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In the previous section on Revelations we noted that God spoke in symbolic language most of the time when communicating with us in dreams, visions, and trances. It is, therefore, essential to know how to correctly interpret these symbols. The Bible has numerous examples of visions, dreams, and trances which have been interpreted. They provide us with the best guide when trying to interpret Divine revelations. It is very dangerous to consult non-Christian sources of interpretations to symbolic revelations from God. The Bible calls such ungodly council as a form of witchcraft or sorcery - This includes your local psychologist's attempts to interpret the Divinely inspired symbolic revelations.


God is not, however, limited to the symbols and types in the Bible but will also use your own symbolic language library. This includes the multitude of meanings that each individual places on different objects, numbers, creatures, actions, colours, places, etc. These symbolic language libraries are determined by ones cultural and environmental influences. It is important, therefore, to always check that you are not overlooking the possibility that God may be using either, only your personal vocabulary or some of it in whatever revelation you are getting.


Interpreting Symbols and Types (K. J. Conner, 1980)


Definition of Symbols


According to Webster's Dictionary, the word "symbol" is made up of two Greek words: "syn" meaning "together” and ballein “meaning” to throw". It means literally, "thrown together", and denotes an object used to represent something abstract; an emblem; using one thing to stand for or represent another.


Although the word "symbol" is not specifically used in the Bible, God caused the writers of the Scripture to use the literary method of symbolization throughout Scripture.


They often used one thing to represent another because of common characteristics. This is what is often meant by symbolization in which the link between that which is used as a symbol and that which is being symbolised is the characteristic common to both.


Guidelines of Interpreting Symbols


1) The Symbolic Principle of interpretation must be used in conjunction with the Context Principle: that is, the whole context of Scripture. Because many symbols are used more than once in Scripture, it is proper to compare every usage to gain a complete understanding of the complete unfolding of their symbolic significance.


2) Generally speaking, the Bible interprets its own symbols. The believer needs to check the Scriptures for the interpretation of such.



3) Sometimes a symbol may be used to symbolise more than one thing in Scripture (e.g. the lion is used to symbolise Christ, the saints and the devil.    (Rev. 5:5; I Peter 5:8, etc.).




4) Symbols have negative and positive or good and bad applications in them (e.g. birds, such as the dove or raven, symbolise spirits; the dove, symbolises the Holy Spirit, and the raven is symbolic of the evil spirit. Both are birds).


5) If the symbol is not interpreted in the Word, the believer should consider the surrounding context for the thought or idea set forth. The nature of the symbol generally used gives the clue to its interpretation (e.g. lion, swine, lamb, etc.).


6) The link between the literal thing used as a symbol and that which it symbolises, is the characteristic common in both. Thus:


Things used as Common Characteristics Things a symbol symbolised example: Joseph Son's relation to Father   Jesus


         The Flood                                  Judgement upon wickedness                      Last Days


         Ark of the Covenant                 "God with us"                                     Jesus Christ




Classification of Symbols


Basically there are seven categories of symbols used in the Scripture, and they are as follows:








Symbolic Actions - Eph. 2:2-6; Psalm 10:1; Heb. 10:11-12., examples:


Divine equipment from the Holy Spirit for service

Ex. 28:41; II Cor. 1:21


Zeal in the race of life

Heb. 12:1; I Cor.9:24-26; Phil. 2:16



Ps. 110:1; Heb. 10:11-18



Human works and activity

Ezek. 44:18


Progress, advance, forward movement

Is. 2:3;  40:31; Ps. 1:2-4; I Jhn. 1:7





Symbolic Colours:  Rev. 3:4-5; 6:2-6; 19:8, examples:


Glory of God

Ezek. 1:4; 8:2


sin, death famine

Lam 4:8; Rev 6:5; Jer 8:21


Heaven, heavenly; Holy Spirit

Num. 15:38


Kingship, royal

Jhn 19:2; Judg 8:26





Symbolic Creatures: Rev. 12:9; Gen. 3:14; Luke 13:31-32, examples:


