The Message of Symbols Part 1

Oftentimes when we read some of the things in scripture, particularly symbolic things in books like Revelation or Daniel we are left shaking our heads. It is easy to simply move on to something easier to grasp. Yet if we see the scriptures as a unity, 66 books inspired by one divine author and penned by many human authors, we can draw wisdom from these symbols. There are patterns that we can see across scripture if we look. Once we see the repeated patterns some of the symbols are easier to understand. An example is the image of Jesus as the Lamb in Revelation. However understanding the symbols in Revelation requires a solid foundation in the Old Testament (OT).  

And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. Revelation 5:6 (NKJV)

Here we have Jesus depicted as the Lamb. The word ‘midst’ is used twice in this verse showing that the Lamb is the focal point of the attention of John as the observer. Earlier in 5:1 we have the Father on the throne holding the scroll. Then we see the Lamb in the same place. In my mind’s eye I see this lamb as superimposed over the image of the Father on the throne and at the same time in the Father and the Father in the Lamb. 

The Lamb has seven horns and seven eyes. The passage tells us that the eyes are the seven spirits referred to earlier in 1:3, 3:1, 4:5. The point is not that Jesus is an actual lamb but that He was the sacrificial Lamb for the sins of humanity. The fulfillment of the OT type. Seven in scripture is the number of completion or fulfillment. Some refer to it as perfection. I prefer the idea of completion or fulfillment as Genesis refers to seven days to complete creation and seven days complete a week. The seven eyes mean that Jesus has complete access to see everything. Nothing is hidden from Him.

The seven horns. Horns represent power or authority because they represent the power of horned animals. We see examples in the OT of horns that represent power and authority, both good and bad.

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalm 18:2 (NKJV)

4     “I said to the boastful, ‘Do not deal boastfully,’ And to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up the horn. 5 Do not lift up your horn on high; Do not speak with a stiff neck.’ ” Psalm 75:4–5 (NKJV)

17   For You are the glory of their strength, And in Your favor our horn is exalted. Psalm 89:17 (NKJV)

10   But my horn You have exalted like a wild ox; I have been anointed with fresh oil. Psalm 92:10 (NKJV)

“After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong. It had huge iron teeth; it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. I was considering the horns, and there was another horn, a little one, coming up among them, before whom three of the first horns were plucked out by the roots. And there, in this horn, were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words. Daniel 7:7–8 (NKJV)

Now back to the Lamb with seven horns in Revelation. What the image communicates is that the Lamb has complete authority. We see this in The Great Commission.

18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. Matthew 28:18–20 (NKJV)

The message of the Lamb with seven horns and seven eyes is that Jesus sees and knows all and that in the events about to unfold He has complete authority. If we know Him we can rest in this reality in scripture.

28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. Romans 8:28–30 (NKJV)

This use of symbols may seem like a roundabout way to get to the message of Romans 8 but John knew the OT so the message of the horns, eyes and seven would not have been mysterious to him. Instead they would have brought assurance, as they should for us. 

I will continue looking at symbols in scripture in future posts.

Following His Leading

Let’s take a fresh look at the brief battle between Davie and Goliath in 1 Samuel. This battle is generally presented as the underdog achieving victory against overwhelming odds and has become a cultural icon. It is true that if David had fought Goliath on the terms that Goliath anticipated he would have been easily defeated. However David didn’t do what everyone else expected. David’s key to victory was thinking about the battle differently and thinking differently about who he represented and was. Below we see some different perspectives.

Then he stood and cried out to the armies of Israel, and said to them, “Why have you come out to line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and you the servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. 1 Samuel 17:8 (NKJV)

10 And the Philistine said, “I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together.” 1 Samuel 17:10 (NKJV)

26 Then David spoke to the men who stood by him, saying, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” 1 Samuel 17:26 (NKJV)

Goliath referred to the Israelite army as the servants of Saul and the army of Israel. David saw Goliath as defying God’s army. Furthermore, David saw the source of deliverance as the Lord not his own skill or strength.

37 Moreover David said, “The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”

And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!” 1 Samuel 17:37 (NKJV)

I recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s 2013 book David and Goliath. It is not a Christian book but what I appreciate about Gladwell is that he thinks differently and examines his topics in a way that most don’t. His book was about people who overcome against all odds. It is also a book about seeing things differently, like the biblical account of David and Goliath.

In looking at what happened with David and Goliath he references the three kinds of warriors in ancient battles, Calvary (horsemen and chariots), Infantry (foot soldiers in heavy armour) and Projectile warriors (those who used arrows and slings). The battle between David and Goliath would have been quickly over with David dead if David had tried to fight Goliath as an Infantry soldier. However, David fought as a Projectile warrior, not on Goliaths’ terms or the terms all the spectators from both armies were anticipating. Gladwell said a ballistics expert from the Israeli Defence Forces calculated that in less than two seconds David could have fired a stone at Goliath that would have hit his forehead with the force of a bullet from a modern small handgun – a rock traveling at about 200 kilometres per hour. It could have easily penetrated his skull or minimally rendered him unconscious.

