Interpreting prophecies

Discussion in 'Sacred Scripture' started by Rexlion, Aug 24, 2020.

  1. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    Many people have been led to believe that end-time Scripture prophecies should always be interpreted by an allegorical method or by 'spiritualizing' them. I do not think this is proper.

    Consider, for example, the following passage in Scripture:
    Zec 14:1 Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee.
    Zec 14:2 For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city.
    Zec 14:3 Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle.
    Zec 14:4 And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south.
    Zec 14:5 And ye shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azal: yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah: and the LORD my God shall come, and all the saints with thee.
    Zec 14:6 And it shall come to pass in that day, that the light shall not be clear, nor dark:
    Zec 14:7 But it shall be one day which shall be known to the LORD, not day, nor night: but it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light.
    Zec 14:8 And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: in summer and in winter shall it be.
    Zec 14:9 And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one.
    Zec 14:10 All the land shall be turned as a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem: and it shall be lifted up, and inhabited in her place, from Benjamin's gate unto the place of the first gate, unto the corner gate, and from the tower of Hananeel unto the king's winepresses.
    Zec 14:11 And men shall dwell in it, and there shall be no more utter destruction; but Jerusalem shall be safely inhabited.
    Zec 14:12 And this shall be the plague wherewith the LORD will smite all the people that have fought against Jerusalem; Their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongue shall consume away in their mouth.
    Zec 14:13 And it shall come to pass in that day, that a great tumult from the LORD shall be among them; and they shall lay hold every one on the hand of his neighbour, and his hand shall rise up against the hand of his neighbour.
    Zec 14:14 And Judah also shall fight at Jerusalem; and the wealth of all the heathen round about shall be gathered together, gold, and silver, and apparel, in great abundance.
    Zec 14:15 And so shall be the plague of the horse, of the mule, of the camel, and of the ass, and of all the beasts that shall be in these tents, as this plague.
    Zec 14:16 And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.
    Zec 14:17 And it shall be, that whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, even upon them shall be no rain.


    This prophecy in Zechariah tells of a time when an army gathers against Jerusalem and God Himself will set foot on the Mount of Olives, cleaving it into two halves, and will then fight on behalf of Jerusalem (v. 3) by consuming the very flesh of all in the enemy's camp (v. 12). Afterward, God will reign over the earth (v. 9) and people from all over the world will travel to Jerusalem to worship Him there (v. 16). Jerusalem will never again face utter destruction (v. 11). Clearly, this event has not yet occurred.

    Zechariah also prophesied of events which have come to pass. For example:
    Zec 11:12 And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver.
    Zec 11:13 And the LORD said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the LORD.

    And also:
    Zec 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.
    Obviously, these passages foretell of the coming of Jesus our Messiah, and they have quite literally been fulfilled. The proper way to interpret these verses is to take them literally, as is very evident since we have the benefit of hindsight.

    Why would we pick and choose between the literal interpretive method and an allegorical method, based simply upon whether the scripture has (to our knowledge) been fulfilled or not? Especially when the same prophet has prophesied all of the above, isn't it arbitrary to assign a method of interpretation according to whether we can see a past fulfillment?

    Since we know that Zechariah accurately foretold of literal events which have come to pass, and we know that Zechariah was a true prophet of God, can't we expect Zechariah to have accurately foretold of literal events even when we haven't yet seen their fulfillment?
     
  2. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Generally I agree with you, that there is no need to spiritualize prophecies, especially these ones.

    However how do you know they're end-time?
     
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  3. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    Heb 1:1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
    Heb 1:2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;

    We are in the last days. That puts us close to the end of this age. So it seems fair to use the phrase 'end-time prophecy' when examining a prophecy that has not yet been fulfilled.
     
  4. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Ok yeah I agree with you that we’re in the last days. But that can be thousands of years more. It’s just an eschatological category. Usually by end times or end of days people refer to the Apocalypse and the end of the world though, so that was my confusion.
     
  5. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    Another example can be found in the prophecies of Isaiah. Most of us will be very familiar with Chapter 53:

    Isa 53:3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
    Isa 53:4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
    Isa 53:5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
    Isa 53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
    Isa 53:7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.
    Isa 53:8 He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.
    Isa 53:9 And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.

    We interpret this literally and we have no doubt that this prophecy foretold the coming of Jesus the Messiah.

    But how many of us are as familiar with Chapter 2?
    Isa 2:2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
    Isa 2:3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
    Isa 2:4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.


    This passage foretells of a time on earth when God establishes His "house" at Jerusalem. What is a house, but a habitation? People will travel to Jerusalem to hear God's (Jesus') words at His house. It is earth, a physical place, and the people living in some nations will need to be rebuked by the Lord. We know this is not yet fulfilled, not some time in our past, because it also says that in this time there will be no war. In fact, peace will endure long enough that the weapons of war are disposed of.
    (Side note: When it says, "in the top of the mountains," we should take not of the topography of Israel; Jerusalem is high up, at 2400 feet (600m) elevation, yet it is less than 30 miles from the Mediterranean Sea (sea level) to its east and less than 25 miles from the Dead Sea to the west. Also, recall that people were not well-traveled in Isaiah's day (most lived their entire lives within a short radius of their birthplace); to the Israelites, Jerusalem was situated at the top of a mountain.)

    Isaiah 9:6 is easily recognizable as a prophecy concerning Jesus' First Advent:
    Isa 9:6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

    But the very next verse foretells of a time after Jesus' Second Advent:
    Isa 9:7 Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
    How do we know this is a time after Jesus returns to earth? We know because it is a time of peace (which has been conspicuously absent throughout the church age). And we know because it agrees and harmonizes with Isaiah 2, Isaiah 11:6 (even the animals will be at peace!), Isaiah 35:1-10, Isaiah 65:25, Zechariah 14, and other scriptures in various books of the Bible.

    In each case, the context of the scriptures shows us that they are not figurative, but rather literal. We certainly would not alter the mode of interpretation from one verse to the next just because one falls in the past and the other in the future. Instead, we interpret literally both the past and the future prophecies.

    What do I mean when I say that the context of the scripture will show us how to interpret? An easy example should suffice: Jesus said, "I am the door" (John 10:9). Since we know that Jesus is not a literal door, we can see that he was speaking in some manner other than literally, such as allegorically or figuratively.