Spending time exploring biblical eschatology is a humbling endeavor. The study of “last things” involves pouring over apocalyptic visions and confusing prophecies written in vague and unusual prose as the author describes things that seem beyond language’s ability to describe. After reading passages of Scripture literally dozens of times and then reluctantly scurrying to commentaries to find out “the right answers,” my common experience is to come away thinking, “Yeah, I think this commentator is guessing, just like me.”
Does anyone really understand this stuff,
or do they, like me, just make their best bluff?
SCRIPTURES NOT UNDERSTOOD
After about thirty years of consistent Bible reading and diligent Bible study, I have discovered this: Not everything that is written in the Word of God is meant to be fully understood. That is, there remain mysteries in the Bible. In writing His Scripture, God the Holy Spirit has inspired some passages whose meaning is intentionally hidden from us. Daniel in his prophecy and John in Revelation both confess that there are times when they did not understand all that they themselves saw and wrote.
Moses voices the same idea when he writes “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever (Deuteronomy 29:29).” Clearly, there are secret things that God has left as mysteries. Recently, I have been reading through Isaiah and am constantly awe-struck by the Scriptures he wrote. Did Isaiah really understand the meaning of these astonishing prophecies, or was he just obedient to what the Holy Spirit told him to write, even though his oracles were beyond his own comprehension?
To display His glory, God has inspired His Bible to reveal everything necessary for His people to know Him and to serve Him, and to fear and love and worship and obey Him, while at the same time including passages whose meaning and understanding elude even the most diligent and learned of Bible students. This is not a mistake in editing, but is BY DESIGN, to confirm that the Bible is breathed out by God and contains writing that God alone can fully comprehend.
AS JOB WAS HUMBLED, SO SHOULD WE BE HUMBLED
When the LORD confronts Job in chapter 38, the Creator asks the creature where he was when the LORD created the universe. At one point, the LORD says to Job, “Who shut in the sea with doors, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said,
‘Thus far shall you come and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?” – Job 38:8-11.
The LORD is sovereign over the oceans and has determined their exact limits. The “proud waves” must stop when He ordains and may not go farther.
He seems to be saying something similar about His Scriptures. We may read our Bible anytime and we are free to read it and study it as often as we like. We are to take great pleasure in reading God’s word and delight in it as precious treasure, but we must acknowledge that the Bible is God’s book, and that there will be times when our proud intellect will be humbled. While we are here on this earth, there will be times when we encounter mysteries which God has left in His Scriptures. When we encounter these passages, we can hear the Lord saying, “Thus far can you understand, but no farther, and here shall your proud intellect be stayed.” This is because not everything that is written in the Word of God is meant to be fully understood.
HOW, THEN, ARE WE TO STUDY THE BIBLE?
Because the Bible contains mysteries, are we to despair of ever understanding it or are we to abandon our zeal in studying it? A resounding “no” on both counts! Although there are still parts and passages in God’s Word that lie beyond our comprehension, there is a lifetime of delight dwelling in its pages for our joy, for our reading pleasure and for our spiritual edification.
The more earnestly and diligently you seek the treasures of the Bible, the more you will bring out of its limitless riches. So, the first key is to apply yourself to earnest and diligent study each time you open the Word. Consider the context of the passage. What is the main message of the text? Are there other passages of Scripture that may shed more light on this passage? If you have some knowledge of the original languages (Hebrew and Greek), explore those sources, and see if there is some nuance in these words. Mainly we must realize that reading and studying God’s Word deserves serious effort and we must be willing to work hard to draw out all we can from the text.
At the same time, we must humbly realize that even our most earnest efforts will sometimes leave us confused or unclear about the full meaning of a psalm or a prophecy or even the full meaning of a narrative account. “What is going on here?” We should apply all our energy to understand all we can, but also be ready to humbly bow before the mysteries the Lord has left in His word.
The main point in what I am saying is that there is a finite limit to how much of the Scriptures anyone can understand. That is, no matter how many times you read the Bible or even read a book of the Bible, there will always remain mysteries. The Bible is God’s book, and, as part of His stamp of authenticity, there are some things that no human can grasp.
SDG rmb 12/16/2020