February 27 - March 5
Principles of Prophetic Interpretation
READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: 2 Pet. 1:19-21; Rev. 1:1-3; Matt. 24; Joel 2:28-32; Isa. 61:1-3; Zech. 3,4; Dan. 2:44; 4:17; 5:21.
MEMORY TEXT: "We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts" (2 Peter 1:19).
KEY THOUGHT: Prophecy is God's answer to our human questions about the uncertain future. It demonstrates that the God who knows the end from the beginning is in control in our world and in our lives. But there are false prophecies and false interpretations of prophecy. This lesson gives some guidelines for understanding prophecy and applying it correctly.
UNDERSTANDING PROPHECY. "Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7, NKJV). But in giving the prophets insights that would be appropriate to later times and to the present, and that would reflect the different aspects of life today, it was necessary to use symbols and figures that are sometimes difficult to understand. Frequently, the Bible itself explains the meanings of the symbols used. There are keys of interpretation that apply to prophecies, such as a day representing a year (see Ezek. 4:6). The safest approach to prophetic interpretation is to find the key to understanding in the writings of some other inspired writer. "The Bible is its own expositor."Education, p. 190.
A general principle of Bible interpretation is that a passage must be understood according to the plain, obvious, and literal meaning, unless a figure or symbol clearly is used. Some prophetic sections of the Bible employ symbolic and figurative descriptions that are an indication of future applications. In such cases, there is a danger of distorting the meaning of these passages.
What Bible rule makes it clear that prophecy should not be given private interpretations? 2 Pet. 1:19-21.
"How can we know when a particular historical incident may rightly be viewed as having a counterpart in a later event, or a prophetic statement as having a dual application? The answer is: When an inspired writer makes such an application of it. To go beyond that which is clearly set forth by Inspiration is to enter the realm of personal opinion. . . . The safe rule in Biblical interpretation is to compare scripture with scripture. In no other way can we be secure against the fanciful, even grotesque, explanations that some have given to OT prophecies. "SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 1, pp. 1018, 1019.
How did Jesus warn about false prophets and distorted prophecies in the last days? Matt. 24:11, 24.
Prophecies that have dual applications, such as Matthew 24, are likely to be misunderstood and misapplied. One reason is that some readers of the Word of God fail to recognize the principle of dual application, thus focusing on one application and ignoring the other.
Illustrations of prophecies that have dual application:
Joel 2:28-32Partially fulfilled in Acts 2:16-21, but points to events that are still to take place in the final "day of the Lord" (Joel 2:1, 30, 31). (See also The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 54, 55.)
Isaiah 61:1-3Applied by Jesus to His ministry in Luke 4:16-21. Significantly, He left out the words "the day of vengeance of our God" (Isa. 61:2, KJV), for those words pointed forward to a fulfillment just before His second advent.
|For reflection: What rule of interpretation and method of studying the Bible will safeguard us from believing erroneous explanations about Bible prophecy?|
The book of Daniel is apocalyptic prophecy. The word apocalyptic is derived from the Greek word apokalupsis, which means a "revelation." Apocalyptic prophecy provides special revelations from God based on inspired visions and dreams given to the prophet that employ much symbolism. Symbols that represent reality depict events to occur or messages to be given. The focus of apocalyptic prophecy is on the end of time. An outline of history from the prophet's day until the end often is provided, along with spiritual encouragement for God's people in every era. But the main purpose is to concentrate our attention on events at the end of human history, when earthly nations will be destroyed and the kingdom of Christ established for eternity.
What major truth is presented in Daniel? Dan. 2:44; 4:17; 5:21.
The true philosophy of history is that God is in control. "To understand these things-to understand that 'righteousness exalteth a nation;' that 'the throne is established by righteousness' and 'upholden by mercy' (Proverbs 14:34; 16:12; 20:28); to recognize the outworking of these principles in the manifestation of His power who 'removeth kings, and setteth up kings' (Daniel 2:21)-this is to understand the philosophy of history. In the word of God only is this clearly set forth. Here it is shown that the strength of nations, as of individuals, is not found in the opportunities or facilities that appear to make them invincible; it is not found in their boasted greatness. It is measured by the fidelity with which they fulfill God's purpose."Education, p. 175.
