Bible Facts Little Understood by Christians
Parables, Figurative Language
In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head while on his bed. Then he wrote down the dream, telling the main facts.
Daniel spoke, saying, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the Great Sea.
And four great beasts came up from the sea, each different from the other.”
The same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea.
And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.
Then He spoke many things to them in parables . . . . (Matthew 13:1-3a)
Parables and figurative language (metaphors and other types of figurative expressions) are often thought of somewhat together, for parables usually employ a number of figurative expressions. But, whether appearing together or not, neither ever appears alone, apart from related Scripture.
Parables reflect on previous Scripture. They are given to explain, add further light to previously revealed truth. And the figurative expressions employed in parables or elsewhere in Scripture are always used after such a fashion that either the context renders them self-explanatory or they are explained in other portions of Scripture.
Individuals in the Western world do not normally think or express themselves in parabolic or figurative fashions nearly as much as individuals in the Eastern world. It is quite common for those in the East to speak somewhat in parabolic senses or use figurative language extensively, but less common for individuals in the West. In this respect, it sometimes becomes more difficult for those in the West to grasp certain things in Scripture when it comes to parables and figurative language than those in the East, who automatically think more along these lines.
(This is why those in the West often have similar problems with types and antitypes in Scripture. They find it difficult to think along these related lines as well. But for those in the East, seeing types and antitypes [or using parables or figurative expressions] is second-nature to the way they think.)
Parables and the use of figurative expressions — as the use of types in Scripture — form different methods of the way God gave His revelation to man. Parables and figurative expressions form necessary parts of this revelation and are given after particular God ordained fashions, in order to form the complete canon of Scripture, exactly as God would have it exist. They form integral parts of Scripture — parts of the whole — apart from which other portions of Scripture cannot be properly understood.
Then, putting it all together, one can, so to speak, run all the checks and balances he wants to run through “comparing spiritual things with spiritual” — whether parables, figurative language, types, etc. — and he will always end up with the same uniformity and consistency throughout. He must, for he is dealing with a Divine Revelation that, in actuality, has only one Author; and this revelation emanated from an infinite, omniscient mind wherein non-uniformity and inconsistency cannot exist.
And that will speak volumes when it comes to the interpretation of parables, figurative language, and types. All of these form just as much a part of the Word — they are just as valid, they are just as complete and accurate, and they can be relied upon to the same extent (completely) — as any other portion of the Word of God. They must be looked upon after this fashion, for the whole of Scripture forms one complete, Divine Revelation — given “in various ways . . . in time past” (Hebrews 1:1) — which can only be perfect, to the minutest detail, in every respect.
A scattering of parables can be found in the Old Testament (e.g., Judges 9:7-15; 2 Samuel 12:1-4; Isaiah 5:1-7), but parables are seen in their fuller use in the gospel accounts of the New Testament, during the latter part of Christ’s earthly ministry. And parables appear at this point in Christ’s ministry for a revealed reason and purpose.
Christ began to use parables during His earthly ministry only after Israel had rejected the offer of the kingdom of the heavens. Parables were first used after the events recorded in Matthew chapter twelve, having to do with the blasphemous act of the Scribes and the Pharisees against the Holy Spirit.
In this chapter, the fundamental religious leaders in Israel — the Scribes and Pharisees (vv. 14, 24, 38), the largest of the religious sects in Israel, who, because of their very numbers, controlled the religious life in Israel — attributed the source of Christ’s power, through which He performed miraculous works, to Satan. These miraculous works were supernatural signs performed for the Jewish people, having to do with the proffered kingdom. They were being performed, not through Christ’s own power, but through the power of the Spirit; and, accordingly, Christ looked upon this blasphemous act by these religious leaders as something directed not so much against Himself as against the Spirit of God.
And, through committing an act of this nature, these religious leaders had gone too far. They, in their rejection of the King and the kingdom, acted after a fashion that necessitated Christ announcing that this sin would not be forgiven them (which would also include the nation at large, on behalf of whom they were acting), “either in this age or in the age to come” (vv. 31, 32).
