The Phoenix is an interesting bird that appears in only one scripture in the Bible. The King James translation as well as other translations do not use the word Phoenix though. However, the word is used in the Septuagint, Vulgate, and other modern-day commentaries. Here is the scripture where it is mentioned:
Then I said: ‘I shall die with my nest, And I shall multiply my days as the phoenix. Job 29:18
The Phoenix can be a symbol of long life but it is associated with rebirth and resurrection. It symbolizes the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ but it can also symbolize a new beginning. Just like the phoenix rises from its own ashes, so will the Christian who has fallen rise up again.
History of the Phoneix
The phoenix is considered to be a mythical creature because it doesn’t exist today. But the fact that it is mentioned in the Bible may suggest that it once existed and became extinct over the years. This would make sense since it is only mentioned in one book which also happens to be the oldest book in the Bible.
Ancient Egyptians associated the Phoenix with the sun and they believed it to be a manifestation of deity. The Greco-Roman world also viewed this incredible bird as a symbol of change and they believed the rebirth of the bird coincided with political, social, and religious renewal.
The phoenix was believed to be the longest living bird and some even considered it immortal. The bird was believed to ignite flames that would burn it down and then it would be reborn from its own ashes. This notion is present in the phoenix mythology in different societies and it also correlates with its description in the book of Job. This death and resurrection was believed to happen every 500 years.
The longevity of this bird has confounded many over the years. Some believe it was the only animal that refused to eat the forbidden fruit in Eden. They believe that as a consequence of its obedience, God allowed it to continue staying in Eden as well as gave it immortality.
A catholic father from the 4th Century stated the following about the Phoenix:
“…For it makes itself a coffin of frankincense and myrrh and other spices, and entering into this when its years are fulfilled, it evidently dies and molders away. Then from the decayed flesh of the dead bird, a worm is engendered, and this worm when grown large is transformed into a bird…”
Parallelism in Death and Resurrection
The Phoenix is the only creature that can accurately depict the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Here are two important parallels worth noting:
The phoenix dies in fire
Fire is a symbol of persecution in the Bible. One way the early church was persecuted was by being burned in the fire. The Psalmist helps establish the relationship between fire and persecution in the following verse:
You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance. Psalms 66:12
The death of the phoenix through fire can therefore be seen as a parallel to the death of Christ which was done in the most inhumane way possible. Not only was Jesus wrongfully convicted but he was flogged, mocked, spat on, tortured, and finally crucified on the cross.
The phoenix rises from the ashes
The phoenix burns down with its next and is reduced into ashes. However, a few days later, it rises up again from the ashes. This is an incredible parallel between the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus not only died on the Cross but also rose again from the dead after three days just as he had promised his disciples. The resurrection of Christ not only signified triumph over sin but also death. As such, the church can now attain immortality through the newness of life that comes from faith in Jesus Christ. As a result of the atonement, death is not a destination but a passage through which immortality is attained. Paul acknowledged this by writing;
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:55-57
The use of the Phoenix in Christian thought is not just a demonstration of death and resurrection – it is also a smbolof renewal. The reason why the Phonix would burn down was so that it can rise up again in a renewed body. The Ancient Egyptians always viewed the death of a phoenix as a sign of impending renewal in society. The Bible is full of examples of spiritual renewal. In Isiaih 40:31 and in Psalms 103:5, renewal is associated with the eagle but the symbolism of a phoenix is an even more powerful sign of renewal. Unlike the eagle, the phoenix has to die first for it to be renewed. It symbolizes the need for one to die to self before they can experience any real change. In the words of scripture,
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it dies, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it, and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. John 12:24-26
In summary, the phoenix may only be mentioned in one scripture in the Bible but it is a powerful symbol that can be seen throughout the Bible. It offers an interesting parallel between the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ which is the central focus of the entire Bible. In addition, the phoenix also represents renewal since when it dies, it comes back as a new bird. Similarly, when a man is in Christ, he becomes a new creature since the old things are passed away and everything becomes new (2 Corinthians 5:17 )