Summary: Written and published July 2023: Often we find patterns in the structure of prophetic passages placed there by the Holy Spirit. Everything in Scripture has meaning. This article deals with the interpretations given in Scripture of certain prophetic parables, visions and dreams, alone with the interesting character associated with them.
Some parables are prophetic, like the ones found in Matthew thirteen. Many dreams and visions are prophetic as well, like the ones in Daniel and Revelation. This means they will contain figures and symbols which need to be figured out and made sense of. But sometimes the Holy Spirit will go ahead and give the interpretation. When this happens in Scripture, you can be sure that the interpretation is literal – it will not contain any figures or symbols for you to decipher again. The interpretation just means what it says, plain and simple.
Another noticeable pattern that is usually part of these prophetic interpretations is how they provide additional information that goes beyond what can be found in the parable, dream, or vision itself. This is like an unearned bonus provided by the Holy Spirit, the real author of God’s word. We’ll look to see these two patterns in the interpretations we find in the following examples in Scripture.
Matthew 13:24-30 (NKJV)
Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. 26 But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. 27 So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”
This is the wheat and tares parable. A bit later, when the Lord sent the multitude away, He entered the house where His disciples asked Him to explain to them the meaning of this parable. Below is the interpretation He gave them:
Matthew 13:37-43 (NKJV)
He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. 39 The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. 40 Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. 41 The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!
The literalness in the interpretation is easy to see. Most of the objects and characters are identified for us; it isn’t difficult to understand that Jesus is the Son of Man and that He sows the wheat. This planting is a new work by God at that time, so the wheat can’t be identified as Jews or Israel. The wheat, the true sons of the kingdom, are individual Christian believers brought about by the sovereign grace of God. But they are mixed in the same crop with the work of the devil, the Lord’s enemy. What are the tares? They are the false professors of Christ that are mixed in with true believers. The sum of both together defines the crop, the corporate body of Christendom in the field (world) today.
The parable itself mainly deals with the Christian dispensation – the time in which the wheat and tares are co-existing together as a ruined crop in the field (world). The promise of a proper separation is held out as in the future, in a time of harvest. However, the interpretation skips over the Christian dispensation entirely and begins with the events of the harvest – the end of the age. For clarity, we should be thinking the harvest takes place at the end of the Jewish age or Jewish dispensation. We know from Daniel’s seventy-week prophecy (Dan. 9) that the Jewish dispensation wasn’t ended, but rather suspended. There are seven years remaining of the Jewish dispensation yet to be fulfilled – this is the end of the age to which Jesus refers. The parable only predicted the tares being bundled together and left in the field (world). However, the interpretation shows the tares actually being burned in a furnace (hell). It also adds that Christians will be residing in the heavens, displayed in the glory of God (during the millennium, the last dispensation). The general results of the kingdom of heaven will be two distinct kingdoms – the Father’s in the heavens and the Son of Man’s on the earth. This fits the two patterns we are looking for: The interpretation is literal and much of the information provided in it goes beyond the story told by the parable.
Matthew 13:47-48 (NKJV)
47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, 48 which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away.
This parable of the dragnet was given later in the same chapter as the wheat and tares parable. In this example the interpretation the Lord gives his disciples immediately follows the parable.
Matthew 13:49-50 (NKJV)
So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, 50 and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
The interpretation is literal, and it adds a little bit of additional information with the casting of the wicked into the furnace of fire along with the wailing and gnashing of teeth. We see with just a surface look our two patterns in the interpretation. However, we still need to do further analysis to get its true application. (This may be beyond the purpose of this article, but I have a hard time just leaving to chance the proper application of any bible parable or vision)
At first glance, we may be tempted to reason that salvation in Scripture is just a simple procedure God will perform in separating the good from the evil. But if we are Christians committed to God’s word at even a minor level of seriousness, we know there are questions with such a simple view. How good is good? How bad is bad? What is the measure or weight of performance for qualification in both groups? Can there ever be human confidence or peace of mind under such a system of unknown standards? What about the integrity of the Christian gospel – what purpose would the cross have if God employed such a system? Truly, the suffering and death of Christ would be for nothing. And what of the holiness, justice, and righteousness of God if He is found accepting ever increasing levels of sinfulness? Such a system is a mockery of God and Jesus and the gospel.
