I need to know what John 1:28 symbolizes, and what it actually means.
ESV - 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.
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This question (and this verse) exemplifies the importance of context in understanding scripture. Here Jesus is speaking directly and specifically to Peter, giving prophetic insight into the manner of his future demise (John 21:19). In verse 18 Jesus uses a linguistic device called parallelism which is very common to Hebrew poetry as well as prophetic and apocalyptic oration and literature. The particular type of parallelism used in this verse is called antithetical parallelism which generally contrasts two or more opposing ideas. A great example is found in Isaiah 45:7. In the first line of the verse it is says that God forms light and creates darkness, two polar opposites. The next (parallel) line tells us that He makes well-being and creates calamity, again two exact opposite conditions. In a similar way John 21:18 compares and contrasts Peter’s condition during his youth with his prophesied condition in his old age. The comparison reveals that his conditions are diametrically opposed. Instead of getting himself dressed and going where ever he wishes as he did in his youth, he will be dressed by others and taken where ever they want him to go in his twilight. Although we don’t have a detailed and totally reliable church history of Peter’s condition in his later years, church tradition generally holds that Peter was crucified upside down in Rome during the senior years of his life, ending his earthly ministry by martyrdom. The manner of Peter’s death is attested to by Tertullian at the end of the second century, and by Origen in Eusebius, Church History II.1. Origen says: "Peter was crucified at Rome with his head downwards, as he himself had desired to suffer." Also, according to the noncanonical Acts of Peter, he was crucified upside down. Although these ancient sources are not part of God’s Word and are not considered inspired, inerrant, or infallible they are certainly numerous, consistent, and trustworthy enough to be accepted as true. Therefore, many believe that Jesus’ prophesy of Peter stretching out his hands in a place he doesn’t want to be (vs. 18) is a direct reference to Peter’s crucifixion as an older man. Verse 19 parenthetically confirms that hypothesis and the somewhat cryptic words of Jesus at the end of the verse, “Follow me” may be an inference that Peter is to follow Jesus even in His manner of death. So, in response to your desire to know what the passage symbolizes, it does not appear that the words of Jesus to Peter in these verses are intended to be particularly symbolic of anything, but rather prophetic in nature. Jesus gave Peter insight into how his life would end. As we read those words in the light of available historical information, the fulfilled prophesy strengthens our faith and adds to the hope of the glory of God in store for us when we reach the end of our earthly lives (Romans 5:2).
Jesus was telling Peter that there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3: 1-22).
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