Is Scripture just a mystery? Are its images impenetrable symbols that no one can understand? Or has God given us the tools to recognize what Bible prophecy means for our future—and for life today?
People have always wanted to know the future, and they will often seek just about every possible source except the Bible. Large circulation newspapers often publish a horoscope. The idea is that your birth date somehow determines your characteristics and prophetic events at certain times of the year, and this is supposedly determined by the position of constellations in the heavens.
Others pay mediums to read a crystal ball, and sometimes try to communicate with the dead. Others read Tarot cards for prophetic interpretations. Millions of people look to séances, channeling, and astrology for power and insight. They dabble in the occult and seek answers from soothsayers and mystics. They even fellowship with witches, mediums, and sorcerers. Will all these reveal God's will for you? Of course not! God calls these practices an abomination (Deuteronomy 18). There is a world of spirit deception. God tells us that Satan the devil has deceived the whole world (Revelation 12:9). He has deceived you and me. But God can help us see through the devices and deceptions of the devil.
Bible prophecy reveals the sequence of events in the end-time and the dangerous times ahead. Your Bible reveals that Armageddon and World War III lie on the horizon. The world faces terrorism, major famines, pestilence, and severe natural disasters: earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, and hurricanes. With war, sickness, suffering and pain all around us, many people are tempted to lose hope. But did you know that Bible prophecy reveals vital truths about the future of the world—and your own destiny? Beyond a soon-coming time of great tribulation lies a future time of world peace under the Kingdom of God. Your Bible reveals that the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, will return to teach all nations the way to peace. Under Christ's loving rule, in the prophesied time known as the Millennium, the world will prosper with clean air, clean water and sustainable agriculture.
We are living in the prophetic period of time that your Bible identifies as the end-time. When you come to understand the prophecies in your Bible, you will see that these are exciting times, leading up to the return of Jesus Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords, and the establishment of His Kingdom on the earth!
Bible prophecy is exciting to many, but some Bible prophecies may seem hard to understand. The books of Daniel and Revelation feature various symbols and imagery. When ancient King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon dreamed of a mysterious statue made of different metals and clay, the prophet Daniel interpreted the dream's meaning (Daniel 2:1–45). The famous Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse symbolize devastation and deception (Revelation 6:1–8). The Beast of Revelation 13 rising up out of the sea has seven heads and ten horns. The Beast of Revelation 17, which rises out of a bottomless pit, also has seven heads and ten horns, but that Beast is ridden by a harlot. The Apostle John writes what he sees in vision: "And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH" (Revelation 17:5).
How can we understand these mysterious symbols, and the many intricacies of Bible prophecy? In this article we will briefly consider five principles for understanding the prophecies in your Bible.
Where should you turn to learn the truth? Jesus, in His heartfelt prayer the night before He was crucified, prayed for His disciples: "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth" (John 17:17). God's word, the Bible, is truth. It is the written word of God. If you want to understand the future God has planned for you and all humanity, you need to go to the Bible, not to soothsayers and mediums.
The book of Revelation contains symbolic language, giving a description of the glorified Messiah, the Son of Man, standing in the midst of seven lampstands. We read: "He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength" (Revelation 1:16). What do these stars and lampstands symbolize? We do not need to guess; the Bible itself tells us the meaning! "The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches" (v. 20).
In Bible symbolism, stars are angels—and lampstands are churches. The writer of the book of Revelation, or the Apocalypse, continues in the next two chapters writing God's message and admonition to the seven churches in Asia Minor—modern-day Turkey. Of course, the Apostle John was writing this book near the end of the first century ad.
You are probably familiar with the account of King Nebuchadnezzar's dream. The prophet Daniel was called before King Nebuchadnezzar, and proceeded to describe the great image in the king's dream. "You, O king, were watching; and behold, a great image! This great image, whose splendor was excellent, stood before you; and its form was awesome. This image's head was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces" (Daniel 2:31–34).
What did this statue symbolize? Daniel said to King Nebuchadnezzar, "You are this head of gold" (v. 38). History confirms Daniel's interpretation of the subsequent empires symbolized by the statue. That empire was replaced by the Medo-Persian Empire (558–330bc), represented by the chest and arms of silver. The belly and thighs of bronze represented the Greco-Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great (333–31bc). The two legs of iron represent the Roman Empire (31bc to 476ad). Finally, the ten toes on two feet of iron mixed with ceramic clay represent a future revival of the Roman Empire.
Daniel's prophecy revealed four historical world-ruling empires. History confirms that the predictions of these four empires did come to pass.
The Gospel of Luke records what happened when Jesus was visiting his home town of Nazareth and was invited to read from the scriptures on the Sabbath. "And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.' Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, 'Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing'" (Luke 4:17–21).
Jesus closed the book He was reading, right in the middle of a verse. He omitted the second part of the verse referring to the day of vengeance. Why? Because the remainder of Isaiah's prophecy applies to Jesus' second coming—when the Day of the Lord, the day of God's vengeance and wrath takes place. Yes, there is a time gap of about 2,000 years between the fulfillment of the first part of the verse and the second part of the verse.
