose when the priests failed to teach God’s law to the people, and kings and judges failed to govern the country justly. The prophets were thus sent to declare to the people where they stood and the prophecies contained words of rebuke, words of assurance, threats, and sometimes words of consolation. Often the prophets also had messages for the nations surrounding Israel as these nations were relevant to Israel’s own situation.

Israel as a nation had to die, but it will also be resurrected. God will bring judgment upon his people, but he promised to bring them back to their land and to restore a remnant of them spiritually.

“The surety of the judgments of the LORD. “Search from the book of the LORD, and read: Not one of these shall fail; Not one shall lack her mate. For My mouth has commanded it, and His Spirit has gathered them. He has cast the lot for them, And His hand has divided it among them with a measuring line. They shall possess it FOREVER; From generation to generation they shall dwell in it.” (ISAIAH 34:16-17)

“DOUBLE FULFILMENT” (NEAR AND FAR VIEW, OR MULTIPLE FULFILLMENT)

Thomas Hartwell Horne explains “Double Fulfilment” in the interpretation of prophecy as follows: “The same prophecies frequently have a double meaning, and refer to different events, the one near, the other remote; the one temporal, the other spiritual or perhaps eternal. The prophets thus having several events in view, their expressions may be partly applicable to one and partly to another, and it is not always easy to make the transitions. What has not been fulfilled in the first, we must apply to the second; and what has already been fulfilled, may often be considered as typical of what remains to be accomplished.”

THE PRINCIPLE OF DOUBLE FULFILLMENT IN INTERPRETING PROPHECY – DAVID JEREMIAH

From the abovementioned definition, we make the following observations: 1. The first fulfillment of the prophecy is usually found in a person or an event close in time to the prophetic utterance. 2. The first fulfillment is usually only a partial fulfillment of the total prophetic message. 3. The ultimate fulfillment is usually found in the person of Christ or the affairs of His kingdom. 4. The first fulfillment is usually temporal, whereas, the ultimate fulfillment may be spiritual or eternal. 5. Part of the prophetic message may be fulfilled close at hand, and that fulfillment in turn becomes a second prophecy.

A double fulfillment prophecy loses none of its literalness when it is fulfilled the second or even the third time. This would violate our basic system of hermeneutics. “Double fulfillment is literal fulfillment and therefore consistent with basic rules of interpretation. By accepting the doctrine of double fulfilment, we avoid opening up the door to all kinds of unbiblical notions as we so often find with those who use allegorical interpretation.

It is important to note the unchronological character of the Old Testament Prophecy. Because two events are spoken of together or in close sequence, is no proof that these events will take place simultaneously or even in immediate succession, unless the Scripture specifically affirms so. Often two widely separated events were referred to in the same chapter or verse, as the Holy Spirit enabled the prophet to bring these events together.

The most important aspect of the prophecy to the prophet was the immediate not the future. He wanted the people to repent and return to the God. Nevertheless, according to Christ’s own words, the message of the Old Testament was the coming Messiah. Although the prophets looked first at their own situation, they ultimately prophesied about the first and the second coming Messiah.

One of the most powerful arguments for the literal fulfillment of prophecy relating to Christ’s second coming is the fact that prophecy was literally fulfilled at His first coming. Those who argue that prophecy will not be fulfilled literally in the future go against God’s past pattern and have no biblical basis for their claims.

“Then the LORD answered me and said: “Write the vision And make it plain on tablets, That he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; Because it will surely come, It will not tarry.” (HABAKKUK 2:2-3)

A LACK OF KNOWLEDGE

“But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.” (DANIEL 12:4)

The words had to be kept safely until the time of the end. Daniel’s prophecy certainly was of some value in his own day. But there would come a day, the time of the end, when his prophecy would be of even more importance. When John wrote the book of Revelation, God gave us a very good insight to the things awaiting both believers and unbelievers.

Daniel describes a characteristic of the time of the end. Many take this prediction as being fulfilled in the travel (run to and fro) and information explosions (knowledge shall increase) of our modern age. But this has more the idea of searching after knowledge rather than rapid forms of transportation. People would run around trying to find answers to important questions, especially in reference to future events taking place.

True Christians would seek answers in the Word of God and thus, ‘knowledge of the book itself shall be increased.’

The “Blue Letter Bible” website mentions that Daniel has revealed enough to us so that the book really can be sealed. From Daniel 11:36 to Daniel 12:3, we see:

  • A world ruler, utterly opposed to God.
  • A world religion, based on the abomination of desolation.
  • A world war, which defeats the ruler.
  • A time of great tribulation for Israel lasting three and one-half years.
  • Deliverance for the people of God after the tribulation.
  • Resurrection and judgment.
  • The reward of the righteous.

