Learn how to understand New and Old Testament prophecies—fulfilled prophecy and end-times prophecy yet to come—with seven helpful Bible study tips, including examples in Revelation, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Daniel, and Matthew.
[The text below represents an edited transcript of this Tomorrow’s World program.]
Many professing Christians consider Bible prophecy a curious subject and in no way associated with the gospel of salvation. But is that true? When you read in your Bible the very words of Jesus Christ, you find a totally different approach to salvation and a more glorious future and eternity than traditional preachers tell you. What gospel or “good news” did Jesus preach? Mark 1:14,
“Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14–15).
My friends, the coming Kingdom of God that Jesus preached is yet future. It is the foundation of Bible prophecy! You need to understand the plain and powerful prophecies of your Bible!
Bible prophecy reveals the future of the world, and frankly, the future of the universe. Your Bible has proven the power of prophecy. I hope you’ve been able to see our telecast, “Amazing Prophecies Fulfilled!” From Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a statue in the Old Testament book of Daniel to John’s New Testament visions in the book of Revelation, your Bible reveals major end-time events, with mysterious prophetic symbols such as the Beast of Revelation 13 with seven heads and ten horns rising up out of the sea; and the harlot woman of Revelation 17 sitting on a scarlet beast with seven heads and ten horns. How can you understand the meaning of these symbols?
On today’s program, we’ll discuss seven keys to understanding Bible prophecy.
My friends, these seven keys to understanding prophecy will help you understand the most amazing future and events that relatively few people on earth even come close to understanding.
Key Number One to Understanding Prophecy is: The Bible Interprets Its Own Symbols.
As we saw earlier in the program, the book of Revelation contains symbolic language. If you have your Bible, turn to the book of Revelation, or “Apocalypse.” Revelation the first chapter gives a description of the glorified Messiah, the Son of Man standing in the midst of seven lampstands. And verse 16 of the same chapter describes Him as holding seven stars. What do these stars and lampstands symbolize? You don’t need to guess! I don’t need to guess. The Bible itself tells us the meaning, Revelation 1:16,
“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.”
Verse 20 gives us the answer,
“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.”
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—or modern-day Turkey. Of course, the Apostle John was writing this book near the end of the 1st century AD.
Let’s look at a couple of other biblical symbols. Prophetic literature uses the word mountain as a symbol of a kingdom, empire, or government. Turn in your Bible to Jeremiah 51:24. Your Bible probably has a heading to chapter 51 such as “God’s judgment (or vengeance) upon Babylon.” God is declaring his punishment on the great empire of Babylon. Jeremiah 51:24,
“‘And I will repay Babylon and all the inhabitants of Chaldea for all the evil they have done in Zion in your sight,’ says the LORD. ‘Behold, I am against you, O DESTROYING MOUNTAIN, who destroys all the earth,’ says the LORD. ‘And I will stretch out My hand against you, roll you down from the rocks, and make you a burnt MOUNTAIN.’” (Jeremiah 51:24–25)
Yes, God will judge rebellious nations, symbolized here as mountains. What mountain or kingdom will rule the whole earth? As so many prophecies explain, that Kingdom will be the Kingdom of God ruled by the King of kings, the Savior, Jesus Christ! Bible students are familiar with the prophecy in Isaiah 2. Isaiah 2:2,
“Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:2–4).
A mountain in Bible prophecy can symbolize a Kingdom, empire, or nation. Here we see the good news of God’s Kingdom which will establish world peace! We’ve explored a couple examples of symbolism: stars are symbolic of angels; a mountain can be symbolic of a kingdom or government. So key number one to understand Bible prophecy is: The Bible Interprets Its Own Symbols.
The second key to understanding biblical prophecy is the proof of fulfilled prophecy.
