By Nathan Jones. Evangelist & Web Minister
To watch video go to: https://vimeo.com/127505234
On this week’s episode of Christ in Prophecy, we asked this question of Dr. Ron Rhodes, the founder and director of a ministry called Reasoning from the Scriptures, located in Frisco, Texas. His ministry specializes in defending Christianity against Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, the cults, world religions, and about any group that teaches false doctrine. He’s an excellent writer who has written more than 70 books! His latest one is titled, The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy.
1) Should prophecy be interpreted literally or allegorically?
There is a reason why I included this as the first topic in my book, because what you believe about this issue will determine where you end up on everything else doctrinally. If you interpret prophecy literally, you are going to come out in one place. But, if you spiritualize prophecy, you can end up in any number of different places because there is no objective check on that.
My policy is that when the plain sense makes good sense, seek no other sense, lest you end up in nonsense.
When I follow that policy, there is one inevitable conclusion that I come to. That is, if you want to understand how God is going to fulfill prophecy in the future, take a look at how God has fulfilled prophecy in the past. In the Old Testament we’ve got over 100 Messianic prophecies that foretell the First Coming of Christ, and they were all fulfilled literally. We are talking about the Virgin Birth in Isaiah 7:14. Christ will be born in Bethlehem in Micah 5:2. He will be pierced for our sins in Zechariah 12:10 and Isaiah 53. Descend from the line of Abraham in Genesis 12. On and on I can go. The point is, I believe that the Second Coming prophecies and all the events that lead up to the Second Coming will be just as literal as those that dealt with the First Coming prophecies.
Even if the prophecy is symbolic, it has some literal meaning which often the Bible tells just what the meaning is. For example, if you are reading the book of Revelation, you will encounter symbols. That is common in Apocalyptic literature. But, those symbols are defined either in the immediate context, or in the broader context of the Holy Scripture.
One of my old friends as well as a former teacher at Dallas Seminary used to tell me that if you want to understand the book of Revelation, and you’ve got six months to do it, spend the first three months in the Old Testament. Then spend the last three months in the book of Revelation, because many of the symbols are defined for us in the text.
Jesus took safeguards on making sure that we didn’t misunderstand things. For example, the symbols that are used in the first part of Revelation about the stars in Christ’s hand and the golden lampstands, those are clearly defined for us in the context. The same thing with the book of Daniel as there are some symbols there as well. Those symbols are defined for us within the context itself. That indicates to me that you should always test your interpretation according to the Scriptures.
Don’t read your modern newspaper into the Bible! Your policy is to first understand what the Bible says, and then interpret modern events.
A line I added at the end of this chapter reads, “We cannot expect objective consistency among those who use a subjective methodology.” Meaning, these people who use a spiritualized approach to interpreting the Bible can end up anywhere.
2) Are Israel and the Church distinct in Bible prophecy?
Understanding whether the Church has replaced Israel or not is very important to the interpretation of Bible prophecy. It is important because Bible prophecy is intimately related to the Biblical covenants, such as the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 12 and the Davidic Covenant in 2 Samuel 7. These are unconditional covenants.
What I mean by an unconditional covenant is that there is nothing that Israel has to do in order for God to fulfill His covenant promises. If it was a conditional covenant then Israel would be responsible to do this in order for God to do that. But, that is not what those covenants are. Instead, those covenants are unconditional covenants where God promises to do certain things for Israel, and Israel doesn’t have to do anything in return. They are unconditional.
Now, here’s the question: “Is God telling the truth? Is God a promise keeper?” If you answer yes to those questions, you have no choice but to accept the reality that God has made unconditional promises to Israel, and they will be fulfilled.
Here is something really important. There are a lot of people that argue that the Church fulfilled the promises that were made to Israel. They often go to the New Testament to prove their claim.
Okay, I am game to go into the New Testament. Let’s look at the book of Acts. Even in the book of Acts you’ve got the Church that is mentioned 19 times and Israel that is mentioned 20 times. Israel and the Church are still distinct in the book of Acts.
Then there’s Romans 9-11, where three consecutive chapters talk about this distinction. The Apostle Paul talks about how there is still a future for Israel.
There are other verses. First Corinthians 10:32 has Paul talking about not causing a stumbling block for Jews or for Gentiles or for the Church.
The point that I’m making to you is that even in New Testament times, the Church and Israel are distinct. It is my personal belief that God’s plan for the Jewish people, those covenants where God made those promises, will ultimately be fulfilled in the future Millennial Kingdom. That is when the land promises of the Abrahamic Covenant will be fulfilled. That is when the throne promises in regard to Christ reigning on the throne of David will be fulfilled as well.
The vast majority of Catholics and Protestants believe in Replacement Theology. They argue that the Jews were not faithful, and so therefore God has washed His hands of them and has no purpose left for them. The Church then has inherited all of their blessings. There are a couple of things I could say about that. First of all, did you know that many of the promises made in the covenants continue to be repeated throughout the entire Old Testament? If Israel was unfaithful in that first couple of years after the covenant was made and therefore Israel was no longer recipients of those promises, how come those same promises continue to get repeated over and over again throughout Old Testament history?
The second point I want to make to you is that I consider Replacement Theology not just doctrinally aberrant, but dangerous. It’s dangerous because it affects the way that people view Israel today. It’s the foundation stone of Antisemitism. One of the concerns that I have is the Church moving away from supporting Israel. How does that relate to the Abrahamic Covenant? Doesn’t the Abrahamic Covenant tell us that if we bless Israel that God will bless us? What if we turn away from Israel? Will God then turn away from us?
3) What can we know about the signs of the times?
I like to describe the signs of the times as “God’s intel in advance.” God tells us what things are going to be like in the end times before Christ comes for us. In terms of the signs of the times, I like to talk about what I call the Convergence Factor. What I mean by that is that I don’t just think there is one prophecy that is coming to pass in our day. I don’t think that there are just two prophecies that are coming to pass in our day. I think that there are multiple prophecies in our day either coming to pass, or the stage is being set for them to come to pass, and they are all converging in our day for the first time ever.
For example, the thing that got it started was the rebirth of Israel back in 1948. That’s the Super Sign which we see prophesied back in Ezekiel 36-37. Right after those chapters talk about Israel being reborn as a nation, the text goes on to say that following that event, the Jewish people would be streaming back to the Holy Land from every nation in the world. That’s never happened before in human history. When Israel was in bondage to Babylon, the Jews streamed from Babylon only back into Israel. The Scriptures say that after Israel is born again in the last days that Jewish people from all over the world will continue to stream back to the Holy Land. That regathering has been happening decade by decade, year by year, ever since then.
The text goes on to say right there in Ezekiel that sometime after Israel is reborn as a nation there will be a military coalition that would emerge in the north. This military coalition will move against Israel. When you look at the nations that make up that coalition such as Iran, the Sudan, Libya, and all the nations that are up and around the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea such as Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and all those ‘Stan Nations, what that means is that these are Muslim nations in conjunction with Russia that are going to move against Israel.
Notice that pattern. Israel gets reborn as a nation. The Jews are streaming back to the Holy Land. Sometime after that, there’s going to be this big invasion called Gog and Magog. The stage is being set in our own day for this big invasion! Russia already has an alliance with many of these Muslim nations. Islam didn’t even exist back in Ezekiel’s day. People might have wondered back then what do those nations have in common that would make them move against Israel? Well, today we know.
There’s a number of signs other than Israel. For example, in the middle of the Tribulation, according to Revelation 13, we understand that the Antichrist is going to wield economic control over the entire world. The only way that he could ever do that is if there was a cashless society. If our society was still based on cash, then people could still buy things with cash. The only way he’d be able to enforce a domination economically is if we had a cashless society. That is where we are headed right now. That is a sign of the times.
There are other signs related to technology, like for example in Revelation where it says that the Two Witnesses in Jerusalem are going to be killed. Their bodies are going to be left in the middle of the street and the whole world is going to look upon them. That video is going to go viral all over the Internet. Then, three days later, they are going to stand up and be taken up to Heaven.
All of these signs are converging in our day. There are other signs we could talk about, but the point is what the ancient prophets said thousands of years ago are coming to fruition in our day. You would have to be blind to ignore it!
We don’t know the date or the hour of Jesus’ return, for our Lord has told us that cannot be known. But, we can know that we are in the season of the Lord’s return.
So, here’s a warning for us. In Matthew 16, Jesus told the Jewish leaders they could see that a storm is coming by looking at the sky, but they couldn’t even read the signs of the times and know that He is the Messiah. They should be able to recognize that He’s the Messiah based on the Messianic prophecies. They’d missed the signs of the times.
That is a warning for each one of us. What you and I have to do is to understand what the signs of the times are. Then we need to watch to see if there are correlations between world events and biblical prophecies. If you do that, you come to understand that indeed we are in the season of the Lord’s return.