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Understanding Bible Prophecy

Introduction
Prophecy is the foretelling the future event before they happen—it is history written ahead of time. Bible prophecy is the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 19:10). The heart of any Bible prophecy is to point to Jesus. Redemption is the focus of the Bible and prophecy. In other words, we cannot understand Bible prophecy without redemption.
Again, prophecy cannot be properly understood outside the nation of Israel. Israel is the hallmark for understanding prophecy. We can’t understand Bible prophecy if we take Israel out of focus. The Bible is a book that touches a nation—Israel. The Old Testament is the story of a nation and the New Testament is the story of a Man. Researches have shown that 1/3 of the content of the Bible is prophetic. The Bible talks about only two groups of humankind—the Jews and the Gentiles. God chose the nation of Israel as a tool for uniting the two groups in Jesus.
Concepts in Bible Prophecy
To understand Bible prophecy properly, we must seek to understand a few concepts which are often associated with it. These are “Thus said the Lord” and “the Day of the Lord” or “the Lord’s Day”.
Thus said the Lord is a term which is used quite often in the Old Testament to introduce a direct revelation of God’s word to differentiate it from those spoken by the prophets. This introductory statement or declaration is often used to show the sovereignty of God and the authority of His word.
The Day of the Lord or the Lord’s Day, on the other hand, is the day of God’s visitation for the Jews and judgment for the Gentiles. The purpose of God’s visitation to the Jews is to purge them from iniquities in order to bring them to repentance and at the same time, the Gentile nations must be judged for oppressing the nation of Israel. Thus, the Day of the Lord, which is already near (Isaiah 13:6), will mean celebration for the Jews and mourning for the Gentiles.
Why Do We Study Prophecy?
1. To know what is about to happen: Knowing what to happen helps us to prepare to escape the Doomsday. The Doomsday will mark the end of all human government but not necessarily the end of the world because the earth was created to abide forever (Isaiah 45:18). Both the physical earth and heaven will be renovated because of the contamination brought about by the rebellion of Lucifer (Satan). The last human government that will be destroyed in order to enthrone God’s Kingdom is the government of the Anti-Christ.
2. To encourage ourselves: Every word that God says should be of interest to us. When we have interest in prophecies, we should study them in order to encourage ourselves.
3. To know what God said would happen next: We have already stated in the introduction that God reveals the end from the beginning through prophecy. The Bible is the only accurate presentation of the past and prediction of the future (Isaiah 44:6-8, 46:10). Arguably, over 50% of Bible predictions have been fulfilled and we should prepare for the remaining—the renovation of heaven and earth and the establishment of God’s Kingdom.
4. It stirs up readiness: The knowledge of fulfilled prophecies helps us to be ready. In other words, the knowledge of the end time should stir us to live a holy life (2 Peter 3:10-11).
How to Study Bible Prophecy
1. Take every Scripture at face value: Don’t look for hidden interpretation otherwise you are exposed to wrong or personal interpretation.
2. Avoid personal interpretation of a Scripture: Scripture interprets itself and for this reason, you should use another Scripture to interpret a particular Scripture. Every interpretation of the Bible must have a Bible reference. To do this efficiently, you may use a Bible that has cross references or concordance. For example, a reference to Psalm 82:6 can found in John 10:35.
3. Avoid Extra-Biblical Interpretation: Every interpretation of the prophecy must be based on what the Bible teaches.
Forms of Bible Prophecies
Bible prophecies appear in three forms—prophetic acts, prophetic word and prophetic symbols.
Prophetic Acts
These are actions that point to future events. There are several of such actions in the Bible. A few examples are given below:
1. Putting Adam to Sleep to Form the Woman (Genesis 2:21): Adam was “killed” to form the woman. Adam, in his sinless state, prefigured the death of Christ to form the church (Romans 5:14). This prophetic act was the first shedding of blood in the Bible. Arguably, since God is not a magician, there is no way He could have removed one of Adam’s ribs without the shedding of blood. As the innocent Adam “slept” and rose again and brought forth Eve, so did Christ die and rose again to bring forth the Church.
