Yet another key—and easily overlooked—word in the opening verse of Revelation has to do with the symbols we find in the book. We are told that God “signified” the message through the angel to give to John. He conveyed the message by signs or symbols. When we observe wordless road signs or various international symbols, we understand what they mean by their simplicity and context. With this key word signified, we are given a clue as to the main literary device that would be used in Revelation.
This does not mean that the symbols are to be spiritualized and thus lose their meaning. What it means is that the symbols point to a greater reality—a fulfillment of that symbol’s typology from the Old Testament. It’s as if someone condensed all of the themes from the Old Testament and poured them into Revelation, where we find their ultimate fulfillment. Whenever a symbol is used in Revelation, we must do a bit of homework to see how this symbol was used elsewhere in Scripture. We don’t get to pick and decide for ourselves the meaning of the symbols. We should allow the Bible to reveal their meanings as we track down the symbols’ previous uses in Scripture. The larger context of Scripture helps to provide the meaning of each specific symbol. We should let Scripture interpret Scripture whenever symbols are used.
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