The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893
These days, bombastic authors and television personalities have created an entire cottage industry out of obscuring clarity and making the clear muddy when it comes to biblical prophecy. The result is imported funding from their devoted followers, exported fear that creates a buffer zone around their island kingdoms, and an overall trade-tariff from the mainstream planet-at-large, who looks on in disbelief that a group of people could ever convince themselves that this paranoid, cataclysmic, endlessly-deferred total-divine-meltdown story is worthy of the term “Good News.”
By contrast, the spiritual-historical-typological method of interpretation we’ve been exploring in this series is not revisionist. It’s not a hyped-up pipe-dream created by a PR firm hoping to make religion-as-usual more relevant.
To recap from last week:
Jesus used figurative language (coming on the clouds, etc.) to describe a temporal event (the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans) in terms of its spiritual significance (the consummation of the ages and the coming of the kingdom of God).
This interpretive key, we can rest encouraged, is firmly established in the narrative of Scripture itself. It’s the basic and primary method of interpretation the Bible’s authors seem to employ, themselves, in their prophetic writings.
If you’ve been raised to believe the “plain sense” of these texts was hopelessly difficult to understand, let this sink in: there is biblical precedent for understanding the kind of language used in end-times prophecy as figurative, or metaphorical. This is especially true in Christ’s first coming to “fleshly” (temporal) Israel, and also with respect to the last days of fleshly Israel. Since prophecy involves the two Israels of God (fleshly and spiritual) in the last days, one can expect to find a twofold application of prophecy. We must recognize, however, that the spiritual-historical-typological method of interpretation is prominent among New Testament authors with respect to the establishment and development of spiritual Israel, and a large portion of Old Testament prophecy is applied there – not to fleshly Israel.
The theme we’re exploring in this series on the blog is taken from Revelation:
And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy’ (Revelation 19:10).
While the context of this verse does not speak directly to the nature of prophecy, it does point to him who is the grand end and design of all prophecy; namely, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Take Jesus out of the Bible, and prophecy is meaningless. Since all of the prophets “gave witness unto him,” it is only reasonable to assume that the nature or the spirit of prophecy may be established in the nature of Christ and his work. Both must be in agreement – one cannot contradict the other.
The spiritual nature of the work of Christ is established throughout the New Testament. Never once is it suggested that he came to remain on earth, or that his ascension into heaven was a necessary retreat and delay in the establishment of his kingdom. Rather, he taught that just as he came from the Father, he would return to the Father for the purpose of bringing fullness and completion to redemption.
The irony is that catastrophic, futuristic views of prophecy – that still dominate the airwaves and pages of those who haven’t retreated into a timid silence about such matters altogether – employ an equally typological method of interpretation, though it’s one tragically divorced from both the history and spirit of what Jesus and the biblical writers were seeking to convey. Why tragic? This ahistorical approach endlessly defers fulfilment, allegorizing “the locusts of the earth” to mean “black helicopters,” and the antichrist becomes whichever political or entertainment leader we wish to scapegoat and project our deepest fears onto. Neutering history, then, effectively neutralizes spirituality – the living heartbeat of love and restoration that is the lost message of “rightly divided” biblical prophecy.
As we progress in our study, we will come to a better understanding of history, interpretation, and keeping aligned with the main idea of God’s parousia (or revealed presence) throughout the prophetic testimony. For too long, because of misunderstanding, the world of Bible prophecy has been closed to many people. They give up trying to understand, and miss out on a world of meaning to be found on the pages of Scripture. Join us each Monday as we blog through The Spirit of Prophecy. (And if you get impatient, of course, you can always get the book inspiring these posts here.) It is our hope that by providing a few tools and concepts, this world can be opened up to all.
Stay tuned next week as we look at The Law and Truth.
For now, we’d love your thoughts:
- Why is studying Bible prophecy in context important?
- In what sense should the Bible be taken literally? In what sense might a literal reading be misleading?
- What does “spiritual” mean to you? “Temporal”?
- Does our use of these terms differ from your understanding? If so, how?
- Can a temporal promise have a spiritual fulfillment?
- Can a spiritual fulfillment have a physical referent?
Comments are open below!