What follows are two comments on the role of biblical prophecy in our modern era. One is from 2016; the first is from 2020.
2020: Overall role of biblical prophecy
I should state my opinion on eschatology as a whole. In my view, its primary value is to encourage the faithful, and its secondary value is to show us historical events that serve as a witness to God’s guidance and protection of his people. The third use – figuring out the future – is a dangerous one that has never done any good in the Christian era. The Old Testament as a whole, the Old Covenant, and the Old Testament prophecies all pointed to one person – Jesus Christ.
From there, we are told that he will return like a thief in the night, and nobody knows the day or the hour. The third use above simply ties back into the 2nd use – all prophecy repeats, not as specific events, but because history repeats, and God wants us to know that the outcome of biblical prophecy 2000 years ago is the outcome of everything. There are always wars, there are always Antiochus Epiphanes-like leaders, there is always injustice, and the Christian job there is to bring Christ into it and know that the final outcome will be victory over evil. We don’t need to identify 21st century individuals and countries to know this, just as those in the 1800s didn’t need to identify individuals and countries back then to know it. Same for the 1400s, 900s, 500s AD. Same for 2200s and 2400s AD, if we reach that time. That is where I see the only value of having multiple events fulfilling the same prophecy. There was the principal event, and there are repetitions throughout history. There aren’t two principal events, one leading up to Christ, and another in my country, in my century (wherever my country is, whenever my century is).
The last book of the Bible is an apparent contradiction to that, but I don’t think it really is. I believe it’s St John’s final warning (or encouragement) to future Christians, depicting the events he’d lived through from his time with Jesus until his “retirement” on Patmos, specifically written as a liturgical apocalypse. Liturgical, meaning that it follows a worship service pattern – in this case, Jewish turned into Christian. Apocalypse simply meaning “revealing”, taking first century Christian history and depicting it cryptically in a way that Christians would recognise. Unfortunately people have taken this to be the equivalent of prophecy, and come up with all sorts of date setting as a result.
2016: Revelation and finding individuals and countries to fit in our time
Previously I was asked about my understanding of the end times and the correct interpretation of Revelation.
My reply was along the lines of:
Revelation is typical apocalyptic literature – the first word of the book is apocalypsis. It reveals to us God’s work. Whether or not it is intended to reveal the future is very much debatable. The time-line contains the goings on of the time when John wrote, using them as a type of human society, interwoven with a time-line of God’s work with man (from beginning to end), interwoven with the time-line of the early Christian liturgy, based on the Jewish liturgy. Whether that time-line of contemporary events matches up with events in the future is debatable. How perfectly it matches up with future events is also debatable – must each individual future fulfillment be an exact match? Many prophecies and types do not match perfectly – David was a type of Jesus, but Jesus never killed anyone to steal their wife. The Passover lamb was a type of Jesus, but there has never been consensus as to whether Jesus ate the Passover lamb when it was eaten by everyone else and died the next day after the lambs were killed (which is an imperfection in the type but not the antitype), or whether he died as the lambs were killed but celebrated Passover with the disciples a day early (the right time for the Essene calendar, but the wrong time for the calendar that had the Passover meal the next day).
There is also a lot of symbolism involved. Few people believe the beast is a literal multi-headed monster, or that there is a literal dragon. Likewise, the literal deaths under Nero – must future parallels be literal deaths or can they be huge suffering of the faithful under an oppressive system? Does massive spiritual death count? Do the literal deaths of those in Africa because nobody cares about whether or not they starve count and fulfil the literal death aspect? Even if the deaths are not caused by a despot intentionally killing people, they are caused by Western (and non-Western) materialism that makes the West rich at the expense of the poor elsewhere. The deaths of the rich can be included – money doesn’t bring happiness, materialism is eventually, by some, seen as a failure, resulting in hopelessness, and that brings a high suicide rate.
Is it necessary to count and identify 7 heads and 10 horns out of 20 greedy and materialistic nations in order for us to be able to say that today’s world (or the world of the 1700s, or the world of the 1200s, or the world of the 2300s) is depicted in Revelation?
What is more important – identifying the heads and horns precisely in each generation, or fighting the effect they have on the world? What is more important – knowing whether the mark of the beast is materialism (and other modern evils), the wrong day of the week, a bar-code on food items, or an identity chip … or fighting the evils of materialism by feeding the poor and banning the immoral slaughter of innocents, fighting godlessness by turning people to Christ?
The Prophecies of Daniel series: