If we are living in the end time, we need to know it. YOU'VE HEARD them all: Armageddon. The Second Coming. The beast. The number 666. The Great Tribulation. The Day of the Lord.
What do these seemingly strange biblical symbols mean? Is it possible to know? Is it really possible to understand Bible prophecy?
Unfortunately, when most people think of Bible prophecy they think of the ominous phrase "the end of the world." But what the Bible means by "end of the world" is not what most people think it is!
One Third of the Bible Is Prophecy Have you ever stopped to think that approximately one third of the Bible is prophecy? Page after page of God's revealed Word has to do with the time immediately ahead of us. In fact, almost 90 percent of the events prophesied to happen in the Bible have not yet occurred.
Whole books of the Bible are devoted to prophecy. Ancient writers such as Isaiah, Jeremiah or Ezekiel wrote their messages hundreds of years before Jesus was born. Their writings have been preserved in the Bible. Many of their prophecies, however, were not intended to come to pass in their time — but in the "time of the end."
For example, the prophet Ezekiel was among the Jewish captives carried into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar, king of ancient Babylon. The prophet said in Ezekiel 1:1, "... as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God." In chapter two, God gave Ezekiel his commission: "And he said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me.... And they, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, (for they are a rebellious house,) yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them."
Ezekiel had a message to the house of Israel. This was, however, more than 125 years after the captivity of the ten northern tribes of the house of Israel.
Ezekiel remained a captive and never took his message to the house of Israel. The prophecy was not intended for Ezekiel's day — but for a time far into the future. That book has been carefully preserved through the centuries. Its message to warn the modern descendants of the so-called lost ten tribes of Israel has been written and preserved for us.
For the "Time of the End" In Amos 3:7 God reveals a most important prophetic principle: "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets."
God has promised he will not personally intervene in the affairs of mankind to bring about prophecy unless he has first had his servants proclaim that message. Over the past near 6,000 years of human history, God has allowed man to govern himself and to try his own ways. When God has intervened in the affairs of man, he has not done so unless he had first made it known through his prophets. Those prophets, as we have mentioned, often wrote not only of events for their time, but for the prophesied "time of the end." That time is now nearer than world leaders think.
Another important key in understanding prophecy is revealed in the book of Daniel: Let's notice it in Daniel 12:4: "But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased." And again in verse 13 God said to Daniel, "But go thou thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days."
Strange as it may seem, many of the events God revealed to Daniel could not be understood by anyone in Daniel's day — including Daniel himself. Significant parts of the book were indeed shut up, sealed till the time of the end. Now major parts of those prophecies can be understood. But we first need to know what modern nations are affected.
Modern Nations Identified Think of it. Could the Bible focus attention in prophecy on such comparatively small nations as Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the modern nation of Israel, and not even mention the populous nations of the world today?
What about the great nations in today's world such as the United States, Britain, Canada, Germany, France and the other democracies of northwestern Europe? What about the Soviet Union? What about the People's Republic of China? Japan? What is prophesied for these large nations today?
There are Bible prophecies about ancient cities such as Tyre, Ashkelon, Zidon, Babylon and Jerusalem. Does the Bible ignore modern cities — New York, Los Angeles, Montreal, Johannesburg, Sydney, London, Moscow, Rome and many others?
The Bible does not specifically mention these modern nations and cities by name, of course. But events affecting them are prophesied for the future.
One important principle is that most Bible prophecy relates to the ancient nations of Judah and Israel. A common misconception today is that many people think prophecies concerning ancient Israel relate only to the modern nation of Israel in the Middle East.
But Israel and Judah were not the same nations. Ancient Israel, after Moses and the judges, was a nation divided until the reign of king David. It continued as one nation under Solomon. After Solomon's death, the kingdom was again divided. The northern ten tribes united under Jeroboam and, later, established a capital at Samaria. Judah and Levi, along with a portion of the tribe of Benjamin, retained Jerusalem as their capital and became known as the house of Judah. Since that original split, there never again was a national union of Judah and Israel.
Some 200 years after the split, the northern tribes of Israel were taken into captivity by the Assyrians.
About 125 years later the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar took the house of Judah, the Jews, into captivity. Later, under the Persian kings, the Jews were permitted to return to their homeland.
By this time, part of the northern tribes of Israel had begun to migrate from Persia toward Europe. Over centuries of time, they finally settled in northwestern Europe. Later some came to the Western Hemisphere, the southern portion of Africa, to Australia and other parts of the world.
