Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Keys to the Interpretation of Prophecy: Symbols

Dr. David R. ReaganBy

I believe God knows how to communicate. I believe He says what He means and means what He says. I don't believe you have to have a doctorate in hermeneutics to understand the Bible. The essentials, instead, are an honest heart and the filling of God's Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:10-16).

One crucial key is to approach the Scriptures with childlike faith. Dr. Henry Morris addresses this issue in his great commentary on Revelation, called The Revelation Record. He says, "Revelation is not difficult to understand. It is difficult to believe. If you will believe it, you will understand it."

For example, in Revelation 7 it says that at the start of the Tribulation God is going to seal a great host of Jews to serve as His special "bond-servants." The text specifies that the number will be 144,000, and that 12,000 will be selected from each of 12 specified tribes.

Now, I ask you: What would God have to do to convince us that He intends to set aside 144,000 Jews for special service during the Tribulation? The text is crystal clear. Yet, hundreds of commentators have denied the clear meaning and have spiritualized the passage to make it refer to the Church! This is reckless handling of God's Word, and it produces nothing but confusion.

The Meaning of Symbols

"But what about symbols?" some ask. Another crucial key is to keep in mind that a symbol stands for something, otherwise it would not be a symbol. There is always a literal reality or plain sense meaning behind every symbol.

Jesus is called "the rose of Sharon." He is not referred to as "the tumbleweed of Texas." The image that a rose conjures up is something beautiful; a tumbleweed is ugly.

The Bible is its own best interpreter as to the meaning of the symbols which it uses. Sometimes the symbols are clearly explained, as when God reveals to Ezekiel the meaning of the symbols in his vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37:11-14). In like manner, the apostle John was told the meaning of certain symbols which he saw in his Patmos vision of the glorified Lord (Revelation 1:20).

At other times, a simple search of the Scriptures will reveal the meaning of a symbol. Consider the statement in Revelation 12:14 where it says that the Jewish remnant will escape from the Antichrist into the wilderness "on the two wings of the great eagle."

Is this a literal eagle? Is it an air lift provided by the U.S.A. whose national symbol is an eagle?

A concordance search will show that the same symbolism is used in Exodus 19:4 to describe the flight of the children of Israel as they escaped from Egypt. The symbol, as Exodus 19 makes clear, is a poetic reference to the loving care of God.


In the third part of this series on the keys to interpreting Bible prophecy, we'll look at the importance of context and how to reconcile passages.

1 comment:

Susie said...

I agree with the literal and plain sense approach to bi le interpretation... but i have always wondered ... how the heck is God gonna pick exactly 12000 from each tribe??? Interesting..