The Signs Of The Times, Part 3
Ever since the fall of humanity, the communication gap between humans and our Creator has widened over the millennia to the point where even the very belief in God is in question. Once the face to face communication was cut off, and Adam and Eve were removed from the Garden, hearing God’s voice has become mysterious, sporadic, and subjective. If you trace God’s interactions with humanity after the Fall you will find that the communication process God most used was to speak to the people that sought to follow Him through prophetic utterances and signs.
Here is how the writer of Hebrews explains it: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” [Heb. 1:1-2, NASB]. The phrase, “in many portions and in many ways,” can mean that God spoke in dark sayings that included the use of signs and symbols and also that what was being prophesied was only a portion of the whole. It was up to the hearer/reader to understand what these sayings and signs meant and piece together the clues. And many times the full, true meaning of what God was saying was missed. If what God had to say was so important, why all the mystery and intrigue?
I believe that the answer is found in the last portion of the above verse: “In these last days has spoken to us in His Son.” Here is the cipher to the entire understanding of all prophetic scripture. Jesus is the key to understanding where all prophecy is centered, and also the key to understanding all of the signs of our times. Jesus, and the message of salvation and redemption, is woven all through scripture from Genesis to Revelation. If we truly want to be biblical in our understanding of prophecy and discerning the signs of the times, we must filter everything through the revelation of Jesus, the King of the universe!
Right from the beginning of prophetic history in the book of Genesis, chapter 3, God declares that a power struggle of cosmic proportions would ensue on the planet once Adam and Eve left the boundaries of the Garden. In verse 14-15, God uses imagery to describe what this struggle would look like, and how He (and humanity), would win the war. From this very first prophetic utterance the theme of God’s ultimate victory over Satan and the effects of the Fall is put into motion. All biblical prophecy has this theme at its core.
I believe that it can be amply shown where and how this theme is written into all of biblical human history. The means that this theme is transmitted, however, it can raise some questions and cause some confusion in determining its meaning. In the previous post, we looked at how God works in time through seasons, days, and years. The prophetic timeline of scripture reveals some very definite markers on the way to God’s ultimate victory and restoration of all things. Discerning the meaning of these markers will keep you on track and lead you to the right conclusions. If we keep in mind some general guidelines, they will become the guardrails on this curvy, prophetic road we are travelling on.
Guideline #1 - We can understand any prophetic sign, signal, mystery, or puzzle because we have the Holy Spirit as our teacher. As Jesus shared parables and veiled sayings with His disciples, who were having a very hard time keeping up with Jesus, He told them, ..."To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest [it is] in parables, so that SEEING THEY MAY NOT SEE, AND HEARING THEY MAY NOT UNDERSTAND” [Luke 8:10 NASB].
Before Jesus ascended into Heaven, He made sure that His followers were going to be able to understand the scriptures that would be guiding them to complete their mission. The Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus opened their minds to understand all the scriptures and their prophetic significance (Luke 24:45), and He told them that He would send His Spirit to live in them and guide them into all truth. Jesus is expecting us to understand what is written. He sent His Holy Spirit to make sure that we are fully equipped to do so.
Guideline #2 - Let the Bible interpret itself. There is no other collection of writings like our Bible. What we have recorded and preserved under the inspiration and direction of God’s Spirit contains all the truth we need to know in order to live in this world as ambassadors of God’s Kingdom and complete our assignment. We can think of it like SCUBA gear to a diver. The tank on the diver’s back contains the correct mixture of air that the driver needs to function in an alien environment. If we take time to study scripture under the guidance of Holy Spirit, we will find all the points of connection that will lead us to a full understanding of truth.
Guideline #3 - Context and consistency are key. The language of the Bible has many facets and styles. Sometimes it is prose, sometimes it is poetic. Sometimes it is literal, sometimes it is symbolic. This is not meant to confuse the reader, but to inspire and evoke in the reader seeing truth on a much higher plane. It is engaging the natural mind and the spiritual mind, or what we can call our imagination. The goal of scripture is to create in us the ability to see from God’s perspective. We call this revelation.
All of the images, pictures, signs, and mysteries can be understood by understanding their origin. For example, the word dragon/serpent is used throughout prophetic scripture. Is this a literal beast? Is it a figurative spiritual entity? Can it be both? To fully understand its meaning we have to go back to the first references to this word, which we would find is in the Garden of Eden. This introduction sets the stage for understanding what this dragon is, how it works, what its intentions are, etc… So, when we see the word dragon/serpent used throughout the rest of scripture, it will carry the same meaning(s) as it did at the first mention. Some call this the “law of first mention” - the meaning of a word or concept at its first mention sets up its meaning for every other mention.
So when you come across words or images in scripture, trace these words back, and see where else in the scriptures these words/images are used. It will all start to make sense!
Guideline #4 - We have to remember that what we are reading in the Bible was written to specific people, in a specific time and place, for a specific purpose. The beginning of the prophetic passage will usually address these points. For example, “The oracle concerning Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw” [Isa 13:1 NASB]. This opening line sets up how we interpret what comes next. If the prophetic word is for the distant future, or for some other group of people, we are told so. Phrases like, “In the Last Days,” “but a time will come,” “it will come about after this”... are used throughout the prophetic and poetic portions of scripture.
Guideline #5 - The signs, symbols, and imagery used in prophetic literature cannot mean something to us that it could not have meant to the original hearers. And, what it meant to the original hearers, must have meaning for us. In other words, we don’t read backwards into the prophecy and put a modern spin on the meaning of the sign. The Bible must be able to interpret itself (Guideline #2). The meaning of the sign is already embedded in the previous uses of the word or phrase. Look for it in the Bible, not in a modern news feed outlet.
Here is a good summary to keep in mind when reading biblical prophecy:
Read with your mind and imagination. Be a visual reader. Ask Holy Spirit to open your understanding. A picture is worth a thousand words, and one of the main ministries of Holy Spirit is to help us get the picture!
Read the Bible, biblically. Don’t spend too much time speculating or become too abstract and esoteric. God is not hiding truth from us, He is hiding truth for us to find. He is drawing us to seek out the truth, because the seeking creates a hunger for the finding, and finding creates a renewed hunger for seeking. This is what Jesus was referring to when He said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” [Matt. 5:6 NASB].
Read the entire story. As was stated previously, there is a consistent theme and thread that is woven into all scripture. The portion of scripture that you are reading must be connected to the whole story. It would be impossible to understand an entire novel by reading one chapter, let alone one paragraph, or worst, one sentence (i.e. one verse of scripture). Redemption, salvation, and restoration are the pillars of all prophetic truth.
Now, with all these tools packed into our toolbox, and with a greater understanding of the vast and sweeping themes of God’s Word that reveal His will for humanity, and the earth we live on, we are ready to tackle the prophetic question(s) that are on many people’s mind in light of global happenings: Is this the Last Days? Are we in the End Times? Is Jesus’ Second Coming, coming very soon?
Until then, may Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus stir your heart and mind for a greater capacity to know God. “I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called--his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance” [Eph. 1:16-18, NLT].
by Pastor Jim Anan