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In the sermon this last Sunday, we observed how the Bible describes and prescribes prophecy so that we know what Samuel is being ordained for as we walk through the narrative. During the course of the sermon, I made a statement that even as John wrote the book of Revelation, he was operating under the New Testament gift of prophecy, not that of the Old Testament prophetic office. To clarify, I stated that the book of Revelation was an exposition of the Old Testament and that almost every image and symbol described by John matched an Old Testament symbol with the same meaning.
After the service, one of our church members asked me if that was really true. So, I want to provide the references for the church body and make a plea with every Christian concerning the reading of the Bible. I do this in love for you, not wanting anyone to be unaware of God’s word or to be unable to understand the word that God has provided for our understanding.
There are at least 340,000 cross-references in the Bible. We learned this in our Wednesday evening Bible Study at TCATS as we began our current study of Matthew’s Gospel. As you can see in the chart above, there is very little New Testament material that isn’t also Old Testament material. The book of Revelation, in particular, references Old Testament material more than 550 distinct times in every single chapter of the book. I want to provide a list of many, not all, of those references in this list compiled by Dr. Fruchtenbaum (Click here).
There is a wonderful coherence in the Scriptures that we cannot escape. This realization changes the way that we read the Scriptures. For instance, we recognize that John saw himself as a partaker of the tribulation (1:9), so the tribulation he describes is something that has been ongoing since the time of the apostles. When we read the Bible honestly and with the intent to seek understanding rather than confirmation, we realize that the lampstand referenced in Revelation 2:5 is the source of a church’s testimony and is the divine truth of the Spirit’s indwelling foretold in God instruction to place the Temple’s lampstand (Exodus 25:31-40) and to have it burning continually using the clear oil of beaten olives (Exodus 27:20, Leviticus 24:3-4). To have a lampstand removed is to have God’s light removed from a church body. Furthermore, the temple’s lampstand had seven arms and John addresses seven churches- the fulness of God’s testimony on the earth. The seven churches are God’s witnesses and they can only stand on the testimony of God. When we read Scripture for what it is, we realize that the same imagery is used to describe the two witnesses in Revelation 11:4. John tells us exactly who these witnesses are- they are the two olive trees and the two lampstands. The continuous fire is the testimony of God. John is so clear about this and is using the Old Testament imagery of the temple menorah again. Since John describes this as part of the tribulation in which he is a partaker, the two witnesses are God’s church (which he explains in chapter 2) on this earth empowered by the Holy Spirit as God’s witnesses. The whole point of the detailed building of the temple in the Old Testament was to paint a picture of God’s true spiritual church. Two witnesses are described because that is what God required in the Law in order for anyone to be indicted (Deuteronomy 19:15). In the case of the book of Revelation, it is the kingdoms of the world who are being indicted. The time of our testimony is not yet complete, but many of us are being martyred and many bodies of many saints are already lying in the street (Rev. 11:7). Everything in the book of Revelation is described in like manner and in the genre of apocalyptic literature (a popular Hebrew genre at the time).
Already, we notice a difference between a genuine reading of Scripture and a biased or mystic reading of the text. John was expositing the Old Testament and applying the Old Testament text for the purpose of encouraging the saints during the current tribulation that he was a partaker in with the churches to whom the letter is addressed. We usually read it as if everything is future or as if it means something that is difficult to comprehend. That is simply not the case and it is one reason we cannot forsake the Old Testament text. We are at a disadvantage, though, because there is a popular series of fictional novels that tend to inform our reading of the text and because dispensational theology (which is new in the 20th Century) often informs our reading of the Bible and reflects the same type of theology (though there are differences) as that developed in and from Dante’s Inferno (which was actually a political allegory, not strictly a theological work). As a consequence, a vast majority of teaching from the book of Revelation in the last 80-100 years has been different from the historic and proper Biblical understanding of the text- certainly different from that of the apostles, patristics, and reformers- who tried to hold strictly to a biblical hermeneutic.
I have been intensively and critically studying the Bible now for 9 years. Still, I feel like an infant in the faith. Every week during my personal study time, I find that I am still having to overcome my own biases. I work very had to do that so that I can present the text as honestly and sincerely as possible. I do this for your benefit. It is what I have dedicated my whole life to. My prayer and my desperate plea to you can only be that we listen with the intent to understand, not with the intent to confirm the beliefs we already hold. I understand the struggle. We all grew up hearing teaching that wasn’t necessarily biblical even though it was wrapped in a few Bible verses. I am not saying that those who taught us and whom we love did not love Jesus. I am sure they did, and I do not have the authority to question anyone’s love for Jesus. It is difficult in every generation to wade through all of the available information, overcome confirmation bias, and simply teach the Bible in a way that provides a depth of genuine understanding. It is frustrating, but a necessary part of our sanctification. We all, this includes me, have had to unlearn many things in order to come to a proper and biblical understanding of the Scriptures. This is because within the last 100 years the organized church has become super-saturated with teachings that are not representative of what the Bible actually teaches. Let us hunger for the Word. I’ve included three resources below- First, the Bible’s instruction on how to receive Scripture honestly; second, a series that briefly overviews the book of Revelation; third, the link to a free download of the short book that I wrote concerning the Gospel in the book of Revelation.
You can also purchase my book directly from the publisher, on Amazon, iBooks, or from anywhere books are sold. Our church library also has R.C. Sproul’s study on the book of Revelation, and I recommend Dr. Alan Bandy’s book, The Prophetic Lawsuit in the Book of Revelation.