The Proper Handling of Prophecy
From the Message of
Bread Upon The Waters Ministry
Study therefore to show yourself approved unto God, a workman who needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.
II Timothy 2:15
Despise not prophesyings.
Prove all things. Hold fast that which is good.
I Thessalonians 5:20 & 21
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.
II Timothy 4:3 & 4
Prophecy: God's Proof
One of the most significant things that sets Christianity apart from all other religions is Prophecy, and especially the fulfillment of Prophecy. Other religions have had prophets, but none has had so many prophecies that have been fulfilled. In the Book of Isaiah, chapter 44:6-8 (and elsewhere in the Bible) God, in so many words, offers fulfillment of Prophecy as proof of His own existence. He challenges the gods of other religions to make prophecies that will be fulfilled, and implies that the fact that the prophecies made by His prophets get fulfilled is proof that He is indeed the one true God. Also, in the Book of Ezekiel, (and elsewhere in the Scriptures) we find God again and again saying that such-and- such a thing will happen "...and you will know that I am the Lord."
We are living in a time when we have seen many great prophecies fulfilled. Because of this, we are expecting the imminent fulfillment of even more prophecies, particularly the prophecies of the Second Coming of Christ, and other prophecies associated with it. A problem has arisen concerning this: Going back several centuries now, people have been trying to figure out what these prophecies mean. That is, they have been trying to interpret them before the fulfillment. If your are really familiar with the overall subject, then you know that there has been an enormous amount of disagreement among the interpreters. More than that, there have been many ideas put forward that have already been proven wrong by history. Especially, but by no means limited to, attempts that have been made, repeatedly, to predict the exact date of the Second Coming.
Note: 6/24/11: Howard Camping's recent 'May 21' fiasco is only the latest such incident, though it was one of the worst, because of the degree to which it was promoted, and the way it discredited the Christian Faith..
A Biblical Principle
There is a little known Biblical principle that has a very serious relevance to the issue of interpretation of Prophecy: To interpret Prophecy accurately before the fulfillment, you have to be a prophet of God yourself. This is shown in two famous stories in the Bible, the story of Joseph, the son of Jacob, before Pharaoh, and the story of Daniel before the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. In Genesis 40:16, when asked by Pharaoh to interpret his dreams, Joseph answered, "It is not in me. God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace." In other words, Joseph disclaimed any ability of his own to interpret the prophecy and attributed the interpretation to God and God alone. Yet we know that Joseph was 100% accurate in his interpretations.
A similar situation occurred in Daniel 2. Daniel approached Nebuchadnezzar and offered to interpret a dream that the king himself could not remember. The king asked him if he could indeed reveal and interpret the dream. Daniel replied, "The secret which the king has demanded the wise men...cannot declare unto the king. But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets". Like Joseph, he disclaimed any ability of his own intellect to tell Nebuchadnezzar what he wanted to know. He attributed the revelation to God and God alone. Yet we know, again, that Daniel has been 100% correct in what he prophesied, thus far.
Dreams and Visions
There have also been, and are, many people who have claimed to have had visions, and/or dreams or other personal revelations that foretold events related to the Second Coming and the Great Tribulation. It just so happens that the "revelations" thus received often contradict other such "revelations", as do the "interpretations". And, like the "interpretations", many of the dreams and visions have been proven wrong by history. Those who publish such dreams and visions, and those who are inclined to take such things as Gospel should read Jeremiah 23:16-32. They should especially take verse 32 to heart. They should also consider whether, in their "interpreting", they are doing what is mentioned in II Peter 3:16. They should also remember, and take seriously, the warnings of Revelation 22:18 & 19. I am convinced that many who teach on Prophecy never even consider that these warnings may apply to them. But for many, they certainly will. They should remember that they may have to answer to God for what they are saying and/or publishing.
