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Introduction to Apocalyptic Prophecy



There are 17 prophecies in Daniel and Revelation that are apocalyptic in nature. In other words, these two books contain 17 prophecies that deal with the end of the world. Some of these prophecies have been underway for more than 25 centuries and others have not yet begun to come to pass. However, these 17 prophecies lock together to form a comprehensive matrix so that we can be certain of our chronological position within them. In short, we can clearly determine which events are before us.


The word apocalyptic comes from the word apocalypse. According to Webster, an apocalypse is a divine or glorious revelation. For this reason, the last book of the Bible is called The Apocalypse or The Revelation. The title of the book, Revelation, suggests a revealing of something that is otherwise unknown. However, in a larger sense, the other 65 books of the Bible qualify as “revelations” for they reveal wonderful things about God and His works that would otherwise be unknown.


The books of Daniel and Revelation are unlike the other books of the Bible. These two books contain a special kind of prophecy not found elsewhere. There are 17 of these special prophecies and they are distinguished from the other prophecies of the Bible by their unusual operation. For this reason, these two books are often separated from the others as the apocalyptic books of the Bible.


Five types of predictions


The Bible contains a minimum of five distinct types of prediction.

These include:


1.   Messianic prophecies: These prophecies specifically relate to the person of Jesus either His first or second coming. There are more than 450 Messianic statements or prophecies. Two excellent examples of first advent prophecies are found in Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22.


2.   Judaic prophecies: These prophecies relate to promises of prosperity or destruction for the ancient nation of Israel. These prophecies have conditional elements in them most of the time. A good example of this type of prophecy is found in Ezekiel 37 through 48. Judaic prophecies contain important object lessons and principles for all generations of people, for God’s unchanging interest in man is clearly revealed in these prophecies.


The prophetic group also presents a special challenge. The problem is that God gave Israel a number of prophecies that were based on the contingency that the people to whom they were given did not meet certain conditions; these prophecies will not be fulfilled. The point is further discussed in Appendix A.


3.   Day of the Lord prophecies: These prophecies are numerous and are scattered throughout Scripture. They relate to the vindication of God and/or His people. Elements within these prophecies are often general enough that they can have parallel applications at different times. Ultimately though, these prophecies predict the triumph of God and/or the vindication of His people in a contemporary setting. For example, Isaiah 24 and Ezekiel 7 contain parallels between the final days of Israel and the final days of earth’s history. Sometimes, “Day of the Lord” prophecies have conditional elements embedded in them if they are given as a warning. Matthew 24 is a “Day of the Lord” prophecy. This prophecy applies both to the end of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and the end of the world. Calamitous events from each are mingled together in one prophecy because there are ominous parallels.


4.   Local prophecies: Local prophecies apply to specific people, places and times. For example, the prophecy concerning Nineveh (Jonah 1) was a local prophecy. Local prophecies require a messenger to explain or proclaim the prophecy. Before the flood, Noah was chosen as such a messenger. At the first advent of Christ, John the Baptist was appointed as a local messenger.


Even though the messages of local prophecies are specific to people at certain times, universal principles and/or conditions underlying their messages remain applicable as we approach the end of the age.


5.   Apocalyptic prophecies: In this volume, the apocalyptic prophecies of Daniel and Revelation are defined as structural prophecies; that is, prophesies that outline a specific sequence of events. An apocalyptic prophecy is identified by the presence of a beginning and an ending point in time. Both the fulfillment and sequence of apocalyptic prophecy are unconditional. A clear-cut example of this type prophecy can be found in Daniel 2. There, Nebuchadnezzar’s vision outlines a sequence of kingdoms that occur in the order in which they were given.


Sometimes, the sequence or structure of apocalyptic prophecy is defined by numeric order. For example, the second trumpet in Revelation 8 occurs after the first trumpet. The critical point here is that chronological order is always maintained in an apocalyptic prophecy, otherwise we could not know which event could be next.


Distinctive treatment necessary


Each of the five prophecy types deserves distinctive treatment. Mixing the prophecies or merging their respective rules of interpretation makes understanding impossible.


Rules of interpretation


Rules of interpretation are inseparable from the study of prophecy, for conclusions are directly connected to the methods used for interpretation. If we interpret prophecy using faulty rules, we end up with faulty conclusions. It’s that simple.


