How to Understand Bible Prophecy-Introduction

Three current attitudes

Today in the Church there are three prevailing attitudes towards Biblical Prophecy. There are those who say that Biblical Prophecy is not important and that it’s too hard to understand and that we don’t need it. Yet in the light of present world conditions it is not wise to think this way. Then there are those who go overboard where Biblical Prophecy is concerned. They cannot think of anything else and are often end up predicting things that do not happen consequently bringing the whole subject of Biblical Prophecy into disrepute. Then there are those who actually scoff and laugh about Biblical Prophecy but the apostle Peter had something to say about this kind of attitude that many have even in the Church today.

“First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the Day of Judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare” (2 Peter 3:3-9).

There is a middle course we can take.

However there is a middle course we can take. God wants us to have a basic understanding of Biblical Prophecy. Peter also said that prophecy was, “a light shining in a dark place.” Today the world is a dark place and getting darker and the day is coming when the only hope for anyone will be a sound understanding of what the Bible teaches about Prophecy and the end times. Today in the Church there is less interest in Biblical Prophecy now than there was 30+ years ago. The nearer the Lord’s return the less interest there is in this whole subject. Many today are into the Kingdom Now theology and faith prosperity and are at home in this world and many are living their lives as if they belonged to this present world system. Many call themselves ‘Pan-millennialists’ saying that it will all ’pan out in the end.’ What they are really saying is that they are just too lazy to study the Bible about what it actually teaches on this subject. Just because there are extremes does not give any Bible believing Christian the excuse not to study Biblical Prophecy especially in the light of world conditions and more so what is happening in the Middle-east today.

The revealed things and the secret things.

Now the Lord has secret things and revealed things and reveals His plans according to His will. There are things we are not permitted to understand and other things that God permits us to understand. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29) God Himself has reserved the right to seal these things up until the appropriate time comes to reveal them. When Daniel wanted to understand the things he had been shown the Lord said to him, “Go your way, Daniel, because the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end.   Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.” (Daniel 12:9-10) In these last days God is unsealing what He has sealed up for centuries and if we have a genuine desire to understand what the Bible teaches about Prophecy then the Holy Spirit will give us understanding in these matters.

There are Four Ways to Understand Biblical Prophecy.

The first of these terms is “Preterism,” The Second term is “Historicism.” The third term used is “Futurism.” The fourth term used is “Poemecism.” Virtually all of the Western Prophecy teachers today and in the past history of the Western Christian Church have held to one or another of the four Eschatological positions to the exclusion of the others. However, those who wrote the Bible were Jewish and were able to hold differing Biblical views in tension or in the case of these four views of prophecy hold them all simultaneously. Let’s briefly look at these four different ways in which the western mindset interprets these views on Bible Prophecy.

1.Biblical Prophecy only applies to the First Century (Preterism)

This view takes a past event and speaks about it as if was going to happen again in the future. Some preterists say that the Lord Jesus’ discourse on the last days in Matthew chapter twenty four was totally fulfilled in70 AD when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed and that there is no future fulfilment implied by what He said. Those who hold to Kingdom Now teaching and replacement theology are by enlarge preterists. For example a preterist would say that the book of Revelation primarily applies only to John’s time.

2.Biblical Prophecy only applies to History (Historicism)

This view says that Biblical Prophecy does apply to John’s time but primarily it applies to Church history. For example the reformers saw the Popes as antichrists and in most cases taught that the final antichrist would be a Pope. A Historicist would say that the book of Revelation applies to the history of the Church from the first century to the last days before the return of Jesus.

3.Biblical Prophecy only applies to the future (Futurism)

This view says that Biblical prophecy only applies to the last days. Hal Lindsay who wrote the book, “The Late, Great Planet Earth” teaches this position.  A Futurist would say that the book of Revelation primarily applies to the Last Days with a special emphasis on the Great Tribulation.

4.Biblical Prophecy is mostly “symbolic” of unseen spiritual realities (Poemecism)

This view says that Biblical Prophecy is generally designed to encourage believers in every age to stand faithful to Christ especially in times of persecution. They would say that the book of Revelation is primarily “‘symbolic” or “poetic” and has a general spiritual application for believers in every age and is not really seen to be describing specific and literal historical events. Martin Luther basically taught this position where Revelation is concerned. The Lutheran Church by enlarge has no real emphasis at all on Biblical Prophecy.

You have to be one or the other?

The western way of thinking says that you have to be one or the other and there has been a lot of controversy over the centuries between believers who hold to one of these specific views to the exclusion of the others. However a first century Jewish believer could hold all four views simultaneously and in tension. Actually the Lord Jesus Himself held all four views simultaneously. We can see this when He spoke about “the abomination that causes desolation” in Matthew twenty-four verse fifteen. He said, “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel-let the reader understand” (Matthew 24:15).

The Lord Jesus applied Prophecy to His own time. He was a Preterist.

He was applying Biblical Prophecy to His own time. He took a past event that occurred about a hundred and sixty years before His time and said that it would happen again in the future. He was referring to Antiochus Epiphanes who desecrated the temple in Jerusalem with an image to Zeus and slaughtered a pig on the altar of sacrifice around 160BC. He was referring to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple that occurred in 70AD around 40 years later after His ascension into heaven. Those who say that prophecy only applied to the first century would say that what Jesus said was completely fulfilled in 70AD and that there would be no future fulfilment. He was applying it to His own time but not exclusively to the first century only.

The Lord Jesus applied Biblical Prophecy to History. He was a Historicist.

He was also applying Biblical Prophecy to future history. The “abomination of desolation” did happen in 70AD yet it has happened several times down through history and will happen again at the end of this age when the Antichrist stands on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem proclaiming himself to be God. As we will see later in this study the first century Jewish believer understood Bible Prophecy not as “prediction and fulfilment” but as “a pattern.” The Lord Jesus saw this abomination reoccurring again in history even to the present day. Even now there is an “abomination of desolation” standing on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

The Lord Jesus applied Biblical Prophecy to the future. He was a Futurist.

He was also using applying Biblical Prophecy to the end of this age when He said that the “abomination” would be fully manifest with the appearance of the Antichrist. This is clearly implied in Matthew chapter twenty-four when He also said, “For then there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equalled again” (Matthew 24:21). His statement regarding the time of the end is also confirmed in other passages of the Bible such as the book of Daniel where we read, “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then” (Daniel 12:1a). Daniel’s time-frame fits like a glove into the Lord Jesus’ time-frame. They were both speaking about the same period of time at the end of this age yet they lived hundreds of years apart.

The Lord Jesus applied Biblical Prophecy to encourage believers in every age. He was a Poemecist

Yet He also used Biblical Prophecy to encourage believers in every age. When you read the book of Revelation the Lord Jesus is speaking encouragement and warnings to believers in every age. In that sense the book of Revelation not only applied to the first century believers but also was written to strengthen and encourage all believers at all times down through history and especially to the believers in the last days. The book of Revelation actually applies to three time frames. It applies to John’s time, Church history as well as applying to the Last Days. The Book of Revelation is both literal and symbolic. It describes literal events on earth as well as what is happening in the unseen, eternal and spiritual realm outside of time as we know it down here on earth.

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