Thursday, January 24, 2013

Keys to the Interpretation of Prophecy: Context

Dr. David R. ReaganBy

Another key to understanding prophecy is one that applies to the interpretation of all Scripture. It is the principle that the meaning of words is determined by their context.

I ran across a good example of this problem recently in a book in which the author was trying to prove that Jesus is never coming back to reign upon this earth. Such a position, of course, required him to spiritualize Revelation chapter 20 where it says six times that there will be a reign of the Lord that will last one thousand years.

In this author's desperate attempt to explain away the thousand years, he referred to Psalm 50:10 where it says that God owns "the cattle on a thousand hills." He then asked, "Are there only one thousand hills in the world?" He answered his question, "Of course not!" He then proceeded to explain that the term is used figuratively. But then he made a quantum leap in logic by proclaiming, "therefore, the term, 'one thousand,' is always used symbolically."

Not so. It depends on context. In Psalm 50 the term is clearly symbolic. But in Revelation 20, it is not so. Again, the thousand years is mentioned six times. What would the Lord have to do to convince us that He means a thousand years? Put it in the sky in neon lights? Pay attention to context!

Reconciling Passages

An additional key to understanding prophecy is one that applies to all Scripture. It is the principle of searching out everything that the Bible has to say on a particular point.

Avoid hanging a doctrine on one isolated verse. All verses on a particular topic must be searched out, compared, and then reconciled.

Let me give you a prophetic example. Second Peter 3:10 says that when the Lord returns, "the heavens will pass away with a roar... and the earth and its works will be burned up." Now, if this were the only verse in the Bible about the Second Coming, we could confidently conclude that the heavens and earth will be burned up on the day that Jesus returns.

But, there are many other verses in both the Old and New Testaments, which make it abundantly clear that the Lord will reign over all the earth before it is consumed with fire. Those verses must be considered together with the passage in 2 Peter 3 in order to get the correct overall view.

In the fourth and final part of this series on the keys to interpreting Bible prophecy, we'll look at how to deal with special problems related to prophetic interpretation.

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