B1: Chapter 1: Keys To Understanding Bible Prophecy

(from Daniel and Revelation: Time of The End, by Michael D. Fortner)

(1) Interpreting Apocalyptic Symbolism

In order to understand Bible prophecy, it is important to know some key facts about its interpretation. One of the ways God spoke to the prophets was through dreams and visions. Most dreams and visions contain symbolism, and the Bible actually tells us how to interpret symbolism.

In Genesis, Jacob had a prophetic dream of speckled and spotted goats that foretold his future income. Joseph had two dreams: one of sheaves of wheat bowing to him, and one of the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowing to him. Then later, while in prison, the Pharaoh’s wine steward and chief baker each had a dream that Joseph interpreted; then Pharaoh had a dream that Joseph interpreted. Later, the king of Babylon had a dream that Daniel interpreted, and Daniel himself had prophetic dreams he called “night visions.”

The symbolism found in all of those dreams and visions had literal meaning. For example, the stalks of wheat that bowed down to Joseph symbolized his family bowing to him. In Pharaoh’s dream, the lean cows eating the fat cows meant that there would be seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. During the seven years of famine, the people were to eat grain, which they had stored up during the seven years of plenty. Clearly, the images were symbolic but had literal meaning. Visions are like dreams, in which normal everyday objects or events almost always have meaning beyond the normal.

Even in our normal lives, we use symbols with meaning. A symbol is an object that stands for or represents something else; an emblem, a letter, figure, or character. For example, a flag is the emblem of a nation and represents certain things that the nation stands for or believes. Funk and Wagnell’s Ency. says:

The bases of symbolism is a physical connection, an association, or a chance resemblance between the symbol and the thing symbolized . . . the olive branch has denoted peace; the palm, triumph; and the anchor, faith or hope. (Vol. 22, p. 385)

However, we should not take symbolism too far. For example, the anchor represents faith and hope, but an anchor is also big and heavy and could drop on your foot and crush it. Does that mean that we should not have a lot of faith? No, it means the relationship between the symbol and what is symbolized is only partial, not total. The symbolism of an object does not have to be exact; it only needs to be close.

After Jesus was born, Joseph had a dream where an angel told him to take Mary and Jesus into Egypt because the king was trying to kill Jesus. That dream was not symbolic; it was plain. Then Paul had a dream of someone beckoning him to come to Macedonia, so it was another plain dream. But the visions of Apostle John in Revelation are 99% symbolic.

Revelation chapter 1 actually gives us an example of how we should interpret its symbols. John saw seven golden lampstands and seven stars in Christ’s hand; then Jesus explained it:

“The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven candlesticks which you saw are the seven churches.” (1:20)

This shows us that the symbols of the Revelation and all other Bible prophecies have a definite literal meaning. So, the book of Revelation is not just an allegory with an unknowable meaning, but contains factual information that is encoded with symbols and figurative language.

Also, because Jesus gave us this example of interpreting the symbols of Revelation, this tells us that God expects us to figure out the meanings of the symbolism. The beast has a definite meaning, and the seven heads have a definite meaning that we can learn; as do the Seals and Trumpets. Therefore, regardless of what you have been told, God will not turn the oceans into blood; that is symbolism that must be interpreted; in short, it refers to the death of those waters. And when Christ returns, he will not have a sword sticking out of his mouth! The sword represents words of judgment that will bring death to the wicked.

Rev. 9:14-15 clearly says that four angels bound at the Euphrates River will be released to kill one-third of mankind, so I guess we don’t need to worry about nuclear war destroying the world, because these angels will do the killing, right? No! It means that World War 3, or perhaps just the part that includes the beast (?), will begin in that region or by the people that live in that region, which Islam controls. As you can already see, there are many details that we cannot know until they begin to happen.

In order to kill 2.4 billion people in warfare, there must be a massive war with many nations; which means the 10-nation beast cannot at the same time be ruler of the whole planet. The next Islamic empire will come out of the Abyss for one reason: to spread Islam by force, as it has done many times in history.

So, the symbols are not merely allegorical, such as referring to the general spread of evil in the world. No, specific images have specific meanings.

Theology does not have the answers to Bible prophecy because the correct interpretation is an interpretation of symbolism. For example, consider the 200 million fire-breathing horses. They have a literal interpretation which Bible commentaries have a difficult time understanding. Some commentaries actually say that there will be 200 million fire-breathing horses (Rev. 9), but it is symbolism that must be interpreted.

And John was not trying to describe a modern weapon; he actually saw a horse with the head of a lion breathing fire. However, once the symbolism is correctly interpreted, it turns out to be missiles and rockets which we will learn about in chapter 6.

