How you can understand PROPHECY and Prophetic Terminology
The major events that will make TOMORROW'S NEWS HEADLINES are already pre-recorded in your Bible. Yet so few seem to understand these vital prophetic passages. To millions, that third of the Bible that is prophecy is a SEALED BOOK. Yet, never has it been more necessary to understand prophecy. This timely article will give you some KEYS that will help you unlock prophetic meanings.
TO MOST professing Christians the writings of men like Daniel, Zechariah, Joel and John (in Revelation) are shrouded in mysterious symbolism and meaningless metaphor. So complete is this blindness that some "higher critics" have even dared to propose that such prophetic writings are merely the rantings of drug-driven hallucinators of antiquity!
Prophetic Blindness Prophesied
God Knew it would be this way! Notice how vividly and accurately He describes this spiritual blindness in Isaiah 29:10-12 (The Living Bible version): "For the Lord has poured out upon you a spirit of deep sleep. He has closed the eyes of your prophets and seers, so that all these future events are a sealed book to them. When you give it to one who can read, he says, I can't read, for its sealed. When you give it to another, he says, Sorry, I can't read." That is, many of the learned theologians will claim that prophetic books are permanently "sealed" to understanding. Others who are lay people will claim ignorance due to a lack of such "education." God simply has not given the understanding of prophecy to everyone! But Peter said, "WE have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto YE do well that YE take heed as unto a light that shines in a dark place" (II Peter 1:19). It is only those who have been enlightened by God's Holy Spirit who can truly grasp prophetic meanings. The Holy Spirit must lead us into all truth (John 16:13). This includes that portion of God's Word that is prophecy! (John 17:17.) Those who do not yield to God and submit to His way cannot hope to understand. Only those who have been enlightened by God's Spirit — made "wise" — can hope to grasp and comprehend prophetic meanings. Daniel wrote a great deal about future events. Yet he did not really understand just how his own prophecies would work out! "I heard this, but I did not understand it. So I asked, '0 my lord, what is to be the last phase before the end?' But he said, 'Ask no more, Daniel, for the revelation is to be kept secret and close, TILL THE CRISIS AT THE CLOSE'" (Daniel 12:8-9, Moffatt). He was speaking of the close of man's age — the time of the end! Then he said, "...the WISE SHALL UNDERSTAND" (verse 10, KJV). In the opening verse of the book of Revelation we find these words: "The Revelation [not concealing — but revealing] of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, TO SHEW [not 'hide from'] HIS SERVANTS [not the whole world] things which must shortly [with speed — i.e., Matt. 24:34] come to pass." Prophetic meanings were not permanently sealed, rather they were to be revealed, but only to God's true servants - and that not until the end time! You are living in that end time now! About 90% of that prophetic third of the Bible is now well into the beginning stages of fulfillment! You need to understand! Bible prophecy need not continue to confuse and befuddle you. There are keys to understanding. This article will explain some of the most important and basic ones.
Prophetic Time Lapses
One of the most crucial considerations when studying prophecy must be the time factor. This has been a major stumbling block to many students of prophecy. Even learned commentators have failed to grasp the principle of prophetic time lapses. This is especially true in Isaiah, Daniel and Revelation. An excellent example of such a time lapse may be found in Isaiah 61:1-3. In the first three verses we find a short prophecy concerning Christ and His commission. (Actually the complete prophecy continues to the end of the chapter, but the first three verses will suffice to illustrate the point.) Jesus Himself quoted this section from Isaiah when He had occasion to read in the synagogue in Nazareth. Notice it in Luke 4:16-20: "And he came to Nazareth where he had been brought up: and as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias [Greek for Isaiah]. And when he had opened the book he found the place where it was written, The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor: he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and the recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. AND HE CLOSED THE BOOK...." Notice! Jesus did not finish quoting the rest of Isaiah 61:2! But why not? Simply because the first part of that prophecy concerned Christ's earthly ministry from 27-31 A.D. only! But the rest of the verse did not apply to the time of His first coming. The remainder of the prophecy — starting in mid-verse — applies to Christ's second coming — the time known as "the day of the Lord" — or as Isaiah expressed it "AND the DAY OF VENGEANCE of our God...." In other words, we see in one verse of Bible prophecy a prophetic time lapse of almost 2000 years between the fulfillment of the first and second parts of that one verse. This principle is not uncommon in Isaiah's writing and in other prophetic books of the Bible. The longest single prophecy in the Bible (found in Daniel 11) covers a time period from the Medo-Persian Empire to the return of Christ in a mere 45 verses. In Revelation 12 we find a brief biography of Satan the devil from his initial rebellion many millennia in the past to the years and months just ahead in human events! And all in 17 short verses! Therefore, we see that it is very important when studying prophetic passages to get God's guidance in understanding the time element involved.
