How to Understand Bible prophecy Part 3

As to the seven churches

In out last study we discussed the seven churches that John wrote to. We discovered that these churches reveal four things. Firstly then, they were seven literal churches that existed in John’s time. Then they represent seven types of churches that can exist at any time in Church history. They also represent seven types of Churches that will exist in the last days. Then they can also represent seven somewhat overlapping periods of Church history. This application to Church history is suggested by the meaning in the titles of these seven churches. We also discovered that the meaning of their names revealed something of their character.

The first church mentioned is “Ephesus.”  This means, “Not lasting,” and represents the apostolic age of the first century.  The second church mentioned is “Smyrna.” This means “Myrrh” or “anointed for burial.” Myrrh was a substance used in embalming bodies and is always connected to suffering and death. Smyrna represents the persecuted Church of the first and second centuries. The third church is “Pergamum.” This means, “Divorced” and specifically applies to the time when the Church committed “spiritual adultery.” When Constantine became the emperor of Rome in the fourth century he professed to be a Christian and made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Ultimately, the Roman Catholic Church emerged in the west and the Orthodox Church in the east. The fourth church was Thyatira. This means, “continuing sacrifice.” At this time in Church history the Roman Catholic Church immerged with its major emphasis on the doctrine of transubstantiation.

The fifth church was “Sardis.” Sardis means, “Incomplete.” This represents the reformation period where the emphasis was once again placed on the authority of scripture over the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church doctrines. One of the things where the reformers failed was to separate the Church from the State. The sixth church was “Philadelphia.” Philadelphia means, “Brotherly love.” This represents the great evangelistic and missionary movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The last church mentioned is “Laodicea.” This means, “People’s opinions.” This refers to the time period in which we are living now. This is the age of the lukewarm, materialistic Church with its emphasis on worldly prosperity, riches and people’s opinions replacing the plain teaching of God’s Word. As  we will now see we will look at the way a first century Jewish believer in the Lord Jesus would interpret Bible prophecy

1. Biblical Prophecy is not “prediction and fulfilment” but a “pattern.”

A first century Jewish believers way of understanding Biblical Prophecy was not to predict a specific event and look for a specific fulfilment in history but rather in their thinking understood Bible Prophecy as a pattern of historical events that had similar features to them, that had partial fulfilments, but all taught about an ultimate fulfilment in the future. This is the pattern of prophetic revelation in the Bible. Remember that the Bible is a Jewish book and not a western one. We need to read it as a Jewish book and interpret prophecy as a first century Jewish believer would interpret it. Also what has happened in past history teaches us about what will happen in the future. The New Testament takes many themes from the Old Testament and recycles them for the Church.

This is also the pattern of scripture where prophecy is concerned. As it is also written, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Another example is that when we read the book of Acts we are not only reading past history but future history as well. The apostles and the first century believers took the many of the themes of the Old Testament and applied them to the Church. This is why the Old Testament and the New Testament must be read and studied together. As it has been said of both Testaments; “The New is in the Old concealed and the Old is in the New revealed!” Let’s look at examples of this pattern from the Bible.

Abraham

For example: We can see this pattern of Prophecy with Abraham in the book of Genesis. God judged Pharaoh, and Abraham came out of Egypt along with his descendants. (Genesis 12:10-20) Then, in Exodus, God again judges Pharaoh and a wicked king gets judged – and once again Abraham’s decedents come out of Egypt. Next, the Lord Jesus as an infant comes out of Egypt after Herod the wicked King is judged. (Matthew 2:13-23) Then we come out of Egypt ourselves!  Egypt is a type of the World; Pharaoh is a type of the devil, who is the god of this world. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)

Moses

Moses went up onto the mountain and then afterwards sprinkled the blood of the sacrificial animal on the people of Israel. The Lord Jesus went up to the hill of Golgotha and shed His own blood and then sprinkles us as believers with His own blood. Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, through the water, and into the Promised Land. The Lord Jesus leads us out of the world, through Baptism into heaven. As believers we all have an Exodus experience and this ultimately means the resurrection and rapture of the Church. Of course the rapture and the resurrection are the same event!

The Plagues in Egypt

The same judgments that took place on Egypt in the book of Genesis are replayed in the book of Revelation. In Revelation we see similar plagues that will be poured out on the Egypt of this world that were poured out on the literal land of Egypt in the time of Moses. Both Moses and Aaron were empowered by the Spirit of God to challenge Pharaoh and they were a type of the two witnesses in Revelation that will confront the Empire of the Antichrist.

