Understanding Bible Prophecy

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Understanding Bible Prophecy

Rick Moffett​​ 


What do you think when you hear the word “prophecy”? Many people immediately think of a prediction that someone has made about the future. Man has always been curious about knowing the future and that curiosity has opened the door to a large variety of con artists including palm readers, fortune tellers with their crystal balls, psychic hotlines, astrologists, and tarot card readers. But eventually, the legitimacy of those who claim to predict the future is always exposed.​​ 


Those who deceive others with their predictions of the future are not new. The Bible warned about such false prophets thousands of years ago.​​ (Deut. 18:20; Jer. 14:14; Ezek. 22:28)​​ Truth is, no man has ever been able to consistently and accurately predict the future; that is something only the God of the Bible can do.​​ 


9​​  "Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me,​​ 10​​  Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, 'My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure';​​ Isaiah 46:9-10​​ 


To be more specific, God doesn’t actually predict the future, He knows the future because He is not contained within time. He created time (along with space and matter -​​ Genesis 1:1). The Bible contains many examples that demonstrate that God indeed does know the future. As we continue in the​​ Defending Your Faith Series​​ I will be sharing examples of fulfilled Bible prophecies to further demonstrate the reliability of God’s Word, But first, we need to have at least a basic understanding of the Bible prophets and the prophecies they proclaimed.​​ 


The Old Testament Bible Prophets


Old Testament Bible prophets had many different duties as servants of the Lord. While they certainly made proclamations concerning the future (foretelling), that was not their primary function.​​ 

As you may recall, God initiated a covenant with His chosen people, the Israelites. It is important to have a basic understanding of this covenant relationship to grasp the role of the Old Testament prophets.​​ 


Click​​ here​​ and scroll to “4.​​ Covenants​​ for a basic explanation of Bible covenants.​​ 


The Old Testament covenant is also known as the Mosaic Covenant (named after Moses). In short, God gave Moses a list of commandments to which the Israelites agreed to follow. When they obeyed the commandments they received God’s blessings; conversely, disobedience brought a curse. Curses frequently came in the form of death, disease, drought, destruction, defeat, exile, destitution, and disgrace. Blessings often came in the form of life, health prosperity, agricultural prosperity, respect, and safety. The following verses give a good summary of this covenant relationship -​​ 


26​​ "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse:​​ 27​​ the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, which I am commanding you today;​​ 28​​ and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today, by following other gods which you have not known.​​ Deuteronomy 11:26-28​​ 


The Old Testament prophets primarily served as God’s emissaries to Israel. They delivered God’s warning for covenant violations, i.e., they confronted Israel’s sin and demanded repentance; and they also reminded Israel of the blessings that awaited them for compliance with the covenant commands. In addition, they reminded Israel of God’s promised restoration after times of cursing.​​ 


Old Testament prophets also served as watchmen for God’s people to warn them of approaching trouble.​​ (Ezek. 3:17)​​ Other times the prophets were sent to deliver warnings from God to foreign kings.​​ (Ezek. 28:1-2)


These prophets were God’s messengers to His people. Sometimes their words provided encouragement​​ (Haggai 1:13),​​ and oftentimes they were harsh words of rebuke.​​ (Jer. 17)​​ But perhaps the ultimate role of God’s prophets was to proclaim (forth-telling) the promises of God to Israel and the hope that accompanied their covenant relationship.​​ (Ex. 3:15-17; Isa. 44:1-8; Jer. 34:12-13; Zec. 8:3)​​ 


It’s important to note that God’s prophets were not just robots. They were aware of the times in which they lived and they were also aware that they were proclaiming God’s message, however, oftentimes they didn’t fully understand its meaning.​​ (1 Pet. 1:10-12)​​ While they had a small piece of the puzzle, they didn’t know how all the pieces fit together in God’s overall plan.​​ 


Frequently God spoke to His prophets through dreams and visions and occasionally they were invited to look into heavenly places.​​ (2 Chron. 18:18-19; 1 Chron. 17:15; Isa. 1:1; Jer. 23:28)​​ And as is always the case with God’s calling, the Holy Spirit was given to the prophets to empower them for their tasks.​​ (Ezek. 2:2)


For those wishing to better understand the prophets and their prophecies, I recommend taking a look at the free course,​​ Bible Prophecy,​​ by Third Millennium Ministries​​ located​​ here.


Bible Prophecies


The Bible is full of prophecies and the prophets who proclaim them. Of the 66 books of the Bible, 16 are named after Old Testament prophets. Additionally, many other prophets such as Elisha and Elijah appear throughout the pages of the Scriptures.​​ The Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy​​ reports that there are over 1800 prophecies that comprise over 26% of the Bible. Many of these Bible prophecies have been fulfilled, while the time for the fulfillment of the others has yet to come.


