If you haven't worked it out some parts of the Bible are a little difficult to understand. So what do you do when you find a passage that you can't work out? Do you interpret it through the eyes of the rest of Scripture or through the newspaper?
Option One is that you look through the rest of the Bible to see what it has to say on that passage, its key words or themes. This approach is built on the idea that the Bible interprets itself because it has a completeness or wholeness to its message,along with the fact it has one author, that is God.
Option Two is that you search for an explanation in current literary styles or current world events. Often you will see people who may have used Option One to solve most Biblical questions, suddenly change to Option Two when it comes to searching for meaning in the prophetic books such as Revelation.
Let's look at an example. The Jehovah's Witnesses are a group that say that the Bible is God's Word and that they follow Option One. Ironically, they don't acknowledge Jesus or the Holy Spirit as divine, which is how all Christians have interpreted the Bible. This leads them to have a completely different view on salvation. One of their more recent highlights is their idea that 1914 was the date that Satan was cast down to earth from heaven as explained in Revelation 12 (and explained in Luke 21). This, they say, is when Jesus' kingdom started. Let's use this as an example of ways to examine a Bible passage.
Their view is to read this passage on the end times and ask, "What could this be about?" To answer this question they turn to the history books (Option two) and make things fit this Biblical notion of "nation will rise against nation" (Luke 21 verse 10). History shows that over 90% of the world's nations were involved in World War I that started in 1914. This war was called "The Great War." So this must support this idea that WWI was what the Bible was talking about (shouldn't it?!).
The JW's conclusion is that this must have been the time Satan was cast down from heaven to cause havoc on the earth and bring in the end times. In summary, the JW's Option Two interpretation takes a Bible passage and works backward looking for newspaper/historic events that can fit into the Bible text.
There are several problems with Option Two. Firstly, history is never as neat as it is written in the papers or history books. The war, and as the JWs say, Satan cast downstarted in 1914. But what about the background of the war starting with the various alliances such as the 1815 "Holy Alliance" of Prussia, Russia and Austria? Surely the term like "Holy" is made to fit into this Option Two theory?! Or what about the 1907 Anglo-Russian Convention that helped lead these nations into the conflict?
The point is the Great War didn't suddenly appear in 1914 but, like all world events, developed from a complex series of antecedents. So how does the JW's theory fit this? Was Satan cast down in 1907 or was he just getting things ready for himself being kicked out of heaven in 1914? The other issue is it is retrospective. We know 1914 was a significant year but this approach tries to make it fit into the Biblical reference. If you try and make it fit you can but the details don't stack up as nicely as one might like. Option Two has problems.
Secondly, if you look hard enough through the newspaper or world history you will find something that fits your theory. Of course you could look at other world events and come up with the same conclusions e.g. the plagues that wiped out a third of the European population. Wasn't this the percentage Revelation talks about with the coming of the great judgements? (see The Revelation 9 verse 15; also see Luke 21 verse 11) Could this have been when Satan started to wreak havoc instead? Or what about the troubling development of Ebola, or Islamic State Militants? Was THIS the start of the great time of tribulation? Again Option 2 has problems.
The problem originates from the way you read the Bible. In this case, reading it through the eyes of the newspaper or history books always finds a specious solution and lots of followers sucked into the false logic.
Other biblical passages
The second way to view this situation is to look for other passages in the Bible that shed light on the issue. To do this you have to take note of the historical context of each book and its grammar. In the book of Job we read this strange situation of Satan in heaven bringing to God accusations against Job. So when was he kicked out? Jesus said that He saw (past tense) Satan fall from heaven like lightening (Luke 10).
The context is that the disciples are sent out in pairs to the places Jesus was going to travel (future tense). Jesus' kingdom is being proclaimed (i.e. it HAS arrives Mark 1 verse 15) and as a result Satan's grasp is being diminished. The disciples rejoice that they are able to see the power of Jesus' kingdom (i.e. they cast out demons). Jesus then explains that Satan had already been cast out of heaven and that's why they have this power and authority in His name. All this must have been before Jesus death (i.e. sometime before 33AD).
We know ultimately that Jesus' victory, through His sacrificial death and resurrection completes His work and we wait for the full inauguration of His kingdom. Christ's followers are given this power and authority (Matthew 28) to continue His work through the counselling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). The point is the Bible is clear Satan was cast out of heaven before 1914. Jesus saw it and the disciples experienced the result.
Yes, we live in the end times with many trials. But to set a date to when Satan started, as the JW's do, is a different way of interpreting the Bible. Even today we continue to see this battle with Satan but we know we have victory because of what Jesus has done.
This is the Biblical application of these passages, not trying to search the papers to find something that fits. The completeness of the Biblical storyline shows that it is the best way to interpret those difficult sections of the Bible.
There is a phrase: "Every heretic has his verse." That is, you can take any verse and twist it to suit your argument. And you can take a major world event, such as WWI, and support it with a Bible verse to conclude THAT is when Satan was cast down. The problem is this puts us in the role of interpreting Scripture.
Instead, the Bible interprets itself and we understand it, through the counsel of the Holy Spirit (see John 14 and 16) and by examining other parts of the Bible that speak to the issue. And maybe then if it is still unclear then the issue isn't that important anyway.
Jeremy Dover is a former sports scientist and pastor
Jeremy Dover's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-dover.html