Revelation and the Old Testament

To understand the book of Revelation, it is helpful to see that much of the imagery and language is rooted in the Old Testament.  Here are some examples.

Jesus as the one like the Son of Man who comes with the clouds. The imagery is from Daniel 7:13-14 and represents him as the one who will come to judge and rule. He is the saviour of God’s people who defeats their enemies.

Note also that in Revelation 1 Jesus reflects some of the qualities ascribed to the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7- -specifically the white hair.  This is symbolic of wisdom and purity.  God The Son is not to confused/merged into the Father but the pictorial imagery reminds us that Father and Son share the same nature. This is very important.  One of the ways that NT writers in general and John particularly show the deity of Jesus is by showing how he has the names, character and role of God. He has divine identity.

God as the Alpha and Omega, First and Last, The one who was, is and is to come (1:4) reminds us of the way that God reveals his name to Moses “I am who I am.” The name Yahweh reminded Moses that God had been faithful to his covenant promises with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The eternal God is faithful and dependable. This is the same God who reveals himself to John. It is the same God who is Lord of time and history.

In Revelation 1, these prophecies are linked with Zechariah 12:10 which prophesies that people will mourn for the one they have pierced, John treats this as pointing forward to judgement day.

Jezebel – the wicked wife of Ahab who led Israel astray. John uses this to describe someone causing trouble in Thyatira 2:9. This is typical of anyone who seeks to lead God’s people astray into false teaching.

The Throne room and majesty of God (Revelation 4)John is taken into God’s throne room. There he has a wonderful vision of God’s majesty and glory. He sees 4 living creatures worshipping God. These visions of God’s glory (see also here, the vision of Christ in Ch 1) connect John and his readers with the great visions that introduced the Old Testament prophecies (see e.g. Ezekiel 1, Isaiah 1, Isaiah 6)

The Lion of Judah (Revelation 5:5). It’s Judah himself who is represented as a lion in the Old Testament (Genesis 49:8-9).  This is a prophecy that looks forward and sees Judah and the royal tribe exercising power and might to defend Israel from attack.

A lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered (Revelation 5:6). When John looks to see the lion, he sees a sacrificial lamb. The reader should be thinking at this point of the Passover Lamb, the Levitical Sacrificial system and the prophecy in Isaiah of the one led like a lamb to the slaughter who was pierced for our transgressions.

A scroll that is to be eaten -sweet to taste but bitter to the stomach (Revelation 10:10-11)  -This echoes Ezekiel 3:3 with an edible scroll sweet to taste. However, this time there is a kick to it. The scroll is bitter in the stomach, or – I guess – hard to stomach/digest. There is a sweetness to God’s Word, it is good because it is truth. However, sometimes God’s Word is painful, hard to stomach because it feels like the hard truths it tells about sin and judgement are unbearable.

Plagues  There are a  series of judgements signalled through trumpets and the pouring out of bowls. Revelation 9 talks about judgement in terms of plagues. This reminds us of the 10 plagues God sent on the land of Egypt judging them, challenging their views of deity and leading to God delivering his people out of slavery. The imagery of rescue and Exodus in the New Testament is seen as God’s people are rescued from the slavery of sin.

The Two Witnesses (Revelation 11). Note the image of the Olive Tree is from the Old Testament too. David describes himself as like a green olive tree (Psalm 52:8) and God’s people are compared to the tree too -positively reflecting God’s intention that they will be faithful and fruitful but more negatively carrying the imagery of failure leading to judgement (Isaiah 24:13; Jeremiah 11:16). Note that the two witnesses here are described as prophets and readers will have the imagery of people like Moses and Elijah speaking for God in their mind. The imagery is most likely pointing us towards the prophetic role of the church speaking and being a witness for God in a hostile world. There are two witnesses because in the Old Testament this represented trustworthiness in court. The testimony of the church can be relied upon (Deuteronomy 17:6).

The Serpent or Dragon (Revelation 12) takes us back to Genesis 3 where Satan comes in the form of a cunning serpent. Genesis 3 promises holy war down through history between the descendants of “The woman” and the Serpent. In Revelation 12, this is picked up when the woman gives birth to a child (Christ) and the serpent seeks to pursue and destroy.

Babylon is the archetypical city of the Old Testament. It stands in opposition to God and his people. It is at the precursor to Babylon, Babel that people try to unite against God and his will (Genesis 11). Babylon is the city where God’s people are exiled to.  It is typical of human might and pride. In Revelation, Babylon’s place is taken by Rome.

Jerusalem is meant to be God’s city, the place where the Temple is) representing God’s presence with his people). However, Jerusalem so often failed in that task. In Revelation 11, we are reminded that it was here that the faithful prophets were often killed so that the city had more in common with Sodom another OT centre of wickedness. The physical city of Jerusalem was also either facing imminent destruction or had already been destroyed.[1] A new Jerusalem was needed and so in Revelation 21 the new heavens and new earth include this new city. The new city is cube shaped -just as the Holy of Holies was. This new Jerusalem is in fact The Church because it is there that god is present with us through the Holy Spirit.

[1] Depending on which side of AD 70 John wrote.