*March 30 - April 5
Interpreting Apocalyptic Prophecies
READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: Dan. 2:28; 7:15-18; Matt. 24:15, 16; Luke 24:27; 2 Thess. 2:3-8.
MEMORY TEXT: " 'There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries' " (Daniel 2:28, NIV).
ONE OF THE GREAT CONTRIBUTIONS OF BIBLICAL THOUGHT is the notion of linear time, the idea that time moves in a straight line, from one distinct beginning to one distinct end. This view contrasts many pagan faiths and concepts that have viewed time as circular, cyclical, something that constantly returns to its beginnings, and goes through all the cycles, again and again, never ending.
That is not the biblical model, which teaches that the world has a specific beginning in time and a specific end. Though we know the past, as humans we are more concerned with the future. What will happen, when, and why? Most important, how will it affect our lives?
God knows this concern, which is why He has opened up the future to us through the apocalyptic prophecies, even if He does it in a "strange" way: He hides the message behind symbols and images often difficult to understand, thus calling our attention to their uniqueness and importance. That is why, besides using these symbols and images to share the future with us, the Lord has provided, within the Bible itself, the method for interpreting these images and symbols. This week, we will explore that method.
*(Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, April 6.)
Sunday March 31
"But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days. Thy dream, and the visions of thy head upon thy bed, are these" (Dan. 2:28).
Some of the most powerful and rationally appealing prophecies appear in the book of Daniel. Bible students from ancient times through today have studied the writings of this Jewish prophet, captive in Babylon, and one point that clearly comes through in his textsparticularly in the prophecies of Daniel 2, 7, and 8is that Daniel covers the broad scope of world history. He is not dealing with just one time and one limited place but something much larger, and that is the history of the world.
Read Daniel 2:38 and 8:20, 21. In these verses Daniel names three of the four great kingdoms depicted in the visions he has been shown. What does that tell us regarding the historical scope of these prophecies? Are they limited to a specific time in the past or only to some future events yet to take place? What information do the texts themselves give regarding the method for interpreting these prophecies?
By covering world history from his time up until "the time of the end" (a phrase that appears five times in the book of Daniel and nowhere else in Scripture), Daniel shows just how wide and broad are the issues he is addressing. This is important to know, because some people would like to limit all his prophecies only to the past, even prior to the Christian Era; others want to place them way off in the future, to events beyond even our time today.
It is hard, however, to see how anyone, looking carefully at the texts and letting Scripture be its own interpreter, could conclude anything other than that Daniel's prophecies cover a sweep of world history from his time unto the end. The angel interpreter, for instance, in Daniel 7:17, 18, all but gives that interpretation. For this reason, many interpreters have, over the centuries, understood these prophecies as a great historical sequence of one kingdom after another up until the end. This is called the historicist approach, and it is the foundation of the Adventist understanding of prophecy.
|Read through Daniel 2 until you can see for yourself the historical sweep of world empires presented in the chapter. Know it well enough to be able to share it with others, because it sets the foundation for the prophecies yet to come.|
"When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains" (Matt. 24:15, 16). See also Luke 21:20-22.
Notice what is happening here. This presents one of the rare times that Jesus Himself is recorded as interpreting an apocalyptic prophecy; in this case, from the book of Daniel. We should pay very careful attention to what the Lord is saying, because it unlocks a crucial principle regarding biblical interpretation.
As much as possible, read the immediate context surrounding verses 15 and 16 in Matthew 24. Whom is Jesus addressing? What questions is He answering? What is the background for His interpretation?
Whatever the numerous issues involved, Christ's words do present one very important point for those interested in understanding apocalyptic prophecy, particularly the book of Daniel. Jesus interprets these sections in Daniel, the sections about the abomination of desolation (see Dan. 9:27; 11:31; 12:11), as something that is fulfilled after Him and after His time on earth. Jesus, talking to His disciples around the time of A.D. 31, places these prophecies at a date in the future.
