Where do I begin studying prophecy?

By Rev. Bill Lee-Warner

The Bible is comprised of 66 documents (or books), authored by some 40 different persons over a period of 1,500 years. One of the major subjects addressed in the Bible is future things, particularly the first coming of the Messiah and His future second coming. The common word applied to the subject of future things as written in Scripture is the word prophecy.

Peter reminds us that "no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." (2 Pet. 1:20-21) Prophecy then, is the work of God for the benefit of mankind.

According to J. Barton Payne, prophecy comprises approximately twenty percent of Scripture. Certain essentials are needed if a responsible and careful study is to be made of this important subject. The following "essentials" are offered the student of prophecy for consideration:

RESOURCES

1. A Study Bible
Certain editions of the Scripture are more useful in studying an involved subject like prophecy than others. Paraphrases and editions designed more for devotional reading do not focus on the importance of the consistency of word usage, something that is critical for close and comparative study. Every translation of Scripture has a stated purpose and aim, usually printed in the forward of the book. That purpose should be consulted when deciding which translation to use. It is strongly recommended that a translation dedicated to a faithful and consistent rendering of the original languages be selected. One translation that lends itself for close study is the New American Standard Bible, produced by the Lockman Foundation and published by various publishing houses.

2. Concordance
After selecting a good translation of the Bible, the next most important resource the student of prophecy should have at his disposal is an exhaustive (complete) concordance. A concordance will provide a "birds eye" view of where words are used throughout Scripture for expanded study and greater comprehension of a subject. There are several good printed concordances as well some computer generated ones on CD-ROM.

3. A Good Greek/Hebrew Word Study Source
The original Scriptures were written in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek. It will be essential at times to understand the words of the original language if one is to properly interpret what he reads in his English edition of the Bible. One source providing a good beginning understanding of the original words is Strong's Exhaustive Concordance. It combines both the resource of a concordance (#2 above) and the original words behind the English translation.

4. Considering The Views of Others
An additional resource beyond the previous three is to consider what others have written on the subject. There are many books "out there" that could be suggested. Before the student begins immersing himself in what others have written, consideration of the following should be examined:

What method of Biblical interpretation does the author employ? Does the author faithfully adhere to the time-honored and critical Biblical face value study method of:

(1) taking Scripture at face value - understanding it for what it says, unless it is clearly a figure of speech which is usually clarified in the context,

(2) taking Scripture in context - realizing that any text taken out of context can be made to be a proof text for an errant position,

(3) comparing Scripture with Scripture - noting how words and phrases are used elsewhere in the Bible, particularly in prophetic literature,

(4) recognizing the impossibility of contradictions - which, if there seem to be some, will require further study in order to arrive at the truth, and

(5) recognizing, in prophetic literature, near/far applications - where the prophecy has an application relatively close at hand and another fulfillment in the "latter days".

An example of using the above face value Bible study method focuses on: "What position does the author take on the Millennium?"

From Revelation 20, is it understood that the Millennium is a literal 1,000 year period on earth over which Christ will rule? That understanding necessitates that Christ returns before the 1,000 years begin (Premillennial). Or, is the Millennium to be understood as an undetermined period of time between the ministry of Christ until a future time when He returns (Postmillennial)? Or, is it to be understood as some kind of spiritualized reality, something exclusively of the heart (Amillennial)?

The understanding one takes is predicated upon what Biblical method of interpretive process he adopts: a face value method, an allegorical method or perhaps a mixture of both?

If truth is to be mined from the Scripture, a face value Biblical study method needs to be used faithfully and consistently. When applying a face value study method, the best approach is to let the Scripture speak for itself. Since God is the ultimate Author, He clearly had in mind a message He wanted to communicate. Once examination of what has been written is done, the student is then in a position to come to conclusions. This is known as an inductive approach. It is examining the facts or particulars in order to arrive at an understanding. Any other method will skew one's understanding of what he reads and that of course will dramatically affect his conclusions. It is the student's responsibility to discover what God has recorded, never for him to determine in advance, or assume what God's word is saying. The latter is usually the result of one's predisposition, arrived at for one reason or another or by one means or another. It is essential that the student of the Word come to the Word of God with an open mind and a teachable heart, seeking what God has written and letting the Word dictate what God has declared rather than allowing a bias to color ones interpretation in advance.

KEY SCRIPTURE PASSAGES

Prophetic teaching is scattered throughout the Bible. There are however, certain passages that are "basic" if one is to grasp an understanding of the return of Christ. They are:

1. The Prophecies of Daniel
Of particular importance, is the 70 Weeks of Daniel, recorded in Daniel 9:24-27. This passage gives us the general time frame for the fulfillment of God's plan of the ages from Daniel's time forward. It identifies when the 70 weeks begin, what will happen during the 70th Week and what will happen after the completion of the 70th Week. It also informs us of some critical information that will take place during the 70th Week. When one realizes that 69 of those weeks have already transpired, it is more than interesting to note that the world is rushing toward that day in the future when Christ will return and history as we know it will conclude.

2. The Olivet Discourse
It was the Lord, Jesus Christ, who taught about the sign of His second coming on the Mount of Olives during the final week of His life on earth. What He said ought to parallel what the Scripture teaches in other places, since Christ is the author of the visions of Daniel (cf. Dan. 10:5-6; compare with Rev. 1:13-16), the instruction in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:1:1ff) and the book of Revelation (cf. Rev. 1:1ff). When the sequence in Matthew 24:3-31 is examined, it will be found to parallel what Paul taught in I Thessalonians 4-5 and II Thessalonians, particularly chapters one and two, and what we read in Revelation.

3. The Thessalonian Epistles
It is Paul who gives us some detailed information regarding the moment when Christ returns for His own. Paul tells us that what he teaches is "by the word of the Lord" (I Thess. 4:15). The information he gives us perfectly parallels what Jesus taught in the Olivet Discourse and in the book of Revelation.

4. The Book of Revelation
If Daniel gives us the time frame for the end times and the Olivet Discourse gives us a thumbnail sketch of the sequence of the end times, then Revelation gives us the details.

The above passages are essential to an understanding of the end times. God has given the church all the information she needs in order to understand His unfolding plan. Using the study tools referred to above and saturating the heart and mind in prayer and as God's plan of the ages continues to unfold in history, the clarity of our understanding of Biblical revelation will become sharper and more distinct.

 

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