Fulfilled Biblical prophecies are a major proof of God's existence. They attest to his authority and power to influence the course of events on planet earth.
Originally, the Old Testament was divided into three main sections: the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. The division known as the Prophets had six books total representing the prophetic writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, plus the twelve minor prophets (so-called because their prophecies are shorter). Manuscripts written by Joshua and Samuel are also in this section.
This article explains several concepts and keys CRITICAL to understanding the roughly two-thirds of the Bible that is related to prophecy.
Many prophecies are dual in nature. Dual prophecy consists of pronouncements that have both a smaller and much larger fulfillment (known also as type and anti-type). One of the greatest examples of prophetic duality is the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple predicted by Jesus in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21.
"Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, 'Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.'" (Matthew 24:1-2).
Jesus then discusses false saviors and false prophets, wars and rumors of wars, global conflict, famines, pestilences, etc. culminating with the beginning of the Great TRIBULATION (Matthew 24:21). All these events ultimately lead to the resurrection from the dead of all the saints and the second coming of Christ. After his prophetic outline Jesus makes a startling statement.
"Assuredly, I say to you, THIS generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place." (verse 34)
How are we to understand Jesus' statement in verse 34? Did the generation who heard him utter his prophecies experience what he predicted? The concept of duality helps explain his predictions. The generation who heard Jesus speak DID experience a type or smaller fulfillment of the events yet to occur in the End Time. Forty years after Jesus' death in 30 A.D., the total destruction of Jerusalem and its temple took place. The Jewish historian Josephus writes that the city suffered a protracted siege by the Romans (known as the First Jewish-Roman War). During the siege, the Empire cut off access to Jerusalem, causing it to endure severe famine and starvation. The Romans crucified anyone found escaping, with the victims of such torture put on a hill and made to face the city as they suffered. When its walls were finally breached in 70 A.D., the city was sacked then burned to the ground. Survivors of the war became Roman slaves. According to Josephus, the war cost the Jews the loss of more than one million people.
Often, the Bible uses symbols to express thoughts and ideas. For example, water (John 3:5; Ephesians 5:26; 1John 5:6, etc.), fire (Acts 2:3; 1Peter 1:7), and wind (John 3:8; Acts 2:2) are used to represent God's Holy spirit. Sometimes the explanation of a symbol is found verse close to where it appears. For example, in Revelation 1 Jesus tells us that the 7 stars in his hand represent 7 angels and 7 golden lampstands symbolize 7 churches (Revelation 1:19-20).
Many other symbols are in the scriptures. For more information on Bible symbolism, please see our article on the symbolic meaning of Biblical words.
The Bible gives use certain keys to understanding God's prophetic time sequence, such as a day can equal a year in prophetic time.
34 You will suffer the consequences of your sin for forty years, one year for each of the forty days you spent exploring the land. (Numbers 14)
Let us take a look at another time sequence example. God tells Ezekiel the prophet to portray Jerusalem on a tile. He was to depict, like a child, a walled city with armies going against it, etc. He was then told to lie on his side for a certain number of days, with each day representing a year of punishment.
"'Lie also on your left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it. According to the number of the days that you lie on it, you shall bear their iniquity. For I have laid on you the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days; so you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. And when you have completed them, lie again on your right side; then you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days. I have laid on you a day for each year.'" (Ezekiel 4)
For yet another example we go to Revelation 12 to 13. We find here a woman (symbolic of true Christians) given "two wings" (which is symbolic of protection), that she might fly into the wilderness for a time, and times and half a time, from the face of the serpent. In Revelation 13 we find the duration of the persecution of the beast and false prophet is "forty and two months" (verse 5). Yet, in Revelation 12, the same period is referred to by a number of days.
"Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days." (Revelation 12:6)
Using the prophetic key that a day stands for a year in fulfillment, we can come to understand that there was a period of 1,260 years during the Middle Ages when true believers experienced persecution. Is also tells us a prophetic year consists of three hundred and sixty days of thirty-day months!
Categories of prophecy
Placing prophecy in proper categories can help minimize confusion when studying the Bible. Some of the major and minor categories of prophecy are below.
Prophecies concerning Israel as a united nation
Prophecies about the House of Israel (sometimes referred to as the lost tribes of Israel) or Judah
Individual Israelite tribes (e.g. Dan)
Individual nations or peoples
Prophecies regarding individuals, their descendants or both
Prophecies involving God's elect
Punishment, protection, and rewards foretold (e.g. Jonah telling Nineveh it will fall due to its sins)
The End Time
The return of Jesus, his rule and upcoming Kingdom
The Resurrections of the dead
The tribes of Israel
The context of a given prophecy is important, especially how it relates to Israel. The Israelites are at the center of God's plan to redeem all man. When studying prophecies concerning the time just before the return of Christ, it is important to note that references to Judah or its house primarily refers to the Jewish nation of Israel which has people from the tribes of Levi, Judah and Benjamin.
Balance is key
Prophecy is important because it is a major proof of God existence and shows that his plan of salvation is on schedule. An obsession with Biblical prophecy, however, such as trying to pin down a date for Jesus' return, can easily lead a person into doctrinal error or to following false prophets (Ephesians 4:14). True Christianity is far more than the knowledge of what will happen in the future.
If we do not love, no matter how wise prophetically we may be, we have gained NOTHING.
And though I have the GIFT OF PROPHECY, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have NOT love, I AM NOTHING. (1Corinthians 13)