Welcome to the fourth study in the “Bible Prophecy and You” series.
The better we can understand Bible prophecies, the more we will feel inspired by their amazing accuracy and reliability. The prophecies that have not already been fulfilled will be fulfilled perfectly.
The next step is to learn how to correctly interpret and understand God’s prophecies. In today’s media circus, one can hear countless nonbiblical predictions plus countless misinterpretations of Bible prophecies. Jesus Christ and many of the prophets and apostles warned us to be very careful that we not be deceived. Remember that just as a counterfeit dollar bill is worthless even though it closely resembles a real dollar bill, counterfeit prophecies are likewise worthless and can even lead you in a wrong direction! In this study we'll look at some valuable keys for correctly understanding Bible prophecy.
God has wonderful promises that He will keep, prophecies that tell of Christ’s return to this earth, when He will begin a time of restoration and peace and healing.
A person in the state of Washington who now embraces the Bible in its entirety tells this story:
“As a child, I faithfully attended church services every Sunday with my parents and siblings. We were taught many of God’s truths, and I tried to obey them and my parents.
“When I was 15 years old, I developed rheumatic fever, and it required many weeks of bed rest and medication to regain my health. During this time, I read many books, one of which was the Bible. One day, as I was reading the book of Isaiah, I realized that my church never had studies or sermons to explain how these wonderful and beautiful words applied to all of us.
“I wondered, when would the world be such a wonderful place when all people would dwell safely together in peace and the wild animals would be tamed and all diseases would be healed? I felt I wasn’t being taught the ‘whole story’ of the Bible.
“Answers to these questions did not come until I was 28 years old and married with four young children. Through much study and repentance and baptism, I finally understood that the whole Bible needs to be accepted as God’s truth and that I cannot just believe and accept what feels convenient to me or limit the truth to what I was taught as a child.
“Only then did I begin to understand the promises and prophecies of Isaiah and other prophetic books of the Bible. Finally, I knew that God has wonderful promises that He will keep, prophecies that tell of Christ’s return to earth, when He will begin a time of restoration and peace and healing and set up His Kingdom on this earth! Then, at last, I finally knew the ‘whole story’!”
Let the Bible interpret the Bible!
One awesome proof that the Bible is divinely inspired is its perfect harmony and consistency all the way through, even though it was penned by about 40 different writers over a span of 1,500 years! The Bible never contradicts itself. Even passages that at first glance appear to contradict others are found, through more thorough study, to not be contradictory after all.
Many people dismiss most prophecy as being merely allegorical or symbolic. An important general rule is to take everything the Bible says as literally true except where it is clearly symbolic. And remember that everything in the Bible is important. When you encounter a symbol, try to determine what it is symbolizing.
These days you can hear many people quoting Bible verses in espousing certain points of view, but often they are twisting the meaning as people did even in Peter and Paul’s day (see 2 Peter 3:15-16). Instead, when we are trying to understand a prophetic scripture, we should look for the same subject or similar wording in other parts of the Bible and never accept an interpretation that is contradictory.
For example, we are able to understand much about the book of Revelation by comparing it with the book of Daniel, Jesus’ Olivet Prophecy and other parts of the Bible.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “History tends to repeat itself.” That’s true partly because human nature stays the same and partly because God chooses to repeat His actions in the ways He deals with mankind.
Thus Bible prophecy is often dual. A prophecy could have been fulfilled to a certain degree in the past and still await a more complete fulfillment in the latter days. And studying the Bible and history to see how God fulfilled a prophecy in the past can give us a better understanding of how He will likely fulfill it in the future.
Now let’s take a look at some other keys for understanding Bible prophecy.
What is the number one focus of Bible prophecy?
“Then He [the risen Jesus] said to them [His disciples], ‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.’ And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45).
“‘All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills
to reveal Him.’ Then He turned to His disciples and said privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it’” (Luke 10:22-24).
The focus of Bible prophecy is Jesus the Christ (the Messiah). The Bible has many prophecies of His first appearance to become our Savior and His second coming as glorified King of Kings (1 Timothy 6:15). During His earthly ministry, His example and His message also revealed what God the Father is like.
When Jesus preached about prophecy, what was His number one focus?
“Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15).
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness . . .” (Matthew 6:33).
“. . . to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).
The word gospel means “good news.” The primary message that Jesus and the apostles preached was “the gospel of the kingdom of God.” That included God’s offer of eternal life so that we can “inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50). The entire Bible ultimately points toward the Kingdom of God that would come through Christ.
Can we determine exactly when prophesied events will happen?
“Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?’ . . .
“Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (Matthew 24:3; Matthew 24:32-36).
Jesus Himself plainly tells us that we cannot know in advance exactly when prophesied events will take place. Trying to predict exactly when prophetic events will happen is not a productive use of time. Instead we are to focus on what and why more than when. We live in a dangerous and unpredictable world, so we need to always focus on being spiritually ready to meet our Maker, whether at our death or at His coming (Matthew 24:44).
Do we need to learn about the origins and identities of major nations?
“And Jacob called his sons and said, ‘Gather together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days. Reuben . . . unstable as water, you shall not excel . . . The scepter shall not depart from Judah . . . Zebulun shall . . . become a haven for ships . . . Dan shall be a serpent by the way . . . Joseph is a fruitful bough . . . his branches run over the wall . . . The blessings of your father . . . shall be on the head of Joseph . . .’ All these are the twelve tribes of Israel” (Genesis 49:1-28).
“Understand, son of man, that the vision refers to the time of the end . . . The male goat is the kingdom of Greece. The large horn that is between its eyes is the first king. As for the broken horn and the four that stood up in its place, four kingdoms shall arise out of that nation, but not with its power. And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors have reached their fullness, a king shall arise, having fierce features, who understands sinister schemes” (Daniel 8:17-23).
“For they have consulted together with one consent; they form a confederacy against You: the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites; Moab and the Hagrites; Gebal, Ammon, and Amalek; Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre; Assyria also has joined with them; they have helped the children of Lot” (Psalm 83:5-8).
Yes, to understand what is being talked about here, we do need to know about the historical and prophetic identities of various peoples. End-time Bible prophecy refers to nations by their ancient and tribal names that are seldom or never used today. There is great value in learning history, especially Bible history. We soon learn that tribes of people that are assumed to be “lost” are not really lost! Paul and James knew where “the twelve tribes” of Israel were located (see Acts 26:7; James 1:1). Jesus even made it clear that they will have a prominent role after He returns (Matthew 19:28).
Bible prophecy is largely focused on the end time, so we should expect the Bible to have prophecies of past and present superpowers like Britain and the United States. Our well-researched free study guide The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy traces the biblical and historical origins of these important modern nations.
Are prophecies often conditional?
“Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings [that follow in the prophecy] shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God . . .
“But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses [that follow] will come upon you and overtake you” (Deuteronomy 28:1-2; Deuteronomy 28:15, emphasis added throughout).
“The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it” (Jeremiah 18:7-10; compare Jonah 3:1-10).
Yes, what happens to nations, and to each of us personally, depends on whether we choose to obey or disobey God. God said, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). It’s a matter of cause and effect. God lets us choose what to sow, but we will reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7-8).
What necessary change in the nature of man does prophecy point to?
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
By nature we have a “heart of stone.” We tend to be hard-hearted, stubborn and “stiff-necked” (Deuteronomy 9:6). Indeed, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). That has to change. Once God has opened our minds, He helps us with His Spirit to see ourselves as we really are.
He leads us to repent of our sins so He can forgive us. He helps us to become spiritually converted. After conversion, a person begins to have a “heart of flesh”—a soft, humble and teachable heart. Then God’s promise is fulfilled: “I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33).
What are some things to consider to have a spiritually balanced interest in prophecy?
“But take heed; see, I have told you all things beforehand” (Mark 13:23).
“Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets’” (Matthew 22:35-40).
Many people mostly ignore Bible prophecy and miss out on its benefits—the biblical worldview, the motivation and the comfort it can give us. Concerning His prophetic teaching, Jesus said to “take heed.” On the other hand, some dwell far too much on the technical aspects of Bible prophecy, such as trying to figure out exact dates, while neglecting matters much more important, like loving God and loving other people.
When you are reading prophetic sections of the Bible, be sure to meditate on the spiritual lessons they convey. For example, many people assume that the book of Revelation is all predictions. In actuality, it is full of valuable spiritual teaching.
For a good introduction to the book of Revelation, read Revelation 1:3. People will be blessed if they read this book, if they hear and pay attention to it and if they keep (obey) its spiritual directives! If you have a red-letter Bible, you will notice that much of the first three chapters of this book is direct quotation from Jesus Christ.
Then read Revelation 22:12-14 in the King James or New King James Version. This very last chapter of the Bible gives a grand overview. Think of how simple and clear this is. The Bible is consistent all the way through. God wants His people to show their love by obeying Him—for our own good!
What will you do today to show God that you love and obey Him? Will you search His Word to learn what He wants you to do and then begin doing it?