Dozens of Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in the New Testament in the person of Jesus Christ. Another example of fulfilled prophecy, and there are many, is the dream God gave ancient king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Turn to the Book of Daniel, chapter two. Here the prophet Daniel tells the king his dream. Nebuchadnezzar’s famous image reveals four world-ruling empires. King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that troubled him. Daniel was called before the king, and proceeded to describe the great image in the king’s dream. Daniel 2:31,
“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).
Daniel told King Nebuchadnezzar that he was the head of gold represented in the image. Daniel said in verse 38, “YOU are this head of gold” (Daniel 2:38). History confirms Daniel’s prophecy of the subsequent empires symbolized by the statue. What world ruling empires followed after Nebuchadnezzar?
The head of gold represented the Babylonian Empire from 625–539 BC.
It was replaced by the Medo-Persian Empire from 558–330 BC, represented by the chest and arms of silver.
The belly and thighs of bronze represented the Greco-Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great from 333–31 BC.
The legs of iron represented the Roman Empire, from 31 BC to 476 AD.
And finally, the ten toes on two feet of iron mixed with ceramic clay represent a future revival of the Roman Empire.
The prophecies of Daniel are genuine! The predictions of these four empires did come to pass!
Key number 2 was: Consider the Proof of Fulfilled Prophecy. Key number 3 for understanding Bible prophecy is: Understand Prophetic Time Gaps. Let’s look at Luke 4:16. Jesus was visiting [His] hometown of Nazareth and was invited to read from the scriptures on the Sabbath. He was given the scroll of Isaiah. Luke 4:16,
“So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. [LUKE 4:17] 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.’ [Now notice this] 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 4:16–21).
Yes, the Messiah had come to preach the gospel to the poor, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD. Jesus told them that this very prophecy of Isaiah was now being fulfilled through Him. But was that ALL of the prophecy? Turn back to the prophecy Jesus read. Notice the two mission statements here. ISAIAH 61:2, “To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God.” 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. 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.
Key number 3 for understanding Bible prophecy was to Understand Prophetic Time Gaps. Key number 4 for understanding Bible prophecy is to Recognize Prophetic Duality. Turn in your Bible to 1 Corinthians 15:45 for example. “And so it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” Who was the last Adam? Verse 47 gives us the answer, “The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:47). Yes, the second Adam was Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ Olivet prophecy in Matthew 24 is also an example of duality. Some of the terrible conditions Jesus described did take place when Jerusalem was destroyed. But that was just a type or forerunner of the final climactic fulfillment. Jesus warned us in Matthew 24:21,
“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.”
Yes, prophecy is dual—and we ought to learn the lessons of history. The destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman armies in 70 AD was just a type of the great tribulation that lies yet ahead. Key number 4 for understanding Bible prophecy is to Recognize Prophetic Duality.
Where is the United States mentioned in the Bible? Or under what names can we locate it? Where can we find Great Britain in the Bible? Obviously, the modern names do not appear, but the ancestors of those nations ARE prominently named in the Bible.
We call the next key, the “Master Key” to understanding prophecy. Key number 5 for understanding Bible prophecy is to Know the Biblical Origin of Nations. My friends, can you find the United States, Canada, Great Britain and the other English-speaking nations in Bible prophecy? If you can, you will understand major parts of vital prophecies that very few today can even begin to comprehend. The Bible mentions by name such nations as Egypt, Libya, and Ethiopia. And it may surprise you that Assyria will eventually be one of the prominent nations in tomorrow’s world along with Egypt and Israel. You can read about that in Isaiah 19:23. Also read the tenth and eleventh chapters of Isaiah. But who is modern Assyria? In our Tomorrow’s World magazine, we previously published a full article on this subject entitled, “A Fourth Reich?” Here is what Dr. Douglas Winnail wrote in the article, page 17:
“While most historians are reluctant, or fail, to make any connection between the disappearance of the Assyrians and the appearance of the Germanic tribes, the fact remains that no other nation’s history and national character resembles Germany more than does that of Assyria.”