2. The Slaying of an Animal to Cover Adam’s Nakedness (Genesis 3:21): When God killed the animal to remove the skin to cover Adam’s nakedness, blood was also shed. The animal skin God used to cover Adam and Eve was a type of covering for sin. This prophetic act pointed to the shedding of His blood by Jesus for the removal of man’s sin (Hebrews 9:12).
3. The Building of the Ark (Genesis 6:11-15): This was a prophetic act that pointed to God’s salvation. The ark was a type of Christ.
4. The Putting of Joseph into the Pit and his Becoming a Ruler after Many Days (Genesis 37-41): This prophetic act prefigured the burial and resurrection of Christ to become a Ruler after three days.
5. The Passover Lamb (Exodus 12): This prefigured the death of Christ who is often referred to as the Lamb of God (John 1:29).
6. The Smiting of the Rock to Bring Forth Water in the Wilderness (Exodus 17:1-7): This prophetic act prefigured the smiting of Christ by God (Isaiah 53:4). Arguably, God smote Christ because it was the rod of God that was used to smite the rock in the Wilderness; and it is said that it was the Jews that smote Him because it was Moses (a Jew) that actually smote the rock.
7. The Bronze Serpent (Numbers 21:8): The fiery serpent God told Moses to make in the Wilderness for those who were bitten by the snake to look at in order to be saved was a type of Christ who was to be a source of salvation to those who would look up to Him (John 3:14-15).
8. Jonah in the Belly of Fish (Jonah 1:17): Jonah’s stay in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights prefigured the stay of Christ in the grave for three days and three nights (Luke 11:29-30).
9. The Sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:9-14): The sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham was a prophetic act that pointed to the ultimate sacrifice of Christ to bring redemption to the entire human race.
Prophetic Symbols
Prophetic symbols are symbols that point to future events—prototypes of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. There are several of such symbols in the Bible which point to Jesus.
1. The Rock in the Wilderness (Exodus 17:1-7): This prophetic symbol prefigured Christ who is both the Rock of Ages and the Water of Life (I Corinthians 10:4).
2. The Tabernacle of Moses (Exodus 26 & 27): The tabernacle of Moses is a mighty symbolic representation of the cross of redemption. The cross was the appointed way to meet with God even before man fell. Every arrangement of the tabernacle and the Levites points to Christ. All of redemption means that God would leave heaven and dwell on earth (Revelation 21:3). The tabernacle of Moses was more than just a tent. God was interesting in coming to live with His people. The tabernacle symbolised Christ because at the appointed time, God would come to dwell with man bodily (John 1:1 & 14).
Features of the Tabernacle
The encampments: The encampments of the twelve tribes of Israel in four groups of three symbolises the four points of the cross.
Only one entrance: This prefigured Christ as the only entrance to God (John 10:6).
No seat: Surprisingly, there was no seat in the tabernacle for the high priest because his work was a continual type that could only be finished by Christ of whom the earthly tabernacle spoke (Hebrews 1:3).
The Seven Golden Candlesticks: These were the symbols of the Holy Spirit and Christ as the Light of the World (Revelation 11:20, Isaiah 11). The seven candles also symbolised the seven spirits of God.
Altar of Illumination: It is instructive to know that this altar was made of gold and wood to symbolise both the divinity and humanity of Christ.
The Holy of Holies: This was the symbol of Christ in whom we obtain mercy.
The arrangement and pattern of the tabernacle above show
a) That we cannot come to God by our own terms;
b) God’s authority on His people and
c) Christ
3. The High Priest (Exodus 28:1): The Old Testament High Priest was a symbol of Christ who would be a perpetual intermediary between people and God. Like the Old Testament High who did the work in order to bring the people of Israel (who did no work) to the presence of God, Christ does the work to bring the entire humankind to the presence of God.
