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Symbolism in the Revelation Read Rev 1: -1-3 and comment “ shall soon come to pass” Rev 1:1-3 (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: (2) Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. (3) Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand. Four major schools of interpretation • Idealist • Preterist • Historicist • Futurist The origin of the book Today we will discuss symbolism in the Revelation. The style of the book is very critical if we are to understand the meaning of the book. Let’s consider hoe this book is communicated to John. Rev 1:1 “…he sent and signified it by his angel..” Signified = communicated – the word was used in NT days to describe something that was communicated by symbols. Signal Corps.- used flags, signal lights, 1. Using this means of communication the person is not going to communicate in plain terms. To demonstrate this look with me at the Gospel of John where John uses this verb at least three times. a. Joh 12:32-33 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die. b. Joh 18:31-32 Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death: That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying what death he should die. c. Joh 21:18-19 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me. d. The use of this word indicates that the Lord Jesus was being less than plain to hearers. He used signs and symbols to communicate . 2. The second thing we should note is that this word does not mean the message was being concealed. 3. The third thing we should mention is that the word indicates that a message is being conveyed by signs or symbols. This type of literature is called apocalyptic literature. 1. Both the OT and the NT contain this type of literature. 2. That is it is a message communicated through signs and symbols, 3. Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah are all apocalyptic literature. 4. In the NT the book of Revelation is the only book written in this style. Why is this type of literature used in NT? 1. The major reason is that the message communicates impending judgment, a. Just as poetry is the style we use when we want to communicate love to those close to us. b. The message of the book demands this style 2. The second reason this style was used was to avoid the inevitable reaction of the Roman Empire to the message. a. Rome is going to be destroyed. This message would not be received by the Roman world. b. Hence the message is veiled to hide the message from the Christian persecuting emperor. Because of the symbolism many conclude that the book is a closed book. 1. They conclude we don’t know what the symbols mean; therefore we can never properly understand the meaning. a. 144,000 Literal or symbolic b. 7 Seals , White stone, seven headed man, tree of life, locust 2. This leads people to one of two conclusions. a. It is a closed book we cannot understand it. b. Men wildly speculate and use there own imaginations to interpret the book. 3. Neither of these conclusions is correct. The book is not closed, and it can be biblically interpreted by comparing spiritual things with spiritual. How can we interpret or understand the symbols in Revelation? 1. The symbols used in Revelation fall into four major categories. a. Self interpreted symbols – These symbols are interpreted by the book itself. i. Rev 1:20 – Stars are the angels, seven lamp stands are churches ii. Rev 4:5 – seven lamps are seven spirits of God iii. Rev 5:8 – incense is the prayers of the saints iv. Rev 7:13 – who are the deceased, saints of God v. Rev 12:9 – Dragon is Satan vi. Rev 17:9 – Seven heads are seven mountains, sevens horns are seven kingdoms b. Symbols that are explained by OT scripture. (largest category in book) i. 238 Quotations and allusions in this book taken from the OT. ii. 45 Quotations taken from Daniel alone. (Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah) iii. We cannot understand the Revelation without understanding the OT. iv. Our interpretation of Revelation will depend on our understanding of the OT. v. Rev 2:7 – tree of life - Gen 2-3 vi. Rev 2:17 – Manna – vii. We are guided by the scriptures themselves in understanding the symbolism. c. Some symbols are explained by the life and the cultural of the first century believers. i. White stone, seals that are broken, and many others ii. These we will interpret in light of the culture. d. The last category of symbols will be interpreted from the context of the passage. What I am suggesting is that the Book of the Revelation is not a locked book. Scattered throughout the book are keys that a diligent student will find and use to open the meaning of the book. “In interpreting symbolism the first critical requirement is restraint.” We will use restraint A quote from Kelly is helpful “ It will always remain an aura of mystery around symbols because many are never quite certain just what they denote, nevertheless when the time of fulfillment approaches they will become constant and plainer and the final identification will be made by those who witness the sins that the symbols prophetically describe.” As the time of fulfillment approaches the significance of the symbol will become plainer. Now saying that I believe that we understand the Revelation better than Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon and others. When viewing today’s political, economic religious, technology we are in a position to better identify the symbols. However we cannot be dogmatic unless the scripture is dogmatic. So we will hesitate when making today’s event fit the prophetic mold. Rev 1:3 Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand. One of Seven Beatitudes Found in Revelation 1. Blessed is the reader and the hearer and keep those things. 2. There is no value in going thru the word if the word does not go thru you. 3. We are not studying to satisfy our curiosity, or link speculation with the Revelation. 4. We are studying to be blessed by God’s truth.
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