Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Prophecy and Symbolism

Everyone admits some symbolism in prophecy. I know of no one who claims a literal creature like the one described in Revelation 13:1,2 will walk or has walked upon the earth. But we need to ask, how far do we go? Does Isaiah 11:6,7 refer to a change in the nature of animals, or is it a symbolic picture of peace on earth? But one question that needs to be asked is, does this passage make sense as a symbol? I follow a simple principle of interpretation I call reading the Bible like a Galilean fisherman. That is, Scripture should be understood in the simple, straightforward way an ordinary person would read it. This by no means solves all the problems. But it helps avoid reading our theological system into the text rather than getting it out of the text, as we should. On this basis I reject both Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology. But I am still left with trying to piece together an understanding of future prophecy based on what the Scripture says. The question is, how do I go about doing this?

I start by asking which passages, read in the ordinary way, do or do not make sense if taken as symbols. One thing that comes to mind is the detailed descriptions of battles set in the area of Palestine (Ezekiel 38, 39; Zechariah 12-14; Daniel 11:40-12:4). (It is not my purpose here to consider whether these represent one battle or a series of battles.) It is hard to match these with anything that has occurred in the past. It also seems extremely difficult, given the detailed nature of these accounts, to regard them as simply a symbol or to interpret all of the details symbolically. I have to ask why God produced these accounts if we are to throw out all the details and just keep some vague, general message. But we do have to ask, does this contradict the New Testament teachings? My initial judgment is, there are New Testament passages which fit in very well with these (Revelation 11:1-13; Matthew 24:15-21; 2 Thessalonians 2:3,4).  But one argument against this is that Israel has been rejected and can have no further role in God's plan (Matthew 21:43; Luke 13:6,7; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16). However, these passages seem clearly addressed to that particular generation of Jews, and concluding that Israel would never have any further place in God's plans is reading far more into them than is there. Also, it is said that in the church there is neither Jew or Greek (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11; Romans 3:29,30). But Scripture also says there is neither male nor female (Galatians 3:28); this does not mean there are no temporal distinctions (Ephesians 5:22-33). Also, the history involved speaks of unbelieving Israel, which will only come to faith at the end (Zechariah 12:10-14), so any references to Jews or Greeks in the church is irrelevant. There are passages in the New Testament that can be argued both ways regarding the future of Israel. But the specific, detailed prophecies cannot be ignored.

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