Rules are not biased toward any religious denomination. We must rely upon consistent rules to help solve the unknown. This is true in every science. For example, the simple equation 2x +3 = 13 can only be solved by using mathematical rules. Since rules of interpretation are not written down in the Bible, they must come from careful research and observation.  


This is critical: Rules of interpretation cannot be made up; rather, we can only discover the presence or operation of rules. Rules are detected when we find consistent behavior within prophetic elements. Once consistency is recognized, we can then define the rule. In other words, if we observe certain things to always be true, only then can we identify the presence of a rule.


Consider this example: Sir Isaac Newton researched the effects of gravity. He studied the behavior of gravity using different experiments. After observing that gravity behaved in certain consistent ways, he wrote down a formula expressing its operation. Sir Isaac Newton did not make up the rules governing gravity. God did that. But, Sir Isaac Newton was able to discover the rules of gravity in such a way that the effect of gravity could be calculated and understood by others.


The study of apocalyptic prophecy is very similar to the study of gravity. We reason from the known to the unknown. Before we can interpret those parts of prophecy that are unknown, we have to discover the rules by which fulfillments occurred in the past. By carefully observing the behavior of apocalyptic prophecies that have been fulfilled, we can then discover the rules by which they work. After we understand how the rules apply to those prophetic elements that have been fulfilled, we can then begin to solve those portions of apocalyptic prophecy that are in the future by using rules of interpretation that are consistent.


World of difference between truth and faith


One more point. There is a world of difference between prophetic truth and prophetic faith. Prophetic truth refers to those prophecies or portions of prophecy that qualify as fulfillments. Prophetic faith, on the other hand, refers to those prophecies that are yet to be fulfilled. Since no one can prove something that hasn’t happened, our prophetic faith should be carefully built upon the truth that comes from solid principles of interpretation.


What is a prophetic fulfillment?


So, how can we know if an apocalyptic prophecy has been fulfilled? A fulfillment is full filling of the prophecy. In other words, a fulfillment occurs when all the specifications of a prophecy are met. Every detail of the prophecy must be satisfied before a fulfillment can be declared. This also means that the chronological order of the prophecy must also be satisfied. For example, some people may claim that the fourth trumpet of Revelation 8 has already been fulfilled. If their claim is true, they not only have to demonstrate that all the details of the fourth trumpet have been met; they also have to demonstrate the orderly fulfillment of the first three trumpets.



The four rules


Four rules have been detected in the operation of apocalyptic prophecy. Keep in mind, there are different types of prophecy and each type has its own rules of interpretation. But, regarding the apocalyptic prophecies of Daniel and Revelation, these four rules appear to operate consistently:


  1. Apocalyptic prophecy is defined as prophecy that predicts a chronological sequence of events. Apocalyptic prophecy has a beginning point and ending point in time. Elements within the prophecy mark progression towards fulfillment or completion. Consequently, elements within apocalyptic prophecy do not occur more than once and they chronologically occur as predicted.
  2. Other types of prophecies are subordinate to apocalyptic structures. A fulfillment of an element or a prophecy occurs when both the specifications and the chronological sequence are met.
  3. If a prophecy contains symbolic language, the Bible must explain the meaning of the symbol with relevant scripture.
  4. God measures apocalyptic time in two ways. (a) a day for a year, and (b) as literal time. The presence or absence of the Jubilee calendar determines how God measures time. 


Supremacy of apocalyptic prophecy


Because apocalyptic prophecy is unconditional, all other prophecies of the Bible are subordinate to apocalyptic sequencing. This means that apocalyptic prophecy determines the chorological placement of non-apocalyptic prophecies. For example, Amos, Ezekiel, Joel, Obadiah and many New Testament prophets believed that the great and awful day of the Lord was “near” and plainly so. (See Appendix B.) There’s no question that what they saw in vision led them to conclude that the “Great Day of the Lord” was at hand. In Revelation, John also indicates that the fulfillment of the things he saw was near or soon. The problem is that the ancient prophets did not understand how their visions fit into the overall chronology of God’s larger plan.


No one prophet was shown everything that God intends to bring about. No disciple of Jesus expected that time would last another 2,000 years. Paul sums up the process of prophetic revelations saying, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways…. For we know in part and we prophesy in part.” (Hebrews 1:1, 1 Corinthians 13:9) So, each time God spoke to a prophet about the end of time, more details were provided. But, without understanding the sequences of events, that is, the backbone of apocalyptic prophecy, prophecies about the “Great Day of the Lord” cannot be chronologically placed nor can their content be fully appreciated.



