A symbol represents something real and the Bible has many metaphors or word pictures using familiar, everyday objects

Symbolism is an aid to understanding truth

and figurative language to symbolize spiritual truth. Prophecy, as in Revelation also often contains figurative imagery. Symbols represent or refer to something else by their customary association, while, signs are informative and relate directly to objects or ideas, yet both are indicators and a vital means of communication. All imagery in the OT is a visible representation of a NT principle. 

The rainbow is a symbolic, visible reminder that God will never again destroy the earth with water (Gen 9:12-17). The OT altar symbolised the meeting place of God with humanity, while the ark symbolised the presence of God.   A common OT term for a prophet was a “man of God” who symbolically stood in the place of God and His presence. The sacraments (bread and wine of communion) symbolise Christ’s body and blood given to redeem us; we are to take them in remembrance of His sacrifice for us (Lk 22:19).

Water baptism symbolises our death to the old nature, and rising to new life in Christ (Rom 6:4).

When a person ‘walks with God’ they are living according to His holy character and obeying Him, living in harmony with His standards (Gen 6:9; Deut 10:12,13; Micah 6:8).

Jesus used symbolism throughout His teaching, presenting Himself amongst others as a Shepherd and Door (Jn 10:7-14). The church has historically used the cross as a visual reminder of the Christian faith with the Holy Spirit often represented as oil or a dove. Much of the form and procedures within any religion is based on symbolism, however even in Christianity what started as a vibrant practice can lose its significance and just become a lifeless ritual or custom devoid of life and meaning.

Symbols can be valuable reminders of important events in our lives.  Such objects are only aids or indicators and should not to become idols but point to the real thing of significance of which they are but a token. The Bible is clear that we are not to make any idols or images, which could become objects of worship (Ex 20:4-6). Lucky charms are superstitious objects worn by some non-believers. These symbols have no power in themselves, they only point to what they represent.

See also: baptism (water), communion, figure of speech, I am, interpretation, signs


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