Sep 9, 2008

How To Study Bible Prophecy

By Tim LaHaye

Prophecy is God’s roadmap to show us where history is going. The Bible’s predictions claim literal and specific fulfillments, which verify such prophecies, are indeed from God. The key to interpreting Bible prophecy is in discerning what is literal and what is symbolic. Therefore, the best way to avoid confusion in the study of prophetic scripture is to follow these simple directions:

1. Interpret prophecy literally wherever possible. God meant what He said and said what He meant when He inspired holy men of God (who) spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, (1 Peter 1.21) to write the Bible. Consequently we can take the Bible literally most of the time. Where God intends for us to interpret symbolically, He makes it obvious. One of the reasons the book of Revelation is difficult for some people to understand is they try to spiritualize the symbols used in the book. However, since many Old Testament prophecies have already been literally fulfilled, such as God turning water to blood (Exodus 4.9 and 7.17-21), it should not be difficult to imagine future prophetic events can and will be literally fulfilled at the appropriate time. Only when symbols or figures of speech make absolutely no literal sense, should anything but a literal interpretation be sought.

2. Prophecies concerning Israel and the Church should not be transposed. The promises of God to Israel to be fulfilled in the latter days, particularly those concerning Israel’s punishment during the Tribulation have absolutely nothing to do with the Church. The Bible gives specific promises for the Church that she will be raptured into Heaven before the Tribulation (John 14.2-3, 1 Corinthians 15.51-52 and 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18).

3. For symbolic passages, compare Scripture with Scripture. The Bible is not contradictory. Even though written by numerous, divinely inspired men over a period of sixteen hundred years, it is supernaturally consistent in its use of terms. For example, the word beast is used thirty-four times in Revelation and many other times in Scripture. Daniel explains the word is symbolic of either a king or kingdom, see Daniel 7 and 8. By examining the contexts in Revelation and Daniel, you will find beast has the same meaning in both books. Many other symbols used in Revelation are also taken directly from the Old Testament. These include the tree of life in Revelation 2.7 and 22.2, 14, the book of life in Revelation 3.5ff, and Babylon in Revelation 14.8ff.

Some symbols in Revelation are drawn from other New Testament passages. These include terms such as the Word of God in 1.2, 9ff, Son of man in 1.13 and 14.14, marriage supper in 19.9, the Bride in 21.9 and 22.17, first resurrection in 20.5,6 and second death in 2.11, 20.6,14 and 21.8. Other symbols in Revelation are explained and identified in their context. For example, alpha and omega in 1.8,11; 21.6 and 22.13 represents Jesus Christ; the seven candlesticks in 1.13 and 20 are the seven churches; the dragon in 12.3ff is Satan and the man child in 12.5 and 13 is Jesus.

Though some prophetic passages should be interpreted symbolically, it is important to remember symbols in the Bible depict real people, things and events. For example, the seven candlesticks in Revelation 1 represent real churches, which actually existed when the prophecy was given.