Cruel, crushing one

Dan 7:5; Prov. 28:15



Gen. 24


Unclean spirit

Rev. 16:13


Ministry of the apostles; foundation

I Cor 8:10; II Chron 4:2-4


Wise one

Prov 6:6; 30:25


People who sting; people who produce honey

Isa 7:10; Deut 1:44; Ps 118:12





Symbolic Directions: Luke  10:15,30; Gen 12:10-13:1; Jer. 1:14, examples:


Place of Glory of God, Sunrise

Ezek 43:1-2


Place of sunset, setting down       

Is 59:19; Ps 103:12; Matt 8:11


a. Place of God's throne

Ps 75:6-7; Is 14:13-14


b. Place of judgement

Jer 1:13-14


Place of refreshment

Psalm 126:4





Symbolic Names: I Sam. 25:25; Jhn 1:41-42





Symbolic Numbers: Luke 10:1; II Cor. 13:1; Duet. 19:15, examples:


Cross; grace; atonement; life      

Gen 1:20-23; Jn 10:10; Lev 1:5


Five offerings

Eph 4:11; Exod 26


Armed or "marshalled by five"          

Exod 13:18


Incompleteness; disorganisation

Gen 32:22; 35:16;18;37:9



Matt 20:6; Exod 26:7, Deut 1:2; Dan 7:24


Consecration; maturity for ministry

Num 4:3; Gen 41:46; II Sam 5:4; Lk 3:23; Matt 26:15


Probation; testing; closing in victory or judgement      

Num 13:25; 14:33; Mtt 4:2; Acts 1:3; 7:30; Ex 34:27-28; Ezek 4:6; I Kings 19:4-8





Symbolic Objects: Matt 16:18; Ps 18:2; I Cor 10:4, examples: Symbolic objects can be divided into eight categories and they include: Man-made, Animal; Human; Mineral, Objects in the sky, Vegetable, Religious, and Supernatural. Below are four random examples.

Eyes, seven


Zech 3:8; Rev 5:6

Heads, seven

Seven world kingdoms of Satan

Rev 12:3; 17:3; Mtt 4:8


Horns, seven

Omnipotence, full of power

Rev 5:6; Mtt 28:19

Lamps of fire, seven

Fullness of the Holy Spirit 

Rev 4:5; Isa 11:1-4


Pillar in God's Temple



Permanency of position

Rev 3:12; Gal 2:9







Classification of Types:


God, knowing the end from the beginning, was able to cause the writing of the Old Testament to be done in such a way that many of its elements were meant to be viewed as anticipative of that which was to come in the New Testament. The types of the Old Testament may be divided into four main classifications: Persons, Offices, Institutions and Events.


A.        Persons: In the writing of Scripture God caused the recording of history to be such that certain persons are meant to be viewed as prefiguring another person to come. These persons can be seen as foreshadows in either their character, office, function or relationship to the history of redemption. 


Romans 5:12-21: Verse 14 - "...Adam...who is the figure (Greek; Type) of Him that was to come.."


Here Paul in setting forth an extended analogy shows Adam to be a type of Christ.



B.        Offices: In writing Scripture God meant certain offices to be viewed as                        foreshadows of offices to come.


            Hebrews 5:1-10:  Verse 4,5 - " was Aaron. So also Christ..."


The writer to the Hebrews here sets forth as extended analogy showing the Aaronic Priesthood to be typical of Christ's Priesthood.


C.        Institutions: In writing Scripture God meant for certain institutions to be                        viewed as foreshadows of institutions to come.


Hebrews 8:1-5: Verse 4 - "Who served unto the example of heavenly things...  the Tabernacle."


The writer to the Hebrews gives an extended analogy the instituting of the Mosaic Tabernacle to be typical of the heavenly institution.


D.        Events: In writing the Scripture God caused historical events to be recorded               in such a way that they be viewed as foreshadowing of events to come.


            I Corinthians 10:1-11: Verse 6- "Now these things were our examples (Greek;    Types)...". In verse 11 - " Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples (Greek; Types).."


In this passage Paul refers to several historical events of Israel's wandering in the wilderness as being typical events in the experience of the New Testament Church.


Note: It should be recognised that these categories overlap in Scripture. For Instance: an event may include persons, offices, and institutions.













