What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
The principle of duality is an element of prophecy we have to be very careful about when attempting to interpret. Prophetic statements sometimes apply to more than one fulfillment; dual applications do exist. But at the same time, it can be a lure, trapping us into a wrong interpretation because God never intended every prophecy to have dual applications.
A prime example of duality is Christ's first coming to atone for our sins and His second coming to rule as King of Kings. Another clear dual application is Jesus' Olivet prophecy given in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Many of the conditions He predicts to befall Judea shortly after His ascension into heaven are also forming for a repeat performance in our day. Often, we will read of "the day of the Lord" and perceive that it was fulfilled anciently. Then a few verses later, the "day of the Lord" will appear in a setting that could not possibly exist anciently but does now.
Hosea 11:1-12 is a prophecy made against ancient Israel, which was headed by the tribe of Ephraim. It too has modern relevance to Israel, but its application is complex, requiring that we believe that biblical Israel—the ten northern tribes—still exists as modern nations. How far can we take its ancient application into our day or to a time yet future? Verse 1 appears in Matthew 2:15, applied to Christ, because Joseph, Mary, and Jesus had to flee to Egypt to escape Herod's persecution against them. When that was safely over, God brought them back to Palestine. This prophecy was fulfilled twice before the first century AD began! Is there yet another?
Hosea wrote this prophecy about forty years before Israel went into captivity to Assyria. Since part of it has already been used in reference to Jesus, how much of it applies to modern Israel? All, just another verse or two, or most that remains? Is Assyria truly modern Germany, as some believe? Will it fulfill exactly the same role a second time? The research of some within the church of God leads them to believe Germany is actually a part of the ten lost tribes of Israel! We can see how risky it is to make assumptions and leap to conclusions. One must be careful when using duality as a base.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prophecy and the Sixth-Century Axial Period
All of us desire to know the future so we can be prepared for it. We want to be in control of our destinies and not at the mercy of events. However, some have this desire so strongly that they set themselves up as channels through which the future is revealed.
Such people have misled many. Deuteronomy 18, along with chapter 13, warns against such people. Whether they are called diviners, charmers, spiritists, or channelers, using methods like reading tea leaves, casting lots, or conducting séances, they are to be seriously and carefully avoided because there is no godly reality to their prognostications. Those seeking to know are being misguided, putting themselves at the mercy of lying demons, or at the very least, imaginative men and women.
At other times, simply following a church tradition regarding a prophecy can also mislead a person. This occurs because someone in the past, sincerely believing he understood a particular prophecy, began preaching his belief, and many in his audience then believed without the resources to prove the interpretation wrong. Due to frequent repetition, it came to be accepted as truth.
It is important for us to understand that prophets were not merely temporary and occasional expedients God would turn to. They played a vital and continuing role in Israel, especially in those times before the Word of God was widely distributed. This is why God makes provision for them within the law. He shows in many places that those He appoints to the prophetic office will always preach the keeping of the commandments of God as evidence of the Source of their inspiration. They will teach the conservation of past truths even as they break new doctrinal ground.
They both forthtell - that is, proclaim a message truthfully, clearly, and authoritatively to those for whom it is intended - and they will on occasion, but not always, foretell - that is, predict events before they take place.
It is misleading to believe these verses in Deuteronomy 18 apply only to Christ. His is undoubtedly their ultimate application, but the promise and description applies to all true, God-ordained prophets. Notice some of the identifiers in these verses:
1. God established the foundational pattern for the prophetic office in Moses ("like me").
2. God will raise a prophet up from among the Israelitish people. Later biblical sources show he might be drawn and appointed from any of the tribes and from any occupation. In other words, he did not have to be a Levite.
3. He will perform the function of a mediator between God and men (verses 16-18).
4. He will stand apart from the system already installed. He will not be antagonistic to the system, but he may be very antagonistic to the sins of those within the system, especially the leadership.