The Victory Song of the Israelites

Why is the victory song of the Israelites in Exodus sung in Revelation? It is sung because the book of Exodus shows us that the destruction of Pharaoh’s kingdom and his defeat foreshadows the destruction of the Antichrist’s Empire and the defeat of the devil at the end of this age. When we see the destruction of Pharaoh and his army at the Red sea we see a type of the destruction of the armies of the Antichrist that come against the Jews in Jerusalem at the end of this age when Jesus comes back. Why did the Israelites bring Joseph’s bones out of Egypt at the front of the procession? Because the scriptures tell us, “The dead in Christ will rise first”. After that, “we who are still alive and are left will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 7). In other words, we all come out of the Egypt of the world together.

“Out of Egypt I have called My Son”

Once again, the Hebrew idea of Biblical Prophecy is to see a pattern of similar events that collectively teach about the fulfilment of an ultimate event. When we understand the way a first century Jewish believer interpreted prophecy we can see that Matthew was correct in his interpretation of it. For example: the Prophet Hosea he referred to the nation of Israel coming out of Egypt when he said, “Out of Egypt have I called my son” (Hosea 11:1). Matthew takes this prophecy concerning the nation of Israel and applies it to Jesus coming up out of Egypt with Joseph and Mary. (Matthew 2:14)

The fall of Babylon

In Revelation John writes about the fall of Babylon. He was not talking about literal Babylon but Imperial Rome. The early Christians identified Babylon with Rome and they were right in that the empire of Rome had all the marks of the lifestyle, culture, luxury, sexual perversion and idolatry of the Ancient Babylonian Empire. (1 Peter 5:13) In the fifth century the Visigoths invaded Rome and destroyed it by fire. John also tells us that the city of “Babylon” will burn again at the hands of the Beast Empire at the end of this age. The Apostle John tells us this when he said, “Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God’s words are fulfilled.  The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth” (Revelation 17:15-18).  This city of ‘Babylon’ has its roots in the Babylon and Assyria founded by Nimrod and Semiramis.

This event will see the destruction of a false religious system. The city of ‘Babylon” is described in scripture as “a city in a desert” whose “destruction is heard at the Red sea.” The city that is in a desert by the sea would have to be Mecca. The religious roots of Mecca go all the way back to the Ancient Babylon of Nimrod and Semiramis. Many see the Church of Rome today as Babylon. It is a part of it like all religions but not the End-Time Babylon in its entirety. Historically Babylon was never destroyed. The destruction of Babylon in Biblical Prophecy is describing a future event that is still to happen. MYSTERY BABYLON THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH is the source of all false religion. She is the mother that gave birth to all false religion. The Beast Empire will burn her with fire! Today the Saudi’s are scared of Iran. Mystery Babylon the source of all false religion will be burned up with fire.

Persecution also is “a pattern”

When you look at how the Church has been persecuted from the first century you see a pattern emerging that will intensify at the end of this age. When you see how the Roman Emperors persecuted believers and how Islam persecutes faithful Christians today you have a pattern of how the empire of the Antichrist will persecute faithful believers at the end of this age and especially during the Great Tribulation. At the end of the age both Israel and the faithful Church will suffer at the hands of the Antichrist.

Both the prophets Daniel and Zechariah said this would be so. Daniel said, “As I watched, this horn was waging war against the saints and defeating them.” (Daniel 7:21) and again Daniel said, ““It will be for a time, times and half a time. When the power of the holy people has been finally broken, all these things will be completed.” (Daniel 12:7) Zechariah also said, “Awake, O sword, against My shepherd, against the man who is close to Me!” declares the LORD Almighty. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones. In the whole land,” declares the LORD, “two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on My name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God’ ” (Zechariah 13:7-9)

Then in the New Testament the Apostle John said, “He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation.” (Revelation 13:7)  It is interesting that the word used for “Saints” in Revelation chapter thirteen is the standard Greek word used for Christians in the New Testament. So then Biblical Prophecy from the perspective of a first century Jewish believer is a “pattern.” There are many historical events that are partial fulfilments that collectively teach us about an ultimate and final fulfilment at the end of this present age.

2. The Old Testament prophecies would often speak about future historical events in the one prophecy when in reality those events were hundreds of years apart.

When the Hebrew prophets were prophesying they were prophesying mainly for 4 time frames. Firstly, they prophesied for their own time. Secondly they prophesied for the first coming of Christ. Thirdly they prophesied for the Second coming of Christ and finally for the Millennial Kingdom of the Messiah our Lord Jesus Christ. Often you will find that all four time frames run consecutively together in one specific prophecy yet the events they describe may be hundreds of years apart. These could be called “time leaps” or “time gaps.” This is the consistent pattern of Biblical Prophecy in God’s Word. Remember that the Bible is a Jewish book and must be understood from the Jewish way of thinking of a first century believer and interpreted in that way. Let’s look at just three examples.