What two major divisions are evident in the book of Daniel? What are some differences and similarities that characterize each division?
a. Daniel 1 - 6 ______________________________________________________
b. Daniel 7 - 12 _____________________________________________________
The last section of Daniel focuses on outlining prophecies that center in the final victory of Christ and His people over Satan in the great controversy that has been raging since the inception of sin.
|For reflection: How can you let God have more control in your life?|
Revelation, like Daniel, is apocalyptic prophecy. Much of the book of Revelation directs our attention beyond history to the end of time. All Scripture comes to a focus in Revelation. The major prophetic, doctrinal, and spiritual teachings of the Bible are brought together in this book.
The theme of the book of Revelation centers in Christ. Kenneth Strand expresses it as follows: "The theme of the book appears to be twofold: the promise of Christ's coming in victory at the eschatological climax, and an assurance of God's presence even now."Interpreting the Book of Revelation (Naples, Fla.: Ann Arbor Publishers, 1979), p. 43.
Ellen White, whose writings dwell on Revelation, urged Christians to give their best attention to this book. "The solemn messages that have been given in their order in the Revelation are to occupy the first place in the minds of God's people. Nothing else is to be allowed to engross our attention."Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, p. 302. "When we as a people understand what this book means to us, there will be seen among us a great revival. We do not understand fully the lessons that it teaches."Testimonies to Ministers, p. 113.
The structure of Revelation. The first half of the book parallels the second half, in inverse order, as diagrammed below:
B. Church militant1:12-3:22
C. 24 elders/4 living creatures praise God; Preparation for judgment4:1-8:1
HISTORY OF CHURCH D. Judgments; beasts attack8:2-13:18
E. 144,000 sing anew song14:1-5
F. 3 angels' messages of warning14:6-13
CENTRAL THEME OF REVELATION: CHRIST COMES TO EARTH14:14
F'. 3 angels' harvest message14:14-20
E'. 144,000 sing song of Moses and Lamb15:1-4
LAST DAY D'. 7 plagues, beasts judged15:5-18:24
C'. 24 elders/living creatures praise God;
B'. Church triumphant21:1-22:5
Several passages in the book itself give us special clues to understanding the book. That it is named "Revelation" indicates that God wants us to study and understand it. In fact, Revelation 1:3 informs us that God has placed special blessings on those who study this prophetic book.
There are seven "beatitudes" in Revelation. Putting them together gives us an overview of the book. Become familiar with these by completing the following exercise. God especially blesses those who:
Rev. 1:3 ____________________________________________________________
Rev. 14:13 __________________________________________________________
Rev. 16:15 __________________________________________________________
Rev. 19:9 ___________________________________________________________
Rev. 20:6 ___________________________________________________________
Rev. 22:7 ___________________________________________________________
Rev. 22:14 __________________________________________________________
The number seven appears frequently in Revelation. There are seven spirits, stars, candlesticks, churches, horns , eyes, angels, seals, trumpets, thunders, heads, crowns, plagues, golden vials, mountains, and kings. Seven represents completeness. The seven blessings comprise the fullness of the grace God provides His people.
The series of seven churches in chapters two and three started with seven literal churches in Asia Minor. These seven messages, then, extended beyond these local churches to represent the period of church history from the time of the apostles to the time when Jesus comes. The seven seals are symbolic of God's sealing work through the history of the church and the final sealing of God's people that takes place before Jesus comes. The seven trumpets represent the judgments of God on the powers of earth and end with three woes-the last of which culminates in the final judgment (see Rev. 11:14-19).
Revelation 12 presents an overview of the great controversy that began with the angels in heaven and describes Satan's final attack upon God's remnant people. Chapters 13-19 largely focus on prophecies yet to be fulfilled in the last moments of time. Revelation 20 leads us into the millennium, and chapters 21 and 22 climax with God's people in the new earth.
|For reflection: The last words of Jesus recorded in the Bible are found in Revelation 22. What emphasis is repeated in verses 7, 12, and 20? Why is this message meaningful to you?|
Although the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation form the major apocalyptic passages in the Bible, they are not the only ones. Many apocalyptic passages can be found in Isaiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Zechariah, Malachi, Matthew, 2 Thessalonians, and other books. Probably the apocalyptic prophecies most neglected among Adventists are those found in Zechariah. Much of what is recorded in the book pertains to the last days as implied by such statements as the following: "Zechariah's vision of Joshua and the Angel applies with peculiar force to the experience of God's people in the closing scenes of the great day of atonement. The remnant church will then be brought into great trial and distress. Those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, will feel the ire of the dragon and his hosts."Prophets and Kings, p. 587. Zechariah contains a wealth of instruction and encouragement for the church in the last days.
