Interpreting End-Time/Prophetic Symbols

To develop and improve our student’s end times prophecies interpretation skills, I have decided to include prophetic symbols, not only in the dictionary but also in the Dream Interpretation Courses. This will undeniably help our students to successfully interpret prophetic dreams and visions about the end times, including the prophetic dreams and visions in the Bible.

This post contains the rules, principles, guidelines, and the meanings of the apocalyptic symbols that explain the correct method (foundation) that is required to correctly interpret end-time prophecies.

As most of us already know, prophetic messages and books in the Old and the New Testaments about the end times are written in figurative language. This means that end-time prophecies must be interpreted just as dreams and visions are interpreted. Just as with the parables of Jesus and dreams and visions, the end times prophecies were given to the children of God in the language of symbols. Fortunately, our students are already very familiar with this language. All the principles and rules that govern symbolism when it comes to the general everyday symbols are the same when it comes to prophetic symbols. In this sense, apocalyptic symbols are not different from everyday symbols at all. It is part of the same language and it is governed and ruled by the same rules and principles.

When the Book of Daniel or the Book of Revelations refers to a beast it does not refer to a mystical animal that is now extinct. It refers to a nation and/or the king or the government or the different peoples of that specific nation. When it speaks of earthquakes it does not mean natural earthquakes but the sudden disruptive movement and relocation of nations and groups of people.

We should not regard these symbols as literal. The apostle John explains in the Book of Revelations that what he has written in the Book of Revelations must be regarded as symbolic and not literal.

Revelations 1:1

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John.

The word “signified” in this Scripture declares that the Book of Revelations was written in figurative language, which means that the Book of Revelation must be interpreted, just like any other dream or vision. By the way, the content of the Book of Revelations came to John through a vision and as we all know, all visions must be interpreted. The word “signified” confirms that the meanings of the events in the Book of Revelations were expressed by signs or symbols rather than the physical form it is expressed in.

The signifier is interpreted as the conceptual material form, i.e. something which can be seen, heard, touched, smelled or tasted; and the signified as the conceptual ideal form. In other words, “contemporary commentators tend to describe the signifier as the form that the sign takes and the signified as the concept to which it refers. “The relationship between the signifier and signified is an arbitrary relationship: “there is no logical connection” between them. “The idea that both the signifier and the signified are inseparable is explained by Saussure’s diagram, which shows how both components coincide to create the sign.

In order to understand how the signifier and signified relate to each other, one must be able to interpret signs. “The only reason that the signifier does entail the signified is because there is a conventional relationship at play. “That is, a sign can only be understood when the relationship between the two components that make up the sign are agreed upon. Saussure argued that the meaning of a sign “depends on its relation to other words within the system “for example, to understand an individual word such as “tree,” one must also understand the word “bush” and how the two relate to each other.

Louis Hjelmslev

Like with the beast, the different animals in Daniel 8 symbolize different nations or empires. The ram with the two horns symbolized the kings of the Medes and the Persians, and the rough goat was the king of ancient Greece.

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Daniel 8: 18-25

18. Now as he was speaking with me, I was in a deep sleep on my face toward the ground: but he touched me, and set me upright.

19. And he said, Behold, I will make thee know what shall be in the last end of the indignation: for at the time appointed the end shall be.

20. The ram which thou sawest having two horns are the kings of Media and Persia.

21. And the rough goat is the king of Grecia: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king.

22. Now that being broken, whereas four stood up for it, four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not in his power.

23. And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors are come to the full, a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences, shall stand up.

24. And his power shall be mighty, but not by his own power: and he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper, and practise, and shall destroy the mighty and the holy people.

25. And through his policy also he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many: he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes; but he shall be broken without hand.

As we can see, a rule of the language of symbolism determines that God can apply a specific isolated value (meaning) to a specific object or person, or kingdom, like the king of Greece, and then, in another situation, to another king, or nation or empire in another similar situation. For instance, the king of ancient Greece was symbolized by a rough goat, indicating the king’s or the nation’s attitude, power or strength, moral condition, or spiritual condition in a specific situation as mentioned above (hidden) (discernment of spirits). However, the leader of a modern nation like the USA or Russia, with the same characteristics can be symbolized by a goat as well as long as it is morally or spiritually in the same condition with the same attitude and motives as the king of Greece was at the time of the prophetic dream.

