Studies in Daniel and Revelatition

Intro to Bible Prophecy

Before beginning our study of the prophetic books of Daniel and Revelation, we should first learn how to read and understand prophecy.

1.  Why studying Bible prophecy is important

Revelation, the work the apostle John produced while in exile on the isle of Patmos, is the only book in the entire Bible with a special blessing promised to those who study it!

Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.  (Revelation 1:3)

For this reason alone it is imperative for believers to read and understand what the prophecies in  Revelation are all about.  But there are other good reasons for studying Bible prophecy.  However, rather than list the reasons why it is important, let’s approach this from the negative side.

Many Christians bristle at the thought of studying prophecy.  For a variety of reasons, prophecy is the the most neglected, most misunderstood, and most abused form of Biblical writing.  Christians neglect it because:

  • they don’t understand it;
  • they are afraid of it;
  • they feel as though a knowledge of Bible prophecy is unnecessary.

In dealing with each of these reasons individually, we will gain an understanding of why we should, in fact, not neglect prophecy, but understand it.

It’s too hard to understand

As a Bible teacher, I hear this all the time and I could not disagree more!  If a person can understand the words of history, then they can understand the words of Bible prophecy.  History is simply a record of things that happened, and prophecy is simply a record of things yet to happen.  The reasons people find prophecy and the prophetic books of the Bible hard to understand are many. One reason is that they find it hard to harmonize the words of prophecy with various teachings they have heard from pastors and Bible teachers.  A great many Christians are able to merely parrot the things they have heard other people say about the Bible and prophecy, and about what they think it means, but they have no first hand knowledge of the Book itself.  And so the words of prophecy seem foreign and mysterious to them.

Something very helpful for all serious Bible students to keep in mind is the following list of common sense “rules” for interpreting Bible prophecy, adapted from the work of Finis Jennings Dake, God’s Plan For Man, pages 773-777.

  • Give the same meaning to the words of prophecy that are given to words of history.  In other words, forget the idea that just because a word is used in a prophecy (or in the Bible itself) it automatically has a mysterious or hidden meaning.  God chose to communicate His message to man in the form of words because words are concrete things; they mean something.  Take Biblical words literally, exactly as they were written, unless it is clear from the context the writer means something different.
  • Do not change the literal to a spiritual or a symbolic meaning.  Never change God’s plain, literal meaning into something else.  If John or Daniel wrote about an earthquake, for example, why change that event into something spiritual, like “the breaking up of society” as some Bible teachers have taught?
  • Do not look for hidden meanings or secret codes in the words of Scripture.  God has revealed to man all man needs to know in a language man can understand.  Be satisfied with that.  We have no warrant or right to “read between the lines” or to add to Scripture in order to understand it.  For example, some students of Bible prophecy desperate to find the United States of America in the Bible managed to find it, hidden in the word Jer-USA-lem.  Still others have used mathematical gymnastics to discern that various political leaders, usually Russians or Democrats, are the Antichrist because the letters of their names add up to “666.”  That kind of Bible interpretation is embarrassing to the Church and is just plain silly.
  • Do not interpret God’s own interpretation of any  symbol or prophecy or change God’s meaning from that which is plainly and obviously clear.  God always interprets His own symbols.  Consider the following references:

Daniel 2:38-44; 7:17, 23-26; 9:20-27; 11:2-45; 12:1-13; Revelation 1:20; 12:9; 13:18; 17:8-18; etc.  Understand the Scripture interprets Scripture and we must learn to “rightly divide the word of truth.”

  • Assign one meaning to a verse or a passage of Scripture:  the plain, literal one, unless it is made clear that a double meaning should be understood.  There are three “laws” that need to be understood when interpreting certain passages of Scripture and passages of prophecy:
  1. The Law of Double Reference.  This law states sometimes, in rare circumstances, two distinct persons are being addressed in a passage of Scripture.  For example, note these two references:  Matthew 16:23 and Ezekiel 28.
  2. The Law of Prophetic Perspective.  This law states that the prophet saw future events as “mountain tops” off in the distance; he did not see the valleys below.  A good example of this law is Isaiah 9:6-7.
  3. The Law of Dual Fulfillment.  This law says that one prophecy may have more than one fulfillment, or several “partial fulfillments” in history before its ultimate fulfillment.  Some examples: Isaiah 7:14 was immediately fulfilled in 8:1-4 then ultimately in Matthew 1:22-23.  Also, Daniel 9:26 was partially fulfilled twice, first in 168 AD when Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the temple in Jerusalem, then again in 70 AD when Titus and the Romans destroyed both the temple and the city, but the ultimate fulfillment will occur during the Tribulation when the Antichrist will desecrate the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem.

It’s scary

People are afraid of that which they don’t understand, this is certainly true in the case of Christians who think  they know what the Bible teaches because they heard a sermon or saw a movie about the Second Coming.  Often these end-time movies or sermons are not correct or they embellish the truth with man’s ideas and the result is that people have a concept of the end times that is more science fiction than Biblical fact.

God has given us an idea of what the future holds, not to scare us, but rather to comfort us and to encourage us.  Recall what Paul wrote to the nervous and fearful Thessalonians:

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

I know Jesus, and that’s all I need to know!

Some Christians think they  just don’t need to know about prophecy and so they feel they can just ignore it.  The problem with this thinking is that it ignores that fact that Jesus, Paul, the disciples, and the men who wrote many of the epistles all had a working knowledge of the Old Testament prophets.  Are we better than Jesus?  Are we better than Paul?  Indeed not.  Don’t forget what Paul himself wrote:

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  (Ephesians 6:11)

The “full armor of God” refers to the “whole word of God.”  Paul did not say “put on some armor,” he told his readers to put it all on.  Why?  Simply this:  so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  We must have an understanding of the whole the Bible so that the devil cannot outwit us, so that we will not believe every word a false teacher may say.  Paul also admonished Timothy:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.  (2 Timothy 3:16)

Again, the word used is “all,” not  just some or “most,” but “all.”  Even prophecy is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.  If all Scripture is useful, then we should endeavor to know and understand it all.

Finally, how we view eschatology, the end times, determines how we live out our Christian  lives today.  If we believe that time is short and that Jesus could return at any moment, we would be compelled to spread the Gospel; we would sense the urgency of the hour.  Knowing that the rapture could occur at any moment, we would take more care in how we live, talk and spend out idle moments.

For a good definition of “eschatology,” go to our sister website, Don’t Ask Me.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd
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