Following the Rules: Number Two

Rule #2- Five Rules For Bible Interpretation

“Take Scripture in Context”

In many cases, errors in interpreting prophecy would be avoided if we knew the passage’s context. Context may mean more than the sentence before and after, the paragraph in which it is included, or even the chapter and book. The entire context, may be Old Testament references as well as New.

If I grew up in the big city and all I knew was the corner grocery, I could be talked into believing chocolate milk came from brown cows. How would I know if I did not know a dairy from a diary? The same goes for the country boy who visits a “large metropolis” and easily gets “swindled.” Everything has a context. This is especially true with Scripture. A so-called Bible expert can dupe us if we ignore the context. Charlatans will fire Scripture at us but test it like the Bereans (Acts 17:11).

Perhaps you have been taught something about prophecy which proved untrue. I believed that in the last days many would claim they were Jesus Christ (Matthew 24:4-5). Had I read the chapter first, I doubt I would have swallowed that story. The deception Jesus warns us about will come from clever, “Counterfeit Christians,” not sick minds in need of help.

Another example that relates to Christ’s return uses the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:36“No one knows the day or the hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” 

Taken without context, this verse is offered as evidence Jesus will come at an unknown time or at any moment. Is that not what the text means? We wouldn’t argue anything different, unless we had understood the context of Matthew 24:36. It is curious that we seldom hear the chapter and verse mentioned along with the quote. The reason may be that the one who uses this verse to support an “any moment rapture of the church,” does not want us to know. If we saw it was Matthew 24 we might examine “No one knows the day or the hour…”  in its context as part of the Olivet Discourse. It’s what the “any moment rapture promoters” are not telling us. If they did, it would discredit their argument.

By pulling Matthew 24:36 out of context, it is easier to fool others. What is the opposite of imminent? It is that Jesus’ coming must be preceded by specific signs that have not yet occurred.

In Matthew 24:3-15, note what the disciples asked Jesus, then see his response. The context for No one knows the day or the hour, not even the angels in heaven… are the signs –lots of them. There will be wars and rumors of wars… nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places… these are the beginning of birth pains. Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time, many will turn away from the faith… etc.

Does Matthew 24’s context support an imminent return of Christ? No! What does 24:36 teach about Jesus’ return? We will examine that in some depth when we look at Rule #4. (Don’t worry. We won’t skip Rule #3.)

Deception Surrounding Matthew 24-Part Two

Do not despise prophesies but test everything. Hold fast to what is good. (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 NIV)

For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect–if that were possible. (Matthew 24:24 NIV) 

Will the real Jesus stand up!

Next to The Book of Revelation, The Bible’s Olivet Discourse is the clearest and most complete statement on what will happen in the last days

Our question is: “If in The Olivet Discourse we have Jesus’ detailed description of the future, why is it so often overlooked?” Instead of treating it as a rich treasure, it is frequently misunderstood and misinterpreted?

Obviously, Satan is at work deceiving the unsuspecting. Those untrained in the Scripture tend to rely on teachers to feed them their spiritual food. Matthew 24 is seldom on the menu, especially as verse-by-verse exposition. If the Olivet Discourse is offered, it may be served only as an appetizer.

If we are not digging into our Bible like a hungry man for food, then how will we grasp God’s plan of salvation? If we fail to follow Rule #1 of The Five Major Rules for Bible Interpretation, (“Accept Scripture in its most normal, natural and customary sense”) we will likely fall into another trap. We will only possess enough knowledge to be dangerous.

“A little learning is a dangerous thing.” Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

Some assume their teachers will do the in-depth work for them. So why do it ourselves? Instead of savoring Matthew 24 like a fine meal we made ourselves, we eat and run.

Are we despising Matthew 24? “Many will come in my name claiming ‘I am the Christ,’ and deceive many (Matthew 24:4),” is a perfect example. While reading this in the past, a little switch was triggered and (presto!)–I had been programmed to change the meaning to “We will be fooled by a large number of men who suffer from ‘delusions of grandeur,’ who say they’re Jesus.”

I did not stop to consider that my interpretation did not make sense, nor did it fit the context. It completely ignores Jesus’ repeated warnings about false prophets and their deception.

When reading the Bible for understanding, we may be forced to re-examine (as I had to) what we were taught. Confusion then disillusionment might set in. We know who authors confusion–don’t we (1 Corinthians 14:33)? 

Deception is more likely when we know and trust the messenger. A dear pastor who claims “Jesus is the Christ,” yet–and this is the essence of Christ’s warning–they go on to misinform about prophecy, intentionally or otherwise, is where we are vulnerable. This is especially true when our knowledge of prophecy is lacking. It is not about blaming anyone for the deceit, it is for us to be watchful. Deceit will surely come, but woe to the man through whom it comes (Matthew 18:7). In this wicked age, our task is to avoid being the victim (Matthew 24:24-25).

Next, we will look at a popular but harmful argument: “Prophecy in Matthew 24 was written for Jews, not Christians”– a huge step over the line.

Following the Rules

We are complementing the series on Matthew 24 with Rule #1 in what we title the “Five Major Rules for Bible Interpretation.” We offer these so readers will become familiar with hermeneutics, the long name for “harmonizing” Bible passages to achieve an accurate and complete understanding.

