QUESTIONS FROM A PRETERIST

preterists

There is a huge gap between the eschatological teachings of a preterist and those who hold to a dispensational premillennialist view, and building a bridge is all but easy.
Sadly, these two camps are often almost at “war” instead of discussing their differences in an edifying manner. Well, a preterist friend sent me a list of specific questions about my beliefs in dispensational premillennialism, that I will try to answer to the best of my knowledge and ability.

“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” (Colossians 4:6)

1. Is there a single verse that explicitly teaches that the antichrist will make a covenant with the Jews and then break it?

Daniel 9:27 – “Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; But in the middle of the week He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, Even until the consummation, which is determined, Is poured out on the desolate.”

This is the same abomination of desolation spoken of by Jesus in Matthew 24:15.
Although many say the “he” in Daniel 9:27 represents Jesus Christ, we can scripturally prove that it refers to the Antichrist. The last masculine noun in Daniel 9:26 is “the prince that shall come,” not the Messiah. The prince that shall come is the “he” of Daniel 9:27 and refers to the Antichrist. This becomes clearer when we read what this “he” does. We read that he causes the sacrifice to cease and the abomination of desolation. Jesus did not cause sacrifices to cease but rather He was the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus’ death took away God’s acceptance of animal sacrifices; it did not decree that animal sacrifices could no longer be made. Jesus also did not commit the abomination of desolation. We have conclusive proof that the Antichrist does both of these things in Daniel 8:11-13 and Daniel 11:31. So it is conclusive that the “he” in Daniel 9:27 is the Antichrist.

2. Is there a single verse that explicitly teaches that Jesus will reign on earth for a literal thousand years, or that Jesus will sit on David’s throne in Jerusalem during the millennium?

In Revelation 20:1-6 the millennial reign of Christ is explicitly mentioned six times. When the Lord Jesus comes back to earth it will be as King of kings and Lord of lords. He will set up a government for the whole world with Jerusalem as capital:
“Then the seventh angel sounded. And there were loud voices in heaven, saying: The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Rev. 11:15).

In a major end-time prophecy Daniel likened Christ’s Second Coming to a great rock which will smite the kingdoms of the world, grind them to powder, then become a great mountain filling the whole earth as He reigns in their place (Dan. 2:34-35, 44-45). Zechariah says: “And the Lord shall be King over all the earth” (Zech. 14:9).

The same promise about His reigning as King on earth was made to Mary before the birth of Jesus:
“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David” (Lk. 1:31-32).

The throne of David is not in heaven but on earth. Jesus does not now reign in a spiritual sense from the throne of David as this throne has, since the Babylonian captivity, been temporarily in suspension. Christ will restore this throne at His Second Coming and then reign from it:
“After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen down. I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up, so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the Lord who does all these things” (Acts 15:16-17).

The elders in heaven (the glorified church) know that they will return with Jesus to the earth and will reign here with Him in His kingdom. They explicitly say: “You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9-10; also see 2 Tim. 2:12).

3. Is there any explicit teaching that animal sacrifices and circumcision will be reinstated during the millennium of Revelation 20?

There are several passages in the Old Testament that clearly indicate animal sacrifice will be re-instituted during the millennial kingdom. Some passages mention it in passing as the topic of the millennial kingdom is discussed, passages like Isaiah 56:6-8; Zechariah 14:16; and Jeremiah 33:15-18.

The passage that is the most extensive, giving the greatest detail, is Ezekiel 43:18-46:24. It should be noted that this is part of a greater passage dealing with the millennial kingdom, a passage that begins with Ezekiel 40.

The primary objection made to the idea of animal sacrifices returning during the millennial kingdom is that Christ has come and offered a perfect sacrifice for sin, and there is therefore no need to sacrifice animals for sin. However, it must be remembered that animal sacrifice never removed the sin that spiritually separated a person from the Lord. Most premillennial scholars agree that the purpose of animal sacrifice during the millennial kingdom is memorial in nature –”but in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year” (Hebrews 10:3).

