Many people over the centuries since John wrote the book of Revelation (around 95 AD) have allegorized various aspects of the book to mean a host of different things. This history and approach to the book confuses people because if we allegorize the book of Revelation it loses it’s meaning. People can put any meaning they want into the Book of Revelation and other prophetic texts if allegory is allowed. We need to use the same interpretation method for Daniel and Revelation that we do for the rest of the Bible. As it’s been said, “If the plain sense makes sense, then seek no other sense, or you will end up in nonsense.”
In other words, take God’s word at face value. If Revelation says multiple times that after the tribulation period, Jesus will set up a 1000 year kingdom on Earth, then it means that he will literally set up a 1000 year reign on Earth. If it says 144,000 Jewish witnesses will receive Christ and become evangelists during the tribulation period than there will literally be 144,000 Jewish evangelists (and many more Jewish believers) in Christ. The number 144,000 is not symbolic for anything. The book of Revelation definitely contains some symbolism. However, the symbols are understood from the context of the chapter or from other books in the Bible. When studying scripture we have to careful to interpret scripture with scripture instead of our own ideas.
One very unfortunate outcome resulting from the failure of using a literal interpretation of prophecy is what’s known as “Replacement Theology”. In replacement theology, Bible teachers replace the Jewish people with the Church. Anywhere the text refers to Israel, Jerusalem, or the Jewish people, adherents to replacement theology teach that these passages are really talking about the Church. To be blunt, this is bad theology leading to clearly unbiblical consequences, but more on that in once we get to Key #5 in a few posts.
One reason a literal interpretation is so important is that it puts prophecy into a real context. Before I understood this, I used to gloss over prophetic passages. I viewed them as having meaning to their immediate audience but not to me personally. I wouldn’t have said it that way, but that’s the effect it had when I came across Old Testament prophecies.
The great thing is that the literal interpretation method can be tested. God is “the same yesterday, today, and forever”. If past fulfilled prophecies were fulfilled literally, we can be sure that future yet-unfulfilled prophecies will be fulfilled in like manner. In short, fulfilled prophecy verifies the literal interpretation method.
For example, many Old Testament prophets predicted Israel would become a nation again and that she would control Jerusalem again. For centuries theologians (beginning with St. Augustine and carrying over into the Catholic church and into Protestant churches) allegorized all of these verses because Israel had been destroyed in 70AD. If they would have applied a literal interpretation they would have understood from many passages that Israel would one day become a nation again. Every detail regarding Israel’s rebirth as a nation happened literally and was fulfilled to the exact detail.
Another example would be the succession of world empires detailed in Daniel chapter 2 before any of them came to pass. These major world empire prophecies were also fulfilled literally…in every detail. The specific prophecies surrounding the birth of Christ were all fulfilled literally…to the detail. You get the point. Over and over again Bible prophecy makes unbelievable claims. Over and over again they are fulfilled literally. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” All scripture, including every single prophecy was inspired by the Holy Spirit.
We need to trust that God says what He means and means what He says. A literal interpretation of scripture honors God and His word. There’s nothing Satan would like more than to get us to doubt scripture. That’s been his M.O. from the beginning and it’s what he craftily continues to do. If the enemy can’t get us to reject God’s word, he’ll do anything he can to make scripture seem murky and confusing. A literal interpretation of scripture opposes this tactic and gives us very clear insight into God’s faithfulness to his word. It also gives us greater clarity as we study end-time Bible prophecy.
RESOURCES FOR FURTHER STUDY
Here are a few GREAT books to get if you would like to dig deeper.
Exploring Bible Prophecy from Genesis to Revelation, LaHaye and Hindson