How to Avoid Bible Prophecy Misconceptions
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me”
Many take this popular verse to mean Jesus stands at the door to one’s heart, politely knocking and patiently waiting for an invitation to enter into one’s life as Savior. This encourages soft evangelism and avoids the urgency of today being the day of salvation(2 Cor. 6:2). The true context and interpretation is significantly more severe. The general context is Jesus’ letters to the seven churches (Rev. 1:20-3:22) and the specific context concerns Jesus’ place within each church (Rev. 2:1). In the letter to the church at Ephesus, Jesus chastises them for leaving their first love (or initial zeal) for Him. They are more concerned with doing good for good’s sake, not Christ’s. Jesus then warns them to repent or He will remove their lampstand, i.e. influence, light, the Holy Spirit’s presence (Ex. 40:24-25).
The letter to the church at Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22) is simultaneously harsh and just. Jesus has only condemnation for this church due to their pride, lukewarmness, and empty spirituality. However, He yet invites this church to repent before it is too late… though He is now standing outside the church knocking on the door, rather than speaking to them intimately from the inside. The context proves that He has removed His lampstand from the Laodicean church, but there remains space to repent. But for how long?
A thorough awareness of the broad “prophetic picture” that God has woven from Genesis to Revelation works toward minimizing the practice of taking choice passages out of context which may lead to deviant interpretation and/or false doctrine.
Fortunately, there are two Greek terms expressing the proper and improper ways to conduct biblical interpretation: Exegesis means “reading from,” to be understood as reading from God’s Word as it is written, i.e. What is God saying? Eisegesis means “reading into,” to be understood as reading into God’s Word what one may wish God to mean, i.e. Humanity tells God what He means despite what He is saying.
Books, sections, or passages in the Bible where there is no explicit indication of spiritual or metaphorical clarifiers are always determined by context. For example, psalms, poetry, wisdom literature, dreams and visions, prophetic narrative, and even divine pronouncements utilize symbolism and figurative language as an established universal rule. It is the same today.
Signs & Symbols
Regarding signs and symbols, it is helpful to recall that such in prophetic literature convey literal truths (often through word pictures, as in Revelation 12), and it is these truths that are meant to be revealed while not getting lost in the symbolism. To spiritualize or allegorize overtly is to deny the purpose of prophecy which is to further reveal a former mystery, not further mystify it. Whenever the Word of God intends a reference to be allegorical or spiritual, it says so (as in Revelation 11:8). If there were no actual literal truth behind the symbols found in Scripture, their interpretation would thus be ambiguous at best and anyone’s guess at worst, making for devilishly bad theology.
In the instances when a passage does not precisely indicate a non-literal emblematic mention, look for the comparative articles “like” or “as” and comparative phrases “having the appearance of” and “bearing the resemblance of/to.” What is unfamiliar is compared with what is familiar, purposing to make truth evident. This is an effective teaching method often used by Jesus in His parables.
So what is the purpose of symbolic language? Why did God not “declare unto us plainly”?
Bible prophecy scholar Jacob B. Smith comments that the answer is to be found in Jesus’ explanation of the purpose of parables (Matt. 13:10, 15; Mark 4:11-12; Luke 8:10) in that “[undoubtedly] it is according to God’s will and purpose that, while His own followers are led to greater light from the use of the word of prophecy, those who refuse to own Him as their personal Savior remain in ignorance regarding God’s future program.”(1)
1. J. B. Smith, A Revelation of Jesus Christ, (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1961), p20.