In his Olivet Discourse, Jesus said to his disciples:
“For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.
Isaiah said that God speaks to us with “stammering lips and another tongue.”
“Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.” [Isa. 28:9-11]
Some Old Testament prophecies seem to have been fulfilled in a literal manner, but others clearly have to be interpreted. Why are some literal, and others not? In prophecy, things of a spiritual nature are represented by symbols.
Here are some prophecies of Zechariah that are said to have been literally fulfilled by Jesus.
Patrick Fairbairn observed, “There are many passages in the prophets in which the application to them of a strict and historical literalism would not only evacuate their proper meaning, but render them absolutely ridiculous and inconsistent one with another.”
In their interpretations of Isaiah 2:2, the prophecy that the mountain of the Lord’s house will be established at the top of the mountains, above the hills, dispensationalist commentators and expositors are torn between their commitment to their mantra of literalism, and their devotion to the idea that ethnic Jews will dominate other nations in the Millennium. The literal view says the prophecy means that mount Zion and Jerusalem will be literally raised up, by tectonic means. Contrasting with this approach is the interpretation of mountains as nations, which leads to the concept of Jews becoming a kind of master-race.
In Daniel 8 a little horn growing out of the head of a goat grows tall, up to the sky, where it casts stars and the host of heaven to the earth, and tramples them. This of course cannot be literal, but has to be interpreted. In verse 14, Daniel hears that the desolation of the sanctuary is to continue for 2,300 days. This specifies the termination of the desolation, but no start date is mentioned. The phrase “unto 2,300 days” indicates that the time extends from when the words were spoken by the angel in the vision, the 3rd year of Belshazzar, about 553 BC. If the days represent years, 23 centuries would end in about 1750 AD.
In the table below two kinds of interpretation of Revelation 11 & 12 are compared. The column at the left identifies many of the symbols in these chapters. The middle column presents commonly held views based on a literal approach, and what is here considered the natural or human point of view, represented by the little horn in Daniel 7, with “eyes like the eyes of a man.” The column at the right contains a more mature, spiritual interpretation. Often, scholars will offer a mix of interpretations from either of the two columns.