When it comes to the prophetic, very little of what we see in the Bible can and should be taken literally. For instance, some parts of the Book of Daniel (the end times prophecies) and almost everything in the Book of Revelations, as well as other prophetic books and isolated parts (prophecies) of the Scriptures, should be understood and accepted as figurative language. Many scholars of eschatology make many huge mistakes by taking symbols literally that should have been regarded as symbolic.

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For instance, when the Scriptures refer to the earth and the natural heaven, and water in the prophetic books, it refers to empires and world politics, and governments. So the natural heaven, earth, and the lower parts of the earth, water-bodies and places and areas under the surface of the earth, speak of the broad and entire spectrum of different earthly powers and empires and governments and dignitaries. In this sense, heaven does not symbolize God but the higher and stronger political empires of the world whilst the lower areas symbolize the lower political powers like normal citizens or insignificant nations or kingdoms or inferior people. There are many examples in the Bible that indicate that heavenly bodies were indeed used to symbolize people and kingdoms on the earth for instance, in Genesis 37:9 we read that in Joseph’s dream, the sun and the moon, and eleven stars bowed down before him. The sun symbolized Jacob, the moon Joseph’s mother, and the eleven stars his brothers.

So in the Book of Revelations, these four symbols (heavenly bodies and areas, the two different levels of earthly bodies and areas, and the areas under the surface of the world) speak of thrones, dignities, kingdoms, empires, governments, and people and spiritual entities. The heavenly bodies referred to kings and queens and princes and important offices or dignitaries and dominant and powerful entities and empires. The higher earthly areas like mountains speak of the middle-class leaders or people or empires that are not so strong or as powerful as the dominant empires but still powerful kingdoms and dignitaries and peoples and forces with influence and powerful abilities. The lower parts of the earth like valleys and canyons speak of very inferior people and political governments and leaders. The “underworld” (areas below the surface of the earth) like the bottomless pit and hell, and hades symbolize the different demonic powers that influence the world and all these other earthly powers, specifically about and around the end-time events.

This knowledge helps us to understand that when these prophecies speak of “ascending to heaven” or “descending to earth” it speaks of these political entities or parties or empires or leaders rising or falling in power and honor. It speaks of losing wars and winning wars or being elected or dethroned or eliminated or conquered. So rising out of the water or the earth and falling into the earth or water speaks of rising from being part of the inferior to being part of the superior elite or dominion or power or honor or falling from these superior areas by losing power and honor.

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When we read of a symbolic entity descending to a very low state (very low area like a valley) it speaks of such a nation or people or person entering political conditions of a very unhappy, weak, and remorseful situation or place. Such groups of people and nations are slaves or constantly oppressed. So when we read about the movements between the higher areas of heaven, the higher area on earth, and the lower areas on earth, it speaks of moving or being promoted to or from one place to another, symbolizing the translation from one level of office, dignity, or dominion, to another and this can refer to a person, a group of people, a nation, an empire or kingdom, or a king, or a very strong political leader or the general public or citizens of such nations. In the prophetic books of the Bible, people can even move down to the areas underneath the surface of the earth like hell or the lake of fire. However, a lake of fire can be a lower area of the earth as well like a water body or a valley, which speaks of people being consumed by war, which is a bad situation to experience.

It appears that the earth nations and earth leaders are more powerful or stronger and higher in dignity than the water nations. The water nations have filled the lower areas of the earth. So when something rose out of the water and conquers an earth nation, it means that the relevant person or nation has shifted in power and honor by becoming or being promoted to an earth nation or government. It is very important to understand that from “out of the earth” something “rose and ascended to heaven” does not speak of the throne of God but about the highest political power on earth.

So the shaking of earth (earthquakes) and the shaking of heaven speaks of the shaking of empires or kingdoms to defeat them or overthrow them. It does not mean shaking God’s kingdom or the place where God resides. In this sense, objects (heavenly bodies falling from the sky) and great earthquakes speak of the overthrow of a kingdom and sometimes the relocation of people and nations (landslides).

