Aids for Understanding Prophecy
1. What do the following terms mean: type, antitype, shadow, reality, prophetic pictures and pattern?
IN EXAMINING further the field of Bible prophecies there are meaningful terms that are commonly used. Some of these terms follow. A type is an image or representation of something that will come to pass at some future time. The antitype is the reality of the thing which the type represents. The type may properly be called a shadow; the antitype, the reality. Dramatic episodes and experiences serve as types, a study of which will give a person a reasonable facsimile or picture of the reality, and therefore they are called prophetic pictures. A type is also a pattern that serves as a guide in understanding the reality, and it may keep on being performed till the reality occurs, like a shadow that extends down to the shadow-casting substance.
2, 3. What kinds of typical representations are there? Name some common prophetic numbers used in the Bible. What does the number 4 symbolize? Give examples.
2 Bible prophecies as they are preserved for us in the Scriptures contain a host of “typical representations” in which clues or keys are found to aid in understanding their fulfillments. (Heb. 9:23, NW) These typical representations may be in the nature of (1) prophetic numbers, (2) prophetic patterns, (3) prophetic symbols, (4) prophetic characters, (5) prophetic dramas or (6) prophetic places, or may comprise a combination of them.
3 The common prophetic numbers are found to be 4, 6, 7, 10, 12 and 70. The number four prophetically symbolizes very often foursquareness or universalness. The idea of universalness is conveyed in the expressions “four corners of the earth” and “four winds of heaven”. (Isa. 11:12; Jer. 49:36; Dan. 8:8; Rev. 7:1, 2, NW) For example, God’s upright universal organization is symbolized by the four living creatures as described by both Ezekiel and John.—Ezek. 1:5; Rev. 4:6, NW.
4, 5. What do the numbers 6 and 7 symbolize? Give examples.
4 The symbolic number six represents imperfection and is used very often to refer to matters of Satan and his organization. The unnatural giant brother of Goliath, remember, had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot. (2 Sam. 21:20) The number of Satan’s wild-beastlike organization on earth is six hundred sixty and six, or three multiples of six, and characterizes its imperfection and hideousness.—Rev. 13:18, NW.
5 Spiritual or invisible completeness is symbolized by the number seven. There were seven lamps in the lampstand for the holy part of the tabernacle, emphasizing a spiritual completeness. (Ex. 25:37) The number seven was used very frequently with reference to the Levitical rules for offerings and cleansings. (Lev. 14:7, 8) In the Revelation references are made to “seven congregations”, “seven golden lampstands” and “seven stars”, all of which have meanings involving spiritual or invisible completeness.—Rev. 1:4, 12, 16, NW.
6, 7. What do the numbers 10 and 12 symbolize? Give examples.
6 In contrast with spiritual completeness there is the symbolic number ten, which refers to earthly or visible completeness. We have the prophecy in Zechariah 8:23 where it foretells that ten men shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, “We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.” Here is pictured the “other sheep” class who go with the anointed remnant in the way of the new world. (John 10:16) At Revelation 2:10 it speaks of “tribulation ten days”, and by that it refers to complete earthly sufferings. Another example is the description of Satan’s earthly beastlike organization as having ten horns, indicating complete earthly power or control.—Rev. 13:1.
7 The symbolic number twelve indicates a theocratic organization number of completeness. The typical theocratic organization of Israel had twelve tribes. (Ex. 28:21) Jesus appointed twelve apostles as the foundation of his spiritual Israel. (Matt. 10:2; Eph. 2:20) Finally, in Revelation 7:4-8 there are listed the twelve tribes of spiritual Israel which comprise Christ’s theocratic kingdom organization. Twice twelve or the number “24” also appears to refer to theocratic organization.—Rev. 4:4.
8. What does the number 70 symbolize? Give examples. How are the numbers 1,000 and 144,000 to be understood in Revelation, and why?