(Note that Christ was performing miraculous works through the power of the Spirit, though He Himself was in full possession of His Deity [cf. Matthew 16:21; Luke 22:61; John 1:48; 2:18-21; 18:5-8; Acts 20:28], being God of very God and omnipotent. Why was Christ performing these miraculous works through the power of the Spirit when He Himself possessed the power to perform them?
The answer can be seen in Genesis 1:2bff, through the Father having previously performed works in relation to the Spirit after the same fashion, at the beginning, showing the manner in which actions of the triune Godhead are brought to pass. This forms a first-mention principle within the types; and the Son, at a later time, would not — He could not — act after a different fashion than the Father in this respect.
Thus, though Christ was fully capable of performing miraculous works within His Own power, He couldn’t act after this fashion and remain within the confines of the manner in which Scripture is structured. His actions had to be in complete keeping with that set forth and established at the beginning, in Genesis. The unchangeable pattern had been set 4,000 years prior to that time, and the Son could only act in complete accord with this established pattern.)
Christ’s statement relative to Israel not being forgiven throughout two ages for the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit would encompass time covered by both the present age and the Messianic Era. This would include time covered in the antitype of the whole of the seven days in the opening two chapters of Genesis — man’s 6,000-year day (one age, covered by the six days), and the 1,000-year Lord’s Day (a subsequent age, covered by the seventh day).
And, for all practical purposes, this was the point in Scripture where the proffered kingdom was taken from Israel, though the announcement was not made until near the end of Christ’s earthly ministry (Matthew 21:43).
According to Matthew 12:31, 32; 21:33-45, Israel, throughout time covered by any part of the six and seven days, the six and seven thousand years, would be estranged from having any part in the proffered kingdom of the heavens. This portion of the kingdom would be taken from Israel and would be “given to a nation bearing the fruits of it,” a nation which would, during the seventh day, the seventh one-thousand-year period, realize heavenly promises and blessings.
Once the kingdom had been taken from Israel, there was then a need for the extensive use of parables in Christ’s earthly ministry, something that would have been out of place prior to that time. And an introduction and use of parables immediately following Israel’s climactic rejection of the King and the kingdom, followed by Christ’s removal of the kingdom from Israel, is exactly what occurred. Immediately after the events of Matthew chapter twelve, Christ departed from the house, went down by the seaside, and began to speak to the multitudes in parables (Matthew 13:1ff).
The symbolism, the figurative expressions — in keeping with that which had occurred and that which is stated in Matthew 21:43 — is essentially prophetic in nature and has to do with Christ departing from Israel (departing from “the house,” having to do with Israel) and going to “a nation” that was not Jewish, but mainly of Gentile origin (going down by “the sea,” foreshadowing His going to the Gentiles [cf. Acts 15:14; Romans 11:25]). And that which had been offered to Israel — the kingdom of the heavens — after having been taken from Israel was to be offered to this other nation (cf. Matthew 21:43; 1 Peter 2:9).
The parables given by the seaside following Christ’s departure from the house are to be understood in this light, as are the subsequent parables in His ministry. They all have to do, essentially, with some facet of the message surrounding the kingdom of the heavens; and the different facets of this message within the parables center mainly around the Church (future) rather than around Israel (past or present).
Note the preceding in the very first of the parables, the parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:3-9. This parable has to do with four types of individuals sown out in the world, with a view to their bringing forth fruit for the kingdom. And in the interpretation (vv. 18-23), this whole overall message is specifically called “the word of the kingdom” (v. 19) — having to do with “the mysteries of the kingdom of the heavens” (v. 11) — which would be associated with “the gospel of the glory of Christ” in 2 Corinthians 4:4 (ASV; cf. Acts 20:25, 32), not with “the gospel of the grace of God” in Ephesians 2:8, 9 (cf. Acts 20:24, 28).