(2) 100% Literal Interpretation?

Another important point is that even though we should interpret the Bible literally, often a verse is not 100% literal. There is a big problem with Bible prophecy interpretation today because much of it is wrongly taken at 100% face value, when it should not.

I use the literal method of interpreting Scripture, which is the only sound method. But what Bible scholars do not understand is that even when a passage does not contain any symbolism, that does not mean that every word in the passage is 100% literal at face value. Problems arise when we take many statements as being 100% literal.

I will prove that many statements in the Bible, not just Bible prophecy, are not 100% literal. Here is an example, and it also fits in with the last section:

The great day of the Lord is near, . . . That day is a day of wrath . . . But the whole earth will be consumed by the fire of His jealousy, for He will make a sudden end of all those who dwell on the earth. (Zephaniah 1:14-15, 18)

Will the entire world literally be consumed, that is, burned up with fire to such an extent that planet Earth will no longer exist? No, that will not happen; it merely means the entire surface of the world will be burned. Notice the statement, “he will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth.” We know that this is not 100% literal because there are many passages that say that many people will survive the Day of Judgment; therefore, God will not kill everyone on Earth. So even though the statements in the above passage are not symbolic and must be understood literally, they are not 100% literal.

When interpreting the Bible, it can be tempting to accept everything at face value, but problems can arise if one insists on applying a 100% literal interpretation to every passage. It is hard to interpret the Bible correctly if we do not believe it has a literal, that is factual, interpretation; but as the above passage illustrates, some passages that appear to be 100% literal are not.

However, this point of view raises some problems because there are statements that seem to suggest that they must be taken at literal face value, yet they should not. No less than 20 verses state that the land was “flowing with milk and honey,” (Ex. 3:8). But those statements are exaggerations and hyperbole; this was just a way of saying that it was a very fertile and fruitful land. Yes, but it also shows that that we shouldn’t accept everything in the Bible at face value.

If you insist on taking everything at 100% literal face value, then it means the land of Canaan had streams and rivers of milk and honey!

(3) The Whole World?

Many times the Bible uses the terms “all the earth” or “the whole world,” but does not refer to the entire globe, as many people wrongly believe. Here are just a few such passages:

Moreover, all countries came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was so severe in all the lands. (Gen. 41:57)

All the earth came to Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart. (1 Kings 10:24)

All nations on planet Earth did not go to Egypt to buy grain, nor did all nations seek an audience with Solomon. Nor does it refer to the known world. Here are more examples:

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the entire inhabited earth should be taxed. (Luke 2:1)

“Look, the world has followed Him!” (John 12:19)

The whole planet was not taxed by the Romans, and neither did the whole planet follow Jesus while he was on Earth. Nor did it mean the known world because all of the Roman Empire did not follow Christ; not even all of the Jews followed Christ. So it proves that the statement cannot be taken at 100% literal face value. This shows that the Bible often speaks of the whole world or the whole earth, but it really means a large number of people, or most of the nations near Israel, or that are within reasonable travel distance of Israel.

We do the same thing in everyday life. Even though Rome claimed to rule the world and proclaimed that “all roads lead to Rome,” they knew that the world was much bigger than the empire because they traded with faraway places like India. So to say that Rome ruled the world was simply acknowledging that it ruled all the areas within a reasonable distance of Rome; that Rome ruled its area of the world.

Another example is found in Daniel 8, about the goat and the ram, which was about Alexander the Great attacking Media-Persia:

As I was considering this, suddenly a male goat came from the west across the face of the whole earth and did not touch the ground. And the goat had a notable horn between his eyes. (Daniel 8:5)

The goat was seen crossing “the whole earth,” which it clearly did not do. It did not even cross the entire known world to arrive in Persia. It merely traveled from Greece to Persia. Neither did Alexander’s army travel by not touching the ground; it merely means that it traveled very fast without facing any major obstacles; this part is merely symbolism, not hyperbole.

So when the book of Revelation says the whole world will worship the beast, it does not refer to the entire planet or even the known world. The whole world of the Bible is the Middle-Eastern, Mediterranean world.

Likewise, when it says all nations will attack Jerusalem, it does not literally mean every single nation on the planet (Zech. 14:2). Yet, there is a verse that seems to indicate the whole planet: “And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation” (Rev.13:7). But it refers to the Middle Eastern / Mediterranean / European world where all previous heads of the beast have ruled.

The previous heads of the beast waged literal warfare against God’s people throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and southern Europe. In the same way, the last head of the beast will also wage war against Christians, Jews, and anyone who does not submit.