4. How can the New Heaven and New Earth be a utopia when there is still sin therein (Isaiah 65:20; Revelation 21:8; 22:15)?

Scripture also says that this new heaven and a new earth will occur after the thousand year reign of Christ. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea” (Revelation 21:1). The new heavens and earth are different from the period of the Millennium. They will replace the old cursed creation. “Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His servants will worship Him” (Revelation 22:3).

5. Is the New Jerusalem really to be taken literally, as a literal city sitting just above the earth, 1500 miles square, with one street, etc.? Isn’t the New Jerusalem better understood as the church, since it is described as having the twelve apostles as the foundation stones (Revelation 21:14) and is the bride of Christ (Revelation 21:2; ref. Matthew 22:1-14; John 3:29; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-27)?

Scripture nowhere says that the New Jerusalem is the church. Heaven is called a city. “But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:16). The New Jerusalem, which is also called the Tabernacle of God, the Holy City, the City of God, the Celestial City, the City Foursquare, and Heavenly Jerusalem, is literally heaven on earth. It is referred to in the Bible in several places (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 11:10; 12:22–24; and 13:14), but it is most fully described in Revelation 21.

In Revelation 21:1 God does a complete make-over of heaven and earth (Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:12–13). The new heaven and new earth are what some call the “eternal state” and will be “where righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).

This is the city that Abraham looked for in faith (Hebrews 11:10). It is the place where God will dwell with His people forever (Revelation 21:3). The New Jerusalem is the ultimate fulfillment of all God’s promises. The New Jerusalem is God’s goodness made fully manifest.

The Father and the Lamb are there (Revelation 21:22). Angels are at the gates (verse 12).
The gates of the New Jerusalem are inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. Israel was chosen by God to be a light to all nations (Isaiah 49:5–7; Romans 9:23–25), and God will never revoke Israel’s status as His chosen people (see Romans 11:29). The New Jerusalem thus contains a tribute to the patriarchs of Israel. It also contains a tribute to the apostles (Revelation 21:14), so both Old Testament and New Testament are represented in the city—the New Jerusalem is filled with the elect of God from all eras.

6. Dispensationalists say that you interpret the Bible literally, but do you do so appropriately and consistently? For example, when Isaiah (Isaiah 55:12) describes the mountains and the hills breaking into song and the trees clapping their hands, is this to be taken this literally? When Isaiah (Isaiah 13:9-13) describes God shaking the earth from its place and making the stars not show their light (predicting doom on Babylon, which all scholars was fulfilled in the past), wasn’t this intended to be taken seriously but non-literally?

When we read any piece of literature, but especially the Bible, we must determine what the author intended to communicate, without guessing. One reason we should take the Bible literally is because the Lord Jesus Christ took it literally. Whenever He quoted from the Old Testament, it was always clear that He believed in its literal interpretation.

Although we take the Bible literally, there are still figures of speech within its pages. An example of a figure of speech would be that if someone said “it is raining cats and dogs outside,” you would know that they did not really mean that cats and dogs were falling from the sky. They would mean it is raining really hard. There are figures of speech in the Bible which are not to be taken literally, but those are obvious.

The Bible is God’s Word to us and He meant it to be believed—literally and completely. Can anybody really say that he or she read some so-called deeper “spiritual meaning” into the text and for certainty knows whether it’s from God or not? It would almost boil down to extra-biblical revelation, which is dangerous. Remember Isaiah 55:8-9, “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.”

7. If the Bible is to be interpreted 100% literally, why are the terms like “must shortly take place,” “at hand,” “quickly,” etc. not read literally?

The question is, from whose perspective? God’s or man’s? Peter told us in 2 Peter 3 that God does not count time as we count time. He makes this statement concerning the supposed “slackness” of the Lord’s coming. It is particularly with the Lord’s return in view that Peter comments on the difference between God’s perception of “soon” and our perception of “soon” which appears to be causing the confusion. For God, a thousand years are a short amount of time.