5. God will directly appoint and separate him for his office. Thus, the thrust of his service as God's representative is direct and authoritative. By contrast, the priest's function flowed from man to God by means of sacrifice - far less direct and more appealing and pleading than demanding. The New Testament ministry combines elements of both, but parallels the prophet's function more than the priest's.
Simply and broadly, a prophet is one who is given a message by another of greater authority and speaks for him to those for whom the message is intended. Thus, Moses was God's prophet, but Aaron was Moses' prophet.
Without a doubt, when we hear the word "prophet," we immediately think of the Old Testament. This is a natural reaction because that is where most of them appear in the Bible. Our memory instantaneously brings forth names like Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and David - all great men. However, without a doubt, the two greatest prophets of all time appear in the New Testament: John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. John the Baptist is the last and greatest under the Old Covenant, and Jesus Christ is the first and greatest of the New.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Elijah and John the Baptist
1 Samuel 3:1
Precious (KJV) is used in the sense of "rare." Rare things are usually precious or valuable.
The sense of this is that the priesthood at that time spoke without inspiration; there was "no open vision." Their messages carried no moral authority because God was not with them. Obviously, Eli was not a very good priest, and his sons were even worse. They did not make the truth open or clear to the people; they were not hearing the inspired Word of God. The people were no longer positively affected by the ceremonies being performed by a decadent priesthood, so through Samuel, God raised up a new moral power to correct the situation.
There does not seem to be a systemized process of succession from one prophet to another. Each prophet received his office directly from God by appointment. This is another distinction between a true prophet of God and a priest, even if a priest speaks under the inspiration of God. A prophet was directly appointed by God, whereas a priest received his office simply because he was a descendant of Aaron.
The classic prophet was a man who preached the way of God to the Israelites yet tended to be outside the established system. This becomes clear from Samuel on.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prophets and Prophecy (Part 1)
These four verses are not only prophecy, but they are also poetry. A poet can take a bit of license, especially with form. Hebrew poets (and angelic ones) are no different, and one of their favorite devices was contrast. They would take subject A and contrast it with subject B, as in Proverbs 15:18: "A wrathful man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger allays contention."
Gabriel does the same with this prophecy. It is composed of two similar contrasts that we will label A1/B1/A2/B2. Verses 25-26a = A1. Verse 26b = B1. Verse 27a = A2. Verse 27b = B2. The verses below are formatted this way to help in understanding the prophecy. This is very important because if it is not heeded, one will credit Antichrist with things that should be credited to the true Messiah.
Introduction: 24 Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy.
A1: 25 Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times. 26a And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself;
B1: 26b and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood, and till the end of the war desolations are determined.
A2: 27a Then He shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; but in the middle of the week He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering.
B2: 27b And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, even until the consummation, which is determined, is poured out on the desolate.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'Seventy Weeks Are Determined...'
Students of Bible prophecy have often wondered about the role of the "king of the South" in the end time. Daniel 11 describes the back-and-forth fighting and intrigue between the Seleucid Empire based in Syria—the king of the North—and the Ptolemaic Empire of Egypt—the king of the South. Obviously, during the time of their conflict, these nations were north and south of Jerusalem, respectively, and their battlegrounds were often in the land of Israel.
Neither of these two empires exists any longer. However, verse 40 speaks of "the time of the end," meaning the period just before the return of Jesus Christ. Which nations, then, are the kings of the North and the South?
Because the Roman Empire swallowed up both of the older empires, it could at one time have been said to be both. However, Diocletian split the Roman Empire into Eastern and Western halves in AD 284, and in 324, Constantine established the eastern capital at Byzantium, renamed Constantinople (now Istanbul). The Western Empire fell in 476, to be succeeded down the centuries by several resurrections of a Holy Roman Empire.
