21 DAYS IN THE WORD - TOOL 17 - HOW TO READ BIBLE PROPHECY
A large part of the Bible could be put under the category of Prophecy. There are the Major and Minor Prophets in the Old Testament. There are many places throughout scripture where prophetic messages are given. There is a large portion of the Scripture that is referred to as apocalyptic literature. This literature, like the book of Revelation, refers specifically to things that will happen in the end times or at the times just preceding the end of the world.
This is an area where probably more than any area there is controversy and different opinions. In theological terms this is also referred to as eschatology. Lots of great and wise Bible teachers interpret this area of how things will unfold at the end in very different ways. My purpose is to point out some principles that won’t just add more opinions, but will help you read and study it for the personal benefit it will give you in your walk with Jesus.
PRINCIPLES FOR GETTING THE MOST OUT OF PROPHETIC LITERATURE
1. Prophesy was never meant to be read like a horoscope. God doesn’t give us this literature to fulfill our curiosity about what is going to happen. In Matthew 24:36 Jesus assures us that no one knows the day and the hour of the Lord’s return. One of the signs of false religions and prophets is that they give dates that predict the end of the world. The Jehovah Witnesses are an example of this. The founder of the JW’s said the world would end in 1914.
Prophecy is not given to feed our curiosity but to empower, enlighten, and encourage us as to how to stand up for God and live for God to our fullest in the present moment. It is far more about perspective than prediction. It is mostly about removing the veil of the “lower story” of our visible circumstances so that we can see the “upper story” of God’s purposes for this time and season in our life and world.
2. The most important purpose of prophesy in both the Old Testament and New Testament was to reveal Jesus. In Luke 24:44Jesus said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.” The Book of Revelation is actually described in Revelation 1 as the Revelation from/of and the testimony about Jesus. We don’t need to figure out the future; we just need to see Jesus more at the center of all of it. I like to say, don’t ever look at a problem on earth without putting Jesus at the center of the equation for solving it.
3. The Old Testament Prophets referred to as Major and Minor or the former and latter prophets, were men and women raised up by God in Israel and Judah in the era when the priests and kings failed to be the leaders they should’ve been. Their primary role wasn’t to predict the future, but to express God’s heart calling the people back to God in repentance, and calling them to consecrate their lives to God’s commands and purposes so that He would be able to fulfill His hope and future for them. They sounded the trumpet to wake people up and remove the veils of idolatry and deception from their spiritual eyes. We still need that kind of truth brought to our hearts. We see, for example, in Revelation Jesus speaking through John to warn the churches to wake up, repent, and return to their first love. As we read these portions of Scripture we should ask the Lord to awaken us to areas that we are drifting or settling in our hearts and are in need of fresh repentance and faith.
4. Prophecy was meant to bring absolute proof to hearts that Jesus was the promised Messiah who came and will come again to bring His ultimate rule over all things. It is remarkable that there were well over 300 specific prophecies about the Messiah in the Old Testament that were specifically fulfilled by Jesus in His first coming. There are also dozens and dozens of them in both the Old and New Testament about His second coming. These prophecies help confirm our faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross and point us to a world-view that sees the second coming of Jesus as something that should be the focal point of our view of the future that gives us abounding hope. For example, in Luke 21:28, Jesus, after affirming that there will be many troubling things that will happen in the last days, gives a powerful perspective of hope for us. He says, “And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draws near.” As we view world events we can continually remind ourselves and each other, “I’ve read the end of the book, we win!”
5. One of the important things to recognize when interpreting Bible prophecy is that many of these prophesies have double fulfillments. In all of the apocalyptic literature including Revelation and Matthew 24 you will see a mixture of prophecies about the first and second coming. You should not just pick and choose verses and point to this or that current event. The writings for example about the Beast or Antichrist, shouldn’t just be pulled out and then used to look for a modern political figure to tag as the possible Antichrist. Rather, in context we see the spirit of the Beast all through history and institutions today that we need to be aware of. John refers to the fact that there are now “many antichrists.”
Understanding this double fulfillment is important as we look at how people in the Bible interpreted prophecy. In one of the Psalms David talked about how He believed that God would not abandon him to the grave. This was not only true in David’s life but Peter in Acts 2:30 quotes David from the Psalms and describes how this refers to the resurrection of Jesus. He says, “But David was a prophet and knew that God had promised in on oath that he would place one of his descendants on the throne.” The Bible speaks of an “abomination of desolation when the temple would be desecrated by a ruler.” This happened in 70 AD, but there is reason to believe that this will also happen near the end of time, when the temple is rebuilt in Jerusalem and Antichrist comes to power, just before Jesus’ return.
The point is that we are aware and seek the larger context in Biblical prophecy. But more than anything that we allow the Holy Spirit to use prophetic passages to open our eyes to the purity and victory Jesus wants us to walk in as His ambassadors as we confidently look forward to the blessed hope of Jesus coming to bring His perfect rule of peace and love over our lives forever and ever. Amen!