The next head of the beast will likely invade nations that are not in the Mediterranean area, but it will not be able to invade the whole planet. But even more than this argument about the whole world, the prophecies in Daniel, when correctly interpreted, also reveal that there will NOT be a one-world government that has control over all nations on Earth. This will be shown many times throughout this book.

The purpose of the final head of the beast is to wage war upon the world, especially God’s people. This war will kill 1/3rd of the global population (or does it refer to the Middle-Eastern/ Mediterranean world? That is another detail we cannot know. Yet we are expected to believe that the beast is going to come to power by bringing world peace! That is total fiction, and it is proven to be so in this book.

Just one more! In Daniel 4:22, it says the king’s dominion has reached “to the ends of the earth.” Did Nebuchadnezzar rule China? No, he did not. Only a few decades later, Babylon was conquered by the Media-Persian Empire, which was literally right next door. Yet, some people still insist that the future Antichrist will rule the entire planet.

We even use this same type of terminology today. Did you know we have never had a world war? Yes, it is true. We have had two wars that we call world wars, but the whole world was not at war; just many nations and much of the world’s surface, but not literally every nation.

One lady emailed me with the claim that the 10 horns of Revelation will only rule for one hour with the beast, a literal 60 minutes, because that is what it says in Rev. 17:12:

“The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom yet, but they will receive authority as kings for one hour with the beast.”

This verse means that there is a set time for these events to be completed, and it will not last for centuries or even decades. In Rev. 3:10, Jesus called the Time of Testing, “the hour of trial,” so I guess we don’t have to worry about any of the Trumpet events, because they will only last for one hour! I hope you can see what kind of mess you get into by taking every word at 100% face value.

I came to the above understanding many years before I learned of some theologians who agree with this view. So, I am not the only one who sees the “whole world” of the Bible as being the Middle Eastern world and not the entire planet. This includes Walter Bradley in Why I am a Christian: leading thinkers explain why they believe, Baker Books, 2001.

Another theologian, Gavin Ortlund, author of several books, debates people on YouTube and has many books, articles, and videos. He presented pretty much the same argument that I did above, but with some added Hebrew analysis, because he believes this information means that Noah’s Flood could have been local, rather than global:

“The face of the whole earth” clearly means a particular area here, or “land” or “territory.” (www.truthunites.org/2015/01/03/why-a-local-flood/)

Rich Deem, of www.godandscience.org, agrees with Ortlund. Finally, Chadwick Harvey of Faith Performance Ministries, who is the author of several books on bible prophecy, stated on his website:

. . . according to the Holy Bible, it is clear that the Antichrist will not conquer and rule over all nations of the earth during the Seven-Year Tribulation period. The terminology of the “whole world” was used by Daniel and the other Prophets to emphasize the dominance of Satan’s rule. (https://faithful performance.com/does-the-antichrist-rule-the-whole-world/)

(4) No Private Interpretation

Doesn’t the Bible say that no single person can interpret Scripture? No, it does not! This is an example of a wrong understanding derived from taking Scripture at face value rather than interpreting it. Often, when someone offers new insights on Bible prophecy, someone else will jump in and say, “There is no private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20) (KJV). But that passage is not being correctly understood.

Barnes Notes says there is great diversity of meaning given to the passage. I believe his understanding of it correct:

[T]he apostle teaches that the truths which the prophets communicated were not originated by themselves; were not of their own suggestion or invention; were not their own opinions, but were of higher origin, and were imparted by God . . . that what they communicated “was not of their own disclosure;” that is, was not revealed or originated by them.”

This view is reflected in at least two translations of the passage:

Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, 21 for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (NET)

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (NIV)

This means that no prophecy in the Bible originated within the mind of a prophet; the prophet did not think up or invent his prophecies. It does not mean that no individual can understand prophecy. This passage is often used in an attempt to discredit new insights into Bible prophecy, but wrongly. Nowhere in Scripture does it say that only committees can hear from God or be led or called by God. Most likely, the opposite is true.

The above verse is just being used in an effort to silence people who teach something other than what the critic believes. God has not given the correct interpretation to a committee or to many different people at the same time, because Bible prophecy “experts” are not in agreement.

(5) The Doctrine of Imminent Return of Christ Exposed

If we listen to most prophecy teachers, Jesus could come at any moment for the past 2000 years, but that is not true. The pre-tribulation Rapture theory includes the doctrine of the imminent return of Christ; this doctrine says the Rapture can happen at any moment, followed a the 7-year tribulation, and that it could have happened at any time since Christ returned to heaven. These two doctrines are welded together like steel and therefore cannot be separated. Just because we do not know when the end will come, that does not mean it is imminent. In fact, many verses of Scripture indicate that Jesus would stay away a long time. Here is one passage:

“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled. For all these things must happen, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines, epidemics, and earthquakes in various places. ” (Mat. 24:6-7)

These verses describe many years of history. This means many wars will take place before Christ returns. This statement alone destroys the imminent Rapture/return theory, because it shows that the end of the Gospel Age is in the distant future from the time of Christ; after many years of history, “the end is still to come” (NIV).

