New Heavens and a New Earth — 1

[David B. wrote:]
I agree with all that you state below. We should not assume anything
to be figurative unless there is evidence to this effect. However,
realize that we can be JUST as wrong assuming something is literal
when it is figurative as we can the other way around.

[James J replies]
It is possible to take something literal that should be figurative,
such as the 1000 year reign of Christ in Rev 20:4-5. However, we are
much more likely to take something figuratively that should be literal
because we do not understand it. An example is the four living
creatures under the throne of God in Rev 4:6. They are typically
taken to be figurative when there is no reason they cannot be taken
literally. If they are figurative, we have no key to understanding
the meaning of the supposed figure, and in that case free-association
is about all you have to work with. One expositor was sure that they
represent the four gospels, Mt, Mk, Lk, and Jn! Many other examples
could be cited. However, every reference to them depicts them as
intelligent persons acting with volition. They are just different
from anything else that we have ever seen.

We should also keep in mind that our first cut at understanding a
scripture must be to take it literally. Our preference for literal
should be so strong that we are reluctantly FORCED to take a passage
figuratively. Unfortunately we are more likely to hasten to make it
“figurative” because it does not fit our world view and by taking a
passage figuratively, we can make it mean pretty much anything we want
by using free association. The figurative approach, as it is often
used, essentially renders a passage meaningless.

[David B. wrote:]
We sure should not just use free association to interpret figures. I
know of no one who teaches this method, and I never have (at least in
the Lord’s church).

[James J. replies]
Art Ogden does what I would call free association in his commentary on
Revelation when he
applies Revelation’s seven trumpets to the Jewish War and the
Destruction of Jerusalem (DOJ) in AD 70. The only difference between
what he does and totally free association is that he has the agenda
that the association must apply to the DOJ. He does not have any more
justification, though, for what he comes up with than the guy who
reads tea leaves and tells you what he sees. He also interprets Rev
21-22 in terms of the DOJ. That takes a pretty good imagination with
a lot of free association to read Rev 21-22 where God describes the
world come and imagine that anything there has to do with the DOJ.
There is no basis for what he concludes other than he wants it to be
that way. Homer Hailey also comes up with some far distant
associations. One example is in his comments on Rev 12 where he
identifies the sun, moon and stars clothing the glorious woman in Rev
12 as the divinely revealed light of the three dispensations;
Patriarchical, Mosical, and Christian. He arrives at his conclusion
apparently because the sun, moon and stars give light. God’s word
gives light. Therefore the light is the different light from the
three dispensations. Okay. But where is the proof? It is just free
word association.

[David B wrote:]
The purpose of figures are to clarify, not to obscure. If I say that
“he is as quite as a mouse,” that is figurative language, but it is
intended to convey a better message than if I were just to say he is a
quiet person.

[James J. replies]
Prophecy is often designed to conceal and to reveal only grudgingly.
Figures are used to conceal meaning from the unlearned. Usually they
reveal to those who are willing to study. There is always a key to
the figures in the prophecy somewhere that you can use to unlock a
figure. Often the prophet himself will provide the key (e.g. Dan
8:20). However, you often have to be willing to give up
preconceptions in order to find and use the keys. If a “figure” does
not have a key, it’s probably not a figure. About the only exception
I have found to every figure having a key to unlock it is the 1000
years of Rev 20:4. The best I can do with 1000 is that it is 10*10*10
or ten cubed. Cubing is the divine perfection of a number (the number
three times). The number ten also itself represents complete. So ten
cubed would be ten divinely perfected and would represent a divinely
perfected complete number. As an example, the ten commandments are
the complete epitome of the Law. An example of the use of 10 as the
complete number is where Elkanah asked Hanah, “Am not I better to thee
than ten sons?” where the presumption is that if she had ten sons she
would be completely satisfied. There were ten washbasins, ten tables,
and ten candlesticks in the holy place of Solomon’s temple (II Chr
4:6-8) so that the holy place would be completely furnished. We know
that 10 = 7 + 3 where seven is perfection and three is the symbolic
divine number (Homer Hailey, Revelation, p45). Therefore 10 is divine
perfection and 1000 is complete divine perfection. It appears that
the 1000 year reign of Christ is symbolic of a divinely determined
number that is perfect for the complete reign of Christ in heaven.
God cannot tell us exactly how long Jesus will rule there because it
is secret (Mt 24:36). Hence, God uses a symbolic number indicating
complete divine perfection to describe the duration of Christ’s rule
in heaven.

There is no way that figures such as the glorious woman (Rev 12:1) and
the seven headed sea beast (Rev 13:1) are intended to clarify. They
are figures that are designed to contain truth in an obscure but
decipherable fashion. They will be decipherable at the appropriate
time even as the prophecies regarding Jesus became decipherable as the
time drew near (e.g. Dan 2:44).

[To be continued]

About James Johnson

Bible student for 60 years. Preacher of the gospel for over 40 years. Author of commentary on Revelation, All Power to the Lamb. Married with children. Worked in aerospace and computer engineering for over 40 years.
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