Also, the word translated as “soon” or “shortly” is the Greek word “tachei” [Strong’s #5034]. Notice how this word is defined:
Strong’s — quickness, speed; hastily, immediately
HELPS — swiftness (speed), i.e. done as quickly (speedily) as is appropriate to the particular situation (HELPS Word-studies, The Discovery Bible New Testament, Gary Hill).
It’s important to notice that the primary meaning of this word refers to the speed by which an event approaches rather than the duration of time before it arrives.

8. If “soon” means “2000 years or longer,” does that mean it was going to take Timothy 2000 years to be sent to the Philippians (or to us) by Paul (Philippians 2:19)?

Please refer to my answer to question 7.

9. If the Bible is to be interpreted 100% literally, why do some dispensationalists say the seven churches in Asia (Revelation 1-3) are “church ages” and not “literal” churches?

Others may differ, but personally, I believe that though they were literal churches in that time, there is also spiritual significance for churches and believers today. The first purpose of the letters was to communicate with the literal churches and meet their needs at that time. The second purpose is to reveal seven different types of individuals/churches throughout history and instruct them in God’s truth. I disagree with the view that these churches foreshadow seven different periods in the history of the Church as each of the seven churches describes issues that could fit the Church in any time in its history.

10. When Colossians 1:23 states, “This is the gospel you heard and that has been proclaimed [past tense] to every living creature under heaven.” —do you interpret this literally? Had the gospel been declared to the American Indians?

The last half of this verse notes an important concept. Paul refers to the wide spread of the gospel message even in his time. Obviously, Paul does not mean—nor does he think—that every person in the world had heard the gospel when he wrote these words. Instead, as in Colossians 1:6, Paul is poetically referring to the quick spread of the gospel across many parts of the world.

11. In such passages as Matthew 13:39-40; 13:49; 24:3; 28:20; etc., isn’t Jesus referring to the end of an age (Greek aion) rather than the end of the world (Greek kosmos)? In other words, if the author was talking about the end of the world, wouldn’t he have used kosmos when he actually used aion?

The King James Bible is not wrong nor in error for translating the Greek phrase found in Matthew 13:39, 40, 49; Matthew 24:3, and 28:20 as “the end of the world”

Matthew 13:39, 40, 49 – “the harvest is the end of the world”; “As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world”; “So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just.”

Matthew 28:20 “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

Not only does the King James Bible translate Matthew 24:3 as “What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the WORLD”, but so also do the following Bible versions both old and modern:
Wycliffe 1395, Tyndale 1525, Coverdale 1535, Bishops’ Bible 1568, Geneva Bible 1599, John Wesley 1755, Webster’s 1833 translation, the Revised Version 1881, American Standard Version 1901, Spanish Reina Valera 1909 (el fin del mundo), Italian Diodati (fin del mondo), Lamsa’s 1936 translation of the Syriac Peshitta, Alford’s translation, Bible in Basic English 1960, Phillips translation, Douay Version 1950, New Life Bible 1969, New American Bible 1970, Living Bible 1981, New Jerusalem Bible 1985, New Century Version 1988, Contemporary English Version 1991, World English Bible, Hebrew Names Version, God’s Word Translation 1995, New Living Bible 1998, Third Millenium Bible 1998, KJV 21st Century, and the Easy to Read Version 2001.

The first major English translation to be widely accepted that changed “the end of the world” to “the end of the AGE” was the liberal RSV, followed by such versions as the NRSV, NASB, NIV, NKJV, ESV and the Holman Christian Standard.

Obviously not all scholars agree on the meaning of the word aion.

Even the modern versions like the NASB, NIV, ESV, NKJV and Holman ALL at times translate this same Greek word as WORLD. The NIV does this four times – Luke 16:8 “the children of this world”; Romans 12:2 “Be not conformed to this world”; 1 Timothy 6:17 “Charge them that are rich in this world…”; and 2 Timothy 4:10 “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.”

The NASB translates this same Greek word as “world” 7 times, including twice as “worlds” in Hebrews 11:3 “Through faith we understand that the WORLDS were framed by the word of God.” and “whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the WORLDS” – Hebrews 1:2. The NASB likewise has “the care of this world” Matthew 13:22 and Mark 4:19; and “the god of this world” 2 Corinthians 4:4, as well as agreeing with the NIV in 1 and 2 Timothy. The Holman and the NKJV also translate this word as “world” in several verses in the New Testament.

