Understanding Prophetic Symbols And Apocalyptic Language Of The Bible
By Comparing Symbols From Old And New Testament Prophecies

For the most part this was taken from Chapter Six from - Prophecy Fulfilled — God’s Perfect Church by David P. Crews - Teleios Books - New Light Publishing Austin, Texas and this document was originally found at tentmaker.org.



Interpretation: HEAVENS: Religious or political authorities. EARTH: The place or nation involved in the prophesy.

Old Testament References:

Isaiah 24:1-5 - "See, the Lord is going to lay waste the earth and devastate it; he will ruin its face and scatter its inhabitants...The earth will be completely laid waste...The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant."[NIV]

This passage is a prophecy of the coming attack and conquest by the Assyrians over the Jewish people. It should be obvious that the word EARTH is used as a symbol here, representing the place of the peoples or nation involved. The Assyrian army, used unwittingly as a tool of retribution by God, would come and destroy cities, and burn and loot the land, taking the people captive and killing many of them. The "inhabitants" of the earth would be "scattered" - that is, scattered abroad in captivity. If the earth is meant to be the literal globe, utterly devastated and made empty by God, then the scattered inhabitants would have been instant astronauts!

The EARTH, here, is a symbol of the promised land of Palestine that had become defiled due to the disobedience of Gods chosen people. They had violated the Law, and now they would reap the retribution of God.

ISAIAH 1:2 - "Hear, 0 heavens! Listen, 0 earth!...."[NIV]

This vision was to serve as a warning to the nation of Judah. It was not given to all of humanity, nor was it published or made known universally to all mankind. HEAVENS here refers to the religious and political authorities of Judah, and EARTH refers to the place and the people involved, and so to all the inhabitants of Judah.

ISAIAH 34:1-8 - "...Hearken, ye people: let the earth hear....All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll....For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment....For it is the day of the Lords vengeance."

This passage is a prophecy of the destruction of Edom (Idumea), a prophecy so literally fulfilled that this land is barren and waste even today. The EARTH was the peoples of Edom, who were to hear this prophecy against them. God was angry with them and this was their warning of the coming destruction ("the day of the Lords vengeance"). This prophecy was not intended or designed to be heard and attended to by peoples of other lands.

The HEAVENS that would be "dissolved" and "rolled together" (like a discarded scroll of parchment), were the political/religious authorities of Edom - its government and armies and those who led that nation away from Gods path (v.2.). Gods bloody sword would be bathed in HEAVEN. The symbol is explained within that very passage in verse 5: "it shall come down upon Idumea." Gods sword was not bloodied in Gods own heavenly spiritual realm, but rather in the "heaven" that was the worldly realm of the Edomite leaders.

JEREMIAH 22:29 - "0 earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord."

Here, the prophet Jeremiah is warning the nation of Judah to repent from their idolatry or face destruction and captivity by the Babylonians as a punishment from God. In verse 25 preceding, God tells them:

"I will hand you over to those who seek your life, those you fear - to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and the Babylonians." [NIV]

The EARTH here is the nation involved in this prophecy: Judah. Neither the planet Earth, nor the combined inhabitants of it were being addressed in verse 29. This is a symbol. Incidentally, the NIV translates this passage as "0 land, land, land..., which is a more literal rendering indicating more directly the intended audience.

JEREMIAH 51:25 - "I am against you, 0 destroying mountain, you who destroy the whole earth, declares the Lord." [NIV]

Here, Jeremiah is voicing Gods warning to the nation of Babylon, which he would destroy by bringing the Medes against them (v. 11). The Babylonians were certainly warlike, but they did not destroy the entire physical earth, nor even the entire peoples of the then known world. They did destroy the nation of Judah, which is the proper use of the symbol EARTH in this context.

AMOS 5:7 "Ye who turn judgment to wormwood, and leave off righteousness in the earth."

This was a lamentation against the nation of Israel. It was Israel who turned judgment bitter and ceased being righteous in Gods sight. The EARTH here is the nation of Israel.

MICAH 1:2-3 "Hear, 0 peoples, all of you, listen, 0 earth and all who are in it, that the Sovereign Lord may witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple. Look! The Lord...comes down and treads the high places of the earth." [NIV]

This prophecy is against Samaria and Judah, which are the subjects of the EARTH symbol in this passage. In verse 5-6, Micah makes this plain by saying:

"What is Judahs high place? Is it not Jerusalem? Therefore I will make Samaria a heap of rubble...."

The EARTH and ALL WHO ARE IN IT, are the peoples of the land or nation involved in the prophecy, in this case the peoples of Judah and Samaria.

ZEPHANIAH 1:2-3 "I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth, declares the Lord...The wicked will have only heaps of rubble when I cut off man from the face of the earth"[NIV]

Zephaniah prophesied against Judah prior to the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. God did not destroy the planet in this event. The EARTH here is defined in the next verse (v.4.):

"I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all who live in Jerusalem." [NIV]

New Testament References:

MATTHEW 24:29-35 "...The stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away."

Obviously, Gods heavenly realm was not to pass away. This HEAVEN and this EARTH were symbols within this great prophecy. They stood for the Jewish national/religious government and the peoples of the Jewish nation that stood in the way of the Church.

The STARS that fall from HEAVEN are symbolic of the leaders and high priests of that decayed nation. Their powers were "shaken" indeed, by the appearance of the power of God, the SIGN OF THE SON OF MAN, in the form of the Roman army. That great destroying force appeared in HEAVEN, that is, God brought its might to bear directly against the Jewish national powers in Jerusalem. These men were the HEAVENS symbolized here. HEAVEN and EARTH passed away in great violence in AD. 70.

ROMANS 9:27-28 "Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality."[NIV]

In this passage it is very obvious that the EARTH symbol is being used to refer to the Jewish nation. Only a remnant of the old chosen people would be saved from the coming destruction. Only those who accepted the Christ would be saved.

The Lord did carry out his sentence with speed and finality. He carried it out on EARTH - the place of the people involved in this prophecy. This EARTH was the Jewish nation.

ROMANS 10:18 (quoting PSALMS 19:4) "their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world."[NIV]

The word of Christ, the message of the gospel, was preached into ALL THE EARTH by the time Paul wrote this letter, thus fulfilling the Old Testament prophecy. It did not go out to the far and unknown lands of China or India or America. The EARTH here is symbolic of the people involved in this prophecy - the Jews. The Jews were scattered all over the Roman empire by the time of Christ, and all these diverse regions were represented when Peter spoke the gospel message on Pentecost. Acts 2:5 tells us:

"And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven." Miraculously, each Jew heard the great sermon in his own particular language. Thus, the message was heard and taken back to their own regions, spreading to the very ends of the Jewish world.

REVELATION 1:7 "Behold, he cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him; and all the kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him."

In all of the passages in Revelation, the EARTH symbol and the HEAVEN symbol refer to the same thing until they are replaced by the NEW EARTH and the NEW HEAVEN. The old EARTH and HEAVEN are the Jewish peoples and their errant leaders. They were replaced in the favor and sight of God by the new holy people, those who follow and accept his Son.

In this passage, the KINDREDS were the Jewish tribes, the once set-aside people of God, depicted as kindred because of the strict laws against Jews marrying Gentiles. They were kindreds then, of the EARTH - the land of Palestine, where they dwelt. They wailed because of Christ's coming, for that coming meant their utter destruction by the Roman invasion. Every Jewish eye "saw" this great event, because they were all caught up in it.

REVELATION 6:13 "And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind."

This is a fulfillment of Christ's own prophecy in Matthew 24:29. The symbols stand for the same thing. The Jewish religious and political authorities, the STARS OF HEAVEN, certainly did fall to their doom along with the people of their EARTH and the very land of Palestine itself.