8 Seventy being a multiple of 7 X 10 symbolizes comprehensive completeness. Note the following examples where this symbolic number is used. The typical fulfillment of the procreation mandate given after the flood had its comprehensive completeness in token when 70 families had sprung from Noah. (Gen. 10:1-32) Though the Israelites had failed to keep most of the 138 sabbath years of rest due to the land, Jehovah decreed seventy years of desolation as a comprehensive completeness to offset their failures. (2 Chron. 36:21) To aid Jesus in comprehensively covering his territory in Judea he sent out seventy disciples. (Luke 10:1) Incidentally, numbers appearing in the book of Revelation other than the symbolic ones mentioned above are to be taken literally, such as the number 1,000 at Revelation 20:4, 5 and the number 144,000 at Revelation 14:1.
9. Give examples of prophetic patterns.
9 Many prophetic patterns were given in ancient times, all of which have great significance in the field of realities. For example, the tabernacle raised in the wilderness by Moses was a complete pattern of heavenly antitypes. (Ex. 25:9; Heb. 8:5) The temple finally built in Jerusalem by Solomon was constructed to be a pattern of heavenly things. (1 Chron. 28:19; Heb. 9:23) All the furniture of the tabernacle and temple were themselves typical representations. This would include the altar, the lampstand, the lavers, the table and the display of the loaves, the ark of the covenant, and so on, all having great meaning in the field of theocratic realities.—Ex. 25:9; Josh. 22:28; Heb. 9:1-5, 10, NW.
10, 11. Give the meaning of some prophetic symbols. Give the meaning or reality indicated by some prophetic characters.
10 Of prophetic symbols we need to mention only a few. Anointing oil symbolized God’s spirit or active force. (Ex. 30:30, 31; Isa. 61:1; Luke 4:18) Use of palm branches signifies hailing in praise, as was done by the great crowd that hailed Jesus on his entry into Jerusalem. (John 12:13; Rev. 7:9) A crown symbolizes the right to rule as king. (2 Ki. 11:12; Ezek. 16:12; Rev. 2:10; 14:14) A horse generally symbolizes war equipment.—Zech. 1:8; Jer. 8:6; Rev. 6:2; 19:11.
11 Of prophetic characters there is need to point out only several. Abraham generally pictured Jehovah God, who is the great Father that will bless all families of the earth. Isaac pictured Christ Jesus. Melchizedek typified generally Christ Jesus in his office of royal high priest. (Luke 16:24; Heb. 11:18, 19; 7:15, 16) Moses, too, was a brilliant type of Christ Jesus. (Acts 3:22) To mention one more, David the valiant fighter and beloved one likewise pictured Christ Jesus, the greater David.—Matt. 17:5.
12, 13. What are prophetic dramas? Give examples of these. Give the meaning or reality indicated by some prophetic places.
12 In prophetic dramas there is another factor to consider in addition to any of the aforementioned typical representations. It is the factor of action or the things done and said, which have prophetic significance in addition to the prophetic characters and other types. These dramas amount to living moving pictures which have realities or fulfillment on a grand scale. There is, for example, the drama of Ruth recorded in the entire book of Ruth 1-4. Likewise the book of Esther 1-10 is considered an entire prophetic drama. Another famous Biblical prophetic drama is that of Joseph and his brothers, recorded from Genesis 37:2 to 50:26. The unfolding of these dramas in the reality continues apace in our day and they are thrilling to observe and participate in.
13 Finally, many places in the Bible have prophetic significance usually conveying a set spiritual application. For example, Egypt generally pictures Satan’s world. (Rev. 11:8) The Promised Land pictures in general the kingdom of God in its full sovereign dominion over the earth. (Gen. 13:14, 15; Rom. 4:13) Jerusalem pictures very often God’s universal organization in heaven, and was so identified by Paul at Galatians 4:26. Last, but not the least example, is that of Babylon, the capital city of Satan’s first earthly kingdom, which pictures Satan’s woman or organization visible and invisible.—Rev. 18:2, 7.
