Please either listen to the three minute audio clip above or read the notes below or both at the same time!
The grave danger that we all face, whenever we come across a verse in scripture that we feel uneasy with, or that does not fit into our carefully crafted theologies, is to reach for the wand of metaphor and turn everything into a raft of symbols upon which we hang desperately.
By this means, we can create our own personal understanding of scripture, and thus become the author of our own outcomes. Rather than being brought to our knees by the sharp awkwardness of God’s word, we elevate ourselves to the point where we can become as God and write our own sacred scriptures.
It is absolutely true that symbolism does exist in scripture. Jesus is described as a lamb but he is certainly not a woolly animal with four legs. And he does not have a sharp sword coming out of his mouth!
The golden rule holds that scripture explains biblical scripture. One classic example is Revelation 1:20 where we are clearly told that the golden lampstand represents the seven churches of the province of Asia.
Revelation 1:20 ‘The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.’
There are numerous other examples in Revelation of symbolism being explained just a few verses further on. There is absolutely no need for commentators to turn to Greek secular literature to explain biblical symbolism as some have the habit of doing.
Revelation describes challenging times ahead but we can foolishly defuse the urgency of the message of Revelation by watering it down to an abstract, allegorical nothingness.
Consider the example of Noah in Genesis:
Back in the day, when Noah preached the coming rains, perhaps some of his neighbours convinced themselves he was speaking metaphorically. Perhaps they saw the rains as being symbolic of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit or something like that. Sadly they were very wrong. Noah was not speaking metaphorically and the rains were very real and their demise was very tragic!
Tomorrow we will explore the advice given by Charles Spurgeon on the dangers of an overactive imagination as regards symbolism.