The Complexity of Bible Prophecy


If a survey of the least read books in the Bible were conducted, the Old Testament books written by the prophets would probably be at the top of the list. After all, when is the last time you read the book of Obadiah or Nahum? ​​ Why? Because at best, they are difficult to read and understand. Below is a brief overview that can hopefully help you to better understand the Old Testament prophetic books and their prophecies.​​ 


Among other things, the Bible is a history book. History is a record of the past - people, places, and events; and that is what comprises most of the Bible. But there are other types of literature contained in the Bible, such as poetry, parables, letters, and prophecy, etc. Additionally, most books of the Bible contain more than one type of literature. To best understand what the Bible is saying, you must recognize the different types of literature and interpret them accordingly. For example, you would not interpret​​ the book of Genesis the same way you would the book of Psalms. Genesis is mostly a history book and demands a​​  literal or natural interpretation .


​​ On the other hand, Psalms is poetry (often set to music) and requires an understanding of how to read poetry. Whereas English poetry is often full of rhymes set to a particular rhythm or meter, Hebrew poetry is primarily focused on​​  parallelism ​​ and other figures of speech. There is much more to say about this subject. If interested, I recommend a book by Dr. Jason Lisle,​​ Understanding Genesis, for further study. But for now, let’s take a closer look at prophecy literature.​​ 


Prophecy Literature


Prophetic writings contain perhaps the widest variety of literature of all, including history, poetry, parables, symbols, imagery, dreams, and visions as well as figurative language. Combine that with the need to know the historical context of the writing (which is often neglected) and you can see why the writings of the prophets may be the least-read and most difficult-to-understand books in the Bible. That being said let me give you a few points to consider that may help you better understand Bible prophecy.​​ 


Basic considerations for interpreting prophetic writings​​ -​​ 


1. Know the historical background.​​ 


Because much Bible prophecy concerns the history of Israel and the surrounding nations, you must be aware of the various kings that ruled over Israel and later Judah (divided kingdom), as well as the rulers of the nations in which Israel had dealings. Additionally, it is also critical to be aware of the time in history in which the prophet is​​ writing, as well as the time to which the prophecy is pointing (which can often be very difficult). Also, it is helpful to be familiar with the locations of important cities and people groups involved with both the prophet and the prophecy. ​​ 


2.​​ Along the same line as context, there are a few other considerations to keep in mind.​​ 


Know the theme of the prophetic book that contains the prophecy in which you are considering. Likewise, know who is speaking and to whom they are speaking. Also, be aware of the subject of the prophecy (is it a person or a city or a nation?). ​​ 


3. Discover the literal meaning of the prophecy.​​ 


As mentioned above, the writings of the prophets contain many different types of literature which must be interpreted accordingly. The ultimate task of the reader is to discover the literal meaning of the prophet's declaration because any prophecy that has been fulfilled, has been fulfilled literally. Regardless of how the prophet received the prophecy (dreams, visions, intuition, etc.) and then how it was proclaimed (imagery, symbols, parables, figurative language, etc.), there is a literal meaning. You must find out what that is to understand the prophecy.​​ 


4. Interpret prophecy according to God’s sovereign plan for the world.​​ 


Prophecy did not originate with the prophets independent of God, thus no prophecy stands alone, but must be in harmony with the entire Word of God. Every prophecy is simply a part of a larger plan initiated by God. And He will bring His perfect plan to pass in His perfect time.​​ (Isa. 14:24-27; Dan. 4:35)


5. Time relationships were often hidden from the prophet’s viewpoint.​​ 


Since many prophecies have been fulfilled, we have the advantage of looking back and seeing what was hidden from the prophets.​​ (Mat. 13:17)​​ For example, the prophets often spoke of things yet to occur as though they were occurring in the present​​ (Isa. 9:6),​​ or in the past.​​ (Isa. 53)


Because of their restricted view, their writings sometimes appeared as though different prophecies or different parts of prophecies were one single event.​​ (Ezek. 26)​​ 


Additionally, prophecies were not always presented in chronological order. And to make things a little more confusing, prophecies were at times written with little or no distinction as to where one stopped and another started.


In his book​​ Premillennialism or Amillennialism (1961),​​ Charles Feinberg Ph.D., Bible scholar, pastor, professor of Semitics and Old Testament, an authority on Jewish history, languages and customs of the Old Testament, writes - ​​ 


“... because two events are spoken of together or in close sequence, is no proof that these events will take place simultaneously or even in immediate succession, unless the Scripture specifically affirms so.”​​ 

“... needless to say, it is contrary to the analysis of the prophetic Scriptures to suppose that because events are mentioned in immediate juxtaposition that they must certainly come to pass in immediate chronological order.”​​ 


6. Do prophecies have a dual fulfillment?​​ 


The principle of a dual fulfillment of Bible prophecy is not embraced by all, however, it seems to have some merit so I will mention it here. While there are different definitions of “dual fulfillment”, the basic idea is that some prophecies have both a near fulfillment (near in time) and a far fulfillment (farther into the future).​​ Consider the following definitions by these Bible scholars -​​ 


