Back in my early Sunday school days, we sang The B-I-B-L-E. I still remember jumping to my feet at words “I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E.” Little did I know at the time that the words to this song would characterize my ministry so many decades later.
If you were to ask me why I believe what I do about Jesus’ imminent appearing and His future reign over a gloriously restored Israel, I would reply that the words of Scripture are my source of confidence. I stand on the promises of God’s Word.
I love how the words of Psalm 119:105 speak to the light that comes from Scripture.
“Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.”
The Bible guides us through life; it lights our way. We rely on its promises for our hope of eternal life. Its words give us hope in perilous times and comfort us amid all our affliction.
The Reformers of five hundred years ago summarized the importance of sound Bible interpretation with two principles: Sola Scriptura and Scripture interprets Scripture.
Although the Reformers remained steadfast in their rejection of a literal millennium (amillennialism), which John described in Revelation 20:1-10, those two principles later led to the revival of premillennialism as well as to the emergence of teaching in support of a pretribulation Rapture. This happened as students of God’s Word allowed Scripture to speak for itself and did not retrofit the biblical text with meanings foreign to the original intent of the author. They adhered to Sola Scriptura.
Though the modern-day scoffers will surely say otherwise, they have ceased allowing God’s Word to be their sole light when it comes biblical prophecy.
It’s been the casting aside of sola Scriptura as well as the principle of Scripture interprets Scripture that has directly led to the reemergence of amillennialism and the rejection of teaching related to the Rapture.
Rather than allow God’s Word to illumine their way, they have lit their own fires and allowed their own light to guide them.
What are the dangers of interpreting Bible prophecy with one’s own light?
1. An Unwillingness to Interpret Scripture by the Light it Provides
In Isaiah 50:10-11, we find these insightful words:
“Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God. Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled! This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment.”
I recognize that the context of Isaiah 50 refers to those who dismiss the Lord and all of His ways. Rather than trust the Lord and walk by the light of His revealed Word, including what came through the prophets of their day, the ancient Israelites used the light of their own fires, or torches, to illuminate their paths.
However, I believe we can apply the words of this text to those who dismiss the words of Scripture regarding the future restoration of Israel and Jesus’ imminent appearing.
When it comes to Bible prophecy, many pastors and teachers disregard the original intent of authors at the time God inspired them. Instead, they light “the torch” of human wisdom and allow that to illuminate their way through the prophetic texts.
Over the past several decades, I have heard or read all kinds of arguments as to why people resort to their own fires when interpreting the prophetic texts of God’s Word.
They have three things in common:
- They submit Bible passages regarding the end times to human wisdom for a wide variety of reasons.
- They most often employ an allegorical, or symbolical, approach to biblical prophecy that enables them to justify their own understanding of how God should wrap things up at the end of the age. They tell you that the words on the page of the biblical text do not really mean what they seem to tell us.
- Pride in their personal paradigm of reinterpreting prophecy keeps them from submitting their ideas to the words of Scripture.
Those who light their own way through the prophetic texts of the Bible exhibit an unwillingness to interpret Scripture by the light it provides.
I have reached the conclusion that the lit torch of allegorical interpretation is the only way that one can arrive at the destination of amillennialism because it retrofits the words of scriptural prophecy with meanings foreign to the authors at the time they wrote.
2. The Allowing of Allegory to Trump the Clear Meaning of Words
The meaning of the words of Scripture matter greatly when we look at the promises regarding our salvation and hope of eternal life in heaven. Why shouldn’t that be the same for the prophetic texts of the Bible?
After I graduated from Talbot Theological Seminary in 1978, I worked as a language specialist for the Lockman Foundation on their New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. For an entire year, I worked with the Hebrew and Aramaic text of the Old Testament, identifying which words in the original matched up with their English counterpart in the concordance. I also worked with the Greek text of the New Testament toward the end of my time with the Foundation.
Spending eight hours a day for a year in original text of the Old Testament gave me a deep appreciation and love for the words that God inspired its human authors to use.
Over the years, I have forgotten a lot about the Hebrew language, but the beauty of how the Lord put together all the words of Scripture has remained with me. In this way, my experience at the Lockman Foundation safeguarded me against accepting allegorical interpretations of prophecy.
I cannot look at the words that God inspired and say they have different meanings than what I see on the page. I cannot accept allegorical interpretations.