(In the parable of the Sower, for a correct understanding of that which is in view, translate the words “received seed,” or “received the seed,” in vv. 19, 20, 22, 23 [KJV] as “was sown.” That is, “This is he who was sown . . . .” In each case, the Lord sows [places] a saved individual at some point in the world, with a view to that individual bringing forth fruit in relation to the proffered kingdom [cf. vv. 3, 37, 38; ref. ASV].)
And, at this point in Christ’s earthly ministry, Israel could no longer bring forth fruit relative to the kingdom of the heavens. Only the Church, which was about to be called into existence, could do this (a completely new entity which would be mainly of Gentile origin — “The same day [referring to the time of the events back in chapter 12] Jesus went out of the house, and sat by the sea”).
With Christ’s departure from the house and His going down by the seaside — symbolizing His departure from Israel (the house) and His going to the Gentiles (the seaside) — the backdrop is set for this beginning parable. This parable can only have to do with the Church in relation to the kingdom of the heavens and fruit-bearing, not with Israel in relation to either one.
Then, the reason for parables, in response to the disciples’ question, is given immediately following the parable of the Sower, prior to the interpretation of the parable (vv. 10-17). Parables were given to further explain previously revealed truths; but whether or not the hearer understood the additional truths brought out by the parables was contingent upon whether or not the person had accepted the previously revealed truths. The latter was completely dependent on the former, which is why two classes of individuals were singled out in the Lord’s stated reason concerning why He spoke in parables at this time (those who understood, and those who didn’t understand).
(Note that the last three parables in Matthew chapter thirteen were given back inside the house, showing that Israel, regardless of circumstances, cannot be removed from the overall picture [13:36, 44-50; cf. Romans 11:11-26]. But, in relation to the kingdom of the heavens, Israel could only be as the fruitless fig tree in Matthew 21:18, 19. Israel cannot now bring forth fruit in relation to this facet of the kingdom. For additional information along the preceding lines, refer to the author’s book, Mysteries of the Kingdom.)
1) The Interpretation of Parables
The English word “parable” is an Anglicized form of the Greek word parabole, which is a compound word comprised of para (meaning, “alongside”) and bole (meaning, “to place,” or “to cast”). Thus, parabole simply means “to place [or ‘to cast’] alongside.” The word, when used relative to biblical teaching, refers to additional truths placed alongside of previously revealed truths in order to provide further light concerning the prior truths.
In this respect, parables in Scripture and the previous truths to which they relate are somewhat like types and antitypes. One will help explain the other, for they both relate to counterparts. And a rejection of one will negatively reflect on one’s understanding of the other.
So, what can be said about the interpretation of parables? The same thing that can be said about the interpretation of types can also be said about the interpretation of parables. Types and parables must be interpreted after the same fashion as that to which they relate is to be interpreted. And that to which they relate, generally, are not types or parables, though one type or parable could relate to another type or parable. But, with the existence of the latter, there must also exist a non-typical or a non-parabolic section of Scripture back behind that to which all the types or parables on a particular subject would relate.
A parable is not simply “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning,” as some state; nor, as stated by others, is a parable given only to illustrate “one central truth,” from which “details” cannot be gleaned.
The first statement really says nothing when it comes to the true nature of parables, and the second statement runs completely contrary to any correct thought about parables when viewed strictly from a Scriptural standpoint.
The reason for parables, as previously stated, was given by Christ Himself when He first began to teach through the use of parables (Matthew 13:10-17). Christ used parables during the latter part of His earthly ministry in order to reveal additional truths to those who had received His prior teachings, for, having received truths previously revealed they could then understand the additional related truths taught by the parables.
However, through this method of teaching, these additional truths were meaningless to those who had rejected His prior teachings. They had no point of reference, leaving the parables to stand alone; and, resultantly, they couldn’t understand that which was
(And teachings with this type dependency on other Scripture is not at all peculiar to the parables. Note the central subject matter of the parables in Matthew chapter thirteen — the Word of the Kingdom, and fruit-bearing in relation to the kingdom. Unless a person has some type of foundational understanding of this overall subject, he cannot begin at this point and expect to properly understand the subject at hand. He has no foundation as a point of reference, upon which he can build. After all, these parables appear at a point part way through the book of Matthew, and they are removed much farther yet from the foundational truths set forth by Moses in the beginning.
