A Commentary on the Rest of the Bible

February 18, 2014Filed under theology#devotionsMarkdown source

I have made it my goal to write short posts reflecting on my devotional reading every day. These posts are composed off the cuff, in 30 minutes or less. The following is one such post. Before writing this post, I read: Revelation 14–22, Psalm 46.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High. (Psalm 46:4)

Once again, reading the Psalms in conjunction with Revelation is a striking experience. Psalm 46 could be a meditation on the prophecies of Revelation 14– 22, in many ways… but of course, this has it backwards. It is not surprising that the Psalms (or indeed almost any other part of the Bible) should sound like a complement to Revelation when held up next to the final book. Reading through Revelation this week hammered home just how familiar John was with the rest of the Bible. Whether he knew the Pauline corpus to quote it is hard to say,1 but he certainly quotes and alludes to sayings of Jesus that are not in the gospel of John but are in the other gospels, and of course his command of the Old Testament is astounding. In fact, in many ways, Revelation reads like a summary and recapitulation of the rest of the Bible, set in apocalyptic terms that herald the end of the age and the consummation of all things.

Revelation can be confusing, to be sure, but after having spent several years away from the book,2 and now coming back to it again much more familiar with the rest of the Bible,3 its confusing points dim in light of what is clear to me. That is: for all that John records many visions, he spends at least as much time repeating themes and statements and phrases from the rest of the Scripture, tying together what had previously been disparate elements into a unified whole. In the course of the book, I think John quotes every major prophet and references every (or nearly every) major apocalyptic image presented throughout the Old Testament and many or most of those in the New. He certainly also references Psalms and the Pentateuch; I would feel confident guessing that there are references to the historical writings and wisdom literature that I simply missed.

In short, John’s command of the rest of the Scriptures is simply astounding. John was not only the recipient of visions; he was also a masterful expositor of the word of God. The revelation was given to him, I think, at least in part because he had so thoroughly learned the rest of the Bible and could rightly situate the visions he was given in the rest of salvation history. As each page fills up with quote after quote and allusion after allusion to the rest of the great book of God’s work, Revelation becomes more and more comprehensible.

To be sure, some of the details remain fuzzy.4 But what comes through clearly —not least through the constant references to the rest of Scripture—is that the Lord God, the All-Powerful,5 will in the end bring justice on the earth. He will destroy Satan and crush evil and end the cosmic rebellion against the only good and true one. He will establish righteousness and justice and peace on the earth. He will give eternal life to those who worship him. God will dwell with man. Hallelujah.

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen. (Revelation 22:20–21, ESV)

  1. At least, for this non-expert who hasn’t explicitly looked for quotes from or allusions to Paul in Revelation.

  2. The last time I read through Revelation was sometime in 2012, I believe, as I read through the whole Bible that year.

  3. I have spent a great deal of time reading and re-reading the Prophets and the Gospels over the course of 2013 and early 2014.

  4. As indeed at least some of them likely did to the original audience; I strongly suspect that we are not meant to understand perfectly all that is shown in Revelation.

  5. A rendering I picked up from the Lexham English Bible, and which I rather like.