The words of Scripture do matter. When God says that His covenant of Land with the Patriarchs is an “everlasting covenant” (Psalm 105:8-11), you can be confident that promise doesn’t have an end date. It’s still in effect today! The land belongs to the descendants of Jacob, and someday they will fully possess all the territory that God promised to them. Count on it.
When the Lord says that the Messiah will someday sit on the “throne of David” (Isaiah 9:6-7; Luke 1:32), you can take those words to the bank. Jesus will most certainly rule for a thousand years over the nations of the world seated on the “throne of David” in Jerusalem. Don’t let anyone mislead you in regard to Christ’s future millennial reign.
The New Testament affirms that the Lord’s inspiration of prophecy applies to the very words of the text. Notice the words of the apostle in 2 Peter 1:20-21:
“…knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
Just as the prophets of old did not speak from their own understanding, in the same manner we must not apply our own private “interpretations” to what they wrote; we must let the words speak for themselves. We dare not light the fires of our own human understanding but trust the path that the Lord illuminates.
The Greek word for “spoke” in verse 21 is laleo. According to Trench in his book Synonyms of the New Testament, the “prominent notion” of this verb is “the fact of uttering articulated speech… it is the words uttered, and that these correspond to reasonable thoughts…” [[i]] Biblical prophets, in both the Old and New Testament, expressed objective truths in words as God moved them through the Holy Spirit (see 2 Tim. 3:16; Proverbs 2:6). They did not speak in riddles or symbols that only the wise among us can discern with their lit torches; no, they spoke God-breathed words that communicated empirical facts regarding the future.
The Lord’s instructions to Jeremiah confirm this emphasis on the place of words in conveying clear and objective realities:
“Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth'” (Jer. 1:9). (My emphasis)
We also see the importance of words in Proverbs 8:8-9, which exalts the words of the Lord who is the personification of wisdom:
“All the words of my mouth are with righteousness; Nothing crooked or perverse is in them. They are all plain to him who understands, And right to those who find knowledge.” (My emphasis)
Trust the words that you see on the pages of God’s Word. Do not allow those who walk through its prophetic texts with their own fires tell you that the words you see on the page do not communicate what they appear to mean. Do not allow allegorical interpretations to trump the clear meaning of words on the pages of the Bible.
3. Biblical Truth Becomes Subject to the Light that Others Bring to the Text
Those who walk by the fires that they themselves kindle function as arbiters, or judges, of what’s allegory and what’s literal. In other words, the words in the prophetic sections of God’s Word become subject to the light that these torchbearers bring to the text.
In Revelation 20, for example, the amillennialists tell us that verses 1-10 are allegory — that there is no literal thousand-year reign of Jesus before the eternal state.
But what about the verses that follow? Does that also mean that the “white throne” judgment in verses 11-15 is also symbolical and not real? What about the precious promises of 21:4?
What about the New Jerusalem that the apostle John wrote about in Revelation 21?
Do you see the problem? Once someone begins dividing Scripture on the basis of what’s allegory and what’s literal, it becomes a task based solely on human wisdom, the torch in the interpreter’s hand.
The end result is that biblical truth regarding the future becomes subject to the whims of the light that the torchbearers bring to the text. They do not let God’s Word speak for itself, nor do they allow the clear words of other passages to shine upon their misguided interpretations.
Follow the Lamp of God’s Word
Please, please let God’s Word speak for itself rather than rely upon human wisdom to reinterpret its meanings. Follow the lamp of God’s Word as we read in Psalm 119:105:
“Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.”
There’s no better light than God’s Word for what lies ahead in this troubled world during these perilous times. There’s great comfort and tremendous encouragement in knowing that we can jump to our feet and loudly sing, “I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E.”
Colossians 3:4 says, “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”
When Jesus appears, we will “appear with Him in glory.” We do not stay on earth; we will go to be where He’s at in heaven just as He promised us in John 14:2-3. Our destination at the time of the Rapture is heaven, or glory. It’s as simple as taking the Lord at His Word and believing His promises.
Trust the words of Scripture, not the human wisdom of torchbearers seeking to lead you astray from your hope in Jesus’ imminent appearing.
My book, The Triumph of the Redeemed-An eternal Perspective that Calms Our Fears in Perilous Times, is available on Amazon. In this book, I show how the words of Scripture lead us to beliefs in Jesus’ imminent appearing and in a future gloriously restored Israel.
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[[i]] Richard C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), p. 287).