What thoughts are conjured up in your mind when you think about the end of the world? Maybe you start to think about a crazy old man standing in the middle of a busy street corner with a sign that reads “repent for the end is near!” Or perhaps your mind entertains an action-packed scene from the film ‘Independence Day’ in which aliens are threatening to take over the world and humanity is left defending for its survival.
Recently I have observed a tremendous amount of propaganda being spread on the web and on various media platforms regarding things like the identity of the antichrist, the mark of the beast, the coming apocalypse, signs pointing to the end times, aliens and the list goes on. I am a Christian but I must confess, I think Christians on these platforms do more damage to the Gospel and spreading God’s Word than they do good at the end of the day. I am part of a Bible and Theology group on social media which is made up of other Christians. Overall there is good banter and discussion that leads to encouragement in the faith, but I have also realized how divisive the topic of end times can be. Yet what is more alarming to me is how quickly Christians are persuaded by the latest current events predicting the end of the world and how the Bible is quoted to support and justify their position. This is called ‘newspaper exegesis’ and leads to all sorts of speculations, false suppositions, and ultimately incorrect conclusions which leave people more uniformed and confused than when they began. These Christians can have enough knowledge of the Bible to be armed and dangerous because they think that they know what the Bible has to say about the end times but in reality they are speaking out of ignorance. Now ignorance is not a condescending term like calling someone ‘stupid’, but rather denotes the fact that someone does not have a good grasp of all the facts. Friends the Bible has much to say about the future or end times but, in order to understand it correctly we must be willing to humble ourselves by setting aside our presuppositions and to interpret current events through the lenses of Scripture. This is called ‘Biblical exegesis’.
I do not claim to have a corner on the truth when it comes to the study of eschatology (end times). There are many things that I still need to learn and ‘blind spots’ that I need to discover. Yet I do believe that it is possible to understand God’s Word correctly. Why would He give it to us if we could not understand it in the first place? God communicates to us through language and that’s precisely how God has revealed Himself and His plans regarding future events. So with that said here are four useful rules for interpreting prophetic passages of Scripture. These are rules that I learnt from one of my favourite Bible teachers, Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum. I hope that they will serve you well.
- The Golden Rule of interpretation– This rule states that when the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at face value (literally), unless the immediate context indicates clearly otherwise.
- The law of double reference– This law states that a passage of Scripture can speak about two different events or two different persons and be separated by a long period of time. Many passages of Scripture follow this principle. Take a look at Zechariah 9:9-10 and Isaiah 11:1-5. These two passages speak about two comings but are blended into one picture with no indication that there is a separation of time between them.
- The law of recurrence– This law states that a portion of Scripture that chronologically follows a block of Scripture can explain or interpret that portion of Scripture by giving further details as to what transpires in the course of the event. Take the book of Revelation as an example. Chapters 6-16 detail the chronological sequence of the events of the tribulation. Then chapters 17-18 follow the law of recurrence. Chapter 17 provides more detail about the first half of the Tribulation and chapter 18 about the second half.
- The Law of context– This law states that a verse can only mean what it means in its context. Otherwise we are left with a pretext. The saying ‘you can prove anything by the Bible’ is only true if this law is violated.