Reading Revelation one is somewhat disconcerting. In the spirit, John portrays these fantastic visions of Jesus’ brilliance yet they seem so foreign, so different to us. But the imagery used by John was not so foreign or different to him and readers. In fact, the picture he draws of Jesus is simply pulled from the Old Testament. Like John, both Daniel and Ezekiel have prophetic visions and dreams about God’s plan for the world. In the line of visionary prophets, John simply pulls on his tradition to portray Jesus for who he is, the Alpha and the Omega.
In Revelation one, John paints a stunning picture of Jesus. As the firstborn from the dead and ruler of all kings, John lauds him thus:
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. (Rev 1:5–7)
Soon thereafter, Jesus appeared to John in brilliance. Revelation 1:12–18 spills out this sketch unto the pages of Scripture:
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last.”
DANIEL SEVEN AND REVELATION ONE
What is not as readily apparent is that both these paragraphs intentionally refer to key passages in the Old Testament. For example, Daniel 7 describes the Ancient of Days as having clothing white as snow and hair like pure wool (7:9). In Daniel 7, however, a surprising event occurs. Daniel relates, “and behold with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man” (7:13). This one like a son of man comes up the ancient of days and the son of man is given “dominion and glory and kingdom” (7:14). But this is not temporal but goes on “his dominion is an everlasting dominion” (7:14). Even more shocking from this account in Daniel is that this son of man gives the kingdom to his saints (cf. 7:18, 22, 27). Thus, they became a kingdom.
What is so fascinating about the imagery drawn from Daniel is that John mixes the description of son of man and the Ancient of days into one. Thus, Jesus is both the son of man, so a man; and he is the Ancient of days, so God. John sees Jesus as both God and man and combines these two images to demonstrate just that.
EZEKIEL ONE AND REVELATION ONE
However, John is not simply referring to Daniel’s visionary ventures but also to the other visionary prophet, Ezekiel. While John uses Daniel more here than Ezekiel that isn’t necessary true later in Revelation. Nonetheless, Ezekiel draws a picture of this dazzling throne with four beasts surrounding one who had “a likeness with a human appearance” (1:26). The wings of the creatures surrounding him sounded “like the sound of many waters, like the sound of the Almighty” (1:24). Notice that the sound of the Almighty is the sound of many waters.
And the description of the enthroned one links right back to Revelation 1 (or vice versa):
Ezek. 1:27 And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. 28 Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. (Ezek 1:27–28)
When Ezekiel saw the very glory of God he fell on face before the Lord spoke to him. Likewise, when John sees the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ, he fell on his face before Jesus spoke to him. Again, John portrays Jesus as both God and man. Jesus is the divine fulfillment of the Old Testament prophets.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Why would John draw these parallels so intentionally? What really is the significance of all this to the book of Revelation. I would like to offer a few practical insights that I have gleaned.
First, Jesus’ portrayal as both God and man ensures that he is the divine messianic fulfillment of the Old Testament. Thus, he able to bless the saints (Rev 1:3; 20–22), deliver them from tribulation and deliver to them a kingdom (1:9; 4–19), and he has absolute authority over the church (2–3).
Second, by drawing on the two prophets that are characterized by apocalyptic visions (Joseph is a third, and John uses him in Rev 12:1), John intentionally defines the genre of his present work. Revelation follows the prophetic visionaries in style and structure. He follows in style because the work is a complex of visions that aim to glorify God and encourage the saints, while he follows in structure because of the intentional referents to Daniel (i.e. “I saw,” “behold,” “after this,” etc.,).
Third, John provides insight into interpreting revelation, since he draws so heavily on the visionary prophets. The same principles one applies to Daniel and Ezekiel, one can apply in Revelation.
Thus, John has both defined who his book is about (the God-man) and how his book’s structure and style will work, and an interpretive key to the book.
In short, without knowing the Old Testament backward and forward, it would be near impossible to understand the Revelation of Jesus Christ to his churches (us!). Know your Old Testament to know your New Testament.