<< Previous | Index | Next >>"THE TIME OF THE END" The Interpretation Of Prophecy INTRODUCTION 1. Previously I suggested that much of the confusion regarding end times may be due to various eschatological expressions... a. Such as "last days", "coming of the Lord", etc. b. Misunderstanding their use in the Scriptures c. Failing to observe how their use in the Scriptures creates problems for some end time scenarios 2. Another reason for confusion regarding end times relates to interpretation of prophecy... a. Such as those in the Old Testament and the book of Revelation b. Whether we should interpret them literally or figuratively [Indeed, "The Interpretation Of Prophecy" may be the main reason behind the plethora of views related to the end times...] I. THE IMPORTANCE OF HOW ONE INTERPRETS PROPHECY A. EXPRESSED BY A DISPENSATIONAL PREMILLENNIALIST... 1. "No question facing the student of Eschatology is more important than the question of the method to be employed in the interpretation of the prophetic Scriptures." - J. Dwight Pentecost, Things To Come 2. "The adoption of different methods of interpretation has produced the various eschatological positions and accounts for the divergent views within a system that confront the student of prophecy. - ibid. 3. "The basic differences between the premillennial and amillennial schools and between the pretribulation and posttribulation rapturists are hermeneutical, arising from the adoption of divergent and irreconcilable methods of interpretation." - ibid. -- Note: This is what separates even pretrib and posttrib dispensational premillennialists B. EXPRESSED BY A HISTORICAL PREMILLENNIALIST... 1. "Here is the basic watershed between a dispensational and nondispensational theology." - George Eldon Ladd, The Meaning Of The Millennium: Four Views 2. "Dispensationalism forms its eschatology by a literal interpretation of the Old Testament and then fits the New Testament into it." - ibid. 3. "A nondispensational eschatology forms its theology from the explicit teaching of the New Testament." - ibid. -- Note: This is what separates dispensational and historic premillennialists C. EXPRESSED BY A POSTMILLENNIALIST... 1. "Premillennialists place strong emphasis on literal interpretation and pride themselves on taking Scripture just as it is written." - Loraine Boettner, The Meaning Of The Millennium: Four Views 2. "Postmillennialists and amillennialists on the other hand, mindful that much of both the Old and New Testaments is unquestionably given in figurative or symbolical language, have no objection on principle to figurative interpretation and readily accept that if the evidence indicates it is preferable." - ibid. -- Note: Boettner does not distinguish dispensational from historic premillennialists, the latter of whom would agree with him D. EXPRESSED BY AN AMILLENNIALIST... 1. "There is a basic difference in the method of biblical interpretation employed by premillennialists and amillennialists." - Anthony A. Hoekema, The Meaning Of The Millennium: Four Views 2. "Premillennialists, particularly those of dispensationalist persuasion, are committed to what is commonly called the 'literal' interpretation of Old Testament prophecy." - ibid. 3. "Amillennialists, on the other hand, believe that though many Old Testament prophecies are indeed to be interpreted literally, many others are to be interpreted in a nonliteral way." - ibid. -- Note: Hoekema distinguishes between dispensational and historic premillennialists [Thus everyone admits that how one interprets prophecy greatly determines the end time scenario to which they hold. How then should we interpret prophecy? Literally, figuratively, or some of both...?] II. THE CHALLENGE IN INTERPRETING PROPHECY A. ILLUSTRATED WITH OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECY... 1. The prophets themselves did not always understand - 1Pe 1: 10-12; Dan 12:8-9 2. Many in Jesus' day did not understand a. The people who wanted to make Him a physical king - Jn 6: 14-15; cf. 18:36 b. Jewish leaders who killed Jesus in their ignorance - Ac 3: 13-15,17-18; 13:27 c. Disciples of Jesus, unsettled by His death - Lk 24:13-24, 25-27 3. Even the apostles needed Jesus' help in understanding - cf. Lk 24:44-47 4. Some of the OT prophecies were clearly figurative a. Amos foretold of the restoration of David's tabernacle - Amo 9:11-12 b. James by inspiration interpreted it to refer to the church - cf. Ac 15:13-18 -- Interpreting all OT prophecies literally did not prepare people to receive Christ B. SEEN IN ATTEMPTS TO INTERPRET PROPHECY... 1. The many different views held: premillennial, postmillennial, amillennial 2. Even among those hold similar views a. Premillennialists differ as to pretrib, midtrib, posttrib events b. Amillennialists differ as to the dating and meaning of Revelation 3. Premillennialists who profess to interpret prophecy literally are not consistent a. Walvoord admits that "the rod of His mouth" is figurative - cf. Isa 11:4 b. Some interpret the locusts in Revelation as "armor-plated, missile-firing, flying war-machines" c. Few interpret the 144,000 to be literal male virgins - cf. Re 14:1-4 4. Notice the many cults that have arisen based on their "interpretation" of prophecy a. E.g., Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses b. E.g., David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, Charles Manson -- Such diversity of views and evident failures by many should encourage caution [This is not to say that we cannot understand prophecy, but that we should be careful in how we handle God's word. With that in mind, may I offer...] III. SUGGESTIONS FOR INTERPRETING PROPHECY A. OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECY... 1. Look to Jesus and His apostles for the proper interpretation a. Remember, Jesus had to explain to His apostles - Lk 24:45 b. If it were not for Spirit-led apostles, we probably would not have made the connection between many OT prophecies and their fulfillment 1) Cf. Mt 2:15 with Hos 11:1 2) Cf. Mt 4:13 with Isa 9:1-2 2. Do not base end time scenarios solely on OT prophecies a. Without NT interpretation, interpretation of OT prophecies is conjecture at best b. Yet many cults based their peculiar teachings on such prophecies -- Give heed to the words of Jesus and His apostles in the New Testament to avoid being misled by self-proclaimed interpreters of prophecy in the OT B. NEW TESTAMENT PROPHECY... 1. Carefully note the context in which prophecies are found a. Are there indicators which place the time of their fulfillment? b. E.g., the Olivet Discourse - cf. Mt 24:34 c. E.g., the book of Revelation 1) "things which must shortly take place" - Re 1:1; 22:6 2) "the time is near" - Re 1:3 3) "the time is at hand" - Re 22:10 2. Let the explicit take precedent over symbolic a. A book like Revelation is clearly figurative ("signified") - cf. Re 1:1 b. Whereas Jesus and His disciples often explained things clearly 1) Such as the events of the last day - cf. Jn 5:28-29; 12:48 2) Such as the events of coming of the Lord - cf. 1Th 4:15- 5:2; 2Pe 3:10-12 c. If interpretation of symbols in prophecies lead to doctrines that contradict clear teaching elsewhere, something's amiss! -- Inspired explicit teaching is a better guide than uninspired interpretations of figurative and otherwise challenging passages! CONCLUSION 1. The interpretation of prophecy has often been a stumbling block... a. Many rejected Jesus in His day because they misinterpreted prophecy b. Many are led astray today by cults who misuse figurative prophecies in the Bible 2. The study of prophecy can be very beneficial... a. If we give careful heed to the clear teachings of Jesus and His apostles b. If we do not base our conclusions on prophetic interpretations by uninspired men that clearly contradict what is taught in the New Testament With the New Testament as our guide we can "rightly divide the word of truth", especially as it pertains to the proper interpretation of prophecy...<< Previous | Index | Next >>
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