12. Since the thrust of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24/25; Mark 13; Luke 21) is the destruction of the temple, isn’t it reasonable to believe that the age in question was the age of the Jewish dispensation, thus the Old Covenant order—especially since the ancient Jewish system of temple sacrifices for sin ended with the destruction of the temple in AD 70?

Gospel of Matthew was indeed written for the Jews but in the Olivet Discourse, two separate questions were clearly posed: (1) “When will the temple be destroyed?” and (2) “What is the sign of YOUR COMING at the end of this age / world?” In these prophecies, a clear distinction must be made between first generation and last generation events as they relate to the two questions asked to Jesus.

When Jesus refers to the last generation, it is done in the context of a restored Jerusalem which is in the midst of the great tribulation with its unprecedented distress, wars and natural disasters that will culminate in His Second Coming. This generation would start after the long period of the trampling of Jerusalem has come to an end. More can be read about Jerusalem in the end times in Zechariah 12 (“And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though ALL THE PEOPLE OF THE EARTH (not only Rome) be gathered together against it.” 12:3)

13. The “time of the end” mentioned in Daniel 12:1-13 was to be when the burnt offering was taken away. Since burnt offerings ended in AD 70, must not this be the timeline, thus the “last days” of which the Bible speaks?

To build an entire eschatology around one aspect (burnt offerings) you need to ignore large parts of holy Scripture. A few that come to mind – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 dealing with the perilous times we are currently witnessing, 2 Peter 3:3-4 dealing with those who scoff about His coming, 1 Timothy 4:1-3 speaking about those who will depart from faith, Zechariah 12-14 dealing with the redemption of the remnant of Israel, as Paul also addressed in Romans 11.

14. Doesn’t every mention of the last days in the New Testament refer to the first century (Matthew 24:3, 14, 34; Acts 2:14-20; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; 10:11; 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 3:1-5; Hebrews 1:2; 9:26; James 5:3-9; 1 Peter 1:5, 20; 4:7; 2 Peter 3:3; 1 John 2:18; Jude 18).
Definitely not – The beginning of sorrows is mentioned by Jesus Christ in Matthew 24:4-8 (Mark 13:5-8). It is a period of time characterized by specific signs that indicate His return is near. These signs also cause an increase in pain and sorrow that the Bible likens to a woman as she goes through her pregnancy and is about to give birth.
The analogy of a pregnant woman to the end times is drawn from Old Testament passages such as Isaiah 13:6-8 that describe the Day of the Lord. Isn’t it clear how churches are falling away, how the LGBTQ enforces their unbiblical ways onto us, how statistics for abortions keep on rising, etc?

15. Is there anywhere in the New Testament a trace of evidence for a secret, invisible, instantaneous rapture of the church?

This is actually an entire subject on its own. In short, the word rapture does not occur in the Bible, as doesn’t the word “Trinity.” The term comes from a Latin word meaning “a carrying off, a transport, or a snatching away.” The concept of the “carrying off” or the rapture of the church is clearly taught in Scripture. It is described primarily in John 14:2-3, 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 and 1 Corinthians 15:50–54.

The rapture is to be distinguished from the second coming. At the rapture, the Lord comes “in the clouds” to meet us “in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). At the second coming, the Lord descends all the way to the earth to stand on the Mount of Olives, resulting in a great earthquake followed by a defeat of God’s enemies (Zechariah 14:3–4).

16. If Jesus is going to rapture the church out of the world, why does Jesus pray for the exact opposite thing to happen—that the church would NOT be taken out of the world—in John 17:15?

As previously mentioned, it is dangerous to take one single verse and build or reject an entire doctrine on it. Context is always very important. John 17 begins with Jesus by praying for Himself (v. 1-5) and then for His Disciples (v. 6-19). And of course, He’s not asking the Father to take them out of the world because He’s entrusting them with the task of building His Church. Then, in verses 20-26 the prayer is for all believers in the Church Age. In verse 24 he prays, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.”