The creation of a new heaven and a new earth speaks of the establishment of a new political order or system where the old rulers and kingdoms have been overthrown and replaced by a new power or empire or kingdom or ruler. So the passing away of the old and the ending of the world and the beginning of a new world or heaven speaks of the shifts and changes of power. In such cases, nothing happens in or with the natural world, but, when such shifts and changes happen, one can go to sleep in an old world and wake up the next morning in a new world with a new heaven (new reigning kingdom or empire) without even knowing it.

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In the prophetic books of the Bible, the sun (kings) and moon (queens) symbolize kings and queens in the kingdom or kingdoms of the political world, shining with regal power and glory. In some cases (in another sense), the moon symbolizes the body of the common people considered the king’s wife (the moon is the sun’s wife), the stars for subordinate princes and great men, or bishops and rulers of the people.

As already mentioned, when symbols in the prophetic books of the Bible are not referring to the earth with its political structures and levels but refer to the divine and Godly “heaven”, the sun symbolizes either God the Father or Jesus Christ the Sun of righteousness. In this case, light symbolizes the glory, the truth, and the knowledge of God. In this case, the moon speaks of the Holy Spirit and the stars speak of great and good men shining and illuminating others and therefore speaking of being great witnesses of God. In this sense, these people are the light of the world just as Jesus was during his walk on this earth.

In the prophetic books of the Bible, darkness symbolizes obscurity or evil and depressive conditions, or error, blindness, and ignorance (which is the same as the meaning of darkness as an everyday symbol). The darkening, smiting, or setting of the sun, the moon, or the stars symbolizes the ceasing of a kingdom, leaders, or the destruction thereof, proportional to the darkness. The same can be said for the falling of the sun, moon, and/or stars. When the Bible speaks of turning the Moon into blood it speaks of death and destruction of a kingdom or a person. In everyday symbols, blood or the loss of blood speak of death also so there is a direct connotation here. Death is destruction. A new moon speaks of the return of a dispersed people and a restoration of a kingdom or a political empire or a religious ecclesiastical system.

Can you see how wrong people can be about end times and events when they interpret these things literally?

In the prophetic books, fire and meteors signify situations and events in both the natural heaven and earth. Fire and meteors speak of consuming nations with war. When this happens, a significant portion of such nations are destroyed. So when we read about burning anything with fire, a conflagration of the earth, or turning a country into a lake of fire, it speaks of nations being consumed by war. When we read about a nation being in a furnace it speaks of such a nation being enslaved by another nation. When we read about the ascending of the smoke of any burning thing forever and ever it speaks of the continuation of a conquered people under the misery of perpetual subjection and slavery. The scorching heat of the sun symbolizes frustrating and irritating wars, persecution, and troubles (coming from a heavenly nation) like Israel has been experiencing for ages as a result of them rejecting God in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament (being enslaved and oppressed by Assyria, Babylon, the Roman Empire, etc.).

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When it comes to smoke or clouds and rain and lack thereof it speaks of oppression or blessing. We have just covered the meanings of fire and smoke. We know that smoke comes from fire. Long after the visible fire is dead, smoke tends to be created for quite some time before it eventually goes away. This is because there is still a slow-burning taking place. Many fires take a long time before it is quenched completely. This is sometimes true during times of war. The war ended but peoples or nations are being oppressed constantly for a time. Covering the sun with smoke or a cloud speaks of oppressing the king (the sun) with perpetual attacks by enemy armies.

Riding on the clouds symbolizes the reigning of a king over many people. Turbulent and strong winds and the rapid movement of clouds symbolize wars and the turmoil of war. When we read about a storm of thunder, lightning, hail, and overflowing rain, or a tempest it symbolizes war descending from the heavens (coming from a powerful “heaven” empire because these symbols are heavenly bodies) (coming from heaven on the heads of people on the earth or of earthen powers or kingdoms0). In another sense in the prophetic books, thunder, also known as “the voice of a cloud” sometimes symbolizes the voice of a multitude of people.

Rain, in moderation, and dew, and living water, symbolize the graces and doctrines of the Spirit. A lack of rain in the prophetic books of the Bible symbolizes spiritual barrenness.

It is interesting that in the prophetic books of the Bible, certain areas of dry land and certain bodies of water or congregated water like a sea, a river, or a flood, symbolize the people of several regions, nations, and dominions. When we read of the embittering of water it symbolizes the great affliction of the people by war and persecution.