Is God restricted by His own word?


Some argue that imposing the fulfillment of certain prophetic events before the Second Coming can occur restricts God’s sovereignty. This argument stands without merit when we understand that it is God who gave prophecies in the first place. It was God who originally set the time-schedule according to His own authority. It was God who revealed the schedule to man.  And, God will keep the schedule He has set. Acts 1:7 clearly says that the Father has set appointed times and seasons.


Some also argue that the words near and soon should be understood from God’s perspective, that is, with God, a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day. These will often show that a thousand years can exist between two verses because with God, time is nothing. Now think of this point. What rule of interpretation consistently explains when a thousand yeas exist between two verses and when a thousand years does not exist between two verses? If a thousand years exist between verses that appear to be adjacent, then we are left without any means of knowing when the end of the world is due.


On the other hand, some claim that the last days began at Calvary. What sense does this make? If the past 2,000 years can be termed, “last days,” then we would be justified in saying that another 2,000 years could also qualify as “last days.” The reader is encouraged to read Appendix B for more discussion on these points.


The point here is that apocalyptic prophecy serves as an organizer for understanding God’s timetable. Because His chronology has not been correctly understood in times past, a number of people across the centuries have declared prophecies to be fulfilled, when in reality fulfillment did not occur. Remember, fulfillment requires two affirming actions: first, all specifications of the prophecy has to be met; and secondly, the event must happen in its chronological order. If little system of checks and balances is ignored, the result will be nothing less than prophetic confusion and uncertainty.


Supporting information


The books of Daniel and Revelation also contain additional information that supports their apocalyptic prophecies. This information includes historical settings and apocalyptic parallels. For example, in the book of Daniel we learn how Daniel got to Babylon, how the three Hebrews were tested on the plain of Dura and a host of other things. Of course, there is discussion about the contents of the visions, but it is the visions themselves that declare the order of events. For this reason it is important that we establish where each vision begins its story and where it ends its story. For example, apocalyptic story one begins in Daniel 2:29 and ends with verse 35.


In the book of Revelation, we find some information that is not apocalyptic. For example, there is historical data, some information about Jesus in heaven, why John was on the isle of Patmos, the condition of the seven churches in Asia Minor at the time of John’s vision, and some commentary. In fact Revelation 17 is entirely devoted to commentary and Revelation 22:6 begins with an epilogue. Even though there is more to Daniel and Revelation than their prophetic content, only those portions of Daniel and Revelation that lay out a sequence of events that qualify as apocalyptic prophecy.


Supporting doctrines


The reader must understand that apocalyptic prophecy requires a clear understanding of the five major doctrines. If these doctrines are not correctly understood, the climax of Revelation’s story makes no sense. In fact, the major reasons for prophetic denominations today are doctrine not rules of interpretation! For example, if a person holds to the doctrine of an eternally burning hell, then Revelation 20 makes no senses whatsoever. In short, here’s the problem. Suppose Julius Caesar went to hell at his death in 44 B.C. Why would God resurrect him at the end of the millennium only to burn him up in the lake of fire that follows?  To make matters worse, how could Julius Caesar already be in hell when the judgment of human beings takes place at a specific point in time? Even more, if the wages of sin is burning in hell for eternity, then Jesus didn’t pay the penalty for sin. He was only dead for three days. My point is this: a correct interpretation of Revelation requires a sound doctrinal position on five eternal truths. They area:


The authority of God

The appearing of God

The temple of God

The salvation of God

The condition of man in life and death


These wonderful themes are closely examined in my book, The Revelation of Jesus.


Start and stop


It is most important that we identify when in time each apocalyptic prophecy begins and ends. For this reason, all 17 apocalyptic prophecies of Daniel and Revelation are chronologically presented in the chart at the end of this study.


The reader is reminded that the original manuscripts of Daniel and Revelation did not include chapter and verse designations. These “helps” were added centuries after the manuscripts were written, to facilitate the study of the Bible. By using chapter and verse notation, students can quickly find a sentence or group of sentences for further investigation. These well-intentioned helps can create a minor problem. Since we normally think of a chapter in the Bible as a complete unit, it is easy to overlook the 17 prophecies because they are grouped differently than chapter units. So, do not be confused by the fact that prophecies can begin and end anywhere within a chapter.


