An Introduction to the Biblical Theme that is Finished in the Book of Revelation
The book of Revelation is the completion of a long strand of revelation which began through the early prophets of the Old Testament and closes with the Revelation of Jesus Christ. The book is the final chapter, with rich themes and spiritual ideas that are embedded in the earlier chapters of the Bible. This book should never be considered without the rest of God’s word; it expects that we already have an understanding of how God communicates truth to man. The symbolism used throughout the book is directly linked to the words of all earlier prophets of God. However, it is critical to recognize that the book is not just using Old Testament prophetic language as a literary device to speak of new concepts; but in direct connection, Revelation is speaking of the fulfillment of those Old Testament prophecies: “in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.” (Revelation 10:7). This book is about what the prophets had already announced; it’s not just using similar language.
The prophets of God had an interesting pattern in their messages. They served under God’s covenant, warning the people of the covenantal demands; They declared the vengeance of God, detailing how God would avenge holiness and those faithful to him. The structure of the prophets’ words is that of vengeance and restoration; laying wickedness desolate and restoring holiness. This is the same structure that we will see in the book of Revelation. This is also the theme which runs throughout the New Testament text. As Peter preached to the Jews, indicting them for their rejection of the covenant, he spoke like all the prophets before him, warning them first and then promising restoration for the faithful:
“Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.” (Acts 3:19-21).
Peter warned the Jews to repent of their wickedness because the Lord was coming to restore “all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.” This was no final coming that Peter spoke about, but the activity of the Lord toward that generation of the Jews (I’ll explain that in a moment). Then Peter continues to warn them, reminding them of the consequences for refusing the Lord:
“And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.” (Acts 3:23-24).
Again, Peter was talking about “these days;” it wouldn’t be rightly dividing the word of truth to say that “these days” are still yet in our future. Jesus also spoke of his coming in those days, first calling it the “days of vengeance” before moving on to speak of restoration:
“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written.” (Luke 21:20-22).
Jesus also points out that those days would “fulfill all that is written.” It’s important to note that “all that is written” was only the Old Testament at that time. So, those days would not fulfill everything in the New Testament, like the resurrection of the dead, but everything left unfulfilled in the Old Testament would be fulfilled in those days of vengeance. Like in Peter’s sermon, Jesus also speaks of his coming to judge the Jewish nation and the redemption of the faithful:
“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:27-28).
The Lord will come in vengeance against the evildoer and in restoration of the faithful; but when would those days take place? We have seen Jesus and Peter speak as if this period of vengeance and restoration was contemporary with that generation. We must honor those indications. Further, Jesus continues his discussion by saying:
“So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place.” (Luke 21:31-32).
The Lord is very specific in explaining that the days of vengeance against the old covenant people and the days of restoring the kingdom back to the faithful must take place before that current generation passes away. This is not only an accurate interpretation based on the words of Jesus and Peter, but it is natural to see this kind of judgment language, with the Lord coming in the clouds, used of a national (not the final) day of judgment (see my comments on Revelation 6:12-17).
Jesus wasn’t the first to speak about the days of vengeance and restoration, for he said that those days would “fulfill all that is written” (Luke 21:22). It had been written before! Peter said the same thing: “the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago” (Acts 3:21). And the book of Revelation echoes this concept: “the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.” (Revelation 10:7). This is a crucial statement in Revelation, by the way, and is irrefutable evidence that Revelation was not only written before the fall of Judea in the first century, but the book is about the vengeance of those days and the restoration of a holy people to God. Back to the task at hand, these scriptures are pleading with us to consider what the prophets wrote concerning those days.
The prophet Joel not only spoke in the structure of the book of Revelation, but he spoke the things which were to be fulfilled in the days of Revelation’s message of “things that must soon take place” (see comments on that statement in Revelation 1:1). The book follows the distinctive structure of vengeance (for example, Joel 3:2-16) and restoration (Joel 3:17-21). In Joel 2:28-32, he speaks of God coming in judgment and vengeance:
“And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.” (v.30-31).
That statement of judgment was spoken to the Jewish nation only, as the entire context of the book is directed to them (1:2, 13; 2:1, 15-16, 18-19, 23, 27). However, among the judgment and vengeance of God, there is also restoration:
“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.” (v. 28-29).
“And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.” (v. 32).
