There are six different types of biblical prophecies and each has a specific methodology and process of fulfillment. One of the biggest mistakes being made, particularly by Christian eschatologists, is assuming that all prophecies are created equal and are to be interpreted in an identical manner. In fact, each of the six types of prophecies has a unique methodology for ensuring an accurate and iron-clad interpretation. Some may appear to have more than one characteristic, but they derive their identity from the dominant element.
The six distinct types of biblical prophecies can be characterized as Waiting, Wanting, Running, Elliptical, Idiopathic, and Contingent. A Waiting prophecy is one in which only time is at play. The individuals are told that in a specific number of days, weeks, months, or years, certain events will take place. They need only wait for the expiration of time. A Wanting prophecy is one in which the person being given the prophecy has a need that will be met by fulfillment of the prophecy. Abraham's desire for an heir and God's promise to him is one example of a Wanting prophecy (Genesis 15).
A Running prophecy is one in which the passage of time depends in part on the recipient or recipients of the prophecy taking certain actions or doing something specific. The faster they take action, the sooner the prophecy will be fulfilled. An Elliptical prophecy relates to the human body. It predicts that certain events will happen to the human body under certain circumstances.
One example of a Running prophecy is Genesis 2:17 in which God said to Adam that if he ate from a certain tree in the Garden of Eden, he would die spiritually. In contrast, an example of an Elliptical prophecy that relates to the human body is given in the account of the exodus. God told Moses that every firstborn male in Egypt would die physically if Pharaoh refused to release the Israelites from their enslavement (Exodus 11:1-7).
In an Idiopathic prophecy, the person being given the prophecy is required to do something before the prophecy will manifest. It differs from a Running prophecy because a Running prophecy always will manifest eventually, whereas an Idiopathic prophecy may or may not manifest, depending on whether the person takes the necessary action. Prophecies that relate to the consequences of violating spiritual law are generally Idiopathic prophecies. Finally, a Contingent prophecy is one that requires certain events to take place before it will manifest. The person or persons to whom the prophecy is given generally have no control over when the contingent event or condition precedent will occur.
A Contingent prophecy is exemplified in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 in which the Scriptures state that Jesus' return to earth would take place after the man of lawlessness, the final antichrist, is revealed. Hence, Jesus stated confidently in Mark 13:32-37 that no one living in the first century, not even he, knew the day or the hour of his return. The prophecy is Contingent because it contains the condition precedent that the antichrist must first be revealed, and those hearing the prophecy had no control over when that event would occur. In fact, only when certain events begin to occur would one be able to identify the antichrist a fortiori, and thereby determine the imminence of Christ's return.
Contingent prophecies are among the most difficult to interpret because they manifest imperceptibly, and their manifestation is revealed only to those who are keeping watch and relying on the Holy Spirit of God. The timing of Jesus' birth, as well as his return to the earth to vanquish the antichrist and establish his kingdom, are both Contingent prophecies. His birth was hidden from the Israelites because of their sin, and his return to earth will be hidden from those who refuse to accept and live in the light of the Holy Spirit of God (1 Thessalonians 5:4-8; John 3:19-21).