Application of the Symbols and Types to Revelations

Steps for Interpreting


1) The first step in the interpretation of, for our purpose in this study, a vision is to determine the context in which that vision occurred.


bullet What were you thinking about when you saw the vision?


bullet If it was in answer to a prayer request - what was the prayer request?


bullet Where were you - in church, at home, with someone, etc.?


bullet What were you doing at the time?


bullet What time and date did it occur? MUST record it in diary for future reference.



2) The second step in the interpretation is to write down in as much detail as can be recalled every scene, frame by frame. This includes:


a) the background (scenery or backdrop)- whether night or day



b) most distinctive objects to you, i.e., those objects that were   easily recognisable.


c) less distinctively recognisable objects.



d) the colours of the various objects, and the variations of clarity.



Ask whether:


d) any of the objects were living or moving.


e) you were an external observer - looking in on the events occurring before you, much like a movie or Television screen.


What were your emotional reactions to each scene as you observed them?


What thoughts crossed your mind as you observed each scene.


f) you were a participant in the vision:


What were your emotional reactions to each scene as you observed and participated in them?


What thoughts crossed your mind as you observed and participated in each scene.


g) What were your initial overall reactions immediately after the vision ended?



3) Using the catalogue of symbols and types found in Kevin J. Conner's book: Interpreting the symbols and types, and if necessary using your own symbolic language library as well, take each object and determine what their meaning could be, write it next to the object description.


4) Rewrite the whole vision substituting the objects with the meaning from the catalogue and see what overall meaning you get.


5) Prayerfully check with the Bible to see if, either the whole vision or part thereof is consistent with the purposes of all Divine revelation which include: - Edification, exhortation, comfort, rebuke, judgement, etc. Does the vision draw one towards God or does it destroy and / or push one away from God?


6) If the vision does not meet the scriptural test then you must immediately check the source of the vision as discussed in the next chapter.


Your emotional responses during the vision are important because the Holy Spirit may be communicating through them to you in a powerful way, enabling you to fully appreciate the importance of the vision and the likely effects on the person or persons it applies.


Sometimes visions, while being scriptural, may appear to have no immediate meaning or application. In such cases it is best to record it, date it using the above steps and leave it alone because its meaning may become apparent at some future date.


Keep These In Mind When Interpreting Any Revelations


1) Some prophecies are meant to be understood AFTER their fulfilment for example, the disciples did not understand Jesus' prophecy about his death until after His resurrection.


2) Some prophecies are meant to be understood BEFORE their fulfilment. For example, this was true of most of the  prophecies regarding God's impending judgement on the Jewish nation because of their sins. God wanted them to repent so

that His judgment on them is averted.


3) Some prophecies are meant to be understood AS THEY ARE BEING fulfilled. For example, the disciples recognised Jesus as the Messiah/Christ while the prophecy about Him was being fulfilled before their very eyes.


4) Some prophecies are CONDITIONAL that is, they will or will not be fulfilled under certain conditions. This is in the same vain as point number (3), where God prophecies destruction unless the people repent.


5) Some prophecies are UNCONDITIONAL examples include: the birth, death and resurrection and second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the prophecies in the book of the Revelations.














Discernment Of The Source Of The Revelations


The Holy Spirit


Jesus Christ first made it known to the disciples where the source of all their Divine revelation was going to come from once He had returned to Heaven. In John 14:15-17, 26; 16:7-15, the work of the Holy Spirit is clearly spelt out making it very clear that if we are to get any Divine revelation then it must come from the Spirit of Truth.


In II Peter 1:21 it reads, "..for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit"


It is, therefore, very important and of absolute necessity that all who would exercise the gift of prophecy must be baptised in the Holy Spirit. It is impossible to be called into the office of a prophet and to come into full maturity of that ministry without being baptised with the Holy Spirit. All the prophets in the Bible were anointed /filled with the Holy Spirit.

The Human spirit


It is very possible to prophesy with all the right intentions and motives but do so from ones own heart/spirit and not from God.  The prophecy may meet all criteria of edification, exhortation, and comfort as given in I Cor. 14:3, and yet be totally from the human spirit. It may be very biblical, coming straight out of the Bible such as a direct quote from it and yet it is not from God at all. In fact, that so called "prophecy" may be an encouragement to the person receiving it even though it is from the human spirit of the person giving it.


