Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
One of the primary roles of the Holy Spirit is to teach us about God. Jesus said as much when he explained, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26). However oftentimes, even when the Holy Spirit speaks, we don’t quite get it. This is when we see folks doing crazy and/or dangerous things supposedly in God’s name. Because of a misunderstanding somewhere along the line saved people in Christ can make terrible mistakes and have to live with the consequences.
This is the situation that happened to Caiaphas, the high priest of Jesus’ time. As high priest I have no doubt that he was very familiar with the Scriptures and that the Lord was with him. In fact, according to the Bible, God did speak to him and he had prophesied about Jesus’ coming death and the results thereof. History records,
He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one (John 11:51-52).
As you can see, the Bible confirms his prophecy of Christ’s death as legitimately a word from the Lord. The Holy Spirit told Caiaphas that Jesus would die for everyone; well, all of “God’s children” anyway. Now, after the fact we know that Jesus’ death was for our sins; as it is written, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25). And we also know that “God’s children” are all believers; for the Bible says,
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:26-29).
Caiaphas, however, didn’t know all of this and interpreted the prophecy differently. During a discussion we read as the Pharisees talk about Jesus,
“If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than the whole nation perish” (John 11:48-49).
This comment was followed by the explanation that we already read above to legitimize his words. But Caiaphas didn’t understand his prophecy exactly; he thought it was imperative that Jesus die in order to save Israel from Rome (not from their sins). Therefore the religious leaders began moving in the wrong direction. We know because after explaining the prophecy, the Bible tells us, “So from that day on they plotted to take his life” (John 11:53). The him being referred to is Jesus.
The Bible says,
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3).
How we listen to the Holy Spirit’s voice (and even our pastor’s) can be greatly affected by our heart. Someone with unresolved anger may interpret the Word into violence. We saw this in action during the Salem witch trials. Or someone with a lustful heart may twist the Word to suit their needs. There have been numerous examples of this, with religious leaders getting out of control and either imposing sexual mandates on their congregation or having sexual relations with their members. Or another example, someone who is greedy may turn God’s promises into justification to seek worldly wealth. This is actually a fairly common problem today. God says in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” and everyone embraces that as some sort of “if I follow God, he’ll pay me” Scripture, forgetting that just a page earlier (in the same chapter) Jesus also teaches,
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21).
The key to both of these Scriptures can be found in Philippians 4:19 where Paul explains, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Note that he said your “needs,” the Lord defines “needs” as “what you need to glorify him”; that is to say, the Lord will keep you supplied with enough. We know this because Paul explained before that,
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:11-13).
During his travels Paul experienced many styles of life, and the Lord kept him supplied as to his needs as God saw them- even in hunger and want. The point is, people’s hearts can misunderstand the Lord’s directives quite easily, and it can create issues.
How do we overcome this problem? Paul tells us, “Test everything. Hold on to the good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). What is good? Good is what agrees with the Word of God. For it is written,
The law of the Lord is perfect,
Reviving the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
Making wise the simple (Psalms 19:7).
Since the Bible is perfect, then it should be the standard by which all prophetic messages are measured. God says, “I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed” (Malachi 3:6). So if what you think God is telling you doesn’t line up with his Word, then you’re probably off-course. Therefore, by reading the Bible every day you can stay in constant contact with God’s Word’s directly from him. The psalmist wrote, “You word is a lamp to my feet, and a light for my path” (Psalms 119:105). The Word of God can be for you too, so stay in it daily; this will help maintain a clearer understanding of God and his ways. I also recommend watching sermons and seminars frequently (besides going to church), daily if possible -and not just from one pastor either, lest you find one that always agrees with you and just feed your own desires. By utilizing multiple pastors you can get a second opinion on what you think God is trying to tell you. Even the Bible notes that “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22). And another thing, when the Holy Spirit does tell you something, demand Scripture. I’ve found that if you ask him for some references, the Holy Spirit will lay out more than enough Bible verses to help clarify his point.
Anyway, keep praying and seeking God. But remember to keep your opinion out of the equation so that you can hear God clearly. John the Baptist realized it was better for him to give way to Christ. Therefore he taught,
The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less (John 3:29-30).
In the end, your opinion doesn’t really matter, because the Lord will do his thing anyway. He even tells us his plan and tells us to shut up,
Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth (Psalms 46:11).
So approach the Lord with humbleness and be willing to hear that your opinion is wrong. Keep an open mind to the Holy Spirit and always check what you hear against the Word of God. But please, listen for the Lord and listen to the Lord- he’ll teach you and guide you and make life so much better!