Defining Biblical Prophecy
Dr. John Piper recently stirred up a controversy about prophecy when he stated he believed that prophecy is God’s spontaneous conveyance of biblical truth to preacher’s. Piper’s belief is reminiscent of a modern trend in evangelical churches that have taken liberty in redefining the term, prophecy. Because modern interpreters make allowance for continuationism as they define the term, "prophecy," it is imperative that the literalist who respects the infallible, authoritative, inerrant Bible define "prophecy" carefully. Biblical prophecy as defined by Scripture is God’s infallible, authoritative, inerrant declaration of revelation. Prophecy is not a mystical experience as is so often proposed by many modern evangelicals but a direct verbal declaration to a prophet of God’s choosing.
Major Approaches to Biblical Prophecy
Although men have come up with numerous of positions regarding prophecy, nearly all positions fall under two primary headings.
Literalism involves interpreting a passage in it simplest sense. Those who argue against this position point to the symbols, metaphors, and parables that are often used in the Bible. They claim a simple reading of these passages cannot possible explain the meaning of the passage. However, in most cases symbolic passages are followed by a full explanation. The key to the literal approach is to not add any individual bias or belief on to what the Bible says.
The allegorical approach interprets a passage by looking at the content as an explanation of one thing while actually referring to another. This method refers to spiritualizing prophetic passages in Scripture. Those who argue against this position point out that there is no set rule for interpretation in this approach. Two allegorical scholars can easily come to two very different interpretations from one passage of Scripture.
The Case for a Literal Interpretation of Prophecy
Interpreting the Bible literally, especially the prophetic areas, has become a hotly debated topic. Many modern Christians refuse to believe that prophecy can be interpreted literally. There is a noticeable trend towards a more allegorical interpretation of key prophetic passages in Scripture. I would like to propose that the literal interpretation of prophecy is the best hermeneutic.
Symbols, Types, and Figures of Speech
Those opposed to a literal hermeneutic contend that since many biblical prophecies use symbols and figures of speech they must be allegorical in nature. In response to this argument it must be pointed out that literal interpreters have always taken into account figures of speech and symbols. Dr. Charles Ryrie explains: “Symbols, figures of speech and types are all interpreted plainly in this method [literal hermeneutic] and they are in no way contrary to literal interpretation.” The meaning of any figure of speech is dependent on a literal meaning. Figures are used to make a literal meaning clearer.
For example, John the Baptist said of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). John pictures Jesus as a lamb, yet, just because John used a symbol does not mean Jesus literally died as a sacrificial lamb. The point John was making was that Jesus would take away the sins of the world by his act of sacrificial death. The prediction John made with a complementary picture of a lamb was later literally fulfilled.
My Belief on the Future Kingdom
The Roman Catholic Church believes in a literal hell, a literal Second Coming, and literal judgments from God, but it rebuffs a literal, future millennial kingdom. While most evangelicals are not enamored with Roman Catholic theology, it should be noted that many modern evangelicals now question whether there is a literal, future millennial kingdom.
Those who argue for figurative interpretation of a millennium often refer to 2 Peter 3:8. While there is a possibility that this verse is referring to a millennial kingdom the context of the passage does not. The passage speaks of God’s patience which allows more people to turn to Christ. In contrast, a literal interpreter will hold to the millennial kingdom based on numerous lines of evidence. Revelation 20:1-7 speaks most clearly about the thousand-year period. If this passage does not mean that a literal angle binds a literal devil in a literal pit for a literal thousand years I believe that there is no way of knowing what this passage means. In addition, the Old Testament prophets predicted a period time when the Messiah would reign in Jerusalem (Micah 4:2-4; Isaiah 61:7; Amos 9:13-15; Zechariah 8:3). I choose to interpret these passages to point to a literal thousand-year period during which the Messiah will reign from David’s throne in Jerusalem.
The Importance of Fulfilled Old Testament Prophecies
The Old Testament is rife with literally fulfilled prophecies. For example, prophecies concerning the nations (such as Babylon, Nineveh, Tyre, and Edom) were all fulfilled literally. Furthermore, the Old Testament prophecies concerning Christ’s first coming were fulfilled literally. In Psalm 22 alone there are many specific prophecies concerning Christ’s death that we can see were literally fulfilled. Looking back at the Old Testament it is clear that the Bible has always been fulfilled literally. Most church historians believe that the early church interpreted these and all prophecies literally. As I see God’s Word in the Old Testament fulfilled literally it is reasonable for me to conclude that unfulfilled prophecies will likewise be literally effectuated.
Prophecy is given not so much that we will know the future, but that we will know that God sovereignly controls the future. It is more important that we know God than that we know the future. It is high time for Christians to interpret unfulfilled prophecy by the light of prophecies already fulfilled and the knowledge of God they have gleaned. It is my belief that we must cultivate the habit of reading prophecy with a single eye to the literal meaning. Cast aside the idea that some predictions are to be taken spiritually. Be just, and honest, and fair. "If you expect the Jews to take the 53rd of Isaiah literally, be sure you take the 54th and 60th and 62nd literally also". Any revelation of the future is given that we will do something now to be on the side of the One who wins in the end. Just because there is a growing majority of theologians straying away from the literal interpretation of prophecy does not mean we should follow them.
 All Scripture is inspired; God is the creator; mankind is completely depraved and worthy of God’s wrath; Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world; we receive the gift of salvation by faith.
 John MacArthur, “Biblical Prophecy and Modern Confusion,” Grace to You, March 10, 2014. Accessed March 26, 2014. http://www.gty.org/Blog/B140310
 W.A. Criswell, Why I Preach that the Bible is Literally True (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1969), 145.
 Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 80-81
 John F. Walvoord, End Times: Understanding Today’s World Events in Biblical Prophecy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1998), 810.
 Paul Lee Tan, The Interpretation of Prophecy (Winona Lake: BMH Books, 1974), 29-30.
 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers. 1996, II), 614.
 J. C. Ryle, Are You Ready For The End Of Time? (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2001) p. 157-159; reprint of Coming Events and Present Duties.