In the prophetic books, the turning of things into blood, like water bodies or rivers symbolizes the mystical death of political dignitaries, governments, nations, empires, or people causing their cessation or termination. The overflowing of a sea or river symbolizes the invasion of an “earthly” political government or kingdom by the people of the “water” kingdoms or governments. The same principle is true for the drying up of waters, which symbolizes the conquest of their regions by the “earth” nations or kingdoms.

In the prophetic books of the Bible, life-giving resources like fountains are significant because it speaks of the permanent heads of political governments or cities or kingdoms. A fountain speaks of sustainability. Similarly, mountains sometimes speak of the strong cities of the earthly kingdoms and islands of the strong cities of the water kingdoms with the territories and smaller dominions around those cities belonging to the kings of those cities (in this sense, the island is not an earthly kingdom surrounded by water kingdoms but rather the cities of a water kingdom). The dens and rocks of mountains (on islands as well as on dry land areas), in this sense, speak of the temples of cities and men hiding in those dens and rocks as the shutting up of idols in their temples.

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In the prophetic books of the Bible, houses on land and ships on sea speak of families, assemblies, or small towns. Soldiers on land or a navy (battleships) on the water speak of the armies of those relevant kingdoms. So as you can see, the prophetic symbols of the Bible do not differ from the everyday symbols at all. It is the same, and it is very relevant to its meanings and even the rules and principles that govern this language stay the same.

In the prophetic books, land animals, trees, herbs, and vegetables symbolize the people and conditions of the earth kingdoms and nations where as flags, reeds, and fishes symbolize the people and conditions of the water kingdoms and governments whilst birds and insects symbolize the people and conditions of the dominant heavenly or highest elite of the worldly kingdoms. A forest symbolized a kingdom where people are many and the wilderness symbolizes a desolate place or area with just a few inhabitants or a lot fewer inhabitants than a “forest kingdom”.

A scholar of eschatology needs to understand that there can be a mixture of symbols, coming from all the earthly or worldly areas, to represent a single person or dominion, or empire. For instance, a king of a very powerful and dominant empire will be symbolized by the sun, which is a heavenly body, but, such a person can also be symbolized by a tall or huge tree, which is from a lower area of dominion but still emphasizing the character, power, character, and abilities of such a powerful leader. The same can be said for such a king, symbolized by animals like a lion or elephant, a leopard or a goat, or bear, which are from a lower area also. So in this sense, it is understandable that symbolism in the prophetic books of the Bible does consider this principle when a heavenly king’s character can be described or symbolized by a “powerful” earthly object or symbol. Such a person can even be symbolized by a fox to expose his “sly” or “deceitful” nature, even though he is strong and powerful and therefore symbolized by the sun and a leopard or a goat. 

When animals are sacrificed or slaughtered in the prophetic books it speaks of conquering kingdoms and governments. When there are friendships between beasts, it speaks of peace between kings and kingdoms. Sometimes, in the prophetic books of the Bible, certain information of significance is added to specific symbols to indicate that something special or different must also be taken into consideration regarding the character or “spirit” of such a person or kingdom. For instance, when a tree is mentioned and called the tree of life, something significant is suggested. In this case, I think everybody will agree that Jesus Christ is the Tree of Life. Similarly, when a beast is described as the old serpent or being worshiped, it brings additional significant information to the foreground about that symbol. The serpent is of course none other than the devil himself or the suggestion that the devil is behind the actions and motivations of a “serpent” kingdom. Sometimes a beast can be representative of more than one part or segment of a kingdom or empire, like the head representing a king or emperor or the political offices or government of the kingdom, and the hair or tail the inferior citizens of such a kingdom who follow and who are governed by the head.

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So a beast’s head or heads when more than one, symbolizes the number of dynasties or the number of capital parts, or dominions in the kingdom whether collateral or successive, with respect to the civil government. The number of horns on its head symbolizes the number of different kingdoms in respect of the armies or military power of the kingdom. The Roman Empire was a kingdom that was symbolized by such a beast with its many horns and many eyes. The number of eyes in its head and the degree of sight symbolized its understanding regarding governance and the making of laws and the implementing of policies in the kingdom to govern the people successfully.

