7.5.5. The Importance of the Old Testament

The main reason we have a tendency to look outside of Scripture for insights in our attempt at understanding the symbols within the book of Revelation is our ignorance of the Old Testament. Like Swete’s assertion that the woman with child (Rev. Rev. 12:1-2+) has no parallel in the Old Testament, our lack of insight into OT themes can cause us to prematurely go looking in extra-biblical material for answers.

[Unlike apocalyptic writings] St. John’s . . . symbols are not obscure ravings hatched from a fevered imagination; they are rooted firmly in the Old Testament (and the reason for their seeming obscurity is that very fact: We have trouble understanding them only because we don’t know our Bibles).1

The text itself gives clear indication where we need to look for greater understanding:

But in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets. (Rev. Rev. 10:7+ cf. Dan. Dan. 12:9; Amos Amos 3:7) [emphasis added]

Thus, the analogy of Scripture (Scripture interprets Scripture) is an important key to unlocking the meaning of passages which we find puzzling:2

Commentators disagree as to the exact number of allusions to the Old Testament, but agree to their prevalence throughout: 3

No book of the New Testament is so thoroughly steeped in the thought and imagery of the Hebrew Scriptures.4

[The Apocalypse’s] relationship with the Old Testament can scarcely be overemphasized. . . . it is remarkable how the Old Testament is never explicitly quoted, but continually echoed and reapplied.5

The range of OT usage includes the Pentateuch, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Job, and the major and the minor prophets. Roughly more than half the references are from the Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, and in proportion to its length Daniel yields the most. . . . Among the allusions to Daniel, the greatest number are from Daniel Dan. 7:1.6

According to Swete . . . there are 46 references to Isaiah, 31 to Daniel, 29 to Ezekiel, 27 to the Psalms, and then Genesis, Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, Joel, and Zechariah.7

There are hundreds of places where John alludes in one way or another to the OT Scriptures. Swete mentions that of the 404 verses of the Apocalypse, 278 contain references to the Jewish Scriptures (p. cxxxv). UBS’s Green NT (2d ed.) cites over five hundred OT passages in connection with the book (pp. 897-920).8

There are over five hundred references to the Old Testament in the book of Revelation. The following is a list of such references, but it makes no claim to being exhaustive or complete. . .9

The importance of our familiarity with the Old Testament in order to understand the book of Revelation cannot be overstated! As we attempt to demonstrate in our discussion of Related Passages and Themes, the vantage point of the Old Testament is required because the book of Revelation extends and concludes various themes, problems, and promises which find their basis in the Old Testament. Without a knowledge of the Old Testament, we are like math students looking at the answers in the back of the textbook, but without any knowledge of the questions they were intended to answer! We will inevitably find ourselves ‘guessing’ as to the true meaning intended by God.

It was this recognized dependence of the book of Revelation upon the Jewish Old Testament which led to its authority being challenged by those with an anti-Semitic bent.10 Entering the book of Revelation with an anti-Jewish or overt allegorical slant to one’s interpretation of the Old Testament is a sure recipe for disaster.

When we come to find an OT explanation for the symbols in the book of Revelation, we may safely assume we have arrived. There is no reason to go beyond the text of Scripture in search of what is often simply speculation. “If the text is sufficiently explained in . . . terms [of the Old Testament], why look further? May not the local allusions be in essence gratuitous and unnecessary speculations?”11


1 David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance (Tyler, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), 26.

2 “The Book of Revelation depends on the Old Testament much more than does any other New Testament book. This fact alone should warn us that we cannot begin to fathom its meaning apart from a solid grasp of the Bible as a whole.”—Ibid., 30.

3 Also see Swete [Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1998, 1906), cxxxv-cxlviii] for a list of references to Greek versions of the Old Testament made by the Apocalypse.

4 Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John, xlix.

5 Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 13-14.

6 Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 77.

7 Grant R. Osborne, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 25.

8 Alan F. Johnson, Revelation: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), 15.

9 Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of Messiah, rev ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2003), 801-808.

10 “The first major figure to challenge the authoritative status of the book of Revelation was Marcion, presumably because of its strong ties to the Jewish Scriptures.”—Adela Yarbro Collins, “Book of Revelation,” in David Noel Freeman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1996, c1992), 5:695.

11 Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting, 26.