The simple knowledge of the origin of nations in the Bible gives us a clearer understanding of Bible prophecy. One final quote from the article, on page 30, quote:
“When the Bible speaks of Assyria in the end-times, it is speaking of Germany.”
Key number 5 for understanding Bible prophecy is: Know the Biblical Origin of Nations.
Key number 6 for understanding Bible prophecy is: Understand the Purposes for Bible Prophecy.
My friends, Bible prophecy can sustain hope and inspire confidence. As we saw in Isaiah chapter two, Scripture prophesies a peaceful and prosperous world under the future Kingdom of God on earth. But 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. Matthew 3:1,
“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).
Later, Jesus Christ preached the same message. You can read that in Mark 1:14–15. And what was the response to John’s preaching? Verse 5,
“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).
We all need to listen to Bible prophecy and the warning of judgment upon those who do not repent. Matthew continues, verse 7: “But when he [John] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:7–8).
Another purpose of prophecy is to give opportunity to those in future captivity to repent and come under God’s deliverance as God promises in Deuteronomy 4:27–31. My friends, are you preparing for the Second Coming of Christ? Understanding Bible prophecy and facing reality, will help you prepare! On the day of Pentecost, in 31 AD, the Apostle Peter exhorted the thousands in his audience to repent and be baptized. You can read that in Acts 2:38. Peter motivated the crowd to change their lives. He said in Acts 2:40,
“‘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).
My friends, if you have studied biblical baptism, and if you have come to the place in your life where you have repented and have accepted Christ’s sacrifice and His authority over your life, we invite you to counsel with one of our ministers.
Key number 6 for understanding Bible prophecy is: Understand the Purposes for Bible Prophecy. Bible prophecy demonstrates the awesome sovereignty of God as it tells us in Isaiah 46:9–10.
Bible prophecy reveals the future and the good news of God’s coming Kingdom. It also warns of dangers to come so that we can take action and seek God’s protection. You need to understand what lies ahead. Key number 7 to understanding Bible prophecy is: Learn God’s Prophetic Framework.
Some wrongly believe that Jesus Christ will return after the prophesied Millennium. But your Bible shows clearly that Christ will return to set up a literal kingdom here on earth for a literal period of one thousand years. The book of Revelation describes a period of three and one half years leading up to the return of Christ. The first five seals of Revelation, outlined in chapter six, cover a period of two and a half years of the Great Tribulation Jesus spoke about in Matthew 24. The Sixth seal is the heavenly signs. The whole world will be put on notice when this event occurs. Let’s read that in Revelation 6:12,
“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, [listen to this] and every mountain and island was moved out of its place” (Revelation 6:12–14).
The whole world will be shocked and terrorized. The world will then realize that the time of God’s judgment has come! Revelation 6:15,
“And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’” (Revelation 6:15–17).
What follows the Heavenly Signs? 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. This is the year of God’s punishment on the nations. And it culminates with the well-known announcement of Christ’s return and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. That’s the exciting good news of prophecy! Revelation 11:15,
“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!’”
As you can see, the Bible gives us an overall framework for prophecy. Key number 7 for understanding Bible prophecy is to Learn God’s Prophetic Framework.
My friends, Bible prophecy is God’s revelation to human beings about His plan for all humanity. You can begin to truly understand biblical prophecy, if you choose to seek God wholeheartedly. The Bible clearly outlines the judgment that will be upon the Western nations if we persist in our immoral, anti-God lifestyles. But YOU can escape that judgment, if you turn to God and obey Him.
Thank you for watching!
My friends, you can understand much more about end-time prophecy when you understand who the modern descendants of ancient biblical nations are. So click the link in the description to order a free copy of our booklet The United States and Great Britain in Prophecy. It will give you the master key to identify major nations in Bible prophecy.
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More than 60 years ago, Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong (1892–1986) wrote a book entitled The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy. This book builds on Mr. Armstrong’s research, and that of other authors, to point the reader not simply to the history of the past, but to history written in advance!