Correctly Handling the Word of Truth

              Before we begin this study of the last days and the return of Christ, we need to understand how God says to interpret His Word. The Bible indicates there are correct ways to handle the Word of Truth. This means there are also incorrect ways. One reason there are many different interpretations of the end times is that people do not follow the instructions God has given for the interpretation of His Word.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).

Paul’s words to Timothy reveal an interesting truth for handling the Word of Truth—it requires work. A workman applies his best effort to his trade on a regular basis. Interpreting the bible correctly is not an accident; it is a deliberate effort and the result of on-going application and study.  Since Paul expected Timothy to be a workman in this effort, we should expect no different requirement for us today.

Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful (Joshua 1:8).

          The work of interpreting the Word of God is important work. It requires continuous study and meditation. It should become a part of our lifestyle. This type of life builds up and transforms leading to maturity in Christ. However, just as correctly handling the Word leads to maturity, incorrectly handling the Word leads to false teaching, deception and ultimately destruction.

Do not add to his words, or he [God] will rebuke you and prove you a liar (Proverbs 30:6).

          No matter how sure you are about what God meant by a particular verse, it is very dangerous to add your opinion to His divine wisdom. Few things could be worse than the rebuke of God, and nothing could be worse than being proved a liar by God. Not only does the incorrect use of the Word of God have serious consequences for the careless teacher, it can also be detrimental for others.

my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children (Hosea 4:6).

          It is no wonder God gives such grave warnings against incorrectly handling His Word since lives are at stake.  In the closing words of the book of Revelation, the Lord issues one of the most direct warnings of the entire Bible:

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book (Revelation 22:18, 19).

          This same warning was first issued in the Old Testament when God opened the law to Israel:

Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you (Deuteronomy 4:2).

The Bible is to be read and understood

          God inspired His Word to reveal Himself, His purposes and His plans. The Bible is a comprehensive communication from God to man. The Bible itself answers the questions it raises, which is why we say Scripture interprets Scripture. God did not prepare His Word to be confusing or misleading. He says what He means and He means what He says.

For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand (2 Corinthians 1:13).

          The Gospel of Christ is meant for everyone.  In that spirit, Paul’s letters to the Corinthians were written to be read to the whole body of believers not just the pastors and teachers. It was customary for these letters to be copied and distributed to other bodies of believers. In fact, people who come to the Word like little children will be more inclined to understand the Word than those who think they already know something. 

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world (1 Corinthians 1:20)?

And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’  (Matthew 18:3, 4).

          God meant His Word to be understood. The Gospel of Jesus Christ and all the epistles that make up the New Testament were written in the Greek language used by the common people of the day.

However, there are two requirements for being able to understand the Word of God:

1.      We must have the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you (John 14:26).

The Bible teaches that a man without the Spirit cannot understand spiritual truths. It is very important as we study spiritual truth that we seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:13, 14).

2.      We must seek the Truth.

Scripture also reveals that the truth is revealed to those that seek it with a pure heart. In other words, Scripture is revealed to those who are not encumbered by ulterior motives.  If you are studying the Word to prove your opinion, or to support your own personal theology, you will not find Truth.  Truth is revealed to those who honestly want to know the truth of the Word.

These passages indicate that if we do not approach the Word with a mind open to the truth of God we may not be able to receive it.

The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth (Psalm 145:18).

And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18: 3).

The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple (Psalm 119:130).

Our pride, our education, our positions, our accomplishments and even our ideas can frustrate the pursuit of truth.

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children” (Matthew 11:25).

For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world (1 Corinthians 1:19, 20)?

Before we go any further, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal any ulterior motives and any biases that may hinder your pursuit of truth.

There will be false teachers among you

          One vital reason to handle the Word of Truth correctly is to defend against false doctrines and false teachers. These teachers and doctrines are not just cults and false religions. They find their way into Christian churches that are not defending against them. The Scripture indicates that deception will increase in the household of God until there will be little truth remaining. Jesus stated that the deception would be so strong that even the elect would be deceived, if that were possible.

many false prophets will appear and deceive many people (Matthew 24:11).

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them--bringing swift destruction on themselves (2 Peter 2:1).

For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths (2 Timothy 4:3, 4).

For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect--if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time (Matthew 24:24, 25).

          The extent to which false doctrine is manifest today is indeed frightening. This is particularly true regarding much of what we hear about the return of Jesus Christ. The purpose of this book is not to investigate false teachings.  However, our understanding of the doctrine of the return of Christ and the resurrection of believers will certainly help reveal what is false about the popular teachings of our day.

          Since there are many false teachers and much deception in the household of God, it will be helpful for us to know the characteristics of those who proclaim the Word falsely. Thankfully, God revealed a great deal about false prophets in the Old Testament. Listen to what He says in Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. They keep saying to those who despise me, 'The LORD says: You will have peace.' And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts they say, 'No harm will come to you.' But which of them has stood in the council of the LORD to see or to hear his word? … "Therefore," declares the LORD, "I am against the prophets who steal from one another words supposedly from me (Jeremiah 23:16-30).