In Mat. 25, in the parable of the ten virgins, it says, “While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept” (v.5, KJV). That word, “tarried,” means “delayed.” So, this is another passage that says he will not come soon after leaving. Matt. 24 has a parable about a servant who beats the other servants:

“But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master delays his coming,’ 49 and begins to strike his fellow servants and eat and drink with the drunkards, . . .” (Matthew 24:48-49)

Even though it is the servant who thinks to himself that his master is staying away a long time, the meaning is that the master is staying away a long time, which is why the servant had those thoughts. Clearly, Jesus told us he would stay away for a long time.

And Paul actually taught against the imminent Rapture theory. Yes, Paul spoke out in Scripture against the belief in the imminent return of Christ:

That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. (2 Thess. 2:2) (KJV)

About half the translations say the same as the KJV, that the Day of the Lord “is at hand,” which means about to happen right away. Other translations say, “is come” or “is present.” The MEV says, “is already here,” and the NIV says, “has already come.” According to Robert’s Word Pictures, the passage should read, “is imminent.” The word, “imminent” means about to happen at any moment. Robert’s Word Pictures says:

As that the day of the Lord is now present . . . Perfect active indicative . . . intransitive in this tense to stand in or at or near. So “is imminent” (Lightfoot). . . . Certainly it flatly denies that by conversation or by letter he had stated that the second coming was immediately at hand. . . . It is enough to give one pause to note Paul’s indignation over this use of his name by one of the over-zealous advocates of the view that Christ was coming at once. . . . Moreover, Paul’s words should make us hesitate to affirm that Paul definitely proclaimed the early return of Jesus. He hoped for it undoubtedly, but he did not specifically proclaim it as so many today assert and accuse him of misleading the early Christians with a false presentation.

The Complete Word Study Dictionary says, “To be present, instant, or at hand . . . Impending.” It is translated “present” in 1 Cor. 3:22 and Gal. 1:4. There you have it; not only did Christ speak against the imminent Rapture / return in the parables, but Paul directly spoke against it. On this point, both Roberts and Lightfoot are in agreement.

What about the passages where we are told to be watchful? There are two ways of looking at those passages: one is that they mainly apply to the generation that will in fact see the return of Christ, and another is best illustrated with this story:

Suppose you were told to take a certain road, and when you come to a large rock, turn right onto the road next to it. You don’t know where that rock is located, so you must watch for it right from the start of your journey. You don’t know that the rock is located 2,000 miles away. The rock is not hovering up in the sky waiting to slam down to earth whenever a command is given. It may seem imminent because you must watch for it from the start of the trip, but it actually is not. It is firmly planted in the ground 2,000 miles away; you just don’t know where.

If the rock were imminent, it could appear at any time, but it cannot appear at any time because it is 2,000 miles away. If we could see 2,000 miles away, we could see the rock in its place. But since we cannot see that far ahead, we must keep looking for it. I hope you can see how this is not imminence.

If the doctrine of imminence has a smoking gun, it is the statement by Peter that Christ must stay in heaven until the time when all things will be restored; “Therefore repent and be converted, . . . that He may send the One who previously was preached to you, Jesus Christ, whom the heavens must receive until the time of restoring . . .” (Acts 3:19-21). This passage says that Jesus will stay in heaven until some future time when God will restore the whole earth, including plants and animals. Notice that the Jews must convert before Christ can return, which they will do at the same time that a billion or Christians convert, before the full Wrath of God hits.

Peter certainly did not look for a soon return, because he knew that a prophecy Jesus made must be fulfilled: “when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18). So Peter knew he was going to live to be an old man and die; therefore, he knew Jesus was not going to return in his lifetime.

As you can see, the correct interpretation of Bible prophecy provides great evidence against the pre-tribulation/imminent Rapture theory, as we will see throughout this book, including the next section.

(6) The Last Trumpet

Another thing that proves that the imminent return theory is false is the truth about the fall feasts of Israel as they relate to the return of Christ.

