Continued from Part 2, Outline.
The content of the vision draws heavily on the Old Testament. Besides the obvious ties to Ezekiel and Daniel, there are pointers to many of the minor prophets; the six suites follow the six creative days of Genesis; as we move through the vision, we also move through the archetypal, heavenly temple, from the outer courts to the Holy of Holies; and the contents of the vision echo the daily and yearly liturgical cycles of the temple.
The Genesis Theme
The six suites parallel the creative days of Genesis:
The first day was the creation of light. The first suite is the Suite of Lamps.
The second day was the creation and separation of the waters above and below. The second suite, the Seven Seals, begins before a crystal sea in Heaven.
The third day was the creation of dry land and plants. The third suite, the Suite of Trumps, begins with a golden censer cast down to Earth and continues with plagues on the earth and vegetation.
The fourth day was the creation of the heavenly bodies. The fourth suite, the Suite of Signs, begins with signs in Heaven, the Woman and the Dragon.
The fifth day was the creation of birds and fishes. The fifth suite, the Suite of Cups, is a series of liquid plagues including striken seas and demonic frogs.
The sixth day was the creation of beasts and humans. The sixth suite, the Suite of Visions, features the defeat of the Beasts by the Son of Man.
The Temple Theme
As Revelation progresses, we go deeper and deeper into the heavenly temple:
The Suite of Seals features the bronze altar of the courtyard (6:9), where blood sacrifice was offered, as well as a sea corresponding the the bronze laver in the courtyard.
The Suite of Trumps begins at the golden altar of the Sanctum (8:3).
The Suite of Signs begins with the opening of the Ark, in the Sanctum Sanctorum (11:19).
Note that John sees the lampstand and the sea both at once, in the Suite of Seals. If the lampstand is visible at the same time as the laver and the bronze altar, then the screen between the courtyard and the sanctum must be gone. That would be appropriate for a Revelation, that is a revealing, an uncovering. John is allowed to see behind the screen, into the inner workings of Heaven.
The Theme of the Daily Liturgy
The vision also includes, in order, events from the daily temple liturgy. Each numbered suite begins with a temple ceremony enacted in the heavenly temple:
A lamb is slaughtered and its blood poured out at the base of the bronze altar. In the Suite of Seals, we see Christ in the form of a slaughtered lamb (5:6), and the souls of the martyrs crying out beneath the bronze altar (6:10).
Incense is offered at the golden altar. Incense first appears in Revelation in the Suite of Seals, identified as the prayers of the saints (5:8), and is offered up on the golden altar at the beginning of the Suite of Trumps (8:3).
Next, the burnt offering is made; the lamb is burned on the bronze altar while trumpets are blown. In the vision, after the offering at the golden altar, the Trumps blow as the world is one-third destroyed.
While the trumpets blow, a drink offering is poured out on the ashes of the burnt offering. The last numbered suite is the Suite of Cups.
There is a sub-theme of grisly inversion in this liturgy, since first the saints and then the world become the sacrifices, offered up by the Lamb.
The Theme of the Annual Liturgy
The vision includes elements from the yearly cycle of festivals, though to take them in order requires going around the year at least one and a half times.
Themes of the Old Testament
In addition to imagery taken from the Temple and its liturgy, Revelation contains a tapestry of images from the Old Testament. Here are some of the references:
- The four living creatures around God's throne are clearly the same as the cherubim from Ezekiel 1, though with their anatomies re-arranged, and, with their six wings, they may also be the same as the seraphim from Isaiah 6:2.
- The Four Horsemen echo the red, sorrel, and white horses in Zechariah 1:8-11 and the black, white, red, and dappled horses of Zechariah 6:1-8.
- The cry of the martyrs from beneath the bronze altar, where the blood is poured out, is reminiscent of the cry of Abel's blood against Cain at Genesis 4:10.
- The whole Israel Interlude, the sealing of the 144,000 and the vision of the numberless multitude, closely parallels the muster of Israel from 1 Chronicles 22-23, where David presents Solomon with the commission to build the Temple (as God presents Christ with the sealed scroll), before a vast assembly of four Levitical guards (the Creatures), two elders from each tribe (the twenty-four elders), and 288,000 tribal chiefs (the 144,000), plus a deliberately uncounted multitude (the uncountable multitude).
- Many of the movements in Revelation in the Suites of Trumps and Cups resemble the Plagues of Egypt from Exodus:
- Water to blood (Ex 7:19, Rev 8:8-9, 16:3-7)
- Frogs (Ex 8:2, Rev 16:13)
- Gnats (Ex 8:16, no clear parallel)
- Insects (Ex 8:21, no clear parallel)
- Plague on livestock (Ex 9:3, no clear parallel)
- Boils (Ex 9:8, Rev 16:1-2)
- Hail & fire (lightning) (Ex 9:19, Rev 8:7, 16:21)
- Locusts (Ex 10:4, Rev 9:1-12)
- Darkness (Ex 10:21, Rev 8:12, 16:10-11)
- Death of First-Born (Ex 11:5, Rev 9:18?)
- The locust-monsters of 9:1-12 not only echo the seventh Plague of Egypt, they echo Joel 2:4-5, where the prophet likens locusts to armies, chariots, and war horses, all details found in the locusts from the abyss.
- When John eats a scroll and measures the Temple in chapter 10, he is following the example of Ezekiel, who eats a scroll in Ez 2:8-3:3 and surveys the Temple in mind-numbing detail in chapters 40 to 42.
- The Two Witnesses of chapter 11 clearly resemble Moses and Elijah in their powers to call down plagues (Ex 7-10) and fire (1 Kings 18:37-38). They are also explicitly identified as lampstands and olive trees standing before God, a reference to Zechariah 4, where the olive trees are "anointed ones," never clearly identified but probably High Priest Joshua and King Zerubbabel.
- In the Suite of Signs, the Woman of God clearly recalls the images of Israel as the wife of God used repeatedly in Isaiah and other prophets. The image of Satan as a serpent refers to Genesis 3.
- The Beast in the Suite of Signs is certainly the fourth Beast from Daniel 7:7, described only as "dreadful" and having ten horns, but in Revelation combining features from the preceeding three beasts of Daniel (lion, bear, leopard).
- The Harvest of Blood in 14:14-20 repeats Joel 3:13
Continue to Part 4, Gentile and Numerical Themes.
Back to Part 2, Outline.
Return to Introduction to Essays
Return to Wind Off the Hilltop
Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2011