Understanding Bible Prophecy
There are some things to keep in mind as you examine the prophecies of the Bible.These basics will guide you toward better understanding prophecy.
The first aspect of prophecy is that symbols are used. These symbols come from other prophecies and even other places in the Bible. Use the Bible to interpret the Bible.
One interesting symbol of prophecy is that nations are usually depicted by beasts. For instance, Babylon is depicted as a lion in Daniel 7. Greece is depicted as a leopard. Horns can represent kings or kingdoms (see Daniel 7:7-8, 19-25, Revelation 17:12).
There are also different ways of reckoning time in Bible prophecy. Some prophecies are understood where one day represents one year. For instance, in Numbers chapter 13, the twelve spies sent out into the wilderness searched the land for forty days. Ten of the spies brought a bad report and led Israel astray. As a punishment, the Israelites spent forty years in the wilderness (Numbers 14:26-35). They spent one year in the desert for each day that the spies searched the land.
In Revelation chapter 2, Jesus told the Smyrna church that they would suffer persecution for ten days. The church had two, ten year persecutions from 303-313 AD and then again from 314-324 AD (the second one only occurred in the Eastern Roman Empire). We can see how one day represented one year in the fulfillment of this prophecy.
In prophetic books of the Bible, sometimes a year is called a time. The term times refers to two years and half a time refers to half a year. A prophetic year is 360 days, composed of 12 months with 30 days each.
In Revelation 11:3, it says that the two witnesses prophecy for 1,260 days. This is 3 1/2 years. In Revelation 12:14, it says that the woman is taken to the place prepared for her to be prepared for a times, time, and half a time (3 1/2 years). In Revelation 13, the beast power is given authority for 42 months (Rev. 13:5). Once again, this is 3 1/2 years. These are different ways to reckon time. In these examples, we see three ways to reckon the same period of time!
When you study prophecy, specific events are mentioned. One specific event mentioned in prophecy is the Time of Jacob’s Trouble (Jer. 30:4-6). Another specific event mentioned is the Day of the Lord. The Day of the Lord is a general phrase referring to a time of judgment. It can refer to any number of events, including: the Rescue of the Saints (Luke 17:20-37), the First Resurrection (I Corinthians 1:8), the Wrath of God (Zephaniah 1), the destruction of the armies at Armageddon (Zech. 14) or the Great White Throne Judgment (2 Peter 3:10). To understand which day or time period the Bible is referring to, you have to read the context. Context is vitally important in understanding any Bible prophecy.
Many prophecies are dual in nature, meaning they have a past or former and a future or latter fulfillment.The former fulfillment refers to a prophecy that has already come to pass. This “former fulfillment” foreshadows a future event called the latter or future fulfillment. This is a fulfillment that has yet to come. The former guarantees that the latter will happen.
Jesus foretold that the Temple would be destroyed (Matthew 24:1-2). It was destroyed in 70 AD. This is a prophecy that has already come to pass in part. However, if we read all of Jesus’ prophecy and compare it to other places in the Bible, we can see that there is a future attack on Jerusalem that will take place. He uses the destruction that would come in 70 AD to foretell of a future destruction in the future at the END of the age (Matthew 24:3). The rest of the chapter explains this.
Another basic teaching of Bible prophecy is that God often addresses an entire nation. Most prophecies you read are addressed to entire nations like the nations of Israel, Judah, Assyria, Babylon, Moab, etc. Because He is addressing an entire nation, He is addressing all the people that live where that nation is located.
When a prophecy is given, the Lord is referring to the location of a nation (or nations) at the time that prophecy is supposed to come to pass. When the Lord is prophesying about events that have yet to take place, He is referring to nations where they are located in the world today.
For instance, in ancient times, the Medes dwelt in the Middle East with the Persians. Since then, they have migrated to western Russia. We discussed this in our article on “Russia in Prophecy”. You can scroll down to find it. To this end, we must look at Biblical descriptions of these nations in the last days and compare them with modern nations. The use of history is important because history is a witness of what actually happened in the world at a specific point and time.
The main nations God addresses prophetically are the houses of Israel and Judah. Other nations are mentioned in the Bible only as they come into contact with them
This is a basic overview of Bible prophecy to help you understand how to interpret the Bible prophecy