Should We Interpret Prophecy Literally?

Manfred E. Kober, Th.D.

We believe that prophecy, like any other portion of God’s Word, is to be interpreted literally, that is, the text is to be taken in the usual, grammatical, cultural sense. God meant to communicate His truth to man in an understandable fashion.

We interpret prophecy literally because we have numerous examples of fulfilled prophecy which guide us in our interpretation of prophecy yet to be fulfilled. One-fourth of the Bible was predictive at the time of its writing. About one-half of the biblical prophecies have been fulfilled, and that literally. This leads one to conclude the obvious: unfulfilled prophecies, such as the rapture, tribulation and Millennial Kingdom, will also be fulfilled literally.

Let the predictions of the prophet Zechariah serve as a case in point. Some of his prophecies, made around 520 B.C., were fulfilled with Christ’s first coming. Others await their fulfillment at Christ’s Second Advent.

In Zechariah 9:9 Jerusalem is promised a king who would come to it “riding upon an ass.” About 550 years later, at Christ’s triumphal entry, He “came meek, and sitting upon an ass” (Matthew 21:5).

In Zechariah 11:12 the price for the betrayal of Christ by Judas was given: “So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver.” In Matthew 26:14-15 the prediction is literally fulfilled: “So they covenanted with him [Judas] for thirty pieces of silver.”

Now consider two unfulfilled prophecies from Zechariah. In 12:10 he refers to the physical return of Christ to earth, “…and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him.” When may we expect this to happen? At the Second Advent of Christ, right after Armageddon and the final conquest of Jerusalem (12:1-2). Zechariah gives in 14:4 further details about this event, “And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east,” accompanied by the saints in glory (14:5).

As Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on a donkey and his betrayal for 30 pieces of silver were fulfilled literally, so His physical descent to the Mount of Olives to establish His millennial rule will be literal. Past fulfillment guides our present prophetic interpretation.

A careful literal interpretation of unfulfilled prophecy results in a dispensational, premillennial and pretribulational understanding of end-time events. The next event on God’s prophetic calendar is the rapture and, praise the Lord, that may occur today.

© Manfred E Kober

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