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How to Understand Prophecy
When we are faced with either believing God’s Word or the prevailing, confusing, and ever-changing voices of our culture, many Christians find themselves in a conundrum. They want to believe everything God’s Word says, yet they don’t want to be called a bonehead by their high school biology teacher or to be deemed anti-science by the pro-vac crowd. So we frantically look for some rules to help us understand what the Scriptures say about everything, and then we adopt those rules as the parameter of His sovereignty and try to funnel our understanding of His truth through this grid we have created to help us save face among our friends in this declining culture.
Over the centuries, there have developed several methods of Biblical interpretation, or grids, that are used to set the parameters of our understanding of Scripture. These methods are collectively called the study of hermeneutics (Greek – to interpret, to translate). But not all hermeneutics are created equal. And the method of interpretation you embrace will determine the conclusion you have about both current and future events.
For example, do you believe the Bible is the Word of God, or does it contain the Word of God? And if you say the Bible is the Word of God, we are talking about all the Bible, the miracles, the creation events, the teachings about male and female roles, and the specific two genders God created. This is an example of a personal hermeneutic. For your answer to the question about God’s Word will determine how much weight you give it in your own life and what authority God has, at least in your eyes, in human events.
So it is vitally important to settle for yourself the hermeneutic you will embrace to understand these prophetic Scriptures. Do they mean what they say, or can we allegorize the text to make it say whatever helps us sleep better at night? It is either one or the other. You cannot have it both ways.
Tips for Understanding Prophecy
Setting hermeneutics aside for a moment, let me close by giving you a few tips to help you understand the prophetic Scriptures we will look at in the weeks to come.
First, God wants you to understand what He said. His Word, after all, was written to be read and understood. So expect Him to speak and reveal His truth to you as you study these sometimes confusing prophetic passages.
Next, God’s word has allegory, parables, signs, symbols, eyewitness descriptions, etc., yet the text has only one meaning. And that meaning for us was the intended meaning when it was given. Therefore, when you encounter symbols or signs, look for the “built-in” interpretations given by the Holy Spirit within the text itself. You can see examples of these built in interpretations all throughout the Revelation.
Next, compare parallel passages. After all, since the Bible originates by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, much of what is revealed in one section is also discussed in another section. Rarely (almost never) does one Scripture contain all that the Bible says about a given topic. So watch God’s Word interpret itself elsewhere in Scripture. It’s a wonderful thing to behold.
Then, be aware of time intervals. For example, the church age was a mystery that was not yet revealed when Daniel wrote about the future (Eph. 3). And for this reason, some Old Testament prophets sometimes blend the two comings of Christ. These intervals are called “prophetic skips.”
Finally, be sure to distinguish between filled and unfulfilled prophecies in Scripture.
Now, armed with these tips, let’s look at what the Lord reveals to us about our current situation and the times ahead.