The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are now prophesying. Say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: 'Hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing! … Their visions are false and their divinations a lie. They say, "The LORD declares," when the LORD has not sent them; yet they expect their words to be fulfilled (Ezekiel 13:1-6).

Characteristics of false prophets:

1.                 They speak from their own imaginations.

2.                 They do not have a word from God.

3.                 They prophesy false hope, “No harm will come to you.”

4.                 They take words from one another supposedly from God.

5.                 They expect their words to be fulfilled.

Fortunately, we have the complete revelation of God’s Word in Scripture and are able to test everything against the Word to see if what we are told is true.

Basics for correctly handling the Word of Truth

          The following outline provides the biblical instructions we will need to correctly handle the Word of Truth.

1.      The Bible is the Word of Truth.

          Both the Old and New Testaments have stood the test of time as the uniquely inspired Word of God. For the seeker of truth the Bible has revealed itself as the completely credible and authoritative communication from the Creator.

your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens (Psalms 119:89).

Righteous are you, O LORD, and your laws are right. The statutes you have laid down are righteous; they are fully trustworthy (Psalm 119:137, 138).

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, (2 Timothy 3:16)

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20, 21).

2.      What is prophesied will happen.

          One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Holy Bible is that it makes clear predictions concerning what will happen in the future. To date, approximately one-half of the Bible’s prophecies have been fulfilled just as they were foretold.

Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms (Luke 24:44).

I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished (Matthew 5:18).

          One of the most amazing examples of fulfilled biblical prophecy occurred when Jesus Christ made His triumphal ride into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday). This took place on the exact day God said it would, through the prophet Daniel, over 600 years prior to the event. We will examine this prophecy in more detail when we study Daniel’s prophecies.

Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven 'sevens,' and sixty-two 'sevens' (Daniel 9:25). 

          King Artaxerxes issued the decree exactly 483 years before Jesus rode into Jerusalem. The “sevens” referred to are periods of years. One “seven” equals seven years, therefore “seven sevens” and “sixty-two sevens” totals sixty-nine sevens. This equals 483 years, the exact span of time from Artaxerxes decree to Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This remarkable prophecy is just one of hundreds which have already been fulfilled.

          The prophets of God whom we encounter in Scripture were established by the standard set forth in Deuteronomy 18:22. Their prophecies have been (or will be) fulfilled just as they are written.

If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken (Deuteronomy 18:22).

          To date, about one half of their prophecies have been fulfilled which means that the other half will be fulfilled sometime in the future. The majority of these unfulfilled prophecies relate to the Return of Jesus Christ and the coming Kingdom of God on earth.

3.      We can understand the truth.

          As we have already discussed, God tells us we can read and understand the Word of Truth. He has not made it difficult or complicated. To the contrary, He has made it so straightforward that He tells us that we must come to it as little children.

For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand (2 Corinthians 1:13).

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you (Matthew 7:7).

          The Lord also tells us that the Holy Spirit will guide and teach us all things to ensure that we understand the truth of the Gospel.

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you (John 14:26).

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come (John 16:13).

4.          Don’t add to or take away from the Word.

              Because God desires that we know and understand the truth He has provided clear instructions so we will know how to read and understand the Word of Truth. These instructions reveal to us that we are not to go beyond what He has said. These instructions protect us from the notion that the Bible does not mean what it says or that it means something that it does not state. Read the examples of these biblical instructions and see for yourself how emphatic the Lord is regarding His Word.

Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you (Deuteronomy 4:2).

See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it (Deuteronomy 12:32).

Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar (Proverbs 30:5, 6).  

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come … before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark … The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true … Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them (Ecclesiastes 12:1-12).

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. …’Do not go beyond what is written.’ Then you will not take pride in one man over against another (I Corinthians 4:5, 6).

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book (Revelation 22:18, 19).

          God used over forty writers spanning 1,500 years to say exactly what He meant. He does not need editors and commentators to improve upon what He said. Implicit in these instructions is the warning not to change anything that has been written. Changing a word of Scripture certainly violates the instructions against taking away from and adding to His Word.

          Jesus’ ministry demonstrates the reverence we are to have for Scripture. Over and over He uses the phase, “it is written” indicating we are to accept by faith what is written in the Word of God. Jesus makes other statements which further instruct us how to read and understand the Bible. For example, Jesus says, “…the Scriptures… say it must happen in this way” (Matthew 26:54). Everything Jesus teaches about the Word indicates He means what He says and says what He means. Do you believe it?

          A very serious error in handling the Word of God is the interpretation of Scripture using only metaphors and allegories. An allegory is the description of one thing under the image of another.1 Scripture is, of course, replete with allegory and metaphors which are vitally important for a rich and full understanding of the Gospel. However, allegories and metaphors foundational to doctrine are always explained in the Word. For example, in the book of Revelation, Jesus Christ is referred to as “the Lamb” almost thirty times. This metaphor for Jesus Christ is important to a proper understanding of Revelation. So, how can we be sure the “the Lamb” is Jesus Christ? Because, Scripture states that “the Lamb” is Jesus.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29)!

          As we can see symbolism that is part of doctrinal teachings will always be explained by the Word. Any system of theology that is based only on allegory and metaphor and does not have the support of clear statements of Scripture is bankrupt. Such a theology will be prone to error and deception, leading its followers to destruction. For example, if someone says something written in Scripture actually means something else, they must have Scripture which clearly confirms their position or they are relying on their own interpretation. All doctrine must be based on the clear statements in the Word of God. All else is sinking sand.

5.      Use the whole counsel of God.  

          We cannot accept an interpretation of Scripture as true if it is not in agreement with the whole of Scripture. There are no contradictions or inconsistencies in God’s Holy Word.

God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill (Numbers 23:19)?

          Also, remember that Scripture taken out of context ceases to be Scripture.

All [the sum of] your words are true; all [the sum of] your righteous laws are eternal (Psalms 119:160).

Jesus answered, “It is written: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)

It is also important to understand that until we have the full Gospel of Jesus Christ we do not have the true Gospel. A partial Gospel is no Gospel at all. That is why it was important to the Apostle Paul that he proclaim the whole Gospel as recorded in Acts 20:27.

For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God (Acts 20:27).

The Gospel of Jesus Christ includes the complete Scripture from Genesis through Revelation.

6.      Test everything to see if it is true.

          Now that we know how to read and understand the Word of Truth, we need to avoid getting carried away by every teaching that sounds good. Scripture instructs us how to keep ourselves from being deceived.

Test everything. Hold on to the good (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true (Acts 17:11).

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1).

              Because many false teachers are already among us and there is deception in the household of God, we are told to test everything to see if what we hear is true. God has even given us three tests to use.

For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough (2 Corinthians 11:4).

          These are the three tests:

1.     Is the Jesus presented the one of the Gospel?

2.     Is the Spirit consistent with the one we received?

3.     Is the Gospel consistent with what is written in Scripture?

First, we are to determine if the Jesus Christ presented is the one of the Gospel. For example, Jesus said, “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:24). Over and over in the Gospels, Jesus claims to be and proves that He is God. His Jewish audience was very aware that He was claiming deity for Himself. They said, “We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:33). So, the first test concerns the deity of Christ. Two well-known groups today that deny that Jesus is God are the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of the Latter Day Saints. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is the archangel Michael, and the Mormon Church believes that Jesus is a god, not the one and only Almighty God.

Second, we are to test the Spirit. The Spirit must be consistent with the Spirit of God we received. For example, if a spirit promises that we will not face tribulation, distress or persecution - that would be a deceptive spirit. The Spirit of God consistently reveals that we will face tribulation and persecution. Hear what the Spirit says,

Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith” (1 Thessalonians 3:7).

Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also (John 15:20).

Finally, we are to determine whether or not what we hear is consistent with what is written in Scripture. For example, if someone says Jesus will come and gather His Church before the tribulation, we are to test it against the Word of Truth. When we find that Jesus says, “Immediately after the [tribulation] distress of those days … the Son of Man will appear in the sky, … And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect…” (Matthew 24:29-31), we are to believe it.

As we can see, there is ample reason to remain spiritually alert against false teaching and deception even in the household of God. If we stay spiritually alert we protect ourselves against deception.

Our Study Guidelines

              Therefore, in keeping with the instructions and warnings provided by the Word of God, we will use the following guidelines to approach our study.

1. We will take our understanding of prophecy from the context, interpreting the words at face value using their normal and literal meaning. As we interpret Scripture, we will also take into consideration the use of:

·       Figures of speech, for example - white as snow.

·       Metaphors, such as - the Lamb, the dragon.

·       Amplifications, restatements used to amplify an idea.

·       Allegories 

2.     We will interpret prophecies concerning the future in a manner consistent with the prophecies that have already been fulfilled.

3.     We will seek to let Scripture interpret Scripture. This means that, when seeking to answer questions raised by Scripture, our first recourse will be to examine Scripture itself for the answer. We will look for related scriptures until we have the most complete picture.

4.     We will obediently follow all biblical instructions regarding the interpretation of the Word of God such as:

a)                 Trust the Word of God.

b)                Do not add to or take away from the Word.

c)                Do not go beyond what is written.

d)                Use the whole Word.

e)                 Test everything against the Word.

Therefore, “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of Dawn” (Isaiah 8:29).

          Now, guided by the Holy Spirit and these biblical instructions, let us begin our search of the Holy Scripture to see what the Bible says regarding the last days and the return of Jesus Christ.

Richard H Perry

1 Webster’s New World Dictionary – Third College Edition - 1989