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Sunday: Historicism and Prophecy — 21 Comments

  1. I have grown a touch of cynicism in my old age about reciting the mantra that we (Seventh-day Adventists) got it right. There are two reasons for this:

    1) The Jews in Christ's time were pretty confident that they had messianic prophecy right. Over the years they had honed down their interpretation of these prophecies and were sure that the Messiah would come and rescue the nation from the oppression of the Roman Empire. And they were dead wrong!

    2) We rest on the laurels of the pioneers who in the revival period of the 19th century, looked at prophecies that could be interpreted as pointing to their day and ultimately came up with the historicist approach. Much of our study today is essentially a reaffirmation of what they did almost two centuries ago. Our experience is often, sadly, a vicarious study experience.

    I say all of this, not because I believe that the historicist approach is wrong, but because we are rather complacent. In this respect, I think that the current lessons rather reinforce that complacency with their catechistic approach rather than encouraging us to search and study for ourselves.

    I know I am repeating this illustration but I think it is pertinent in the circumstances. Secondary School Maths books have the answers in the back of the book. Lazy students think that the aim of studying of mathematics is to get the right answers when really it is all about learning to think. I help my grandsons with their maths homework from time-to-time (not enough time according to their grandmother!) and one of the questions that I frequently ask them, is how do they know the answer is correct without looking up the answers in the back of the book. My aim is to train them to think, and not just find answers.

    I think it is the same with our interpretation of prophecy. If we are resting on the "answers" provided by the pioneers, we are guilty of looking up the answers in the back of the book. We live in the real world where our thinking and our relationship with the author of our salvation is more important than supplying the answers.

    Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Acts 17:11 NIV

    • Indeed, we need to wrestle with the ideas presented in the Bible for ourselves to make them our own. We need to know the Lord on a personal level, rather than just being able to repeat doctrines as catechism.

      Especially when it comes to the intersection of science and faith, we need to wrestle prayerfully with the evidence. After having done this for decades and reaching certain conclusions, I was once content to rest on my positions, until I was seriously challenged by someone who knew all the same arguments. 😉 It was a good experience, because it sent me back to the wrestling ring and strengthened my faith in the process.

      Knowing "the answers in the back of the book" is not enough to support us when we are seriously challenged in the spiritual realm any more than it helps in a math test or in the practical application of math.

    • I have to agree with Maurice on this too, and without prejudice towards the historicist approach, I wish to note that many of we, use the approach to prove wrong the approaches of other denominations. This use of Scriptural interpretation though truly correct, at many times beats the entire logic of interpretation per se. The intent and purpose of all the work is lost and we find ourselves winning over the "rest" but missing the end point of all the labour that this interpretation entails. Whereas, knowing it's true meaning is important, that meaning becomes relevant only when we identify where it's pointing us to.

      Take for example, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2, which we Adventist, have rightly identified the different levels of Historical Reign or Kingdoms. From Babylon to Rome; From Nebchadnezzar to the papacy;we have translated the different parts of the image and these have been so. It is good that we know.

      But then emerges the missing link, because to stop there and dwell our entire lives trying to establish the deliberations and plans in the Vatican or Papacy or maybe even establish the plan of the devil to extinguish God's people, we tend to miss out one ultimate point; one great event; and one great conclusion to this story that is found in the dream in Daniel 2:34

      "You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces." (NKJV)

      It is this end, we miss out that let's us forget how central the sacrifice of Christ is to our salvation. It makes us miss out the victory of Christ. It makes us lose out the core focus of our faith to be with Christ(in Christ) and let Him take up His victory and restore His reign. We get to the "answer" alright but forget where "the answer" is to lead us to.

      If you listen to our discussion on the image in Daniel 2....you'll realize that very little is mentioned on "a stone was cut out without hands" - and this is sad, because this stone is really why we are Christians in the first place. This is where we should lay our focus.

      Thank you Maurice again for pointing this out. Let's study more not to win or even to be correct, but to get to know God's will and plan for us, so that we may obey His will and gain a closer relationship with God.

    • I agree with Maurice. I tend to categorize us in a few categories. Bible Scholars, Bible Students and the rest.

      I do not consider myself a bible scholar. These to me are those who do some deep diving into the scriptures. Ellen G. White was a bible scholar for example.

      A bible student studies largely what bible scholars have discovered. They may test these things but they didn't dig deep to uncover these things themselves. That's where I see myself. I will compare scripture with scripture. I will read various sources trying to get a better understanding of a topic.

      Then you have those who do not do either. They may not be able to. Not everyone has the mind of a researcher so they are those who need teachers to help them out.

      I agree with the historicist method of interpretation because it's the one that seems to make the most sense to me. Before I ever heard of the term it seemed like everything just fit into place when using this and the other methods seemed more like attempts to obfuscate certain things.

