Prophecy 101: How to Interpret the Bible’s Predictions
- Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Knowledge of Bible history is also critical for understanding the prophecies. Do you know what happened in 2,000 B.C.? 1,300 B.C.? A.D. 70? 586 B.C.? 1,000 B.C.? You should. These dates and others mark key events in the history of salvation, and they are critical for understanding Bible prophecy. They are just as important as 1776 and 1941 are for American history.
Unfortunately, most of us struggle with the biblical timeline. As a result, we have no clue about the situation that a prophet such as Isaiah or Habakkuk may have been addressing, and we don’t even know whether a particular prophecy may have already happened or is yet in the future.
One author I read back in the day interpreted Ezekiel’s prophecy of the Lord leaving the Jerusalem temple (Ezek. 10) as an “end time” event, when clearly it refers to God’s judgment on Israel at the hands of the Babylonians … in 586 B.C. In the same way, many modern interpreters skip right over New Testament prophecies about the destruction of Herod’s temple by Titus in A.D. 70, claiming they apply to end-times events only.
Once we start to get a handle on hermeneutics and biblical history, we will be better prepared to decide how to interpret Bible prophecies. This knowledge will provide the theological scaffolding we will need on which to hang the prophecies. Today and throughout church history, there have been three major schools of Bible prophecy. They all try to answer the question of the relationship between the Second Coming of Christ and the Millennium.
Premillennialists believe Jesus will return before the Millennium, or thousand-year reign of Christ (Rev. 20:1-3, also Matt. 20:20-23, Luke 1:32-33, 22:29-30, Acts 1:6-7). Historic premillennialism was the doctrine of the early church, held by Papias, Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Hermas, Ignatius, and Polycarp. The present age of grace, they say, is the plan of God and is predicted in the Old Testament. The church and Israel are one body.
A modern variant, Dispensationalism, holds that the promises to Israel will be fulfilled literally, while the church has its own callings from God. Adherents generally believe God has provided seven “dispensations” in salvation history, from the Old Testament until now: dispensations of innocence, conscience, human government, promise, law, grace, and the millennial kingdom. Adherents include John Walvoord, Charles C. Ryrie, C.I. Scofield, and Hal Lindsey
Amillennialists believe there will be no millennial kingdom. They take references to the millennial reign of Christ as non-literal. A later doctrine (starting in the 2nd or 3rd century), amillennialism was held by Origen, Dionysius, and Augustine. Preterism, a modern form of this doctrine, holds that most or all of the prophecies about Christ’s second coming and the millennial kingdom were fulfilled by A.D. 70, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple.
Postmillennialists believe Christ will come after the Millennium, which they see as a symbolic era when the church spreads the knowledge of Christ worldwide. Popular at the start of the 20th century in liberal Christianity (with talk of a “Christian century”), postmillennialism fell largely out of favor after two world wars.
Whichever system you choose, you need to realize that it is a choice and not the only possible way to interpret Scripture. Sincere Christians have disagreed and will continue to do so.
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