He was certainly not praying that all believers of the Church Age would join Him in the Upper Room on the night He was praying. To see Him and His Glory requires that we go where He is now. This is consistent with His promise of John 14:2-3, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

To say that Jesus prayed that the Father would not take us out of the world contradicts his promise in John 14:2-3, made the same night, and violates the intent of John 17:24 as well.

17. Is eschatology so confusing that God would have us bounce around between somewhere (hades/”temporary abode”), heaven, earth, new heaven and new earth? Wouldn’t you want to stay in heaven when you get there?

It’s not about what I want but what God’s will is for me – and if that is how He planned it, as clearly stated in His Word, then so be it.

18. Is there any verse in the Bible that teaches a “seven-year tribulation?”

Throughout Scripture, the tribulation is referred to by other names such as the Day of the Lord (Isaiah 2:12; 13:6-9; Joel 1:15; 2:1-31; 3:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:2); trouble or tribulation (Deuteronomy 4:30; Zephaniah 1:1); the great tribulation, which refers to the more intense second half of the seven-year period (Matthew 24:21); time or day of trouble (Daniel 12:1; Zephaniah 1:15); time of Jacob’s trouble (Jeremiah 30:7).

Sadly, those apply Replacement theology will never understand the main purposes of the tribulation. An understanding of the 70 weeks of Daniel, and especially Daniel 9:24-27, is necessary in order to understand the purpose and time of the tribulation.

For further references about the tribulation, see Revelation 11:2-3, which speaks of 1260 days and 42 months, and Daniel 12:11-12, which speaks of 1290 days and 1335 days. These days have a reference to the midpoint of the tribulation. The additional days in Daniel 12 may include the time at the end for the judgment of the nations (Matthew 25:31-46) and time for the setting up of Christ’s millennial kingdom (Revelation 20:4-6).

19. Doesn’t the Jewish War of 66-70 AD qualify as a great tribulation, given that that over a million Jews were killed, their nation was dissolved, their temple decimated, and along with it went their whole world order and the centerpiece of their religion—the centuries old system of animal sacrifices for sin?

I am always amazed by the fact how preterists and amillennialists choose to blindly ignore Matthew 24:21 – “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.” Much worse things happened in the history of mankind than 70AD, which only affected the Jewish people.

20. DIDN’T JESUS SPECIFICALLY SAY THE TRIBULATION WOULD HAPPEN IN HIS GENERATION (Matthew 24:9, 21, 29, 34)? Isn’t every time the phrase “this generation” used in the New Testament outside of the Oliver Discourse, the meaning is clearly those living in the first century (Matthew 11:16; 12:38-45; 23:36; Mark 8:12; 8:38-9:1; Luke 7:31; 11:29-32, 49-51; 17:25).

It is common sense that all other references to “generation” referred to those who lived during the time of Christ’s first coming when He preached. On the other hand, context is needed and the reference to “generation” in Matthew 24 clearly deals with the generation who will live during the tribulation.

21. If the great tribulation (Daniel 12:1; Matthew 24:21) is global, why did Jesus tell those living in Judea to flee to the mountains to avoid the tribulation (Matthew 24:16)? If the great tribulation is global, why did Daniel only refer to it occurring to those who were the “children of my people”?

As previously mentioned, Matthew was written to a Jewish audience and also, one needs to understand God’s plan with the Jewish nation to really understand the Jewish context. But end time prophecy does not start and end with Matthew 24 and Daniel 12. A proper study of the book of Revelation makes it very clear that the wrath of God will be poured onto the entire world. In Revelation 6:1-8 we read that the first four seals broken unleash four riders on the earth to conquer and spread war, famine, and death. Revelation 17 and 18 clearly deals with the entire world, etc.

22. If the Great Tribulation was to be global, why does Jesus compare it to Sodom and Gomorrah which was clearly local (Luke 17:25-32), also Peter (2 Peter 2:5-9)?

