Today we will begin Part 2 of our study on biblical prophecy. Before we begin the actual Bible study next week, I want us to know what we are reading and how to read prophecy. (If you missed Part 1 you can find it here.)
GUIDELINES FOR INTERPRETATION OF PROPHECY
The interpretation of prophecy presents problems when the prophecy is presented in figurative or apocalyptic form. It can be difficult to determine the precise meaning of a text when there is nothing to compare it to. However, prophecy in general is factual. Many prophecies have been literally fulfilled, so the nature of the fulfillment can provide guidelines for our interpretation.
In addition to our general rules of biblical interpretation discussed in my last post, certain guidelines must also be followed to assist in prophetical interpretation.
- It is important to determine the meaning of significant words. These words may have a historical background that can aid in understanding the reference.
- You must decide if the prophecy concerns past, present or future events. Old Testament prophets often delivered messages that were directed to their contemporary environment and were not futuristic in nature.
- Many prophecies were fulfilled shortly after their revelation. In fact, at least half of biblical prophecies have already been fulfilled. This confirms the fact that unfulfilled prophecy will also be literally fulfilled.
- Prophecies can be conditional or unconditional. If a prophecy is conditional, it is possible it will never be fulfilled. If it is unconditional, then it is certain to be fulfilled, regardless of human involvement.
- Prophecies can have more than one fulfillment. This is known as the law of double reference. Some scriptures can be partially fulfilled early and then later have a complete fulfillment. You should also note that what seems to be a fulfillment may not in fact be complete.
- Understand the difference between literal and figurative interpretation. Early in the history of the church, a school of prophetic interpretation arose in Alexandria that attempted to interpret the bible in a nonliteral (allegorical) sense. The influence of this school is one of the major reasons we question prophecy today.
Careful comparison of scripture with scripture is essential in determining the actual meaning of text. When studying prophecy, presume a future event is factual and literal unless there is a good reason to believe otherwise. Use your best judgment and avoid preconceived concepts to let the passage speak for itself.
Before we dive into the prophecies themselves, we must understand the major theological intepreations of prophecy. (I know. I know. When are we gonna get to the good stuff? We have to understand the reasons behind what we believe before we can explore ideas beyond our basic beliefs.)
The Amillennial Interpretation.
The amillennial interpretation holds that there is no literal future thousand year reign of Christ on earth, but that the “millennium” refers to the present age or the last thousand years of the present age. This interpretation relates to the millennium in this age as a spiritual kingdom ruling the hearts of Christians or in the progress of the gospel in the church body. Additionally, they hold that Christ will return after the millennium.
We should note that some amillenarians hold that the millennium is fulfilled in the time between the death and resurrection of a Christian. Others suggest that the millennium will be fulfilled in the new heaven and the new earth described in Revelation 21-22.
The Postmillennial Interpretation.
The postmillennial interpretation holds that the millennium will be the last one thousand years of the present age – and that the gospel will triumph to the extent that the whole world will be Christianized, a so called “golden age” that would correspond with the millennium kingdom. Like amillennialists, postmillennialists place the second coming of Christ at the end of the millennium.
The Premillennial Interpretation.
From the earliest Christians, biblical scholars have held that the second coming of Christ would be premillennial, i.e. the second coming will be followed by the literal reign of Christ for a thousand years on earth. This is the predominant view of the early church and it is the literal interpretation of the prophecy. The premillennial interpretation of prophecy will be the general view of our prophetical study together.
Next week we will begin our official study on prophecy. I so hope you will continue to read along and offer comments as you go. Let’s learn together from the Word of God.