This is a crucial point, because, over the years, many Bible scholars and interpreters have claimed that all the prophecies of the book of Daniel were fulfilled almost two centuries before the ministry of Christ. In other words, they claim that these prophecies have nothing to do with the future, or any end-time events, but were consummated in the Maccabean revolt in the second century B.C. Obviously, Jesus had a different understanding of, at least, some of Daniel's prophecies, for He placed them after even His own earthly ministry.
|We live at a time when secular forces are at war with Christian faith. One way to weaken our faith is to make us believe that there is no such thing as predicative prophecy in the Bible, prophecy without any bearing on our future How can the simple point from today's lesson, regarding Jesus' understanding of Daniel, help protect us from this insidious assault against our faith?|
Apocalyptic literature is rich in symbols. These symbols have thrilled, stymied, and inspired Bible students for thousands of years. A symbol, of course, is the use of an object to convey an idea or concept other than the symbol itself. In some cases there may not be a natural connection between the symbol and what it symbolizes (for example, a tree symbolizing a believer); in others, a clear relationship exists between the two (for example, fire as a symbol of destruction). Often, but not always, the Bible itself provides the meaning of a symbol.
Study the following symbols and write down the meaning given in the texts.
Head of gold
|Stone||Dan. 2:44, 45||
|Four beasts||Dan. 7:17||
|Seven stars||Rev. 1:20||
|Seven heads||Rev. 17:9, 10||
|Ten horns||Rev. 17:12||
Notice that (1) the meaning of the symbol is clearly stated in the biblical text, facilitating the task of the interpreter; (2) the meaning is found in its immediate context, which suggests that we must pay close attention to the context of a verse; and (3) a symbol may have more than one meaning, but we must accept the one chosen by the biblical writer. For instance, water may be a symbol of life (John 4:10-14; Rev. 21:6), but in some contexts, such as Revelation 17:5, it symbolizes "multitudes."
In dealing with symbols whose meanings are not clearly stated, we must study that particular symbol and prayerfully select the meaning that seems most compatible with the immediate context.
|Why does the Bible use symbols in these prophecies? Why couldn't the meanings just have been expressed in ways that would leave no room for question? Perhaps the Lord wants us to study deeply for ourselves? Perhaps He wants to hide these meanings from certain people? How do you understand the reasons?|
"Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming" (2 Thess. 2:3-8).
Read carefully the above text, keeping in mind the theme of this week's lesson, that of understanding how to interpret prophecy. Here, Paul points to a series of prophetic events that is to climax in the Second Coming.
As best as you can, list the events that Paul talks about in the above
verses, in their order of
According to Paul, some of these events had already started, even in his day ("the mystery of iniquity doth already work" [vs. 7]). Thus Paul, like Daniel, locates the fulfillment of apocalyptic prophecy within the flow of history, beginning in his own day and culminating in the end of the world. Here again is more evidence for historicism, in which events follow a historical sequence that can be traced through history up until the Second Coming. Apparently, Paul does not subscribe to the view that leaves all prophetic fulfillment to some distant dates in the past (called preterism); nor does he take the futurist view, which puts off all prophecy to some far distant date in the future.
|As we look back and see how, historically, prophecies have been fulfilled as predicted, how can those fulfillments strengthen our faith in prophecies that have yet to be fulfilled?|
The primary purpose of apocalyptic prophecy is not to predict final events but to introduce the only One, Christ, capable of defeating the evil that attempts to control the flow of history.
Match each title below with the corresponding biblical passage from the book of Daniel. Then, in the blank provided, write down the significance of the title:
|___||Son of man||(1) 9:25||
|___||Michael, one of the chief princes||(3) 7:13||
|___||Michael . . . the great prince||(4) 9:26||
|___||Prince of princes||(5) 12:1||
|___||Michael your prince||6) 10:13||
|___||Prince of the host||(7) 10:21||
|___||Messiah the Prince||(8) 8:25||
The book of Revelation also puts the emphasis on the centrality of Christ in the final conflict. Christological titles abound in the book, indicating the manifold work of our Savior. He is Prince of the kings of the earth (Rev. 1:5), Son of God (2:18), the Lion and the root (5:5), the Lamb (5:6), the Word of God (19:13), and King of kings and Lord of lords (19:16). It is through Him, and Him alone, that we are redeemed (5:9), purified from sin (7:14), and become victorious over evil (12:11). In the final conflict, those powers that fight against Him and His people will be destroyed (17:14). No wonder we are told, time and again in Scripture, to rejoice, trust, and have faith. Despite immediate appearances, our God is in control. Because Jesus has redeemed us and defeated the enemy at the Cross, He invites all of us to share in the fruits of what He has accomplished for us.
