Old Testament Allusions and The Apocalypse of John: An Introduction

In 2010, I had been challenged to read through John’s Apocalypse (Revelation) very slowly and look up all the Old Testament cross references along the way. As a staunch premillennial guy at the time, my lenses were shattered as I was forced to deal with what the Apostle John was doing throughout the book of Revelation. At this point I could write at length to what I believe drives the modern and most prevalent interpretation of this book, but my hope is that you will let the Word speak for itself. Yet, the book of Revelation is not easy to grasp no matter who you are. John Calvin and Martin Luther strayed away from writing a commentary on it because of its difficulties. I myself do not have a mind like the many men who have gone before me, many of differing positions on the book of Revelation, but that ought not keep any of us from neglecting the final book in the Word of God. With that said, for the unforeseeable time ahead of us, I will begin going through the Apocalypse of John with an emphasis on his usage of Old Testament allusions. The last time I counted, there are roughly 400 of these Old Testament allusions in Revelation.

The Uniqueness of John’s Apocalypse

One of the greatest difficulties in understanding the book of Revelation is its genre. Unlike most of the Bible, this book has 3 genres intertwined together. First, it is an epistle written to specific churches. Second, it is a prophetic book calling God’s people to covenant faithfulness while also foretelling of some future events. Lastly, it is apocalyptic. Apocalyptic literature is where most of the confusion rises to the top. We don’t have anything like it in our current literary genres but it was primarily used to display pictures using words. This has created an upheaval in whether or not Revelation is literal or figurative. To that, I think its clear that it is both literal and figurative. What must be understood though, especially in regards to Old Testament allusions, is that John expects his Jewish readers to pick up on these allusions to the Old Testament and picture something in there head. And as we will see, he primarily alludes to apocalyptic texts from Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah. This means that it would be dangerous and harmful to interpret a lot of these allusions literally if John clearly means them to be interpreted as pictures that help highlight a greater truth. Apocalyptic literature is meant to be understood as God peeling back the curtains of reality so his people could get a glimpse at the realities of heaven, spiritual warfare, etc.

The Continuity of John’s Apocalypse 

Although the book of Revelation is a difficult book to understand because one of the genres is not something we have today, there is an important interpretive factor that is the same as every other book from Genesis forward. This continuity is found in the main point of the book of Revelation, which is Jesus Christ. As Jesus himself said in Luke 24 (2x), all of the Scriptures are about him. This means that the book of Revelation is to find its interpretive climax in the person and work of Christ in a way that leads to uninhibited doxology. As strange as a book The Apocalypse can seem to be at times, Jesus gave it to John as a means of comfort. For the suffering people of God it was meant to be a massive banner of victory over them in their trials and persecution, saying, “Jesus has won the victory through his death and resurrection. Hold on a little longer, keep your eyes fixed on me, and I will return for you and make all things right. Paradise is coming.”

I hope you will stay with me as we work through Revelation and zoom in on how John uses Old Testament allusions throughout this difficult, yet rewarding book.

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” (Revelation 1:3)

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