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Tuesday: The Symbolic Language of Revelation — 20 Comments

  1. Praise God, whatever you read in the book of revelation is symbolic but what you are about to read just now is not "I wish you a Happy New Year! "
    God bless you.

  2. Today's lesson raises a very important issue - considerations when interpreting the Bible 'accurately'/appropriately (as per 2 Tim 2:15).

    Unfortunately, the lesson only mentions 2 types of Bible genres: 'literal' and symbolic. It makes no mention the wider range of genres represented.

    Although the lesson does say "as a rule, the reading of the Bible, in general, presupposes a literal understanding of the text (unless the text points to intended symbolism)", this statement tends to convey that the majority of the Bible is to be interpreted literally. What would be more helpful would be to state that when studying the Bible, we need to first and foremost identify the type of genre the text is written in and then interpret that genre accordingly.

    The lesson also states that Revelation is to be interpreted symbolically unless the text points to a literal reading and that "while the scenes and events predicted are real, they usually were expressed in symbolic language". Care must be taken in understanding the concept that "scenes and events predicted are real". It is the main point/s depicted in the scenes and events that are real - not necessarily the actual scene itself. Without being mindful of this, we can interpret things too literally and, in so doing, draw problematic conclusions.

    On the other hand, the lesson does well to hilight the need to interpret Revelation through the lens of the Old Testament to reduce the risk of imposing our own interpretation onto Revelation. However, I would concur with Ellen White's view that understanding Jesus life and ministry is the key to correctly understanding the 'Jewish economy' - the Old Testament. We therefore need to interpret Revelation through a dual lens: (a) the lens of Jesus life and ministry revealed in the New Testament to help us more accurately interpret (b) the Old Testament which will help us more accurately interpret Revelation. In this way, we are allowing scripture to interpret scripture.

    Having said this, I would not want anyone to be put off from studying Revelation due to thinking they may not know enough to do so. It is the Holy Spirit that is given to help any and all who desire to understand God and His Ways - as per Matt 7:7.

    • Phil, I endorse the concepts you stated in the 5th paragraph of your post regarding the principle of anchoring our interpretation of Revelation in OT Scripture. If, as Jesus taught, that Scripture testifies of Him (Jn 5:39 [see also 1 Pt 1:7-12]), then if the book of Revelation primarily reveals Him (Rev 1:1), there must be significant points of harmony between the OT and that "which must shortly take place".

      Thanks for the encouragement of your last paragraph, with the use of Mt 7:7--which we have exemplified in the author of the Old Testament's companion volume to Revelation (Dan 2:16,18).

      Revelation has become a source for many fanciful tales over hundreds of years, including from within the religious community. However, because it's message is intended for a target audience (Rev 1:1), it was sent to a particular group (Rev 1:3-4). While the message may be available for all eyes to see (Dan 5:5-7), like Daniel (Dan 1:17; 2:23), the interpretation lies only among "the wise" (Dan 12:3) who are the "servants" of God (Rev 1:1) and who "have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor 2:10-16). Truthful interpretation will not be found among all who are deemed "wise" (Dan 2:27-28).

  3. Christians or non-Christians like the following: “Well, that’s just your interpretation.”
    Is this a valid statement.
    1)  interpretation of the symbols must be coherent with the entire bible 
    2) Interpretation must agree with the context of the passage
    3) Interpretation must be based on the Word of God
    4) Interpretation may include past, present and future application

  4. Most of us are familiar with the idea of symbols from everyday life and particularly now that computers are our primary means of communication. We look for icons that represent the action we want to take. The science disciplines are also full of symbols. Many of us have spent hours learning the symbols for the Chemical elements and know facts like Fe represents iron, and so on. Symbols like these are meaningful and useful because they have a well-recognized meaning. They would quickly lose their usefulness if you saw the symbol for say, a toilet and found that instead of a toilet was a fire hydrant.

    Are the symbols in Revelation used in the same sense? That is, they have a well-accepted meaning? Or is their meaning deeply mysterious? I ask these questions because I have sometimes received emails and papers, supposedly finding new meaning in the apocalyptic symbolism, that require a knowledge of mathematical expressions, much more involved than found in a high school textbook. I always respond to such correspondence with the question; What do you think is the most obvious idea that this symbol represents?