4. The Garment of the High Priest (Exodus 28): The garments of the priests are also prophetic symbols which point to Christ. A priest is an intermediary between God and the people while a prophet brings a word from God to the people. It is important to know that God gave the complex details of the design of the high priestly garment because He didn’t want man to determine anything—God is the determiner of all things. The following were found on the garment of the High Priest:
1. Two Stones: There were two stones, a stone on each shoulder part of the garment with the names of the Israelites inscribed on them. These stones symbolised Christ as the Governor of Israel.
2. A Breastplate with Twelve Stones on it: Each of the stones on the breastplate represented each tribe of Israel. These were the same stones that were clustered on the shoulder part. This arrangement shows how God deals with us individually. This was a symbol of our personal relationship with Christ. Death takes place at the gate but intimacy takes place inside.
3. The Colours: There were three colours on the priestly garments—blue, scarlet and purple. Blue typified the heavenly origin of our High Priest—Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:47) while Scarlet, which is a kind of red, symbolises the blood, which is the life of the flesh. This represents the humanity of Jesus Christ. Purple on the other hand, which is a combination of blue and red, indicates the fusion of the divinity and humanity origins of Christ—the God Man and since purple is the colour of royalty, it also symbolises Jesus as the King of the universe—C.f. when the soldiers “mockingly” put on Him a purple garment and worshipped Him (Matthew 15:17). This was a prophetic act.
4. The Pomegranates: These fruits symbolise the fruitfulness in Christ.
5. The Bell: This symbolises the voice of the High Priest whom we do not see but when we hear the sound of the bell (a symbol of the voice of God) we know that He is alive.
6. The Linen: This symbolises the robe of righteousness.
7. The Crown: The crown symbolises righteousness and the royalty of Christ.
Prophetic Word
These are spoken words that point to future events. There are several of such words in the Bible. A typical example is examined below:
The Seed of the Woman (Genesis 3:15): When the Serpent beguiled Eve to sin, God cursed him and said, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” This prophecy is partially fulfilled in the death of Christ. We say “partially” because when Christ died, the power of Satan was broken but the bruising of Satan’s head has not been fulfilled. The complete fulfilment of this prophecy will take place in the Armageddon (Romans 16:20).
One may ask, “If this prophecy has not been fulfilled fully, why then do we say that we trample on Satan?” Two reasons can attest to this claim. The first is that Christ has given us the authority to do so (Luke 10:19), and the second reason is positional. Since Christ has exalted us to a higher position above all principalities and powers (Ephesians 1:20-22, 2:6), Satan is therefore under our feet and we can trample on him.
Consequent upon this prophetic word, Satan began to work against this prophecy in order to avert his doom.
First, he corrupted the entire humankind so that no woman would be qualified to produce a seed that would defeat him (Genesis 6). He caused his rebellious angels to have sexual intercourse with women and this brought in the era of fierce giants who corrupted the world. God, in His wisdom, frustrated the Devil by destroying the entire corrupt humankind with flood except Noah and his family whom He used to perpetuate the human race (Genesis 7-9). The act of the flood was an act of mercy for the larger world. This is demonstrated in Genesis 12:1 when God promised Abraham a Seed who would be a blessing to the entire world (Galatians 3:8).
Second, Satan provoked Pharaoh to kill all the male children of Israel so that the promised Seed would be destroyed (Exodus 1:16). Again, God frustrated the Devil by using a woman to bring forth the promised Seed (Isaiah 7:14, 9:6). The prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 was fully fulfilled in Matthew 1:23 but that of Isaiah 9:6 partially fulfilled in Luke 2:11.
In the New Testament, the Devil attempted to quash the plan of God by using Herod to kill all the male children in Bethlehem. In order to protect the life of Jesus, God alerted Joseph and his wife, Mary to flee to Egypt with Jesus and stayed there till Herod was dead (Matthew 2:13-18).
*This article was originally published in the Prophecy Conference Manual.

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