Those days of judgment and restoration are prophesied by Joel to the Jewish nation and see their fulfillment in the first century. The time of fulfillment is unmistakable, for Peter stood up in Acts chapter two and quoted these verses word-for-word from the book of Joel, stating that the words of Joel were now being fulfilled (Acts 2:14-21). Peter’s words compliment Jesus’ statement that “these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written.” (Luke 21:20-22). Remember, the “these days” statement, refers not to our days but their days, their generation (Luke 21:32). So, if all that is written must be fulfilled in the days of the first century, then all of Joel’s prophecy must have been fulfilled at that time.
Ezekiel spends most of his time on prosecuting the Jews of his time for their rejection of the covenant which God made with them. While many prophets spoke of Jerusalem as the great harlot (like Hosea, Isaiah, and Jeremiah), Ezekiel elaborated on the details (like in Ezekiel 16, and 23) of the people who had grown old in their harlotry (unfaithfulness to the Lord their husband). Ezekiel indicted the priests of the people for violating the covenant and profaning the holy things of God. He said that they “made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean” (22:26). To the rulers, he accused them of being “like wolves tearing the prey, shedding blood, destroying lives to get dishonest gain.” (22:27). To the prophets (the fake ones), he charged with hypocrisy, lying, and theft (22:25, 28). And finally, the people of the land he prosecuted for the practice of extortion, robbery, and oppression (22:29). For this, the vengeance and judgement of God was upon them:
“Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord GOD.” (Ezekiel 22:31).
But the latter portion of the book is dedicated to the restoration of holiness, a theme fulfilled in the New Testament. Beginning in chapter forty to the end of the book, Ezekiel sees a vision of a new Jerusalem (like Revelation 21:2, and Hebrews 12:22). It is clearly not a renewed physical city of Jerusalem, but a spiritual city; we know this by the details of the prophecy. Consider how Ezekiel sees a river which is sourced from inside the temple, it flows deep and wide out of the temple until it floods the whole earth. Is that literal? Of course not; it is a vision of salvation flowing from the church unto all the earth. Another consideration along these lines would be the division of the promised land again to the twelve tribes of Israel. Again, I ask, is that literal? Certainly not; for in Ezekiel’s day there were only two tribes left! The other ten were as extinct as the dinosaurs! This is not literal, it is a spiritual representation of God’s people enjoying rest from sin (Matthew 11:28). With these details, it is sufficient to understand that this is a vision of the new Jerusalem (the church), new = restored. The vision specifies that God will restore his city and his temple; no more will the people be sinful; no more will the teachers teach what is unholy, for they will all be holy as God is (1 Peter 1:15). “They shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common, and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean.” (Ezekiel 44:23). God is speaking about restoration! He must avenge holiness by laying the wicked desolate and restoring righteousness again.
“This is the law of the temple: the whole territory on the top of the mountain all around shall be most holy. Behold, this is the law of the temple.” (Ezekiel 43:12).
Daniel follows the same structure as the other prophets, speaking of both the vengeance of God against the wicked covenant people, followed by the restoration of a holy people. Much of Daniel’s visions are used in the New Testament, by Jesus (Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21), and by the book of Revelation. Daniel is told that his prophecies were not for his time (12:4), but were for the time of the end (12:9). The end of what? The world? No, let’s be fair with the text; it is the end of what is dealt with in the context, the end of the old covenant world.
In Daniel 7:1-14, we see something strikingly similar to the visions in the book of Revelation; tt is a vision of beasts. God sits in Judgment, the forth beast (the one we see also in Revelation) is destroyed (v.11), and we see the Lord and the restoration of the kingdom of God:
“And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:14)
Many still attempt to interpret the book of Daniel as prophecy yet to be fulfilled; but that can’t be so. Jesus included Daniel when he spoke of “all that is written” (Luke 21:22) being fulfilled in the first century. After all, these words of Daniel are certainly true of the resurrected Lord who said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18). Do we believe the things which Jesus said, or the things which modern denominations say?
The book of Revelation also has much associated with the book of Isaiah, as Isaiah also wrote of the days in which Revelation would be fulfilled. Like the other prophets, Isaiah prosecuted the Jews:
“Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the LORD has spoken: “Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.” (Isaiah 1:2-4).