    Two texts come to mind:

    Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do. 1 Tim 1:4


    But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. Tit 3:9

  5. One thing that helps us understand Revelation, is to first have a knowledge of the sanctuary service. The sanctuary service was a map showing salvation's story, from Passover (cross) to the Feast of Tabernacles (the end of wandering in wilderness and entering the promised land).
    Yes, we need to link it all to Jesus' life, for Jesus IS salvation, and everything in the sanctuary service pointed to Jesus ministry of salvation.
    It is the map of Christ's ministry to help us understand -- not only the cross, but His ministry AFTER the cross.

    The lampstands, incense, altar of incense, censers, ark, lamb, and much more are taken from the sanctuary service.

  6. I would also add the symbols convey concepts, like holding 🌟 in his hands can mean caring as well as ownership and control, how to know which one or can it be both? Why symbols? One John was in prison and didn't want to be censored. Two it was for the people at that time and for those at the end of time. So the LORD gave him a message in code.

  7. Am glad for these eye opening comments on the correct approach to getting the right meaning from the book of Revelation. Since is the Revelation of Jesus, one must know who Jesus is, and in doing so the new testament and the Old Testament play indispensable roles. As in the opening verses for today, symbolic language is all there in the Bible and the meanings are also therein. No human interpretation or reasoning is needed in understanding the book. Holy Spirit guide us in the study.

  8. All this is said and that is great, however, I am sure that one of you can decipher for us and let us know what each symbol means. I know what the statute meant, but,I would love to know the meaning to the 4 heads monster, and I bet I am not the only one. Maurice, I shared on Facebook your writing about the Second Coming of Jesus and no one responded. I thought it was a great article. Keep us updated please with what these symbols mean.

  9. At the beginning of Revelation there is a clue that the book of Daniel will be very helpful in decoding Revelation. There is an allusion to Daniel 2 - did you notice it? It is clearer in the Greek - it is the combination of the words “signified” with the unusual expression “what must take place” (Rev. 1:1, RSV, NIV, Greek: a dei genesthai) the only other place in the Bible it is found is in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a great image where God “signified” (2:45) to him “what must take place” (2:28) in the last days. What was to be “in the last days” in Daniel is now “soon” in Revelation.

    Dan 2:28  But there is a God in Heaven who *reveals secrets and makes known* to King Nebuchadnezzar *what shall be in the latter days*. Your dream, and the visions of your head upon your bed are these. 
    Dan 2:45  Because you saw that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it crushes the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold, the great God has *made known* to the king *what shall occur after this*. And the dream is certain, and its meaning is sure. 

    • Can you please explain the use of your word 'signified'? I only saw the word to show in Revelation 1:1

      • Jennifer, here is the KJV version:
        Rev 1:1  The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and *signified* it by his angel unto his servant John:

        the greek "sēmainō" may be translated "made known" but that loses the full meaning because the word *signified* indicates that much of the book is symbolic.

        • The structure of the word ‘signified’ affirms it’s connection with signs/symbols: ‘sign’-ified, meaning to reveal by means of signs and symbols.

          • The word for “signified” here (esêmanen, from sêmainô) occurs in five other places in the New Testament (John 12:33; 18:32; 21:19; Acts 11:28; 25:27).

            Seeing as Revelation is also written by John, let us check how he uses it in his gospel - we see it is clearly a symbol of what actually will happen.

            We need to take note that it is Jesus who chooses the symbols in Revelation not John - thus the big picture is from Jesus for us.

            Joh 12:32-33  And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all to Myself.  33  But He said this, *signifying* what kind of death He was about to die.
            Joh 21:18-19  Truly, truly, I say to you, When you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you wished. But when you grow old, you shall stretch forth your hands and another shall gird you and carry you where you do not wish.  19  He spoke this *signifying* by what death he should glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, Follow Me.

  10. The revelation of Jesus,God gave it to Him and Jesus himself sent it with his angel couched in symbols to give to john .This is how heaven communicates with man -God the father to Jesus his son,from His son to the angels and from the angels to man.Pretty straightforward.

  11. These lessons in revelation are so deep, therefore it is important that those who have a greater understanding of these symbols with their proper & simple interpretation let's try our best to help out. That way no one will remain behind.

      • Don't be put off by not having a college degree. Remember, Jesus bypassed the rabbis and teachers of His time who had 'college degrees' and instead chose 'unschooled' men and women to become His followers.

        Appetite matters more than formal qualifications (see Lk 11:19; Matt 5:6).

        The Holy Spirit is ready and waiting to open our eyes.

        And there is also a community of people here willing to help out - like Macheba said above.... so that no-one gets left behind.

        Revelation has a 'simple' meaning for those who are starting out and it also has deeper layers of meaning for those who are ready and wanting to dig deeper. There is something in it according to everyone's need.


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