Once we’ve eliminated that fatal error, we may have thought at first that this parable is like the wheat and tares parable. Admittedly, they appear to have some similarities. However, there are other considerations we should look at before declaring them the same. Matthew thirteen contains the distinct grouping of seven parables. Seven is a biblical number which refers to the idea of perfection or completeness (wholeness) in the subject under consideration. The last six of the seven parables are similes of the “kingdom of heaven.” – this is the subject. Together the parables paint a complete prophetic picture of the kingdom of heaven. Apparently, the time frame starts with Jesus as the Sower of the word of the kingdom (Matt. 13:3) and as the Owner of the field in which He plants the wheat (Matt. 13:24), and its final results will be the Father’s kingdom in the heavens (Matt. 13:43) and the Son of Man’s kingdom on earth (Matt.13:41). Each parable provides an essential but distinctive part of the complete picture that describes the “kingdom of heaven.” We must ask this question: why would the Lord repeat in the seventh parable what He already taught in the second parable? Each parable needs to play its part in creating the complete prophetic picture. The dragnet parable is the last piece that completes the puzzle, so to speak.
What does the dragnet parable mean? To shorten this article, I’ll be direct. The sea refers to the Gentile nations. The net is the everlasting gospel that will be propagated to the Gentiles during the last 3½ years of the future tribulation (Rev. 14:6-7, Matt. 24:14). The separation of the Gentiles in this parable matches the separation of the sheep and goats by the Son of Man in Matthew twenty-five (Matt. 25:31-46). It is the judgment of the living by the Son of Man when He returns in His glory with the holy angels. Both passages agree with each other quite nicely. It is the final act of judgment by God enabling the establishment of the Son of Man’s kingdom on the earth for His millennial reign. With this final parable the picture representing the kingdom of heaven is complete (assuming you have a good understanding of the six preceding parables in the chapter).
Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.”
3 So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. 5 And on her forehead a name was written:
MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT,
THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS
AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS
OF THE EARTH.
6 I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement.
This is an interesting vision given to John by one of the seven angels having the bowl judgments. It is of the great harlot sitting on the Roman beast. Verses one and two are introductory to the vision, giving some detail to the global activity and influence of the great harlot. But the vision begins in verse three with John being taken by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness (a figure of the world which has no spiritual resources or springs to produce or sustain spiritual life).
The angel’s interpretation begins in verse seven when he asks John why he is marveling at the sight of the woman who is obviously responsible for the murder of the saints and martyrs of Christianity:
Revelation 17:7-18 (NKJV)
But the angel said to me, “Why did you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns. 8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and will be present.
9 “Here is the mind which has wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits. 10 There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time. 11 The beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition.
12 “The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. 13 These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. 14 These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.”
15 Then he said to me, “The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues. 16 And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire. 17 For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. 18 And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.”
Again, the interpretation associated with the vision only has literal meaning. An example of this important point are the seven heads of the beast in the vision. The heads are the figure/symbol. The interpretation by the angel gives them a double meaning; they are seven mountains giving the geographical location of Rome (vs. 9) and at the same time, they represent seven different forms of government that would exist in the timespan of the Roman beast/empire (vs. 10). Half of the vision’s true meaning would be lost if we made the seven mountains into another symbol needing further interpretation.