To understand who are some of the modern nations descended from the so — called lost ten tribes, you need to write for our free book The United States and Britain in Prophecy. It will make plain the identity of the English-speaking world and help you understand the prophetic times in which you live.
Since most Bible prophecy focuses on the modern descendants of ancient Israel and Judah, you can't understand Bible prophecy without an understanding of who these people are today.
Other nations, while not named in the Bible by their modern names, are spoken of in the Bible as they come into contact, in Bible prophecy, with Israel. So, while nations such as the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China are not specifically named in the Bible by their current names, there are events revealed about them in prophecy.
But first, let's understand the overview.
The Panorama of Prophecy We have already seen in the book of Daniel how prophecy could not be understood till the time of the end. In that same book of Daniel we find the overview of prophecy.
God chose to reveal the framework of prophecy to the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. In the second chapter of Daniel, we read that Nebuchadnezzar had a vision — a strange dream. In the dream he saw a large image with a head of gold, upper torso of silver, brass and legs of iron. He could not understand the meaning of the vision.
God gave Daniel the interpretation, which is recorded in Daniel 2:36-45. In these verses God revealed that Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian empire were symbolized by the head of gold. The vision, however, revealed the empire would not continue indefinitely. In fact, there would be successive empires that would exist until the government of God would be established on earth.
In the early autumn of 539 B.C. the Persian king, Cyrus, conquered Babylon and established the Medo-Persian empire as the second imperial power-the torso of silver. It lasted more than 200 years.
Then, the Macedonians and Greeks came to power. Under Alexander the Great, Greek culture and art were infused throughout the Middle East. That empire, the brass waist of the image, lasted three centuries until Rome became the dominant force in the world.
By 31 B.C. Rome had conquered most of the territory of the previous three empires and much more. Rome divided in to east and west the two legs of the image — and ruled longer than any of the preceding kingdoms — till A.D. 476, when the empire fin ally collapsed.
But remember the vision given to king Nebuchadnezzar revealed successive kingdoms that would rule until the government of God would be set up. Notice it in Daniel 2:44: "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."
The kingdom of God is not yet established over the earth. Man continues to rule — still writing the lessons of human history. How, then, did the Roman empire continue after A.D. 476?
The answer is found in the book of Revelation.
In the 13th chapter of Revelation, the apostle John saw a vision depicting the same empires that God revealed to Daniel. In this chapter, John saw these nations symbolized by a strange animal that he called a "beast." In verse 3 we read: "And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast."
When Rome was finally defeated in A.D. 476, it was only a wound. The Roman empire did not die totally in 476. The deadly wound was healed in A.D. 554. The Eastern Roman emperor Justinian restored the empire in the west.
God further revealed to John in Revelation 17:3: "So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns." This pictures the revival of the Roman empire after A.D. 554.
And that's exactly what happened. Coming out of the ashes of the original Roman empire in the west were to be seven successive revivals. At this time in history, in 1983, six of those successive stages have already come and gone. In the Plain Truth magazine we will, through a series of articles beginning in the near future, take you step by step through each of those empires so you can thoroughly understand
In the 13th chapter of Revelation, the apostle John saw a vision depicting the same empires that God revealed to Daniel. In this chapter, John saw these nations symbolized by a strange animal that he called a "beast."the story of what has happened, based upon Bible prophecy.
The seventh and final stage or resurrection of the Roman empire is yet ahead. About it, John wrote: "And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast. These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful" (verses 12-14).
That final resurrection of the Roman empire is going to be made up of ten nations or groups of nations united together in one final attempt of man to maintain human government. That union of nations will be very short lived, as we read in verse 12, and in Daniel 2:44. The government of God will be established in the days of this final restoration of the Roman empire.
Understanding Bible Symbolism We've already seen several examples of Bible prophecy using symbols. Nebuchadnezzar, for example, had seen a great image symbolizing human governments in sequence. There are numerous other Bible symbols which, when understood, give important keys to understand prophetic events.
Perhaps a most important aspect of Bible prophecy should be explained here. That simply is: the Bible interprets the Bible. In other words, you do not have to rely on what someone thinks a certain word or symbol means. If you search the Bible, you will find the meaning of each symbol revealed within the pages of the Bible. Sometimes it will be in the same verse. Other times it will be in the same chapter or in the same book. But if not interpreted in proximity to the symbol, it will be interpreted somewhere else in the Bible. You might find a symbol in the book of Revelation interpreted by a prophecy in the book of Matthew. Or something Zechariah saw might be interpreted in the book of Revelation.