      But we do need to be careful about complacency. We've been wrong before about different things and we'll be wrong again about other things. This is why we shouldn't be too dogmatic about certain interpretations but this also doesn't mean we should open the door to every theory.

    • Thank you Maurice.
      It is not about passing mathematics tests but understanding and practically application of the subject in our day to day lives. To walk the talk!

    • There is danger in beleiving much on self. The disciples were together and they encouraged each other. Jesus used nature examples and daily life experiences to impact spiritual truth.

  2. Daniel could not have imagined how things are today. He said "Men will run to and fro and knowledge would be increased. Men/women fly everywhere and yes knowledge is increased. Not GOD Almighty's knowledge. Evil knowledge and riots; people hating each other. Black or white we ALL came from Adam and Eve (Noah and his family). We ALL have same DNA.

    • Amen. I laughed when I first heard that a "new" discovery had been made. There was now strong evidence that...wait for it...all of us came from a common ancestor. 🙂

      Knowledge indeed has been increasing but not simply a general knowledge but a knowledge of God through His creation. This knowledge is revealing God more and more so that no one has an excuse.

  3. History as seen through the eyes of the believer, interpreted and understood by devine influence, goes beyong the physically established record of history.
    If ever there was a written record of mankind's history, our Scripture, as compiled in the Bible, is the record that is the most comprehensive, all inclusive history of mankind ever written. It includes the past, the presence and the future.

    Anyone interested in Geology can establish the physical history going back in time by using objects found to verify or add to their conclusions. The anthropologist can use evidence left behind from various cultures to establish their man's historical record, but neither one can use their findings to determine or predict the future of mankind.

    Only the Scripture is able to reveal the future by revealing mankind's historical past. It is able to make this revelation by providing the context with which the purpose of mankind and the earth we live on is declared, and with that provides the spiritual aspect of man's future and past as well.
    It describes and establishes the unbroken chain of events as seen from God's timeless vantage point.

    This account can only be accepted and held as authenticly 'historical' by the inspired mind endowed with Faith. The book of Daniel and Revelation are the book-ends, the past and future of mankind.
    Between these two book-ends are found the books that reveal the 'how' God is executing His Plan of Salvation of mankind.

  4. I have noticed the tendency of us humans to assume that if one is studying prophecy they are ignoring or neglecting their relationship with the LORD and letting ones light shine before man or vice versa. It is possible and probable that there are many who are balanced in their understanding of the value of the various aspects of what the Word of the LORD has revealed.

    If one has encountered individuals or groups who are focusing on one aspect of the LORD's message to the detriment of the LORD's central message of the Everlasting Covenant then please don't generalize and say "we" be specific and say "some" and give more examples.

    We, no some of us, need to remember that as a world wide community of faith that some are learning about the foundational truths for the first time and there are others who need a recapitulation.
    For those who are well versed in the fundamentals how about providing some suggestions on how to take the next steps to concentrate on the deeper more critical truths of prophecy, start a dialogue, give some guidelines of how to study them for oneself.

    • Amen Sis Shirley,
      You read my thoughts, especially am i glad that you reminded us that this is new material to the thousands who become members of the family of God every year.

      And as you rightly said, for those of us who have studied these subjects forever, the Holy Spirit, our Teacher, stands ready to take us to new heights, pass the beasts and the metals and the dates.

      It took me many years of studying Daniel 11 to get an understanding of it. It was like Greek to me, but whenever it became a subject for study, i saw it a little clearer! But even now, the final verses are cloudy in my mind.

      Maybe, by the time we return to that study, conditions in the world would cause me to experience what Jesus told the disciples in John 14:29.

      We should not sound as though we are making apologies for understanding those things that 'belong to us and our children.'

      No one can search the Scriptures in the spirit of Christ without being rewarded. RC 117.3

      I was so blessed to have been introduced to Daniel and Revelation by 'Uncle Arthur' as a new Adventist Christian many 'moons' ago. He wrapped the prophecies around Jesus, kept Him in the centre.

      Every time we open the Word of God, asking for the Spirit's direction, we can't help but see Jesus. We can't help but see our purpose, our future and our hope.


  5. It is interesting that Daniel 2 does not mention China,India, Africa and other major ancient civilizations. To me, the answer is that Daniel's prophesy identifies the major players who intersect and interact with God's chosen people. It is in reality not a comprehensive world history, but a history of Israel, both genetic and spiritual.

    To me the real bottom line is the exchange of kingdoms illustrated by the stone or Rock. God's kingdom replaces the succession of the kingdoms of this world.

    The specifications for citizenship in God's kingdom are given in the teachings of Jesus, especially the Sermon on the Mount. We tend to be prophecy wonks and overlook the personal, spiritual implications of these important prophecies.

    • I like your comment Richard. I would add to it, that all scripture will lead us to Jesus. Israel was the avenue through which he would come. Israel was to be an example to the world, of how a life lived as God intended, would lead us back to Him and restore the relationship that we were created for. We have to look at all of scripture in the light of the great controversy. That’s what ALL of this is about in the first place.

