Tuesday, June 9, 2020

How to understand the hard things in the Bible

If you are a Bible believer, like me, you no doubt have found many comforting passages, and many easy-to-understand life principles. But the bible also contains some things that, as Peter admitted, are “hard to understand.” (2 Peter 3:16) And Peter warned that these things would get twisted.

Over the years, I’ve heard some whoppers:
  • The pope is the antichrist
  • Martin Luther was the antichrist
  • Trump is the antichrist
  • The whore of Babylon in Revelation means New York City
  • The whore of Babylon is Las Vegas
  • The whore of Babylon is the Vatican
  • The ‘Mark of the Beast’ will be getting a chip implanted in your hand
  • The ‘Mark of the Beast’ will be getting a Covid-19 vaccine
Clearly these can’t all be right. Perhaps none of them are. But if there isn’t a sure way to know, then what use is the Bible? The Bible becomes a joke. 

There is a way to tell. 

Not surprisingly, Jesus own words provide a formula: In his prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem, he warned his Jewish followers: "When you have seen (to use the language of the Prophet Daniel) the `Abomination of Desolation', standing in the Holy Place --let the reader observe those words—then let those in Judea flee to the mountains.” (Mt 24:15)

His apostles had no idea what he meant by “the abomination of Desolation”. But they were familiar with the prophecy of Daniel; and Jesus’ counsel was for them to carefully observe Daniel’s words. What words? 

Daniel had indeed used similar words. Daniel 9:26 prophesied that “Messiah will be cut off.” Although the apostles hadn’t gotten their head around that idea when Jesus was alive, a few days later, he was “cut off.” No doubt his apostles re-read Daniel 9 very closely after that. Just a couple sentences after describing the cutting off of the Messiah, Daniel said that “on the wing of disgusting things there will be the one causing desolation; until an extermination...” (Daniel 9:27)

By itself, that sentence didn’t enlighten those new Christians very much. But Jesus told them to study Daniel. He didn’t specify which part. Another prophecy in Daniel gave them another clue: “How long will the vision of the constant feature and of the transgression causing desolation continue, to make both the holy place and the army things to trample on?” (Daniel 8:13)

Those Jewish Christians would have easily figured out that the ‘constant feature’ referred to daily sacrifices on the altar in the temple in Jerusalem. “This is what you will offer on the altar: two one-year-old rams each day, continually. Offer the one young ram in the morning and the other ram at twilight... It is to be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations.” (Exodus 29:38-42) And the “holy place” had to refer to the temple itself, real estate that was then and still is considered by the Jews to be ‘sacred ground’. 

So Jesus prophecy told them to watch for something that the Jews considered “disgusting” begin to ‘trample on’ the temple and put an end to the daily, constant sacrifices there.
Thirty-three years went by. The Jews got more rebellious against Rome until, finally, Rome sent an army, complete with portable “idols” in the form of the Legionnaires’ standards – basically, a flagpole topped with a pennant and a gold-plated symbol (such as a lion, wolf, sun, snake, medusa, etc.) that represented each legion. Each soldier literally worshiped his legion's standard, and pledged to give his life for it. They brought these idols right up to the gates of the temple, and they even began tunneling under the wall so that their idols, disgusting things to Jews, were literally standing on holy ground.

That was the sign Jesus had given his followers. It was unclear before it happened. But once it happened it was obvious.

From this example, we learn two vital tools to determining what some of the “hard to understand” things in the Bible mean:
  1. Use the Bible to explain the Bible.
  2. Prophetic passages may not make sense until the events prophesied are happening.
With this foundation, then, let’s take a look at some of the things we mentioned at the outset: The antichrist; Babylon the Great (also called ‘the whore of Babylon’); the Mark of the Beast, and other hard-to-understand things. We’ll go there in the rest of this series.
Feel free to leave a comment. 

Bill K. Underwood is the author of several books, all available on Amazon.com. You can help support this site by purchasing a book.

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