A Necessary Disclaimer
In the light of this, all those (like this writer) who claim to understand Prophecy had better take a humble approach to what they say. We could all be wrong! All of us! Really! However, far from exercising caution, most of the interpreters and those who have had the visions and dreams tend to have the attitude that you are of the devil if you don't take their every word as being directly from the Lord. They think that their every word should be taken as Gospel. Some come right out and say so.
Which is exactly why you shouldn't!!
This writer was once vehemently told that he didn't believe the Bible because he would not accept a certain interpretation. He happens to be a champion of the Divine inspiration and authority of the Bible.
Seldom do you hear from any of them this disclaimer:
"This is my opinion. Not the Word of God. I could be wrong."
Special Note: This writer does say this in regard to everything he says that constitutes an interpretation of Prophecy before the fulfillment.
It is very dangerous spiritually to take any particular interpretation of Prophecy as Gospel, that is, to make it a matter of faith, beyond simply believing in the Second Coming. There are serious reasons for this.
The Bible contains many warnings about false prophets and false teachers. A person doesn't have to be a religious cult leader to be a false prophet or teacher. All he has to do is claim, overtly or tacitly, divine inspiration and authority for what are really just his own ideas about Prophecy, or be claiming that a dream that was really just a dream was a revelation from God. It is virtually certain that this has been the case with some of the dreams that have been published recently on the Web. A vision could be a hallucination. Or it could come from Satan! You should be very suspicious of dreams and visions. This writer has occasionally had dreams from the Lord. These dreams have provided some significant personal guidance for his life. They have included some very timely warnings. But they have never constituted doctrine that he should teach to others. On the two occasions when he told others about the dreams, with the implication that they would be affected by the fulfillment, he found out that it was a bad mistake. The kind of revelation that constitutes new doctrine, according to Scripture, is given only through the Jews, and then apparently only under very special circumstances.
Understand this: There is concrete reason to believe that God has never made a general, widespread practice of giving people; yes, HIS PEOPLE; dreams and visions that constitute either doctrine to teach or predictions of world events. That kind of revelation is a gift reserved for a chosen very few. The experience is described by the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 20:9:
" Then I said, "I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name." But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not." (NKJ)
A revelation of that level is an experience that overrides the will of the person who receives it. See "Introducing the Bible". It is not anything resembling a common experience. Anyone who dares to claim to have had such an experience had better be very certain of it. Otherwise, he may be invoking God's wrath on himself by so doing.
Bluntly, it is extremely unlikely that any new, Divinely authored doctrine, at least in relation to salvation and Christian behavior, has been given since the Bible was completed. And probably not about the Second Coming, either. Believing otherwise is what starts cults. However, this is not to say that new understanding of Prophecy has not been given. This writer believes that it has, and in his humble opinion, believes he has some of it.
It is quite possible that if, as many Christians believe, severe judgment is about to fall upon this world, God would speak through some of His people with information about what is going to happen. As it says in Amos 3:7,
"Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to
His servants the prophets".
(Note one important thing about this verse: By the context, it refers only to warnings.)
If God did give such warnings, what would be said, would have to be entirely consistent with the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit is the author of the Bible, and He does not contradict Himself. Some of what has been offered recently on the Internet, and elsewhere, as the content of dreams and visions, and some "interpretations of Prophecy", have little to do with anything that is written in the Scriptures. Or with reality, for that matter.
A Scriptural principle for recognizing true Prophecy is that when God speaks, what He prophesies happens. There was a best-selling Christian book called "The Vision" that was published in the mid 1970's, by the late NYC evangelist, David Wilkerson, for which he claimed divine inspiration through visions. If he had really been divinely inspired, Christians in the United States would have long since endured severe persecution. There would have been a big decline in the drug problem. Last but not least, nude dancing would have become common in churches. You know that none of these things happened.
Update: 6/18/2000: If he had been right, the Rapture would have already happened.
If you know someone who has made a "prophecy" concerning the Second Coming, or anything else, and that person claimed divine inspiration for it, and it didn't happen, you are under Biblical admonition to henceforth ignore anything that person says. If that person happens to be the pastor of your church, either get rid of him or find another church. You are being disobedient to God if you do neither.
