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Bible verses about Forms, Shadows, Symbols, and Types
(From Forerunner Commentary)

When working with biblical symbolism, one must follow two cardinal rules. First, understand that several different symbols may represent the same reality in the Bible. For instance, the church is symbolized as a woman, a building in which Christians are living stones, a human body of which Christ is the Head, and a family of which Christians are brothers. Be sure to check the context in which a symbol appears and do not try to force a symbol where it does not fit.

Secondly, allow the Bible to interpret its own symbols. In Revelation 1:20, within the context of John's vision, Christ explains the meaning of the seven stars and the seven lampstands: "The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches." The meanings of other symbols may be harder to locate, but usually the Bible explains itself to those who study it diligently.

Even so, sometimes a symbol is shrouded in mystery and difficult to understand. Perhaps we fail to understand the symbol because we are unfamiliar with the reality. Imagine the apostle John's struggle with symbols that represent twentieth-century warfare! Likewise, we struggle with the symbolism of sheep with whose characteristics we in turn are unfamiliar.

In the end we must learn to see symbols as pictures drawn by the hand of God through which He teaches us things that might otherwise be all but incomprehensible. It behooves us not to take them lightly. In studying symbols, take the time to research the characteristics of the symbol to deepen and clarify your understanding of God, Christ, and Their purpose.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Biblical Symbolism


 

Throughout the New Testament, God uses leaven as a symbol of sin. Jesus warns, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy" (Luke 12:1). In discussing the danger of sin spreading, Paul uses the phrase "a little leaven leavens the whole lump" on two separate occasions (I Corinthians 5:6; Galatians 5:9).

Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Why We Must Put Out Leaven


 

Genesis 2:1-3  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Because the Sabbath is from creation—and the Creator Himself set the pattern for man by resting on it—it has universal validity. It is not from one of the patriarchs or Moses or from the Jews because none of these existed when it was created. The Bible shows three times in two verses that God very clearly inspired the seventh day, not a seventh day.

God could have ended His creative work at the end of the sixth day because it seemed at that point as though He had provided everything man needed for life. But He did not complete it then because all man needed was not yet created! The Sabbath is, in fact, THE VERY CROWN of the creation week. It is vital to man's well-being. So God created a period of rest and holy time—a very specific period, as the context shows.

God draws our attention to four things He did on that first Sabbath. He (1) ended His work, (2) rested, (3) blessed the seventh day, and (4) sanctified it. He created something just as surely as He created physical things on the other six days. He is instructing us that, on the Sabbath, creation continued but in a different form, one not outwardly visible. To those with understanding, the Sabbath symbolizes that God is still creating. Jesus confirms this in John 5:17, when a dispute arises over how to keep the Sabbath. He replies, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working."

The Sabbath is an integral part of the process of creation. God finished the physical part at the end of the sixth day. The spiritual aspect began with the creation of the Sabbath and continues to this day. Through the sequence of events on the first six days, God created an environment for man and life. But God shows through the creation of the Sabbath that the life-producing process is not complete with just the physical environment. The Sabbath provides an important part in producing spiritual life—life with a dimension the physical cannot supply.

The Sabbath is not an afterthought of a tremendous creation, but a deliberate memorializing of the most enduring thing man knows: time. Time plays a key role in God's spiritual creation. It is as if God says, "Look at what I have made and consider that I am not yet finished creating. I am reproducing Myself, and you can be a part of My spiritual creation."

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part One) (1997)


 

Leviticus 23:35-37  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The holy days and their offerings are shadows of good things to come (Hebrews 10:1). The offerings especially are indicative of many aspects of Christ's conduct and attitudes while serving God. We are to imitate Him (I John 2:6). Understood correctly, they represent the spiritual manner in which we are to observe these days.

Numbers 28:16—29:40 lists all the offerings to be made at the feasts. One can quickly see that more offerings were required for the Feast of Tabernacles than all other festivals combined. This ought to indicate what God expects regarding our conduct during the Feast of Tabernacles. He requires that we offer ourselves as living sacrifices so that it be most fruitful spiritually. It should be both a spiritual and physical feast whose fruit is rejoicing and learning to fear God as a result of the sacrifices done with understanding and a good attitude. This cannot be forced. It is the fruit of a right approach and use.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Amos 5 and the Feast of Tabernacles


 

Hosea 12:10  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

A similitude is a similarity, a comparison, a likeness, a shadow—essentially the same as a parable. Paul says all the Old Testament accounts are written for our understanding today. Hosea writes that the prophets spoke to us in similitudes or similarities. Thus, what happened to Israel and Judah in the prophecies applies in principle to the church today, the New Testament "Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16). Further, what is occurring in the church today is similar to what is occurring and prophesied to occur in the physical nations of Israel. It may not unfold in exactly the same detail, but very similarly. What understanding this concept opens up to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear!