This will explain why certain biblical truths appear relatively simple for one person but seem next to impossible to grasp for another person. Understanding things relating to the Word of the Kingdom, for one “instructed concerning the kingdom of the heavens” [Matthew 13:19, 52] may appear relatively simple and easy. But for one not so instructed, the matter would not be that way at all.
And this is why God placed all of these foundational truths at the beginning of His revelation to man. God expects man to begin where He began, at the beginning of His revelation. And this is where man must begin if he is to properly understand the foundational truths as God set them forth, allowing a person to then correctly build thereon.)
The extent to which different parables deal with revealed truths could vary. A parable could reveal numerous detailed truths, providing numerous points of additional information to help explain the previously revealed truths (Scripture reveals nothing that would limit the use of parables in this respect). On the other hand though, the revealed, detailed truths covered in some parables could be considerably less than revealed, detailed truths covered in other parables.
They would be very much like types in this respect. A particular type deals with truth relating to only part of a complete picture (all the types together form the complete picture), but types vary as to the amount and what part of the complete picture each portrays.
The method of the interpretation of parables, as also previously stated, is simple. Though quite a bit of symbolism is usually involved (as is also present numerous other places in Scripture, types included), parables are to be interpreted and understood after the same fashion as the Scriptures to which they relate. As in the interpretation of types and antitypes, parables are to be interpreted in conjunction with their counterparts in other sections of Scripture.
The parable is not to be interpreted one way and that to which it relates another way, as the type is not to be interpreted one way and the antitype another way. In each instance, both are to be understood and interpreted in the light of one another after the same fashion as that to which they relate, and contrariwise, for they form inseparable units. The type and antitype, or the parable and the prior portion of Scripture to which it relates, in each case, deals with the same thing and is to be looked upon and understood after the same fashion.
Thus, to place parables in their correct perspective — beginning where Christ began, with His first parable — note that to which the previously revealed truth pertained and that to which Christ’s beginning parables pertained, that must, of necessity, be the same.
A) Christ’s Preceding Ministry
Christ’s ministry prior to the beginning of His use of parables was taken up almost exclusively with the offer of the kingdom of the heavens to Israel. True, He was presented during this time as the Savior, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Matthew 1:21; John 1:29); but, though He was presented this way at times, His ministry, prior to the introduction of parables, centered on two things:
It was only after Israel’s climactic rejection of the King and the proffered kingdom in Matthew chapter twelve that the events of Calvary began to come more and more into the forefront and occupy a central place in Christ’s earthly ministry (cf. Matthew 12:40; 16:4, 21; 17:22, 23; 20:17-19; 21:33-39).
But note that the parables reflect back on Christ’s teachings during the first part of His ministry — teachings during that time when the kingdom of the heavens was offered to Israel, not during the following part of His ministry when the events of Calvary began
to come more and more into the forefront. This is the way parables not only begin in the gospel accounts (Matthew 13:1ff) but remain as well; and this can be easily seen by following Christ’s use of parables from beginning to end (cf. Matthew 21:33-43; 22:1-14; 24:40-25:30).
Thus, since the parables reflect on Christ’s ministry during that period in which the kingdom of the heavens was offered to Israel and anticipate a new nation — the Church — being called into existence, they should be understood after a dual fashion. They should be understood:
B) The Goal in View
Basic issues surrounding the salvation that we presently possess enter into the subject matter within parables only to the extent that such is necessary for the parables to show, within a correct perspective, the purpose for man’s salvation, the reason man has been saved.
That would be to say, there has to be a beginning point — salvation, the passing of the man “from death to life.” And the parables sometimes drop back to this point and deal with man’s salvation in order to place the message surrounding the kingdom in its proper perspective in relation to man being redeemed.