Special Note: I consider what is said in the Main Message of this ministry in regard to the fulfillment of Prophecy to be an educated guess. I do not claim divine inspiration, but merely the use of my own knowledge and reason, hopefully under the Lord's guidance. Nevertheless, I believe that what is said is far more consistent with both the Scriptures and reality than much of what is being currently taught about Second Coming Prophecy elsewhere.
Much Contemporary Teaching on Prophecy is Nothing But Fantasy!
If they were taken and broken down point by point, it could be shown that some current Second Coming teaching is nothing but religious fantasy. Again, this includes many things now being published on the Internet. Paul said, in II Timothy 4:3; speaking, you must understand, about Christians,
"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine
But according to their own desires, because they have itching ears,
They will heap up (i.e. false) teachers unto themselves."
The time has come, and ironically, much of the false teaching is about Prophecy. There is a phenomenon that exists in relation to Prophecy that can be called "Second Coming Paranoia". It sees the "Antichrist" as being already in power, when the Book of Revelation shows that he won't rise to power until after the Tribulation begins. It claims that the term, "New World Order", as used by high-ranking government officials refers to the "Antichrist government", when, in fact, it refers only to the new global political and economic situation since the end of the Cold War, and that's all! In connection with this, there have been a number of people who have been identified as the "Antichrist", not the least of which was the late U.S. President, Ronald Reagan. More recently, some have said that George W. Bush is the Antichrist. (The truth is, he's a Christian.) There have been many related false ideas put forward that are, again, nothing but fantasies, and allegations that are absolutely false. It has even been claimed that the Tribulation has already begun, and also that the Second Coming has already happened! All of this is misleading to Christians, and to the unsaved who are aware of it, it happens to be a very bad testimony!
The latter comment is not hypothetical. This writer is aware of the reactions of unsaved people to the "Prophecy" garbage that is being bandied about these days. It isn't good.
If you don't believe this, with a few clicks of your mouse you can see the proof of it. Below are links to two Web sites that use this foolishness on the part of Christians as their basis for attacks on the Christian Faith. Well justified attacks, unfortunately. (You will have to navigate "back" to return to this page.)
They should be considered a "must read" for any Christian who doesn't think he could be wrong about his views on Prophecy. There are other sites like these.
Christians should be much wiser and more careful in what they believe, and especially in what they say publicly, about Prophesy.
How Do You Discern The Truth?
In questioning anything that purports to be a dream or vision from the Lord, or an interpretation of Prophecy, you should first of all apply the old rule of thumb:
"Show it to me in the Bible!"
Listen carefully to what is said. Ask yourself, "Does the Bible really support what he says, or is he reading something into it that isn't there?" And, "Is he ignoring something in the Bible that clearly contradicts what he is saying?" In Revelation 22 18 & 19 there is a warning relevant to Prophecy that both of these questions address. The readers are warned not to add anything to, or take anything away from, the words of the prophecy of the Book, with dire consequences to anyone who does either. It just happens that almost all false Christian teaching derives from one or both of these errors in relation to the Scriptures. A person who reads something into the Bible that isn't there is adding to it. A person who is ignoring or belittling something that contradicts what he says is taking away from it. Interpreters of Prophecy do both all the time. Don't let yourself be hyped into believing anything that sounds good but that violates these principles.
One other little known principle: The Bible shows that God has a pattern of always doing things the same way (compare Malachi 3:6 and James 1:17). Does what this guy is predicting fit in with God's way of doing things as shown in the Bible?
Note that you really have to know the Bible for yourself to be able to answer these questions. Part of the problem is that too many Christians don't. See the "Eye Salve" page.
There is another major issue that most Christians who are interested in Prophecy are blissfully unaware of. But it can be critical to discerning what is a genuine word from the Lord, and what is fantasy. It might be called....
