(from Bible Prophecy Revealed: 2023, by Michael D. Fortner)
(1) Interpreting Apocalyptic Symbolism
In order to understand Bible prophecy, it is important to know some key facts about Bible prophecy 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 and 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, 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 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. The stalks of wheat that bowed down to Joseph symbolized his family bowing to him.
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 that we will learn about in chapter 7.
(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 being 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.
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. The most well-known of these is where Jesus said that he would be in the grave for three days and three nights (Matt. 12:39-40):
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (v40)
Was Jesus actually in the grave for three full days and nights? He was not even in the grave for 48 hours, which are two days and nights. He was put in the grave on Friday afternoon and rose Sunday morning, so it covered parts of three days and two nights. (Some people believe Jesus actually died on Wednesday and rose on Saturday night, but the text of Scripture itself says he rose on Sunday morning, not Saturday night; Mark 16:9, Luke 24:1, 7, 21, 46.)
Any part of a day was considered a whole day. Some people may say, oh, but that is just how the Bible or the Jews use “days.” Perhaps, but it also shows that the Bible is not 100% literal, because there are many examples throughout the Bible. When it comes to interpreting the Bible, it is very tempting to take everything at 100% literal face value, but you run into trouble if you insist on applying a 100% literal face value to every passage. It is hard to interpret the Bible correctly if we do not interpret it literally, but as the above passage illustrates, some passages that appear to be 100% literal are not.
A variation of not taking everything at 100% face value, is the use of hyperbole, which is making a factual statement that is not meant to be taken literally; at least not 100% literally. For example, 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; 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 they 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 merely a way of saying that it ruled all the area 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). Not convinced yet? Watch for a column of smoke:
Its streams shall be turned into pitch, and its dust into brimstone, and its land shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night or day; its smoke shall go up forever. From generation to generation it shall lie waste; no one shall pass through it forever and ever. (Isaiah 34:9-10)
Seriously, do you really believe that the smoke of Edom’s burning will rise forever? Ten billion years into the future, will the smoke of Edom still be rising? No, it will not! In Rev. it says, “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray” (12:9). There you have it, Satan is going to deceive every person on the face of the planet, right? There won’t be one person alive who doesn’t worship Satan, right? If that is the case, why are they going to invade Israel? Clearly, Israel is NOT following the beast of Revelation!
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 is proven to be so in chapter 5.
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 that 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 Great Tribulation, “the hour of trial,” so I guess we don’t have to worry about the Great Trib. (GT), because it 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.
(3) No Private Interpretation
Doesn’t the Bible say that no single person can interpret Scripture? No, it does not! This is an example of inaccurate interpretation. 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 accurately understood. It is taken out of context, and is often not translated correctly because the Greek is difficult to understand. Here are two other translations in context:
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.
(4) The Doctrine of Imminent Return of Christ Exposed
If we listen to most prophecy teachers, Jesus was soon to return 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 by the 7-year GT, 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. There are in fact many verses of Scripture which 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, “nation will rise against nation.” 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, and even 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 he left. 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 an 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, then 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 to be 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, . . . and 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. (The smoking gun that kills the Pre-trib theory is in a later chapter.)
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.
(5) The Rapture and the Feasts of Israel
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 happen at the start of a seven-year tribulation; others in the middle, some others at the end, and others 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 also will 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. This entire period, beginning with the Feast of Trumpets, must be what the Bible refers to as the Day of the Lord, not just the final day, and is certainly not 7 years long. Incorrect teachers claim the entire GT (which is supposed to be 7 years) is the Day of the Lord, but this does NOT fit with the feasts.
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. So this is the time of Great Distress mentioned in Matthew 24, which is explained in a later chapter.
If you take these days literally, as I once did, it would require that the Rapture take place at the very end of the Great Tribulation, 10 days before the Full Wrath of God destroys the world; that is, before the goat-nations are destroyed with fire (Matthew 25). But there are clearly gaps of years between the fulfillment of the feasts, or all these feasts would have been fulfilled in the same year that Jesus was crucified and resurrected.
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. Likewise, the Rapture takes place at the end of the Gospel Age, and before the final harvest, which symbolizes the great harvest of souls before the Wrath of God comes upon the world (more on this later).
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 beings 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.
(6) Correct Spelling and Usage
Because many books and 80% of all web sites 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.”
(7) 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. But many of those who repent at this judgment will also die, because God will, and must, greatly reduce the global population. (See The Approaching Apocalypse for more details.)