The book of Revelation has long been classified as ‘apocalyptic’ literature. The word ‘apocalyptic’ means an ‘unveiling’. It is not alone or odd in any way. Other parts of the Bible are written in apocalyptic language and other writings from the past have also followed this style. I like to think of the ‘unveiling’ as the drawing back of the curtain on a stage play. We are told that this prophetic vision – I’ll call it a ‘play’ for the moment – was actually authored by God Himself and given to His Son, Jesus Christ, and I like to think that Jesus has invited His very dear and valued friend, John, to come and share in the theatre experience with him.
Early in the book we are told that these things have been “signified” – they have been written in symbolic/coded language. John will not immediately understand all that he is to be shown. In fact it is an unfolding revelation, continuing to this day. He will be shown things (events) that are “now,” things that are “hereafter,” and things which are set to begin “shortly”. John’s brethren, down the centuries, have been continuing to unravel the meaning and message of the one known as The Alpha and The Omega – this is an A-Z story, a long, and sometimes difficult path but continue with me and we’ll walk it together.
Knowledge of all Scripture, Old and New Testaments, and some knowledge of major world and Church history are all key to understanding the Revelation. However, one other Bible book stands out above all as being a companion book to Revelation, that is the Book of Daniel. In Daniel’s prophecies days are used to represent years, beasts (animals) are used to represent empires, along with horns representing kingdoms and more. In this opening chapter of Revelation we see a vivid description of Christ in the midst of the candlesticks (olive oil lamps – meaning the churches). Compare this description with the following from Daniel…
“I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, a certain man clothed in linen, whose waist was girded with gold of Uphaz! His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like torches of fire, his arms and feet like burnished bronze in color, and the sound of his words like the voice of a multitude.”
From the very outset we are being keyed in. If we keep in tune with the manner and meanings of Daniel’s visions then we will already have a good sense of the terrain and length of the path ahead of us.
I have highlighted Daniel as the single most outstanding example of another biblical writing in harmony with Revelation but there are a myriad of books, especially the prophets, where the language of symbolism is used, perhaps more poetically than in Daniel, and this language of the prophets is a further vital key to interpreting Revelation. Look at this quote from Isaiah as just one example…
“For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.”
The above quotation was used by Isaiah in reference to the demise of the Babylonian empire. Unless we are steeped on the Old Testament first we may be missing much of the poetry and prophetic language used in the New. If you were to immerse yourself in the many, many passages just like this in the Old Testament and then (immediately afterwards) read Jesus’ words of prophecy in the Olivet discourse you would likely conclude that “sun, moon and stars” all express a prophetic language. One that Jesus Himself was steeped in to the uttermost.