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Thursday, June 20, 2019

A Literalist Must Recognize Figures of Speech


It is most important to notice these [figures of speeech]. It is absolutely necessary for true interpretation. God's Word is made up of "words which the Holy Ghost teacheth" (1Cor. 2:13. 1Thess. 2:13. 2Tim. 3:16. 2Pet. 1:21, &c.). 
A "Figure of speech" relates to the form in which the words are used. It consists in the fact that a word or words are used out of their ordinary sense, or place, or manner, for the purpose of attracting our attention to what is thus said. A Figure of speech is a deigned and legitimate departure from the laws of language, in order to emphasize what is said. Hence in such Figures we have the Holy Spirit's own marking, so to speak, of His own words. 
This peculiar form or unusual manner may not be true, or so true, to the literal meaning of the words; but it is more true to their real sense, and truer to truth. Figures are never used but for the sake of emphasis. They can never, therefore, be ignored. Ignorance of Figures of speech has led to the grossest errors, which have been caused either from taking literally what is figurative, or from taking figuratively what is literal. 
(E.W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, Excerpt)

I am a literalist. That is, if the Bible states that Adam did this or David did that, I believe Adam did this and David did that. But, as in normal literal life, I understand when the scripture speaks metaphorically. Obviously, I don't hold the parable of the Sewer as referring to an actual person throwing actual seed. The Lord explains this is figurative language.

We must also recognize when someone is relating a vision, he is doing exactly that. Daniel is not prophesying that an actual lion is going to come up out of the sea (Daniel 7). Likewise, John is not saying a literal woman is going to ride a literal beast (Revelation 17).

With this in mind, we note that what the disciples saw on the Mount of Transfiguration in Matthew 17 was  a vision. Moses and Elijah were not there. What they saw was a "vision" of them. They represented the Law and the Prophets. Christ is greater than all. This is the lesson. Peter and the others missed it.

Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”

Let's look at one quick example from John's vision on the Isle of Patmos. First, we note that John was (obviously) seeing a vision.

And thus I saw the horses in the vision: those who sat on them had breastplates of fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow; and the heads of the horses were like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and brimstone. (Rev 9:17)

I have heard discussions in regard to the blood rising to the horses' bridles in Revelation chapter 14. I've heard it proposed that this will be a post-nuclear scenario wherein men again fight on horses. But shouldn't we just accept this as a metaphorical vision? Why would we see beasts coming out of the sea as metaphors while see blood on a horse as literal? We hold the wine-press to be a metaphor, why not the bridles?

And the wine-press was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the wine-press, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs [200 miles]. (Rev 14:20)

Is it possible they will fight on horses? Sure. But as this prophecy is not given to us gentiles for this age, we have no idea how this will play out. However, as with the Parables, those who need to know will understand. Even Daniel was puzzled at his own prophecies as were other prophets.

Although I heard, I did not understand. Then I said, “My lord, what shall be the end of these things?” And he said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. Many shall be purified, made white, and refined, but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand. (Dan 12:8-10)

Daniel did not understand his own vision and prophecies, because he did not need to understand. I don't quite understand Daniel or the Revelation in full, but I don't need to understand. At "the time of the end" we are told "the wise shall understand." So, we must be careful not to be too dogmatic when handling prophecies for Israel in regard to the time of the end. Study? Yes. Meditate? Yes. Diligently seek the Lord on these matters? Sure. But always understand that we will not completely understand.

[We pause to say again that the metaphors depict real, literal entities and events. This is not some flowery language. These are not as Aesop's fables. There is a Day of the Lord coming (The Lord's Day in the Revelation) and it will be very real.]

We must apply this understanding to the rest of John's vision in the Revelation, and that includes the final chapters. The prophecies contained in both Daniel's and John's visions (as well as in Ezekiel's, Zechariah's and others) refer to literal events. We do not doubt that. But they are shown visions, not movies.

Will the Lord return on a literal white horse? Possibly. But when we compare scripture with scripture we have the Lord returning in the clouds (Acts 1; 1 Thess 4) and the Lord returning in a flaming fire (Matt 25; 2 Thess 1) and returning on a white horse (Rev 19:11).  All of those conditions could take place, but I'm only certain of the first. As they saw him leave, so shall he return to Israel (Acts 1:11), in the clouds.

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)


Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in ine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. (Rev 19:10-15)

If we hold to a literal horse, do we hold to a literal "robe dipped in blood?" Do we believe he will have a literal sword coming out of his mouth? I don't know. But we clearly read most of John's vision as metaphor, so why must we insist that certain things are literal?


I believe this verse in Rev 22 is where John's vision ends, as the Angel confirms the vision:

Then he said to me [John], “These words are faithful and true.” And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place. (Rev 22:6)

John, an apostle to the circumcision, was shown a vision of how the words of the prophets would play out. The events are very real. The prophecies involve real things. The Jews were well familiar with  those prophecies and would understand the context of John's vision. The Revelation is a thoroughly Jewish book. In the Acts age (when John received his vision), the tribulation was "at-hand." It will again be "at-hand" when the current dispensation ends.

I believe a literal John had a literal vision of things that will literally come to pass. However, he saw only metaphors of those things. We must start there when discussing the Revelation and Israel's future. And this future surely is for Israel.

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