But understanding the time factor alone is not enough. We must add to this a knowledge of God's use of symbolism. To grasp prophetic meanings God often uses symbols, analogies, metaphors and allegories in describing future events. It is critical to understand when such devices are being used and when a word is to be taken literally! Many have gone astray because they have failed to grasp the symbolic meaning of a word as opposed to a literal application.
As a case in point, notice Revelation 1:20: "The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. THE SEVEN STARS ARE THE ANGELS of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches." Here we find stars being used as a symbol for angels. In fact, the name Lucifer (the great cherub who became known as "Satan" after his rebellion) means "Shining One" or "Morning Star" (Isaiah 14:12). Thus we find a principle of prophetic understanding. When a word is obviously used as a symbol, we must look elsewhere in the Bible for the interpretation or meaning of that symbol. The symbol for an angel is often a "star."
Other Common Symbols
God uses many symbols when describing prophetic events. In Revelation 17 we find two mysterious symbols used in portraying events which are not too far in the future. In verse 1 we read, "... I will shew unto you the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters." Here we must know the meaning of "many waters" and just who this "whore" is if we are to understand the prophecy. Verse 18 of the same chapter gives us the answer in part. "And the woman [whore) which thou sawest IS THAT GREAT CITY, which reigneth over the kings of the earth." Therefore, we understand that the woman, or whore, as GOD calls her, represents a city centered entity which has influence over kings — that, in fact, has ruled and will rule over other rulers! Verse 15 tells us what the "waters" represent. "... The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are PEOPLES and multitudes, and NATIONS, and tongues." But to really understand the symbolism of the "woman" in this chapter, we need additional information. We find that throughout the Bible the woman often is used to signify a CHURCH. The congregation of Israel was called the "church in the wilderness" according to Acts 7:38. And in describing how God brought Israel out of Egypt and made them a great nation the Bible uses the analogy of a female baby growing up to womanhood in Ezekiel 16. Notice the phraseology. "...Thus saith the Lord God unto Jerusalem [representative of the whole nation of Israel)... thou didst trust in thine own beauty, and played the harlot ... and madest to thyself images of men, and didst commit whoredom with them... thou hast taken thy sons and daughters, whom thou hast borne unto me....How weak is thine heart... seeing that thou doest... the work of an imperious whorish WOMAN" (Ezek. 16:3, 15, 17, 20, 30). Therefore, we see the "church in the wilderness" — Israel -was represented by a woman who became an adulterous wife to God. In the New Testament the true and false churches are also represented as women. In Ephesians 5:22-32 Paul draws a parallel between the husband-wife relationship and Christ's relationship to the Church. Revelation 19 speaks of the "marriage of the Lamb" and the Church is represented as the bride of Christ. The true Church is called "Jerusalem which is above... which is the mother of us all" in Galatians 4:26. The principle is consistent. Bible symbolism often depicts a church as a woman. Getting back to Revelation 17, we can see, then, that the great "whore" which rules over nations and kingdoms must be a false church! It is called a "mother" in verse 5 and a "woman" in verse 6. When we understand the symbolism, then we can see that Revelation 17 is talking about a religious system, based in a great city, which exercises influence over human kingdoms and nations which speak various languages! Verse 9 of the same chapter tells us the "woman" or church being referred to sits on seven hills or mountains. This may have a literal application and it may have a symbolic one.