Because of their great and many sins, the Lord avenged holiness and punished his people:
“Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against his people, and he stretched out his hand against them and struck them, and the mountains quaked; and their corpses were as refuse in the midst of the streets. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.” (Isaiah 5:25).
Isaiah follows the natural structure of the prophets when he turns to speak of restoration in the latter portion of the book. In fact, it is immediately after Isaiah’s famous prophecy of the “Suffering Servant” (chapter fifty-three), that Isaiah changes his theme to one of joy and salvation – with moments about judgment, until the end of the book.
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.” (Isaiah 65:17-18).
It’s a whole new world! The old covenant and its unfaithful people have been removed; the great harlot has been cut off, and the Lord has restored holiness, righteousness, and faithfulness in his kingdom. This is the same prophecy which the book of Revelation makes use of in chapter twenty-one, to announce to the first century church that full restoration would be completed very soon.
John the Immerser
John, the first prophet of the New Testament text, picks up where the Old Testament Prophets left off, speaking of the days of vengeance and of restoration. He began by warning the people, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2). When John saw the Jewish teachers coming to investigate him, he spoke boldly in his prosecution, saying, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Matthew 3:7-8). He then presented them with their options, explaining that the time is near (“even now the axe is laid to the root”), they could repent and when the mighty one comes they will be immersed with the Holy Spirit. The other option is for them to remain in their current state, in which case they will be immersed in fire (Matthew 3:10-11).
“His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:12).
In this discourse, John spoke of both a restoration from the Holy Spirit, and the fiery vengeance of God upon the covenant breakers. It is interesting to consider that John’s purpose of coming was for restoration:
“And the disciples asked him [Jesus], “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.” (Matthew 17:10-13).
The Lord instructed his disciples that John came to “restore all things.” It was the intent of John’s message to cause the people to repent and be restored to holiness and righteousness. Those who obeyed his message would see full restoration in the Lord; but those who refused John’s message “did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased.” These did not enjoy the times of refreshing, nor did the see the days of restoration (Acts 3:19-21), but only the days of vengeance (Luke 21:22).
The Disciples of the Lord
In Acts 1:6, the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Now, I have often heard that the disciples were completely misunderstood concerning the kingdom, and their inquiry showed their continued belief in Jesus to be the earthly king of Israel. Such say that it is not until the apostles received the Spirit that they finally understood the truth about the kingdom of Christ. That is totally unproveable, being unfounded in the biblical record! To the contrary, I believe that the disciples had a very good understanding of the kingdom. In fact, Jesus had just spent forty days speaking to them about the kingdom (Acts 1:3). How could they still be confused? I don’t think they are; consider the context for a moment. The disciples just graduated from a full course on the kingdom, taught by Jesus. Then the Lord instructs them to wait in Jerusalem for “the promise of the Father.” He reminds them of this promise, saying, “for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Now, John spoke of the restoration of “all things,” and this was connected to the coming of the Holy Spirit, to be “poured out on all flesh” as Joel prophesied. So it is both natural and logical for the disciples to ask the Lord about the restoration of holiness to the kingdom of God, which had suffered so much wickedness from the days of John the Immerser until the time of the Christ (Matthew 11:12). So, they were inquiring about the restoration of all things, and not if Christ was going to reign in an earthly kingdom. The Lord’s response is:
“He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8).
This response is twofold. First, it is in God’s authority to know the timing of restoration; second, you will be my witnesses. The first part makes sense according to the question, but what does the second part have to do with it? It is clearly connected with the conjunction “but.” The idea is that he cannot give them an exact time for the restoration, but that it would happen once they preached in Jerusalem, then in all Judea and Samaria, and then to the end of the earth. This is not a new thought, Jesus told them this less than two months ago, when he spoke with them concerning the end of the old covenant people and the restoring of all things: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14). What end will come? Again, it is the end of the old covenant prosecution of vengeance and restoration. Many today teach that Matthew 24:14 hasn’t been fulfilled yet. That is erroneous, for the Holy Spirit said that it has been fulfilled! Who should I believe? Jesus told the twelve to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15). Did Jesus give these apostles an impossible task, or could they accomplish this? They certainly could accomplish it, and they did – in short order. Paul testified that their words had gone our “to the ends of the world” by the time that the book of Romans was written (Romans 10:18); and later in Romans, he said that it had been made known to “all nations” (16:26). By the time that Paul wrote to the Colossians, the gospel had been taught to the “whole world” (Colossians 1:6); and if that is too vague, he later speaks of the gospel “which has been [that’s past tense] proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (Colossians 1:23). So then, back to Acts 1:7-8, the point that Jesus is conveying is that the restoration would not be complete until those men preached the gospel in every nation. This gospel would universally bring the greatest indictment against the old covenant people; it would universally allow the Jews the opportunity to plead guilty and be saved, but for those who refused, it would reveal to the whole world why God has come in such vengeful wrath against the house of Israel.
