About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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Principles Of Prophecy


For many of us, our approach to understanding anything is somewhat scatter-brained.  It's not a step by step, systematic, endeavor.  We start our search for understanding at one point, jump forward to another point, and back to yet another point, and on it goes.  When it comes to studying Biblical prophecy, it's like we're playing Biblical hop-scotch.  We're all over the map, and we wonder why we don't understand, or, we think we understand when we don't.


Imagine yourself knowing nothing about mathematics.  You're eager to learn so you search far and wide for every and any math book available.  You open a grade 12 math text.  You read a grade 6 text.  You attempt to read a university book on technical aspects of calculus.  You're so eager to learn that you take any book that crosses your path.  In frustration you head to the book store hoping to find "Math For Dummy's" on the shelf.


Many of us take this same approach to studying Biblical issues, including prophecy.  We jump right into the book of Revelation, thinking the last book in the Bible should be the first we study.  After getting bogged down in the imagery of Revelation, we head on over to Matthew 24, hoping what Jesus said will be easier to understand.  That leads us to Luke's version of Matthew 24, found in Luke 21.  The "abomination of desolation" mentioned by Jesus sends us to Daniel's prophecies.  That gets us thinking about the anti-Christ and so we skip over to 2 Thessalonians 2 to see what Paul says.  We wonder about war so there's no way to avoid Ezekiel 38 and 39 and the "Gog of Magog" war.  In the process of our Biblical gymnastics, certain words catch our attention so we turn to our concordance to do word studies.  Our word studies lead to a hand full of other verses.  Soon we're off to our local Christian book store to replace the Bible we've just worn out.


Jumping from verse to verse does have some merit.  Word studies have there place as long as they're balanced with a systematic, verse by verse, study of the whole Bible that begins in Genesis. 


As with anything, the best way to understand an issue is to start at the beginning and step by step work our way through to the end.  As in math, we don't start with analytical calculus solutions.  We start at grade 1 math.  One plus one is two.  Sooner, and for sure later, we eventually work our way to university level math, but even then, we've got questions.  It can be a slow painful  process, and slow isn't in style these days, but taking the time to work our way from the beginning will help us understand what's at the end.  So we start with Genesis 1:1; "in the beginning "   This systematic approach, and I'm sorry to say must include the books of the Law, is fundamental in understanding prophecy. 


As soon as we hit Genesis 3 we'll see the words "I will", as in , "I will do this now and I will do that in the future".  Our search for prophetic truth begins.  The roots of Biblical prophecy are found in its historical setting, right in the first few chapters of the Bible. 


Hermeneutics, that's how we interpret the Bible, is especially important in understanding prophecy.  One hermeneutical principle is this.  We must understand what God foretold in the same way in which the one to whom  the prophecy was originally spoken. For example, in Genesis 12:2 God told Abraham that He would make him into a great nation.  We must understand this prophetic promise as Abraham understood it.  I'm sure Abraham figured that his descendents, who later became Israel, would be that great nation.  We must place ourselves in Abraham's sandals and think as he thought.  By the way, I don't believe the apostle Paul understood this promise any differently than Abraham, despite what some teach.  Failure to understand this hermeneutical principle, especially its application with this particular prophetic promise, will effect everything we believe about prophetic history from Genesis 12 onward. 


Biblical prophecy is intertwined with history, so along the way we have to brush up on our history.  We must understand the setting in which the prophecy was first spoken, to whom it was spoken, to whom its fulfillment  was originally directed, and, if it has been already been fulfilled or will yet be fulfilled.  For example, countless times throughout the Old Testament God says that He will restore Israel from her fallen existence.  With the above hermeneutical principle in mind, we must understand Israel to be Israel and no one else because that's how those Israelis who first heard these prophecies would have understood them. That being established, we ask, "has Israel ever been restored in the exact way God promised"?  We search the historical records to find our answer.  For the record, I don't believe Israel has ever been restored to the exact specifications God promised.  This makes the restoration of Israel a future event.


Biblical prophecy is one huge subject.  What I've said is basic; more can be, and should be said.  Many of us just don't follow the basic principles of study.  Biblical issues, including prophecy, takes hours, days, months, and even years to understand.  We begin our journey at Genesis 1:1.  Word by word, phrase by phrase, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, and book by book, we study our way to the end. 


I don't consider myself a prophecy expert, even though my study has taken 40 years to date.  What slowed the process down for me over the years was a failure to do this systematic approach to my study.  Once adopting this approach, things have become much clearer for me, and I'm sure you'd find the same to be true.  



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