Necessity of Teaching a Literal Understanding of Prophecy
Why do so many believers today remain blind to the numerous signs that we live in the last days?
I believe a key reason for this lies with pastors and teachers today who in large numbers embrace amillennialism, a belief system that dismisses biblical prophecies related to Jesus’ thousand-year rule and the restoration of a kingdom for Israel. As a result, they regard the miraculous emergence of Israel as a nation as mere coincidence without any prophetic significance.
It stands to reason that if one dismisses the most significant piece of God’s prophetic calendar, the miracle of Israel’s current existence, one will also miss all the many other signs that tell us we live in the season of Jesus’ appearing to take His church back to His Father’s house.
Scoffers claim that those of us with a biblical awareness of the times interpret Scripture with a newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other hand. However, just the opposite is true.
Here are three key examples:
- Isaac Newton, based on his intense study of the books of Daniel and Revelation, predicted the re-establishment of Israel as a nation over 220 years before it happened.
- David Reagan recently recounted a story regarding C.I. Scofield. Based on Ezekiel 38-39, in 1909 he wrote that someday a coalition led by Russia would invade Israel. Some criticized him because, at the time, Russia was a Christian nation, and Israel did not exist. Now, however, we see that such an invasion of Israel is a distinct possibility.
- For years, prophecy watchers said Turkey, a friend of Israel not that long ago, would someday turn against God’s people. They said that based on Ezekiel 38-39. And this has happened in just the past ten years.
I could cite many more examples of how a literal understanding of biblical prophecy has enabled prophecy watchers to know what the newspapers would report many years in advance. But even more importantly, understanding what the Bible says about the news of today/tomorrow reassures us that God is in control as we watch events unfold just as He said would happen during the last days of human history.
Because we live in biblical times of the end, those who proclaim God’s Word must not keep silent regarding the signs that point to Jesus’ soon appearing and the start of the tribulation period. They have a distinct responsibility to teach a literal understanding of prophecy that aligns with the signs of the approaching seven-year tribulation;
Why is sound teaching on biblical prophecy so essential for the day in which we live?
Jesus Scolded Religious Leaders Who Missed the Signs of His First Coming
While on earth, Jesus chastised the religious leaders of the day for not recognizing the numerous signs that their Messiah stood in their midst. In Matthew 16:1-4 we read:
“He [Jesus] also said to the crowds, And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.’ So he left them and departed.”
Just like the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day, many of those in places of spiritual leadership today dismiss the many and varied signs of Jesus’ soon return. I believe that Jesus’ message to pastors and teachers who today dismiss the significance of the re-emergence of the nation of Israel would be quite similar to how He addressed the religious leaders of His day.
Would He not also scold church leaders today for failing to recognize the signs of His Second Coming so clearly laid out in Scripture?
There seems to be an assumption among those who criticize those of us who recognize the signs of Jesus’ return that we seek to scare people rather than encourage them regarding the future. Such is not the case. Recognizing that we live in biblical times, the season of Jesus’ appearing, allows us to assure the saints that God remains in control of history. The disturbing events of our day signal the nearness of Jesus’ appearing to take us to the place He’s now preparing for us (John 14:1-3). What an amazing and joyful expectation!!
The signs that we live in the last days should encourage our hearts even as we watch the world race toward the seven-year tribulation. Is this not why the apostle Paul repeatedly mentioned the comfort that comes from anticipating the rapture? (1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11).
Jesus is coming for us before the terrible day of the Lord (1 Thess. 5:9-10), and as such, it signifies the nearness of the rapture.
Jesus Warned Against a Failure to Emphasize Biblical Prophecy at Its Proper Time
There’s a phrase in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 24:45-50 that the Lord keeps bringing to my mind as a way of prompting me to write about it. The words appear in verse 45 where Jesus asks, “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?” (Emphasis mine)
The Greek word for “proper time” is kairos, which denotes an opportune or seasonable time. The word does not depict time on a clock but rather the appropriate occasion or opportunity for something to take place. The current season of Jesus’ soon appearing calls for the inclusion of biblical prophecy in the diet that spiritual leaders provide to those under their care.