David’s key to victory was twofold. First, he trusted in the Lord. Second he did the unexpected and met the enemy from a positon of his strengths and skills. David did what he was good at not what Goliath wanted. In thinking about this I wonder about thinking differently and being a bit paradoxical in our approach.

David took what he had. We can to do the same. He is clear that His ways are not ours. For example He sent Peter the uneducated fisherman to the Jews and Paul the educated Pharisee to the Gentiles. The opposite of what we would expect. So whatever He has called us to do let’s bathe it in fervent and frequent prayer and then we follow His leading based on what He has given us.

Enjoying Jesus

In my last post I wrote about the importance of a ‘what.’ The importance of ministering to the Lord. Here I want to address more of the how, including the relationship between a season and a lifestyle.

In walking with Jesus most of us likely have encounters or significant moments we can point to, highlights in our walk with Jesus. I know I have had seasons where His presence was more real, where He felt closer. At the same time, I know that there is a connection between these quality times with Him and faithfulness in quantity times. Feeding on Jesus and His word is best perceived as a daily practice. I have eaten a lot of food over the years and while I remember very few meals, I know they all had some impact on me. I know I have had times of focused enjoyment in my meals and I have had times of mindless eating. I have at times eaten wholly nutritious meals and at other times eaten things that tasted good but were not necessarily good for me. 

So, while I bring different degrees of attention to different times of sitting with Jesus, my general experience is that the more focused I am when sitting with Jesus, the more real my encounter with Him. At times I find I simply need to confess I feel distant and am not experiencing His presence and my experience is that His presence usually becomes more real out of my confession and acknowledgement. I have long believed that the best summary of the goal and outcome of sitting with Jesus was expressed by Paul.

18  But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.2 Corinthians 3:18 (NKJV)

When I choose to develop a lifestyle of daily turning to Jesus and focusing the gaze of my heart upon Him I craft a lifestyle that leads to seasons of deeper encounter. I do not always have deep moving encounters but I do have them. For me most of those are connected to worship. I find when I deeply encounter Him in worship my heart is softened, and yes tears may flow when He touches my heart. My desire is that my life will be marked by His presence as an outflow of ministering to His heart.  

A final thought on the how. Oswald Chambers summed it up quite nicely when he wrote regarding 2 Corinthians 3:18, “The most difficult lesson of the Christian life is learning how to continue ‘beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord….’ Imperturbable.” Let’s develop the habit of continually turning our hearts to Him that Jesus may be glorified.

Ministering to the Lord

The church at Antioch was different. We find this group of believers in the book of Acts. The only mentions made of Antioch outside of Acts are both by Paul (Galatians 2:11, 2 Timothy 3:11). The first mention in Acts 6:5 identifies Nicolas, one of the first deacons, as a proselyte from Antioch (a proselyte was a non-Jew who converted to Judaism). The gospel came to Antioch as a result of the persecution following Stephen’s martyrdom and was first preached to the Jews and then began to spread to the Gentiles at Antioch so the Jerusalem dispatched Barnabas to help ground them (Acts 11:19-22). Barnabas responded by leaving Antioch and going to Tarsus and getting Paul and returning with him to Antioch. The two of them taught there for a full year and it was here that the followers of Jesus were first referred to as Christians (Acts 11:25-26).

Having provided some background it is time to look at Luke’s record of what made Antioch unique.

1 Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.

Here Barnabas and Saul (Paul) are prophets and/or teachers. As the church ministered to the Lord the Holy Spirit called them to commission Barnabas and Paul in their calling. The work to which they were called was apostolic and Barnabas and Paul were commissioned and sent out by the Antioch church as apostles (Acts 14:4, 14). Other churches in Acts were birthed or established by apostles, the Antioch church raised up and released them. As a result, Barnabas and Paul were now both released into their apostolic callings and the first of their apostolic journeys began. 

In looking at what led to this unique event it is important to focus on ‘ministering to the Lord.’ First however a brief detour to the sons of Zadok. Zadok was one of the priests under David and when Absalom rebelled and drove David into the wilderness Zadok remained faithful to David, and more importantly, faithful to the Lord (2 Samuel 15:24-29). Ezekiel described it this way.

11 It shall be for the priests of the sons of Zadok, who are sanctified, who have kept My charge, who did not go astray when the children of Israel went astray, as the Levites went astray. Ezekiel 48:11 (NKJV)

Ezekiel further describes the privilege passed on to the sons of Zadok. They could come near and minister to the Lord.

46 The chamber which faces north is for the priests who have charge of the altar; these are the sons of Zadok, from the sons of Levi, who come near the Lord to minister to Him.” Ezekiel 40:46 (NKJV)

19 You shall give a young bull for a sin offering to the priests, the Levites, who are of the seed of Zadok, who approach Me to minister to Me,’ says the Lord God. Ezekiel 43:19 (NKJV)

As believers we have the incredible privilege of a daily audience with the King of creation. In this audience we have the opportunity to place our request before Him, which He welcomes. Yet, in the context of this privilege, we also have the opportunity to minister to Him to worship Him simply because He is worthy. That is how the Lord’s Prayer starts, with worship of our Father. I wonder what will happen if we as the church give more time to ministering unto Him? What might He release in our midst? Who might He commission and send out? Let’s give ourselves to it and see.