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Working with the Prophetic Passages

May 1st, 2015

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be shamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15 NKJV

There are at least two extremes to be avoided in seeking to understand the Bible.

One extreme ignores the personalities of human authors, the historical contexts of individual books, and the goals and themes of the specific books in the Bible and treats the Bible as though it was some type of magic book with an interlocking code, where one part can be readily exchanged with another. Whether it is bizarre perspectives like The Bible Code which sought to use the Bible like a series of coded writings, while ignoring the clear message itself, or simply an overzealous attempt at finding and forcing biblical unity, this is an extreme we need to avoid.

Evangelicals have used what is called the “Grammatical-Historical Interpretation of Scripture,” which takes into account the historical and cultural context of individual books as well as the specific style of literature used. For example, Isaiah wrote, “The trees of the field shall clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12), and we recognize this as poetic imagery – not that trees actually have hands. Another classic example of this method of interpretation in passages such as Romans 16:16, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” We have understood the command to be “Greet one another,” meaning that Christians have an obligation to greet and acknowledge one another, offering encouragement to each other, while “with a holy kiss” was a cultural matter that applied to the first century Mediterranean world, and is not binding on Christians for all ages and of all cultures.

The other extreme to be avoided goes too far in the opposite direction, that it isolates the historical and cultural context of the individual books until it neglects overarching themes that do weave together the entire book we call The Holy Bible. Though written by numerous human authors over the course of some 1,500 years, the true Author was One – the Holy Spirit who inspired the authors and molded their message and their words. The message and purpose of the Bible is singular – to bring people to a knowledge of the love and grace of God in Christ Jesus, that they might repent and believe. What John wrote regarding his gospel applies to the entire book, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).

The faith of the church has been, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God my be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). And “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4). Christ also said, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39), so there is a Christ-centered unity in all of the Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation.

The passage above states that we should be “rightly dividing” the word of truth. That word in the original Greek is orthotomeow, and it means literally “to cut straight” – ortho means “straight” and tomeow means “to cut” – as a diamond or jeweler would cut a precious stone properly, or as a seamstress would cut pieces of garments properly. By contrast the Greek word kainotomeow, combining kainos, which means “new,” to tomeow was used for miners to cut new veins in their mining operations, and came to mean to introduce something new. But the command of 2 Timothy 2:15 is not to introduce something new or some innovative new interpretation or writing, but rather to deal responsibly and correctly with what God has already inspired.

So the interpreter and teacher of Scripture stands somewhere in between the tension that these two extremes cause. Paul did write like Paul, Moses like Moses, David like David, Isaiah like Isaiah, Daniel like Daniel, and John like John, and so on. Each faced specific circumstances and wrote to meet specific needs in their days, but their writings do also need to be blended together to see the mosaic masterpiece inspired by the Spirit.

Every serious student of biblical prophecy will be faced with the challenge of seeking to bring passages of different books and human authors into some type of agreement. This was the idea of the apostle Paul when he wrote the words about “rightly dividing the word of truth.” We have an obligation before God to handle the word of God responsibly, and this means to make the connections of different passages, while at the same time avoiding forcing these matters.

C.I. Scofield put his emphasis on “dividing” the Scripture and though I am generally in his camp in many ways, he did go too far in other ways, in my opinion. He saw more divisions in Scripture than I do, but he also saw unities in prophetic passages that we are wise to pay attention to, passages that we can lay side by side.

Some of the key passages we can connect to one another are:

  • Daniel 9:20-27, which Christ quoted in Matthew 24:15. Clearly what Christ was prophesying about was also mentioned by Daniel.
  • Ezekiel 40-48, and Zechariah 14, promises which Peter referred to in Acts 3:17-21: “… Jesus Christ … whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.” Peter did not say that these prophecies were negated or taken back by God – as though God would do such a thing! – rather than they will be fulfilled when Christ returns.
  • Ezekiel 38-39 and Daniel 9:27 and Matthew 24:15 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, 1 John 2:18, Revelation 19:20, which address the topic of the Antichrist, his rise and his fall.
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:50-52 and Matthew 24:40-42, which address a sudden transformation of believers into their (our) heavenly bodies, or the Rapture.
  • Connect the passages about the Rapture to 2 Thessalonians 2:7, “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taking out of the way,” and you have the teaching of the sudden removal of the Church in the Rapture before the rise of the Antichrist.
  • Daniel 9:24-27 and Daniel’s prophecy about “seventy weeks” of years, and the break between the 69th week and the 70th week, with the 70th week being the seven year period of Tribulation spoken of in Matthew 24:21, and Revelation 6-18.

There are others, of course, but these all point to the end times and to the victorious reign of Christ. They are given that we may be encouraged and not fear, and know that Christ shall conquer all who oppose Him and those of us who have placed our hopes in Him, and have lived our lives for Him, shall be vindicated, saved, and glorified. The spirit of those who study the end times in Scripture is not a haughty spirit of pride, or of gloating because of the promised victory of Christ. It is one of humility and trust, a spirit and attitude of the highest worship and praise of Him who lives forever and ever, who redeems us of all our sin, and promises to fulfill all of His promises to us.

Second Coming of Christ ,