“And the nations shall know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity, because they dealt so treacherously with me that I hid my face from them and gave them into the hand of their adversaries, and they all fell by the sword. I dealt with them according to their uncleanness and their transgressions, and hid my face from them.” (Ezekiel 39:23-24).
The disciples continued the message of the prophets in the letters of the New Testament text, often referencing or speaking at length of the judgment that was at hand and the fall of the old covenant. The writer of Hebrews spoke of the passing away of the old covenant (8:13), and heaven and earth being shaken in the process (12:26), causing the end of that world (9:26), and the ushering in of a new temple and city of God (12:22-24). In 10:30-31, he spoke of the vengeance of God, concerning such, he quoted from Habakkuk, saying, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay” (10:37). Now, Habakkuk originally wrote that about the destruction of the Jews in his day, but the writer of Hebrews is using it in association with the destruction of the Jews in the first century. This is natural, for Paul also used Habakkuk in this way:
“Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about: ‘Look, you scoffers, be astounded and perish; for I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.’” (Acts 13:41).
It was clear that judgment was coming soon and with it would come times of refreshing in the days of restoration (Acts 3:20-21). The nearness of those days is well established in the book of Revelation (1:1, 3; 2:16; 3:11; 22:6, 7, 10, 12, 20), but evidence to the time-frame is also found throughout the New Testament. Paul said that the “present form of this world is passing away.” (1 Corinthians 7:31). John also spoke of that present world passing away, and spoke of it’s nearness, saying “it is the last hour” (1 John 2:17-18). Of course, Jesus’ time statements of “these days” (Luke 21:22), and “this generation” (Luke 21:32), which we discussed earlier, are also significant. All the evidence is consistent and in harmony with both Old and New Testaments, and the book of Revelation will complete this theme.
The Book of Revelation
The structure of Revelation follows the iconic style of the prophets. First, there is the warnings for the people to repent; this is accomplished through the seven seals (6:1-8:5) and the seven trumpets (8:6-11:19). Even though the people broke the covenant and rejected the gospel, the Lord was patient and gave them abundant warning of their judgment, but still the people refused all alarms:
“The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.” (Revelation 9:20-21).
Following the warnings, which were very stern and destructive by themselves, comes the desolation from the wrath of God; this begins with the pouring out of the seven bowls of wrath (chapter 16). Then, there is the judgment and destruction of the great unfaithful city (chapters 17-18), followed by more judgments throughout the world (chapters 19-20). In this wave of desolation which is caused by the Lord, echoes the words of Christs “these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written.” (Luke 21:22). Therefore, chapters 6-20 detailed the love of God in his desire for men to repent, but for those who refused, God still must restore righteousness, and so the vengeance of God is poured out on the wicked.
The final section of the book follows the natural flow of prophecy, concluding with restoration. Chapters 21-22 contain the most spectacular compilation of restoration language in all scripture. These chapters significantly apply prophecies from Isaiah and Ezekiel, along with others like Jeremiah and Zechariah. It is not natural to think of these chapters as a description of heaven, but the beauty of holiness and fellowship with God that was restored in the new covenant in Christ. The significance of this restoration is seen in the figure of the “tree of life” (22:2, 14, 19). This tree, a representation of life, has not been seen since the garden of Eden, when man sinned and therefore, died. But in Christ, there is life: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10). Restoring man to holiness and therefore, to life, was accomplished by the resurrection of the Lord and the obedience of men. The end of Revelation is not about heaven (nor can it be, because of the time restraints, 22:6), it is about the life which Christ restored for us. It is about the life we have now (if we are faithful and true), not something we will have in the future:
“Even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:5-6).