In the last post we looked at the importance of using a literal interpretation when studying the book of Revelation. We highlighted the important adage, “If the plain sense makes sense, then seek no other sense, or you will end up in nonsense.” The logical question then is, “What if the plain sense doesn’t make sense?”

Sometimes we find clear figures of speech in scripture. It’s obvious they should not be interpreted literally. For example, Jesus frequently used hyperbole in his parables as he talked about things like; camels fitting through the eye of a needle, or pointing out a spec of dirt in someone’s eye while we have a plank in our own eye, etc.

Other confusing passages can be better understood simply by studying the larger context. What do the surrounding verses and chapters say? What is the historical context? How can the context of the entire Bible shed light on a specific passage? And still other passages can be better understood by looking for earlier uses of the word or symbol. This is known as “interpreting scripture with scripture” and it this method helps us understand the symbolism found in some of the prophetic passages of the Bible. Such is the case with most of the symbolism in Revelation.

All of the symbols in Revelation first appear somewhere else in scripture, OR the meaning of the symbol is given in the immediate context. This is very important. We look for earlier precedents of a word or symbol and allow them to inform our understanding of symbols found in Revelation. People get into trouble when they bring their own ideas into what the symbols mean. We need to let scripture, logic, and the Holy Spirit be our guide.

One caveat. Notice I didn’t title this post, “The Symbols Are EASY to Understand”. They are not easy to understand, they are just EASIER to understand than most people think. It takes some time, effort, and prayer to understand the symbols Biblically. Helpful commentaries by trusted experts — who believe God’s word is inerrant and who interpret it literally — are greatly helpful as well. Their commentaries help connect the dots to the symbol’s Biblical origin.

There are seven basic categories of symbols that show up in Revelation; animals, colors, objects of nature, man made objects, people and numbers. We read about symbols such as the seven lamp stands, the beast rising out of the sea, a beast with seven heads and ten horns, a woman riding a beast, the seven seals, the seven scrolls, the seven bowls, the “four horsemen of the Apocalypse” (no, not the 1980’s professional wrestling version), and the lamb seen in heaven’s throne room? Those are just a few examples.

We’ll unpack some of the symbolism found in Revelation in future posts, but the main purpose of this post is to help those who have been intimidated or confused by the symbolism in Revelation. You can have confidence that the symbols have clear meaning. It is well worth the effort to uncover their meaning. They just take some study and prayer to understand. Once a symbol is understood it brings fresh meaning to the text and practical insight into how these symbols effect us today!



Here are a few GREAT books to get if you would like to dig deeper.

40 Days Through Revelation: Uncovering the Mystery of the End Times (Rhodes)

Charting the End Times: A Visual Guide to Understanding Bible Prophecy (LaHaye/Ice)

Every Prophecy of the Bible: Clear Explanations for Uncertain Times (Walvoord)

The End Times in Chronological Order, Rhodes

Exploring Bible Prophecy from Genesis to Revelation, LaHaye/Hindson

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