doctrinal & practical writings

Literal Interpretation

from Jesus is Coming by W.E.B. [William E. Blackstone]

William BlackstonePerhaps you ask, "Are not these prophecies to be interpreted 'spiritually'? And does not this 'coming' mean our acceptance of Him at conversion, and the witness of the spirit? Or does it not mean His reign over the Church?" etc.

No! Not at all. Think a moment. Do you condemn the Jews for rejecting Christ, when He came in such literal fulfillment of prophecy, and yet reject the same literalness about his second coming? This is not consistent, and while we believe Luke 1:31, to be literally true, let us believe likewise in regard to verses 32 and 33.

Luke 1:31-33:

31. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.

32. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:

33. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

The inconsistency of accepting literally verse 31, and 'spiritualizing' 32 and 33; is clearly illustrated by the following account of a conversation between a Christian minister and a Jew:

"Taking a New Testament and opening it at Luke 1:32, the Jew asked: 'Do you believe that what is here written shall be literally accomplished, — The Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever?' 'I do not,' answered the clergyman, 'but rather take it to be figurative language, descriptive of Christ's spiritual reign over the Church.'

"'Then,' replied the Jew, 'neither do I believe literally the words preceding, which say that this Son of David should be born of a virgin; but take them to be merely a figurative manner of describing the remarkable character for purity of him who is the subject of the prophecy.' 'But why,' continued the Jew, 'do you refuse to believe literally verses 32 and 33, while you believe implicitly the far more incredible statement of verse 31?' 'I believe it,' replied the clergyman, 'because it is a fact,' 'Ah!' exclaimed the Jew, with an inexpressible air of scorn and triumph, 'You believe Scripture because it is a fact, I believe it because it is the Word of God.'"

And now, dear reader, was not the argument of the Jew candid and forcible? There are symbols, figures or types, metaphors, etc., used in Scripture and there are, also, allegories.

But, unless they are so stated in the text, or plainly indicated in the context, we should hold only to the literal sense.

The words of Christ in John 7:38 we are told in the very next verse were spoken "of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive."

The allegory in Gal. 4:24-31 in no possible manner detracts from the literal sense of Scripture, but on the contrary it confirms it. We know that both Hagar and Sarah had a literal physical existence. Mt. Sinai and Jerusalem are literal.

We have a literal Christ, the mediator of the new covenant (Heb. 12:24). And so we believe that the Jerusalem which is above, of which Sarah is typical — "the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb. 12:22), the "new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from God" (Rev. 3:12; Rev. 21:2, 10), is also literal, tangible and real. How then, are we authorized, from such examples as these (which are most prominent among those cited by Post-millennialists as authority for "spiritualizing"), to do away with the literal sense of Luke 1:32-33, or of the multitude of passages which predict the restoration of Israel, the coming of Christ, or which describe His glorious Kingdom? There can be no warrant for it. It subverts the authority and power of the Word of God, and Post-millennialists, by so doing, open wide the door for skeptics and latitudinarians of all descriptions. There are a portion of the Israelites in the present day who style themselves "reformed" or "liberal." They likewise spiritualize the Old Testament prophecies and have therefore ceased to look for any literal Messiah. One of them not long since said to the writer "the nineteenth century is the Messiah," and this absurd doctrine is now quite generally preached in their principal congregations. That even Jews should thus join with Gentiles in "spiritualizing" Scripture, is a marvelous sign of the times in which we live. ("When the Son of man cometh, shall he find [the] faith on the earth?" Luke 18:8.) Why! the same process of spiritualizing away the literal sense of these plain texts of Scripture will sap the foundation of every Christian doctrine and leave us to drift into absolute infidelity, or the vagaries of Swedenborgianism.

What is the purpose of language, if not to convey definite ideas? Surely the Holy Spirit could have chosen words to convey His thoughts correctly. Indeed it is all summed up in the inquiry of a little child, "If Jesus didn't mean what He said, why didn't He say what He meant?" But we believe that He did mean what He said, and that His words will "not pass away." Matt. 24:35.

He said that He came not to destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfil, and "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." Mat. 5:17-18.

Prophecies Literally Fulfilled at the First Coming.