To state the matter another way, though teachings within the parables center mainly around the saving of the soul (which reflects back on and draws from events during days two through six of the original type [Genesis 1:6-25]), the passing of man “from death to life” must occur first (which reflects back on and draws from events during day one of the original type [Genesis 1:2b-5]). And events surrounding the salvation that we presently possess (events occurring first) are sometimes dealt with in the parables in order to present matters surrounding the salvation of the soul in their proper perspective (as Christ was, at times, presented as “the Lamb of God” during the first part of His ministry — during the time He offered the kingdom of the heavens to Israel — for an apparent similar reason).
And comparing the original type (Genesis 1:1-2:3) with the whole of the antitype (the whole of Scripture), everything set forth through events of the first six days always anticipated events of the seventh day. Thus, it matters not where teachings begin in the parables (whether pertaining to man’s salvation or to issues beyond), the goal toward which everything moves is always the same. The goal always has to do with the seventh day, the earth’s coming Sabbath, the Messianic Era — a fundamental truth established in the original type, in the opening two chapters of Genesis, which must remain unchanged throughout Scripture.
2) The Value of Parables
Recognizing the value of parables is simple, and it can be stated in terms equally as simple. As previously stated, parables provide further light, that is they help explain previously revealed truth. That’s really their sole purpose, and that’s why the Lord used them. Parables constitute part of the different ways in which Scripture has been structured. They simply form additional revelation given to man, after a particular fashion, in order to help man see and understand the larger picture covered by the whole of Scripture.
A) Given During a Transitional Period
The parables in the New Testament are quite unique. They fit within that period between the removal of the kingdom of the heavens from Israel (removed following the events in Matthew chapter twelve, though not announced until Matthew 21:43) and the calling into existence of the Church to be the recipient of that facet of the kingdom removed from Israel. And the parables, not only fitting within this period but also having to do with the kingdom of the heavens, reflect upon that which had happened to Israel (in relation to this facet of the kingdom) and anticipate the Church being called into existence (also in relation to this facet of the kingdom).
Thus, the parables within the gospel accounts become a primary means that God uses to reveal truths surrounding the kingdom of the heavens during a transitional period as these truths pertain to both Israel and the Church. The parables, given during that period between the removal of the kingdom from Israel and the calling into existence of the Church to be the recipient of that which was taken from Israel, could be viewed in a fourfold aspect:
(As previously seen, the parables are truths placed alongside of previous truths to provide additional light. But in the sense that they fit within a transitional period and have to do mainly with the kingdom of the heavens in relation to the Church yet future, they actually relate previous truths to present and future truths. They take previous truths surrounding Israel and the kingdom of the heavens and relate these truths to the Church, about to be called into existence.
That is, the parables take truths having to do with Israel and the kingdom in past time and present truths having to do with the Church and the kingdom in future time [future from the time when the parables were given, i.e., referring to time throughout the present dispensation and beyond]. They help explain previously revealed truths surrounding the kingdom of the heavens as these truths now relate to the Church.
And these truths center on “the word of the kingdom” [Matthew 13:8, 22, 23], which has to do with fruit-bearing [Matthew 13:19], with the Messianic Era in view [Matthew 13:19-23; 24:47-51; 25:19-30]).
B) Different Parables
Note again the very first of the parables in this respect, the parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-9). This parable has to do with fruit-bearing in relation to the kingdom of the heavens (cf. vv. 11, 19, 22, 23). This would be a reflection on the previous message
concerning fruit-bearing as it pertained to Israel and the kingdom, and the parable would relate this past fruit-bearing to a future fruit bearing as it would pertain to the Church and the kingdom (cf. Matthew 3:8; 21:19, 34, 41, 43).
That would be to say, because of the immediately preceding events (in chapter 12), events set forth in the parable could no longer have to do with Israel bringing forth fruit, for Israel could no longer bring forth fruit relative to the kingdom of the heavens. Thus, events in the parable, of necessity, would have to do with the new “nation” — the Church — about to be called into existence and mentioned shortly thereafter (Matthew 16:18).