Study the following visions in Zechariah to find possible applications to our time:
1:8-17compare with Revelation 6
2:1-13compare with Revelation 11:1; 21:3
3:1-10compare with Revelation 14:1-6
4:1-14compare with Revelation 11:4-12
14:3, 4compare with Revelation 20:8, 9; 21:2, 3
14:12compare with Malachi 4:1; 2 Peter 3:10
Conditional prophecies. Many of the prophecies found in Zechariah, as well as in other Old Testament books, were conditional upon Israel's fulfillment of the requirements necessary to Christ's setting up His Messianic kingdom in Jerusalem at the time of His first advent. "If the Jewish nation had been faithful to its trust ... the whole earth would have awaited the coming of the Messiah with eager expectancy. He would have come, He would have died, and would have risen again. Jerusalem would have become a great missionary center (see Christ's Object Lessons, p. 232),
and the earth would have been set ablaze with the light of truth."SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 4, pp. 29, 30. Because the people never did accept Him in the way that was necessary, "the predictions of national honor and glory ... could not be fulfilled. Yet, since God's purposes are immutable ... success must and will come-through Israel after the spirit."SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 34.
FURTHER STUDY: "Let Daniel speak, let the Revelation speak, and tell what is truth. But whatever phase of the subject is presented, uplift Jesus as the center of all hope."Testimonies to Ministers, p. 118. Our study of last-day events is to be Christ-centered, not event-centered. How would you go about finding Christ at the center of Daniel 2 and Revelation 13?
"God's Spirit has illuminated every page of Holy Writ, but there are those upon whom it makes little impression, because it is imperfectly understood. When the shaking comes, by the introduction of false theories, these surface readers, anchored nowhere, are like shifting sand. They slide into any position to suit the tenor of their feelings of bitterness.... There is need of a much closer study of the word of God; especially should Daniel and the Revelation have attention as never before in the history of our work.... When the books of Daniel and Revelation are better understood, believers will have an entirely different religious experience. They will be given such glimpses of the open gates of heaven that heart and mind will be impressed with the character that all must develop in order to realize the blessedness which is to be the reward of the pure in heart.... The perils of the last days are upon us, and in our work we are to warn the people of the danger they are in. Let not the solemn scenes which prophecy has revealed be left untouched."Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 112-118.
WORD FOR REVIEW: Eschatology. This word pertains to the study of last things or last-day events as outlined in Bible prophecy.
SUMMARY: Prophecy is God's reassuring answer to us about our troubled times and uncertain future. God is and will be in control of our lives and the affairs of this world. Through the guidance of His Spirit, He gives us helpful guidelines for understanding and applying prophecy correctly so that we may not be deceived.
"You are not going to church today!" Ivan ordered. "You are going to work with me in the garden!" He was determined to put a stop to this Sabbath-keeping nonsense.
Lidia winced as she heard her husband's words. She had been attending evangelistic meetings in the city of Dobritch, Bulgaria, and was convinced that God wanted her to keep the Sabbath day holy. For several weeks she had managed to slip away to church without her husband noticing. But earlier that week Ivan had told her that on Saturday they would go to his parents' house outside of town to work in the garden.
All week Lidia had tried to reason with Ivan. She told him about the blessing of keeping God's day holy, but he would not listen. She prayed that something would happen so she would not have to work on Saturday. But Saturday arrived, and Ivan urged her to get ready to go.
"All right," Lidia answered calmly, "I will go to your parents' house today, but I will not work in the garden."
"If you do not work, then you will not eat," Ivan growled. He was sure that his parents could convince Lidia that her new beliefs I were foolish.
The couple rode the bus to the edge of town where they kept i their donkey and cart. They hitched up the donkey and set out for Ivan's parents' home. It was almost noon when they arrived. As Lidia helped her mother-in-law prepare lunch, Ivan told his parents of Lidia's foolish new idea that God wanted people to waste a good work day by resting on Saturday. When Ivan and his parents sat down to eat, Lidia excused herself, knowing that if she ate she would be expected to work.
Suddenly they heard a loud commotion outside. "Come quickly!" a neighbor shouted. "Something has happened to your donkey!" Ivan ran to the front door and looked out. He saw several I of his neighbors standing over his donkey, which was lying in the middle of the road.
(continued next week)
Rae Patterson is the assistant director of the General Conference Office of Mission Awareness.
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