Most Protestant Christians believe in what we call the Rapture, which is the catching away of Christians to heaven at the end of this age. Some believe it will occur at the beginning of a seven-year tribulation, while others believe it will occur in the middle, others at the end, or before the 7 Bowls of Wrath, known as the pre-wrath theory. Belief in the Rapture is based on the words of Paul in 1 Cor.:

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet, for the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (1 Cor. 15:51-52)

Christ will return in the sky at the last trumpet, and those who have died will be resurrected with immortal bodies so they can live forever. The living will be instantly changed to also become immortal, and all will join Christ in the clouds, where we will return to heaven and have the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19).

Notice that Paul said, “at the last trumpet.” He is referring to the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah), so this refers to the Rapture. Jesus fulfilled all the spring feasts, such as Passover and Pentecost: he was our Passover sacrifice for sin, and he sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Likewise, he must and will also fulfill all the fall feasts. This fact alone destroys the teaching that the Rapture could take place at any time (seems like I have said that several times already). Because it can only happen in conjunction with the fall feasts.

Kevin Howard explains the Feast of Trumpets:

In most basic terms, the Feast of Trumpets — the first of the three fall feasts — depicts the coming of the Messiah to rapture the Church and judge the wicked. (The Feasts of the Lord, p. 26)

At the Feast of Trumpets, the shofar ram’s horn was blown 100 times; this is what Paul was referring to. The Rapture takes place at the last trumpet of the Feast of Trumpets.

The Day of Atonement, also called the Day of Judgment, is 10 days after the Feast of Trumpets; yet, Jews believe the books of judgment are opened at the Feast of Trumpets for those who do not go in the Rapture. One book is for those who will be given life, one for those who will be given death, and one for those whose final account has not yet been determined; so if they repent between the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement, then they will also be given life. The Jews believe that most people are in the book that requires repentance. When a Jew would meet another Jew, he would say, “May you be inscribed and sealed in the book of life for a good year.

Since Christ will judge the world at his return, this is when the books are opened and the judging begins, but the sentence is not carried out until the Day of Atonement, 10 days later.

The 10 days from the end of the Feast of Trumpets to the Day of Atonement are called the Days of Awe, because people will be distressed about being judged worthy to live, or condemned to die.

During the 12 days between the start of the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement, they engaged in prayer, introspection, repentance, and sought forgiveness from people they had wronged, which is similar to the New Testament admonition, “If we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.” (1 Cor. 11:31).

The Feast of Trumpets is the first of the fall feasts and takes place at the end of the harvest season. A significant tradition related to the Feast of Trumpets says the resurrection of the dead will take place at this feast, which is why many Jewish gravestones are “often engraved with a shofar” (Howard, The Feasts of the Lord, page 114).

This is the only feast for which the day and hour it begins are unknown because it starts on the 1st of the month, which is only known by the sighting of the new moon. Therefore, watchmen had to stand watch during the night until they saw the new moon. Only then did they know it was the day to begin the Feast of Trumpets. Many people, such as Mark Biltz, believe the statement Jesus made about us not knowing the day or the hour of his return refers to this feast. We are commanded to “watch” for signs of Christ’s return, in the same way that the watchmen had to look for the new moon.

(7) Correct Spelling and Usage

Because many books and 80% of all websites improperly use the words “prophecy” and “prophesy,” I will explain the difference. “Prophecy” is a noun, and “prophesy” is a verb. “Prophecy” is pronounced “pro-phe-see,” and “prophesy” is pronounced “pro-phe-sigh.” To prophesy is to speak forth a prophecy. A prophecy is a prediction that a prophet makes when he prophesies. For example: “The prophet Isaiah wrote down many prophecies. Isaiah prophesied about the Day of Judgment.”

(8) Judgment of the Nations

It is surprising how many Christians do not know that Christ will return to judge the nations before his bodily return. This is often called the Judgment Seat of Christ. Jesus told us about it in the parable of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31-46):

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 Before Him will be gathered all nations, and He will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates his sheep from the goats.” (25:31-32)

The entire population of the planet will not literally be brought to one place to be judged; this is a parable. A parable is like a dream or vision because it contains truth and must be interpreted. If God were to gather the whole world before Christ to be judged, and each judgment only lasts one second, it would take 221.96 years to judge 7 billion people, going continuously 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Therefore, this parable means that when Jesus returns to the world at this judgment, he will instantly judge every person on Earth.

Those who are judged goats will die in the fire of his Wrath, which will soon follow; but those who are sheep will be allowed to live and enter Christ’s Kingdom. The Wrath is known to Catholics as the Chastisement. The Wrath of God upon the world will kill billions of people, but people are not merely going to drop dead; God will use natural means such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and asteroid impacts to remove the wicked from the planet. (See The Return of Christ and Three Days of Darkness for more details.)