The Symbolic "Mountain"
This brings us to another symbol often used in Bible prophecy. That of the "mountain." This term is often used to represent a kingdom or government. Jeremiah 51:24-25 provides a good illustration of this principle. Notice verse 24: "And I will render unto Babylon and to all the inhabitants of Chaldea all their evil that they have done in Zion in your sight, saith the Lord. Behold I am against thee, O DESTROYING MOUNTAIN, saith the Lord, which destroyest all the earth." Here we find the term "mountain" used to describe the Babylonian kingdom. Again in Daniel 2 we find the same symbol used. Notice verse 35, last part: "... And the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth." Now, if we try to understand this literally, it makes little sense! Normally, a literal mountain comes to a peak of some kind. Can you picture such an entity "filling" a round earth? Obviously, the term "mountain" is used symbolically here. Daniel has just been recounting to Nebuchadnezzar the dream he has had. The entire dream was based on symbols. Go back and read verses 31-35 to get the whole picture. Then God explains the terminology used in the preceding verses in verses 36-45. Note especially verse 44, which explains what the "mountain" that fills the whole earth is: "And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever." Now the meaning comes clear! God was showing the world's kingdoms by means of the image. The various parts of the image represent various world-ruling kingdoms, namely the Babylonian (which Nebuchadnezzar ruled over), the Medo-Persian (which followed it), the Greek and finally the Roman. Then the "stone" which grew into a "mountain" destroys the last of these kingdoms, which is the final "resurrection," or revival, of the end-time Roman Empire. Christ will return and set up His Kingdom, which will be a WORLD-RULING Kingdom that will endure forever! That is what is pictured by the "mountain" that fills the whole earth.
Other Strange Symbols
In Revelation 9 we find still more mysterious symbolism. In verse 1 we again find the star symbol used for an angel. Here the "star" is personified and performs a certain duty for God. "...And I saw a star fall from heaven... and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit." Of course, there is no such thing as a "bottomless pit." This is an unfortunate translation. It should more correctly be rendered "the abyssal shaft," or "abyss," as other translators have done. The next verses give a picture of billowing smoke emitting from the mouth of this abyss and darkening the sun. From the smoke emerge some very unusual locusts! Verses 3-10 give a full description of these bizarre creatures. They are described as having "tails like unto scorpions," a sting like a scorpion, being armor-plated and having a roar like the sound of pounding battle horses! We are told that these nightmarish "locusts" are able to fly! It should be apparent that John is not describing literal locusts! Whatever he is describing seems to be controlled by men (verse 7). Interestingly enough, these locusts (or the men) have long hair as women (verse 8). Is it a coincidence that this hairstyle is coming back into vogue for men in the Western world? It becomes apparent that what John is seeing is modern military weaponry at its hideous worst! Today's frightening array of weaponry would give pause to the bravest man of oar time, much more of John's time! And how else could the apostle describe it? There were no jet planes or rocket-launching helicopters in his day! The heart-stopping roar of hundreds of jet fighters and bombers was unknown at that time! To see men at the controls of such instruments of destruction would have been a shattering experience for any first-century ex-fisherman! Who in John's time could have envisioned laser beams and flame-throwing tanks? Could any have foreseen the advent of giant Polaris missiles being emitted from the bowels of a nuclear-powered, undersea monster called a "submarine"? And what about the weapons John saw that we don't know of yet? Perhaps even more terrifying weapons are on the drawing boards! Even if God had inspired John to write in modern military shoptalk, who would have understood any of it before the latter part of this modern age of space travel? John had to use the language of his day. Thus, the symbolism of great flying locusts. In verse 11 we find the motivating force behind this great military power described. "And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit [abyss), whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon [Destroyer!]." This angel or demon is none other than Satan the devil — the Destroyer. He is the old serpent of Revelation 12:9, who is called the "god of this world" in II Corinthians 4:4. He is the same one who gives his power to a great end-time false prophet (II Thes. 2:7-9). He will stir up certain kings or rulers to amalgamate their military forces to become the greatest war-making machine in history! Bible prophecy is coming alive in these <'searing seventies"! The world's "hot spots" are spreading and this decade promises to be one of the most traumatic in man's experience! You need to watch world events as they unfold, daily fulfilling the many intricate and specific prophecies relating to this pulsating twentieth century! Future articles in TOMORROW'S WORLD will continue to assist you in understanding Bible prophecy.