Perspective on Prophecy


How should we take end time prophecy in the Bible?  There are those who would say every word must be read with a completely literal perspective.  If the prophet talks about giant locusts with scorpion tails, then that’s exactly what will happen.  Huge mutant bugs will come in a swarm to attack people.

A slight variation on these absolute literalists are those who suggest that perhaps some of the strange things in end time prophecy were beyond the comprehension and ability of the prophet to describe.  So, he just does his best and uses language that he knows.  This group would say that the giant locusts aren’t actually locusts, but some form of technology the prophet had no category for – like Apache helicopters.  To him, they looked like giant locusts, and so that’s what he called them.  Still a literal interpretation, but it allows for a tad more freedom.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who would say virtually all the end-time prophecy in Scripture is allegoric, full of things that probably won’t happen in reality.  When John describes giant locusts, it’s really an allegory for evil motives in the hearts of men, or something like that.  This group would say there’s no way of ever knowing or learning anything real in end time prophecy because it’s all an allegory and since the original authors are dead, we have no way of knowing whether or not our interpretation is accurate.

Well, I think both are wrong!  Prophecy, especially end time prophecy, isn’t meant to be absolutely literal, but neither is it all allegory and speculation.  I agree with Michael Green, who wrote The Message of Matthew, in that prophecy is supposed to be like a movie trailer or flashing lights on the highway in front of you.

Think of prophecy as a movie trailer.  Trailers don’t give all the details of the movie.  They don’t always preview the movie in chronological order.  They’re designed to create anticipation and excitement about the return of Jesus.  Prophecy isn’t designed to be a detailed account of history in the future.  We can’t read it and discover all the events that are going to unfold.  It’s not like reading the newspaper before the news happens!

Prophecy is a glimpse, a preview of what’s to come designed to fill us with expectation and anticipation.  It’s designed to warn us that the end is going to come, and so we should live our live appropriately today.

What are some of your thoughts on the way prophecy should be read in Scripture?  Ultra-literal?  Completely allegorical?  Somewhere in between?