REVELATION 11:6 "These have power to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will."

In verse 2 preceding, the angel tells John: "it is given to the Gentiles, and the holy city shall they tread under foot for forty and two months." "These" who had power, were the Roman armies coming to smite the EARTH, which was the peoples of Palestine. During their prophesied 3 1/2 years of power over Judea (42 months), they caused whatever war acts and desolations they found necessary to subdue the Jews. The Romans did not smite the entire planet earth with plagues, only the symbolic EARTH of the Jewish nation with the plague of war.

REVELATION 11:18 "The nations were angry, and your wrath has come. The time has come for destroying those who destroy the earth."[NIV]

The "nations" meant the Gentile world, and in this specific prophecy it refers to the Roman army which was "angry" (which, of course, was Gods own anger made manifest - "your wrath has come"). The time had come for the destruction of those who had, through their sin, destroyed the EARTH - the Jewish world. Those were the leaders and the apostate peoples of that world. They were once the holy people, now they had sinned and would be destroyed. If, according to a futurist interpretation, the EARTH is the planet earth, then there would not be anyone left for God to destroy!

REVELATION 19:2 "[God] has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries." [NIV]

Here, too, the EARTH is the land and peoples of Jerusalem and Judea. It was the Jewish state that was corrupted by the sin and unbelief of the Jews, committing spiritual adultery against God. This condemnation simply does not fit any other nation or people. Neither Rome, nor any other people, were corrupted by a betrayal of God, for, until Christianity broke the Gentile barrier, they never knew God at all.

REVELATION 20:9 "When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth - Gog and Magog - to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of Gods people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them." [NIV]

Here, the EARTH is more generally referring to the place of the nations involved in the prophecy. The Romans were the forces that occupied the "four corners of the earth" - they completely occupied and ruled the land of Palestine.

Although God used the Roman armies as his divine tool to cause destruction upon the Jews, they were not his people by any stretch of imagination. The Romans were the forces of paganism, represented by the symbolic names of "Gog and Magog," seemingly overwhelming in their numbers.

They were persecutors of the people of Christ, thus they are pictured as surrounding the camp of Gods people and his beloved city, which is the Kingdom or the Church. The Romans, too, would be devoured after their short "season" or "short time" (vss. 3 and 7), by the power of God through the words of the Gospel (John 1:1; Hebrews 12:29).

REVELATlON 20:11 "And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was no place found for them."

The self-righteous and sinful Jewish authorities (HEAVENS) and the unbelieving Jewish peoples of Palestine (EARTH) would "fly away" from the presence of God, and there would be "no place found for them" in the new system of grace through the Christ they had rejected. If "heaven" meant Gods abode, then it fled away from him and he is homeless!

REVELATION 21:1 "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away."

The old worldly authority and nation of Judaism (FIRST HEAVEN and EARTH) were no more after the Roman destruction, and taking its place was a brand new spiritual authority and nation, established on the day of Pentecost, and now redeemed from its enemies. It was the Church or Kingdom of God (NEW HEAVEN and NEW EARTH), which would last forever.

Symbol: WORLD

Interpretation: People of the nation involved in the prophecy.

Old Testament References:

ISAIAH 13:11 "And I will punish the world for their evil."

What world was this that God was going to punish? Verse 1 tells us this passage is a "burden" or a prophecy of punishment against the land of Babylon. The evil Babylonian people were the WORLD, whose doom Isaiah foretold. God did not destroy the entire planet or even all the people of the planet. Here, the WORLD is a symbol referring only to the people involved in the prophecy - in this case, Babylon.

New Testament References:

REVELATION 3:10 - "Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth."[NIV]

Here, God is speaking to the faithful congregation at Philadelphia, promising a reward from the persecutions they were all enduring at the hands of the Jews. They would be spared from the "hour of trial" - the war actions that would be soon taking place in Judea. The peoples of that land, the Jews were the WORLD who would experience Gods great trial. Those who lived on that EARTH (see previous symbol discussion) would be tested by their heeding or ignoring of the warning signs prophesied by Jesus (Matthew 24, etc.).


Interpretation: Earthly authorities losing dominion or power.

Old Testament References:

ISAIAH 34:2-4 "...The indignation of the Lord is upon all nations....The mountains shall be melted with their blood, and the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll, and all their host shall fall down, as...a falling fig from the fig tree."

This passage is a prophecy of the downfall of the land of Idumea or Edom (v. 5.), where the Idumeans are symbolized as a "host" like the host of stars in the sky, which would "fall down" like a fig falling from a tree. This host of Idumeans was the host of HEAVEN, symbolizing the Idumean leaders or authorities. These men would be ROLLED TOGETHER LIKE A SCROLL. They would lose their dominion, their nation, and their powers as national leaders. Their "book was closed"!

New Testament References:

REVELATION 6:13-14 "And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places."

Here, again, we see the STARS OF HEAVEN as the persons who hold the authority or power over the nation involved in the prophecy - this time Judea. These Jewish leaders (collectively the HEAVEN) lost their dominion and power when "shaken by a mighty wind" of God working through the actions of the pagan Roman armies. The unbelieving Jews of the Sanhedrin fell from power. Every MOUNTAIN and ISLAND, or every powerful person, was moved out of their accustomed place by the acts of war that were executed in AD. 67-70. They "departed" from their place of power and their SCROLL was ROLLED TOGETHER - like a scroll of parchment discarded and " rolled up." Their dominion was over.


Interpretation: Destruction of a nation by the power of God working through human armies.

This important symbolic phrase is found many times in the Bible and usually referred to the impending destruction of the Hebrew nation for apostasies they committed against God. Occasionally, it referred to the destruction of a pagan nation that had harmed Gods people. In every case where it is used in the Old Testament, it signifies a spiritual coming of God in power, but manifested in physical human armies.

Old Testament References:

ISAIAH 13:6,9 "Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty....See, the day of the lord is coming - a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger - to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it." [NIV]

Verse 1 preceding tells us that this passage is a "burden" or "oracle," meaning a warning prophecy, against the land of Babylon. It is the destruction of the nation of Babylon that is being foretold here and being referred to as the DAY OF THE LORD. How would God accomplish the destruction of the Babylonians? Verse 17 tells us:

"See, I will stir up against them the Medes...."

This is the pattern that is followed each time DAY OF THE LORD is used to denote a nations punishment by God.

EZEKIEL 13:5 "in the battle on the day of the Lord."

This DAY OF THE LORD was to occur some four years after Ezekiel wrote this prophecy. It was the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., caused by God because of their great sins, but carried out by the actions of the Chaldean (Babylonian) army. It is notable that in this passage, God warns them not to heed false prophets!

EZEKIEL 30:2-4 "Wail and say, Alas for that day! For the day is near, the day of the Lord is near - a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations. A sword will come against Egypt." [NIV]

Here, the DAY OF THE LORD was a destruction of the Egyptian nation, which occurred in 572 B.C. In verse 10, God spells out exactly how he would accomplish this on his great DAY:

"I will put an end to the hordes of Egypt by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. He and his army - the most ruthless of nations - will be brought in to destroy the land."

Here again, the method used by God to accomplish a DAY OF THE LORD is to use pagan human armies to destroy the nation subject to the prophecy.

JOEL 1:15; 2:1-2,11 "Alas for that day! For the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty."

"let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the lord is coming. It is close at hand - a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness..."

