Token or sign. While the word “symbol” does not appear in the Bible, both the OT and NT are rich in symbolism and symbolic language.
Symbols, whether objects, gestures, or rituals, covey meaning to the rational, emotional, and intuitive dimensions of human beings. The universal and supreme symbol of Christian faith is the cross, an instrument of execution. For Christians this hideous object comes to be a sign of God’s love human beings,.
The meaning of symbols grows and even changes over time. For the Apostle Paul the meaning conveyed by the cross changed radically as did his view of Jesus of Nazareth. As a rabbi, zealous to keep the Mosaic law and to bring others to do so, Paul believed anyone hung on a tree was cursed by God (Deut 21:23). For this reason and others he strongly resisted the claims that Jesus was Messiah. Only when the risen Lord appeared to Saul did he realize that what appeared to be a curse had been transformed into a source of the greatest blessing. Christ’s death seen through the resurrection is at the center of the two major symbolic rituals of Christian faith-baptism and the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist.
Baptism is a picture of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. In belong baptized, a person says to the world that the baptismal candidate is identifying with the saving act being pictured. That means the new believer is dying to sin and is rising to walk in new life, living now for God and with God as the center of life.
The Lord Supper employs the ordinary elements of beread and wine to picture Chrit’s broken body and His blood shed for humanity’s sin.
While the cross, the water, the bread, and wine are symbol at the center of Christian faith and practice, they are not the only symbols. Symbols in the OT are related to symbols of the NT in important ways. Many of the events of the NT. For example, the sacrificial lamb in the OT points to the sacrificial death of Christ. The parables of Jesus are rich in symbols: grain, weeds, various kinds of soil, a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. Jesus used symbolic language in talking about Himself and His relationship to persons: bread of life, light of the world, good shepherd, water of life, and the door.
The apocalyptic writings of the Bible (Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation) are rich in symbolic language. A person reading and interpreting these books is required to come to know the symbolic meaning of the terms being used in almost the same way as a person trying to break a code.