[NOTE: This post is part of a series that is intended to provide the reader who may otherwise be unaware of them with a general overview of Biblical prophecy concerning the end times. The series pays special attention to Islamic end times prophecy and current events in the Middle East and world in general – as those events may or may not relate to these prophecies. I do not claim to be an expert on this subject. The majority of what I will be sharing in this series is largely the product of other peoples’ work, and I will cite them accordingly. However, it has been noted by others that I am more well-read on this subject than the average American, and have been asked by several readers to share what I have learned. It is for this purpose that I started writing this series. The posts can be found in a tab at the head of this blog under the title, “Prophecy.” I’ll do my best to stick to what I know and/or can substantiate, and to answer whatever questions arise. The series is meant only to edify. I hope you will find it of interest.]
CLEARING THE DECK:
Setting Straight some Misunderstandings about the Bible and Prophecy
This is the first in a series of posts dealing with Biblical prophecy about the end times. One of the things I have come to understand about this subject is that the majority of people – both Christian and non-Christian alike – are woefully ignorant of what prophecy actually says and what it doesn’t. For instance: according to actual scripture, the “end times” started the moment Christ ascended into heaven. Therefore, the events in the book of Revelation cannot necessarily be seen as happening all at the very end of history. They may speak to events that started happening around the year 30 A.D., in which case, some – if not most – of what is foretold in Revelation may well have already happened. For example (and this is purely speculation), the plague that swept Europe and killed an estimated 1/3 of the population may have been the plagues foretold in Revelation. We don’t know and, honestly, I don’t think we’re supposed to know for certain. But there are some important clues given to us that I believe we are supposed to understand, and these are the things this series is intended to help explain. However, before we can explore Biblical prophecy, we must understand a few things about how the Bible must be read – things that too few know or care to understand.
First, not everything in the Bible is written to be understood in the literal sense. In the ancient Hebrew culture, the use of allegory and hyperbole were common place. They were used to explain concepts and to stress importance. This makes it important to understand the Hebrew culture if we are to understand the meanings of the allegories and hyperbole in Scripture.
Next, we need to understand the problems with translating ancient Hebrew into modern languages. While I do not read ancient Hebrew of Greek, I do know people who read both fluently. I also know several Jews, as well as a community of Messianic Jews: Jews who accept that Christ is the Messiah, but who still keep to the Jewish customs. Today, Messianic Jews are closest in how they understand and live the Gospel to that of the early Church. For these reasons, I seek the council of these people in learning to better understand what Scripture is trying to tell us. This is why I know the Hebrew in Genesis does not tell us God made the earth in six, 24 hour days. The term translated as “day” actually means an indeterminate period of time. This is also why I know that we are actually in the seventh day mentioned in Genesis. Yes, that’s right. When properly understood, the Bible tells us we are living in the seventh “day.” Another common misunderstanding is that the Sixth Commandment does not say “Though shalt not kill.” It actually says “Though shalt not do murder.” So, as you can see, we need to understand the Hebrew culture in reading prophecy.
Another aspect of understanding prophecy that is equally important to understand and equally connected to the Hebrew culture is that the ancient Hebrews did not always account for time in an unbroken fashion. They tended to count only those periods of significance. This often causes skeptics to think the Bible’s timelines are “proof” the Bible is wrong. Examples would be the timeline dealing with the Hebrews history while in Egypt; the seventy-seven weeks mentioned by Daniel and many of the timelines mentioned in prophecy. For the ancient Hebrews, if something important started and continued for four years, but then stopped and did not pick back up again for another ten years, but when it started again, it ran for another three years, the ancient Hebrews might not mention those ten years between the periods where things were actually happening. So, when they recount the continuous events, they may report only the seven years in which those events actually happened when – to our way of thinking – there were actually seventeen years involved.
Finally, we need to get away from this myth that Biblical prophecy is written so cryptically that it cannot be understood, or that it can be applied to many different circumstances. While it may be that we easily miss what, in hind sight, should have been very clear, to be of any use, prophecy must be specific. Otherwise, if it actually were as cryptic as skeptics like to claim, no one could rely on it, so it would be useless. Fortunately, this is not the case with Biblical prophecy. In fact, many of the prophecies in Scripture are very clear; we just have to be watching for them. For instance, prophecy foretold that Christ would be of the House of David; that he would be born in Bethlehem; would be called out of Egypt; would be said to have come from Galilee; would be crucified; would have lots cast for his clothing; would be pierced in the side; would not have any of his bones broken; and would not know decay. These are quite specific, and they are just a few of some four hundred prophecies in the Bible foretelling Christ’s life (read about the prophesies and odds that they could just happen by random chance here, here and here). The same is equally true about end times prophecy, as we will soon see.