The Bible Is Full of Metaphors, Symbols and Figurative Expression

The Bible is full of metaphors, symbols and figurative expression. Jesus spoke to his listeners only with parables, so that they would not understand (!). The last book of the Bible, Revelation, is the account by Jesus to John about what happens at the end of time. John conveyed this to the readers of the Bible. It was also given to people for the same purpose – so that they would not understand it. Or they would only understand when they have thoroughly studied the scriptures. For this reason, Revelation is full of figurative expressions and symbols. Symbols have a spiritual purpose. Jesus said that “… the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” (Jhn 6:63). Everything in the Bible is true, but many things (given in figurative language) are not literally true.

Rev 1:1 This is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things which must happen soon, which he sent and made known by his angel to his servant, John,

This is how the Revelation begins. Jesus Christ sent this by the angel he had sent to John. The following examples show corresponding translations:

NLT He sent an angel to present this revelation to his servant John,

NIV He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John

NASB He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John,

However, the KJV and some other translations are more accurate. They use the phrase “they sent and signified it”. Some Bible translations follow KJV’s example.

KJV: The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:

To the word signify are associated with the symbols in a form of upcoming events, which are given to John for information.

Signify σημαίνω sēmaínō to give a sign, to signify, indicate, to make known, to betoken. For example: KJV Jhn 12:33 This he said, signifying what death he should die.  To betoken: show by signs, symbols or tokens; To foreshow By present signs; indicate something future by that which is seen or known. Foreshow: To show in advance; to foretell, predict; A manifestation in advance; a prior indication.

In this book, God through Jesus wanted to show John in advance with figurative expressions and symbols of what was going to happen. Therefore, the book of Revelation is full of metaphors and symbols. I have asked many times, why? Would it not have been better if people had understood correctly what will happen. Even Luther was nervous about the obscure expressions of Revelation and was prepared to leave the whole book out of the Bible.

Here are a few examples of figurative expressions:

Jesus said He is the bread of life: Jhn 6:35 Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will not be hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. Luk. 22:19 Then he took a loaf of bread, gave thanks, broke it in pieces, and handed it to them, saying, This is my body, which is given for you. Keep on doing this in memory of me. – For example, Catholics really believe that the communion bread actually becomes the body of Jesus. If anyone does not understand that this is a figurative expression, he probably will not understand that the cruel torture of the fiery lake of Revelation is also a figurative expression.

Why did Jesus speak to his listeners with parables that they would not understand? The Apostles did not understand either, but to them, Jesus, of course, explained what He meant by figurative images. In most cases, He said that it was a parable, but sometimes he did not. For example, in his parable of the rich man and Lazarus, he did not claim it was a parable. It is no surprise that many readers of the story today still regard it as literally true. This very parable has been used as proof that there is a Paradise like space where the dead are in a conscious state; the righteous are “in Abraham’s bosom” in paradise. The sinners suffer from the pain of Hell on the other side of the canyon. Ask yourself: how can anyone be sent to Hell without Jesus’ final judgment has taken place? When reading the Bible, it is important to evaluate whether it is literally true what the Bible says. Everything in the Bible is true – but not always literally true.