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Interpretation of Prophecy

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This article originally appeared in the 2023 Spring Edition of “The BBI Bulletin” available for free download here.

Interpretation of Prophecy

by Dr. W. Edward Bedore, Contributing Editor

Estimated Time to Read: 8 Minutes

The vast amount of yet unfulfilled prophecy found in the Bible has to do with God’s chosen people, Israel, their land, and Jesus Christ’s return to earth as King of kings and Lord of lords. In general, this is most often referred to as the “Second Coming of Christ.” The primary events of the Last Days as foretold in the Bible are:

• The emergence of the anti-Christ who will sign a bogus seven-year peace treaty with Israel.

• The seven-year Tribulation period.

• The invasion of Israel by the surrounding nations.

• The Battle of Armageddon.

All of these things revolve around God’s promise to restore Israel as a nation in the Promised Land at the time of the return of her promised Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.

An Interruption

Because Israel has a such a significant place in Bible prophecy, it is quite natural for those who hold to a literal approach to Bible interpretation to see current events in Israel as the fulfillment, or at least the beginning of the fulfillment, of Bible prophecies of the Last Days. The problem with this is that we are living in an unprophesied period of time that pertains particularly to the Church rather than to Israel as a nation. Failing to recognize that the current Dispensation of Grace is an interruption of the prophetic program concerning Israel can lead to a serious misunderstanding of how and when End Time prophecies will be fulfilled.

Emphatically, we must insist that yes, all of God’s promises to Israel as a people and a nation, will finally be fulfilled. We also believe that ultimately God is in control of world events. His providential care in directing the events of history insures that His plan and purpose for Israel and the nations of the world will be brought to fruition in due time.

Because Israel is, and always will be, God’s chosen people and Jerusalem His chosen capital of the world, we should be interested in the Jewish people and the land of Israel. After all, it is through these people and in their land that the climax of Bible prophecy will take place. But we should not, and must not, try to force the interpretation of Bible prophecy to fit current events.

Guidelines for Interpreting Bible Prophecy

If we are going to properly interpret Bible prophecy, there are several things we must keep in mind.

1) There is no prophesied event that must take place before the Rapture can happen. It is possible that some things may take place in preparation for the fulfillment of End Times prophecy, but there are no signs of events that will come to pass of which we can categorically say this is prophecy being fulfilled in our time. If we could make such a statement, then the current Dispensation of Grace would be part of prophecy rather than the “mystery” that God’s Word says it is. The Rapture is imminent, meaning that it could happen at any time. In His wisdom the Lord has not made known to us when the Rapture will take place. But we can rest in the assurance that it will happen in His time, thus its timing will be perfect. Perhaps it will happen today!

2) We must make a distinction between the Last Days of the Church, and the Last Days of Israel. The “last days” spoken of by the Apostle Paul (see II Tim. 3:1-13; cf. I Tim. 4:1-3) are not the prophesied “last days” of Israel (see Gen. 49:1 ff; Isa. 2:2; Dan. 2:28; 10:14; Hos. 3:4-5; Mic. 4:1). The “last days,” or “latter times,” that Paul refers to has to do with the pitiful state of the Church in the days before the Rapture takes place. It is a time in which most believers “will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned to fables” (see II Tim. 4:1-5). This turning from the gospel Paul preached began very early in church history and continues until this day. It is obvious from Paul’s second letter to Timothy that this turning away had already begun in Paul’s lifetime (see II Tim. 1:7-8, 13-15; 4:9-10). The facts of church history reveal that the Church has, for the most part, been turning away from Paul and his message of Grace ever since.

3) We cannot predict the future based on current events. World leaders come and go and the international scene can, and does, change very quickly. The speculations about current events and the End Times are endless. The Bible teachers are many who speculate on current events and then teach and preach their speculative conclusions as Biblical fact. The result of this kind of thing is not the edification of the hearers but confusion. When, in the course of time, these “conclusions” prove to be wrong, many are disillusioned and their faith in the infallibility of the Scriptures is shaken. I believe that this is the main reason that the error of Preterism (the doctrine that all End Times prophecies were fulfilled in AD 70), has gained such wide acceptance in recent years.

4) The Bible itself is the only source we have for understanding the future. Found in the Scriptures are many clear prophecies about Israel and the End Times. While it is true that in a general way the news of today indicates that the world is drifting toward the End Times, we are not to look at the Bible to find verses that seem to fit current events and then say “this is that.” Over the centuries many have done this, and they have all been wrong. In the 1930’s and 40’s, many were saying that Hitler was the anti-Christ and the war in Europe was the beginning of the Tribulation. After Israel became a nation in 1948, it was commonly taught, based on Matthew 24:32-34, that the Rapture would take place in 1988 or before. The reasoning behind this was that the “generation” that witnessed the beginning of Israel’s return to the Promised Land would last until Christ’s return. It was further assumed that a Biblical generation is forty years, thus the Rapture had to happen within forty years of Israel becoming a nation again. So, the Rapture had to happen during or before 1988. Of course, it didn’t happen, but many of its proponents were undaunted and went about looking for new “signs of the times” to prove that prophecy is being fulfilled before our eyes.

5) We must make a clear distinction between the Grace Gospel and the Body of Christ and the Kingdom Gospel and National Israel. If we fail to understand that God has two distinct plans for two distinct groups of people, we will surely fail to understand His unique plan and purpose for each of them. Israel is God’s chosen people. Their gospel of redemption includes the promise of their being reunified in a restored Davidic Kingdom. They will live in the Land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and will be the principle nation of the world. Their Messiah/Redeemer will rule the earth in righteousness. The doctrines of the Kingdom Gospel with Israel at its center of the plan to redeem the earth is the focus of most of the Bible, with the only exception being Paul’s letters (Romans – Philemon). So, Israel is the central subject of End Times Bible prophecy. Since the world began, all of the prophets of God spoke of the Messianic Kingdom, which encompasses Israel’s hope (see Acts 3:18-21; cf. Lk. 1:67-75).

On the other hand, the doctrines of the origin, position, walk, destiny, and rewards of the Body of Christ are uniquely found in the letters of the Apostle Paul whose message was exclusively given to him by the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:11-12; cf. Eph. 3:1-9). His was a “mystery” message that was kept secret until the Lord revealed to him this body of truth concerning Jesus Christ and His relationship to the Church, which is His Body. What we refer to as the Grace Gospel, is “the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began” (Rom. 16:25). Its hope is not to enter God’s future earthly kingdom with Israel but to reign over the heavens in Christ’s stead.

The doctrines of Israel and the Kingdom are prophetic in nature having been “preached since the world began” (Acts 3:21). The doctrines of the Church, which is Christ’s Body are mysterious in nature having been “kept secret since the world began” (Rom. 16:25).

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