"...The day of the Lord is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it?" [NIV]

The dating of Joel is uncertain and several theories have been advanced to interpret this book. Joel uses a great deal of imagery concerning a plague of locusts that destroy the land of Judah's crops and cause great distress. Many think Joel is speaking only of a literal locust plague and using it as a metaphor for Gods general displeasure towards and punishments of his people. However, if we look at the imagery closely, we can see that it matches in many ways the same imagery John used in Revelation concerning the LOCUSTS (Revelation 9:3-10). The last part of Joel makes it plain that the prophet was looking on to the final events of the Jewish nation, prophesying of the Roman invasion of A.D. 67-70, just as Daniel, Zechariah, and other Old Testament prophets did.

The locust hoard is characterized in 2:4-11 in these terms:

"They have the appearance of horses; they gallop along like cavalry. With a noise like that of chariots... Like a mighty army drawn up for battle...They charge like warriors; they scale walls like soldiers....The Lord thunders at the head of his army.[NIV]

This is the same way John characterizes the LOCUSTS in Revelation as an army of horses and chariots.

In 2:28, Joel states: "I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions." [NIV]

This very passage is quoted in Acts 2:16-17 where it is plainly stated: "This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel." The event was the Day of Pentecost. In the subsequent verses of Joel 2:30-31, he speaks again of the terrible judgment of God against the Jewish nation as a DAY OF THE LORD:

"I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord." [NIV]

AMOS 5:18 "Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light."[NIV]

Amos was a prophet for or of the north kingdom of Israel, although he was from Judah. In this book, written about 765 B.C., he is Prophesying the doom of Israel during what seemed like a time of Peace and security. His prophecy was from God, however, and the sinful people of Israel were destroyed and taken captive by the Assyrians in 721 B.C. (about 40 years later - and within one generation).

In verse 27, God says through Amos:

"Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus." (Amos 5:27)

and in Amos 6:14, he says: "I will raise up against you a nation, 0 house of Israel...."

That nation was Assyria, and the violent and evil Assyrian army was Gods tool of punishment in this particular DAY OF THE LORD

OBADIAH 15 "For the day of the Lord is near."

Obadiah spoke this prophecy against the land of Edom, paralleling similar warnings from Isaiah. This DAY OF THE LORD would be the utter destruction of the Edomites (or Idumeans) by the Assyrian armies. The Edomites (descendants of Esau) had participated in the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., and this, along with their prideful and disdainful attitude toward God, was the reason for Gods anger and vengeance.

Isaiah refers to their destruction as the "Day of the Lords vengeance (ch. 34:8-10) and tells them their land would lie waste with no one passing through it. Obadiah says in verse 10 - "Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever,"

That land lies in desert waste even today.

ZEPHANIAH 1:7,14 "The day of the Lord is near....The great day of the Lord is near - near and coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the Lord will be bitter." [NIV]

Zephaniah wrote this prophecy in approximately 626 B.C., about 40 years before the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. by the Babylonians. Verse 14 goes on to say:

"the shouting of the warrior there. That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers." [Zep 1:14, NIV]

and in chapter 2:1-2, he pleads for them to "gather together, 0 shameful nation, before the appointed time arrives." It was the idolatrous nation of Judah that was the subject and recipient of the DAY OF THE LORD in this instance.

New Testament References:

All of the references to a DAY OF THE LORD in the New Testament refer to the same event - Gods final destruction of the Jewish nation in AD. 70, through the agency of the Roman armies. Not all of the references will be listed here, but major occurrences will be shown to illustrate how the symbol is used and how it applies to the Jewish/Roman War.

ACTS 2:20 "The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come,

How do we know that this does not refer to something in our future? This passage in Acts relates the events on the day of Pentecost, and Peter has just told them in verse 16:

"But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel"

These events were the fulfillment - right then on the day of Pentecost - of Joel's prophecy (Joel 2:28-32). All the things that were happening then, including the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the apostles, the receiving of special gifts of prophecy and the appearance of supernatural signs, were to be the events that would immediately precede the event Peter calls the "great and glorious day of the Lord" (NIV). Peter concludes his thought with the words:

"And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." [Acts 2:21, NIV]

All the Christian believers would know of the signs to heed and would flee the war zone and be physically saved, and more importantly, all the Christians, whatever their physical location, would be saved from spiritual judgment and from the ongoing persecutions upon the removal of their persecutors.

1 CORINTHIANS 1:8 "So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Here, the DAY OF THE LORD is associated with the coming (literally, the "revealing") of Christ in the war events soon to follow. Paul is affirming the possession and use of special gifts during this time, as these people were waiting for that great DAY to occur when Christ would be revealed in judgment to the Jewish nation. Thus, they themselves would be "confirmed unto the end" - the end of the prophecies and the end of their persecution.

1 THESSALONIANS 5:2 "For you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night."[NIV]

In this well known verse, Paul speaks of the effect of the destruction, coming swiftly and unexpectedly upon the Jewish nation, most of whom were bottled up inside the great fortress city of Jerusalem itself. They did not dream that their mighty citadel could actually fall to the pagan Romans. God would surely intervene. They did not realize that God had abandoned them and was actively working against them. In verse 3, Paul says:

"While people are saying Peace and safety, destruction will come on them suddenly and they will not escape."[NIV]

This is why Christ gave the believers a series of signs to watch for (in Matthew 24 and elsewhere) in order for them to escape this event. So, in verse 4, again we read:

"But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief."

The Christians knew the signs to watch for, and history records their flight to safety beyond the war zone.

2 THESSALONIANS 2:2 (through 12), and 2 PETER 3:10-12 - Both of these verses contain important examples of the use of this symbol, but the reader is referred to chapter 5 for detailed examination of these involved passages.

REVELATION 6:17; 16:14-15 "For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?"

"For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. Behold, I come as a thief."

These passages are obviously tied to the other references of a DAY OF THE LORD in the New Testament, even to the reference of it coming like a "thief". It refers to the same event. No one who was caught up in that war would be able to stand against the might of the Roman army, who came to them to "gather them to battle." We should remember that the "kings of the earth" and the "whole world" are also symbols and should be interpreted properly (see discussion above). It was the Jewish world that came to a terrible close under Gods wrath.


Interpretation: Consolidation of Gods people.

In ancient times, the trumpet served a purpose during battle. It could be heard over the noise and was used to call combatants to the battle, or to regroup and consolidate their forces during the confusion of the fighting. We find a reference to this literal use of the battle trumpet in 1 Corinthians 14:8, where Paul states, "for if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?". In symbolic form, it was Gods call to his people, to consolidate their spiritual forces in allegiance to him and against their common enemy, the unbelieving and persecuting Jewish nation.

Old Testament References:

ISAIAH 27:13 "And in that day a great trumpet will sound. Those who were perishing in Assyria and those who were exiled in Egypt will come and worship the Lord on the holy mountain in Jerusalem."

"Those who were perishing" were the Jewish peoples who had been in captivity for 70 years. "That day" was to be the return to Jerusalem in 536 B.C. by the edict of Cyrus. The TRUMPET was symbolically blown to call and consolidate all of Gods chosen people who had been punished and were now being brought back together in their true home.

New Testament References:

MATTHEW 24:31 "And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet."

1 CORINTHIANS 15:52 "at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound."[NIV]

1 THESSALONIANS 4:16 "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with the trumpet call of God."[NIV]

All of these verses use the TRUMPET symbol as the call to action for the Christian believers. The upcoming war events were truly about to occur, and they were to be alert and ready for the final battle - the Spiritual battle of God against the unbelievers and the physical battle of Rome against the persecuting Jewish nation. That trumpet sounded almost 2,000 years ago. Today, we live in the era of eternal victory over the enemies who were vanquished in that battle.


Interpretation: The darkness of a nations distress, sorrow, and desolation.

