Why Prophecy Is Symbolic
August 2013, by Norman Scott Edwards
This article may be difficult for some believers to accept. However, I believe it shows the true Greatness of God. What is easier, to make a number of specific prophecies for the future according to a specific script, and then cause people to do God's will to bring them to pass? Or to make a number of symbolic prophecies for the future, and to variably bring them to pass based upon the righteousness or the evil of billions of people? I think the latter requires the most greatness, which is what our God is!
Are prophecies given in symbolic terms because God reserves the right to decide how prophecy will be fulfilled based upon what people do. Notice this general principle:
Jer 18:7-10 "The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it.
When Jonah went to Nineveh, he said, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" (Jonah 3:4.) Of course, both he and the Ninevites were thinking 40 literal days. But God does not lie. His prophecy was fulfilled symbolically. History shows that generation was spared, and they had 40 years of relative peace. Afterward, an evil generation arose and they were given 40 more years and then Nineveh was finally destroyed.
In the new Testament, we find that some prophesy is fulfilled in a big, obvious and open way like this prophecy of the entire mission of Christ:
Luke 4:18-21 "The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD." Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
Then some prophecies are fulfilled in a barely apparent way:
Luke 22:36-38 Then He said to them, "But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one. For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: 'And He was numbered with the transgressors.' For the things concerning Me have an end." So they said, "Lord, look, here are two swords." And He said to them, "It is enough."
God had the option to fulfill this prophecy in a big way—he could have had Christ dwell with the zealots or some big transgressor group for a period of time. But as it turned out, being with two men with two swords was enough to fulfill this prophecy. If Christ did not utter these words, nobody might have ever known how it was fulfilled.
Therefore, I find no need to try to "figure out" every prophecy until God has shown me that it is important for now. For example, I am not sure whether the prophesied "Antichrist" (1Jo 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2Jo 1:7) is a person, organization or nation because I am not sure that God has completely decided how those prophecies will be fulfilled. I am not sure if the "mark of the beast" (Rev 13:17; 14:11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4) is a literal mark on people, a computer chip inside them, a religious system, a governmental system, or an artificial-intelligence man-made God.
So there will certainly be a prophesied "Antichrist", "man of sin". a beast and a mark. But whether they are all the same, all different, powerful everywhere for many years or only short-term phenomena, I do not know. God may not yet know. The answer may be partly based upon what evil people do and what righteous men do to resist him. Remember Jeremiah 18, above.
The overwhelming teaching of the New Testament is not to come up with a complete prophetic interpretation of the Old Testament and Revelation, but to receive the gift of prophecy and be able to prophesy events relevant to right now, applying relevant bits of Old Testament prophecy as the Holy Spirit currently instructs us. If you are unsure about this, please read our article Need Prophets more than Prophecy.
Bible Prophecy Articles: