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INTERPRETATION OF PROPHETIC SYMBOLS The value of prophecy in establishing the religion of the Bible as the religion of God has been Value of
generally recognized. Its value, prophecy
however, is not limited to the proof of the divinity of Biblical truth which it furnishes: it serves a definite and most important purpose in the life and work of God's believing children in all ages. By it we are better able to understand God's own plan and purposes in human history, and by it we are made conscious of our own whereabouts along the pathway of time. The movements of God in the history of the past that were predicted by earlier prophets have received their chief inspiration from the conscious knowledge the leaders had of the prophetic character of their work. It was Daniel's study of prophecy that stirred his soul for the restoration of Israel to the favor of God and to their own land (Dan. 9:2), and at the same time opened his own heart for the wonderful revelation concerning future events. It was the consciousness of prophetic fulfilment that gave John the Baptist his inspiration for work (John 1: 23); and in establishing the truths of the gospel of Christ, the apostles placed leading emphasis on the fact that these things were written in the law and in the prophets.
The love and care that Christ had for his people did not cease in the beginning of the gospel dispensation; for he gave the promise, “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” It is altogether reasonable, then, that we should receive “the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass” (Rev. 1:1). Through the varying conditions of time, Christ leads his people on to certain victory.
Since the mission of the church was to be worldwide and perpetual, it is fitting that the church should be described prophetically in order that we might have definite information concerning the operations of the divine hand in working out the great problem of the church's destiny after the close of the sacred canon.
Before proceeding with our discussion of those prophecies which concern the church, let us pause Prophetic
and consider briefly the character symbols
of symbols. The prophecy of the Scriptures is presented to us in two distinct forms - direct statements in the ordinary language of life and in symbolic representations, but far the greater part is expressed in symbols, as in the book of Daniel and in the Revelation of John. Without an understanding of the nature of symbols we can not get a proper understanding of such prophecies.
Spoken or written language is a very complicated affair, but it is in reality an arbitrary arrangement. The name that we attach to a particular object could as well be given to a totally different object instead if we only agreed to make the change. For this reason spoken language is variable. Changes are constantly taking place. The language of Bible symbols, on the other hand, is not subject to the law of change, as we shall see; it is not based on arbitrary arrangement or mere convenience, but its foundational principles exist in the very nature of things.
Webster defines symbol as follows: "The sign or representation of any moral thing by the images or properties of natural things. Thus, a lion is the symbol of courage; the lamb is the symbol of meekness or patience.” Horne, in his Introduction to the Study of the Bible, says: “By symbols we mean certain representative marks, rather than express pictures; or, if pictures, such as were at the time characters, and besides presenting to the eye the resemblance of a particular object, suggested a general idea to the mind, as when a horn was made to denote strength, an eye and scepter, majesty, and in numberless such instances, where the picture was not drawn to express merely the thing itself, but something else, which was or was conceived to be, analogous to it.”
According to these definitions, the main idea of a symbol is the representation of an object or quality, not by exhibition of itself, but by another ob