The Most Obvious Principle in End-Time Prophecy Study that Almost Everybody Is Ignoring
by Steve Sterling 11/19/2011 / Prophecy
In the study of end-time Bible prophecy today many even among the most seasoned expert theologians are just not getting it right. It is a bit difficult to say whether the perception of intellectual superiority has anything to do with it but what is certain is that we are not following God's instructions as we aught. What I mean by this is that we have become so caught up with wanting to interpret everything that even in the very instructions that the Lord gives in solving Bible prophecy we tend to see some hidden meaning beyond the instruction that is given.
Here is the problem. As prophecy students we are conditioned to think that the book of Revelation is a 'world of symbolism', that almost nothing should be taken for its obvious meaning. Because of this we tend to see a coded meaning in everything we read. Here is the worst problem. When we think along this line, we are setting ourselves up for private interpretation.
If in our study of symbolic end-time prophecy we see everything as a symbol, the next step would inevitably be to find an interpretation for them in the Bible. And if we cannot find them in the Bible, certainly, we are going to conjecture the meanings that fit our peculiar point of view. Are you familiar with this scenario? Well here is a reason why it keeps happening: we are simply not following God's instructions in the interpretation of symbolic prophecies PRECISELY as given in the scriptures. When we have this corrected more than half our problems with interpreting Bible prophecy will be solved.
It is such a pity that most people who take an interest in the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation do not seem to put a very high premium on the level of precision with which God gives His instructions. We do not seem to believe that God is the kind of person who says what He means and means what he says. This attitude toward God's word reminds me of the case of Abraham when God made a promise to him that he will have a son. At the time when God made the promise, Sarah, his wife, was barren and without hope of having any children.
In light of their present situation, Abraham and Sarah decided that they are going to interpret what God says. So they reasoned among themselves that the promise of God must have meant that Hagar is the one who is going to have this seed for us. And so they went ahead and did what they thought best according to their interpretation of God's promise. As a result of there own conjecture, Ishmael came forth and the problems that came as a consequence convinced Abraham and his wife that this was not what God had intended (See Genesis chapters 15-17).
Whenever I think about speculations in the interpretation of end-time Bible prophecy, two shining examples would come to mind - the practice of treating the mark of the beast and the image of the beast as symbols to be interpreted. The flawed deductions on the mark and image of the beast stem from a faulty premise. And the premise is "the book of Revelation is a world of symbolism." When we use a particular view as a premise it is going to determine how we interpret other things that are built around that position. Therefore, if the premise is not solid enough for a foundation every thing that is built on it will collapse.
So here's where the argument leads. If the book of Revelation is a book of symbols, it means that the mark of the beast is a symbols of something else that is not quite apparent in the scriptures. Some people interpret the mark of the beast as a symbol of greed, others say it is a symbol of the evil economic system, while other suggestions have it that it is a false day of worship. These interpretations may have their place as secondary applications pertaining to the mark of the beast, but none of them can be promoted as established interpretations in the scriptures.
The fact is the Bible is very clear about how we should view these elements. First to begin with, we should not attempt to interpret anything that the scriptures do not interpret. From what the prophet John says, he saw a literal mark being placed in the foreheads and right hands of people. Are we to believe that what John saw are not literal events to be fulfilled as he saw it?
The image of the beast likewise is said to be a symbol of something other than its obvious meaning. The view I am most familiar with is "the union of church and state". But there are other views such as the Papacy, which is said to be the image of the Roman Empire, and the latest I am now hearing is that it is the United Nations.
According to the scriptures, the image of the beast is something that will be worshipped by many people in the last days. Why should we find this difficult to understand? Are we not familiar with image worship in the Old Testament? The practice of trying to symbolize and interpret something that the Bible does not interpret only mystifies that which is made plain.
The rule we should apply in this respect is to take everything for their obvious meaning unless a symbol is employed. Where a symbol is introduced, the Bible must be allowed to interpret the symbol. God never intended Bible prophecy to be so difficult and complicated as it is now being made out to be. In all His instructions, it is always God's intention to make everything so plain that "the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein." Isa. 35:8