Q&A: Antecedents to the Book of Revelation in the Old Testament

Antecedents to the Book of Revelation in the Old Testament

How similar is the book of Revelation to Old Testament prophetic literature?

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Answer

The book of Revelation is not unique, in the entire biblical canon, in terms of the type of literature that we find there. There are actually several books in the Old Testament that correspond to the same literary type of genre. One of the ones I'm thinking of right now is apocalyptic literature Now, apocalyptic literature, we often think of, in the book of Revelation, as that literature where you get wild and outrageous animals and things being described, for example, dragons and beasts with multiple heads, horns and eyes. Well, that type of language is not unique to the book of Revelation. We find that in the book of Daniel. We find apocalyptic literature in Ezekiel, in Zechariah, even a little bit in Isaiah. So, the book of Revelation has many, kind of, literary antecedents in Old Testament prophetic literature. And what is the purpose of Old Testament prophetic literature at the apocalyptic level, or even the book of Revelation? One thing that's helpful to think about is that the coming of apocalyptic literature appears to focus around a particular community at a particular time, and that's usually God's people in exile. And so, if you think of Ezekiel, who was cast into exile in Babylon and received apocalyptic visions; Daniel who went into exile to Babylon, apocalyptic visions; John in exile on Patmos, apocalyptic visions. And the purpose of these apocalyptic visions, they were not to confuse people, which we normally think today, but actually to comfort and encourage God's people in this way: Number one, that God is in control, and number two, that God wins. And those two really big themes kind of frame how apocalyptic literature, or what it embodies in terms of its content, and when it is coming to God's people in terms of their timing. So, there are antecedents in the Old Testament for the apocalyptic literature that we normally think of describes the vast majority of the book of Revelation.

Answer by Dr. Miles Van Pelt

Miles Van Pelt is Associate Professor of Old Testament and Academic Dean at the Jackson campus of Reformed Theological Seminary.