Watch for the signs


Read this sentence twice: One prophecy ends and another begins when the next event chronologically occurs before the previous event. For example, suppose you are reading about the six seals in Revelation 6. As you read verses 12-17, the sixth seal is described. This seal describes the second advent of Jesus and this prophecy ends with verse 17. After you finish reading verse 17, the following verse begins talking about four angels holding back the four winds. See Revelation 7:1. Since the four angels hold back the four winds before the second coming of Jesus, the beginning of a new prophecy is detected. (It just so happens in this case that a chapter break also occurs at the end of the six seals prophecy.) Remember though, a story does not begin because a new chapter ends or begins. A new story only begins when the next event chronologically occurs before the previous event. This simple process never fails.


Here is another essential point: The elements of each prophecy happens in the order in which they are given. This means that each prophecy progresses from its beginning point to its ending point just as it is written. On a few rare occasions, the order of a prophecy is momentarily broken so important details can be given to the reader. However, these momentary breaks do not affect the obvious sequence of the prophecy.   


Big points and little points


This writer cannot accurately explain every detail in Daniel and Revelation. And I will not be surprised if I wrongfully interpret some of the prophetic elements. No one human can know everything there is to know about the Bible. But, I also believe it is possible to come close to understanding the truth by careful investigation. Prophetic truth has several dimensions. For example, we may correctly place the occurrence of the fifth trumpet but wrongfully interpret the event. Or, we may correctly interpret the fifth trumpet and wrongfully calculate the time of the occurrence.


But the exciting point for me as a student of Bible prophecy is that I don’t have to wait long to see how my conclusions compare with reality. I believe events of global consequence are soon to take place. Obscure prophetic matters will soon become clear as events unfold. But the essential matters will be understood in advance, for the purpose of apocalyptic prophecy is this: God desires that His people understand His actions in advance so that when fulfillments occur, our faith might be strengthened.


Plan on frustration


Every student of prophecy experiences frustration at first. This frustration may be compared to learning to play the piano. At first, the sounds are not very beautiful. However, persistence pays off. In time, melodious music (more or less) will come from all who practice and put effort into their music. The same is true of the study of prophecy. It takes considerable time and effort to find and understand the harmony of the sum of all the parts. But, harmony and beauty will be found if you persist. For those who already closely studied my teachings over the years, you will notice a few minor changes. I mention this because many people are unwilling to update their prophetic views. This is sad, because truth is ever unfolding and if we are unmovable, we shall be left behind.  In short, truth is eternal and unchanging, for God is both eternal and unchanging. But, man’s perception of truth is finite and faulty and there is no greater joy than climbing a little higher in understanding the truths of God. If we become content with what we know, we are left with no other alternative than to be stagnant. Stagnation leads to fermentation and mental fermentation leads to stupidity.


Given the diversity of minds and beliefs, many will disagree with my conclusions. And, it is not necessary that the reader agree with me. But, those who seek truth go through a very fascinating experience. The closer people get to correctly understanding truth, the more similar their views. There is a sequence that shall bring us to the end of the world and there is only one correct explanation of the events that shall come to pass. The prophecies within Daniel and Revelation have the answers.


Let your interpretations be your own


Therefore, I ask the reader to consider my conclusions-not to accept my interpretations. Let your interpretations be your own-after all, you’ve got to face the events ahead by yourself. Remember, the prophetic equation is not complete until all the pieces of the puzzle are correctly placed. This is perhaps the most difficult part of prophetic study: You have to understand the whole thing before you can be certain about the elements of the conclusion. For this reason, I am often accused of saying things without substantiation. I freely confess to doing this because some subjects are substantiated by other facts not involved with the matters at hand. Given the breadth of some themes, it is not helpful to explore supporting tangents at the time of presentation because the matter becomes so tedious or expansive that it can be overwhelming. But, there are two ways to comprehend. First, the determined student can read and reread this study. The second and third reading of this study will be more helpful than the first reading because the threshold for understanding the harmony of these things is quite high. Secondly, if the student is not able to comprehend the material presented in this study, there is solace knowing that time is going to reveal the truth anyway. And given the events before us, some exposure to the prophecies of God right now is better than hysteria and terror then. Anticipating what God is about to do, understanding why He is going to do it and timely preparation for His actions is our privilege. These are the profound functions of Bible prophecy.


The interlaced column


According to Webster, a paraphrase is an attempt to clarify the meaning of the author’s words by restating his original idea in different words. On the other hand, a translation is quite different from the paraphrase in that a translation is a direct conversion of the equivalent sense from one language to another.