    • “... the ​​ peculiarity of the writings of the Holy Spirit, by which a passage applying primarily to a person or event near at hand is used by him at a later time as applying to the person of Christ, or the affairs of His kingdom.”​​ Biblical Hermeneutics; J. Edwin Harrell; 1947


    • “Certain prophecies apparently contain a fulness of meaning which is not exhausted by the event to which they most obviously and literally refer. A ​​ prophecy which had a partial fulfillment at a time not remote from its utterance, ​​ may find it's chief fulfillment in an event far distant. Since the principles of God's ​​ administration finds ever recurring and enlarging illustrations in history, prophecies which have already had a partial fulfillment may have whole cycles of fulfillment yet before them.”​​ Systematic Theology Vol. 2; A. H. Strong; 1907


    • “The same prophecies frequently have a double meaning, and refer to different events, the one near, the other remote; the one temporal, the other spiritual or perhaps eternal. The prophets thus having several events in view, their expressions may be partly applicable to one and partly to another, and it is not always easy to make the transitions. What has not been fulfilled in the first, we must apply to the second; and what has​​ already been fulfilled, may often be considered as typical of what remains to be accomplished,” ​​ Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures;​​ Thomas Hartwell Horne; 2017


Here are a few examples of such prophecies -​​ 


1.​​ 2 Samuel 7:12-13 -

The prophet Nathan speaking to David -​​ 

12 "When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your​​ descendant​​ <seed> after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom.​​ 13 "He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.​​ Note -​​ Author’s comment in chevrons < >.


The near fulfillment of Nathan’s prophecy was complete in David’s son Solomon​​ (“raise up your descendant”​​ -​​ v12), who built the temple (“a house for My Name”​​ -​​ v13) around 960 BC after the death of David. However, neither Solomon’s reign or his kingdom lasted forever; that will be fulfilled in Jesus, (born a descendant of David) at His second coming when He sets up His kingdom that will last forever.​​ 


2.​​ Isaiah 9:6-7 -​​ 

6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.​​ 7​​ There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.​​ 


The first part of this prophecy​​ (“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us”) was fulfilled by the first coming of Jesus. The rest of the prophecy will be fulfilled by the second coming of Jesus. ​​​​ 


3.​​ Isaiah 11:1-10 -

1​​  Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.​​ 2​​  The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.​​ 3​​  And He will delight in the fear of the LORD, And He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make a decision by what His ears hear;​​ 4​​  But with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.​​ 5​​  Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, And faithfulness the belt about His waist.​​ 6​​  And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, And the leopard will lie down with the young goat, And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little boy will lead them.​​ 7​​  Also the cow and the bear will graze, Their young will lie down together, And the lion will eat straw like the ox.​​ 8​​  The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper's den.​​ 9​​  They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD As the waters cover the sea.​​ 10​​  Then in that day The nations will resort to the root of Jesse, Who will stand as a signal for the peoples; And His resting place will be glorious.​​ 


The first part of this prophecy (verses 1-5) was fulfilled by the first coming of Jesus. The rest of the prophecy will be fulfilled after the second coming of Jesus.


Hopefully, these considerations will help you have a better understanding of the many prophecies in the Bible.​​ 


Why Study Bible Prophecy?


  • It is part of God’s written word. Reading any part of the Bible is profitable.​​ (2 Tim. 3:16)​​ 


  • Studying fulfilled prophecy provides confidence in the reliability of the Scriptures.


  • It demonstrates God’s sovereignty and thus promotes assurance that God’s eternal unchanging plans will be carried out.​​ (Isa. 14:24; Isa. 46:10; Eph. 1:11)​​ 


  • It provides peace while living in this sin-filled world.​​ (Psa. 91:1-16; Rev. 1:17)


Studying Bible prophecy can be difficult, but to the student who perseveres many pearls of great value can be found. Today (2020) we have the blessing of seeing the fulfillment of most of the Bible prophecies. It is exciting, encouraging, and motivating to live at a time that allows us to watch God’s plan unfold right before our eyes. Furthermore, our Heavenly Father allows us to participate in His plan. Let me encourage you to make the most of the time you have been given on planet earth. It goes by quickly. ​​ 


Read​​ Bible Prophecy Fulfilled Part 1​​ - the prophecy given to Ezekiel concerning the city of Tyre​​ – simply amazing!​​ (Ezekiel 26)​​ 



1.​​ Bible Prophecy Course; Third Millenium Ministries; thegospelcoalition.org

2.​​ How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophets;​​ Peter J. Gentry; 2017

3.​​ Principles of Bible Prophecy;​​ Wayne Jackson;​​ christiancourier.com

4.​​ The Conditional Nature of Prophecy;​​ truthortradition.com;​​ 2013

5.​​ Understanding the Prophets — The Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology;​​ Keith Mathison; 2012

6.​​ When the Prophets Were at a Loss;​​ Bob Deffinbaugh;​​ bible.org

7.​​ Why The Gaps In Prophecy?;​​ Jack Kelley; 2017

8.​​ Understanding Genesis - How to Analyze, Interpret, and Defend Scripture; Dr. Jason Lisle; 2015