In our first article on “Understanding the End Times”, we discussed the different viewpoints of general Eschatology. As we continue the series, this article will discuss the theological system of
premillennialism and why we interpret prophecy literally. How we interpret prophecy in the Old Testament is crucial to our understanding of the end times.
For instance, Oswald T. Allis states, “The OT prophecies if literally interpreted cannot be regarded as having been fulfilled or having been capable of fulfillment in this age.” Allis (who is not a premillennialist) is saying if we interpret prophecy literally in the OT we can declare that these prophecies have not yet been fulfilled. The question is, why should we interpret prophecy literally?
Normal way of interpretation
A good rule of hermeneutics is to interpret the Bible literally. The language of the Bible makes sense when it is interpreted literally. If the Bible makes sense literally, seek no other sense. I
understand that there are figures of speech that we don’t interpret literally but we seek the literal interpretation.
When Jesus says, “I Am the door…” we don’t take it as Jesus being a literal door but rather that he is literally the door to the Father. It is the same situation when I am driving with my wife and a car drives by us really fast. I say, “Boy he is flying!” She understands that I don’t literally mean flying but I am using a figure of speech.
Literal interpretation is a check on the imagination of man. Any believer in the Lord Jesus Christ would agree we need to interpret the Bible literally. The problem is some would say we shouldn’t interpret prophecy literally.
Reasons for literal interpretation of prophecy
The first reason we should interpret prophecy literally is because it is a consistent hermeneutic. Simple, right? If we interpret the rest of the Bible literally, we should interpret prophecy literally.
As we interpret prophecy literally it makes sense. We often don’t look at a prophetic passage and struggle with taking it to mean exactly what it says. Prophetic Scriptures make perfect sense when interpreted literally.
Secondly, we interpret prophecy literally because it is the biblical way of interpreting prophecy. George N.H. Peters in his great work, “The Theocratic Kingdom,” uses an illustration of a
premillennialist and amillennialist alive before Christ. Which of them is going to have a correct view of the first coming of Christ? A literal interpretation is going to see the Old Testament truths
about the birth, life, sufferings, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Non literal interpretation would leave them confused.
There are plenty of examples in Scripture of this. In John 7:42 Jewish people were arguing if Christ was the Messiah. One of the defenses used to prove that he was not the Messiah was the fact he was from Nazareth and Old Testament Scripture says he was to be from Bethlehem. We know Christ was born in Bethlehem and not Nazareth, but those around him didn’t specifically know the details of his birth like we do.
Another example would be Zechariah 9:9 where we see Christ fulfilling this prophecy by riding on a donkey. An amillennialist would say we interpret that as Christ humbling himself and not coming on an actual donkey. But when we interpret literally, we see this prophecy being fulfilled in Matthew 21 – Christ literally coming on a donkey. We see prophecy being interpreted literally all throughout the Old Testament concerning the first coming of Christ (Psalm 22, Isaiah 53). Why should we not expect the same of the second coming?
Ask the right question
How do you interpret prophecy? This is the number one question I ask anyone before we start to discuss eschatology. Any amillennialist would admit if we interpret prophecy literally we must
conclude that premillennialism is an accurate view of eschatology. Floyd Hamilton (an amillennialist) says it this way,
“Now we must frankly admit that a literal interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies gives us just such a picture of an earthly reign of the Messiah as the premillennialist pictures. that was the kind of Messianic kingdom the Jews of the time of Christ were looking for, on the basis of a literal interpretation of the Old Testament.”
Deciding what eschatological system you follow ultimately comes down to how you will interpret prophecy. Hopefully I have shed some light on why we need to interpret prophecy literally. If you have any questions or rebuttals please feel free to comment on the post or on Facebook. Next article we will discuss the basic beliefs and also the weaknesses of Dispensational Premillennialism.