Friday, January 25, 2013

Keys to the Interpretation of Prophecy: Special Problems

Dr. David R. ReaganBy

There are some special problems related to prophetic interpretation. One is that prophecy is often prefilled in symbolic type before it is completely fulfilled.

In this regard, I feel certain that the Jewish people must have felt that Antiochus Epiphanes fulfilled Daniel's prophecies about a tyrannical leader who would severely persecute the Jews. But 200 years after Antiochus, Jesus took those prophecies of Daniel and told His disciples they were yet to be fulfilled.

Another example is the sign which Isaiah gave to King Ahaz to assure him that the city of Jerusalem would not fall to the Syrians who had it under siege. The sign was that a young woman would give birth to a son whose name would be called Immanuel (Isaiah 7:1-19). The passage certainly implies that such a boy was born at that time.

But hundreds of years later, Matthew, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, reached back to Isaiah's prophecy and proclaimed that its ultimate fulfillment was to be found in the virgin birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:22-23).

Compressed Time

Another peculiar feature of prophetic literature is called "telescoping." This occurs when a prophet compresses the time interval between two prophetic events. This phenomenon is very common.

The reason for it has to do with the perspective of the prophet. As he looks into the future and sees a series of prophetic events, they appear to him as if they are in immediate sequence.

It is like looking down a mountain range and viewing three peaks, one behind the other, each sequentially higher than the one in front of it. The peaks look like they are right up against each other because the person viewing them cannot see the valleys that separate them.

In Zechariah 9:9-10 there is a passage with three prophecies which are compressed into two verses but are widely separated in time. Verse 9 says the Messiah will come humbly on a donkey. The first part of verse 10 says the Jewish people will be set aside. The second part of verse 10 says the Messiah will reign over all the nations.

These three events — the First Coming, the setting aside of Israel, and the reign of Christ — appear to occur in quick succession, but in reality, there were 40 years between the first two events, and there have been over 1,900 years thus far between the second and third events.

Another way of viewing the phenomenon of telescoping is to focus on what are called "prophetic gaps." These are the time periods between the mountain peak prophetic events.

Because the Old Testament rabbis could not see the gap between the first and second comings of the Messiah, some theorized that there would be two Messiahs — a "Messiah ben Joseph" who would suffer and a "Messiah ben David" who would conquer. From our New Testament perspective we can see that the Old Testament prophets were speaking of one Messiah who would come twice. We can see the gap between the two comings.

A Challenge

I ask you: How do you treat Zechariah 14 — as fact or fiction? Are you guilty of playing games with God's Word in order to justify sacred traditions and doctrines of men?

I challenge you to interpret God's Word — all of it — for its plain sense meaning. As you do so, you are very likely to find yourself challenged to discard old doctrines and to adopt new ones. This will be a painful process, but it will be a fruitful one, for you will be blessed with the truth of God's Word.

"If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31-32).

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