What is symbolic prophecy and what are some examples?
To answer that question, Dr. David Reagan and I on our television program Christ in Prophecy invited Allan Walker of Allan Walker Ministries from Nowata, Oklahoma. Most Christians are familiar with written and oral prophecies in the Bible, but few seem to be aware of symbolic prophecies. When you become familiar with these, you can find Jesus throughout the pages of the Old Testament. Allan is an expert at identifying what these symbolic prophecies represent, especially concerning the Tabernacle of Moses.
A Little Background
Nathan Jones: Allan, can you tell us a little about your background and what got you into Bible prophecy?
Allan Walker: My wife and I work full-time for the Voice of the Martyrs. It’s a Christian ministry dedicated to fulfilling the ministry to the Persecuted Church. I also travel weekends teaching Bible prophecy and on the Tabernacle. I was first exposed to Bible prophecy in 1974 through the Bible Map: An Overview of God’s Plan of the Ages, by Leon Bates. I was first exposed to the Tabernacle in 1975 through a godly couple who taught me the ABC’s of the Tabernacles, and I’ve had an interest in it ever since.
Symbolic Prophecy Defined
Nathan Jones: Allan, could you define symbolic prophecy for us, and then give us some examples of it?
Allan Walker: Sure, Nathan. Prophecies in the Bible are scattered throughout Genesis to Revelation. So, when Jesus rose from the dead, He explained to His followers how He fulfilled those Old Testament prophecies which pointed to Himself. For example, in Genesis 3:15, the “seed of the woman” is a Messianic prophecy which foretold the Messiah would be born of a virgin, since men are the ones who produce the seed. That was actually the first Messianic prophecy in all the Bible and can be taken literally.
Then there are symbolic prophecies which symbolize or represent some final fulfillment. For example, the Bible says that Adam was put to sleep, a rib was taken from him, the woman was created from the rib, and then Adam had a bride. That taking of the rib and making it into a bride can be taken as a symbol of the Church coming through the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ to one day become the Bride of Christ.
Dr. Reagan: It occurred to me that one of the greatest prophecies in all the Bible, great in terms of its overall impact of significance that is, is totally symbolic. That’s the prophecy in Daniel chapter two where King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. In that dream he saw this tremendous vision of a statue of a man who had a golden head, silver chest, thighs of bronze, legs of iron and feet that were brittle. Every bit of that dream is symbolic in nature.
Nebuchadnezzar didn’t understand what the dream meant, so he called for Daniel to interpret the dream. Daniel came to him and explained the dream and said Nebuchadnezzar was himself the golden head. He was going to be followed by the chest of silver, which is going to be the Medo-Persian Empire. That will be followed by the thighs of bronze, which is going to be the Greek Empire. Then there is going to be the iron empire, which of course was the Romans. The final empire represented by the feet is going to be the empire of the Antichrist. Destroying that final human empire is going to come a rock that’s not cut out by human hands. It’s a supernatural rock. That rock comes and hits the feet and destroys the whole statue and then expands and takes over the whole world. Daniel said that new kingdom is going to be the empire of the Messiah.
Every bit of Nebuchadnezzar statue is symbolic in nature and took somebody to interpret it. The Bible is full of these kind of interpretive, symbolic types.
Nathan, do you have a symbolic prophecy in mind?
Nathan Jones: There are three types of prophetic symbols in the Old Testament that I can think of.
Firstly, there are individual lives that are prophetic types, such as the life of Joseph. Joseph when rejected by his brothers was dropped down a well, which symbolizes death. He was then brought up out of the well, which symbolizes life. Then he was sold into slavery. Later we see he redeemed his brothers through his new position of power and authority, just as Christ will when He’s ruling in the Millennial Kingdom.
Secondly, there are historical events that are prophetic types, such as the seven Jewish feasts.
Thirdly, there are inanimate objects, such as the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat, which are symbolic of Jesus’ life.
Alan, why don’t you explain more how the life of Joseph, historical events, the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat are all symbolic of Jesus’ life.
Symbolism of the Jewish Feasts
Allan Walker: The Passover was the first of the seven feasts. In the New Testament, the Scripture says that Christ is our Passover. He was sacrificed for us. The Feast of Unleavened Bread speaks of the time that Jesus was in the grave. Then there was the Feast of First Fruits, which speaks of His resurrection. Following was the Feast of Pentecost, which spoke of the descent of the Holy Spirit and His empowerment of the Church. Then there was the Feast of Trumpets, which speaks of the coming of the Lord and our gathering unto Him.
Nathan Jones: And the Feast of Trumpets is the Rapture, which is what we’re all waiting for, right?
Allan Walker: Yes, sir, it’s an imminent event. It could happen at any time.
Then there’s the Day of Atonement, which actually refers to the conversion of Israel during the Tribulation Period. Then there’s the Feast of Tabernacles which many believe is a type or picture of the Kingdom.
So, all of these major events represent aspects of the redemptive plan of God and are typified by those Jewish feasts which God set up.
Real People, Symbolic Lives
Allan Walker: There are also various characters in Scripture such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who were of course real people but lived symbolic prophetic lives.
Nathan, you mentioned the life of Joseph. Joseph’s coat of many colors is a picture of the unsearchable riches that are in Christ. Jesus was put to death and He made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption.
Melchizedek is a type of the high priest and symbolizes the priestly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. You can see throughout the Word of God and find Scriptures, types, prophecies and symbols, all of which point to the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We really need a working knowledge of the whole counsel of the Word of God to recognize these symbolic prophecies. If we just have hold of bits and pieces of the Word of God, we will fail to see how it all fits together. Remember that Jesus is the common denominator that ties together the 66 books of the Bible. He is the unifying theme of Scripture. Everything in the Old Testament points forward to Christ, and everything in Revelation points back to Christ. Jesus is the central theme of the Word of God.
In the second segment of this series on symbolic prophecy in the Old Testament, Allan will explain God’s love for teaching with object lessons.