One thing is certain: Despite all the visions of beasts and wars, earthquakes and plagues, and other end-time calamities, Jesus assures our final victory, no matter what happens to us here and now, as long as we continue to accept Him. If you know someone who is struggling through something difficult now, or even if you yourself are, study the promises of the final victory in Christ and use them to give yourself, or someone else, some comfort and hope in a world that, at times, seems to offer little of either.
FURTHER STUDY: Ellen G. White, "The Revelation," The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 578-592.
The historicist system of apocalyptic interpretation was the one "used by the early Church Fathers up to the fifth century AD. LeRoy E. Froom has shown that a significant shift in prophetic interpretation occurred when Augustine defined the kingdom of God as the Christian church and spiritualized the millennium, making it a symbol of the Christian Era (The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 1, pp. 473-491). His views prevailed during the Middle Ages, until the period of the Protestant reform. The Reformers restored historicism as the method to be used in the interpretation of Daniel and Revelation."The SDA Encyclopedia, second revised edition, vol. A-L, pp. 698, 699.
"In the Revelation are portrayed the deep things of God Its truths are addressed to those living in the last days of this earth's history, as well as to those living in the days of John. Some of the scenes depicted in this prophecy are in the past, some are now taking place; some bring to view the close of the great conflict between the powers of darkness and the Prince of heaven, and some reveal the triumphs and joys of the redeemed in the earth made new."The Acts of the Apostles, p. 584.
SUMMARY: Apocalyptic prophecy unfolds as a study in history, with the rise and fall of great world empires forming the background. Daniel, Jesus, and Paul, in the texts used this week, affirm the historicist approach to prophecy. Rather than covering only the past or only the future, they cover the past, the present, and the future.
Ch. Victor Sam
Sikha Roy was doing her morning chores when suddenly a poisonous snake slithered through a crack in the wall and struck her. Sikha ran from the house crying, "Help me! A snake has bitten me!"
Relatives rushed her to the local hospital, but the doctor could not help her. "Take her to the bigger hospital," he urged.
The nearest large hospital was 45 miles (75 km) away. But when the doctor there examined her, he, too, shook his head. "There is nothing I can do to save her," he said. Her relatives gathered around her bedside, speaking in whispers and waiting for her to die.
"This is what she gets for going against the traditions of the elders!" one family member whispered.
"We tried to warn her that no good would come to her when she changed her religion," another added.
After Sikha was baptized seven months earlier, she faced strong opposition from her family, those who now stood vigil around her bedside. It seemed that their prophecies were coming true; the gods were punishing her.
Meanwhile, in the village, Sikha's church family learned of her encounter with the snake. They could not be with her, so they gathered to pray for her. They begged God to save Sikha's life as a witness to those in the community who opposed Christianity.
Several hours passed as Sikha lay apparently unconscious in the hospital. Her relatives waited by her bedside, and the church members prayed in the village. Suddenly, Sikha opened her eyes and tried to sit up. She started to get out of bed.
The relatives called the doctor to come and examine her. After he checked her over, they asked him, "What did you do?"
"I did nothing," he admitted. Then he told Sikha, "You are truly blessed. Your God has saved you!"
"Thank You, Lord Jesus!" Sikha said, her eyes shining. The little group returned to the village, amazed at what they had just witnessed.
News of the miracle spread quickly through the village. "Jesus Christ saved my life!" Sikha told them. "Let me tell you more about my wonderful God." Many now listen who before had no interest in the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Christianity is sweeping India like a brush fire. Pray that God will continue to touch the hearts of His children in that great subcontinent.
Ch. Victor Sam is director of the South Bengal Region in Calcutta, India.
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