Why Use Symbols in Scripture

Luke 8:10

And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.”

Symbols have been prevalent from the beginning of time.  Our Bible is filled with symbols.  Some we understand and some we do not.  The most recognized symbol in probably all the world is the cross.  Without even thinking we automatically know what it means to us personally and to all mankind as well.

The Book of Revelation is probably filed with more symbols that we do not comprehend than in any other book of the bible.  Quoting from chapter 5 of The Book of Revelation for Dummies

“The simple truth is that almost everyone would have preferred for John to be Captain Obvious, laying out the Revelation of Jesus in as clear a manner as possible.  Understanding the point of the book would be so much easier if specifics such as there were used.  Jesus will be coming back on March 3, 2019.  Be there or be square.  Beware, the Antichrist will be named Gilligan.  His cohort will be known as the Skipper.  The Millennium is a figurative term meant to represent the Super Bowl halftime show.  In other words, instead of Scripture, almost everyone would prefer a glorified legal document that lists out the complete facts of the last days.  After all, with such a document in hand, people wouldn’t need to wrestle with the interpretations.”

So why all the symbolism?  The Bible is filled with symbolism.  Consider the books of Daniel, Ezekiel and Zechariah in particular.  They all use a great amount of imagery.  Imagery is simply a devise used in literature, both sacred and secular.  The sacred in this particular instance is God’s Word.  God, Himself, utilized this literary method when speaking to His prophets in His Word.

Jesus may not have used the same style exactly as John did in Revelation or as Daniel or Ezekiel, but He did speak to his listeners in parables, which are, in effect, symbolic stories meant to define and illustrate truth. 

To illustrate and explain truth, the understanding of the listener must be taken into account.  Remember all of the times the scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus questions about various topics, mostly to trap Him in some blasphemy.  He answered them mostly in words or parables they could not comprehend simply because of the hardness of their hearts.  Other listeners who were spiritually hungry could understand and comprehend what He said to them.  That is why so many of them followed Him and sought out his wisdom.  He spoke their language.

1 Corinthians 2:4-14 – And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.  However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.  But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  But as it is written:  “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”  But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.  For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.  These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.  But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

Acts 17:11 – These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.

2 Timothy 2:15 – Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

The symbolism throughout the Bible is there for the hungry to search out and know, simply because of their hunger and desire.  To those wanting to create a controversy or stir up a debate, the truth in God’s Word is hidden from them. 

Seven time in chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation Jesus says “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

It has been said also that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.”  Symbolism and imagery can provide greater meaning than plain words alone.  Symbolism is also an attention getter.  Teachers of young children in particular use this style of learning.  Stories, symbols, imagery and other literary devises also make for much more interesting story.  For example, instead of saying, “The boy walked down the street,” you might say, “The young red-haired boy walked joyfully down the tree-lined street greeting friends and neighbors with a big smile and wave of the hand.’

Luke 8:10 – And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.”

Symbols can be utilized to win the lost.  You be a symbol.  Be Christ like!

Sheep or Goat?

Matthew 25:31-46

When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’  “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’  “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’  “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

This parable shows two different groups of people at the day of judgement.

NOTE: Both groups seem surprised at the Lord’s comments to them.

The sheep did not really recognize that they had been serving Christ when they ministered to the sick, the lonely, those in jail and in the hospital.  They had not done their good deeds to others for a reward.  They had simply served others out of their love for Christ – not because it was the right thing to do – but because it was the natural thing – the thing that sheep do.  It flowed from their very nature – the nature of Christ within them.

The goats did not really recognize that they had not been serving Christ when they ignored the needs of the sick, the lonely, the hurting.  They had simply been too busy with their own needs and desires, oblivious to the needs around them.  They did this because it was the natural thing for goats to do.  It flowed from their very nature – the nature of sinful man within them.

Hearing the Message – What Will You Do?

Mark 4:1-9

And again He began to teach by the sea. And a great multitude was gathered to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole multitude was on the land facing the sea. Then He taught them many things by parables, and said to them in His teaching:  “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it. Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away. And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”  And He said to them, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

The Parable – an earthy story with a heavenly meaning.

Mark 4:10-13

But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable.  And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, so that seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand; lest they should turn, and their sins be forgiven them.’”  And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?

Mystery – something previously hidden, but now fully revealed

Mark 4:14-20

The sower sows the word.  And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.  These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, immediately they stumble.  Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.  But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.”

  • Parable explained
  • Parables
  • Disclose truth exactly in the degree which men can accept; hiding it from those who would refuse its truth and imparting it to those who would obey it.
    • Parables serve the double and opposite purpose of revealing and concealing.
    • You would not try to reveal to a child in the same manner as an adult.
  • Three things are required
  • Hear the Word
  • Receive the Word
  • Bring forth fruit
  • Four categories of people who hear and receive
  • Satan steals what was sown in the heart – sown by the wayside
  • There is no root or real commitment in the hearer – stony ground
  • Deceitfulness and cares of this world choke out the Word – sown among thorns
  • Production of good fruit – 30/60 100 percent – good ground

Only one category of the four who hear and receive the Word will bring forth fruit.

For Christians there are several lessons we can take from this parable.

First, we need to be careful that we do not fall into one of the three categories.  Even though we have believed and received the Word of God, we can still be so distracted by our daily lives, our jobs, our responsibilities, our pleasures that we neglect God’s Word. 

How many times have you been listening to a sermon or a Bible lesson when you suddenly found your mind thinking about other things.  Where you will go to eat after service?  What you have to do in the coming week?  Worrying about that bill you have to pay next week?  Even thinking about the upcoming vacation?

There is a lot of false teaching out there today on the internet, on the YouTube that we can be deceived if we do not carefully check the things we hear to see if they agree with God’s Word.

Second lesson is that we are to be bearing good fruit.  There are many ideas of what good fruit means for a Christian.  Simply put:  fruit is basically the outward actions of a Christian that result from the condition of the heart. 

Galatians 5 list some of the conditions the heart should have. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

We cannot on our own produce that kind of life.  It is only as we maintain a relationship with Jesus, that we will produce that good fruit.  Bearing fruit in the Christian life requires abiding in Jesus.

John 15:4-5 – Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Bearing fruit in the Christian life requires abiding in Jesus.