While Christians agree on the fulfillment of prophecy relating to Jesus’ first coming, such harmony quickly disappears when the subject switches to prophecies related to His return to earth.
As one who has spent many decades in the midst of the fray, I can attest to the pressing need to defend our biblical hope from attacks on the part of those outside as well as within the church. Whatever the source, they all seek to undermine our expectation of Jesus’ soon return, returning to earth with Jesus after the tribulation, and then reigning with Him in His millennium kingdom.
Many Bible-believing pastors, teachers, and writers who oppose such things begin with a misguided view of God’s covenants, one that eliminates the distinction between Israel and the church. They retrofit His promises to Israel so that they apply “spiritually” to the church.
“Why does this matter to me?” you might ask, “As long as they preach the true Gospel, what difference does it make if they go astray in matters pertaining to the end times?”
Those who ask these questions fail to recognize the long-term effects of how the use of allegory not only undermines our Gospel hope, but also the Gospel itself. Please stay with me as I explain how the allegorical approach to biblical prophecy . . .
Leads to an Inconsistent View of Prophecy
Jesus fulfilled over 100 prophecies through His birth, life, death, burial, and resurrection. Most all of those who claim that Israel has no future would agree with that statement. Yet, when it comes to the prophecies that relate to Israel’s future as well as our own, they abandon literalness for an allegorical interpretation.
For example, no one denies the literal fulfillment of the opening words of Isaiah 9:6, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.”
However, verse 6 adds this to the prophecy concerning Jesus, “and the government shall be upon his shoulder.” The next verse further explains, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom ….” These words, if taken literally, refer to Jesus ruling upon the “throne of David” and signify a future kingdom for Israel.
In spite of this clarity, many look at this passage in a way that retrofits the prophet’s original meaning so that it aligns with God’s promises to the church. They switch from a literal interpretation to an allegorical one mid-sentence.
How can such glaring inconsistencies not effect one’s view of the rest of biblical prophecy?
Relies on a Vague Basis for Separating the Symbolical from the Literal
A related issue I have with those who employ allegory is this: What is the basis for switching from a literal interpretation to an allegorical one in the same passage? In Isaiah 9:6-7, how do they determine what is literal and what is allegory? Do they naturally assume the unfulfilled part is allegory? Or does the picture of Jesus’ reigning on the throne of David not fit their preconceived beliefs about Israel?
We see this same vague basis for separating the symbolical from the literal in their interpretation of the book of Revelation. Many who relegate most of Revelation 6-20:10 as allegory suddenly switch to a literal interpretation of the Great White Throne judgment, the final destruction of Satan and death, and the new earth along with the New Jerusalem.
What’s the basis for deciding between which events and words are literal and those that are solely allegory? The lack of agreement among those who relegate the meaning of the apocalypse to allegory demonstrates the vagueness of such a subjective approach.
For example, some who reject the millennium of Revelation 20:1-10 regard the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21-22) as an actual physical city; others with the same amillennial viewpoint deny the reality of the city, claiming it’s purely symbolic of God’s presence.
Do not such disagreements among those who employ allegory demonstrate the vagueness and subjectivity of such an approach? Absolutely!
Disregards the Original Intent of the Author
Of course, prophetic writers in Scripture employ metaphors, word pictures, and symbols at times. My issue is with those who use allegory to blatantly disregard the original intent of the author.
The Old Testament prophets believed they were prophesying about a future glory for the nation of Israel. Their words depict a restoration of Israel when God will regather His people from all over the earth. They unequivocally point to Jesus’ reign over the nations seated upon the throne of David in Jerusalem. No one can rationally argue that these things were not the original intent of their words. How else could they have understood God’s promises to the Israelites that He revealed through them?
The prophet Jeremiah regarded the continuation of Israel as a nation in God’s eyes as something as certain as the “fixed order” of day and night (Jer. 31:33-36). The Lord further provided Jeremiah with physical descriptions of Jerusalem (vv. 38-40). The words God gave to the prophet depict a still future restoration of a glorious kingdom to Israel. Jeremiah could not have understood it any other way.
What does it say about the Lord’s reliability if He meant one thing when He spoke these words through the prophets and now they mean something entirely different to us? The effort to retrofit the words of the Lord to say something contrary to what they meant at the time He spoke them not only undermines the integrity of biblical prophecy, but also that of the Lord Himself.
Disrespects the Understanding of the Original Audience
Not only does the allegorical method of interpretation show indifference to the original intent of the author, it displays a keen disrespect for the understanding of the original audience. Can we really say that prophecy meant one thing to those who heard the Old Testament prophets preach and now means something entirely different today? I have great problems with this distortion of the words Scripture.
Would the Israelites listening to Jeremiah proclaim God’s promise of a glorious restoration of Israel have thought, “Okay, this does not really relate to our physical descendants, but to another group who will spiritually enjoy benefits of our promised kingdom?”
There’s no conceivable way such a thought would have entered their minds. They would have taken the prophet’s words at face value, a solemn promise from the Lord to “restore” the fortunes of a physical Israel (see Jer. 31:35-40, 32:36-44, 33:23-26).
For teachers and writers to come along 2,700 years later and say the words of Jeremiah do not really mean what they meant to the original audience not only destroys the credibility of Scripture, but also of the Lord Himself. If the Israelites could not depend on the clear words of the prophets regarding their future, does this not also undermine our security, our future hope that rests on the words of the Gospel pertaining to our future as New Testament saints?
Negates God’s Sovereign Purposes for Prophecy
The allegorical approach to future prophecy negates God’s sovereign purposes for providing us with prophecy. Isaiah 46:10 says that His design for it includes that of “declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish my purpose.’”
God demonstrates His glory by declaring what lies ahead in history. When one looks at the specific prophecies Jesus fulfilled at His first coming, it brings about a sense of wonder and awe for the Lord as well as for His Word. Many have come to faith in Jesus after looking at how the Lord fulfilled prophecy with Jesus’ first coming.
God intends for the abundant prophecies throughout the Bible regarding the restoration of a kingdom for Israel, the Gog and Magog war, the tribulation, and the Second Coming to accomplish this identical purpose. The fulfillment of these things will further demonstrate His sovereignty over history just as Israel’s miraculous rebirth seventy years ago and God’s supernatural protection of them and blessing since then demonstrates the validity of God’s promises in Ezekiel 36-37.
If one relegates most, if not all of future prophecy to allegory, one not only negates God’s purpose for revealing the future to us but also destroys its relevance for us today, which is precisely what our enemy desires. The allegorical interpretation of prophecy has led to serious errors in the past regarding prophecy and the Gospel; it will surely do so again.
Those who use allegory to interpret still-future prophecies in the Bible not only negate God’s sovereign purpose for prophecy, but also retrofit them to fit their faulty New Testament understanding of the covenants. In doing so they undermine the integrity of Scripture by making passages say something contrary to the original intention of the author or what those listening at the time would have understood.
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