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Our current series is Understanding Prophecy.
A number of people have asked me over the past few months how we can know what scripture says about ‘things to come.’
So, we will be doing a few week study on Understanding Prophecy.
Last week, we started laying a foundation for understanding prophecy by defining ‘prophet’ and ‘prophecy’.
We defined a prophet as:
A Prophet is a person given a revelation to pass on / proclaim to others.
Then, we defined a prophecy as:
Prophecy is a message from God meant to edify, comfort, encourage, or exhort.
Too often, we tend to use the word prophecy for those things in the Bible which are yet to be fulfilled.
That is, we tend to use the word prophecy for what God has told us about the future.
However, as we saw last week,
All scripture is prophecy — God’s revelation
As we looked into the scriptures, we found that all scripture is prophecy.
It is all ‘revealed’ by God.
Some prophecy is a reminder, a revealing of the past, and how He provided.
Some prophecy reveals the present, how God cares for us, and how God expects us to live and relate to Him.
And, yes, some prophecy reveals the future, what is to come.
It is really important to recognize that all scripture is prophecy.
It is all revelation.
There are some verses in Revelation that relates to this:
Notice that this is a revelation, and it is a prophecy.
Prophecy is what God reveals.
And if we go to verse 19,
It is all prophecy.
Past, present and future, it is all being revealed; and John is record what he has seen, what is now going on, and what will take place later.
Prophecy is not just the future, and all prophecy is ‘revealed’.
And, prophecy is not meant to be just for a certain group of intellectuals, or higher up church people.
It is a blessing for everyone who reads and heeds.
This information is important for our topic today, which is:
There are great Christians who come to different conclusions when it come to what the Bible says about what is to come in the future.
Why do different people, using the same source, the Bible, come to different conclusions?
Because of interpretation.
It isn’t really a difference in views of what is to come.
The differences between Christians in regard to their views of what is to come is due to differences in interpretation.
So, a foundation for understanding prophecy must include establishing how we go about interpreting what we will be reading.
What is interpretation?
To interpret means to explain, or to make understandable.
One of the clear examples is from the book of Nehemiah.
But as we read on in the chapter we find something interesting happening.
The Book of the Law was written in Hebrew.
Many of these people, who just returned to the land after being in captivity for 70 years, did not know Hebrew.
Many of them grew up in Babylon and spoke Aramaic.
So the Levites had to read the text in Hebrew, and then explain it clearly to all the people.
They were interpreting it, making it understandable.
When I was a missionary, in our training we talked a lot about communication theory.
Going to another people group with a language and culture that is foreign to our own requires us to consider how we will interpret what we see and hear.
But, interpretation is not just something that happens when going to another language and culture.
How many discussions happen in our daily lives where we have failed to properly interpret what someone else was saying?
Even in our own homes?
We all interpret every day.
Interpretation is a key component of all communication.
Communication can be broken down like this:
The one who wants to communicate has a message.
They then consider the audience, and what they know or understand: their language, grammar, vocabulary, and their culture.
Then, the speaker encodes the intended message in a way they expect will convey the intended meaning to that audience.
The message is sent.
The message is received, and decoded by the audience in accord with what they already know or understand: their vocabulary, grammar and culture.
They interpret the message.
Interpretation is just making the message understandable.
We do it everyday.
Prophecy is God communicating
God has a message
God considers his audience (the ones getting the message)
God encodes the message in their language (grammar and vocabulary) and culture
God gives the message to a prophet who passes it along
The audience decodes the message with their knowledge of grammar, vocabulary and culture.
When it comes to understanding prophecy, we will want to consider, “How would the original audience have interpreted this,” since God was encoding the message for them to hear and understand.
Thankfully, the bible has been translated into our language.
So we can read it with our own vocabulary and grammar.
But, it will be important to keep in mind it was written to another culture.
Thankfully, there are also a lot of clues in the Bible as to how people understood the message God sent, as well as helps from those who have studied the culture of the people to whom the scriptures were written.
Now, why is this important?
I think we need to keep certain things in mind when it comes to interpreting prophecy:
1. God revealed things to be accepted and understood.
God gave prophecy so that we would learn and know.
He did not give a book of puzzles to keep us from understanding.
Yes, there are some things that will take time and study to understand.
Yes, there are some things God reveals that we cannot truly fathom to their fullest extent, like how the Trinity is one God and three persons who are all equally, fully God.
He reveals it, and we need to accept it, but we may not fully grasp it.
2. God gives us the Holy Spirit to help us understand.
God does not want us to just rely on our own logic.
Rather, He wants us to read and accept what He has revealed, and trust the Holy Spirit to make it clear to us.
3. God wants us to handle His word correctly.
As we went over last week, God has given us the prophecy in the Bible.
He spoke it.
It is literally His word, down to the very words.
No prophet wrote on their own.
God was specific in the words, the grammar and the cultural expressions.
And, he expects us to handle His word correcltly.
So, how do we do that?
Two interpretation methods
Literal / Normal / Historical-Grammatical
Allegorical / Figurative / Spiritualization
The early church used a literal, or normal interpretation method.
They looked for Jesus’ return for the church as something imminent.
It could happen at any time.
They were looking for Jesus to establish the earthly kingdom as foretold in the Old Testament, as seen in the last question the apostles asked Jesus before He ascended in a cloud.
They fully expected the Lord to work with Israel, the descendents of Abraham again, as Paul wrote in Romans 9-11, and as Jeremiah 31 and so many other passages record for us.
The Church fathers and apologist of the first and second centuries revealed this same interpretation in their writings.
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