Staff
Biblical Symbolism


 

Matthew 16:4  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Jesus Christ had had this conversation before in Matthew 12:40, where He defines His terms: "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."

What does Jesus actually say? If we were listening to Him speak, would we think He meant 72 hours or a period ranging from 36 to 72 hours? Some confuse the issue by arguing from the Jewish tradition supposedly extant during Jesus' day. They claim that if a thing is done at any time during a Jewish day, that day is counted as a whole day. For example, had the fish swallowed Jonah just before sunset, this event of just a few seconds would be counted as occurring over one whole day or 24 hours. Since a day and a night have been counted, only two days and nights remain. By the time Jonah exited the fish, he would have spent only 48 hours there, but the time would be counted as three days and three nights.

Was Jonah in the fish's belly for 72 hours or some time other then 72 hours? The problem with their argument is that they ignore the Timekeeper, God! Notice Jesus' understanding of a day's length in John 11:9: "Are there not twelve hours in the day?" From this we can safely assume that night is also twelve hours long, and day and night together equal 24 hours. It is no stretch of intellect to figure that three days and three nights total 72 hours.

Jesus said He would be in the grave for the same amount of time Jonah was in the fish's belly, a total of 72 hours. In John 2:19, He makes a similar statement in response to the Jews requesting a sign of His messiahship: "Destroy this temple [His body, verse 21], and in three days I will raise it up."

Staff
Was Jesus Resurrected on Easter Sunday?


 

Colossians 2:16-17  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

For centuries, people have tried to use Colossians 2:16-17 to say that Christians are not required to observe the Sabbath and holy days. This distortion stems partly from a misunderstanding of Colossians 2:14, which many claim says that the law was abolished and nailed to the cross, and partly from having a carnal mind, which is enmity against God and His law (Romans 8:7). They reason that Paul is saying in verse 16, "Therefore [since the law is done away] don't let anyone condemn you for eating unclean meats or not observing the Sabbath or holy days." Consequently, they interpret verse 17 to mean that Paul dismisses the Sabbath and holy days as unimportant symbols of future events, while emphasizing that the only truly substantive Christian need is belief in Christ. From this, they conclude that we should not concern ourselves about these days because, since Christ died, their observance is not required. This is not true.

The Colossians had been significantly influenced by pagan philosophies that taught that perfection could be achieved through self-denial and abstinence from pleasure. As a result, Colossae tended to be an ascetic community which adhered to a religion of severity, and its citizens thought anyone who was religious should behave as they did. Many of the people who had come into the Christian church in Colossae had brought their pagan philosophies with them, and they soon began to have an adverse influence on the entire congregation at Colossae. Paul corrects the people in the church who were doing this in Colossians 2:20-23. It appears some of the people had begun thinking that this self-imposed asceticism could somehow contribute to their salvation and had begun turning away from trusting in Christ. They had more faith in their unchristian works. Paul warns them about this in Colossians 2:8.

God had called the people in the church at Colossae out of their pagan, ascetic way of life, and they had begun to learn how to enjoy life in a balanced manner as God intended. This included eating meat, drinking wine, and enjoying food and fellowship when observing God's Sabbath and festivals.

Because the converted Colossians were learning how to enjoy life as God intended, the people in the ascetic community began to look down on them and condemn them. In addressing these problems, Paul reminds the Colossians that they are complete in Jesus Christ; they have no need for the pagan philosophies of this world (Colossians 2:9-10).

Paul explains in verse 16 why they need not be bothered by the attitude of the Colossian society toward their practices and way of life in the church. To paraphrase, "Do not worry about what the people in the community think about your enjoyment of eating good food, drinking wine, and joyously celebrating the Sabbath and the festivals. Christ has conquered the world and all of its rulers, so we do not need to be concerned about what the world thinks about us."

