When I was about 12 years old, I stumbled across Zechariah 14. It was an amazing discovery. You see, I grew up in a church where we were told over and over that "there is not one verse in the Bible that even implies that Jesus will ever set His feet on this earth again."
Well, Zechariah 14 not only implies that the Lord is coming back to this earth again, it says so point-blank! It says that the Lord will return to this earth at a time when the Jews are back in the land of Israel and their capital city, Jerusalem, is under siege. Just as the city is about to fall, the Lord will return to the Mount of Olives.
When His feet touch the ground, the mount will split in half. The remnant of Jews left in the city will take refuge in the cleavage of the mountain. The Lord will then speak a supernatural word, and the armies surrounding Jerusalem will be destroyed in an instant.
Verse 9 declares that on that day "the Lord will be king over all the earth."
When I first discovered this passage, I took it to my minister and asked him what it meant. I will never forget his response. He thought for a moment, and then He said, "Son I don't know what it means, but I'll guarantee you one thing: it doesn't mean what it says!"
For years after that, I would show Zechariah 14 to every visiting evangelist who came preaching that Jesus would never return to this earth. I always received the same response: "It doesn't mean what it says." I couldn't buy that answer.
Finally, I ran across a minister who was a seminary graduate, and he gave me the answer I could live with. "Nothing in Zechariah means what it says," he explained, "because the whole book is apocalyptic."
Now, I didn't have the slightest idea what "apocalyptic" meant. I didn't know if it was a disease or a philosophy. But it sounded sophisticated, and, after all, the fellow was a seminary graduate, so he should know.
A Discovery Experience
When I began to preach, I parroted what I had heard from the pulpit all my life. When I spoke on prophecy, I would always make the point that Jesus will never return to this earth. Occasionally, people would come up after the sermon and ask, "What about Zechariah 14?" I would snap back at them with one word: "APOCALYPTIC!" They would usually run for the door in fright. They didn't know what I was talking about (and neither did I).
Then one day I sat down and read the whole book of Zechariah. And guess what? My entire argument went down the drain!
I discovered that the book contains many prophecies about the First Coming of Jesus, and I discovered that all those prophecies meant what they said. It suddenly occurred to me that if Zechariah's First Coming prophecies meant what they said, then why shouldn't his Second Coming promises mean what they say?
The Plain Sense Rule
That was the day that I stopped playing games with God's Prophetic Word. I started accepting it for its plain sense meaning. I decided that:
"if the plain sense makes sense, I would look for no other sense, lest I end up with nonsense."
A good example of the nonsense approach is one I found several years ago in a book on the Millennium. The author spiritualized all of Zechariah 14. He argued that the Mount of Olives is symbolic of the human heart surrounded by evil. When a person accepts Jesus as Savior, Jesus comes into the person's life and stands on his "Mount of Olives" (his heart). The person's heart breaks in contrition (the cleaving of the mountain), and Jesus then defeats the enemy forces in the person's life.
Hard to believe, isn't it? When people insist on spiritualizing the Scriptures like this, the Scriptures end up meaning whatever they want them to mean.
In the second part of this series on the keys to interpreting Bible prophecy, we'll look at how to interpret symbols.