Old Testament References:

ISAIAH 13:9-11 - "See, the day of the Lord is coming - a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger - to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. I will punish the world for its evil." [NIV]

This passage, so similar in form to the words of Christ and of John, speaks of the destruction of the land of Babylon. This section is one of the "burdens" of various kingdoms that Isaiah was prophesying against. The "day of the Lord" was, as previously noted, the actual war event when, in this instance, Babylon was conquered by the Medes. In verse 17, God says, "behold, I will stir up the Medes against them." Note also, that God punished the "world" for its evil - that is, the Babylonian "world."

The imagery of the STARS WILL NOT SHOW THEIR LIGHT, the SUN DARKENED, and MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, simply reflects the great distress, despair, and desolation of the Babylonians when this terrible thing happened to them. It was as if the "sun went down on their nation," as we might say it today.

The stars and physical universe did not go dark because the Medo-Persian empire supplanted the Babylonian one. This language is figurative.

ISAIAH 5:30 "And in that day they shall roar against them like the roaring of the sea. And if one look unto the land, behold darkness and sorrow, and the light is darkened in the heavens thereof."

This passage tells of the Assyrian attack and destruction of Israel in 721 B.C. This DARKNESS was obviously not literal. As the verse indicates, it was the pall of sorrow and despair of Israel as they suffered Gods wrath (v. 25) and were taken into captivity.

EZEKIEL 30:18; 32:7-8 "At Tehaphnehes also the day shall be darkened, when I shall break there the yokes of Egypt: and the pomp of her strength shall cease in her: as for her, a cloud shall cover her, and her daughters shall go into captivity." And when I shall put thee [Pharaoh] out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee, and set darkness upon thy land, saith the Lord God."

Here, we see a prophecy concerning Egypt. That nation would be destroyed by God, using the Babylonians (Ezek. 30:10) in 572 B.C. This destruction would cause the DARKNESS of distress and desolation to the conquered peoples of Egypt.

AMOS 8:9 "in that day, declares the Sovereign Lord, I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight" [NIV]

Amos prophesied for Israel, and this concerned the destruction and captivity of 721 B.C. by the Assyrians (see 6:14, and 5:27). The literal sun did not literally go down at noon and darken the earth. These were symbolic terms signifying the desolation and sorrow of the Israelites due to their calamity.

ZEPHANIAH 1:14-15 "The great day of the Lord is near - near and coming quickly....That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness...." [NIV]

The symbolic or figurative nature of these phrases is very clear in this passage which speaks of the impending defeat of the nation of Judah. The DARKNESS and GLOOM, CLOUDS and BLACKNESS, were distress, anguish, trouble, and ruin!

New Testament References:

MATTHEW 24:29 "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light...."

ACTS 2:20 "The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come."

REVELATION 6:12 "I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red." [NIV]

Here, we find three prophecies of the same event. In Acts, we are told that "this is that" of which the prophet Joel spoke. It was the destruction of the Jewish nation in AD. 70, and the symbols are used in the same way as before. This DARKNESS would be terrible, indeed, for this would be a final destruction of the old Jewish nation.

John saw in his vision the events that were soon to take place and recorded them in symbols as if it were then happening. He saw the earth - the people involved, or the Jewish nation - being shaken by a great "earthquake" of invasion and war. Their desolation and sorrow turned their DAY into utter and complete BLACK, as black as the inside of a bag made of black goat hair, because they were now utterly cut off from God. Their MOON was TURNED BLOOD RED by their own blood which was shed and their violent destruction and removal from their ancestral land.


Interpretation: The power of God manifested in attacking human armies.

Old Testament References:

JEREMIAH 51:29 "For the land shall tremble and sorrow: for every purpose of the Lord shall be performed against Babylon, to make the land of Babylon a desolation without an inhabitant."

In this powerful prophecy of the downfall of Babylon, we see that the TREMBLING of the land is symbolic for the God directed destruction of that land. This passage is filled with other similar symbols which speak the same message with poetic imagery.

EZEKIEL 38:19-20 "Surely in that day there shall be a great shaking in the land of lsrael...and all...that are upon the face of the earth shall shake at my presence."

This passage in Ezekiel looks forward to the time of the Roman invasion in A.D. 70. In verse 8, he says, "in the latter years, thou shalt come into the land that is brought back from the sword, and is gathered out of many people." This refers to the church which would be redeemed from the war events and would he composed of Gentile as well as Jewish peoples.

It would be the unbelieving Jewish nation (all upon the face of the "earth") that would SHAKE. This verse tells us what that shaking is caused by - it is due to Gods presence, manifested in the attacking Roman army.

New Testament References:

REVELATION 16:18 "Then there came...a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on the earth, so tremendous was the quake." [NIV]

Again, these things are not literal but are symbols of other specific things. The phrase "man on the earth" refers specifically to the Jewish nation in Palestine, and the EARTHQUAKE here was the power and presence of God working through the agency of the Roman army. Nothing had ever shaken the Jewish nation like this EARTHQUAKE would do. Israel and Judah had been taken captive and Jerusalem destroyed before, but never had God completely abandoned them. This was to be their final and total destruction - a religious, and political EARTHQUAKE that would literally remove them from their land.

Symbol: SEA or WATERS

Interpretation: A multitude or a nation of people.

Old Testament References:

ISAIAH 5:30 "And in that day they shall roar against them like the roaring of the sea."

The parties involved here are the Assyrian armies "roaring" against the Hebrews. In this symbol, the great number and strength of the Assyrian soldiers are compared to the waves of the stormy sea.

ISAIAH 8:7 "The Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many."

These WATERS are symbolic of a warlike nation that would sweep over Judah like flood waters. The next phrase (vss. 7-8) tell us who it is:

"...even the king of Assyria, and all his glory: and he shall come up over all his channels, and go all over his banks: And he shall pass through Judah..."

ISAIAH 18:12 "Woe to the multitude of many people, which make a noise like the noise of the seas; and to the rushing of nations, that make a rushing like the rushing of mighty waters!"

This passage concerning Israel's enemies shows plainly how the terms SEAS and WATERS are used symbolically or figuratively to represent nations and multitudes.

JEREMIAH 51:42 "The sea is come up upon Babylon: she is covered with the multitude of the waves thereof."

What was this sea that would cover Babylon? Was it the literal ocean waters? No, this was the "sea" of the armies of the Medes as we read in verse 28. In verse 25, another symbol is used that gives the image of Babylon becoming a "burnt mountain." Utterly different images, both meaning the same thing: the destruction of the Babylonian nation by God, through the use of the Medes.

New Testament References:

REVELATION 4:6 "...before the throne, there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal...."[NIV]

The throne was Gods, and this sea was (and is) the sea of his own people, the faithful Christian believers. The sea is pictured as being like glass - that is, it was smooth and not turbulent. Gods people are given true peace.

REVELATION 8:8 "...something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood." [NIV]

The "huge mountain was a symbol for the Roman empire, and when that empire was "thrown into the sea," it simply signifies that God was causing the Roman army to come into conflict with the peoples of Palestine, who were the SEA here. That this was an action of war is indicated by the imagery of the SEA (the people involved) turning into blood.

REVELATION 21:1 "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea." [NIV]

After the old Jewish Law had been fulfilled, and the faithful remnant, the Christian believers, had been secured, then the old unbelieving nation of Judaism was utterly destroyed in the war. The Jewish nation ceased to exist as it did in Biblical times. The SEA of the Jewish peoples "was no longer."


Interpretation: A nations unfaithfulness or apostasy to God.

Old Testament References:

ISAIAH 1:21 "See how the faithful city has become a harlot! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her - but now murderers!" [NIV]

The faithful city was Jerusalem (and thus representing the Jewish nation), but it was no longer faithful. It had taken on a series of earthly kings, and the people of God had turned to idolatry. These actions were symbolized as spiritual fornication or whoredom, a breach of the contract or covenant God had made with Abraham and his descendants.