The Reality Check
A major factor to be considered in deciding whether an interpretation, dream or vision is valid is whether or not it is in accord with reality. The Bible does not say this, but there is massive Biblical precedent. The only exception to this principle is when the prophecy is about some kind of direct divine intervention, especially through the forces of nature, such as the plagues of Egypt or the actual Second Coming of Christ (in that case, see the section above). If any event or situation prophesied requires human action to fulfill it, it must be in accord with reality to have any chance of being true. The larger in scale the event, the more this is true.
The biggest Biblical example is the case of Jeremiah prophesying that Babylon would destroy Jerusalem and carry the Jews into captivity. Let's put it this way: He didn't tell them that space aliens would do it! (some current "prophecies" and "interpretations" are that irrelevant to reality.) At the time that he was prophesying, Babylon was the rising star in world power. During the reign of Josiah (II Chronicles 34 & 35) a joint attack by the Babylonians under Nabopolassar, father of Nebuchadnezzar, along with the Medes (from what is now northern Iran) under a leader named Cyaxares, totally obliterated the Assyrian capital of Nineveh. (Note: This is known from ancient history, not the Bible.) Then, a few years after the death of Josiah, the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar annihilated a joint Assyrian and Egyptian army at the great Battle of Carchemish (II Chronicles 35:20, Jeremiah 46:2), permanently terminating the Assyrian Empire. Assyria, had at that time been the greatest empire in the world for several centuries.
Also, carrying conquered peoples into captivity was common practice in Old Testament times. That's how most slaves were obtained. It had already happened to the 10 northern (i.e. Lost) Tribes of Israel.
Therefore, anyone in Jerusalem who knew what was going on in the world, and who was in touch with reality, would have had to be nervous about Babylon, prophecy or no prophecy. The Jewish leaders ignored Jeremiah's warnings because they were under the deception of sin.
On the other hand, in an opposite parallel, many of the things being "prophesied" today are as out of touch with reality as the Jewish leaders were. And, regretfully, probably for the same reason. There are things being "prophesied" that have little or no real chance of being fulfilled at any time in the foreseeable future. Among them are:
1. The idea of Arab-Muslim terrorists using nuclear weapons to destroy the United States.
2. The equally unrealistic idea that the United States will somehow destroy Islam.
3. The idea of a joint Russian and Chinese invasion of the United States.
4. The idea that the United States of America, and New York City in particular, is "Mystery Babylon"
5. The idea that the Roman Catholic Church could actually rule the world.
6 The idea of a major global economic collapse.*
These things range from a practical impossibility, in the first case, to wildly improbable in the sixth.
In the first case, the chance of an nuclear, chemical, or biological attack by terrorists on a single US city, or a few cities, is considered such a serious danger that agencies like the CIA and the FBI are constantly working to prevent it. But we are talking about the issue of scale here. The idea of a terrorist attack big enough to destroy all or most of the United States, for any person well informed on the relevant subjects, greatly exceeds the limits of credibility.
In the case of number six, according to the book published by David Wilkerson in the early seventies that tacitly claimed divine inspiration, this should have happened already. As it stands, we are in the greatest period of sustained global economic growth and prosperity in world history. There is a consensus of opinion in the business world that this is likely to continue indefinitely. Market volatility and occasional economic slumps, as well as violence in specific areas and frequent natural disasters, do not change this consensus. Few people in the business world would likely be so arrogant as to say that such a collapse is utterly impossible, but it certainly does not look like a realistic possibility.
The Y2K Bug was heralded by a number of interpreters of Prophecy as the cause of such a collapse. Of course, you know it didn't.
See also: "Before the Tribulation: What Should We Expect?"
*Note, 6/24/11: Some people have claimed that the current economic recession is the prophesied collapse. See the author's page: "The Current Economic Recession" for his reply to that idea.
On the other hand, the idea presented in the "A Mountain Burning With Fire" page of this Web site is so realistic a possibility that many scientists and world leaders are seriously worried about it. Widespread efforts are being made to enable us to predict such a catastrophe far in advance, and to prepare us to take action to prevent it.