First, let’s distinguish between “interpretation” and “application.” If I am discussing a Bible word or phrase, and I say, “This is what God means,” I am interpreting the text. If, as a student, I share a verse and how it impacted me, that is an application. I cannot error making a personal application based on opinion, but I can wreck havoc by misinterpreting God’s Word which implies fact. In the former I am speaking for myself, but in the latter, I speak for God.

As a workman for God, there is no excuse for wrongly handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Remember, Bible teachers are held to a stricter standard (James 3:1).

To whom much is given, much will be required. (Luke 12:47-48 NIV)

Before we venture into unfamiliar territory we should always learn “the do’s and don’ts.” This is especially true of Bible study. Unless we know the rules, we may lead ourselves astray or others will do it for us. Follow the rules and not only will we know truth, but we will have full agreement with believers who follow them. Could it be the reason why factions exist within the wider Christian community is because one or both sides refuses to commit to finding truth? If they were committed, they would sit down, pray for understanding and examine the Scriptures until they reach an agreement.

Years ago, we began using these rules and discovered their immense value. We received permission from Crossway Books, publisher of The Sign, to incorporate five major rules into everything we do. The late-author, Robert Van Kampen, compiled Five Keys to a Face-Value Hermeneutic which appeared in The Sign, page 9.

Rule #1- Accept the meaning of Scripture in its most normal, natural and customary sense.

For readers who generally wish to avoid rules, #1 offers the biggest challenge. Again, quoting Van Kampen, another way to express the above is, “If the plain sense makes sense, you have the right sense.” 

Unless we have an obvious figure of speech, accept the plain or literal meaning. If someone suggests an uncorroborated, spiritualized or an allegorical meaning, it should raise a red flag.

For instance, when the Lord said to Abraham, in Genesis 22:17, he would make his descendants as numerous as the stars or the sand on the seashore, should we interpret it literally? According to this rule, absolutely! God does not exaggerate. When the Lord repeats this prophecy to Jacob in Genesis 32:12, then a few more times elsewhere, believe that God will do it!

God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19 NIV) 

Is anything too hard for the LORD? (Genesis 18:14)

“With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Jesus, Mark 10:27

Beware of the so-called wise person who explains away miracles and things they don’t understand. They may be good people, well-educated, upstanding, kind, smart and sincere, but their God is too small. Follow this rule then watch your Bible come alive.

More later.

The Deception Surrounding Matthew 24

“…and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Jesus answered, “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and deceive many.” (Matthew 24:3-4 NIV)

The following is the first installment of an 11-part series on the fakery involved persuading Christians who do not read, but listen to “main-stream sources” on Matthew 24. Referring to it as fake news, illustrates the current level of deception from formerly trusted sources–our pastors and teachers of the New Testament. Our goal in this series is to not only alert the saints, but to arm them with the means of acquiring an accurate understanding of this vitally important prophetic text while exposing some of the lies used by modern-day false prophets. We pray our readers will find it to be a valuable contribution.

Christ’s answer (above) gives his servants a chronological order to what takes place during the last days. We would do well to pay close attention to what was spoken by our Lord. Recognize also that strong forces of deception threaten this generation just as they did in Noah’s day, before the flood (Matthew 24:38-39).

Why is Jesus’ plain, step-by-step description of the last days (Matthew 24-25, Mark 13 and Luke 21) among the least understood or most frequently misinterpreted passages in the Bible? The enemy is at work. The lie is Satan’s chief weapon and deception his specialty.

Once the end times started to capture a significant amount of interest, is when fake news moved in. Satan’s plan is to disrupt our study of God’s Word and place teachers before us speaking like experts. Through them we are susceptible to cleverly invented stories that neutralize God’s warnings. The Bible says that no one who believes the fake news will be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4 and 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).

Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. –French author, Victor Hugo

Accurate interpretation of prophecy is an idea whose time has come. The devil is very aware, so he is hard at work. He will stop at nothing to distract or dissuade Christians from studying their Bible and demanding sound teaching.

When apostles Paul and Peter described future events, they offered warnings (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 2 Timothy 3:13, 2 Peter 3:3-13). Why were their warnings consistently posted alongside prophecy?

Fake news surrounds prophecy. Take for example, Matthew 24:4’s “Watch out that no one deceives you…”  Christ’s alert is aimed at those claiming “Jesus is the Christ” (cf. Matthew 16:16). This means Christian leaders may do Satan’s dirty work (Matthew 24:10-11). (Have you been warned about this?) Many will fall away from the faith sealing their fate. (In our assemblies, has this been made sufficiently clear?) These deceivers are cleverly disguised. They sound like sheep, but their words belong to he who leads the whole world astray (Revelation 12:9). 

Unfortunately, gullible sheep will repeat the lie lending it credibility. By failing to critically analyze what came from trusted ministers, they become dupes and pass on fake news. Many, believing they are glory-bound, will be derailed. False prophets and false Christs will cover the globe (Matthew 24:11, 23-25). 

Maybe you heard a fake explanation of Matthew 24:4, that it applies to the crazies who declare they’re Jesus. (I was told this was what Jesus meant, but do the delusional influence our beliefs?) Will many fall away or turn away from the faith because of some nut who claims he is Christ?

Could it be instead that teachers who claim that “Jesus is the Christ” confuse the Lord’s warning, and, like a virus-carrier, unwittingly spread the devil’s lies?

We have only scratched the surface of the deceit surrounding Matthew 24. Stay tuned!