The amount of information which takes us beyond John’s vision is notable. One example is God’s judgment of the harlot at the hands of the ten kings and the future/final head (emperor) of the beast (vs. 12-13). God puts it in their hearts to burn and destroy the harlot (vs. 16-17). Hopefully you recognize how this follows an important biblical principle – “for judgement begins at the house of God…” (1 Pet. 4:17). This was true with Israel in Old Testament days – God used the Assyrian as a rod of correction against the rebellion and sin of His chosen people (Isa. 11). It is also true in the New Testament with Christendom. That is why Revelation two and three (present things – Rev. 1:19) take place before chapter four and five (future things – Rev. 1:19, 4:1) begin. Jesus Christ judges the works of Christendom on the earth before God prepares in heaven to judge the world. And in the interpretation of the vision above, the harlot is destroyed before the beast and ten kings meet their end later in the book. This makes sense when you realize the harlot is the Roman Catholic Church in all her earthly glory and riches.
Revelation 20:4-6 (NKJV)
And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.
After Jesus returns to this world, He will have Satan bound for a thousand years in a bottomless pit (Rev. 20:1-3). This will begin His millennial reign over the world. Then John has another vision, “And I saw thrones…” The vision is recorded in verse four and the first sentence of verse five. The interpretation begins with the phrase, “This is the first resurrection.”
The three distinct groups seen in the vision are tied together as those who will have glorified bodies and will reign with Christ over the millennial earth. The ones seen as sitting on thrones are what were represented by the twenty-four elders in heaven in chapter four (Rev. 4:4) – the raptured saints of the Old and New Testaments. Those beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God are the martyrs of the first 3 ½ years of the seven-year tribulation. These were seen in heaven when the fifth seal was opened (Rev. 6:9). The third and last group privileged to be part of the first resurrection are those who had not worshipped the beast and were martyred during the last 3 ½ years of the tribulation. These are spoken of in Rev. 14:9-13 and seen in heaven in Rev. 15:2. The ones seen in the fifth seal were asked to have patience and wait for this group of martyrs to be filled (Rev. 6:10-11). These are the three groups who are the first resurrection and will reign with Christ over the earth for a thousand years.
There are other interpretations of prophetic passages containing figures/symbols that show these same patterns. Many of Daniel’s visions are interpreted for him by an angel. The visions and corresponding interpretations of the four Gentile civil world powers in Daniel seven are too lengthy to quote and look at here. But be assured, the parts that can be properly identified as interpretation are found to be literal and usually contain additional information which takes you beyond the contents of the vision itself. Daniel 7:1-14 contains three separate visions (vs. 1-6, 7-12, 13-14). The interpretations came from the angel standing nearby (Dan. 7:15-16). Verse seventeen is the literal interpretation of the first vision in the chapter (Dan. 7:1-6), while verse eighteen is additional information God provides. Daniel then makes a request for greater understanding about certain things: the fourth beast, the ten horns, and the blasphemous little horn (vs. 19-20). This brings about another vision (vs. 21-22). Then the angel gives a detailed interpretation (vs. 23-26) which corresponds with the second vision in the chapter (Dan. 7:7-12). This interpretation includes many additional revelations. Verse twenty-seven is the interpretation giving the result of the third vision in the chapter (Dan. 7:13-14). The additional information here is the kingdom being given to the Jewish remnant (the saints of the Most High), whereas in the third vision the kingdom was given to the Son of Man.
Even with the literalness and additional information in many interpretations in Scripture, we are still left with an incomplete picture. Not everything in the vision or parable is interpreted for us. We still are left with some symbols/types unidentified. Also, the actions and effects played out in visions and parables also require their proper meaning and application. In the wheat and tares parable discussed at the beginning of this article, the Lord’s interpretation failed to disclose what is meant by “but while men slept…” which allowed the enemy to plant the tares and ruin the crop (Matt. 13:25). Isn’t this an important lesson about human responsibility? Also, if the field is the world, what is the ruined crop sitting in the field? It takes a little bit of spiritual insight to understand that the time between the planting of the good seed by the Son of Man and the harvest at the end of the age is the present Christian dispensation. The ruined crop in the field is Christendom in the world. What is the meaning of the gathering of the wheat into the barn? Despite being given a literal interpretation, these meanings need to be sought out under the guidance and teaching of the Holy Spirit.