Daniel

For example; the prophet Daniel in his book changes the time frame in chapter 11:31-36. In these verses up until verse 35 he is speaking about Antiochus Epiphanes and then in the next sentence in verse 36 he changes the time frame (he does a time leap) and begins to talk about the Antichrist at the end of this age.

Isaiah

For example; when the Lord Jesus went into the temple and quoted Isaiah chapter sixty-one he stopped half way through verse two of the prophecy at the phrase “To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,” and then closed the book. Why did he do this? Because this prophecy up to that point had been fulfilled but in the prophet Isaiah the rest of the verse says, “And the day of vengeance of our God,” was to be fulfilled at His Second Coming. This is why Jesus stopped in mid-sentence. When you read Isaiah chapter sixty one there is no break in the text but in reality the rest of the chapter still has to be fulfilled in the future and culminating with the Millennial Kingdom of the Messiah.

Matthew

Then in Matthew chapter twenty-four Jesus spoke about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD but suddenly changed the time frame in mid-sentence at verse fifteen and starts to speak about the last days. He saw in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD a pattern of what would happen again to Jerusalem at the end of this age. This is called ‘telescoping’, i.e., seeing events in history that line up and relate to each other but often have centuries between them. Another example: is found in Matthew 10:5-23. Jesus sent out the disciples in pairs on an evangelistic mission and also told them that they would be brought before kings and governors, betrayed by family members and false brethren and persecuted. While He was speaking about these things he suddenly changed the time frame in mid – sentence.

Now these things did not happen to them when they went out on their missionary journey but it did happen to the apostles and the early Christians later on in the book of Acts. It has happened down through the history of the Church to the present day and it will happen again to the Church globally at the end of this age. Matthew tells us in his gospel what will happen to faithful Christians in the last days before Jesus returns. Already we see this kind of persecution happening in the Middle-East today. In fact since the rise of Islam the Eastern Church down through history has suffered greatly under the scourge of Islam.

History repeats itself

Matthew clearly records the very words of the Lord Jesus concerning this matter of a future persecution when He said, “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.  At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.  Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24: 9-14).

When we read the book of Acts we are not only reading past history but future history. What happened to the first century Church will happen again to the last century Church.  What happened to Jesus in His last days will also happen to His body the faithful Church in its last days. Today the Christians are being persecuted in every Muslim country, not to mention other non-Muslim nations such as China and North Korea. Persecution is also coming to the western Church. In America and Europe and even in Australia there are men in high places seeking to pass laws that will directly affect Bible Believing Christians.

3. Biblical Prophecy has always been literally fulfilled.

There is no biblical pattern for “spiritualising Biblical Prophecy” while ignoring the literal meaning and context. For example some try to spiritualise the Old Testament prophecies regarding Israel’s restoration and say that all of the prophecies are fulfilled in the Church. This kind of thinking came from Augustine and others who followed after him. When you look at the prophecies concerning the Lord Jesus Himself they were literally fulfilled.

He was born of a virgin. (Isaiah 7:4) (Matthew 21:22-23)   He was born in Bethlehem of Judea. (Micah 5:2) (Luke 2:4-6)  He was called out of Egypt. (Hosea 11:1) (Matthew 2:14-15) He taught in parables. (Psalm 78:1-2) (Matthew 13:34-35) He healed the sick. (Isaiah 29:18-29) (Isaiah 35:4-6) (Isaiah 6:11) (Matthew 11:2-6) He was whipped and abused. (Isaiah 50:5-6) (Mark 14:53-15:20) His hands and his feet were pierced. (Psalm 22:16) (Markk15:15-26) His garments were divided. (Psalm 22:18) (Matthew 27:35) He was killed and buried. (Isaiah 53:8-9) (Matthew 15:33-47) He rose again on the third day. (Hosea 6:2) (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

A Prophet like unto Moses

Finally the Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word of God made flesh is Himself the Promised Prophet but if we do not hear and obey His words God will require it of us. As Moses himself said, “The LORD said to me: “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put My words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to My words that the prophet speaks in My name, I myself will call him to account” (Deuteronomy 18:18-19).

Peter in his sermon quoted Moses when he said to the people of his day, “For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like Me from among your own people; you must listen to everything He tells you. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people’” (Acts 3:22-23).

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