The “faithful and wise servant,” therefore, is the one who watches for the coming of “the Son of Man” (v. 44). And as the signs multiply regarding the nearness of his Lord’s return, he adjusts the “food” he sets before those whom he serves so that it corresponds with the nearness of Jesus’ return.
I interpret Jesus’ words here as a warning that those of us who today minister God’s Word to others have a particular responsibility to instruct others about the Lord’s soon return and warn them regarding the soon start of the tribulation period. I believe Jesus’ parable, recorded in Matthew 24:45-50, strongly cautions Bible-believing pastors and teachers against repeating the error of the Pharisees and Sadducees (see Matt. 16:1-4) who did not recognize their Messiah despite the many ways He fulfilled Old Testament Scripture.
What I am saying is this: Now is the season to proclaim our hope in Jesus’ soon appearing.
In centuries past, it was enough to emphasize the Gospel past and present with a lighter emphasis on the future tense of the Gospel. We revere great preachers such as Charles Spurgeon for his clarity on the good news of salvation, and today we sorely need his razor-sharp biblical insight into God’s grace and eternal security.
However, along with Spurgeon-like insight into God’s steadfast love and mercy, we also need sound teaching on future things. So many pastors either ignore the signs of the end times or cloak biblical prophecies under a mysterious veil of allegory so that those texts have no relevance for us today. They treat biblical prophecy as an allegorical code, especially the book of Revelation, that only they can fully understand. In the end, their message lacks any comforting value for those of us in the twenty-first century.
Jesus Warns Us Against Dismissing the Words of the Book of Revelation
Those who dismiss 90% of the book of Revelation as allegory should not expect those to whom they minister to find even a smidgen’s worth of encouragement in the remaining 10%. That’s because such an approach places the rest of John’s message under a shroud of uncertainty.
For example, if the apostle’s description of the New Jerusalem is not a physical one, but only symbolical pertaining to another reality, how can one have any confidence in John’s other descriptions of the eternal state in Revelation 21-22? How can we trust the precious words of Revelation 21:4 if other key promises contained in these chapters are allegories subject to the varied interpretation of others?
The bottom line is this: we are not free to interpret the book of Revelation any way we please and expect that to inspire hope in those who hear or relieve their fears.
One thousand years means one thousand years; it’s not the eternal state but rather Jesus’ millennial reign that precedes it. Forty-two months means forty-two months; forty-two months is most certainly not the church age; it signifies three and a half years, just as the text tells us. If we cannot trust the words we see on the pages of Scripture, then whose interpretation of them do we believe?
Several varied prophetic schemes have arisen from allegorical ways of looking at the book of Revelation. If words don’t mean what they appear to mean, how do we know which one of them is correct? Not only that, but a wide variance of opinion also exists among them as to what is literal and symbolical. With the use of allegory, we have no objective basis to know what a text really means.
God’s inspiration of His Word applies to the very words of the prophetic texts of the Bible, to the intent of the human author. The Lord does not give us license to change the meaning of a text so that it has no relevance whatsoever to the words we see in front of us. Jesus warns us against such allegorical interpretations of the last book of the Bible in Revelation 22:18-19. Do not symbolical understandings of Revelation take “away from the words of this book of prophecy?” Yes, they most certainly do.
I suspect many will scoff at me for writing these things, but I must write what I believe the Lord has laid upon my heart. I know we live in biblical times, the season of Jesus’ return, and although I may not get everything totally correct, I am persuaded of the truth of Scripture, and that leads to my conviction that Jesus is coming for His church in the near future.
I dare not predict when this will happen, but the signs of the approaching tribulation period tell me the fulfillment of John 14:2-3 and 1 Corinthians 15:50-57 is ever so close at hand.
Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). He spoke those words after talking about the tribulation and the signs of His return to earth. As we watch the precursors to these tribulation events erupt all around us, how can we conclude anything else apart from the fact that we live in the last days of human history?
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