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How should Bible prophecy be interpreted.

Fulfilled prophecy gives confidence in the fulfillment of the rest.

Thank you for your question.

When we are taught mathematics in school we are given ‘worked examples’ to show us how to tackle similar problems.

The Bible teaches the interpretation of prophecy in the same way.

It gives us ‘worked examples’.

For example the first fulfilment of prophecy in the New Testament comes at the beginning of Matthew.

Matthew 1:22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,

23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

The prophecy is found in Isaiah:

Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

The next example in Matthew is the coming of the ‘wise men’.

Matthew 2:1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,

6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

The prophecy is found in Micah.

Micah 5:2 But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

When we come to prophecy using symbols we have similar worked examples.

The history of the kingdoms of men down to our own time is given in Daniel in prophetic symbols and the meaning of many of the symbols is explained.

Daniel 2:31Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible.

32 This image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass,

33 His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay.

34 Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces.

35 Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.

36 This is the dream; and we will tell the interpretation thereof before the king.

37 Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory.

38 And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold.

39 And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth.

40 And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise.

41 And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters’ clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay.

42 And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken.

43 And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay.

44 And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.

45 Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.

Here, the worked example is: Head of Gold = Babylon;

The parts we have to work out are those empires which followed the Babylonian.

From history:

Breast and his arms of silver = Next Empire = Medo-Persian.

Belly and his thighs of brass = Next Empire = Greek.

Legs of iron = Next Empire = Roman

Following the demise of the Roman Empire there have been separate kingdoms which no one has been able to incorporate into an Empire. Both Napoleon and Hitler tried without success.

Feet part of iron and part of clay = Separate kingdoms, some strong, some weak which will not join together, as we see in our day.

The European Union is the latest attempt to join together but as yet they have been unable to agree a constitution.

We can see clearly from Daniel’s prophecy that God intends to physically interfere and bring forcibly into being the Kingdom of God which will last forever.

Having given us the opportunity to work out that the Empires following Babylon are the Medo-Persian and Greek, further prophecies in Daniel give us the answer by way of confirmation.

In Daniel 8 the symbols are changed and more detail is added.

Daniel 8:3 Then I lifted up mine eyes, and saw, and, behold, there stood before the river a ram which had two horns: and the two horns were high; but one was higher than the other, and the higher came up last.

4 I saw the ram pushing westward, and northward, and southward; so that no beasts might stand before him, neither was there any that could deliver out of his hand; but he did according to his will, and became great.

5 And as I was considering, behold, an he goat came from the west on the face of the whole earth, and touched not the ground: and the goat had a notable horn between his eyes.

6 And he came to the ram that had two horns, which I had seen standing before the river, and ran unto him in the fury of his power.

7 And I saw him come close unto the ram, and he was moved with choler against him, and smote the ram, and brake his two horns: and there was no power in the ram to stand before him, but he cast him down to the ground, and stamped upon him: and there was none that could deliver the ram out of his hand.

8 Therefore the he goat waxed very great: and when he was strong, the great horn was broken; and for it came up four notable ones toward the four winds of heaven.

The explanation is given and the Empires confirmed.

20 The ram which thou sawest having two horns are the kings of Media and Persia.

21 And the rough goat is the king of Grecia: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king.

From history the great horn was Alexander the great and at his death the Greek empire was split between his four generals.

Daniel 11 is a very detailed prophecy for which a comprehensive knowledge of Greek and Roman history is required.

Fortunately for us, Isaac Newton made a study of it which can be found here:

http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Observations_upon_the_Prophecies_of_Daniel/Part_I_Chap_XII

Daniel 11:31 takes us up to AD 70 as Isaac Newton observes.

Daniel 11:31 And arms shall stand on his part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate.

Jesus refers to it in the Olivet prophecy.

Matthew 24:15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)

The parallel account in Luke shows that is a reference to a siege of Jerusalem.

Luke 21:20 And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.

The Romans besieged and destroyed in AD 68-70.

Daniel is the learning slope, as it were, for the book of Revelation. You will see that there is a connection link between the toes (10) of the image, the 10 horns of the fourth beast (Daniel 7:7) and the 10 horns of the beast in Revelation (Revelation 13:1 & Revelation 17:3,7&12)

Revelation 17:12 And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast.

14 These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.

Both prophecies bring us to the time when God will send his son to establish the kingdom of God on Earth.

As far as rules for interpreting the imagery of Bible prophecy I suggest that Isaac Newton is a reliable source for this also.

You will find it here:

http://www.historicist.com/newton/p1c2.htm

I cannot answer your question more comprehensively without writing a book.

I am willing to answer questions on specific prophecies if you would like to email me direct on patandglennsmit@tiscali.co.uk

Bible prophecy and its accurate fulfilment is what first convinced me that the Bible is the word of God.

I hope this helps

Glenn Smith

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