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Introduction to Prophecy

The Bible is a collection of books which, when taken as a whole, presents a living testimony of a Supreme Being who reigns over the universe which He created.   In the beginning, God established a master plan for this universe and throughout the ages, He has slowly and progressively revealed this plan to mankind.

Traditional efforts to comprehend the nature of God and His plan for man usually focus upon a study of doctrine and the personal application of moral principles. There is an old adage, which says, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” This means that we can become so involved with the details that we do not see the whole picture.  Perhaps we have spent so much time examining the trees that we have not seen the forest of Scripture.

As a result, the average lay person tends to remain unaware of the existence of a master plan that runs like a continuous golden thread throughout scripture.  People in study groups who systematically search for this common thread have repeatedly experienced a great magnification of their perception of the nature of God and His sovereign reign.

The study of Biblical prophecy foretells events that have unfolded and will continue to unfold across the pages of history.  It has been said that the Old Testament is the New Testament hidden and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. There is as much design in God’s word as there is in His creation.  We can follow the golden thread of prophecy from Genesis to Revelation.

The book of Revelation is the terminal, like trunk lines running unto a grand central station, where the highways of Biblical prophecy come to an end. To understand end time events and the book of Revelation, we need to trace the major trunk lines into Revelation. Most people who study Revelation begin with the book it’s self. They do not have the background for interpretation and therefore we have many interpretations.

Not only do we have the prophetic written word, but God uses types, shadows/patterns, numbers, covenants, and Jewish feasts to weave His prophetic word together. We should be aware that all of these point to the work completed by Jesus upon the cross.  According to the book of Hebrews, the entire Mosaic Law was a shadow of the work completed upon the cross.  Before the cross, individuals were saved by faith as they obeyed the commandments of God which were satisfied on the cross.  They were saved on credit as their sins were later paid for by Jesus.

Today, both Jews and Gentiles are saved as they received Jesus as Lord and Savior and become members of the universal Church.  During and after the tribulation many will be saved by placing their faith in Jesus.  We are told that when God restores Israel, that the Jews will grieve as they receive their Messiah.  “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son” (Zech 12:10).

We need to be aware that only the Bible uses prophecy to tell the people about God’s will and plans.  No other religion has it.  Only God, the creator, is able to see the future.  Peter gives us these words in his second letter: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God[ spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:20-21).  

Many don’t believe in the prophetic word because to them it is supernatural.  However, Luke tells us in the book of Acts that: “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18).  If God knows the future then He has no problem with prophecy.  

Many have claimed that God’s word is not literal, therefore, they have taken many words of prophecy and have spiritualized them with other applications.  This is especially true with prophecy relating to the future of Israel.  Many churches teach that God has done away with Israel because they have rejected their Messiah and therefore misinterpret much of Old Testament Scripture as they apply it to the Church.  Paul said we should:  “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). The word of God speaks to three groups: the Jews, the Church and the Gentiles.  We need to apply it  carefully to each group.

However, Paul tells us that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16)).  We should read all Scripture for correction and instruction but we should read it in the literal sense and understand to whom God is speaking at the time it was written.  If God prophesies a future event, then we should believe it.

A study of Biblical prophecy enlightens and enhances our knowledge of the absolute sovereignty of God the Creator.  Remember, prophecy is unique to the Bible, none of the world religions have it.  The key message of prophecy is God’s plan for redemption though His Son, Jesus.  It should be noted that the entire Bible starting with Genesis chapter three through Revelation chapter twenty is the story of redemption.  It has been said the that the first two chapters of Genesis and the last two chapters of Revelation serve as book ends for God’s plan for redemption of mankind.

We should also, be aware that one-fourth of the books of the Bible is avowedly prophetic, and, in the actual text of all the Scriptures, at least one-fifth was prediction at the time that it was written.  (Ref Systematic Theology, Eschatology, page 256).  

The Old Testament contains over 300 references to the Messiah that were fulfilled in Jesus.  Can we expect God to fulfill the references to the second coming of Jesus? (Ref. Evidence that demands a verdict, Josh McDowell pp 150).

