“The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son” (Rev 21:7).

The Hereford Cathedral, Divine Oval, Christian Symbolism Engraving from The History and Principles and Practice of Symbolism in Christian Art, by F. Edward Hulme and Published in 1891.

“The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son” (Rev 21:7, ESV).[1] There was a time, not so long ago actually, that if somebody described something from the Bible as being “symbolic,” I would invariably conclude that they were being dismissive, and though I think that can be true at times, I have come to appreciate the richness and dimensions and understanding conveyed through the use of symbolism. Let us consider a selection of blessing phrases from Scripture: 

To those who overcome, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. I will give you the crown of life. I will give you some of the hidden manna. 1 will give you a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it. To those who overcome and do my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations. I will also give you the morning star. Those who overcome will be dressed in white. I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will you leave it. I will write on you the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God. I will write on you my new name. To those who overcome, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne.[2]

Are all these symbolic in some way? Do each designate something different than what is outright stated? Does the white stone, for instance, depict a scene in which God declares His obedient followers to be innocent? A theory based on the Roman custom of using white stones to indicate votes of acquittal and black stones for votes of guilt. Is the white stone a reference to an invitation to “the banquet of all banquets” for devoted followers? A theory based on the custom of utilizing white stones as a kind of entrance ticket to banquets. Does the white stone indicate that devoted followers have a special priestly position in the life to come? A theory based on the high priest’s breastplate consisting of beautiful stones. According to Brent Sandy, there are at least 12 distinct theories as to what the white stone might mean alone, hence our list could go on and on. Fortunately, Sandy recognizes a road map for understanding the various rewards for overcomers; though expressed in different words, the reward we await is to experience God’s presence in all its fullness, and the individual symbols employed each reflect that reality. For example, Sandy notes that the tree of life recalls the unique closeness Adam and Eve had with God in the Garden of Eden; likewise, the manna that fell from heaven was God’s special provision to the Israelites in the wilderness and another expression of God’s presence. What is more, just as to be a pillar in the temple of God is to be in God’s presence forever and ever, Scripture is telling us, in a variety of ways, that overcomers will experience an everlasting oneness with God; therefore, each reward presents a different way to visualize the same basic truth of Revelation 21:7.[3]

Although the traditional (24 hour, seven days) interpretation of the Genesis 1 creation account is typically referred to as “literal,” I have in recent years come to appreciate that principle: “total objectivity is not our goal;” instead, “we want objectivity within the framework of evangelical presuppositions.”[4] But even still, “evangelical presuppositions” can be a source of bias, depending on the particular presupposition one ascribes. Much of the creation debate, for example, is framed around literal verses figurative, traditional verses nontraditional, but I have come to view this juxtaposition as misleading, as interpretation is read into the Word and regarded as inherent to the Word. Granted, the Bible does acknowledge a literal Adam and Eve, and the Bible presents a creation sequence of six consecutive days, but there is a lot here that the Bible does not literally say. So, what meaning in God’s revelation are we missing, because our understanding of the divine is framed in the context of the mundane? As Sandy asks, “Will we walk streets of gold? We can be sure heavenly existence is something like what they describe, but if we think it is exactly what they describe, we will have lowered the spirit world of God and heaven to the physical world that we have experienced.”[5]

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the English Standard Version.

[2] Brent Sandy, Plowshares and Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2002), 28.

[3] Ibid., 29-30.

[4] J. Scott Duval and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, Third Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2019), 145.

[5] Sandy, 26.

To view all posts, click/press the link here to visit the Amazing Tangled Grace main page.

Please Subscribe to follow my blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. God bless!