We've seen some examples of this in the vision of king Nebuchadnezzar. In the second chapter of Daniel, God revealed to Daniel the interpretation of the dream. Each part of the image represented an empire.
Another example of the Bible interpreting the Bible is found in Revelation 12. In this vision John saw a great red dragon who had drawn one third of the stars of heaven. Who is the red dragon? And who or what are the stars?
The dragon is plainly identified in the same chapter. Read verse 9: "And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world...." The dragon is identified as Satan the devil. (Of course, many do not believe he exists today — or they think he appears as the custodian of hell.) In the guise of a serpent he deceived Eve and tempted Adam to sin in the garden of Eden. That same devil has continued ever since as the god of this world (II Cor. 4:4).
But what are the stars? Here is a good example of the Bible interpreting the Bible in the same book, but several chapters away. Turn to Revelation 1:20: "The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches." Here stars are used to symbolize angels. Obviously these seven stars are not the same angels, symbolized by stars, that Satan took with him in his rebellion against God — but we see the biblical principle that stars can be used to symbolize angels. No doubt, the stars of Revelation 12:4 represent one third of the angelic creation that rebelled against God before the time God created the first humans, Adam and Eve. That fascinating story has often been told in The Plain Truth. You can read further on it in Ezekiel 28:11-17 and Isaiah 14:12-15.
Many Prophecies Are Dual Another important principle in understanding Bible prophecy is the duality of prophecy. In I Corinthians 15:45, Christ is called the second Adam. The first Adam was the first mortal human being to converse with God. He later sinned, and the death penalty passed on to mankind. The second Adam, Jesus Christ, came and paid the penalty for sin. Thus, it was made possible for man to be forgiven of his sins and to be born into the family of God.
In the same 15th chapter another principle of duality is revealed mortal human beings can be born again, made into immortal spirit beings by a resurrection from the dead.
Prophetically, the principle of duality is very important. Many of the prophecies God revealed to the prophets of old had partial fulfillments in their day. Thus, when Isaiah or Amos prophesied to the ancient house of Israel, some of those events occurred in the original captivity. When Jeremiah prophesied to the house of Judah, many of those events came to pass in his day. Some of the events prophesied in the book of Daniel began to happen in the days of Babylon, Persia and Greece, up to the time of Antiochus Epiphanes in 167-164 B.C. But those prophecies were only partially fulfilled or were antetypical fulfillments of yet future times.
Time after time, the prophets foretold events that would lead up to the establishment of the government of God on the earth. The prophets delineated the sins of the people of the ancient houses of Israel and Judah and told the people they would be punished.
And those punishments indeed did come on them and will come on their modern descendants. But the kingdom of God was not established in their day — and has not been yet. These Bible prophecies also tell the sins of people today and the resulting end-time events that will lead up to the Second Coming of Christ and the establishment of the government of God on the earth.
The Focal Point of Prophecy Almost all prophecies relate directly or indirectly to the establishment of the government of God on the earth — the coming of the Messiah — the Second Coming of Christ.
We read in Daniel 2:44, "And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed."
And in Zechariah 14:4, "His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west.... "
And in verse 9, "And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name one."
The coming of the Messiah and the establishment of God's government is vividly depicted in Revelation 19:11: " ... heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war."
These same prophecies all show there will be one final battle. The world will not welcome Jesus Christ with open arms. Much of the world, in fact, may well be deceived into believing Jesus Christ's Second Coming is an invasion from outer space or even the appearance of the antichrist. The nations will gather forces at the valley of Megiddo in Palestine. Hence that last great battle is usually called the battle of Armageddon meaning armed Megiddo (Rev. 16:16 and 19:19).
That short and final battle will at last be the war to end war. Those rebellious armies will be swiftly put down and the world will enter into the glorious and long prophesied kingdom of God.
The Bible has not specified the exact day, month or year of these finale events. But the events themselves have been recorded and hidden in the prophecies of the Bible until our day. We now live in a time in which we need to watch world events as never before. Jesus said, "Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man" (Luke 21:36).
We have only scratched the surface of understanding prophecy. But these keys provide a beginning point — a frame of reference upon which to build a prophetic study of the Bible. As those days approach, those dozens upon dozens of prophecies will begin to be fulfilled one after the other. Be sure you are studying your Bible and watching world news so you can understand the times in which you live.