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Particulars of Christianity:
314 End Times Prophecy (Eschatology)


Prophetic Symbols: Introduction

Prophetic Symbols: Introduction
Prophetic Symbols: Daniel 2
Prophetic Symbols: Daniel 7 (Part 1)
Prophetic Symbols: Daniel 7 (Part 2)
Prophetic Symbols: Daniel 8 (Part 1)
Prophetic Symbols: Daniel 8 (Part 2)

Articles 7-12
Articles 13-18
Articles 19-25
Articles 26-29



Before we get into our study, it is first necessary to provide some background that will help us understand why we are studying this topic and why we are approaching it in the way we are approaching it. We'll start with the basics.

17 of the 39 books of the Old Testament are prophetic in nature. Only one book in the New Testament is prophetic in nature, the Book of Revelation. Together, roughly one fourth of all the books of the Bible deal with prophecy.

Therefore we have two factors, which compel us as believers to study Bible prophecy. One is the many specific indications in the scripture that exhort us to pay attention to Bible prophecy. The other is the shear quantity of God's Word devoted to it. From these two things we must conclude that God wants us to be aware of and to understand prophecy, both how it was fulfilled in the past and how it will be fulfilled in the future. We might also note that common misunderstandings about prophecy were in no small part responsible for the failure of so many of Jesus' contemporaries among God's people to recognize that he was the Messiah.

We might think of prophecy as a record of history told before it occurs. In a Biblical sense this story is not told in one book alone, but is woven into many books. But where should we begin?

In prophecy, God has given us many details, some specific and some general. Sometimes we are informed of specific figures and their activities, and sometimes we are given general historical or geopolitical information about the time in which these figures will emerge and work.

We can begin to sort out this information by starting with the general information and working our way to the more specific details. In this way we will create a framework, which will serve as a guide as we get more involved. And this is necessary since only by understanding the greater context can we accurately understand the finer points. An illustration may help us understand why this approach is necessary.

We could compare interpreting prophecy to getting directions for how to get to a friend's home for a party that is being held there. Imagine that we have never visited before and are coming from somewhere else in the country. Our friend would want to make sure that we don't get lost, but are able to arrive safely at the desired destination on time for the party. When they give us the directions they instinctively understand that they must start with the most general information first and work down to the particulars.

In the case of driving directions we would first want to know the state we were heading to, then perhaps the city. We would want to know the major roadways that we should take get to the state and city that our friend lives in. With each step in the driving directions our friend would provide more and more specific details as to which direction we needed to travel in, which exits to get on and off at, and how many miles we would need to go on a specific roadway. As we get closer to our friend's home the directions would be even more specific - Green Hills Subdivision, turn left on Pine Street, the house is a one story white house, it is the third house on the left, the house number is 438, etc.

But what if in following the directions we read the steps out of order? What if we skipped and ignored some of the early instructions? What if we only looked at the last few steps telling us what kind of house we were looking for? Would we be able to find our friend's home? We would arrive on time or even at all?

Surely not, we might find a lot of white, one-story houses. We might even find some that are the third house on the left on their street. Or we might find some houses numbered 438 on Pine Street. But it would be unlikely to find a white house, third on the left, numbered 438 on Pine Street. And it would be especially unlikely that we would find such a house with our friend in it and a party going on unless we drove to the right state, the right city, and took the right roads to the right subdivision, etc. In skipping important general information and focusing in on the specifics without the proper context (city, state, subdivision, etc.) it would become increasing likely that we would get lost and either not arrive at all or arrive late for the party.

It is the same way with prophecy. If we want to understand accurately what God has told us in His Word we must start first with the general information and work our way to the specific. Without doing this we will fail to grasp the proper context for the more specific aspects and really not understand where they are or where we are in relation to the prophesied events. Each step is critical, and it is critical that we start with the most general steps first otherwise we may get lost and not understand the crucial information that God has provided us so that we can arrive prepared for the kingdom of God when it comes.

With regard to prophecy the most general information would involve history itself. Major signposts of history would be events, which are the most significant on a worldwide scale. These events would be known and recognizable to the widest audience. Once we have found our bearing with regard to these larger events we will then be able to grasp more specific indicators.

So this is the approach we will take to end times prophecy. We will start with examining the most general information and work our way to the specific. And we will see that God has provided just such a road map in the Bible, recording the backdrop of history and then placing more specific details within that backdrop.

We will start with the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation. Here's why.

Daniel records for us God's revelation of human history through several visions or dreams. Similarly, John's vision, recorded in the Book of Revelation, contains several chapters, which follow the same pattern that God uses in Daniel. We can take a look at these visions from Daniel and John and develop a Biblically consistent system of interpretation for how God reveals human history through visions and symbols. We can then use the picture this study creates in order to understand how the more specific details fit together. What we will see first is that God is recording through both Daniel and John the development of human history that will eventually unfold into the end time figures and events that precede the return of Christ and his millennial kingdom on earth.

If we return again to the illustration of a map, we know that all maps employ symbols to designate certain features of the landscape, etc. Likewise, Bible prophecy uses symbols as well. By looking at history and prophetic precedent found in such Old Testament books as Daniel, we can get a grasp of what common prophetic symbols mean. In this way, we can construct a sort of map legend for Bible prophecy. This map legend will then serve as an interpretive template for helping us to understand prophetic passages regarding events that have not yet occurred (such as found in the book of Revelation.) By looking at this prophetic map legend, we will then know what a symbol stands for every time we see find it in scripture.

For example, every time we see a black dot on a map, we can look at a map legend and discover that black dots represent cities. Knowing this would prevent us from asking "what does this black dot mean?" every time we see one on the map and from interpreting each black dot differently from one another. Biblical symbols are the same way with regard to prophecy. Every time we see a certain symbol, we should be able to know what that symbol represents based upon a single, uniform pattern or symbol legend.

This will alleviate widespread and unsubstantiated speculation over what symbols stand for in the book of Revelation. Remember that already fulfilled prophecy from Old Testament books such as Daniel is the key to proper interpretation. To interpret symbols properly from this point forward, we must compare those symbols to how they were used in the past prophetic passages and to what they depicted in past history.

This prophetic mapping of history has two important purposes. The first is that we might understand how prophetic figures and events will emerge in human history. And the second is that we be able to keep an eye on where we might be in relationship to these figures and events, just as Jesus told us to keep watch.

The first part of our study will focus on the Book of Daniel in order to develop an interpretive precedent (map legend) from his use of symbols, which we will then apply to John's vision as well. What will emerge is a clear and simple depiction of human history, much of which is in the past and is confirmed by history. By understanding Daniel and John's use of symbols and comparing them to recorded history we can construct a reliable interpretive method (map legend), which will provide an accurate understanding of the portions of the history that they describe, which are still yet to occur.


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