EZEKIEL 16:14-15 "And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign Lord. But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his." [NIV]

Who is God speaking of here? This long address begins in verse 1, where God tells Ezekiel to "confront Jerusalem with her detestable practices, and say, This is what the Sovereign Lord says to Jerusalem" It was Jerusalem who had acted the part of a prostitute, and in verses 26-29, God spells out with whom:

"You engaged in prostitution with the Egyptians your lustful neighbors...You engaged in prostitution with the Assyrians, too, because you were insatiable. Then you increased your promiscuity to include Babylonia."

HOSEA 1:2 "...for the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the Lord." Here, it is plain that the land, which was Israel, was guilty of "departing" from God and is pictured as a whore.

NAHUM 3:4 "All because of the wanton lust of a harlot, alluring...who enslaved nations by her prostitution." [NIV]

In this passage, the same imagery is applied to the city of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire, and thus to its people, of whom God says (v.5), "I am against you.

New Testament References:

REVELATION 17:1-5 "I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute...With her, the kings of the earth committed adultery.I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast. This title was written on her forehead: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES." [NIV]

REVELATION 18:3,9 "For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The kings of the earth committed adultery with her" "When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her."[NIV]

REVELATION 19:2 "He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants." [NIV]

This prostitute is, again, Jerusalem, representing the entire Jewish nation that had rejected Christ. In their passion for being like the other nations around them, the Jews debased themselves and entered into unfitting practices of idolatry, business, and hedonism that drew them farther and farther from God and his righteousness. Once that nation became a persecuting enemy of his remnant people, it had to finally be destroyed. Revelation is the picture of that destruction and the resulting victory of the Christian believers. It brings the Christians from the darkness of persecution and tribulation to the point where God tells them (ch. 18:20):

"Rejoice over her, 0 heaven! Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets! God has judged her by the way she treated you." [NIV]


Interpretation: An evil nation.

Strictly speaking, this is not a parallel symbol, for the Old Testament reference is to the actual city (and therefore, nation) of Babylon rather than Babylon as a symbol for another place. The significance and the direct quotation, however, is so important and striking, and yet so often misunderstood, that it is included in this list.

Old Testament References:

ISAIAH 21:9 "Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground."

As noted, this refers to the literal city and empire of Babylon, which became the type, or the distinctive example of an evil empire. Considered one of the great cities of mankind in ancient times, it was utterly pagan and evil in its idolatry and moral corruption. This image of a degraded and decadent nation was used directly in the Apocalypse to represent another evil nation.

New Testament References:

REVELATION 14:8 "Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication."

John used the name of the evil nation of Babylon to represent or symbolize the evil of the Jewish nation. He sees Jerusalem pictured as the great prostitute, and names it BABYLON. In chapter 18:10, the "kings of the earth," who were the religious and political leaders of Judea, would stand in witness of the terrible destruction of their nation, and they say:

"Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour is thy judgment come."

Similarly, in chapter 11:8, Jerusalem is symbolically named "Sodom" and "Egypt," names of evil cities and lands of the past, to indicate the evils the Jews had committed against God. In this passage, John states plainly that this great city is called these names figuratively," and we know that he means Jerusalem because it is where "the Lord was crucified."

Symbol: EAGLE

Interpretation: Swift judgment and consequence through earthly armies.

Old Testament References:

JEREMIAH 48:40; 49:22 "Look! An eagle is swooping down, spreading its wings over Moab." "Look! An eagle will soar and swoop down, spreading its wings over Bozrah." [NIV]

This EAGLE is not a physical bird, but rather, the king of Babylon, whom God is using as a tool to punish various nations, including Moab and Edom. The appellation "eagle" denoted the swift judgment of the conquest of these people through the battle actions, just like the quick attack and kill a literal eagle makes on its prey.

HOSEA 8:1 "He shall come as an eagle against the house of the Lord."

This EAGLE is the Assyrian army coming with swift judgment against the north kingdom of Israel.

HABAKKUK 1:8 "Their horses also are swifter than the leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves,They shall fly as the eagle that hasteth to eat."

It is the horsemen or armies of Chaldea (or Babylon) that is described by this prophet. The meanings of the various appellations are obvious: swift judgment against their enemies.

New Testament References:

MATTHEW 24:28 "For wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together."

These EAGLES were the Roman armies, especially appropriate to the use of this symbol because the eagle was their specific ensign and symbol. The eagle flew on their banners and was manifested in many other ways to indicate who they were. Now, within that living generation, Jesus prophecies that these EAGLES would come to bring swift judgment to the Jewish nation, which is pictured as a dead carcass - spiritually dead to God.

REVELATION 4:7 "and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle."

These four "beasts," or more literally "living creatures," were symbolic of different attributes of God. The fourth attribute pictures him as the EAGLE, bringing swift judgment and retribution to Judea through the military actions of human armies.


Interpretation: A nation that is spiritually dead and militarily defeated.

Old Testament References:

ISAIAH 5:25 "Therefore is the anger of the Lord kindled against his people and the hills did tremble and their carcasses were torn."

Gods people are here pictured as a carcass because of their sin. They had become spiritually dead to God because of their evil ways, and now his anger was aroused. God would punish them by bringing the warlike Assyrians against them. The Assyrians would come with speed swiftly" (v. 26) and figuratively tear the carcasses, like a predator killing its prey.

ISAIAH 14:19 "But thou art cast out of thy grave like A carcass trodden under foot."

The recipient of this prophecy was the king of Babylon (v. 4) and his empire, which would be as a carcass or dead body because his power and authority was dead, and now he would be militarily defeated - trodden under the feet of the Medo-Persians.

New Testament References:

MATTHEW 24:28 "For wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together."

Again, this carcass was the unbelieving and spiritually dead nation of Judaism which would be consumed by the Roman "eagles" in the war actions soon to follow.

Symbol: SMOKE

Interpretation: Desolation or destruction.

Old Testament References:

ISAIAH 34:10 "[Edoms] smoke will rise forever. From generation to generation it will lie desolate." [NIV]

In this prophecy against Edom, the desolation of that land is symbolized by an eternal SMOKE. This was literally fulfilled, and that land is desolate and destroyed even today. The tombs of Petra stand silent, and the awed visitor finds only a plain of broken shards where the great city once stood.

ISAIAH 14:31 "Thou, whole Palestina, art dissolved: for there shall come from the north a smoke...."

Here, the destruction of the land of Palestina is pictured as a SMOKE coming from the north, which was in the form of the Babylonian armies.

New Testament References:

REVELATION 9:2 "When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss." [NIV]

All of the SMOKES in Revelation are symbolic of the same thing: the destruction and desolation of the city of Jerusalem and the nation of Judaism of which it was the capital. It becomes plain that this is the correct interpretation of the symbol when we read in verse 3 that "locusts came down out of the SMOKE" - these were "locusts" that (v. 7-10) "looked like horses prepared for battle," with "human faces" and "breast plates of iron" and the "thunder of many horses and chariots rushing into battle."

The Roman army is almost literally pictured here by John, and it was that army which "tormented people for five months" - the actual time span of the siege of Jerusalem.

REVELATION 14:11 "...and the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest...for those who worship the beast...."

Those who would not accept Christ would fall with "Babylon" (v. 8), which is the symbolic name for Jerusalem. The desolation and destruction symbolized by SMOKE would be eternal for those who are cut off from God by their unbelief. This traumatic experience of the war actions, along with the preceding years of persecution from the Jews, would require "patient endurance on the part of the saints" (v.12).

REVELATION 15:8 "And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power...." [NIV]

This is a symbolic picture of the destruction of the Temple of Herod in Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The temple was filled with symbolic SMOKE as well as literal smoke when it was burned to the ground. The symbol stands for the destruction of the Temple as the physical abode of the spiritual God. He desolated it by removing his presence from it for ever and destroyed it with the symbolic contents of the seven golden bowls, which were "filled with the wrath of God" (verse 7). This event would show Gods power, and his glory - which represents victory.

These references to the Temples imminent destruction are also strong evidences to the early (pre- A.D. 70) dating of the writing of this book (see Chapter Seven).

REVELATION 18:9 "When the kings of the earth...see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her."[NIV]

The many merchants who had become rich in Judea, along with the Jewish leaders who had rejected Christ and had led the people into a degraded spiritual lifestyle, would see the destruction of their land and nation and would truly mourn. The SMOKE of the desolation and destruction of the Jewish state would rise forever in the impact it had on the affairs of man and God.


Interpretation: Desperation for protection from destruction.

Old Testament References:

HOSEA 10:8 "The high places of wickedness will be destroyed - it is the sin of Israel. Thorns and thistles will grow up and cover their altars. Then they will say to the mountains, Cover us! and to the hills, Fall on us!"[NIV]

The sin of the north kingdom of Israel would be answered by God when he brought the Assyrian nation against them in 721 B.C. The phrases are symbolic of the people of Israel becoming frantic and desperate as they see the invaders approaching. In their panic, they would wish to be delivered by any means, even (poetically speaking) to the point of asking the mountains and hills to swallow them up in order to avoid the oncoming destruction.

New Testament References:

LUKE 23:30 "Then they will say to the mountains, Fall on us! and to the hills, Cover us!" [NIV]

These are words spoken by Jesus on his way to be crucified. Verse 28 preceding, tells us who he was talking to and what he was talking about:

"Jesus turned and said to them, Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children."[NIV]

Christ knew what the people around him did not know. He knew that the city and nation was going to be destroyed by war and famine. It would be these very people who would be pleading for deliverance from the Roman siege and destruction just 38 years later.

REVELATION 6:15-17 "Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!" [NIV]

Here, we see an entire panoply of the peoples that were caught up in the great war siege and destruction of Jerusalem. The "kings of the earth" who were the religious/political leaders (the Sanhedrin, High Priest, etc.), and all the other types of people - rich and poor, slave and free - that were frantically seeking deliverance from the Roman attack. It did not matter "who you were," for the city was sealed up and no one escaped.

In the vision "view" of John, the symbols of the people involved realize that the destruction is actually brought by God himself and that it is due to the anger or wrath of Christ against his enemies that they are so afflicted. They realize with great dread that (v. 17):

"the great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?"

Symbol: FIRE

Interpretation: The power of the Word of God.

Old Testament References:

JEREMIAH 23:29 "Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord." [NIV]

Here, the symbol is plainly presented in its simplest form - that of a simile (saying that one thing is "like" another). Why FIRE? Because, Gods Word either burns or tempers those who hear it. It can bring energy and power - or great and total destruction.

EZEKIEL 10:2 "Go in between the wheelsand fill thine hand with coals of fire from between the cherubims and scatter them over the city."

This symbolic imagery concerns the power of God present in and dealing with the people who were left in Jerusalem during the first part of the Babylonian captivity. The city would soon be destroyed for the sins and apostasies of the people. The FIRE came from between the cherubim - from within the image of God. Thus, the FIRE represents the power of God manifested toward his sinful people.

ZEPHANIAH 1:18; 3:8 "In the fire of his jealousy the whole world will be consumed."

"The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger." [NIV]

The "world" that would be "consumed" by the power of God - his powerful FIRE - was Judah, which would soon be taken by the Babylonians. Gods anger was manifested toward Judah through human armies. Notice the use of the symbol "whole world" to symbolize the nation of the prophecy.

ZECHARIAH 2:4-5 "Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of men and livestock in it. And I myself will be a wall of fire around it, declares the Lord, and I will be its glory within." [NIV]

Gods power is not always used in anger, of course. Here we see a picture of the great positive power of God in a vision of the present spiritual kingdom. This is how God protects and glorifies the spiritual church that Christians live in today. The FIRE that defines and protects the kingdom is the Word of God, as we shall see in the New Testament references.

New Testament References:

HEBREWS 12:29 "For our God is a consuming fire."

This verse (quoting Deuteronomy 4:24), is one of the most powerful metaphor in the Bible. In what way is God a consuming fire? The passage in Jeremiah 23:29 tells us his words are like fire, and John 1:1 states that the Word was God. It is the power of God manifested in what God calls into being by willing or stating it, and activated through the person of Christ.

REVELATION 8:5 "Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth."[NIV]

Notice the parallel with Ezekiel 10:2. Here again, the FIRE originates in the altar, meaning it comes from God himself, and then it is taken and "hurled on the earth." This symbolizes the power of God, whose word caused the destructions to come upon the Jewish nation. As previously discussed, the "earth" is the nation involved in the prophecy.

REVELATION 14:9-10 "If any man worship the beastthe same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of Godand he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb."

Anyone who aligned themselves with the "beast" (which was the unbelieving and persecuting powers of Judea or Rome), would be "tormented" with the fire of God manifested in the war actions of AD. 67-70. God does not stand and gloat over lost sinners as they are tormented. In fact, the torment of lost sinners is their removal from the presence of God. Here, however, the subjects of torment are in the presence of God and the Lamb (Christ), because these symbols represent the specific events of the Roman-Jewish war and the destruction of those people who were persecuting the new Christian church.


Interpretation: An earthly nation opposed to God.

Old Testament References:

JEREMIAH 51:25 "I am against you, 0 destroying mountain, you who destroy the whole earth, declares the Lord. I will stretch out my hand against you, roll you off the cliffs, and make you a burned-out mountain." [NIV]

This entire chapter is a prophecy of the downfall of the Babylonian empire. This evil nation is symbolized as a MOUNTAIN, presumably because it was large and terrifying to the smaller, less aggressive nations around it. God is promising to destroy it here, and make Babylon into a "burned - out mountain," in the time of their "visitation" or "judgment" (v. 18), which he would accomplish in a familiar way (v. 11):

"The Lord has stirred up the kings of the Medes, because his purpose is to destroy Babylon. The Lord will take vengeance."[NIV]

MICAH 1:3-5 "Look! The Lord is coming from his dwelling place...and treads the high places of the earth. The mountains melt beneath him.All this is because ofthe sins of the house of Israel.What is Judahs high place? Is it not Jerusalem?" [NIV]

Here, the prophet uses the symbol, and then tells us that the high place or MOUNTAIN refers to Jerusalem, which stands for the entire Hebrew nation that had become opposed to God through idolatry and other sins. That nation, although a great "mountain," would become melted under Gods symbolic feet. It would be reduced from its glory and greatness by the conquering pagan armies.

New Testament References:

REVELATION 6:14; 16:20 "The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place."

"Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found." [NIV]

In both of these passages, the MOUNTAIN was the nation that opposed God and the new spiritual kingdom of the church - the "great city" symbolized with the name "Babylon." It was Jerusalem and the Jewish nation which had now come to the final "day" of God and was destroyed. The MOUNTAIN was "removed from its place" and "could not be found." The sky receded like a rolled up scroll, signifying the "end of the book" for Jerusalem, and the "islands" within signified the leaders and important men of the nation who were also "removed" and who "flew away" in captivity and destruction.

REVELATION 8:8 "The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood...."[NIV]

This MOUNTAIN was the Roman Empire, manifested in its armies, which was "thrown into the sea" - that is, it was caused by God to invade the people ("sea") who were the subjects of this prophecy. These people were, of course, the disobedient Jewish nation. Notice the phrase "something like a huge mountain" which shows that this is a symbolic image, not literal. The sea of people turned into blood once the Roman army invaded the land. It is symbolized as a third because this is one part of a three part "woe" or pronouncement of doom.

Symbol: PIT or ABYSS

Interpretation: The destruction of nations by violence.

Old Testament References:

EZEKIEL 26:20 "Then I will bring you down with those who go down to the pitand you will not return or take your place in the land of the living."[NIV]

This promise of destruction was aimed not at a person, but at the city - state of Tyre or Tyrus (v. 15). This city was taken three times within 100 years, initially by Alexander the Great. Again we see that it was through such pagan armies that God accomplished his vengeance on these realms. It is God, nevertheless, who is causing the events to happen. In verse 19, Ezekiel makes this plain:

"This is what the Sovereign Lord says: when I make you a desolate city, like cities no longer inhabited." [NIV]

The destruction of the realm is symbolized as going down into the PIT. It was the land of the dead - a place or situation allowing no return to the former ways prior to the destruction.

EZEKIEL 31:14-16 "They are all destined for death...with those who go down to the pit. I made the nations tremble at the sound of its fall when I brought it down to the grave with those who go down to the pit."[NIV]

This passage concerns the nation of Assyria (v. 3), of which God states in verse 11:

"I cast it aside." [Eze 31:11, NIV]

Assyria was being used as an example to Egypt (vss. 1-2), and the descent into the PIT was symbolic of the violent downfall of mighty Assyria.

EZEKIEL 32:18-30 "Wail for the hordes of Egypt and consign to the earth below both her and the daughters of mighty nations, with those who go down to the pit." [NIV]

This long passage contains several references to the PIT, which was the destruction of Egypt. In verses 28-29, Ezekiel states:

"You too, 0 Pharaoh, will be broken and will liewith those who go down to the pit."[NIV]

This PIT would be the condition of Egypt once it was cast down from power or dominion into the "pit" of subjection.

New Testament References:

REVELATION 9:1-2 "and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit [literally: "the pit of the abyss"]. And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit."

This "star" was the Roman authority (personified by the Emperor Nero), which fell from "heaven to earth" - that is: from the place of Roman authority to the nation involved in the prophecy, which is Judea. The Roman authority, or "star," was given the "key of the pit" meaning that they were given the power and impetus to come against the Jewish nation and destroy it. That evil nation was then symbolically cast into the PIT of destruction, divinely determined. The "smoke" was symbolic of the battle actions and eventual desolation of the city and the land - a smoke of utter ruin.


Interpretation: Invading and attacking armies.

Old Testament References:

JOEL 1:4-6; 2:4-5 "What the locust swarm has left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left the young locusts have eaten...A nation has invaded my land, powerful and without number" [NIV]

As previously mentioned, there is not a clear consensus with scholars concerning the time and subject of Joels prophecy. Many people believe that this prophecy of locusts refers only to a literal plague of insects that came upon the land, but if we examine Joel a bit further (ch. 2:4-5) and compare this passage to the same use of symbols in Revelation, it becomes plain that this is also symbolic of an invasion by an army which have:

"the appearance of horses; they gallop along like cavalry, with a noise like that of chariotslike a mighty army drawn up for battle." [NIV]

Acts 2:16-17 shows us that this great prophecy of Joel is not aimed at an event of the Old Testament days, but like many other Old Testament prophets such as Daniel and Zechariah, he was looking forward to the "latter days" and to the events of the Roman invasion of Judea. LOCUSTS is used as a symbol for the invading army that would attack and devour the land of Judea in a manner reminiscent of the destruction caused by a literal plague of locusts.

In Joel chapter 2:23-25, God speaks to his chosen people, the Christian believers:

"Be glad, o people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your GodI will repay you for the years the locusts have eatenmy great army that I sent among you." [NIV]

New Testament References:

REVELATION 9:3-10 "And out of the smoke locusts came down upon the earthThe locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces. Their hair was like womens hair and their teeth were like lions teeth. They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. They hadpower to torment people for five months." [NIV]

John could not have been any plainer in his use of this symbol except to explicitly state that the LOCUSTS were literally a human army. He comes as close to stating it as he possibly can. It is obvious that he used so plain a symbol so that it could be simply and clearly understood by those who were receiving and interpreting this prophecy. There could be no mistake that this was an invasion by a terrible and powerful human army.

This is no picture of a modern army of our future, but one of horses, chariots, armor of iron, etc. This was the Roman army pictured as plainly as possible and symbolized by the figure LOCUSTS. This army was given the power to "torment people for five months." We must remember that God was directing this war and using the Romans as a vehicle for his divine wrath. Five months was the exact length of time involved in the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans under Titus.


Interpretation: Bitter effects of bad judgments.

Old Testament References:

AMOS 5:7 "Ye who turn judgment to wormwood, and leave off righteousness in the earth."

Wormwood is an aromatic plant whose juices are extremely bitter. It is used here to symbolize the bitter effects of the evil lifestyle of the Israelites who had used bad judgment in turning away from God and engaging in idolatry.

New Testament References:

REVELATION 8:10-11 "a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.[NIV]

As we previously noted, the symbol "waters" refers to a people or nation. These waters were the Jews who had rejected Christ. This bad judgment was now being repaid with the bitterness or WORMWOOD of the war actions against them. Their nation was destroyed, and many were killed. It was a bitter thing, indeed, for the Jews to experience.


Interpretation: Attributes of God.

Old Testament References:

EZEKIEL 1:5-10 - "And in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was that of a man each of the four had the face of a man, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle." [NIV]

This remarkable passage in Ezekiel can be confusing (in much the same manner as Revelation can be) because of the profusion of symbols used. The meaning becomes clear to the reader when we realize that all of the prophetic descriptions refer to one thing only. Verse 24 tells us that the "wings" of this visionary creature made a noise "like the voice of the Almighty," and verse 28 plainly states:

"this was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord."

It was God himself The FOUR LIVING CREATURES were symbolic attributes of God: the face of a man symbolized his personality of reason, wisdom, and intelligence: the face of a lion symbolized strength and power; the face of an ox was symbolic of endurance and determination; and the face of an eagle symbolized swift execution of judgment.

This symbolic representation of God was presented in this manner as a prelude and preparation for the upcoming prophecies concerning the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in 587 B.C.

New Testament References:

REVELATION 4:6-7 "in the center, around the throne, were four living creaturesthe first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle."[NIV]

Here we find an interchangeable set of symbols used by John in the same manner and for the same purpose as Ezekiel. Again we see in the FOUR LIVING CREATURES the identical four attributes of God, using the same symbols and symbolizing the same things. This time, the representation of God was made in preparation for the upcoming revelations concerning the destruction of the Jewish nation in AD. 70.

Symbol: CLOUD (in reference to God)

Interpretation: Power in the spiritual state.

Old Testament References:

ISAIAH 19:1 "An oracle concerning Egypt: see the Lord rides on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt."[NIV]

God did not arrive in Egypt in 572 B.C. in or on a literal cloud of the Earths sky. He came in the actions of attacking armies arrayed against Egypt. His personal presence was completely spiritual in nature, but was full of power none the less.

EZEKIEL 1:4 "I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north - an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light." [NIV]

This is the same vision we examined in the section on four living creatures" above, and this part of the symbolic representation of God shows him as an immense CLOUD full of power and light (which is knowledge). This was not a literal cloud of the sky, but represented the spiritual nature of God in a symbol.

New Testament References:

MATTHEW 24:30 "and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory."

These were the "tribes of the earth," the Jews who saw the power of God manifested in the attacking Roman armies. Christ did not come in the clouds of earth, but the clouds of heaven. His coming was spiritual in nature.

REVELATION 1:7 "Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him."

The kindreds (literally, the tribes) of the earth were the Jewish nation, who would wail or mourn because of the destructions brought on them by God. They would see Christ coming in or with CLOUDS, not in the literal sky, but in the spiritual state through the actions of the Roman army.


Interpretation: Powerful words of God.

Old Testament References:

EZEKIEL 43:2 "And behold, the glory of the God of Israelhis voice was like a noise of many waters."

Gods voice is pictured here as the sound of a powerful waterfall. His voice (meaning the things he says) is powerful. Whatever he utters comes to pass, like the Temple of Solomon that was described to Ezekiel in the following verses.

New Testament References:

REVELATION 1:15 "and his voice [was] as the sound of many waters."

Here, the words or voice of Christ is pictured in the same way, using the same symbol. His powerful words were revealed to John and the things spoken came into being in the actions of the war events and the spiritual glory of the Church in victory over its enemies.


Interpretation: The disclosure by God and reception by humans of specific prophetic knowledge.

Old Testament References:

EZEKIEL 2:8-3:3 "But you, son of man,open your mouth and eat what I give you. Then I looked, and I saw a scroll which he unrolled before me. On both sides were written words of lament and mourning and woe. And he said to me, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel. So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth." [NIV]

The SCROLL or "roll of the book" (KJV), was a symbol of the prophecies that Ezekiel was about to receive. When he "ate the book," he took in the contents of the prophecy, and these words were "sweet as honey" to him because they came directly from God and were the truth. Gods command to Ezekiel was to take this information in and then go to the house of Israel and reveal the words of God to them through his capacity as a prophet. This entire episode is symbolic of the reception of specific prophetic knowledge.

New Testament References:

REVELATION 5:1; 10:9-10 "Then I saw a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals." "So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey. I took the little scroll and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. Then I was told, You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings." [NIV]

Here again, we see the symbol: SCROLL WITH WRITING ON BOTH SIDES, representing prophetic information that was "consumed" by John in order to prophesy or deliver the information to the rest of the nation (in this case, the nation of Christians). This book contained very accurate visions of the upcoming Roman-Jewish war and the destruction of Judaism and the triumph of Christianity. It is the book of Revelation itself that John "ate" and then prophesied.

John used the same symbols as Ezekiel, including the reception of the information being "sweet as honey." The true words of God were sweet and pure, but they turned "sour in the stomach" because they told of the horrors to come upon the "house of Israel" - the old Jewish nation.

Verse 11 shows that the purpose of EATING THE SCROLL was in order to prophesy. It is noteworthy that John was instructed to continue a lengthy and involved campaign of prophecy after the time he received the Revelation. This indicates that he was a relatively young man (in his mid-50s), rather than the old man of 90 plus years that many futurist scholars would have him be if he were to have written the Revelation long after the war during the reign of Domitian (approximately A.D. 95).


Interpretation: Indication of righteousness or of unrighteousness.

Old Testament References:

EZEKIEL 9:3-6 "Then the Lordsaid to him, Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it. As I listened, he said to the others, Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark"[NIV]

This terrible punishment was meted out by God through the Babylonian armys conquest of the nation in 587 B.C. This took place very shortly after Ezekiel saw this vision and those events are represented here in symbolic form. Those whose lives were spared were the ones who were still God-fearing. They had the MARK of righteousness.

New Testament References:

REVELATION 7:3; 9:4; 13:16-17 "Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God."

"They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads." [NIV]

In identical imagery, we see here the believers and followers of Christ not only marked, but SEALED IN THEIR FOREHEADS, symbolic of the permanent tie between God and those who are righteous through Christ.

Those who had not the seal of God, had instead the MARK of the Beast, which was the symbol of the unrighteousness of those in subservience to the heathen or pagan powers. Chapter 13:16-17 reads:

"[The Beast] also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name." [NIV]

The MARK itself is not a literal mark, of course. It is a symbol. The figurative MARK represents a persons allegiance to one side or the other - to righteousness with God, or unrighteousness with the human powers of the unbelieving world.


Interpretation: A spiritual "resurrection "from threatened defeat to glorious victory.

The purpose of this final comparison is not to show a specific symbol - word or phrase match, but a match of concepts that helps us to understand a difficult symbolic message in Revelation. The FIRST RESURRECTION is taken by most people to represent some kind of a physical resurrection from death to life.

Let us look at the New Testament reference first this time to illustrate the usage of this phrase. In Revelation 20:4-6, we read:

"and I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshipped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand yearsThis is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them." [NIV]

Here, in symbols, we see the courageous Christian martyrs who, because of their belief and testimony, had been murdered by the persecuting Jews and Romans. This was during the time of the "tribulations" which John and the other Christians were experiencing when he wrote down the Revelation.

The "second death" (that is, spiritual death) had no power over the martyrs, for they were already justified to God. As Christ told the congregation at Smyrna in chapter 2:11,

"He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death." [NIV]

This FIRST RESURRECTION of the martyrs souls is pictured as a resurrection where John says they "came to life and reigned with Christ." This cannot be a literal resurrection, however! It cannot be a resurrection from physical death back to physical life, for we know that the nature of Christian resurrection is to spiritual life with God (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). We also know that it could not be their resurrection from physical or spiritual death to spiritual life, for they were Christian martyrs! They were already alive with God spiritually in the heavenly realm (Ephesians 2:5-6). This spiritual resurrection occurred for each of them at the moment of their baptism into Gods Kingdom (Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12).

This RESURRECTION was a symbol. It symbolized the raising up of the martyred Christians from persecution and humiliation by their enemies to a high position of victory and of being avenged for their sacrifices. This is also, as previously discussed, the meaning of the prophecy in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, where the "dead in Christ shall rise first."

Interestingly, there is an example of a symbolic resurrection in the Old Testament. The consideration of this passage helps us to understand that this word "resurrection" can be and was used as a symbol for something other than a literal raising from the dead.

The passage is found in Ezekiel 37:1-14 in the prophecy known as the Valley of Dry Bones. It begins:

"The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, Son of man, can these bones live? I said, 0 Sovereign Lord, you alone know [NIV]

Now, Ezekiel is told to prophecy to the bones and as he does so, they rise up with a rattling sound. God causes the bones to come together and attaches tendons, flesh and skin to them. Then he gives them breath to live, whereupon they:

"stood up on their feet - a vast army. Then he said to me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off. Therefore prophesy and say to them: This is what the Sovereign Lord says: 0 my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel." [Verses 10-12, NIV]

Here, indeed, is a symbolic resurrection. This raising up is not a literal opening of graves. It represents the restoration of the nation of Israel to its land after the Babylonian captivity. The nation was still held captive at the time Ezekiel received this vision. He was to prophecy to the dry bones. The bones were symbolic of the people of Israel who had abandoned God and were abandoned by him for so long ("cut off). They were spiritually dry. They were in their "graves" - that is, they were in the lands of their captivity. God would now open your graves and bring you up from them." He would restore his people to their rightful lands in Palestine (in 536 B.C.), and they would be spiritually "reborn" to him after being punished for their apostasies through captivity.

Once again, we see that the symbols used in both the Old and New Testaments are truly symbolic - one thing is used to represent another, quite different, thing. We should never confuse the symbol for the thing symbolized, especially when the symbol is so "loaded" with meanings of its own as the word "resurrection" is.

We have seen in this section how symbol meanings can be discovered by comparing Old Testament prophecy symbols (and their known meanings derived from the known fulfillment's of the prophecies involved)with the same symbols used in the same manner by New Testament prophets. We have also seen how applying this method and interpreting the results to correspond to the Roman/Jewish war of A.D. 67-70 brings harmony and reason to the symbols we find in the New Testament, especially those in Revelation.

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Richard Wayne Garganta