If you want to freak me out, ask me to explain a Biblical prophecy. Or -- ask me to sprint down a road we both know is full of buried, hidden land mines... either way, I'll feel about equally as happy. Which is why, of course, one of the guys in our weekly Bible study asked that we spend our time exploring the book of Revelation, one chapter at a time. God help me.
In the process of preparing for mere survival during this Bible study I began reviewing old binders full of seminary notes, my favorite commentaries, and listening to recommended speakers/ authorities online -- and it has been an incredibly enriching experience already. No, I'd go further and call it an 'invaluable' experience. Why? Well, mainly because it seems that, more and more, the prophetic books of the Bible are getting a great deal of attention. Books, movies, you name it -- there is an increasing awareness in these days that the 'end times' may be just around the corner... and with that awareness have come questions, many questions. Who is the antiChrist? When will Jesus come back for HIs Church? When will all the bad stuff happen, and will Christians be around for that part? Inquiring minds want to know.
For these reasons, I want to branch out beyond the context of our men's Bible study for a moment to pass on some tools to any of you who may be asking some of these same questions. Below are two quick but indispensable "Principles of Prophecy" that should always guide you when at play in books like Daniel and Revelation according to John chapter 13:19 (and according to the indomitable Dr. Walter Kaiser) - " I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He."
1) History is the final interpreter of Prophecy (...so that when it comes to pass you will know) Be very, very, very, very careful, beware, may your 'Spidey senses' tingle, may crimson red flags wave furiously an inch from your face whenever or if ever someone tells you they know for sure the meaning of a prophecy that has not yet been fulfilled. We are told to study, we are permitted to make educated guesses, we're instructed to meditate -- meditation (deep, prayerful thinking) on any part of God's Word will bless you -- but we are never to claim final authority on the meaning of unfulfilled prophecy. "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Deut. 29:29). 'The things which are revealed' belong to us -- and it is history, it is prophecy fulfilled that is the final revealer -- which leads to principle #2.
2) The primary function of fulfilled prophecy is to highlight Jesus Christ -- not the rightness of our charts, not the accuracy of our predictions, but rather the rightness, accuracy and identity of Jesus, so that it's Jesus who gets the glory and the recognition when what has been foretold finally takes place ("...that I am He"). The primary function of prophecy is not to help us become modern clairvoyants; it is to prompt us to keep our eyes on Jesus and to more clearly reveal who He is. Prophecy is a tool to help us "watch and pray," so that we are ready for Him when He comes.
There is nothing wrong with picking a view or holding to theories about the interpretation of prophecy that makes sense to you, but hold to them loosely -- and to Jesus tightly.