14. How many fulfillments may Bible prophecies have? Give examples of some prophecies that have only one fulfillment.
14 After taking into consideration the many different kinds of typical representations that exist in Biblical prophecies the question next arises, Do divine prophecies have more than one fulfillment? It varies with the prophecy, but there are some prophecies which have merely one fulfillment, others have two fulfillments, and there are some that have even three fulfillments. All this attests to the great wisdom displayed by the Author of prophecy that He could conceal so many sacred secrets in the limited number of revelations and pronouncements. The first and possibly the greatest prophecy recorded in the Bible is that of Genesis 3:15, concerning the great spirit Seed Christ Jesus who will vindicate God’s name. Here is an example of a prophecy that has only one complete fulfillment. Other examples which have only one fulfillment in connection with Christ Jesus and his ministry are Psalm 16:10; 22:16; Isaiah 53:3; Jeremiah 31:31; Hosea 11:1; Micah 5:2; Zechariah 11:12. In the well-known prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27, as to the coming of Messiah, the prophecy itself indicates that it has only the one fulfillment. In the 24th Da 9 verse 24 it says that the coming of Messiah, which occurred in the fall of A.D. 29, would “seal up the vision and prophecy”, meaning that after that date this scripture would no longer amount to a mere prophecy or vision. The event would become history, which it has.
15, 16. Give examples of prophecies that have two or three possible fulfillments.
15 Many prophecies find a typical fulfillment in the nation of Israel and then find a complete fulfillment later on. In other words, the typical fulfillment itself in turn becomes a prophecy pointing forward to a still greater event. For example, the prophecy at Exodus 23:31 foretold the boundaries of the Promised Land which Israel some day would possess. This prophecy had its typical fulfillment in David’s day when David expanded the kingdom to the divinely set boundaries between 1077 B.C. and 1037 B.C. But this prophecy has its fulfillment when the royal Seed Christ Jesus at Armageddon enforces his dominion to the very ends of the earth. Suffice with another example. Malachi 3:1 (AS) foretells that “the Lord, whom ye seek, will suddenly come to his temple”. This had its typical fulfillment on Nisan 11, 12, A.D. 33 when Christ Jesus cleansed the literal temple at Jerusalem and drove out the money changers. (Matt. 21:12, 13; Mark 11:11-17) But Malachi’s prophecy has its complete and final fulfillment in 1918, when the Lord came to the temple for judgment.
16 Prophecies that have three fulfillments are said to have, first, a typical fulfillment; second, a miniature (the reality on a small scale) or partial fulfillment; and third, a complete (the reality on a full scale) or final fulfillment. An excellent example of such a prophecy is that of Isaiah 40:3-11. This prophecy had its first or typical fulfillment when the Jewish remnant returned from Babylon in 537 B.C. to restore true worship. It had its second or miniature (small-scale) fulfillment when John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ Jesus to restore true worship to the Jewish remnant of his day. (Matt. 3:3, NW) But the identical prophecy has as its third or complete (full-scale) fulfillment in the deliverance of the Christian remnant from antitypical Babylon in 1919 and their restoration to true worship.
17. Give an example of a prophecy that has sections of its fulfillments in parallel.
17 There is also the kind of prophecy that has sections of fulfillments in parallel. For example, the prophecy of Joel 2:28 as to the outpouring of the holy spirit has its primary or miniature fulfillment in sort of two installments. The initial part of this first fulfillment occurred at Pentecost A.D. 33, when the Jewish remnant received the gifts of the spirit. (Acts 2:16, 17) But three and one-half years later, in the fall of A.D. 36, the Gentile Cornelius and his household received an outpouring of this same spirit as a further part of this first fulfillment. (Acts 10:44) In the complete fulfillment the first installment occurred in the spring of 1919, when the spirit was poured out to set to work the anointed Christian remnant who survived the temple judgment of 1918. Then three and one-half years later, in the fall of 1922, the Ruth and Esther class of the anointed remnant began to come in and were set to work. These 1919 and 1922 events are in direct parallel to the events of A.D. 33 and 36.
