For many Christians, interpreting Bible prophecy is a complicated task. As a result, they often turn to so-called Bible experts and complicated charts that include gaps in time, outrageous literal interpretations, and numerous claims that current events are prime indicators that the end is near. Many Christians are unaware that the same Bible passages have been used in nearly every generation as "proof" that the end would take place in their generation. They've all had one thing in common: They've all been wrong.
With so much prophetic material in the Bible it seems difﬁcult to argue that an expert is needed to understand such a large portion of God's Word. How can so many "experts" be wrong generation after generation?
Here are some basic questions you may have asked yourself about Bible prophecy, and how you can start interpreting them the way God intended.
What is prophecy?
Prophecy is the outline of the overall plan of God as He knew it would work out. This is created by what God understands is human nature, coupled with His divine intervention, in order to fulfill His greater plan. Unlike any other, only God knows the future. Isaiah 46:9-10 states “Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure.’”
When discussing prophecy, we need to make a clear distinction between “foretelling” and “forthtelling.” Many assume that all prophecy is only foretelling, or predictive in its nature. However, prophecy also addresses events which occurred in the past, and it may deal with present circumstance.
Some of the most famous Biblical prophecies involve information about the last days, specifically in Revelation. Revelation 1:3 reads “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.” However, the Bible is full of prophecies throughout.
Can just anyone interpret Biblical prophecies?
God’s Word wasn’t only meant for those who spent years at a Christian college. It is for everyone. However, understanding it can be complicated. This is why God sent us leaders to help bring those in the church to understanding.
Revelation 1: 1 says “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him, to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass; and He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John”. The Book of Revelation was given to show the world and Jesus’ followers, not to hide or conceal the truth.
1 Corinthians 12:7–10 further suggests this, saying “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy...” The apostle Paul then revealed that “God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers...” (1 Corinthians 12:28).
The gift of understanding and knowledge comes from the Holy Spirit, which can be found in the church. God says that He will give that gift of prophetic understanding to a certain few of His true ministers. Others, who may be called to perform other functions, either being a pastor to a local congregation, or being sent by others to preach the gospel may not necessarily have this gift of understanding prophecy. God has deliberately guarded the prophecies of the Bible. They are not given out for various would-be spiritual leaders or the organizers of cults.
How prophecy is written?
In scripture, prophecy isn’t written out as a black and white thing. For example, a good deal of the Bible was written as poetry. There are many poetic books such as Psalms and the Song of Solomon. Many of their passages are prophecies written as poetry.
Oftentimes, the Bible uses symbols to express thoughts and ideas as well. For example, “light” from the sun and the stars is sometimes used as a way to express God's awesome power and might. There are a lot of Biblical symbols in the passage Isaiah 2:2-4: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem.And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more”
Here, as in many other prophecies, it is obvious that the “mountain” is symbolic of God’s government. It is probably both literal and figurative, in that the Bible predicts that God’s temple, His headquarters on earth, will be on the “Mount of Olives”.
The truth is, understanding Biblical prophecy isn’t as easy as one might think. This only scrapes the surface of some of the basic questions surrounding prophecy, and how you should begin to understand it. Talk with trusted church leaders and ask questions as you dive into your Bible reading journey.