Updated: May 15, 2019
Just Google “End times / Last Days / Prophecy” and see what you get. Over 29 million sites, the majority being Christian orientated. No way could you ever get through all of that; most of us would probably give up after reading a few articles, by which time we’d be completely baffled. Anyway most people tend to search out sites that confirm what they already believe to be true. It’s called confirmation bias.
I really do pity some new believer wanting to know what “the Church” teaches about the Last Days and discovering such a bewildering array of opinions. So I’m definitely not going to add to the confusion (I hope), but I would like to set out some guidelines to help us get a better focus for understanding the seeming perplexity of prophetic scriptures.
First of all I’d like to say that there really shouldn’t be this kind of confusion. Is God actually hiding things from us, making it all so hard to grasp, and causing us to squirm with fear in case we miss something? We do know for example in former times He told Daniel to “seal” up the words until “the end”. But having said that, Daniel still went ahead and wrote down the visions he received anyway! Now even on that level there seems to be a little confusion. Yahweh says through the angel, “seal up the words” but Daniel goes ahead and writes them down telling us all about his visions. What’s going on here and what exactly was Daniel told to “shut up and seal”?
There are two main views about this text. One is that the prophecy was not to be actually ‘shut up’ or ‘sealed’ as if being locked away, but only to preserve the writings for later.
The other holds that in Daniel’s time the book would indeed have been sealed (hidden away from prying eyes), but understanding about it’s meaning would only become clearer to those believers who secretly diligently studied the book much later – the events ultimately being fully understood when the actual end days arrived.
The point being that obviously the message contained in Daniel’s book was NOT kept secret because it’s been in the Scriptures for two and a half thousand years. Even Jesus told us to understand its meaning (Matthew 24:15).
So this can’t mean that it was to be locked away as such, but rather it means that Daniel was to protect and securely preserve its message. Of course part of that may have been for him and others who followed, to keep the parchments secure somewhere, but clearly not to lock it way until the actual end days arrived – because the book has been in the Jewish Scriptures for millennia.
Interestingly it was never included in the “Prophets” (Nevi'im) section of the Jewish Bible (Tanakh) but only in the “Writings” (Ketuvim) section. Yet Jesus did recognize him as a prophet: “Jesus said…Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place; let the reader understand. (Matthew 24:15).
Like so many prophecies they can usually only be properly understood when the prophesied event gets very close. I remember reading many years ago that about 80% of the Messianic prophecies about Jesus only happened in the last 48 hours of His life. Don’t quote me on the precise percentage, but I hope you get the picture. Most prophecies only make sense as they’re actually happening, or of course in hind-sight.
Now in this text there’s an interesting observation when the angel says, “knowledge shall increase, many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand” (Dan 12:10).
The WISE ones shall understand. I’ve often said that an important End Time characteristic will be Wisdom (and its accompanying gift, Discernment).
So we have the angel tell Daniel that “the wise shall understand”; Jesus saying “Let the reader understand”; topped off in Revelation with this, “and he said to me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand.” (Rev 22:10).
Then Rev 22:11 continues on: “He that is unjust let him be unjust still, and he which is filthy let him be filthy still, and he that is righteous let him be righteous still, and he that is holy let him be holy still.”
If you look closely at that saying you’ll note the similarity in Daniel 12:10. “Many will be purged, purified and refined but the wicked will act wickedly; and none of the wicked will understand, but those who have insight will understand.”
The wise and righteous ones WILL understand, but the wicked ones won’t have a clue what’s going on. Daniel is actually told that special insight (discernment) will be given to us for understanding. So it’s not just having good Bible knowledge or being able to unravel the prophetic complexities that’s important, we will need (and receive) special “insight” from the Holy Spirit to discern what’s taking place.
Forget all the movies about the end of the world, alien invasion, secret codes, etc. What we need and will receive will be illumination by God’s Spirit to comprehend the Biblical prophetic texts.
Even in Daniel’s time any attempt to try and understand it would’ve been in vain. However in the End Days when the Old and New Testament prophecies become especially relevant, understanding will be released. What then is the difference between Daniel’s visions and those given to John in Revelation? One thing – TIMING. The things of Daniel’s day were not imminent, but according to Revelation now they are. John completes the the revelation which was originally given to Daniel.
So there we have it; Daniel is told to SEAL and John is told to UNSEAL.
To pick up on my opening comments; God isn’t playing games with us and deliberately making us get confused about End Times events. On the contrary He’s been astonishingly gracious in revealing things about it all, preserving the truth of it, and now releasing understanding to those who are righteous and wise!
While some commentators and scholars tell us that such prophetic books should be left alone because they’re shrouded in hard-to-decipher symbols, unintelligible mystical language, and even fables, Jesus says, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it.” (Rev 1:3).
