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This is the third in a three part series, to begin at the beginning, at the first post, please click here.
Yesterday we considered the understandings of Charles Spurgeon on the subject of symbolism. Today we explore the dangers of excessive symbolism.
We can easily reduce the Book of Revelation until it becomes a cosmic puzzle where commentators can compete to invent the latest fanciful metaphorical meaning for something which very often is best understood in a simple and literal way.
Consider the teaching of Revelation of the end-time emergence of an anti-Christ person who is portrayed as a beast.
Revelation 13:1 ‘And the dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads with ten crowns on his horns.’
This beast is someone who completely gives themselves to the enemy and allows himself to be taken over and empowered by the enemy. He becomes an evil parody of Christ.
The imagery of the beast is clearly explained by the prophet Daniel.
Daniel 7:3 ‘Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea.’
Daniel 7:7 ‘After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast – terrifying and frightening and very powerful…It was different from all the former beasts and it had ten horns.’
The beast of Daniel and the beast of Revelation are obviously one and the same. They both describe an end-time kingdom and an end-time individual evil king.
Therefore our understanding of the beast of Revelation chapter thirteen should be determined by Daniel chapter seven.
By contrast, some teach that ‘the end-time beast’ of Revelation 13:1 represents the sins of men that wages war against the human soul. The ‘mark of the beast’ then becomes the inner thoughts and heart attitudes of fallen man.
This turns a coming reality into an abstract metaphor.
Scripture is full of levels and there will always be an element of truth in this understanding. Certainly the face of a resolute sinner is often etched with the darkness of his thoughts.
However, and this is really important, the thrust of the text is much more real and actual. An actual end-time beast, an actual person, will arise and make war against the Church. Allegorizing the meaning out of the text will lead a generation of Christians to be completely unprepared for the reality of the emerging anti-Christ when he comes. As a result, many will be taken by surprise by his shock-and-awe tactics and will fail out of fear and their precious symbols and metaphors will be of no help whatsoever. They will have been misled.
Matthew 24:10 ‘At that time, many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other.’
Our conclusion then is that symbolism certainly does occur in scripture but this does not allow us to go overboard and make everything a symbol of this or that, whilst at the same time removing its true meaning. Most times we can find the meaning for any symbolism used in scripture by searching scripture itself for an explanation.
A simple literal understanding most often works best.
If we come across a road-sign that says: ‘Danger, cliff ahead’, we may be very clever and interpret this as being a metaphorical statement concerning the plight of modern society in the twenty-first century.
However, if we fail to heed the simple warning of the road-sign and keep going, then we will fall off the edge of the cliff to our demise!
And we will only have ourselves to blame.
Matthew 24:25 ‘See, I have told you ahead of time.’
This is the third in a three part series.
Thank you for reading this…