by Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Many people find the subject of prophecy to be the most fascinating aspect of Bible study, and they show an intense interest in it. Some scour the newspapers, books, magazines and television and radio news for the latest tidbit that fulfills their favorite prophecies. Unfortunately, few understand the vital keys to understanding the prophecies of the Bible, and thus, many of them are wildly misunderstood.
One of these keys to understanding prophecy is the fact that most prophecy is dual in nature. Throughout the Bible, we see duality in many things. God made a material creation and a spiritual creation (Genesis 2:1-4). The first Adam was physical, and the second Adam, Christ, is spiritual (I Corinthians 15:45-47). The Old Covenant was based on physical descent and physical blessings and cursings. It was followed by the New Covenant, which is spiritual (Hebrews 8). At the first coming of Christ, He came in the weakness of flesh; when He comes again, He will be a powerful spirit Being.
A list of everything in the Bible that demonstrates duality would be a very long list, indeed. So it is with the prophecies, most of which consist of two predictions: a type and an antitype. The type, usually a relatively minor event in history, symbolizes a major, often end-time event that will occur later. The major event is the antitype.
A Source of Confusion
One of the best examples of a dual prophecy is the Olivet Prophecy recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21. Many years ago, while studying this prophecy with the help of a commentary, I became very confused. At the time, neither I nor the author of the commentary understood the principle of duality. Thinking that this prophecy referred only to the destruction of Jerusalem, the commentator frankly admitted that he did not understand why Christ said that His coming would occur "immediately after the tribulation of those days" (Matthew 24:29).
Today, we understand that the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 was a type of the Great Tribulation which will occur in the time immediately preceding the second coming of Christ. We can see that He actually prophesied two events. Jerusalem's destruction was the type, and the Great Tribulation is the antitype.
This particular prophecy highlights how vital it is to understand the duality principle. Many early Christians did not understand that the Olivet Prophecy was dual and fully expected Christ to return after the destruction of Jerusalem. When He failed to appear, some were very disappointed and disillusioned. Some lost faith and stopped believing. This disappointment was a major factor in causing the church to fall into apostasy in the closing decades of the first century.
Failure to understand the duality of prophecy also played a role in the Jews' rejection of Christ. The Jews thought (and still think) the Messiah would come as a conquering, human king to restore Israel to its former wealth and power. This idea was based on the many prophecies in the Old Testament which are actually describing the second coming of Christ and His millennial reign. An understanding of this principle of duality, along with careful study of the many prophecies showing the suffering and death of the Messiah, may have prevented this tragic error.
The type often stops short of fulfilling the whole prophecy. Jesus pointed out a very clear example of this in Luke 4:16-21. On a Sabbath day in Nazareth shortly after He began His ministry, He publicly read from Isaiah 61:1-2, stopping abruptly after the first line in verse 2. He told the amazed audience, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." This portion of the prophecy was fulfilled, in type, during His earthly ministry. It will be completely fulfilled, as the antitype, throughout the whole world during His millennial reign. Had Jesus read any further, He would have spoken of events belonging exclusively to His second coming, so He did not claim to be fulfilling them. An astute Jew, upon hearing Christ's words, could have avoided the error that led them to reject and condemn Him to crucifixion.
Not All Prophecies
Not all prophecies are dual, however. God's predictions regarding the fate of ancient city-states such as Tyre, Sidon, Ashkelon and others do not appear to have an antitype. In general, it seems that God has chosen to use the duality principle in those prophecies which deal directly with His people Israel or with the church (spiritual Israel).
For example, ancient Babylon is one of the ancient city-states that does have an antitype. Under its greatest king, Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon conquered Judah and took the Jews into captivity between 604-585 BC (II Kings 24-25). In the New Testament, Babylon becomes a type of this world's society which persecutes God's church (Revelation 18:21-24), and its fate will be the same as that of ancient Babylon: a heap of ruins, never to be raised again (Isaiah 13:19-22).
The principle of duality in prophecy is especially important to God's church today. Many prophecies in the New Testament predicted the great apostasy which took place in the church toward the end of the first century (Acts 20:29; II Thessalonians 2:3-12; II Timothy 3:1-8; 4:3-4; Jude 3-4). All of these prophecies are dual. The falling away from the revealed truth of God that occurred in the first century is a type of what is happening today in the church. We are witnessing some of these prophecies being fulfilled! Duality in prophecy is being demonstrated in our lifetimes before our very eyes!
For this reason, we must be keenly aware of this important principle of understanding God's Word. We must be constantly on our guard, watching prophesied world events, as well as those unfolding in the church, lest we be caught unawares. Listen to the urgent warning that Jesus Christ gave to all of us who are living in the end time:
Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—lest, coming suddenly, He find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch! (Mark 13:35-37)