Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Principles of Prophecy 2

Welcome back!  If you missed yesterday's post on understanding the principles of prophecy, you'll want to go back  and catch up before you keep reading. 

The code principle 

Have you ever read Revelation and wondered if it were written in some secret code?  In Rev 1:16 alone we find, seven stars, a sharp two-edged sword and a face that shines like the sun.  What is going on?

It's not a mystery, rather it's just a collection of allusions and figures of speech.  Each of the example in Revelation 1:16 are allusions.  The stars are the churches (Rev 1:20), the sword is the word of God (Hebrews 4:12), and Revelations 22:5 identifies God as the source of all light. For the figures of speech, it is helpful to have a chart or bible dictionary handy to help you understand. Many of them are used again and again and once you learn them whole sections of scripture will be unlocked and easy to understand.  (Click here for a simple chart with examples I compiled.)

The double time principle

This one is the trickiest we've mentioned so far. Prophecy can be fulfilled twice.  It can be true in two different ways.  In the immediate sense it can be true as the preacher/prophet declares it to those people that day, and in a future sense it can also be a true identification of something God will do later.  

Matthew 1:15 uses this quote, "Out of Egypt I called my son," as a prophecy referring to the time that Joseph was told by an Angel in a dream to bring the child and his mother to Egypt to escape Herod's paranoid slaughter.  The quote comes from Hosea 11:1.  In the context of Hosea, the verse is about the way that God loved and rescued the people of Israel while they were slaves in Egypt, yet they rejected him time and again.  However, Matthew through the agency of the Holy Spirit, reinterprets the words to show how God called not only his children, Israel, but also his only begotten son Jesus from Egypt.  

When you examine a piece of prophecy look first for the message that God was sending to his people originally.  Think about the principle and the application.  It is especially important to examine the context.  Then the second thing (if you are reading Old Testament prophets) is to look at it with "gospel goggles."  Now you should ask yourself if this relates to some New Testament idea.  For instance, could it be a prophecy about the coming of Jesus?  The church?  Resurrection?  The apostles and writers saw the Old Testament prophets with a view to Jesus and we should too but it would be a shame to miss what God had to say the first time. 

The backwards principle

Prophecy is best understood after it is fulfilled.  I know that's disappointing.  I know you were waiting for me to declare that the next 100 years of history could be determined by a careful reading of Revelation but it is just not true.  Sorry. 

If you examine the prophecy about Jesus as an example, you can see the truth of this principle.  Jews of Jesus' day were longing for a Messiah and some of the prophecies they did understand.  They knew that the Messiah was due to be born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2: 1-6, Micah 5:2).  They knew he was coming to be the King of Israel, true heir of David. (Psalms 2, Psalms 118:22-29, Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-9 and various others). 

But there were things, clear in retrospect, that they did NOT understand.  Isaiah 53, an amazingly detailed prophecy about facts of the crucifixion make a clear statement of the redemptive nature of the Christ's sacrifice.  Looking back, it is obvious.  But before the fact, it was impossible for the people of Christ's day to understand.

Thus, when someone claims to have understood, without a shadow of a doubt, the way that some piece of prophecy will be fulfilled, I feel very suspicious.  I think I'll sit back and see in what wonderful way God brings his future about!

The Clarity principle

This principle applies to the entire Bible not just to prophecy so sit up and pay attention. Ready?  If some piece of the Bible that you don't understand seems to entirely contradict some very easy to understand part of the Bible, you have misunderstood the hard to understand part. 

For example, Matthew 24 and Luke 12 both talk about Jesus returning like a thief in the night.  1 Thessalonians 5:2  and 2 Peter 3:10 are restatements of that fact.  Clear right?  So if you are reading along in Revelation and think that you might know the exact date of Jesus' return, you should think about the clarity principle.  The clear Bible teaching that Jesus is returning unexpectedly trumps all cloudy and hard to understand prophecies that supposedly tell when he is coming back. 

So there you have it.  Seven principles that will help you the next time that you are reading through one of the books of prophecy.  

The preacher principle - prophets were preachers first and foretellers second.
The history principle - what historical situation were the original listeners in?
The poetry principle - read a poetic prophecy like a poem!
The code principles - watch out for allusions and figures of speech
The double time principle - prophecies can be fulfilled twice.
The backwards principles - prophecy can be best understood in retrospect.
The clarity principle - understand tough prophecy in light of clear Bible teaching.

If you'll email us we'd be happy to send you a PDF you can download, print and stick in your Bible to help you remember!

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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