KEY NUMBER 1 †
THE Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth." (II Tim. 2:15) One way to rightly divide the Bible is to take note of its time divisions as they relate to the outworking of Godís plan for the recovery of the human race from sin and death.
One of the major time contrasts is between the period in human experience when Satan, sin, and death are reigning in the world, and the age when Christ will be reigning to destroy sin and death. Concerning the period of the reign of sin and death we read: "Now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered." (Mal 3:15) On the other hand, concerning the era of Christís reign we read, "In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth." (Ps. 72:7) Manifestly, if we attempt to apply both of these texts of Scripture to the same period of time, they will be contradictory.
The Apostle Paul wrote, "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived." (II Tim. 3:12,13) Those in every age who have been loyal to the LORD and to his principles of righteousness have been persecuted by the godless.
But this will not always be true. The Prophet Isaiah wrote of a time when the "rebuke of His people shall He take away from off all the earth." (Isa 25:8) This refers to the future, when the kingdom of Christ will be ruling in the affairs of men.
Then the righteous will be the favored ones, and all the wicked will God destroy.óPs. 145:20 Satan is the "god of this world," and he has blinded the minds of the people and prevented them from knowing God and his beloved Son, Christ Jesus; but of the future age we read that then the knowledge of the LORD will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea. (Isa 11:9; II Cor. 4:4) At that time, Satan will be bound, and Christ will be the Ruler; thus the great difference in world conditions.óRe 20:1- 3,6; Ps. 72:8† These are but a few examples of the importance of noting to what period of time in Godís plan a text of Scripture applies, in order to understand it properly, and to see its harmony with other texts. Proper time application is therefore a very important "key" in the unlocking of the Word of God.
KEY NUMBER 2 †
Another important key to the Scriptures is an understanding of the fact that different rewards are promised to those who faithfully serve the LORD, depending upon the particular time period in which one may live. Beginning with the First Advent of Jesus, Godís promises to his faithful people that in the resurrection they will be exalted to heavenly life. Concerning this the Apostle Peter wrote: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you."óI Pet. 1:3,4 This same Apostle Peter, preaching to an audience of unbelieving Jews shortly after Pentecost, told them about the Second Coming of Christ, and explained that following his return there would be "times of restitution of all things." To this Peter added that this future time of restoration had been spoken by the mouth of all Godís holy prophets since the world began. (Ac 3:19-23) No member of the human race has ever lived in heaven, hence could not be restored to heaven. Man was created to live on the earth; thus the restitution, or restoration, of the people means everlasting life on earth, not in heaven.
Therefore, when we study the Bible we will find that some of its promises, particularly those of the Old Testament, describe blessings of health and everlasting life as humans on the earth; while others, particularly those of the New Testament, speak of eternal life in heaven. To bear this in mind is to use a very effective "key" in unlocking the meaning of the Word of God. If we ignore this fact, we may well try to imagine people building houses and planting vineyards in heaven.óIsa 65:21,22
KEY NUMBER 3
A third important key to use in unlocking the meaning of the Word of God is a recognition of the fact that much of its language is pictorial, or symbolic.
Concerning Godís care for his people, David wrote: "The LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside† the still waters." (Ps 23:1,2) We know that this is figurative language, and not literal; but what a beautiful picture it presents of Godís loving care!
We find that much figurative language is used in presenting all the various truths of the Bible. Using language literally, the Apostle Paul wrote: "The wages of sin is death." (Ro 6:23) To help us grasp the reality of this basic truth of the Word of God, various symbols are used, one of them being fire. Fire is one of the most destructive elements known to man; so the LORD used it to depict the reality and the completeness of the destruction which will eventually befall all incorrigible sinners.
Concerning the future time when Christ will be reigning, the Apostle Peter said that those who then disobey will "be destroyed from among the people." (Ac 3:23) Jesus illustrated this destruction of the incorrigibly wicked as being burned in the fires of Gehenna, translated "hell" in Mt 10:28. Failure to note properly this symbolic use of language, some have concluded that the wicked would live in hell forever, whereas hell is scripturally shown to be the condition of destruction, or of death.
The Bible tells us that God created the earth "not in vain," that he "formed it to be inhabited." The Bible also declares that "the earth abideth forever." (Isa 45:18; Eccles. 1:4) Thus, by these texts and others, the Bible assures us that the earth will never be destroyed, that it will be manís everlasting home. This is a basic truth of Godís Word, set forth over and over again by literal language.
However, the Bible also teaches that manís social order, called a "world," is to be destroyed to make way for the kingdom of Christ. This destruction of a "world" or social order is symbolically described by the use of the words "fire", "storms", "earthquakes", etc. Some have erroneously concluded from these symbolically stated prophecies that God intends to destroy the earth itself by literal fire.
However, this is far from the thought, for the basic fact is that "the earth abideth forever."óEccles. 1:4 Thus we have these three "keys" to help us unlock the meaning of the Bible: (1) the proper application of time in the events described; (2) a recognition of the fact that some of the Bibleís promises are heavenly, and some earthly; and (3) noting the fact that the Bible uses both literal and symbolic language. The use of these three "keys" makes the Bible like a new and lucid book.