HOW PROVED, WHEN UNDERSTOOD
18. How may prophecies be proved to be true?
18 How may prophecies be proved to be true in order to expect fulfillment? The Bible itself gives the rule that enables the true worshiper to determine whether a prophecy is true or false. There are three parts to the rule. First, the prophet must speak in the name of Jehovah, thus indicating authority to speak. Second, the words of the prophecy must tend to turn the hearer to Jehovah in true worship. Third, the prophecy must at some time have an early or initial fulfillment. (Deut. 18:20, 21; 13:1-5; 18:22) The prophets who prophesied to King Ahab were false because they did not speak in the name of Jehovah. (2 Chron. 18:5) The prophets mentioned at Jeremiah 2:8 were also false because they did not turn the hearers to profit in the ways of the Lord. Just before Jerusalem was besieged by the Babylonians Jeremiah taunted King Zedekiah that his prophets who had predicted that the king of Babylon would not come against Jerusalem were truly false because their prophecy did not come to pass. (Jer. 37:19) Another test that can be put to revelations and inspired expressions as to whether they are true or not is found recorded at 1 John 4:1 (NW): “Beloved ones, do not believe every inspired expression, but test the inspired expressions to see whether they originate with God, because many false prophets have gone forth into the world.” For those many prophecies which have had their partial fulfillments in bygone times and thus proved to be true, we can be very sure that their complete fulfillments will be fully accomplished in God’s due time.
19. When may prophecies be understood? Who are interpreters?
19 When may prophecies be understood? The Lord said to Daniel, “O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end.” (Dan. 12:4, AS) This indicates that the further fulfillments of the prophecies are sealed until the physical facts appear that begin to fulfill them. So the rule seems to be reasonable and certain that prophecies cannot be understood until they are in the course of fulfillment or until they have been fulfilled. Jehovah as the great Interpreter makes known the meaning of his revelations in his due time, and speculation by men cannot bring to light the true meaning of prophecy before time. Jehovah has provided a channel, the “faithful and discreet slave” class, who are given spiritual “food at the proper time”, and this spiritual food includes among other things the understandings of the prophecies in the course of their fulfillments. (Matt. 24:45, NW) Jehovah’s witnesses themselves are not nor can they be interpreters of prophecies. But as fast as the “superior authorities” Jehovah and Christ Jesus reveal the interpretations through their provided channel that fast do God’s people publish them the world over to strengthen the faith of all lovers of righteousness.
20, 21. In what sense do Jehovah’s witnesses prophesy today?
20 Since Joel 2:28, which has its complete fulfillment after 1919, foretells that God will pour out his spirit upon people of all kinds and “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions”, in what sense then do Jehovah’s witnesses prophesy today? Jehovah’s people confess no powers of inspiration today. However, they do pray continually for more of God’s holy spirit to understand the many prophecies already uttered and preserved for the final preaching work which Jehovah’s witnesses are now undertaking. They know that the inspired infallible Scriptures of prophecy will be fulfilled toward them correctly. They diligently study the visions and dreams of God’s faithful men of old. They can quote and copy the Scriptures of God’s inspired men and can apply them according to the facts. They can observe how God interprets them by Christ Jesus through the events and facts that he causes to appear. They are then faithful in publishing and preaching the revealed prophecies to the utter ends of the earth. The twentieth-century preaching prophets of Jehovah are the ones who are running to and fro over the Bible to gain knowledge of the divine pronouncements which is on the increase.—Dan. 12:4.
21 While Jehovah’s witnesses are branded as prophets of doom by the old world, yet in fact they are messengers of light for those who desire true religion. “Now we received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is from God, that we might know the things that have been kindly given us by God. These things we also speak, not with words taught by human wisdom, but with those taught by the spirit, as we combine spiritual matters with spiritual words.” (1 Cor. 2:12, 13, NW) So, like the valiant prophets of ancient Israel, Jehovah’s witnesses today champion God’s side of the great issue, warn the people of God’s day of wrath and give wise counsel to the honest-hearted that they may find the way of escape. No amount of persecution will deter the modern prophets of God from fulfilling their commission as a cloud of witnesses to the supremacy of Jehovah God.