If He came and literally fulfilled the prophecies of a suffering Messiah, Psa. 22, Isa. 53, etc., will He not as surely come and likewise fulfill the prophecies of a glorified Messiah reigning in victory and majesty? Psa. 2; 72; Dan. 7:13-14, Isa. 9; 11; 60, etc. Think of the many prophecies descriptive of a suffering Messiah, which we have seen literally fulfilled, and upon which we rest, as such strong evidence for the truth and inspiration of the Word, to wit:

Isa. 7:14—Born of a virgin.
Micah 5:2—At Bethlehem.
Jer. 31:15—Slaughter of the children.
Hosea 11:1—Called out of Egypt.
Isa. 11:2—Anointed with the Spirit.
Zech. 9:9—Entry into Jerusalem.
Psa. 41:9; 55:12-14—Betrayed by a friend.
Zech. 13:7—Disciples forsake Him.
Zech. 11:12—Sold for thirty pieces of silver.
Zech. 11:13—Potter's field bought.
Isa. 50:6—Spit on and scourged.
Exodus 12:46; Psa. 34:20—Not a bone broken.
Psa. 69:21—Gall and vinegar.
Psa. 22—Hands and feet pierced; garments parted; lots cast.
Isa. 53—Poverty, suffering, patience, and death.
And many other passages.

All these were literally fulfilled when Christ came. Do not, then, reject the literal fulfillment of those numerous prophecies which describe His future coming, and His glorious reign upon the earth. Namely:—

Prophecies to be Literally Fulfilled at the Second Coming.

That He shall come Himself,— 1 Thess. 4:16.
That He shall shout,— 1 Thess. 4:16.
That the dead will hear His voice,— John 5:28.
That the raised and changed believers will be caught up to meet Him in the air,— 1 Thess. 4:17.
That He will receive them unto Himself,— John 14:3.
That He will minister unto His watching servants,— Luke 12:37.
That He will come to the earth again,— Acts 1:11.
    To the same Mount Olivet from which He ascended,— Zech. 14:4.
    In flaming fire,— 2 Thess. 1:8.
    In the clouds of heaven with power and great glory,— Matt. 24:30; 1 Pet. 1:7; 4:13.
    And stand upon the earth,— Job 19:25.
That His saints (the Church) shall come with Him,— Deut. 33:2; 1 Thess. 3:13; Jude 14.
That every eye shall see Him,— Rev. 1:7.
That He shall destroy Antichrist,— 2 Thess. 2:8.
That He shall sit in His throne,— Matt. 25:31; Rev. 5:13.
That all nations will be gathered before Him, and He will judge them,— Mat. 25:32.
That He shall have the throne of David,— Isa. 9:6-7; Luke 1:32; Ezek. 21:25-27.
That it will be upon the earth,— Jer. 23:5-6.
That He shall have a kingdom,— Dan. 7:13-14.
And rule over it with His saints,— Dan. 7:18, 22, 27; Rev. 5:10.
That all kings and nations shall serve Him,— Psa. 72:11; Isa. 49:6-7; Rev. 15:4.
That the kingdoms of this world shall become His kingdom,— Zech. 9:10; Rev. 11:15.
That the people shall gather unto Him,— Gen. 49:10.
That every knee shall bow to Him,— Isa. 45:23.
That they shall come and worship the King,— Zech. 14:16; Psa. 86:9.
That He shall build up Zion,— Psa. 102:16.
That His throne shall be in Jerusalem,— Jer. 3:17; Isa. 33:20-21.
That the Apostles shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel,— Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:28-30.
That He shall rule all nations,— Psa. 2:8-9; Rev. 2:27.
That He shall rule with judgment and justice,— Isa. 9:7.
That the Temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt,
    (Ezek. chapters 40-48), and the glory of the
    Lord will come into it,— Ezek. 43:2-5; 44:4.
That the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,— Isa. 40:5.
That the wilderness shall be a fruitful field,— Isa. 32:15.
That the desert will blossom as the rose,— Isa. 35:1-2.
And His rest shall be glorious,— Isa. 11:10.
And many more we might mention.

Surely, there is no symbolism in these plain prophecies, which gives us any authority to "spiritualize" them. Rather let us expect that He will as literally fulfill these as He did the others at His first coming.


Copied for WholesomeWords.org from Jesus is Coming by W.E.B. 3rd. rev. New York: Fleming H. Revell, ©1908. Chapter 2.

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