Once again, look at the context. As in the days of Noah and Lot (before the Jews!), people will live their worldly lives, not even considering that Jesus can come at any time. It is really not difficult to see how evil today, does not differ much from the evil of those days. If God didn’t spare them from His wrath, why will He spare the current evil world.

23. Doesn’t Daniel tell us exactly when the time of distress (12:1), the resurrection (12:2), the time of the end (12:9), and the abomination of desolation (12:11)—all occur when the power of the holy people has finally been broken (12:7) and the burnt offering taken away (12:11)? Can there be ANY doubt that this was AD 70?

This question has been answered in the answers above.

To conclude, it is very clear from these questions that preterists do not pay much attention to context. For them, it is only a matter of covering all prophecies under one blanket – 70 AD.

“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:
And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” REVELATION 22:18-19

BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION OF PROPHECY – JOHN F. WALVOORD

EVERY PROPHECY

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.

THE INTERPRETATION OF PROPHECY

General Assumptions in Biblical Interpretation

As in all sciences, theology is based on assumptions. Mankind finds itself living in an ordered world with observable natural laws and evidence of design. The nature of the ordered world in which we live reveals an evident interrelationship of purposes requiring the existence of a God who is infinite in power, rational, and has the basic elements of personality, intellect, sensibility, and will. The observable facts of nature as well as revelation through Scripture must be consistent with such a God. These facts, organized into a rational system, are the substance of theology, making it a science embracing revealed facts about God, creation, and history. To the observable facts in nature, Scripture reveals the additional truth that the God of history is gracious, holy, loving, patient, faithful, good, and has infinite attributes of knowledge, power, and rational purpose.

What is true of theology as a whole is especially true of biblical interpretation. In approaching the interpretation of the Bible, at least four assumptions are essential.

  1. In order to have a coherent and consistent interpretation of the Bible, it is necessary to assume that there is ample proof that the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit and that the human authors were guided in the writing of Scripture and in the selection of the very words that they used. Accordingly, the Bible is an inerrant revelation containing all the truth that God intended to be included and excluding all facts that were not intended to be included. As the inspired Word of God, it should be expected that, properly interpreted, the Bible does not contradict itself.
  2. The Bible was intended to communicate truth about God and the universe, to record historical facts, to reveal ethical principles, to provide wisdom for human judgments, to reveal moral and material values, and to provide prediction of future events.
  3. The Bible progressively reveals the truth of God in such a way that changes in the moral rule of life are recognized, such as the contrast between the Mosaic law and the present age of grace. Later revelation may replace earlier revelation as a standard of faith without contradicting it.
  4. Though the Bible is an unusual book, in many respects it is a normative piece of literature, using words to convey truth, and yet providing a great variety of literary forms, such as history, poetry, and prophecy, and sometimes using normal figures of speech. Though a supernatural book, the Bible nevertheless speaks in normative ways that can be illustrated in literature outside the Bible.

General Rules of Biblical Interpretation

Though the interpretation of the Bible is an exceedingly complex problem, if certain general rules are followed, they will keep the interpreter from misunderstanding Scripture.

  1. In approaching Scripture, first of all there must be study of the words that are used, their general usages, variety of meaning, historical context, theological context, and any determination of the probable meaning of the word used in a particular context.
  2. Words in Scripture are used in a grammatical context that should be observed, including such matters as whether the word is used in a statement of fact, a command, a desired goal, or an application to a particular situation.
  3. In any interpretation it is most important to decipher to whom the Scripture is addressed, as this involves the application of the statement.
  4. Scripture should never be interpreted in isolation from its context. Careful thought should be given to the immediate context, the general context, and the context of the whole of Scripture. This will serve to relate the revelation contained to other divine revelations.
  5. The literary character of the Scripture interpreted should be taken into consideration as the Bible is written in a variety of literary styles—such as history, poetry, worship, prediction—and uses a variety of figures of speech. These factors determine the interpretation of a particular text.
  6. If the Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit and without error, it is important to compare any particular text to all other Scripture that might be relative. For instance, the book of Revelation may often be interpreted through a study of the book of Daniel. One Scripture will serve to cast light on other Scriptures.
  7. Though the Bible is largely written in factual style to be interpreted as a normal, factual presentation, the Bible, like all other literature, uses figures of speech, and they should be recognized for their intended meaning. All forms of biblical literature ultimately yield a factual truth.
  8. In interpreting the Bible, one must seek the guidance of the indwelling Holy Spirit who casts light on the Scriptures and guides its 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.