Another aspect of prophetic time gaps is the principle of "duality." Often in the Bible we find a former fulfillment of a prophecy, and a later, more climactic fulfillment of the prophecy. The principle of duality is found throughout the Bible. For example, we read: "And so it is written, 'The first man Adam became a living being.' The last Adam became a life-giving spirit" (1 Corinthians 15:45). Who was the last Adam? Scripture gives us the answer, "The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven" (v. 47). Yes, the second Adam was Jesus Christ.
Prophecy is often dual—and we ought to learn the lessons of history. The destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman armies in 70ad was just a foreshadowing of the great tribulation that lies yet ahead.
Where is the United States mentioned in the Bible? Or under what name can we locate it? Where can we find Great Britain in the Bible? Obviously the modern names do not appear, but the ancestors of these nations are prominently named in the Bible.
The Bible does mention such nations as Egypt, Libya and Ethiopia—and it may surprise you that Assyria will eventually be one of the prominent nations in the Millennium, along with Egypt and Israel (Isaiah 19:23–24). But which nation today is Assyria?
In our free reprint article, Resurgent Germany: A Fourth Reich?, Tomorrow's World writer Douglas S. Winnail explains: "Most modern historians hesitate or fail to make any connection between the disappearance of the Assyrians and the appearance of the Germanic tribes. But Germany's cultural history and national character resemble Assyria's like no other nation.… When the Bible speaks of Assyria in the end times, it is speaking of Germany. No other modern nation fits the description so completely." If you have not already done so, please write for your free copy of this important article.
You can begin to understand much more about end-time prophecy when you have the accurate knowledge of the modern descendants of ancient biblical nations. Our free booklet, The United States and Great Britain in Prophecy, will give you the historical and biblical information to identify the U.S. and other major nations in prophecy.
This is a major key for understanding Bible prophecy. This is a key that relatively few professing Christians know. There are many different ideas and scenarios regarding Bible prophecy. You may have heard of postmillennialism and amillennialism. These teach wrongly that Jesus Christ will return after the prophesied Millennium, or that He will not return at all.
The truth is what is called pre-millennialism—the teaching that Christ will return to set up a literal kingdom here on earth for a literal period of a thousand years. The book of Revelation describes a period of 3½ years leading up to the return of Christ. The first five seals of Revelation, outlined in Revelation 6, cover a period of 2½ years—the Great Tribulation of which Jesus spoke in Matthew 24.
The sixth seal is the Heavenly Signs. The whole world will be put on notice when this event occurs. The Apostle John writes, "I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place" (Revelation 6:12–14).
The whole world will be shocked and terrified. The world will then realize that the time of God's judgment has come! The Heavenly Signs introduce the one-year prophetic time period known as the Day of the Lord. The famous Day of the Lord is mentioned in some 30 prophecies in your Bible. The Day of the Lord in end-time prophecy, the time preceding Christ's second coming, is a period of one year (Isaiah 34:8; 63:4), following the Great Tribulation and the Heavenly Signs.
This is the year of God's punishment on the nations. And it culminates with the announcement of Christ's return and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. That is the exciting good news of prophecy! "Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, 'The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!'" (Revelation 11:15).
We should all look forward to the return of Christ. And we need to be spiritually preparing for that soon-coming event. As you can see, the Bible gives us an overall framework for prophecy. You need to understand that framework!
There are many religious hobbyists who create wild ideas and misinterpretations of prophecy. What are the purposes of prophecy? Unger's Bible Dictionary gives this warning. "Prophecy is not intended to open the future to idle curiosity, but for the higher purpose of furnishing light to those whose faith needs confirming." Does your faith need confirming? "The revelation of future events may be needful in times of discouragement to awaken or sustain hope, to inspire confidence in the midst of general backsliding, and to warn of evil threatening the faithful. The predictions against Babylon, Tyre, Egypt, Nineveh, and other kingdoms, were delivered to the people of God to comfort them, by revealing to them the fate of their enemies" (Unger's Bible Dictionary, p. 892).
Understand that Bible prophecy also warns people and nations to repent, so they can avoid punishment. John the Baptist was baptizing massive crowds of people who were moved by his preaching. The Gospel writer Matthew describes what happened. "In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!'" (Matthew 3:1–2). Jesus Christ, of course, later preached that same message (Mark 1:14–15). What was the response to John's preaching? "Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins" (Matthew 3:5–6).
Are you preparing for the Second Coming of Christ? Understanding the reality of Bible prophecy will help you prepare! On the day of Pentecost, in 31ad, the Apostle Peter exhorted the thousands in his audience to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38). Peter motivated the crowd to change their lives. He said, "'Be saved from this perverse generation.' Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them" (Acts 2:40–41). If God has brought you to the point of repentance and you understand the commitment of baptism, please do not hesitate to contact one of our representatives at the regional office nearest you, listed on page 30 of this magazine.
The Bible clearly outlines the judgment that will be upon the Western nations if we persist in our immoral, anti-God lifestyles. But if you understand Bible prophecy, you can be spared great suffering, and can experience God's blessings individually, even if your nation undergoes God's judgment. Prophecy reveals sobering end-time events just ahead, but it also reveals the good news of God's soon-coming kingdom. God speed that wonderful day!