A Christian who is going to interpret prophecy before the fulfillment must have a much better awareness of what is going on in the world than most Christians have. Christians regretfully have a general track record of not really being well informed about world events and circumstances. All too often, they believe wildly inaccurate statements by Christian leaders. All Christians would do well to work at self improvement in this area of knowledge.
So, again, an important question to ask about anything offered as a dream, vision, or interpretation of prophecy is: "Is this in accord with reality?" If common sense tells you it isn't, then reject it.
Now suppose you hear something that sounds realistic but you can't really say absolutely that it is or isn't Scriptural. What do you do?
Use "Ockham's Razor"
One thing you can do is use "Ockham's Razor". Now that's something you may never have heard of. It's a rule of thumb for telling sound doctrine from false. It was formulated by William of Ockham, a 13th Century theologian considered by Bible Scholars and Church Historians to have been the greatest of his day. Martin Luther considered himself a follower of William of Ockham. His "Razor" basically says, "The simplest interpretation of any particular passage of Scripture is probably the right one". (Note: the general principle is so reliable that scientists use it too, relevant to scientific observations, but they spell the name "Occam", presumably to disguise it's religious origin.) In terms of Prophecy, "Ockham's Razor" means that the more "interpreting" a person has to do to come up with his interpretation, the more likely it is that he's wrong. Again, it means that the more detailed a person's interpretation is, and/or the further it goes away from what a passage actually says, the more likely it is that he's wrong. Like trying to set dates, for example. God didn't mean for things to be complicated. Real Biblical truth tends to be simple and straightforward. Apply this to interpretations of Prophecy.
"Wait and See"
Don't make anyone's interpretation a matter of faith, no matter how good and Scriptural it sounds. Don't reject it out of hand either. As Paul said in I Thessalonians 20 & 21, "Do not despise prophesyings. Test all things; hold fast what is good". And how do you test things? By the Scriptures, reality, and with "Ockham's Razor", as above. But there is another way that never gives a wrong answer: "Wait and See".
The Test of a Prophet
Remember what is said in Deuteronomy 18:21 & 22:
"And if you shall say in your heart, 'How shall we know the word the Lord has not spoken?' - When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him."
On the other hand, in Isaiah 14:24, the Lord says,
"Surely, as I have planned, so it will be,
and as I have purposed, so it will stand."
If God says it will happen, it will happen. Here we find a very serious truth: the final proof of a prophecy, or an interpretation is in whether or not it is fulfilled. This is why we should never either reject or accept a prophecy or an interpretation of prophecy out of hand. Wait and See!!! What seems good and probable to you may be totally false. What seems ridiculous, or outrageous, or offensive to you, or all three, may in fact prove true. This is a Biblical pattern!
There is a good example of this in the story of young Joseph, son of Jacob, in Genesis 37. He had received dreams that symbolically showed his family bowing down to him. When he told them about it, his brothers hated him for it. His father didn't like it either, and in fact rebuked him for telling the dreams. Yet Jacob didn't reject the dreams out of hand. Verse 11 says he "kept the matter in mind". That is, he took a "wait and see" attitude toward Joseph's dreams. As you know, the dreams came true. And even though his brothers hated him for telling the dreams at the time, the day came that they were very glad that the dreams did come true. The circumstances in which they came true saved them from starving to death.
See also Jeremiah 26:1-11, and relate that passage to interpretations of prophecy.
Know the Word, And Stay Right With The Lord
Above all, there is no substitute for really knowing the Scriptures yourself. If you want to have the ability to discern what is true and what isn't, then immerse your mind in the Word. The more you know of what is Truth, the more you can discern what is false. Staying close to the Lord otherwise is also essential. As Jesus said in reference to Himself, (John 7:17), "If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it is from God, or whether I speak on My own authority". A heart attitude of obedience to God is essential for discerning the Truth versus falsehood. So get right with the Lord and stay that that way, and, in terms of understanding Prophecy, you are not likely to go far wrong.
See also "Report on the Stupider Effect"
Contact Author: William D. Brehm; firstname.lastname@example.org