So often New Testament books are interpreted without reference to the Old Testament even though they are written against the backdrop of the Old Testament (e.g., Matt. 24:29–31). Try interpreting the book of Hebrews without reference to the Old Testament. It’s impossible. The same is true for Revelation. Revelation cannot be understood against the backdrop of the 21st century even though it applies to every day, week, month, year, decade, century, and millennium. James B. Jordan states the following in a Sunday School lesson on Revelation:
Revelation is not as difficult as you may think it is. It’s only difficult if you don’t know the Old Testament and that’s what makes it difficult for especially 20th-century people. Then in the past, it’s been difficult for that reason because so often New Testament books are interpreted without reference to the Old.
However, Revelation climaxes everything in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, and alludes to every book in the Old Testament one way or another. In a sense, the only way to do justice to Revelation is to study the whole Bible while you’re studying Revelation….
Revelation draws extremely heavily on Exodus…. There’s a whole series of plagues that are the same as the plagues on Egypt. There’s a calling out, there’s a going out, and there’s a destruction of Egypt. There’s an attack by Amalek on the Saints once they’re out of Egypt, just as an Exodus.
The book draws extremely heavily on Leviticus…. [T]he outline of Revelation follows the Calendar of the Feasts in Israel from Leviticus 23, and that’s one of the most basic structuring devices in the book. It alludes to the Song of Solomon. The bride is made ready and the Song of Solomon ends, hasten my beloved, the book of Revelation ends “Come Lord Jesus,” language very similar in context.
There are references to the book of Esther, the deliverance of God’s people from attack. The battle of Gog and Magog. Gog and Magog in Ezekiel is based on the book of Esther. …
At the end of Daniel, Daniel was told to seal up a book of prophecies [Dan. 12:4] that take us right down to where Revelation starts, and in Revelation, that book is unsealed. [“And (the angel) said to (John), ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near’” (22:10).] The book that’s sealed in Daniel is unsealed in Revelation. In a sense, Revelation is part two of Daniel.
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Revelation contains citations or allusions to most of the books of the OT, and in some ways all the books of the OT. Depending on how you count, there are hundreds (some say more than 500) connections, most of which are from the prophetic books — Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel in particular. Of the Minor Prophets, references to Zechariah, Joel, Amos, and Hosea are most common. John re-applies the historical exodus imagery to teach a new exodus (e.g., Rev 15:1–3). None of this should surprise us, since Jesus shows the OT is all about Him and His redemptive work (Luke 24:27, 44).
Louis Vos concurs:
The Apocalyptist’s use of the Old Testament materials is without parallel or equal in the New Testament writings. The Apocalyptist employs not only real testament figures of speech and the symbols but also the very phraseology and wording of the Old Testament itself. This is not to say that the Apocalyptist simply compiled an anthology of current Old Testament visions and sayings. His purpose and intentions prohibited this. The Apocalyptist was not intent on making a collection from the past writings; he was offering hope and comfort for the future in the language of the past.
Although various authors have adduced certain passages of the apocalypse as “quotations” from the Old Testament, it must be concluded that the apocalyptist does not once strictly quote the Old Testament….
Even though there is much Old Testament material in the apocalypse, it is evident from the methodology of John that he is not quoting the Old Testament. Rather he is using it, employing its words and pictures, its terminology and descriptive phrases to present an intelligible account of an indescribable experience in a familiar language. The absence of any formula citandi [words such as “The Lord said,” or “It has been written”] indicates that John does not directly quote any of the Old Testament materials. Nor does he, therefore, give any indication of the source of the material used. This is not, however, necessary because the Old Testament material is never employed to support an argument, to buttress an apology, or to give authoritative basis for the particular teaching. Rather, John merely employs the thought and terminology of the Old Testament as the garb in which to clothe his New Testament vision.
It’s important to note that John is not the author of Revelation. What he sees was revealed to him as a vision. The first hearers (mostly) and readers only had the revealed Word of God as their interpreter. There were no commentaries or access to Ancient Near-eastern Studies. They were aware of an approaching eschatological event that was “near” (James 5:8–9) that would come upon their generation (Matt. 24:34). Their expectation of this soon event was real, and the symbolism was known to them. Consider these parallels with Ezekiel:
1. THRONE VISION (Rev. 4/Ezek. 1).
2. THE BOOK (Rev. 5/Ezek. 2–3)
3. THE PLAGUES (Rev. 6:1–8/Ezek. 5).
4. SLAIN BENEATH THE ALTAR (Rev. 6:9–11/Ezek. 6)
5. WRATH OF GOD (Rev. 6:12–17/Ezek. 7).
6. SEAL ON SAINTS’ FOREHEADS (Rev. 7/Ezek .9)
7. COALS FROM ALTAR (Rev. 8/Ezek. 10).
8. NO MORE DELAY (Rev. 10:1–7/Ezek. 12).
9. EATING THE BOOK (Rev 10:8–11/Ezek. 2)
10. MEASURING THE TEMPLE (Rev. 11:1–2/Ezek. 40–43)
11. JERUSALEM AND SODOM (Rev. 11:8/Ezek. 16)
12. CUP OF WRATH (Rev. 14/Ezek. 23).
13. VINE OF THE LAND (Rev. 14:18–20/Ezek. 15)
14. GREAT HARLOT (Rev. 17–18/Ezek. 16, 23).
15. LAMENT OVER THE CITY (Rev. 18/Ezek. 27)
16. SCAVENGER’S FEAST (Rev. 19/Ezek. 39)
17. FIRST RESURRECTION (Rev 20:4–6/Ezek. 37).
18. BATTLE WITH GOG AND MAGOG (Rev. 20:7–9/Ezek. 38–39)
19. NEW JERUSALEM (Rev. 21/Ezek. 40–48)
20. RIVER OF LIFE (Rev. 22/Ezek. 47)
The only way to do justice to the book of Revelation is to study the whole Bible while studying Revelation since the Bible begins with creation and the Tree of Life (Gen. 2:9) and ends with a new creation and the restoration of the Tree of Life (22:1–7).
The description of the beast in Revelation 13:1–10 and 17:7–14 is based on the prophecies of Daniel 2 and 7. In Revelation 13:1–2, John describes the beast that comes out of the sea. The sea in Revelation 13 is the same as the one in Daniel 7, which represents the Gentile world. It’s no accident that Jesus described His apostles as “fishers of men” (Mark 1:16–18; Matt. 4:19) and spent time in and around bodies of water. “Isaiah prophesied that Galilee would witness a major part of the blessings of the Messiah (Isaiah 9:1–2). Since foreigners dominated it for centuries, the region was called ‘Galilee of the Gentiles.’” It was in Galilee where Jesus’ miracle of the great catch of fish (Luke 5:1–11) took place. This first fish miracle happened at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and the second took place near the end (John 21:3–11). Both miracles took place on the Sea of Galilee with Peter as the main character. Peter was later chosen to take the gospel to the nations (Acts 9:36–10:1–48). The Great Commission calls on Christians to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19) in terms of God’s moral standard (28:20) even as persecution and tribulation pushback (2 Tim. 3:10–12; 2 Cor. 11:11–33). “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Rom. 8:35; Acts 14:22).
Revelation is not describing events in the distant future. A first hearer and reader would never have considered such an interpretation, especially when they were told, “the time is near” (1:3; 22:10).
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Louis Vos, The Synoptic Traditions in the Apocalypse (Kamden: J.H. Kok, 1965), 51.