In the prophetic books of the Bible, “speaking” symbolizes making laws and a mouth symbolizes a law-giver. A loud voice symbolizes power and might and a faint voice symbolizes weakness. Eating and drinking symbolize acquiring whatever is signified by the particular food or drink. The hairs of a land animal symbolize people and the feathers of a bird symbolize people. The wings of a beast symbolize the number of kingdoms represented by a beast empire or leader and the arm of a man (like the image of the man that Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar saw) the strength and power of the people in which such a kingdom’s power consists of. The feet of such an image of a man speak of the lowest people of such a kingdom or symbolizes the latter part or end-period of such a kingdom. The feet, nails, and teeth of beasts of prey, symbolize the armies and squadrons of armies of an empire or kingdom. The bones of such an animal symbolize the strength and the fortified places of such a kingdom and the flesh symbolizes the riches and possessions of the kingdom or empire.

The days that such a kingdom act or operates or functions (whatever actions are described in the prophecy) symbolize years.

When a tree symbolizes a kingdom in the prophetic books of the Bible, its branches, leaves, and fruit, have the same meanings as the wings, feathers, and the food of a bird or beast when it represents a kingdom.

When a man is portrayed in a mystical sense, in the prophetic books, his qualities or characteristics are often signified by his actions, and by the circumstances about or around him and objects connected to him. So a Ruler is signified by his riding on a beast, a warrior, and conqueror by his having a sword and bow, a potent man by his gigantic stature, a Judge, by weights and measures, or a sentence of absolution, or condemnation, or by a white or a black stone.

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A new dignity is symbolized by a new name and so this means that when he still had his old name he was not yet promoted or appointed or did not yet move up in terms of honor or power. In the prophetic books of the Bible, moral or civil qualifications are symbolized by garments whilst honor and glory are symbolized by splendid apparel. Royal dignity is symbolized by purple or scarlet, or by a crown.

Righteousness is symbolized by white and clean robes whilst wickedness and uncleanliness are symbolized by spotted and filthy clothes.

People being affliction, who are mourning, and displaying humiliation are symbolized by clothing in sackcloth. Naked people, in the prophetic books of the Bible, symbolize people who will be dishonored, in shame, and found in want of good works. Whenever someone drank a cup of his or her wine it symbolizes either error or misery or both caused by himself or herself as symbolized by the action of drinking the wine.

When we read about someone or a kingdom exercising traffic and merchandising with the people, it symbolizes promoting their religion for gain. When we read about adultery or people committing adultery with the princes of other nations or by worshiping the princes of other nations, in the prophetic books of the Bible, it speaks of worshiping or serving the false gods of such a nation.

Whenever we see an image in the prophetic books, it symbolizes the Council of a kingdom. When we read the word blasphemy it symbolizes idolatry. When we read about an animal or beast or a man being wounded, it symbolizes an overthrow in war. When we read about people plagued by sores and pain it symbolizes a durable plague of war.

When we read about the pain of a woman in labor to bring forth a man-child it symbolizes the affliction or persecution which a people suffers in laboring to bring forth a new kingdom. When a man or a beast dies in the prophetic books of the Bible, it symbolizes the end or the termination of a kingdom or empire. The resurrection of the dead in the prophetic books of the Bible symbolizes the revival or the restoration of a dissolved dominion or kingdom.

At the end of this chapter, which is aimed at giving the scholars of the prophetic books of the Bible and the scholars of eschatology a very good foundation to enable them to interpret the end times prophecy correctly, I want to mention a few other symbols briefly that are very prominent in the prophetic books of the Bible.

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When we read about the Ancient of days in the prophetic books of the Bible we know that it refers to the Most High God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Candlesticks symbolize churches. Carpenters symbolize destroyers of governments. An image of different metals symbolizes the succession of governments.

Incense or odors symbolize prayers. A lamb symbolizes Christ. The Lamb’s wife symbolizes the saints or the church.

A likeness of a man symbolizes the Lord Jesus Christ.

Fine and clean linen symbolizes the righteousness of the saints.

The New Jerusalem symbolizes the redeemed Christian Church, the Bride, or the Lamb’s wife.

Revivification of dry bones symbolizes the resurrection of the dead.

In another sense, other than what was explained at the beginning of this chapter, stars symbolize the angels, or the children of God who are the messengers of the churches.

Souls of martyrs living again symbolize the first resurrection.

A stone, becoming a mountain symbolizes the kingdom of God.

A woman symbolizes a city, which is the church.

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