This study is neither a paraphrase nor a translation. The purpose of this study is to explain the 18 prophecies of Daniel and Revelation, as I currently understand them. So, I have taken the liberty of interlacing the verses of the Bible with my own words and thoughts so that the student might quickly grasp the comprehensive story that comes from the 17 prophecies. I realize that some will heartily disagree with this practice. But, whether my opponents will admit it or not, all students of the Bible practice interlacing. What scholar ever presented an exegesis without interlacing his own thoughts or findings into the meaning of a text?


The better we understand the Bible, the more clearly we comprehend the larger meaning of its verses. Even though it is not a common practice to present Bible texts with our own words interlaced within them, such a process may have some merit-for what appreciable difference is there between thinking interlaced thoughts and writing down interlaced thoughts?


I certainly don’t intend to corrupt the true meaning of the Bible. In fact, I read in Revelation 22:18,19 that if any of us corrupt the message of Revelation by adding to it or taking away from it, God will deal accordingly with us. I’ve though about these verses for a long time and I understand them to mean that if we willingly alter the true message in the book, God will hold us responsible.


As a minimum, there are three ways to interpret the meaning of Revelation 22:18,19. First, the text could be applied to ancient scribes. Since there were no duplicating machines back then, the warning could be interpreted as a threat to those who made copies of the original document. Secondly, the warning could be applied to the translators of the original text. However, every bilingual person knows that it is not possible to translate directly from language to language. For example, the English translation of Revelation has more words than the original Greek. Perhaps the best application of these verses can be understood in this sense: When the prophecy of Revelation is fully understood, its testimony must be muted or altered by any person. Penalties and consequences aside, let the truth say what it must. I also find in Revelation 1:3, a special blessing for everyone who will study and try to understand what Revelation means. So, consider this study a stepping-stone toward your understanding. This study is by no means, the final word on the meaning of Daniel and Revelation.


Inherent danger


The greatest danger with interlacing is that some of my interlaced verses will either say things contrary to what you already believe to be true or things you don’t yet understand. Because people rarely explore things they believe to be full of error, I’m sure many copies of this study will end up in the trash. However, to those who are open-minded enough to read this study through, I would like to share a secret. The second time you read through, you will appreciate the content much more. You will be amazed at the harmony within the 17 prophecies. You will also understand so much more about each prophecy and its role in the larger picture. The third time you read through this study, you will be amazed at how tiny details in one prophecy align with little elements in other prophecies to form the prophetic matrix. This matrix will then enable you to understand things that cannot be seen otherwise. Thereafter, each time you study the 17 prophecies, you will be amazed at how the 17 prophecies of Daniel and Revelation are dependant and integral to the entire Bible. No pleasure on earth compares with understanding God’s great love and His purposes for His children.


Additive nature


The study of apocalyptic prophecy is additive in nature. This means that you have to accept some things as possibilities before you can proceed to understand the matter at hand. For this reason, I highly encourage the reader to read this study in a chronological fashion. Don’t succumb to the temptation to jump around looking for this or that until you clearly understand the operation of the rules of interpretation and the chronological placement of essential elements. When you find something disagreeable or different than what you have believed, go to the apocalyptic chart in the back of this study and notice the chronological location of the event under discussion. Compare my conclusions with other items that are occurring at the same time. In fact, you should often refer to the apocalyptic chart so you can see the chronological progression of each story. Even more, you will behold the intricate relationships between the prophecies. For example, see if you can locate the opening of the fourth seal in Prophecy 7 and the casting down of the censer in Prophecy 9.


By reading this study in a sequential manner, the reader should be able to see how the rules are applied in simple prophecies before trying to understand how the rules apply in more difficult situations.


If you disagree with my conclusions, don’t waste time arguing with me. Direct your energy into the ultimate prophetic challenge: Draw your won prophetic chart and then, clearly outline your prophetic conclusions in a study. Properly identify where every prophetic element belongs. Most who disagree with my conclusions refuse to do this and I am quite puzzled by their eagerness to condemn my views and their reluctance to openly reveal their position. As my sales manager Court McLeod, used to say, “The proof is in the pudding.” So, if you have a better conclusion, tell everyone what you believe. Distribute several hundred copies of your findings. Time will reveal, by the absence or presence of the things we predict, the truth-full-ness of every prophetic position.  In fact, this study is my response to you as required by the challenge.


Larry Wilson       

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