And the parable itself, consisting of one truth placed alongside of a previous truth, would simply relate things past to things future — things having to do with Israel and the kingdom (past) to things having to do with the Church and the kingdom (future). Or, take the parable of the marriage festival in Matthew 22:1-14 to illustrate a somewhat different facet of the matter, though still remaining within the thought of one truth being placed alongside of a previous truth.
In this parable, mention is made of the offer of the kingdom to and the rejection of the kingdom by Israel first (vv. 2-7 [note also that v. 7 anticipates events of 70 A.D., about thirty-seven years later, which were future destructive events resulting from Israel’s past rejection]). Then the remainder of the parable pertains to the Church (vv. 8-14). And one previous truth to which the parable relates can be found in Matthew 8:11, 12, the only prior mention of “outer darkness.”
In Matthew 8:11, 12, outer darkness, a negative aspect of the message having to do with the kingdom of the heavens, had to do with those in Israel; but in Matthew 22:8-14, outer darkness is used to pertain to those in the Church (though not yet called into existence), those to whom the kingdom was to be offered following Israel’s rejection. This is how parables form additional truths placed alongside of previously revealed truths in order to cast additional light on the previous truths, light that invariably has to do with some aspect of how the offer of the kingdom now relates to the Church.
(The whole of the matter surrounding Israel’s rejection [as set forth in Matthew 22:2-7] can be seen in the previous chapter of Matthew’s gospel in the parable leading into the announcement concerning the kingdom being taken from Israel, in the parable of the Householder and His vineyard [21:33-41; cf. vv. 42-45]. And this parable reflects back on a large segment of Israel’s history, which reached an apex [as it pertained to unfaithfulness] through the events of Matthew chapter twelve, which led to and anticipated that seen throughout succeeding chapters, leading to the crucifixion [cf. Matthew 23:37-39].)
Then in the Olivet Discourse parables (Matthew 24:32-25:30) everything is projected out into the future. These parables begin with a reference to Israel (24:32-36), seen in the latter days (during the Tribulation) with “leaves” but no fruit. In relation to the kingdom of the heavens, Israel will not be allowed to bear fruit; but in relation to the earthly segment of the kingdom, Israel will one day be very fruitful. And this parable reflects back on — providing additional light for — that seen in the preceding part of the Olivet Discourse (vv. 3-31).
The parables then continue with a reference to the days of Noah (24:37-39). The judgment of the Flood, as seen in Genesis chapters six through eight, appears as the central subject from which foundational truths pertaining to “the coming of the Son of
Man” are drawn. The “Flood,” in the typical structure of Genesis chapters five through nine, foreshadows the coming Tribulation (with “Israel,” typified by Noah, passing safely through the Tribulation). Thus, that seen in the parable referencing the days of
Noah provides additional information relating to the preceding parable and that to which it relates — information particularly surrounding Israel during the Tribulation.
(For more information on the preceding, refer to the author’s books: Had Ye Believed Moses or Seven, Ten Generations.)
Then, the remaining four parables (Matthew 24:40-25:30), having to do with the kingdom of the heavens (25:1), have to do with those to whom the kingdom was offered following that time when it was taken from Israel. These parables can only have to do with Christians, for, since the kingdom of the heavens is in view, these parables can’t possibly relate to Israel.
These parables have to do with Christian activity during the present dispensation, in relation to judgment and the outcome of that judgment at a future time (referring to events surrounding the judgment seat of Christ and beyond). And the entirety of that dealt with in these parables has to do with the kingdom that follows (the kingdom of the heavens, which is not only the central subject throughout Matthew’s gospel [and the other gospel accounts] but is clearly stated to be the central subject during the course of these parables).