The Eastern Empire, however, proved more enduring, lasting until 1453 when the Turks under Mahmed II took the weak and tired city of Constantinople after a 53-day siege. Once again, there were rival kings of North and South, though this event merely formalized an ongoing struggle between Christian Europe and Muslim Middle East. This situation remains intact today: Even now, we are witnessing the bitter and violent conflict between the Western and Islamic civilizations.
Notice in verse 40 that the king of the North invades and conquers "countries," suggesting that the king of the South is composed of several nations, much like the modern Middle East.
The King James Version uses "push at him" instead of "attack him," and this is to be preferred, as the Hebrew verb means "to thrust." It could be a military attack, but it could equally be an economic, religious, or cultural assault. Whatever it is, the king of the North reacts to it swiftly and forcefully.
We should also note verses 41-42. In them, God directs our attention to the area targeted by the king of the North: "the Glorious Land"—the land of Israel—Edom, Moab, Ammon (all three part of modern Jordan), and Egypt. It is clear that, if this prophecy speaks of our day, the king of the South is represented by the Arab peoples of the Middle East.
Could we be seeing this prophecy beginning to come to pass? Perhaps the waves of predominantly Muslim immigrants into Europe have woken the emerging colossus of the North to some of the troubles the clash of cultures can cause. If these problems should be combined with terrorist attacks on European soil of the magnitude of the September 11 bombings, an armed response would seem to be unavoidable.
However, the leader, the person who is the king of the North, is still lacking. No strong man has stood up in Europe to take the lead in solving some of these problems. The stage, though, is being set for such a ruler to galvanize both the leadership and citizenry of Europe to unite to fight against the enemies of their civilization (see Revelation 17:9-14).
Though it is probably not the catalyst, Europe's immigration woes could provide some of the fuel for the coming conflagration. This is an area on which Christians should keep a watchful eye (Mark 13:32-37).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Clash of Cultures
The phrase "knowledge will be increased" is a direct reference to the prophecy itself; that is, knowledge of the prophecy will be increased. Many would seek to understand it between Daniel's time and its fulfillment, but its message must be revealed. However, its revelation will not occur until the people of God need to understand it for their well-being and God's glory. What are the chances it will be revealed in its fullness to any of us? My guess is: extremely small!
Not only must its message be revealed, but it will also not be revealed until the time comes that God is good and ready. God adds in verse 10 that only "the wise shall understand." The "wise" are described elsewhere as those who keep the commandments of God (Hosea 14:9).
Moses writes in Deuteronomy 29:29, "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." God, for His purposes, chooses to keep certain things to Himself. On the other hand, He reveals a great deal about Himself in nature, revelation that is available to anyone.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beast and Babylon (Part Three): Who Is the Woman?
Just a few verses later, He tells His disciples, "Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect" (verse 44, emphasis ours throughout). This is a massive hint that our understanding of biblical prophecy—as much as it has expanded over the last few decades—will still not be enough to remove the element of surprise from Christ's return!
Paul also warns us in I Corinthians 13:9, 12, "For we know in part and we prophesy in part. . . . For now we see in a mirror, dimly." This principle suggests that we will not know for certain how things will work out as the end approaches. We understand in part, meaning we have a vague-to-rough idea of the course of events because of our insight into God's plan, but we cannot honestly be dogmatic about any speculative scenarios we devise. Every interpretation of end-time biblical prophecy should be accompanied with a proviso such as, "This is how things seem to be headed from what we understand right now."
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Christ relates the Parable of the Fig Tree (verses 29-33) to give instruction regarding His warnings in the previous verses. The "these things" in verse 31 refers to the question asked in verse 7 and Jesus' subsequent answer in verses 8-28. "These things" are the events foretold to happen as the end nears. In the parable, Christ provides the perspective we should have as we anticipate the unfolding of the previously described events.
What owner of a fig tree would spend hours each day scrutinizing his tree to see if it was budding? Would he make the fig tree the focal point of his day? Of course, no one would. An owner of a fig tree would be aware of its location, its level of health, and its progression through the annual cycle of growth, but these matters would not require his all-consuming effort.