In verse 17, Paul mentions that the Sabbath and holy days are "shadows," symbols or types, of future events in the plan of God. The Sabbath is a type of the Millennium when Jesus Christ and the saints will rule the world for a thousand years. The holy days symbolize various steps in the plan of God and remind us annually of God's great purpose in creating mankind.

A literal translation of the last few words of Colossians 2:17 reads, "but the body of Christ." What is the body of Christ? I Corinthians 12:27 shows that the body of Christ is the church! The exact same Greek expression that is translated "body of Christ" in I Corinthians 12:27 (soma Christou) is used in Colossians 2:17. Paul tells the Colossians that they should not let any man judge them or call them into question about these things but rather let the church make those judgments. He is pointing the members to the example of the spiritual leaders of the church who set the tone and pattern of worship on the Sabbath and holy days, exhorting them not to worry about what anyone in the community thinks about them. A similar exhortation is given in Colossians 2:18-19.

Far from doing away with the observance of the Sabbath and holy days, Colossians 2:16-17 is one of the strongest proofs that the early church kept these days and that Paul taught the Gentiles to keep them.

Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Are the Sabbath and Holy Days Done Away?


 

Hebrews 9:9  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The author writes verse 9 at the end of several verses describing the Tabernacle and its furniture. Under the Old Covenant each article in the Tabernacle was used in rituals those performing them may never have understood. But now, the symbols of those rituals and articles give us understanding of humanity's relationship with God under both Covenants. They clarify our privilege and responsibility to such a startling degree that it should fill us with wonder and thanksgiving.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Biblical Symbolism


 

Hebrews 9:9  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

The sacrifices and offerings, though sincerely and fastidiously performed over centuries, could never accomplish what the offerers looked to them to do. They are symbols, shadows, of events and processes that have a far greater scope than most people ever realize. Though they are no longer necessary - because they were fulfilled primarily in the sacrifice of Christ "once for all" (Hebrews 9:11) - they can still teach us a great deal about this way to which we have committed our lives.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Wavesheaf Offering


 

Hebrews 10:1  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

Scripture clearly teaches that the Old Covenant ceremonies are symbolic of essential, New Covenant, spiritual truths. Further, the author reinforces this by saying they are "a shadow of good things to come." The verb "having" in Hebrews 10:1 is a present active participle, expressing continuous or repeated action. This means that the Old Covenant ordinances of divine service and the sanctuary are still valid and effective teaching vehicles.

Where there is a shadow, there must also be a reality. In this instance, the reality is the life of Christ—the reality we are to strive to emulate as closely as we can, "as dear children," as Paul puts it, to be "a sweet-smelling aroma" to God (Ephesians 5:1-2).

In Luke 24:27, Jesus buttresses this concept while instructing the two men on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection: "And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself." Jesus draws teaching from the books of Moses to show parallels with His own life.

Be careful not to make the careless mistake of thinking of the offerings as childish, insignificant, primitive, or barbaric. Undoubtedly, they are different from what we are culturally familiar. However, these quoted scriptures make it clear that God intended all along to use them as teaching vehicles. To those under the Old Covenant, the offerings looked forward to what would occur. We look back on what occurred and accept the spiritual intent of the teaching as applicable to us under the New Covenant.

The sacrifices of Leviticus stood at the heart of the worship of God under the Old Covenant. The overall image we may retain from them may indeed be of an endless number of bulls, sheep, goats, and birds slaughtered and burned with profound solemnity on a smoking altar. However, there is absolutely no doubt that they prefigured the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in His death by crucifixion. Less understood is that they also foreshadowed the depth of His consecrated devotion to God and man in His life. Even less understood is how they demonstrate the life we also are to exemplify as living sacrifices.

Is not being living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, and not being conformed to this world but being transformed by the renewing of our minds into the image of Christ our Redeemer, to be at the center of our lives once we are redeemed (Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:13)?

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part One): Introduction


 

Hebrews 10:1-3  (Go to this verse :: Verse pop-up)

"Those sacrifices" identifies the body of laws being talked of here - the sacrifices, of which the law is just a shadow. They were not a part of the original covenant, but were added later (see Jeremiah 7:22-23).

Verse 3 tells us why it was considered to be a schoolmaster. God had a good reason for them doing these things: They were to remind people of sin. They did not define sin. They were commanded because people were sinning; He made them give sacrifices to remind them that they were sinning!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 17)


 

 




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