Servants' News

May 1995

Principles of Understanding Bible Prophecy


1. Do not try to force everything into end-time prophecy. Some prophecies have been fulfilled. For example, those concerning Babylon (Isa 13:19-22) and Nineveh (Hah 2:10; 3:7, Zeph 2:13-15).

2. Some prophecy is specific end-time prophecy. There are key words that tell. There is also blending of the two (Hab. 2:3; Dan 8:17; 11:40).

3. Some prophecies are dual. History does repeat itself. For example, what happened to Jerusalem in 70 AD, martyrdom of saints (Rev 6:11) and “Elijah truly is coming and “Elijah has come already” (Matt 17:11-12).

4. The Bible interprets symbols found in prophetic symbolism. Never apply human interpretations. For example, “mountain” = kingdom or government (Jer 51:24-25; Dan 2:35,44); “beast” = kingdom or government (Dan 7:17,23); “horn” = kingdom or government (Dan 7:7,24, 8:20 Mof); “flood” = a hostile army (Nah 1:8, Isa 8:7); “lamb” = Christ (John 1:29; Rev 17:14); “dragon” = Devil (Rev 12:9).

6. Bible prophecy contains types and antitypes. Certain events and personalities in the past foreshadow or symbolize future conditions. What happened in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes (168-165 BC) was a type of what is yet to occur. The apostasy of the Hellenized Jews led to the calamities suffered under Antiochus Epiphanes (1 Maccabees 1:11-16; Dan 11:30-31) The apostasy of the church will lead to the calamities yet to be suffered under the “man of sin” (2 Thes 2:1-4).

Historically, the abomination of desolation was the image of Jupiter Olympus—a Greek and Roman god—which Antiochus Epiphanes, with the help of his army, placed in the temple in Jerusalem. Therefore, the modern “abomination of desolation” will also be some kind of false “God” in Jerusalem.

7. Use the above principles and the historical record to evaluate past prophecies. History verifies past prophecies concerning ancient cities: Tyre (Ezk 26:3-5,7,12,14,16); Samaria (Micah 1:6); Gaza and Ashkelon (Zeph 2:4,6, Amos 1:8); nations: Edom (Jer 49:16-18); Egypt (Ezk 29:15); and empires: Chaldean = Lion (Dan 7:4); Medo-Persian = Bear (Dan 7:5); Greece = Leopard (Dan 7:6); and Roman (Dan 7:7).

8. Use the same system to make the transition to end-time prophecies. Thus the composite beast of Revelation 13:1-2 can be interpreted by the symbols of Daniel 7 (Lion, Bear, Leopard) to have been the Roman Empire which had spread out from Rome and occupied all the territory of the previous empires. There is logic, consistency, and internal structure in Bible prophecy.

9. A very large proportion of the prophecies of the Old Testament are poetical in form and substance. (ISBE, s.v. “Poetry, Hebrew”). This is a factor in interpretation because Hebrew poetry consisted in matching, reversing, or balancing thoughts in symmetrically constructed sentences.

10. Major and minor themes, history and prophecy, are sometimes blended. Embedded in the prophecies relating to eighth century Israel and Judah (Isa 7:1-9:7) is the theme of the Messiah’s birth to a young virgin (Isa 7:14).

compiled by James R. Calvert

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