The parable, then, shows us that we should be aware of prophecy, we should keep an eye on what is happening in the world, but it does not require—and we should not allow it to become—our primary focus. In the fig-tree analogy, Jesus illustrates for us the balanced view we should have toward prophecy. We must be aware of what is taking place, but we need not be over-attentive.
Some make the mistake—a spiritually dangerous mistake—of ignoring the lesson of this parable by making prophecy a major or even sole focus that distracts them from their primary spiritual responsibilities. It is easier to focus on prophecy and world events than it is to give the same scrutiny to the evils lurking in our corrupt human nature (Jeremiah 17:9). In Luke 21, Christ definitely does not overlook the latter, as we see in verses 34-35:
But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.
With the opening "But" in verse 34, Christ's message takes a definite turn. He is still talking about preparing us for the end of the age, but He shifts from the external events of verses 7-33 to the internal: "take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts. . . ." He is no longer talking about world events, the physical and external, but our "hearts," the spiritual and internal. He gives a warning to those who are not spiritually aware and focused—those who are distracted. They will be caught completely off guard—"that Day come[s on them] unexpectedly"—because their hearts are misdirected.
Verse 35 re-emphasizes that the end will be a surprise to some people, one that Christ compares to a bird snared or trapped. Why? Verse 34 supplies the reason: They are burdened by the "cares of this life," not focused on what counts. They are looking in the wrong direction, and the trap springs on them without warning. Rather than overcoming the world (I John 5:4), as Laodiceans, they are being absorbed by it (Revelation 3:14-22).
Between verses 8-33 and verses 34-35 of Luke 21, we can also see a contrast in the awareness levels we need to have regarding the physical versus the spiritual. For the physical, we are to be aware but not over-attentive. For the spiritual, however, Christ raises the level of vigilance: "Take heed to yourselves," or be on guard! He exhorts us to be in a high state of spiritual alertness.
Praying Always (Part One)
The phrase “in spirit and truth” describes our approach and service to God as being completely sincere and completely real. The reality or truth that our worship must be based on is, of course, God's Word. If an idea or belief does not square with what God reveals in Scripture, it should not enter our understanding of God's way, His purpose, and His plan. This includes our understanding of prophecy—and especially that of Christ's return.
Yet, church members still fall for strange and extreme speculations from prophecy enthusiasts and conspiracy theorists about “the end of the world.” These theories are not founded on biblical truth but on the imaginations and reasonings of men. Our source of prophetic vision has a higher origin. As Isaiah 8:20 says, “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Believing outlandish theories is like clutching at straws.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The End Is Not Yet
He may have been talking to His disciples directly—and not to the crowds—when He said this. It was not until after Jesus died, was buried, and was resurrected that His disciples first believed—really believed! Later on, Peter and John ran pell-mell to the grave where Jesus had been interred. Peter goes in. He looks and sees everything there—except Jesus. John peers in the doorway, and the gospel says, "And then this disciple believed." John was the first to believe. It took seeing the grave clothes in the sepulchre and no body of Jesus Christ in sight for him to finally get it. That act fulfills this little prophecy of Jesus': "Then you will know."
What momentous events they had just experienced—and they did not understand and believe. They did not really believe when He came into Jerusalem and was lauded by all the people, exactly fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah (Matthew 21:1-5; Zechariah 9:9). They did not see it when He gave the Last Supper, changing the symbols. They did not recognize it when one of their own betrayed Him with a kiss. He even gave the sop directly to Judas after John had asked Him, "Which one of these is it going to be?" He saw it go from Jesus' hand to Judas' hand or into his mouth. The fulfillment was just a few minutes away from His utterance, and they still did not believe! They still failed to see how it was all coming together.
Of course, there was the crucifixion. How many prophecies were fulfilled in the crucifixion, in His burial? And they still did not believe! The three days went by and still no belief. They had God-in-the-flesh leading them through all these prophecies, and they still did not get it—until that point when comprehension dawned on John.
