Understanding Biblical Prophecy
By Dr. Chuck Missler
Author of Prophecy 20/20
CBN.com There never has been a more exciting time to undertake a serious study of Bible hermeneutics—methods of interpretation. I join the many Biblical scholars who believe we are on the threshold of the most climactic era of all time. There is a classic Biblical scenario that has long been espoused by many who take the Bible seriously, and that may soon be subjected to some decisive empirical tests.
But before we explore the events on our immediate horizon, we need to gain a perspective of the various elements that make up the classic Biblical prophetic scenario of the end-time.
Analyzing the Text
There are few areas of more diverse—and intense—differences of opinion than in the field of eschatology (the study of last things). Each of the various views essentially derives from the hermeneutics with which one approaches Biblical studies. One’s views can be strongly influenced by one’s willingness to depart from the literal rendering of the text. Furthermore, people’s eschatological views also derive from an integration of their comprehensive understanding of the whole body of Scripture, their grasp of the whole counsel of God. And, of course, there are outstanding scholars espousing each of the many widely differing views.
While an analysis or defense of each of the alternative scholastic positions is beyond the scope of this book, I will adhere to a fundamental position.
The initial step in any textual analysis is exegesis: determining what the text actually says. This embraces such issues as translation, lexicography, and grammar. Fortunately, relatively few controversies we will encounter depend upon exegetical issues. The major issues are generally well understood, and apparent discrepancies are deferred to experts who have made the study
of the original languages their specialty.
The next step involves hermeneutics: the theories of interpretation. Here there are, of course, wide variances among the alternative approaches to understanding the Biblical text. Since the early writings of Origen and their subsequent adoption by Augustine, a widespread willingness to adopt allegorical approaches to many of the difficult passages has been handed down through the traditions of most denominational churches. The scholastic difficulties compound as one drifts away from the direct statements of the text. As they often quip in the data-processing industry, “If you torture the data long enough, it will confess to anything.”
The “literal” view I take in this book supports the fact that the entire package of Scripture—66 books penned by more than 40 authors over several thousand years—is an integrated design emerging from outside the constraints of the time dimension itself. There are several reasons favoring the literal view. Whenever we encounter someone in the Bible reading the Bible, we find him taking it literally. For example, when Daniel read Jeremiah (as seen in Daniel 9:2), he took him literally. From a personal standpoint, in my 50 years of serious study of the Bible, obviously I have had to revise my own perspectives on a number of occasions. However, each revision has always driven me to take the text even more seriously—literally—than before.
Furthermore, the Lord Himself gave us this instruction:
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
A “jot,” or yod, is one of the 22 Hebrew letters; it is so small that we might mistake it for an apostrophe, or a blemish on the paper. A “tittle” is a tiny mark that distinguishes some of the letters. These were a Hebraic equivalent to saying, “not the dotting of an i or the crossing of a t will pass from the law until all be fulfilled.” This sounds like a call to take the text very literally.
It is also my experience that in addition to a literal interpretation of the text, we also need a precise interpretation. Precision proves to be an essential requisite to avoid confusion, ambiguities, and misunderstandings. While there are many interpretations of the Biblical text, many of them emerge from allegorical assumptions or fanciful conjectures that are not necessarily consistent with the various texts when taken as an integrated whole. It is the emergent integrated design that both validates its supernatural origin and clarifies ostensible conflicts among the details. In fact, studies in eschatology will challenge one’s familiarity with the overall comprehensive design, yielding its greatest blessings.
A literal view does not deny the existence of figures of speech: similes, metaphors, analogies, and so on. These, in fact, are highlighted by God Himself: “I have also spoken by the prophets, and I have multiplied visions, and used similitudes, by the ministry of the prophets” (Hos. 12:10).
More than 200 different rhetorical devices used in the Scriptures have been catalogued. The role of rhetorical devices is highly relevant to our understanding the Biblical text.
