One third of the whole Bible contains prophecies. We can classify the prophecies in the Bible into two categories, those concerning Christ’s first coming and those concerning His second coming. Prophecies concerning His first coming can be found in the Pentateuch, the Psalms, and the books of the prophets. The Lord Jesus has come, and it seems as if prophecies concerning His first coming are not very exciting. However, in order to study prophecy, we must pay attention to the Lord’s first coming. We have to find all the prophecies in the Old and New Testaments about His first coming and write them down because this will teach us something concerning the principle of prophecies. The prophecies concerning His second coming will be fulfilled the same way as the prophecies concerning His first coming.
There are rules for exposition of everything spoken of in the Bible. Anything that should be interpreted spiritually is clearly indicated by the text of the Scriptures itself. For example, Revelation 1 speaks of the seven stars in the right hand of the Lord as the messengers of the seven churches. This should not be interpreted literally, and the text tells us this. The seven lampstands, which the Lord walked in the midst of, refer to the churches. This is also clearly stated in the text. Every type should be interpreted spiritually. In type, Adam does not refer to Adam literally, but to Christ, and Eve does not refer to Eve literally, but to the church. However, prophecies can be interpreted according to two different, basic principles. They can be interpreted spiritually, in which case the fulfillment is a fulfillment in meaning only, or they can be interpreted literally, in which case the fulfillment is literal. For example, Matthew 2:17-18 says, “At that time what was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying, ‘A voice in Ramah was heard, weeping and great lamentation: Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be comforted, because they are no more.’” This is a fulfillment in meaning. Consider the example of Acts 2:16, which says, “But this is what is spoken through the prophet Joel.” The condition that was seen at Pentecost was like the one described in the book of Joel. This is also a fulfillment in meaning. As to the first coming of the Lord Jesus, many prophecies were fulfilled literally. The virgin literally referred to a virgin. Egypt literally referred to Egypt. Not having a single bone broken meant exactly that. They were all literally fulfilled. Since many of the fulfillments concerning the Lord’s first coming were literal, most of the fulfillments concerning His second coming will be literal as well.
Some prophecies concern the Jews, others concern the Gentiles, and still others concern the church. These three kinds of prophecies are all different. Most of Moses’ and Balaam’s prophecies concerned the Jews. Of course, we find many prophecies concerning the Jews in the books of the prophets also. Prophecies concerning the Gentiles can be found in the book of Daniel. We should also pay attention to what the Lord Jesus said on earth in Matthew 24. Revelation 8—11, 13, 15—16, and 18 are all prophecies concerning the Gentiles. Prophecies concerning the church can be found in such chapters as Matthew 13, Revelation 2—3, 12, 14—15, 1 Corinthians 15, and 1 Thessalonians 4. We have to know clearly which prophecies pertain to the Jews, which to the Gentiles, and which to the church.
Prophecies concerning the Jews can be divided into two main branches: those concerning the day of the Lord and those concerning the earthly blessings in the kingdom.
With regard to the prophecies concerning the Gentiles, we have to pay particular attention to all the prophecies uttered during “the times of the Gentiles” after the destruction of the Jewish nation. Chapters such as Daniel 2, 4, and 7, the seventy weeks in chapter nine, and everything thereafter, including the book of Revelation, contain prophecies for the Gentiles. Simply put, these prophecies first depict the period from the destruction of the Jewish nation to the end time, which covers the entire history spanned in the great image of Daniel 2. Second, they speak of the ten horns (the ten kings) in the end time, the other horn (the other king), and the antichrist. Third, they speak of the blessings enjoyed by the Gentiles in the millennium.
Concerning the church, there are the prophecies depicting the two thousand years of church history, the rapture, the judgment seat, the kingdom, and eternity.
(How to Study the Bible, Chapter 5, by Watchman Nee)