• Prophecy

When many of us think of biblical prophecy we think it only applies to things to come. There is that aspect, but future things are only a small part in comparison to the rest of biblical prophecy.

Prophets were divinely-appointed individuals who received God’s messages through dreams, visions, angels, and direct encounters with the Lord. They related these messages—called prophecies—in oral, visual, and written form.

The majority of these prophecies are found in the Old Testament. The Major Prophets (called major because of their size) were Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. The last 12 books of the Old Testament were the Minor Prophets (Hosea to Malachi).

Biblical prophecies consist of two kinds of messages.


Spiritual insight: exhortation, reproof, correction, and instruction. These were God’s word of judgment on the ungodly—sword, famine, disease—calling for heartfelt repentance and loving obedience to God.  The prophets exhorted God’s people to remain faithful to the Covenant and reminded God’s people of the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy 28.


Spiritual foresight: prediction of God’s immediate and distant plans in response to human choices and events to come. These were God’s words of promise of future hope for the faithful remnant. They promised physical restoration after the exile and spiritual restoration when the Messiah came. These were not meant to satisfy curiosity but to show that God is in sovereign control over all of history.

Most of these predictions have already been fulfilled because they concerned the judgment of various nations, including Israel and Judah. Some anticipated the coming Messiah and were fulfilled in the first advent of our Lord. Others await fulfilment in the events associated with His second advent.

How do we interpret prophecy?

Look carefully at the language used. Determine the meaning and significance of all proper names, events, geography, customs, and culture.

Look at prophets and prophecies within their historical context, knowing what state Israel and Judah were in politically, economically, and spiritually. Remember that they were words from God into a specific historical situation in the nation of Israel or the surrounding nations and can only be understood in that context.

Pay close attention to the context and flow of the discussion in the passage and book. Chapter and verse divisions were not in the original writing. Rather, look for the natural breaks and changes in the text. For example, to understand Malachi 3:1 properly one must go back to 2:17 to pick up the line of thought.

Search the entire body of prophetic Scripture to find what passages parallel each other. Concepts like The Day of the Lord, the remnant, and the re-gathering of Israel occur repeatedly in prophecies. Similar images and symbols also occur.

As with all biblical interpretation, assume that the face value, plain sense of the passage is the prophet’s meaning. When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense. Take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the immediate context, related passages, and fundamental Scriptural truths indicate clearly otherwise.

Remember these things about foretelling prophecies:

  1. Most have already been fulfilled
  2. The New Testament interprets the Old. Look for passages where it shows the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, especially concerning the nations and Israel (Amos 9:11–12; Acts 15:16–17)
  3. They addressed the situation of the people of the time they were written and pointed forward to the coming of the Messiah
  4. Mostly written as poetry, containing many figures of speech
  5. They’re usually not arranged systematically in their sequences. The future may appear present, or nearby, or indefinitely remote. Widely separated events on the prophetic calendar may appear together in the prophetic sequence
  6. They are progressive. Prophecies later in time often disclosed elements omitted from earlier ones. And the sum total of what God discloses never comprises a complete picture