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A Guide on How to Interpret

the Prophecies

of the Bible


Prophecies (and the visions they are based on) were usually given to the people of the Bible in picture or graphic form because symbols and cartoons can be understood easily by persons of any age and any background or culture. Think of the "kiwi" and "kangaroo" symbols. All Australasians grow up knowing what they mean, but everyone else in the world learns later. They are local symbols, but there are many which are universal and known to all men and women.

Because you can picture these symbols, their truths stay with you. And their explanation stays the same wherever you meet them in the Bible. In prophetic writing a "horn" is always a "power", and a "woman" is always a "church". But sometimes she is a woman "in scarlet" to distinguish her from the woman "in white". Brass, or bronze, is not a natural metal but an alloy made up by mixing metals, so it has a special meaning when used prophetically. Look for, and enjoy, these differences.

Prophetic writing is easy to recognize because of its very nature. It is usually supernatural in its descriptions although a prophecy can be couched in everyday terms. Different prophetic visions often cover the same ground but from other angles. The same prophecy may be valid for other time periods, but it will have a basic "reality" in only one.

Because all prophecy is conditional, (that is, dependent upon the situation, or people, remaining in the same condition), it can be altered or cancelled when circumstances or behaviour change. The most obvious case in the Bible is when Jonah went to Nineveh (a very large and important city in those days, something like New York is to us) and foretold its destruction in 40 days. The king and all the people believed his message and changed their ways of behaviour. See Jonah 3:4-9.

Therefore the announced destruction did not happen.

Not because God changed, but because they did.

However, not even the prophet Jonah appreciated this and he complained to God that he was being made to look a fool. Jonah 4:1-3. But the warnings are for this very purpose - to change the cause and save the people. And every prophecy can be affected in this way, if only in its timing. This was the case with the next generation of Nineveh. They refused to learn the lesson and resumed their fathers’ bad behaviour and in their time the city was destroyed. Sadly, very few believe that a prophecy can be changed, so normally it happens as it was told.

Prophecy is based on cause and effect. Certain actions are followed by definite results due to the nature of man. Hit a man and the chances are that he will retaliate. Let a nation grow soft and lazy and another is only too willing to step in and take over. The accuracy of the prophecy is dependent upon the knowledge of the person or the conditions.

Because God knows all the choices you can make, He can prophesy most accurately which one is most likely. But He does not know for sure which one you will choose. That is ALWAYS left with you. It is YOUR choice which determines which of the outcomes actually happens. There are at least two, such as yes and no, I will or I won’t, this time, next time. This is why He pleads with you to change your ways if what you are doing will hurt you or those you love. In the case of large numbers of people (such as a nation), the choice becomes even more certain because of the law of averages, and the prediction can be more detailed. It is only a matter of time and the event will happen.

In the Bible God usually takes the blame for a "bad" prophecy because He does not wish to accuse anyone. Therefore when a prophecy is altered or does not happen, it is written that God changed His mind, but He leaves it with us to believe that, or not, as we wish. Jonah 3:10.

Bible prophecy was intended to be understood by all the people of the world in every year since its beginning so it carries its own explanations. Don’t guess, or allow others to explain them to you, for you and they will often be wrong. Search for the meaning in the Bible and then hang on to it.

Sometimes the Bible uses the word "day" to mean a prophetic "year". This is shown in an experience of the prophet Ezekiel. He was asked to act out a situation for the exiles in Babylon. He drew a plan of Jerusalem on a clay tile and then placed an iron pan between himself and the tile to show God as a wall of iron as its defense in a siege. Then he laid in front of it on his left side for 390 days to illustrate the length of time remaining for Israel. God told him, "I have appointed you each day for a year". Ezekiel 4:6.

After this he changed position and laid on his right side for 40 more days to picture Judah’s time.

Thus the pattern was set. A "day" in prophetic time became a "year" in literal time. However, to make calculation simple, it is based on 360 days to the year, and is sometimes called "a time". Daniel 11:13. See margin.

You will also find that some prophetic times are very accurate while others are vague. This depends on the people fulfilling the events. With the man Jesus Christ the Bible could be very explicit, but when it comes to other men God often has to wait and so the fulfilment is not specific. The "Elijah coming" of Malachi 4:5 was once fulfilled by John the Baptist but few saw it at the time. Matthew 11:11-14.

However, because prophecies can apply in more than one time, this one will have another fulfilment. Often looking back at history will explain more clearly what some stories were about, and then you may learn from them what to expect in the future.


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