UNDERSTANDING SYMBOLISM IN THE BIBLE
I. TEXTUAL THOUGHTS
1. Daniel 7:1-3,15-18 - Symbolism is used to teach lessons.
2. Ezekiel 1 - Magnificent symbols can be used to try to describe the glory of God.
3. Matthew 25:30 - Or there can be disgusting symbols to describe the nature of hell.
4. Revelation 1:1-2 - We can be told directly that the writer is using symbolism.
5. John 6:35 - Or symbolism can be so obvious that we are not told - "I am the bread of life."
II. MAIN THEME
There are some principles that we should use in trying to understand the
symbolism of the Bible. Too often we think that we should interpret symbolism the same
way that we interpret plain speech. No, we should use care to understand symbolism as
a separate form of speech. Here are some basic principles to guide our study:
1. Compare any symbolic sections of the Bible with plain teachings on the same subject.
a. The second coming of Jesus - compare Matthew 24 with 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11
b. The amount of saved people - compare Revelation 7:1-9 with 2 Peter 3:8-9
2. Do not interpret symbolism literally. It was not intended to be understood in this manner.
a. Luke 13:31-33 - Herod was not literally a fox; Jesus thought that Herod was clever.
b. Revelation 13:1-4 - Not talking of a literal beast. "Beast" describes something terrible.
3. Always look for an obvious interpretation. Sometimes it is very near the symbol.
a. Revelation 12:3-4 - The great red dragon. Now read verse 9 - the dragon is Satan.
b. Revelation 17:1-4 - The great harlot. Now read verse 18 - the woman is Rome.
4. Examine Old Testament symbols in light of New Testament symbols and vice versa.
a. Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11.....Matthew 24:15-16 and Luke 21:20-24. Daniel was
speaking about the destruction of Jerusalem which would occur in A.D. 70.
b. Revelation 2:20-24 - we can understand the message to Thyatira when we go back
and read the story of Jezebel in the Old Testament - 1 Kings 16 through 2 Kings 9.
5. Note what the scriptures say about themselves. This will save a lot of time in speculation!
a. Matthew 24:1-3 - Jesus was speaking to the disciples about Jerusalem and the temple
b. Revelation 1:1-3 - John said he wrote symbolically and that it would occur soon.
1. The Bible uses a specific numerology that had clear meaning at that time. We need to
seek to know the meaning of numbers the way the biblical people understood them.
a. "1" - unity, oneness
b. "2" - increased strength
c. "3" - divine, godly
d. "4" - earthly, worldly
e. "5" & "10" complete, whole
f. "6" falling short of perfection, evil
g. "7" - perfect, holy
h. "12" - godly order, design
2. Do not look for signs or symbols from God in the world around you today.
a. Matthew 12:38-40 - We have the greatest sign - the resurrection of Jesus.
b. 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 - Satan uses signs/symbols to trick us. Love truth and seek it!
IV. MEMORY VERSE - 2 Thessalonians 2:15