We are told we will be blessed with the study of prophecy. “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” (Rev 1:3).  We read over and over in Scripture how we will be blessed.  Why do we not study it?

Gary Frazier says: “I believe these prophetic truths are the single greatest motivational truths contained in the Holy Scriptures.  Prophecy motivates us to be holy, to pray, to witness, to give, to serve and to strive to be all Christ want us to be.” (Gary Frazier, “Signs of the second coming of Christ”, page 214).

What do you think heaven will be like?  Will it be the same forever?  What about the New Heaven and New Earth?  Why a New Earth?  Don’t you think we should strive to know all we can about these things?

Two Schools of Biblical Interpretation

There are two schools of Biblical interpretation as it relates to Biblical Prophecy.  The first of these is known as “Covenant Theology” and for the most part, takes the view that God has repealed the promises to the Nation Israel and has turned the Church.  They also, teach that the Church has existed in some form since the fall of Adam.  The second school of interpretation, known as “Dispensationalism”, teaches that God has not done away with the promises to Israel and that Israel still has a place in God’s future plans for the ages.  It also teaches that the Church is a “mystery” that was hidden in the Old Testament and that God has temporarily set Israel aside until He has completed His work with the Church.  Then the Church will be raptured and God will return to His program with Israel, which begins with a great period of tribulation.  Depending upon which school of interpretation we chose, determines how we interpret end time prophecies.

Covenant Theology

Is a school of Biblical interpretation that provides one alternative to Dispensationalism and is a form of Supersessionism. Though different schools of Covenant Theology exist, they generally share the idea that throughout Biblical history, God’s various covenants were either one and the same (covenant of grace), or subsets of each other.

Depending on denomination, theologians will either refer to one all-encompassing covenant (with no clear break between the Israelite nation and the Christian Church), or two or more covenants wrapped in a container covenant (with a definite break between Israel and the church).

It is interesting to note that widespread adoption of Dispensationalist in theological history is a relatively recent event, in contrast to Covenant Theology, which has roots to various authors immediately following the founding of the Christian church, such as Augustine.

However, early church fathers believed much of what is modern Dispensationalism.  

Covenant Theology teaches that there are two major covenants, law before the fall and grace after the fall, thus believing that the church in a sense has existed since the fall in the garden.

They believe God’s glory is clearly the driving force behind all things and that there is one people group of God, rooted in the Abrahamic Covenant, united in Christ, and consisting of both Jews and Gentiles alike.  There has been little distinction between Israel and the Church in the historical teaching of Covenant Theology.

Because of this view, a literal interpretation cannot be made of most prophecy relating to the nation of Israel.  This has great implications on interpreting end times events such as the rapture of the church, the millennium kingdom and the second coming of Jesus.

Dispensationalism

Dispensationalism is a system of biblical interpretation formalized in the nineteenth century by John Nelson Darby, D.L. Moody, and later popularized by the publishing of the study Bible of C. I. Scofield and the establishment of Dallas Theological Seminary by Lewis Sperry Chafer.

It is the foundation of what is known in eschatological studies as “pre-tribulational premillenialism” and involves the division of history into (usually) seven distinct periods of time known as “dispensations”.

Twentieth century writers such as John Walvoord, Dwight Pentecost, and Charles Ryrie brought the doctrines of Dispensationalism into mainstream scholarship.

There are three primary tenets of the system.

•  A clear distinction between Israel and the Church.

•  A literal interpretation of Scripture.

•  The glory of God as the primary goal of history.

It should be noted that when Israel became a nation in 1948, many changed their view of Biblical interpretation.

 Listed below is a menu of supporting studies.  Click the subject below.

1. The Biblical Dispensations

2. Major Themes of Biblical Prophecy

3. The Biblical Types and Shadows

4. The Biblical Number System

5. The Seven Old Testament Feasts

6. The Biblical Resurrections

7. Some of the Most Important Chapters in the Old Testament