For our third post in this series, we’re going to think about some of the symbols in the Bible. The Bible is full of symbols. Overall this is a good thing because:
- It makes the Bible more interesting to read because it is easier to picture things.
- It means you can link different parts of it together thematically.
- It means things stick in your head better.
- Parables are stories that Jesus told which have a symbolic meaning. So for example the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13v1-23), where a farmer sowed seed that fell on different types of ground which affected how it grew, is a symbolic story about how different people (represented by the different ground) receive the message of the Bible (represented by the seed).
- The unclean disease of leprosy is a picture of the uncleanness of mankind because of sin. Jesus is saying a lot about his role when he heals people who suffer from leprosy. For example in Luke 10 Jesus heals ten lepers, and the episode ends with the words: “go your way, your faith has made you whole.”
- The devil is a symbol for human nature. This has to be a symbol, as if we took it literally it would make no sense – for example, Jesus destroyed the devil, says Hebrews 2v14, yet Revelation talks about it still being around (eg 20v2). But Jesus did destroy his own human nature, never once giving in to his own desires, and asks us to engage in the same fight.
- Metals are symbols. This brings to life a part of the Bible which to some people can be quite dry: the chapters in Exodus about the Tabernacle in the wilderness. This was built of lots of different metals. The wood (representing mankind) had to be overlaid with gold (representing faith) – eg Exodus 25v23. In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, recorded in Daniel 2, the king saw a vision of a man made of many different metals, all symbolising different empires. As the metals get stronger but less rare and precious, so the succeeding empires get stronger and more abundant. This shows the Bible’s amazing accuracy, as this is exactly what happened in history – from the wealthy Babylonians to the strong and widespread Romans.
- Believers are commanded to share a simple meal of bread and wine together, which are symbols of what Jesus did for us, representing (but not turning into) his flesh and his blood. (Matthew 26v26-28).
- The books of prophecy are full of symbols. The whole book of Revelation is full of them, and they can all be interpreted by looking back to see where they occur in the rest of the Bible and what they mean there. But this is a book for advanced study; it was after all written primarily to believers who were very familiar with the rest of their Bibles.
The more you read the Bible, the more you will understand the symbols. The general rule is, let Scripture interpret Scripture, so if you come across one of these symbols, always ask yourself, where else does it appear?
Next time, we’ll be looking at different versions of the Bible.