The following is an excerpt from All Knowing: The Omniscient God, a book by Kevin O’Connor. O’Connor’s book contains useful guidelines for interpreting prophetic scripture:
“Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your ancestors” (Prov. 22:28).
On February 13, 1975, Carl Baker and I were on a trip to a youth rally. A guardrail saved our lives. It wasn’t a steel guardrail on that treacherous road where our car hit ice. Instead, God provided a nice soft snow guardrail, and we are here to tell the story because of it. Guardrails are placed on the road to keep us from unsafe areas. They are positioned as a boundary. They offer protection, but cannot always stop a speeding car, and then, the inevitable disaster happens.
There are also ancient guardrails! The borders of biblical truth must not be violated. The all-knowing God uses prophetic Scriptures as warnings and as opportunities to be a guardrail. Every Christian should be equipped with the knowledge of prophetic Scriptures, and we need the guardians of the faith to pass along this knowledge.
Guardrail Protection #1: Prophecy reveals the all-knowing God.
If we make prophecy anything other than the revealing of God’s omniscient power, we are guilty of misrepresenting God. No church, person or religious organization invented prophecy.
Guardrail Protection #2: Prophetic Scripture can have multiple time periods and may have a split fulfillment.
Isaiah 9:6 says, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” In this verse, we see two prophecies and timelines. The first period is detailing Jesus’ birth. The second applies to his reign from David’s throne.
Guardrail Protection #3: Scriptures directed to an unsaved Israel prophetically don’t apply to a saved church.
Specific Scriptures are warnings or insights for Israel’s future. The Christian church is not God’s plan B for the world. God has never given up on Israel and will redeem it. He also has a unique plan for the church, too. This becomes more evident as we understand the prophetic role of Israel.
Guardrail Protection #4: Look for patterns or typology within Scripture.
Throughout the Bible, there are prototypes or patterns of things to come. They give the structure of an unfolding event. For example, according to the writer of Hebrews, Jesus is considered a priest in the order of Melchizedek because, like Melchizedek, Jesus was not a descendant of Aaron and, thus, would not qualify for the Jewish priesthood under the Law of Moses.
The identification of Jesus in the order of Melchizedek highlights the two roles of Jesus. It highlights his reason for coming, as well as a prophetic message to the world—first to be king and second to be the high priest. If Jesus was only a king and not our high priest, then this Scripture could not be applied to him.
Guardrail Protection #5: Prophetic Scriptures can have a natural and literal interpretation and should be viewed through that lens first unless symbolism is apparent.
Total reliance on any one author or theologian is irresponsible. We must all be students of Scripture, correctly handling the Word of Truth. The Bible is not a document trying to trick us. Stories that are parables are stated as such. Proverbs and the poetic sections address such categories.
Guardrail Protection #6: Scripture interprets Scripture.
All through Scripture, we see Scripture interpreting itself. By looking at different accounts of Scriptures we can sometimes find a clear understanding of a text. For example, in the triumphal entry, Luke 19:28–40 is interpreting and fulfilling Zachariah 9 and Daniel 9. (Daniel’s Chapter 9 gives the exact day when the triumphal entry will happen.)