The prophets in an assembly have the responsibility to that assembly to verify that anyone who gives a prophecy does not do so from the human spirit. It is they who have been given this high level of sensitivity to discern by the gift of discernment and so divide between Holy Spirit and  the Human spirit. This is very crucial in the church today as the prophetic ministry becomes more active. There is real danger that overly enthusiastic Christians may become convinced that they have a truly anointed prophetic gift just because they "prophecy" and people do not challenge them and there are no prophets to discern.


There is a very serious presumption based on a very shallow knowledge of the nature and workings of the true prophetic gifting. Serious abuses of this gift are being perpetrated by preachers who, in their desperation to be relevant and remain influential during this prophetic move, are going about "prophesying" out of their human spirit. They have to-date got away with it because there has been no one to openly challenge them. The so called "prophecy" which is no more than words of encouragement tagged with "Thus says the Lord" or "The Lord is saying" is beyond the ability of anyone without the gift of discernment to challenge. A time is coming when such deception and presumption will come to an end as the Holy Spirit raises up the true prophets with the courage and boldness to test efficiently all prophecies uttered by those prophesying in the pulpit and in the congregation.


In Ezek. 13:1-2 it reads, "....and say to those who prophesy out of their own heart,....who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing!" (Also Jer.23:16).


The Evil spirit


While there are many types of demonic personality mentioned by name in the Bible, we are here only interested in those related to spiritual revelations. In particular, what are the aims of these demonic personalities involved in revelations? Below are four significant ones.


Jezebel spirit (Idolatry/immorality) (I Kings 16:31; Rev. 2:20-23)


The Jezebel spirit is a controlling/seducing spirit. The evil spirit uses spiritual "insight" which subtly draws people into a dependence on him. The sure evidence of such activity is when a person being led by this type of spirit constantly seeks to lure people to depend on their spiritual revelations which is not centred on the testimony of Jesus. They encourage people to always come to them for spiritual insight rather than teaching them to seek guidance from the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures. As a consequence the people, over a period of time, begin to think the Scriptures are not relevant for daily living, that one does not need to be baptised in the Holy Spirit and receive His Divine guidance.


In the Old Testament, Jezebel led the people of God to worship demon inhabited idols called Baal. The idols had priests that provided regular services to the people covering all spiritual matters and therefore the real God - Jehovah was never worshipped, served or consulted. The Jezebel spirit will lead those who listen to him down the same road to destruction.


The Jezebel spirit also seduces the people to sexual immorality and unbridled self indulgence in all manner of hedonism - a pre-occupation with matters of pleasure and enjoying oneself even at the expense of obedience to God.


2) Lying spirit (deception) (I Kings 22:22)


This evil spirit engages in the deception of those who do not know the Scriptures well enough to check that whatever the revelation given actually meets the prescribed test of true prophecy. As a result gullible people take seriously these lies and make major life changing decisions much to their own hurt.


3) Unclean spirit (rebellion/blasphemy)( Rev. 3:13-14; 13:4-7)


This is an evil spirit which enables the performing of signs and supernatural spiritual abilities so as to entice the people to rebellion and blasphemy against God.


4) Divination spirit (false: knowledge, wisdom, discernment) (Acts 16:16-18)


This is an evil spirit which counterfeits the Holy Spirit's gifts in order to keep people from seeking the Holy Spirit's guidance and to search the Scriptures for the truth. It is important to know that the evil spirit may provide some truthful revelation as in the case of the girl in Acts 16. The intent however does not draw people to God but rather to the evil spirit.


Discussion questions


1) Can you think of other demonic personalities that are active in revelations?


2) What must every Christian do to develop the kind of spiritual sensitivity that will help them discern spirits?



3) Are most of your revelations centred around you, your friends, family, or church? If so, and you are also called to the prophetic office then where do you see the Lord setting the boundaries for your ministries?


4) If the Lord has appointed you to be a prophet to the nations then what type of revelations should you be already getting?


Published 2005

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