“Context, context, context.” The three rules of bible interpretation, according to Chris Rosebrough of Pirate Christian Radio.
For many parts of the bible, this is true, but what do you do when context shifts from one place to another, when context shifts thousands of years in a single passage?
This week I was reading Jeremiah 25 and I was struck how the context starts in ancient Israel, and then slips seamlessly into the future of Armageddon and the return of Christ.
Verses 1-9 set the initial context, that of Israel shortly before the invasion by Babylon, Note that “Nebuchadrezzar” is one of the ways the ancient Hebrew spelled Nebuchadnezzar;
9 Behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith the LORD, and Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land, and against the inhabitants thereof, and against all these nations round about, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, and an hissing, and perpetual desolations.
God decrees judgment against Israel because of their sins, and He states that their captivity will by seventy years.
11 And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. 12 And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, saith the LORD, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans, and will make it perpetual desolations.
This is the section that Daniel referred to in 9:2
In the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. Daniel 9:2
As God has used Babylon as a tool to bring judgment against Israel, He will then turn and bring judgment against Babylon itself. The problem is that all of these pronouncements against Babylon have not occurred… yet.
13 And I will bring upon that land all my words which I have pronounced against it, evenall that is written in this book, which Jeremiah hath prophesied against all the nations. 14For many nations and great kings shall serve themselves of them also: and I will recompense them according to their deeds, and according to the works of their own hands.
In verse 14 we are told that many nations shall serve themselves of Babylon. The problem is that Babylon, was defeated by the Medes and Persians, not many nations. Later on the Greeks took over, and the Romans, for a time, but by the time these nations took over control of Babylon, her wealth was long gone, so it cannot be said that these nations “served themselves of them”.
By this time the passage has switched to the End Times. The many nations that shall serve themselves of Babylon is explained in the book of Revelation, chapter 17
16 And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. 17For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled. 18 And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth. Revelation 17:16-18
The nations who destroy Babylon the Harlot are the ten nations of Revelation 17. These nations represent the whole world.
Later on we are given a list of the nations that will suffer the wrath of God with Babylon and Jerusalem. While the list starts locally, it ends up with;
26 And all the kings of the north, far and near, one with another, and all the kingdoms of the world, which are upon the face of the earth: and the king of Sheshach shall drink after them.
So. When has there ever been a war where all the nations of the world were devastated? Of course the answer is “never”.
27 Therefore thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Drink ye, and be drunken, and spue, and fall, and rise no more, because of the sword which I will send among you. 28 And it shall be, if they refuse to take the cup at thine hand to drink, then shalt thou say unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Ye shall certainly drink. 29For, lo, I begin to bring evil on the city which is called by my name, and should ye be utterly unpunished? Ye shall not be unpunished: for I will call for a sword upon all the inhabitants of the earth, saith the LORD of hosts.
I have heard some prophecy scholars say that the battle of Armageddon will be a local event centred around the nation of Israel. I remember reading Grand Jeffrey speculate that the survivors of Armageddon will likely have to take shelter in places like North America, far away from the battle. This is incorrect.
Jeremiah tells us that this last battle will result in deaths all over the world. It will not be local, and there will be no shelter from the Lord’s anger. Those who survive will survive miraculously.
31 A noise shall come even to the ends of the earth; for the LORD hath a controversy with the nations, he will plead with all flesh; he will give them that are wicked to the sword, saith the LORD. 32 Thus saith the LORD of hosts, Behold, evil shall go forth from nation to nation, and a great whirlwind shall be raised up from the coasts of the earth. 33And the slain of the LORD shall be at that day from one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth: they shall not be lamented, neither gathered, nor buried; they shall be dung upon the ground.
This will be a terrible time. The most terrible time this world will ever see. There will be so many dead that they will not be buried, all over the world. This certainly puts the lie to those who say that Armageddon will be limited to the Middle East.
I find it curious that the Lord uses the term “shepherds” in His judgment. This is the same meaning as the word “pastor”. Could God be this angry with pastors? Evidently the pastors in that day will lead their flocks to worship the Antichrist;
34 Howl, ye shepherds, and cry; and wallow yourselves in the ashes, ye principal of the flock: for the days of your slaughter and of your dispersions are accomplished; and ye shall fall like a pleasant vessel. 35 And the shepherds shall have no way to flee, nor the principal of the flock to escape. 36 A voice of the cry of the shepherds, and an howling of the principal of the flock, shall be heard: for the LORD hath spoiled their pasture. 37 And the peaceable habitations are cut down because of the fierce anger of the LORD.
One last thing, there is another reference to Revelation in the last verse;
38 He hath forsaken his covert, as the lion: for their land is desolate because of the fierceness of the oppressor, and because of his fierce anger.
Many scholars do take Revelation 10:5-6 out of context.
5 And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, 6 And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer;
I don’t know why but I have heard several prophecy scholars, and pastors, stop at the end of verse 6, and use this passage to say that time itself will no longer exist. This is a serious error, and is totally out of context. All they have to do is read the next verse;
7 But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets.
The angel is declaring that at this point, the mystery of God will be ended. What is the mystery of God? Only that He is here but we can’t see him. Unless He reveals Himself, we can’t see Him or know Him. Now, at this point in the Tribulation, God will reveal Himself visibly. He will no longer be hidden.
This is precisely the same event spoken of in Jeremiah 25:38, when it says “He hath forsaken his covert” or cover. At this point in History, God, in Jesus Christ, will no longer remain hidden, but will reveal Himself in wrath and fury, to the whole world! He will destroy the Antichrist and all the false Christians who supported him, and everyone will see Him do it!
While I agree with Chris Rosebrough that context is important, the ultimate context of any passage is found within the passage itself, and by comparing it with the rest of Scripture. Very often the Lord leaves the immediate context of the writers, and translates the context to a time and place very different from the author’s society.
That is what prophecy is all about; it is the way God validates His word. No one else can predict the future with such accuracy.
No, while Jeremiah wrote in the context of ancient Israel, the ultimate context of chapter 25 is the End Times, over 2,700 years later!