It is arrogant and puffed up of us to think that we have prophecy figured out. In many cases, we do not have the mind even of the disciples. We do not have the teaching from the very mouth of God as the disciples had. Of course, they were not converted at the time. But if they could not get it, seeing these things happening right before their eyes, will we be able to see prophecy working out in our time any more clearly? Are we so much more advanced?
We can know the possibilities, but we cannot be certain of the exact progress and timing of prophetic events. Until the prophecy is fulfilled, we should not be dogmatic. We must always approach these things with humility. Because we are clay in the Potter's hand, He gives us what we need to know. And, in many cases, what we think we need to know is not really "need to know" until after it has already happened. God has His own ways, and He is working out His purpose.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Two Witnesses (Part One)
The Pharisees are a prime example of Israelites "seeking to establish their own righteousness." In the same way the Pharisees approached God's law, first-century Jews dealt with prophecy. We can see this in their reactions to the Messiah, Jesus the Christ.
A major theme of the Old Testament is the coming of the Messiah. From Genesis 3:15 through Malachi 4:2, prophecies of the coming of the Savior fill God's Word. The gospel writers show time and again how Jesus fulfilled the prophets' predictions in His actions or in the actions of those around Him. Matthew, especially, makes a conscious point to highlight many Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled in Jesus' life.
Thus, the Jews had the prophecies of God's Word, as well as the life and words of Jesus—their God, Yahweh—to give unassailable proof that prophetic events were happening before their eyes. What more did they need? Did they even use the knowledge available to them? No! Paul says they avoid submitting to God's knowledge, and instead, they establish their own!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
No Private Interpretation
The margin says shortly means "quickly" or "swiftly." This must be understood in terms of what the book of Revelation was designed to reveal. Verse 10 tells us that the book was designed for the Day of the Lord. "Shortly" has to be seen in light of verse 10.
When was the apostle John on the island of Patmos? All indications are that he received this vision somewhere in the AD 90s—somewhere between AD 90 and 100. The Temple in Jerusalem had already been destroyed by the Romans under Titus.
Think about this word "shortly" in reference to the time in which the prophecy was given. Did Jesus Christ mean shortly after He gave it? What happened historically quickly or shortly after Christ gave this prophecy to the apostle John? Nothing. Nothing happened. By and large, almost 20 centuries later, very little in Revelation has yet happened.
What does this say about the design of the book of Revelation? It says that its primary intent is for the time we are living in right now! When Christ said that these things must shortly come to pass, what He meant was that once the things in Revelation begin to occur, they will happen very quickly in historical terms. They will begin unfolding so fast, it will take our breath away!
To whom was this book written? Verse 11 says that it was written to the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. If the book was written to the end-time people, then we have to conclude that the message as delivered to the actual churches in Asia Minor was only secondary. The attitudes, the conduct, the events occuring in those seven congregations were only models of what was going to happen later.
However, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea are somewhere extant on earth today. Not just in the form of attitudes, but maybe also in the form of true-church organizations. All seven churches must be in existence at the end. This only makes sense because the book is concerned primarily with the end-time.
Does it not seem reasonable and logical that, if Christ wanted to get a message to each of the churches, and He only had a moment to spend with each one, He would be extremely selective in what He had to say? He would carefully design His message to contain the nucleus of what He wanted to get across. It would be quick, concise, and hit the nail right on the head. What He said would be of the utmost importance to them in regard to their responsibilities at the end time.
If His church were to be in existence at the end—and surely it is because He says that the gates of the grave would not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18)—then He would give His church what it needed most of all to survive and endure that period of time. He would not waste His opportunity speaking on trivial matters!