Religion says “leave such books alone”; Jesus says “Blessed is he who does read”. Jesus the Word Himself declares such books now O-P-E-N and even understandable. Gracious God indeed!
An important side note: see the three-fold structure in the text (1) read (2) hear (3) heed. Here is an action, something practical to do if you want to understand prophetic texts. These three things are a kind of single unit because there’s spiritual truth in the progression of them. Reading (preferably aloud) leads to proper hearing (by the Spirit) which in turn will give you inner conviction to heed and do.
I’ll leave it to you to delve further – treasure this insight because there’s a revelation here about how to understand prophetic scriptures: Read, Hear, and Heed.
Right, so having laid a foundation let’s outline some guidelines to help decipher and discern what the prophetic scriptures are saying.
Guideline 1: Don’t be apathetic towards End Time prophecy – especially if it seems to contradict what you already believe. As we’ve just seen, understanding has been given to us to understand.
It might seem all very confusing, so a lot of believers just give up and put it aside in the “too hard” basket. But listen again to the words of Jesus: “Blessed is who who (1) reads and who (2) heeds the words” (Rev 1:3).
Maybe we should actually read the prophetic texts to ourselves and each other more regularly. Even aloud to yourself as you sit in the lounge, in the study, under a tree or whatever. Biblically speaking the scriptures are meant to be read corporately among a gathering of the saints, and aloud.
Can you imagine what it might be like if the saints gathered to hear these prophetic texts read aloud on a regular basis? And then perhaps to simply share what the Spirit revealed as the text was presented. I’m not talking about someone jumping in with their favourite End Time doctrine on the Rapture, Antichrist or whatever and then brow-beat the rest of us. But just to be humble enough to put aside any pre-conceived belief and attentively LISTEN to what the Spirit is saying to the assembled saints at that moment! It will take a lot of humility, grace and discipline, but it can be done – we just need to do it in Christian love.
The reader, the hearer, and the heeder would ALL be blessed if only we did what the Word tells us to do. Blessed is the reader, blessed is the hearer, blessed is the heeder.
Boy, then we would really have CHURCH! A gathering of the saints who are willing to actually listen to the Spirit as the prophetic texts are read aloud. There’s something very special about reading the Word aloud, slowly and considerately, with purpose. Not formally or religiously, but with a desire to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church at that moment.
A few times when I’ve participated in such (usually small) gatherings, what revelation and insight has come! Quite astonishing, and very revolutionary – we should do it much more often.
That word “heed” has the sense of being diligently active with strenuous care, rather than of watching over the teaching to simply preserve it. The latter was more akin to Daniel’s time, the former for our time. We’re not just to preserve the truth of it all, but we are to be active and strenuous in living it out and being prepared for the accompanying events.
In other words, READ these prophetic books, treasure them in your heart so that when the End Time events begin to unfold you’ll have an understanding of how they’ll proceed. Note that I’m not telling you to put aside food supplies, build a bunker, run off and hide to escape the New World Order police, be a “prepper” or any such thing.
That’s not my mission; you’ll need to hear the voice of the Spirit yourself HOW you act when the time gets closer. I’m simply outlining some guidelines. Sorry if you’re looking for more practical details, suggestions and assistance – that’s not what I’m called to do.
Guideline 2: Treat the texts as plainly as you can. I know this sounds dangerous, to treat the Bible as literal. People often say, “Well Jesus said to cut off your hand and pluck out your eye (Matthew 18:9); are we to literally do this every time we sin? If we did then we’d all be armless and blind very quickly!”
Obviously this saying isn’t meant to be literal and only makes sense when you realize that it was (and still is) common practice among rabbis to exaggerate something to make a point. Hearers of Jesus day would’ve understood the difference; often today we don’t.
I don’t want to get sidetracked into debating the “hard sayings of Jesus” because they’re plenty of good internet sites that can do better justice than I could ever do. What I’m suggesting is that when dealing with prophetic End Times texts it would be a wise thing to treat the words according to a plain and natural reading of the text. In other words, if the words are not obviously symbolic or in parable form, take the meaning of them on face value – as plainly as possible.
In Protestant circles (compared to Catholic, Orthodox and Liberal theology) this is called the grammatical-historical hermeneutic approach. Basically is says that the context dictates the meaning. The aim of this method is to discover the meaning of a passage just as the original author would’ve intended and what the original hearers would’ve ordinarily understood as making common sense. Any text is then seen as having only a single meaning or sense. See here for a deeper consideration.
But you need to be consistent in your approach and not just mix up your method by throwing in allegorical and symbolic meanings when you find a verse too difficu