The Revelation


Understanding Symbolism

We must focus on the ‘Point of Origin’ of each Symbol

Symbolism in Revelation

Revelation is a book ‘overflowing with symbolism.’  It can honestly be said: Symbolism makes the whole book look difficult.  And the question can rightly be asked:  How can we possibly understand the ‘extensive amount of symbolism’ that is found throughout Revelation?  This is a good question -- one so important that I have devoted this section entirely to one ‘important principle' of interpretation.  For without using this principle, I doubt that anyone can make ‘any meaningful progress‘ in understanding Revelation.

The Principle

  • All Symbolism has a ‘Point of Origin.’
  • We must use the Point of Origin as the ‘primary key‘ in interpreting the Symbol.

Tracing its Origin

If we want to know everything there is to know about a river, it is necessary to trace the river all the way back to its source.  We can learn where it came from (its origin), follow its course, and travel downstream to where it ultimately flows.

We must apply ‘the same principle of learning’ to interpreting the symbolism in Revelation.

Revelation borrows symbols from -- here, there, and everywhere.  And every symbol has a point of origin.  Every symbol originates somewhere.  Very often, the source is to be found ‘in an earlier passage of Scripture.’  In fact, many of the symbols in Revelation do have their origins in previous Scriptures.

Finding Agreement and Being Consistent

Symbols used in Revelation ‘reflect and mirror’ their previous usage elsewhere.   This is because they are built upon these previous applications.  The second application only exists -- because there was already 'a first' in existence.   Therefore, the ‘first’ becomes the basis of interpretation.  We must rely on the first reference (it being the original) to bring meaning to the second.

In Revelation, understanding a symbol is ‘dependent upon the meaning’ of the original occurrence.  For instance, the following would be totally out of order: If we were to apply a given symbol to God in the first instance, and then carelessly apply the parallel symbol to Satan in the second occurrence, then confusion would occur and nonsense would reign.  Where such a parallel does exist, it either applies to God in both instances, or it applies to Satan in both instances.  A parallel of this type* must not be mixed, mismatched, or reversed.

We need to be consistent and always apply this principle in every single case.

(*Note -- The instruction given above does not apply to ‘Contrasting Parallels’ which have a different form and structure.  An example of a contrasting parallel is -- the ‘mark of the beast’ (Rev 13:16) and the ‘Seal of God’ (Rev 7:3).  Both these references occur within Revelation.  They make a point of contrast – we can either receive one, or the other.  Receiving the ‘mark’ identifies us with Satan, while receiving the ‘Seal’ links us to God.)

An Abundant Supply of Information

When a Symbol is linked to its source, it releases a torrent of information.   The flood of information is often larger than we could imagine.  A few brief verses in Revelation covering a symbol may well link to a whole chapter of valuable information.  The small amount of detail given in a symbol may well link to a vast amount of related material.   When we have ‘correctly established’ such a link, we open a vast reserve of explanatory information.


It is not my intention here, to explain instances of symbolism -- ‘either to explain them fully or even partially.’  This will be done on an individual basis as we progress through the Commentary.  My intention here is to ‘point out the principle.’  However, I do give a few examples.

  • The ‘four horses’ in Rev 6:1-8 -- find their origin in Zechariah 1 and 6.
  • The ‘scroll with writing on both sides’ in Rev 5:1 -- finds its origin in Zechariah 5, and Ezekiel 2.
  • The ‘beast from the sea’ in Rev 13:1, 2 -- finds its origin in Daniel 7.
  • The ‘wings of an eagle’ given to the woman in Rev 12:14 -- find their origin in Daniel 7.

Ignoring any of these earlier (and original) references will ultimately lead to gross confusion, and massive errors in interpretation.

I look forward to exploring these (and numerous other examples) as we progress through this Commentary.

Symbolism Elsewhere

The use of symbols is not unique to the Book of Revelation.

Take the term ‘Lamb of God’ as an example.  John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)  Christians everywhere (and throughout all ages) have easily understood this term.  ‘The Lamb of God’ is a symbolic reference which is applied to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.  It gets the substance of its meaning from the sacrificial Passover lamb, and similar sources.  There are many Old Testament passages which lend meaning to it.

Our ability to understand symbolism is nothing new, and generally it is not difficult.  We simply need to apply the same rules in Revelation -- as we do everywhere else.


Understanding Symbolism


Author:               Graham Düll, Dubbo, NSW, Australia

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