January 14, 2012

Apocalypse Prophecy I: Get Your Prophecy Goggles on Straight

There are things that absolutely must be taken into account when trying interpret prophecy properly. If you do not do all of these things you may very well be reading something in the Scripture that just isn’t there or performing what most call eisegesis or explained simply: A highly personal interpretation of a text using your own ideas and  presuppositions, not those of the author or the intended readers. It is also known as forcing or imposing meanings into something that fits their/our existing belief system or worldview. We see this today in the world of politics and in political points of view. Regardless, let us move on with or requirements for proper understanding of Scripture.
The Eternal Now
The prophets did not always indicate intervals of time between events, nor did they always write their prophecies in chronological order.
Isaiah 65:17-25~ “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more. “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed. They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the LORD.

Isaiah often blended multiple chronological (time bound) points. In the case above we see the Exodus, the incarnation of Messiah and finally the final realization of God’s plans at the culmination of time in the end days. Isaiah as a speaker for God was speaking from the mind of God and acting as His mouth to men. A timeless God, therefore God sees all events of time in the eternal present. To us I looked like past, present and future but for God…it is now.

Literally Literal

Always approach a prophecy as literal or usual ordinary sense of the words unless one of the following occurs. (1) The wordage is obviously meant to be figurative language. In the case of Daniel 7:4, the beasts are (4) four kingdoms. In Revelation 1:13 the candlesticks are 7 churches. The other situation when literal interpretation should not be used is when it violates common sense or contrary to what the author is saying. Again I cite the example of Daniel’s (4) beasts: which describes a lion with eagle wings and a leopard with 4 wings & 4 heads. Duh!

When a prophetic message cannot be taken literally you need to look for what the author is trying to convey through his eloquent and colorful figurative language. Dan. 7:16-17 is courteous enough to give us the interpretation to one of these images:

“So he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: ‘The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth. Daniel 7:16-17

Once a symbol is identified in a prophecy it is extremely rare that the prophet would change the identification of that symbol.

The Hebrew Perfect Tense

Remember that often when a prophet refers to future events, he does not use the future tense, he uses the Hebrew perfect tense…which is a completed action. Why? Because in the mind of God, which the prophet is acting as a mouth or speaker for…the event is already completed. The most well-known version of this is:

Therefore my people go into exile for lack of understanding; those of high rank will die of hunger and the common people will be parched with thirst. Isaiah 5:13

Historical Context

When you interpret Scripture, consider the historical context of that writing, remembering that God was delivering his prophecy to a particular people at a particular time. In Habakkuk, God tells Israel He is raising up the Chaldeans to judge Israel

“For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous people who march throughout the earth to seize dwelling places which are not theirs.” Habakkuk 1:6

Hindsight is 20/20

As modern readers we may have the insight gained from the passage of time that the original authors and readers did not have. Then again, as in the case of Revelation...we do not. We need to remember that the meaning of a specific prophecy could not always be understood by the prophet or by the people who heard the message. The Israelites had hundreds of prophecy pointing to Jesus and still did not recongnize Him. What makes us think we will do any better comprehending the Bible (probably) less than they did?

1 Peter 1:10-12 ~ "Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. "

"Then a mighty king will arise, who will rule with great power and do as he pleases." ~Daniel 11:3

We pretty much know that in its context in Daniel, this king was Alexander the Great.
Its About Time
Lastly, we must keep in mind that when you study prophecy, watch for phrases that indicate periods of time. This often becomes tricky especially if they are ambiguously referred to. In other words be on your toes when you read things like: "In the last days", "Day of the Lord", "End of the Age", etc. If you come across them you must either determine whether or not they already happened or see if they could parallel other passages in Scripture like "The Day of the Lord".

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