part of the what is truth? series

How we interpret Bible prophecy presents a unique challenge, at least to the extent that the question should be asked…Is Bible prophecy even something we can interpret?

interpret (verb): 1-to explain or tell the meaning of : present in understandable terms. 2-to conceive in the light of individual belief, judgment, or circumstance. Merriam-Webster

We ask the question and identify the challenge because of the class of the prophetic writings themselves. They are by their nature, wildly figurative and symbolic. Whether it’s Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37) or John’s vision of the beast emerging from the sea (Revelation 13), we are often left asking ourselves, “What can this mean?”

how Scripture answers "Can we interpret Bible prophecy?"

We can only interpret prophecy to the extent that God, through another inspired writer2,4,6, has revealed what it means1. For example, we have cases where we would never even think to make application on our own, and yet the inspired writer does5. In fact, interpreting Bible prophecy and how we handle it in general is the ultimate example of how Scripture interprets Scripture, or literally, God interprets God1.

There are absolutely other cases where prophecy seems to be saying something we could readily understand and apply. First, maybe it’s just the words being used7 (many more examples). Or, maybe it’s the close proximity (e.g. context) of other verses that have been definitively interpreted by an inspired writer (ex: Isaiah 53, where not all verses are interpreted to describe Jesus). How does the sincere Bible student handle these?

Should we be coming to definitive conclusions about doctrine based on these situations? Is that not a form of adding to3 His word? Are we not making ourself to be God? This principle is part of the broader principle that there are some questions we cannot answer because God has not revealed it to us in His word.

the answer above is built on and footnoted with the following scripture-blocks

1

And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

We have the prophetic word that is more sure which you should pay close attention to as it is a lamp that shines in the dark.  It shines until that day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts/minds.  You know of first importance that no prophecy of Scripture came from one’s own interpretation, but rather the men were moved by the Holy Spirit to share what was from God.

Peter is warning all Christians about false teachers and goes on to compare them to false prophets.  His overarching message is encouragement to hold fast to his and the apostles’ teaching as they “were eyewitnesses” (vs 16) of Jesus Christ.  In addition to their eyewitness testimony, he is suggesting they pay attention to the prophecies that serve as confirmation of their faith, and he continues in the next few verses to warn about “false words” from “false teachers” (2:1-3).

How does it apply here?

Peter’s main point is that the words of Scripture are from God, not from the person that might be writing them (e.g. Isaiah, Moses, David, etc.). However, there’s also an implication here, or maybe it’s by extension, that no Scriptural prophecy is interpreted by man since no [true] prophecy is given by man. Prophecy is from God [His words], and therefore God’s alone to interpret. Interestingly, Peter tells us this while citing two familiar prophetic images – their meanings we need not speculate about since we have inspired [God] interpretation – “a lamp shining” (Luke 1:76-79) and “the morning star” (Revelation 22:16).

2

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

The prophets prophesied about the salvation through Christ (or, “grace that was to be yours”) and wondered themselves about the timing and person that would be Jesus as they predicted His sufferings and glories.  Yet, they were told they were serving someone else with the things (prophesies) that have now been fulfilled (“announced”) in the revelation of the gospel by the Holy Spirit.

Peter’s letter(s) of encouragement to the saints that were facing great persecution and longing for their reward in Christ Jesus. He goes on to tell them to be prepared for “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (vs 13).
How does it apply here?

The prophets that uttered God’s prophecy didn’t know for themselves the interpretation. They were left to wonder (without God revealing it to them).

3

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
I warn everyone hearing this not to add to or take away anything from it.  If you do, God will add to him the plagues and take away his share of eternal salvation described herein.
The closing verses of John’s apocalyptic vision.  These are the words from Jesus continued from verse 16 providing several warnings and promises.
How does it apply here?

We are warned not to add to or take away from God’s word. Whether this is specific to just the book of Revelation or the collection of books that are the Bible, the truth remains.

4

Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face and paid homage to Daniel, and commanded that an offering and incense be offered up to him. The king answered and said to Daniel, Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery. Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. Daniel made a request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon. But Daniel remained at the king’s court.

King Nebuchadnezzar honored Daniel and acknowledged his God as the God of all gods and ruler of kings.  He gave him gifts and made him ruler over the province and put in charge over all the wise men.  Daniel was also to appoint his three friends into positions over the province, while Daniel remained in king Nebuchadnezzar’s court.

With God’s help, Daniel is able to interpret a dream of Nebuchadnezzar’s that nobody else was able to interpret. It was of an image made of different alloys that each represented kingdoms, starting with Nebuchadnezzar’s and ending with a kingdom that God will establish, lasting forever (vs 44).

How does it apply here?

God is the “revealer of mysteries.” Daniel, in all his righteousness, wasn’t able to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream on his own.

5

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.

When Israel was young, I [God] loved him, and out of Egypt I called [saved] him.

This chapter appears to begin a distinct prophecy from God (through Hosea).  The personification of the nation of Israel – God’s chosen people – is not at all unique in the Old Testament.  After referring to the love for His people and His saving them from bondage in Egypt, there is a rebuke of their behavior in return, “The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols” (vs 2).  The prophecy continues recounting their history and specifically calling out God’s “kindness” (vs 4) toward them and their rebellion against Him (“the people are bent on turning away from me” vs 7).

Matthew also interprets this verse only to apply to Jesus and the fact that they had to flee to Egypt after his birth (

Matthew 2:13-15
).

How does it apply here?

There is nothing about this verse that would allow for the interpretation that Matthew made regarding Jesus. First, Hosea wrote this some 700+ years before Christ (and Matthew). Second, the very next verse speaks of rebellion and sacrificing to idols (certainly not about Jesus). We can only know this is speaking about Jesus because of an inspired writer’s interpretation.

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

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