  6. The historicist method shows kingdoms without gaps succeeding each other, then the stone (Rock) cut out of a mountain crushing all of them so completely that they are dust and are blown away completely then the stone became a great mountain that filled the whole earth. According to the explanation given to Daniel in the days of the toes God will set up a kingdom that will endure forever.
    What is the meaning of the stone being cut out of the mountain? Then it grows into a mountain. Are these different mountains?
    If there are no gaps between kingdoms does this mean there is no gap between the stone crushing all the kingdoms and God setting up His eternal kingdom?

  7. About those math book answers in the back...I was guilty of doing that before I knew my multiplication tables. It’s true that my value of learning was not at its full potential because someone had already solved all the answers for me. I thought this was all there was to it, relying on answers that someone took the time to study, calculate, figure out and probably burned some midnight oil in finding the solution. All I got out of it was zero learning, no sweat and tears of my little gray cells in learning about something sooo complex and yet profound. When I finally mastered my multiplication table it was then I learned that it takes time and effort to gain knowledge and answers to complex problems and issues. It was also satisfying knowing the hard work that went into finding a solution. I often wondered how the Israelites missed the point on the coming of Jesus and His mission. Moreover, I pondered the thought that I, as an SDA, might miss the point too if I rely on our church’s interpretation of end time prophecy and beliefs, etc. Complacent was a word I was all too familiar with when “I was down range” fighting in the wars Iraq and Afghanistan. We were taught that complacency was the enemy. Just because something was done the same way all the time did not mean that it will continue to be so. We had to think outside the box because the enemy will come at you in any direction. We had to be flexible and not assume things and not rely on something that was done before as the only answer. One wrong small move and the enemy will prevail. In conclusion, I learned that my destiny lies in my personal relationship with God and communing with Him daily and adhering to the Holy Spirit by reading, learning and doing His will not mine. It’s my walk with Christ not my parents, my spouse, nor my church’s. Yes, we are in it together but it is on an individual experience with God that makes all worth while. I will be fulfilled because I got my answers from my One true source instead of relying on the answers on the back of the book.

    • I can only say 'Amen' to your testimony and praise the Lord! Thank you for your service on behalf of our Nation.

  8. Thank God, the answer is in the back of the book. Jesus went to the cross and we along with him are victorious. Our prophetic knowledge does not give us the victory nor does it guarantee our salvation. For we know it was the cross and our response to the cross that does this for us.
    The answer being in the back of the math book does not mean the work or the study has to stop there. The student has the option to continue to work on his own in an attempt to come up with the same answer as the book. Thus the student is now using the answer to assist them in understanding how the answer is achieved. The Sabbath School lesson is not the end of our study of prophecy but should be the beginning of our testing to see if the answer is correct. So to all I say test what we teach and see if the answer is correct. In my testing I see the answer and I have no doubt.

  9. Not sure why there has to be a specific "method" defined for the study of prophecy. We need only to simply read it as given, and we will understand it if open to the leading of the Holy Spirit and obedient to the Word of God, "in all [our] ways, acknowledging Him"(Dan 12:10, John 7:17; 8:31,32).

    Many have understood prophecy correctly without knowing or having heard of the various "methods". The Word of God is without error, and our search must be to "know [God], and Jesus Christ whom [He] sent". Then the Holy Spirit "will guide [us] into all truth".

    This is not a complicated process. Scripture has defined no method, except to "take heed" as a light in a dark place(2 Pe 1:19) and to "read...hear...and keep those things written"(Rev 1:3). Not complicated.

  10. I agree that we must study the Bible and its prophecies as dedicated
    and committed as we study for our life work, with the desire to be changed, prepared for ministry and ready to meet our soon coming King. Beware of resting on the past revelations, and slackening off on seeking God’s approval, and being arrogant to think we know it all already, cause we don’t!!!

  11. According to this day's lesson the historicist method of interpreting prophecy is the "foundational method" which Protestants have previously employed and "which Seventh-day Adventists still uphold today." Is it possible that unswerving adherence to our foundational methodologies could bring us into conflict with Jesus' preferred method (Jn 14:16-17,26)? Is it possible that persons who now claim to speak on God's behalf aren't doing so by Jesus' preferred method (Lk 4:1,18; 2 Pt 1:20-21)?
    During Jesus' incarnation, His disciples struggled to correctly interpret prophecy (Lk 24:21,25). It required action on His part (Lk 24:45) to reverse their struggles to with prophetic interpretation (2 Cor 3:14-16 (NKJV); Lk 24:27). Could it be that modern day Protestantism--including Seventh-day Adventist--need Jesus' preferred method to unify our cacophony of prophetic interpretation (Jn 16:13; Isa 50:4-5)?


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