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Revelation and the Old Testament

by  Eric Lyons, M.Min.

Can you imagine what life without the Old Testament would be like for a Christian? Although the commands in the New Testament still could be obeyed without the Old Testament, our knowledge would be incomplete. We would be unable to appreciate fully the passages in the New Testament that speak of men and women such as Adam, Eve, Abraham, and Sarah, as well as events such as the Flood and the Exodus from Egypt. Our understanding of Jesus as the prophesied Messiah and the Great High Priest would be limited in the absence of books like Psalms, Isaiah, and Leviticus. The simple fact is, although we are under the new law today (Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 8:7-13), God still expects us to be educated in the Old Testament Scriptures. The apostle Paul wrote, “Whatever things were written before were written for our learning that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4). One of the main reasons we need to read and study the Old Testament is so we might have a better knowledge of the New. This especially is true when studying one of the most misunderstood books in the world—the book of Revelation.

Of the 404 verses in the book of Revelation, seemingly 278 of them make some allusion to the Old Testament. That is 68.8% of the verses! And some of these verses contain two, or even three, allusions to the Old Testament. The book of Revelation does not tell whence these allusions came. However, by a careful study of the Bible, we can understand that most of them come from the prophetic books of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah. Thus, it would be good to have some knowledge of the Old Testament before studying the book of Revelation. For example, before reading the apostle John’s vision of the seven golden lampstands in Revelation 1, a student should realize that such language had been used when Zechariah had a similar vision in chapter 4 of the book that bears his name. Prior to reading John’s vision of a “new heaven” and “new earth” (Revelation 21:1), a person might want to read Isaiah 65 and 66 to understand that such language had been used long before Revelation ever was written.

The reason there are so many allusions to various Old Testament books is because, like Revelation, they were written in a time of oppression and cruel, foreign domination. Whereas Revelation was written while the Christians were oppressed by the Romans, the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel wrote while the Jews where under Babylonian domination.

There are many similarities between Revelation and the Old Testament. In fact, of the 39 Old Testament books, one writer has found that Revelation alludes to 24 of them. Certainly then, by having a good knowledge of the Old Testament, and especially such books as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah, one likely will have an easier time understanding the book of Revelation.

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