Sadly, very few churches preach on prophecy and it’s literal meaning.

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.” (HOSEA 4:6)

“Who is wise? Let him understand these things. Who is prudent? Let him know them. For the ways of the LORD are right; The righteous walk in them, But transgressors stumble in them.” (HOSEA 14:9)

A FEW IMPORTANT THINGS TO REMEMBER …

Time is running out and a return to the Lord is immenent if we had gone astray.

“Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord GOD, “That I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine of bread, Nor a thirst for water, But of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, And from north to east; They shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD, But shall not find it. In that day the fair virgins And strong young men Shall faint from thirst.” (Amos 8:11-13)

“Seek the LORD, all you meek of the earth, Who have upheld His justice. Seek righteousness, seek humility. It may be that you will be hidden In the day of the LORD’s anger.” (ZEPHANIAH 2:3)

“Seek the LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.” (ISAIAH 55:6-7)

What a glorious promise! When we turn to the LORD, He will have mercy on us and abundantly pardon!

Secondly, need to be aware that are living in an age where “the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour,” more than ever. (1 PETER 5:8) It is so easy to be drown into the wrong things this world has to offer. Continuously pray that God would “deliver us from the evil one.”

Also, do not allow tests, trials and tribulations to beat us down. During such times, we do not always understand why these things are allowed to happen to us or why prayers are not answered in the way we want them to be. But God is wiser than us and “we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (ROMANS 8:28)

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (ISAIAH 55:8-9)

As Christian watchmen (and women), all of the evil we see all around us sometimes makes us weary as we are in this world, but not of this world. I guess, if we’ll be honest, we can relate to Habakkuk in our weakest moments.

O LORD, how long shall I cry, And You will not hear? Even cry out to You, “Violence!” And You will not save. Why do You show me iniquity, And cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; There is strife, and contention arises. Therefore the law is powerless, And justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore perverse judgment proceeds.” (HABAKKUK 1:2-4)

Are You not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O LORD, You have appointed them for judgment; O Rock, You have marked them for correction. You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness. Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, And hold Your tongue when the wicked devours A person more righteous than he? Why do You make men like fish of the sea, Like creeping things that have no ruler over them? They take up all of them with a hook, They catch them in their net, And gather them in their dragnet. Therefore they rejoice and are glad. Therefore they sacrifice to their net, And burn incense to their dragnet; Because by them their share is sumptuous And their food plentiful. Shall they therefore empty their net, And continue to slay nations without pity?” (HABAKKUK 1:12-17)

BUT GOD … knows the future and we are not without hope. The blessing of fellowship is enormous as we are able to encourage one another to endure until that glorious day.

“Strengthen the weak hands, And make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are fearful-hearted, “Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, With the recompense of God; He will come and save you.” (ISAIAH 35:3-4)

“Search from the book of the LORD, and read: not one of these shall fail.” This time of great tribulation is certainly coming upon the earth. This is beyond all doubt and our part isn’t to bring it or to prevent it, but simply to be ready, and to “pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36).

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF PROPHECY AND ITS CORRECT INTERPRETATION

Hermeneutics

THE IMPORTANCE OF PROPHECY

In the history of the church, the eschatological or prophetic portions of Scripture have suffered more from inadequate interpretation than any other major theological subject. The reason for this is that the church turned aside from a normal and grammatical literal interpretation of prophecy to one that is nonliteral and subject to the caprice of the interpreter. This false approach to interpreting prophecy is contradicted beyond question by the fact that so many hundreds of prophecies have already been literally fulfilled.

In the first two centuries of the Christian era the church was predominantly premillennial, interpreting Scripture to teach that Christ would fulfill the prophecy of His second coming to bring a thousand-year reign on earth before the eternal state will begin. This was considered normal in orthodox theology. The early interpretation of prophecy was not always cogent and sometimes fanciful, but for the most part, prophecy was treated the same way as other Scripture.

In the last ten years of the second century and in the third century, the heretical school of theology at Alexandria, Egypt, advanced the erroneous principle that the Bible should be interpreted in a nonliteral or allegorical sense. In applying this principle to the Scriptures, they subverted all the major doctrines of the faith, including prophecy. The early church rose up and emphatically denied the Alexandrian system and to a large extent restored the interpretation of Scripture to its literal, grammatical, historical sense. The problem was that in prophecy there were predictions that had not yet been fulfilled. This made it more difficult to prove that literal fulfillment was true of prophecy. The result was somewhat catastrophic for the idea of a literal interpretation of prophecy, and the church floundered in the area of interpretation of the future.