And, beyond the preceding, each of these parables has to do with different facets of truth dealing with the same subject. Note for example how the last of these four parables, the parable of the talents, begins in Matthew 25:14. Literally, from the Greek text, the verse would read:
“For it [the parable of the ten virgins immediately preceding] is just
as a man . . . .”
That which follows in the parable of the talents is simply another facet of that which has proceeded in the parable of the ten virgins. It is an explanation of the preceding parable, using another parable. That is to say, the parable of the talents has been placed alongside the parable of the ten virgins to provide additional light, to help explain the parable of the ten virgins.
And that is the manner in which all four of the parables in Matthew 24:40-25:30 are structured. The first would be placed alongside of preceding revelation to help explain that revelation. Then each of the following three parables would be placed alongside of a preceding parable to help explain that parable.
Thus, to summarize, the parables in the gospel accounts have to do with both Israel and Christians in relation to the kingdom of the heavens. In this respect, they are inseparably connected with the removal of the kingdom from Israel and the offer of the kingdom to “a nation bearing the fruits of it”; and they provide innumerable truths surrounding the offer of the kingdom to this new nation, drawing from the previous offer to Israel.
To overlook, ignore, misunderstand, or limit the use of parables is to fail, in varying extents, to provide oneself with a series of explanatory helps that the Lord has provided. And doing such will always be to one’s own detriment in biblical study.
Figurative language really need not occupy that much space in this study. Figurative language is used extensively throughout Scripture — in types, parables, and elsewhere. But one is never left to his own imagination insofar as interpretation is concerned.
Scripture itself always provides the interpretation, as in the interpretation of types, parables, or any other portion of Scripture.
Scripture is always completely consistent when it uses language in a figurative manner. There is always uniformity throughout. “Leaven,” for example, is always used the same way. A “mountain,” the “sea,” “Egypt,” “Canaan,” etc. always represent the same things.
And the figurative expressions never detract from the literality of the subject matter under discussion, no more so than types or parables detract from the literality of that to which they relate. Things very real are depicted through the use of figurative expressions, things just as literal as that seen in the Scriptures to which the expressions relate.
Matthew 17:1-5 would present a good example of a figurative expression appearing in a type, with the whole event both reflecting back on the original type in the opening two chapters of Genesis and pointing to something very real out ahead.
It was after six days, on the seventh day, that Christ took Peter, James, and John up on “a high mountain” and was “transfigured before them.” The “high mountain” is used in the type in a figurative sense, representing a kingdom, the coming kingdom of Christ (cf. Isaiah 2:2-4; Daniel 2:31-45). And the kingdom will appear, as in the type, after six days (after 6,000 years) on the seventh day (on the seventh 1,000-year period), which reflects back on and draws from the original type in Genesis 1:1-2:3.
Matthew 24:45-51 would present a good example of figurative language used in a parable, with the same figurative language used in another section of Scripture (non-parabolic) after the same fashion. Note the use of “meat” in Matthew 24:45 and also in Hebrews 5:12, 14. Both refer to the same thing, as does the use of “meat” after this fashion in any other portion of Scripture. “Meat,” used after this fashion, is always a reference to biblical teachings, referring particularly to things surrounding Christ’s return and the establishment of His kingdom (cf. Matthew 24:46, 47; Hebrews 5:10-14).
And, as in the extensive use of figurative language in accounts such as Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the “great image” in Daniel 2:31-35, Daniel’s vision of the “four great beasts” in Daniel 7:2-7, or the use of a “dragon,” “woman,” and “man child” in Revelation 12:1-5 to depict different things, the interpretation of figurative language is always revealed other places in Scripture (cf. Daniel 2:36-45; 7:16ff; Revelation 12:6ff).
Whether types, parables, figurative language, or any other method that God used in His revelation to man; a person is never left in the dark or to his own imagination in interpreting the passages. God has provided other Scripture to cast light upon, help explain, that which He has revealed through different methods at different times, through different individuals.
 Chapter 9, The Study of Scripture, Arlen L. Chitwood, The Lamp Broadcast, Inc., pp. 139-155