In Defense of Biblical Prophecy
By Jonathan C. Brentner
While most Christians agree on the fulfillment of prophecy relating to Jesus’ first coming, such harmony quickly disappears when one turns to prophecies related to His return to earth.
As one who has spent much time in the midst of the fray, I can attest to the pressing need to defend all that we hold dear. Attacks against our beliefs in the rapture, a literal tribulation, the second coming, Jesus’ reign seated on the throne of David, and the eternal state not only come from outside the church, they also emanate from Bible-believing pastors, writer, and teachers.
Those who attack our future hope from within the church begin with an unbiblical view of the covenants of God that eliminates the distinction between Israel and the church. They retrofit God’s promises to Israel to make them apply spiritually to the church.
“Why does this matter to me?” you might ask. Those who use this allegorical approach to do away with God’s promises to Israel also use this method of interpretation to attack, yes attack such things as our hope in the rapture and our anticipation of reigning with Jesus in the millennium.
Please stay with me as I demonstrate how the use of allegory undermines our hope and lead to an erosion of the integrity of Scripture as a whole. Allegorical interpretations of biblical prophecy…
Lead to an Inconsistent View of Prophecy
Jesus fulfilled over 100 prophecies through His birth, life, death, burial, and resurrection. Most all pastors who claim that Israel has no future would agree with that statement. Yet, when it comes to the prophecies that relate Israel’s future as well as our own, they abandon literalness for an allegorical interpretation.
For example, no one denies the literal fulfillment of the opening words of Isaiah 9:6, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.”
However, verse 6 adds this to the prophecy concerning Jesus, “and the government shall be upon his shoulder.” The next verse further explains, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom…” These words, if taken literally, refer to Jesus ruling upon the “throne of David” and signify a future kingdom for Israel.
In spite of this clarity, many look at this passage in a way that retrofits the prophet’s original meaning so that it aligns with promises to the church. They change from a literal interpretation to an allegorical one mid-sentence.
It’s my contention that such a glaring inconsistency undermines the integrity of God’s Word as well.
Rely on a Vague Basis for Separating the Symbolical from the Literal
A related issue I have with those who employ allegory is this: What is the basis for switching from a literal interpretation to an allegorical one in the same passage? In Isaiah 9:6-7, how do they determine what is literal and what is allegory? Do they naturally assume the unfulfilled part is allegory? Or does the picture of Jesus’ reigning on the throne of David not fit preconceived ideas about Israel?
Many of those who regularly apply the allegorical method of interpretation regard Revelation 20:11-22:5 as an actual description of the Great White Throne judgment, the final destruction of Satan and death, and the new earth along with the New Jerusalem.
Yet these same pastors, writers, and teachers regard much of the book of Revelation leading up to 20:11 as allegory. What’s the basis for deciding between what events and words are literal and which represent allegory?
The determining factors for separating the literal from the allegorical differ greatly among those who employ allegory. Some regard the New Jerusalem as a literal city; others deny the reality of the city claiming it’s purely symbolic of God’s presence.
Is not the determining factor here extremely vague since they do not agree among themselves what is literal and what is not?
Disregard for the Original Intent of the Author
Of course, prophetic writers in Scripture employ metaphors, word pictures, and symbols at times. My issue is with those who use allegory to blatantly disregard the original intent of the author.
The Old Testament prophets believed they were prophesying about future glory for the nation of Israel. Their words depict a future restoration of Israel when God will regather His people from all over the earth. They unequivocally point to Jesus’ reign over the nations seated upon the throne of David in Jerusalem. No one can rationally argue these things were not the original intent of their words. How else could they have understood God’s promises to the Israelites?
The prophet Jeremiah regarded the continuation of Israel as a nation in God’s eyes as something as certain as the “fixed order” of day and night (Jer. 31:33-36). The Lord further provided Jeremiah with physical descriptions of Jerusalem (vv. 38-40). The words God gave to the prophet depict a still future restoration of a glorious kingdom to Israel. Jeremiah could not have missed this nor misunderstood it.
What does it say about the Lord’s reliability if He meant one thing when He spoke these words to ancient Israel and now they mean something entirely different? The effort to retrofit the words of the Lord say something entirely different today then what they meant at the time He spoke them not only undermines the integrity of Scripture, but also that of the Lord Himself.
Show Disrespect for the Understanding of the Original Audience
Not only does the allegorical method of interpretation show indifference to the original intent of the author, it displays a keen disrespect for the understanding of the original audience. Can we really say that prophecy meant one thing to those who heard the Old Testament prophets preach and now means something entirely different to us today? I have great problems with this understanding of Scripture.
The initial audience of these ancient prophets would not have overlaid spiritual fulfillments on God’s specific promises to Israel as many do today.
Would the Israelites listening to Jeremiah proclaim God’s promise of a glorious restoration of the nation have thought, “Okay, this does not really refer to our descendants, but to another group who will spiritually enjoy benefits of our promises kingdom?”
There’s no conceivable way such a thought would have entered their minds. They would have taken the prophet’s words at face value, a solemn promise from the Lord to “restore” the fortunes of a physical Israel (see Jer. 31:35-40, 32:36-44, 33:23-26).
For teachers and writers to come along 2,700 years later and say the words of the Jeremiah do not really mean what they meant to the original audience not only destroys the credibility of the prophet, but also of the Lord Himself. If the Israelites could not depend on the clear words of the prophets regarding their future, does this not also undermine our security as well?
Negate God’s Sovereign Purposes for Prophecy
The allegorical approach future prophecy negates God’s sovereign purposes for providing us with prophecy. Isaiah 46:10 says that His design for it includes that of “declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish my purpose.’”
God demonstrates His glory by declaring what lies ahead in history. When one looks at the specific prophecies Jesus fulfilled at His first coming, it brings about a sense of wonder and awe for the Lord as well as for His Word. Many have come to faith in Jesus after looking at how the Lord fulfilled prophecy with Jesus’ first coming.
God intends for the abundant prophecies throughout the Bible regarding the restoration of a kingdom for Israel, the Gog and Magog war, the tribulation, and the Second Coming to accomplish this identical purpose. The fulfillment of these things will further demonstrate His sovereignty over history just as Israel’s miraculous rebirth seventy years ago and God’s supernatural protection of them and blessing since then demonstrates the validity of God’s promises in Ezekiel 36-37 for what is to come.
If one dismisses most, if not all of future prophecy to allegory, one not only negates God’s purpose for revealing the future to us but also destroys its relevance for us today, which is precisely what our enemy desires. The allegorical interpretation of prophecy can and has led to serious errors in the past and will do so again. This is a given.
Those who employ this approach overlay their understanding of God’s prophetic program upon passages that contradict their beliefs. They not only negate God’s sovereign purpose for prophecy with their retrofitting of passages to a faulty New Testament understanding of the covenants, they undermine the integrity of the Bible by making passages say something contrary to the original intention of the author or what those listening at the time would have understood.