Augustine (AD 354–430) rescued the church from uncertainty as far as nonprophetic Scripture is concerned, but continued to treat prophecy in a nonliteral way with the purpose of eliminating a millennial kingdom on earth. Strangely, Augustine held to a literal second coming, a literal heaven and a literal hell, but not to a literal millennium. This arbitrary distinction has never been explained.

Because amillennialism, which denies a literal millennial kingdom on earth following the second coming, is essentially negative and hinders intelligent literal interpretation of prophecy, there was little progress in this area. The church continued to believe in heaven and hell and purgatory, but neglected or explained away long passages having to deal with Israel in prophecy and the kingdom on earth as frequently revealed in the Old Testament. Even in the Protestant Reformation, prophecy was not rescued from this hindrance in its interpretation.

Though remnants of the church still advanced the premillennial view, it was not until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that a movement to restore the literal truth of prophecy began to take hold. The twentieth century was especially significant in the progress of prophetic interpretation in that many details of prophecy were debated and clarified in a way that was not possible before. Though amillennialism continues to be the majority view of the church, among those who hold a high view of Scripture the premillennial interpretation has been given detailed exposition, serving to provide an intelligent view of the present and the future from the standpoint of biblical prophecy.

The importance of prophecy should be evident, even superficially, in examining the Christian faith, for about one-fourth of the Bible was written as prophecy. It is evident that God intended to draw aside the veil of the future and to give some indication of what His plans and purposes were for the human race and for the universe as a whole. The neglect and misinterpretation of Scriptures supporting the premillennial interpretation is now to some extent being corrected.

In the nature of Christian faith a solid hope for the future is essential. Christianity without a future would not be basic Christianity. In contrast to the eschatology of heathen religions, which often paint the future in a forbidding way, Christianity’s hope is bright and clear and offers a Christian the basic idea that the life to come is better than this present life. As Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 5:8, “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” In the Christian faith the future is painted as one of bliss and happiness in the presence of the Lord without the ills that are common to this life.

The revelation of prophecy in Scripture serves as important evidence that the Scriptures are accurate in their interpretation of the future. Because approximately half of the prophecies of the Bible have already been fulfilled in a literal way, it gives a proper intellectual basis for assuming that prophecy yet to be fulfilled will likewise have a literal fulfillment. At the same time it justifies the conclusion that the Bible is inspired of the Holy Spirit and that prophecy, which goes far beyond any scheme of man, is instead a revelation by God of that which is certain to come to pass. The fact that prophecy has been literally fulfilled serves as a guide to interpret the prophecies that are yet ahead.

Scriptural prophecy, properly interpreted, also provides a guideline for establishing the value of human conduct and the things that pertain to this life. For a Christian, the ultimate question is whether God considers what he is doing of value or not, in contrast to the world’s system of values, which is largely materialistic.

Prophecy is also a support for the scriptural revelation of the righteousness of God and a support for the assertion that the Christian faith has an integral relationship to morality. Obviously, the present life does not demonstrate fully the righteousness of God as many wicked situations are not actively judged. Scripture that is prophetic in dealing with this indicates that every act will be brought into divine judgment according to the infinite standard of the holy God, and accordingly, prophecy provides a basis for morality based on the character of God Himself.

Prophecy also provides a guide to the meaning of history. Though philosophers will continue to debate a philosophy of history, the Bible indicates that history is the unfolding of God’s plan and purpose for revealing Himself and manifesting His love and grace and righteousness in a way that would be impossible without human history. In the Christian faith, history reaches its climax in God’s plan for the future in which the earth in its present situation will be destroyed, and a new earth will be created. A proper interpretation of prophecy serves to support and enhance all others areas of theology, and without a proper interpretation of prophecy all other areas to some extent become incomplete revelation.

In attempting to communicate the meaning of Scripture relative to the prophetic past and future, prophecy serves to bring light and understanding to many aspects of our present life as well as our future hope. In an effort to understand and interpret prophecy correctly as a justifiable theological exercise, it is necessary to establish a proper base for interpretation.

GUIDELINES FOR INTERPRETATION OF PROPHECY

The interpretation of prophecy has its own peculiar problems of interpretation when prophecy reveals some future event or is couched in figurative or apocalyptic form. In some instances it is difficult to determine the precise meaning of the text because there is no corroborative comparison with history. In general, however, prophecy is factual. Because so many prophecies have already been literally fulfilled, the nature of this fulfillment provides guidelines for the interpretation of prophecy which is yet unfulfilled. In addition to the general rules of interpreting the Bible, certain additional guidelines assist the interpretation of prophecy.

  1. As is true in the interpretation of all Scripture, it is most important to determine the meaning of significant words in the interpretation of prophecy. Often these words have a historical background that will help in understanding the reference.
  2. One of the important decisions necessary in the interpretation of prophecy is the determination of whether the prophecy concerns the present or the future, that is, whether it refers to a situation now past or present or is prophetic of future events. A biblical prophet, especially in the Old Testament, often delivered contemporary messages that dealt with current problems which were not necessarily futuristic in their revelation. This problem is compounded by the fact that many times prophecy was given in the past tense, where the writer of Scripture took a position of looking back on the prophecy as if it were already fulfilled. Normally, however, it is possible to determine quickly whether the prophecy deals with the past, present, or the future.
  3. Many prophecies of Scripture were fulfilled shortly after their revelation. At least half of the prophecies of the Bible have already been fulfilled literally. Such fulfillment confirms the fact that unfulfilled prophecy will also be literally fulfilled. Fulfilled prophecy is an important guide in interpreting unfulfilled prophecy and generally confirms the concept of literal interpretation of a prophecy.
  4. Prophecies may be conditional or unconditional. This becomes an important aspect of the conclusion that may be reached from the revelation of the prophecy. If a prophecy is conditional, it is possible it will never be fulfilled. If it is unconditional, then it is certain to be fulfilled, regardless of human response. This is an area of confusion in the interpretation of prophecy, as some have assumed that prophecy is conditional when there is no supporting data that indicates this.
  5. Prophecies sometimes have more than one fulfillment. This is referred to as the law of double reference. It is not unusual in Scripture for a prophecy to be partially fulfilled early and then later have a complete fulfillment. Accordingly, what seems to be a partial fulfillment of a prophecy should not be assumed to be the final answer as the future may record a more complete fulfillment.
  6. One of the most important questions in the interpretation of prophecy is whether a prophecy is literal or figurative. As discussed earlier, early in the history of the church, especially in the third century, a school of prophetic interpretation arose in Alexandria that attempted to interpret all the Bible in an allegorical or a nonliteral sense. The influence of this school was one of the major reasons why premillennialism in the early church faded and a form of amillennialism became dominant.

Though the Alexandrian school of theology is labeled by all theologians as heretical, the effect of nonliteral interpretation on prophecy was rendered acceptable by the theological writings of Augustine who applied allegorical interpretation only to prophecy and not to other forms of Scripture revelation. This influence continued through the Protestant Reformation to the present day.

Among conservative interpreters of the Bible, the issue of literal versus figurative or allegorical interpretation is a major issue because on it hangs the question as to whether the Bible teaches a future millennial kingdom following the second advent, or whether it does not. Because the church is divided on this issue, full attention should be given to the interpretation of prophecy as this unfolds in the Bible to see what the Scriptures themselves indicate concerning literal versus nonliteral interpretation.

Confusion also reigns in terminology that sometimes contrasts the literal to the spiritual or the literal to the typical. The nonliteral interpretation of the Bible is not necessarily more spiritual than the literal. The consideration of types in this connection is another confusing aspect. Types, however, depend on the historical fact which is then used as an illustration of a later truth, but it is not prophetic in the ordinary sense. Though it may be demonstrated that most prophecy should be interpreted literally, this does not rule out figurative revelation, allegories, apocalyptic Scriptures, or other forms of nonliteral prophecy. Though it is difficult to deal with these things in the abstract, when studying a particular Scripture, it is not too difficult to determine to what extent it is literal.

  1. Apocalyptic literature is in a place all by itself because all agree that this is not, strictly speaking, literal in its revelation. Outstanding examples, of course, are the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation. The fact that such revelation is not literal, however, does not deny it reveals specific facts. Here, skill in interpretation is most necessary, and careful comparison of Scripture with Scripture is essential in determining the actual meaning. This will be illustrated as prophecies of Scripture are interpreted.

As in reading all other types of literature, it may be presumed in studying prophecy that a statement predicting a future event is factual and literal unless there are good reasons for taking it in another sense. Here, the good judgment of the interpreter and avoidance of prejudice and preconceived concepts are most important to let the passage speak for itself.

(Source: John F. Walvoord – Every Prophecy of the Bible: Clear Explanations for Uncertain Times)