He would get to things that are essential to His people to get them through the trouble and into the Kingdom with as much growth as possible! This is the essence of those seven messages. It is the reason why they were written.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Revelation 2-3 and Works
The book itself tells us, right at the beginning, what it is about, but because of the way it is translated into English, we can read right over it and miss the book's own declaration of its contents. We are immediately told that this book contains the revelation of Jesus Christ. This phrase is the title of the book. But what does "revelation" mean? It is the Greek noun apocalypsis, which is why this book is often called the "book of the Apocalypse." This noun comes from the verb apocalupto, which literally means "to take away the veil," such as when a painting or statue has its covering taken away. Even though apocalypsis is most often translated "revelation," the best equivalent word in English is "unveiling."
In common usage, when someone refers to the "Apocalypse," or describes an event as being "apocalyptic," he is usually talking about widespread devastation or ultimate doom. Mel Gibson recently produced and directed a movie entitled Apocalypto, which portrayed the end of the Mayan civilization—and it was a very bloody end.
Using "apocalypse" this way derives from the content of the book of Revelation, not from the word's Greek meaning. Simply, apocalypsis and apocalupto refer to "taking away a veil" or "unveiling" rather than to cataclysmic events. However, in this specific instance of apocalypse, of a veil being taken away (when Jesus Christ returns), widespread devastation will in fact occur as this present age closes with wars and disasters.
In the Greek New Testament, apocalypsis appears in two senses. When used figuratively, it has the sense of "bringing someone to knowledge," as in the English phrase "remove the veil of ignorance." For example, when we say that a mystery is unveiled, we mean that the veil of ignorance is lifted so that the matter can be plainly understood. In terms of the book of Revelation, this is the sense that most interpreters and readers recognize in it. They see it as the unveiling of prophetic events to understanding.
However, when apocalypsis is used in a literal sense, it refers to "the visible appearance of one previously unseen," as a woman shrouded by a veil is revealed when her covering is removed. In Revelation's case, as the book of the Unveiling, apocalypsis literally refers to the visible appearance of One who is now hidden from human sight, and that One is, of course, Jesus Christ.
The New Testament consistently supports the literal sense of apocalypsis rather than the figurative, and that the "revelation of Jesus Christ" is not limited to His testimony or to His unlocking of prophecy. Instead, the "revelation of Jesus Christ" is, in fact, an advance record of His visible appearance in glory, to overthrow the spirit and human rulers of this world and to establish His Kingdom on earth.
A key to effective Bible study is to let the Bible interpret itself. Another key is to let the Bible's usage of a word determine its meaning rather than to rely solely on what it means in secular Greek or Hebrew. Apocalypsis appears in eighteen places in the New Testament, and in ten of those places—including Revelation 1:1—it is used literally, referring to a person or a thing. In every case, it denotes the "visible appearance" or "unveiling" of that person or thing, confirming how it should be understood in Revelation 1:1.
David C. Grabbe
What Is the Book of Revelation?
Prophecy plays a large part in our lives, so a Christian should understand more than just the bare basics. Verse 10 lets us know that Jesus' message—the gospel—is not only prophetic, but it is the essence of all biblical prophecy.
Testimony means "a statement given by a witness to an event." It is frequently associated with evidence presented during a court trial, but it is not limited to that. Newspapers, for instance, give accounts of what people say of some event that occurred of interest to others.
Jesus' statement—the gospel—is the message He preached during His lifetime. It is that message around which all biblical prophecy revolves; it is prophecy's heart and core. Spirit in this context means the "essence" of prophecy. Therefore, anybody looking forward to Christ's return—Christians, the church—should have more than a casual interest in prophecy.
Most of us pay more attention to the prophecy than to the prophet. This is as it should be, but on the other hand, Ephesians 2:19-20 says:
Now, therefore, you [the brethren] are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.
The church is built upon the apostles and the prophets and the words they wrote. They not only prophesied (that is, foretold events), but they also gave the most accurate accounts of ancient history. In addition, they gave us a great deal of the doctrine, the teachings, we believe and after which we pattern our lives.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prophets and Prophecy (Part 1)
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