For most of us, prophecy appears as a prediction and its subsequent fulfillment. This is actually a Greek model of thinking that appeals to the Western mind. However, to the Hebrew mind, prophecy often is pattern. Some of these patterns appear to be a deliberate anticipation of subsequent events.
Paul highlights this in his letter to the Corinthians:
“Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Cor. 10:11).
The word translated “examples” is tupos, the Greek word from which we get the word type, an anticipatory pattern or symbol. An example of a “type” occurs in Abraham’s offering of Isaac, his
son, in Genesis 22. Known as the Akedah, this pivotal event was, in many ways, the archetype of them all. Abraham is in the role of the father; Isaac, his son. Abraham apparently realized this
was an anticipatory enactment of a prophecy since he named the site, “In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen” (Gen. 22:14). In fact, it was his confidence that Isaac would be resurrected that is noted in the New Testament (Heb. 11:19).What Abraham may not have realized is that 2,000 years later, another Father would offer His Son as an offering for sin on that very spot!
Another example occurred when Moses was instructed to put a brass serpent on a pole on a hill as a remedy for an incursion of venomous snakes (Num. 21:4–9). The symbolism of this strange episode remains obscure until, in the New Testament, Jesus explains it to Nicodemus:
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (John 3:14–17)
It becomes obvious that God’s instructions to Moses in Numbers 21 deliberately anticipated the Cross of Christ. In fact, this even gave rise to the most well-known verse in the entire
Bible, John 3:16.
There are many fruitful studies of symbols in the Bible—entire libraries are devoted to them. Jesus Christ as the Passover Lamb is another illustrative example. When John the Baptist first introduced Jesus publicly he declared, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). It is astonishing to discover how many Passover specifications foreshadowed the Crucifixion and related events.
Perpsectives vs. Doctrine
Symbols are illustrative to gain or validate perspective but are hazardous as doctrinal “proofs” alone. When dealing with allegories, it is easy to misapply them. And yet there are many “patterns” that do appear to illuminate perspectives. This is one of the reasons that eschatology is, in effect, a test of our understanding of the composite whole of Scripture, and not simply a pursuit of certain proof texts to support a specific thesis. The ultimate context requires a perspective of the whole counsel of God, which makes eschatology such a challenge for the serious student. It is essential to avoid “one-verse theology,” and always to establish any issue with two or three witnesses, which is to say, with more than one verse.
An example of an eschatological “candidate type” is the role of Boaz in the book of Ruth, returning the forfeited lands to Naomi and his taking a Gentile bride, all as an anticipatory “type” of our own Kinsman-Redeemer. Another example might include the removal of Enoch before the Flood (Gen. 5:24).
There were three groups of people facing the Flood of Noah: those who perished in the Flood, those who were preserved through the Flood, and those who were removed prior to the Flood. Some Biblical scholars see a pattern here that suggests the removal of the Church before the “great tribulation.”
Nebuchadnezzar’s forced worship of his image in Daniel 3 is also a popular example of a type of the Antichrist. Another example of an end-time allegory occurs between the book of Joshua and the book of Revelation where another Jehoshua dispossesses usurpers from God’s real estate by sending in two witnesses who employ seven trumpets and defeat the enemy. In the final battle, the kings who aligned themselves under a leader who calls himself “the Lord of Righteousness” are defeated with signs in the sun and moon and then hide themselves in caves (Joshua 10:1–28; Rev. 6:15–17). The more you study both books, the more the similarities are striking and illuminating.
Confirming validations in the field of Biblical studies is often elusive, particularly in the field of eschatology. However, as history continues to unfold, it appears that literal interpretations gain many surprising validations. The reemergence of the state of Israel is a prime example. The occurrence of certain litmus tests may allow us to confirm our perspectives.
In order to put these elements into a relevant context, let’s first summarize each of the principal elements of the classical Biblical end-time scenario in the chapters that follow.
From Prophecy 20/20 by Dr. Chuck Missler. Copyright © 2009 by Dr. Chuck Missler. Reprinted by permission.
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