MAJOR THEOLOGICAL INTERPRETATIONS OF PROPHECY

Amillennial Interpretations

Within orthodox interpretations of the Bible the most prominent theological interpretation of prophecy since the fourth century of the Christian era has been amillennial or non-millennial. Beginning with Augustine, the amillennial interpretation held that there would be no literal future thousand-year reign of Christ on earth, but that the millennium referred to the present age or possibly the last thousand years of the present age. Because this did not provide a literal interpretation of millennial passages, it has been designated as amillennial since the nineteenth century.

The amillennial interpretation within the limits of orthodox theology has had various explanations of fulfillment of the millennial prophecies. The most popular, the Augustinian interpretation, relates the millennium in the present age as a spiritual kingdom ruling in the hearts of Christians or embodied in the progress of the gospel in the church.

Amillenarians of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have offered varied interpretations, some holding that the millennium is fulfilled in the time between the death and resurrection of a Christian. Some in the twentieth century hold that the millennium will be fulfilled in the new heaven and the new earth as described in Revelation 21–22. Some amillenarians have also suggested that the millennial passages are conditional and will not be fulfilled due to the departure of Israel from the faith. Still others suggest that the kingdom of earth was fulfilled in the reign of Solomon who controlled the land promised to Abraham (Gen. 15:18).

Within twentieth-century amillennialism the neo-orthodox interpretation of Scripture may also be considered. This view considers the kingdom being fulfilled now in the experience of individual Christians. Generally speaking, neo-orthodox scholars hold that God directly communicates to Christians supernaturally, but the Bible is not considered in itself an infallible record of revelation.

Liberal theologians also are amillennial in the sense that they do not believe any future millennium will ever take place.

Postmillennial Interpretation

Beginning with Daniel Whitby in the eighteenth century, an interpretation of prophecy became popular that held specifically that the millennium would be the last one thousand years of the present age. Adherents of this view believed the gospel would triumph to such an extent in the world that the whole world would be Christianized, bringing in a golden age that would correspond to the millennial kingdom. Like amillennialism, it places the second coming of Christ at the end of the millennium. Postmillennialism in its original form attempted a more literal interpretation of the millennium than was followed by the later postmillenarians of the twentieth century.

In the twentieth century, however, postmillennialism, influenced by evolution, became less biblical and adopted the concept of spiritual progress over a long period of time as in a general way bringing in a golden age. These postmillenarians, however, are not considered orthodox. As a theological movement, postmillennialism largely died in the first part of the twentieth century, but small groups have attempted to revive it in current theological discussion.

Premillennial Interpretation

From the first century, Bible scholars have held that the second coming of Christ will be premillennial, that is, the second coming will be followed by a thousand years of Christ’s literal reign on earth. This was a predominant view of the early church as witnessed by the early church fathers. By the third century, however, the Alexandria school of theology, bringing in sweeping allegorical interpretation of Scripture, succeeded in displacing the premillennial view.

In the last few centuries, however, premillennialism has been revived by biblical scholars and now is held by many who are orthodox in other respects.

Unlike amillennialism and postmillennialism, the premillennial interpretation has no liberal adherents as it builds on the concept that the Bible is the Word of God and that prophecies are to be interpreted in their normal literal sense.

The premillennial view has much to commend it, as it has the same principles of interpretation regarding prophecy as is normal in other areas of theological interpretation. The premillennial view is generally adopted in the interpretation of prophecy in this work. The fact that so many prophecies have already been literally fulfilled lends support for the expectation that prophecies yet to be fulfilled will have the same literal fulfillment.

(Source: Every Prophecy In The Bible – John F. Walvoort)