STUDY TWO: THE ‘PROPHETIC’ CONNECTION

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015

We now move to the connection between Revelation and Old Testament ‘prophecy’. I am not referring here to what we commonly understand as ‘the prophets’. I am focusing on predictive aspects from the Law, the History and the Writings of the Old Testament where we continually find prophetic symbols of New Testament realities. These connections are so numerous that some will not be mentioned here at all. An understanding of these Old Testament predictive symbols helps us to understand the meaning of Revelation.

It is very important in this connection to remember that Jesus Christ is the meaning of all the Scripture: all Scripture - ‘the Law and the prophets’ – is fulfilled by him [Matthew 5:17]. All the Scripture speaks of him [John 5:39, 46; Luke 24:27,44,45]. It is ‘in Christ’ that all of God’s promises are ‘Yes’ [2Corinthians 1:19-20; Revelation 3:14 (‘the Amen’)]. None of them finds their fulfilment without him, apart from him, or beyond him. He is the meaning of the Old Testament [1Peter 1:10-12]. He is ‘the mystery of God’ in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found [Colossians 2:2,3]. It is essential, therefore, that we do not interpret Revelation in any way that by-passes or goes beyond the fulfilment of Old Testament prophetic symbols and predictive messages in Jesus Christ. No Old Testament symbol or prediction has significance apart from its significance and fulfilment/consummation in Christ. According to the New Testament, the ‘end’, the ultimate reality to which Old Testament prophetic symbols pointed, was fulfilled in and with the first coming of Jesus Christ, because he is the reality to which they pointed and from which they drew their meaning and their power. [We will look more at this in the study on the connection of Revelation with Old Testament eschatology.]
Scripture research:

Look up the verses mentioned above. What do they teach about the focus of the Old Testament on Jesus Christ?

 

 

A. OLD TESTAMENT RITUAL

Exodus and Leviticus contain instructions for a range of commemorative and sacrificial rituals – including the Firstfruits, the Passover, the Feast of Tabernacles, the Day of Atonement, the sacrifices and offerings, the Year of Jubilee. These are symbolic of Jesus Christ and the salvation he obtained for us by his death. In relation to Revelation several aspects are of particular importance:

[1] The role of a lamb in the Passover and the sacrifices. We have already noted that ‘the Lamb’ is the most frequent title used of Jesus in Revelation. That Lamb is ‘the Lamb who was slain’. As it was in the Old Testament, so it is in Revelation. In both the ‘lamb’ is killed. In both the ‘lamb’ is killed as a substitute. In both the death of the lamb secures the life of the sinner.  

[2] Those who belong to the Lamb in Revelation have been washed, or cleansed, ‘in the blood of the Lamb’ [Revelation 7:11]. This speaks of the ultimate and total forgiveness of sin that was symbolically and in miniature anticipated in all of the Old Testament sin offerings and guilt offerings, and on the Day of Atonement.

[3] The complete liberation of the people of God from all that previously held them bound, symbolised in the Year of Jubilee [Leviticus 25; Isaiah 61:1-3], is inaugurated with and demonstrated in the first coming of Jesus Christ [Luke 4:14-21], and is brought to its ultimate expression in Revelation. The scope of this liberation, and how this is liberation is achieved is taught repeatedly throughout Revelation.

[4] In Old Testament ritual – both sacrifices and feast days – a key role was played by the Levitical priests. They were the mediators, the go-betweens, between a sinful people and a holy God. They alone had direct access to God. Their role encapsulated all that the nation of Israel was meant to be. In Exodus 19:6 we read of God’s vision for his people: ‘will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’. Rarely, if ever, was this true of Israel. Yet in Revelation we read that this reality is even now in place because of the work of Jesus Christ [1:6; 5:10; 20:6], not only for believers from Israel, but from every tribe and language and nation.

Scripture research:
Look up the verses mentioned above. What do they teach about the Christ-centred significance of Old Testament ritual?

 

 

The New Testament, and in particular the Letter to the Hebrews, makes it clear that Jesus Christ has fulfilled the meaning and purpose of Old Testament ritual. He is the reality to which all of these religious symbols pointed. They take their significance and their effectiveness from him. Now that he has come they are redundant. They have served their purpose. He, the ultimate and final sacrifice for sin has died once for all: there is now no more sacrifice for sin. He, ultimate High Priest, has entered the real presence of God on our behalf: the Old Testament priests and the earthly tabernacle where they ministered are now redundant. To suggest that Revelation, or any other part of Scripture, accommodates the restoration of the Old Testament ritual, sacrifice, priesthood and temple seems to ignore, and even contradict, the truth clearly taught in Hebrews about the superiority, finality and eternality of the sacrifice and priesthood of Jesus Christ.

B. THE TABERNACLE [and the Temple which replaced it]
The Old Testament Tabernacle was built according to the plan God gave to Moses on Mt Sinai [Exodus 26:30]. It was a ‘copy and shadow of what is in heaven’ [Hebrews 8:5; 10:3]. Some Bible teachers assume that what Moses was shown ‘in heaven’ was a physical tabernacle, which he had to reproduce as a physical tabernacle on earth. On this basis references to the ‘tabernacle’ and ‘temple’ in Revelation are understood also to be really physical. But such a physical understanding of what Moses saw in heaven, and what Revelation is talking about, seems to be contrary to the spiritual significance given to the tabernacle and temple in the New Testament generally. It would appear that Moses saw ‘in heaven’ was not a physical ‘tabernacle’, but the real dwelling place of God. That this is so can be inferred from the following:

When Moses came down from the mountain his face was radiant: he had been in the presence of God. He had seen his glory [Exodus 24:2, 15-18; 34:5-8; 29-35].

Isaiah’s vision of the Lord and his glory included living multi-winged beings [Isaiah 6:1-4].
Ezekiel’s visions of the Lord and his glory included living multi-winged beings [Ezekiel 1:4-25; 10:1-22].
In Daniel’s vision ‘thousands upon thousands’ attended God [Daniel 7:10].

The ‘cherubim’ [see #C below] and ‘seraphim’ attending God are real and living. That they are represented in Moses’ Tabernacle and the Temple [on the mercy seat and the curtains] does not mean that Moses saw similar inanimate representations on a similar, but grander, physical structure ‘in heaven’. What Moses saw in heaven was surely the real thing: the real God [albeit veiled in glory], surrounded by real, living, superior beings, all of which were proclaiming his holiness, his glory and his greatness.

(We could seriously ask this question: did Moses see the same thing [or something very similar] that John saw, particularly in Revelation 4 and 5, but also in subsequent chapters? Is this what God instructed Moses to represent by the physical structure and contents and function of the Tabernacle? Certainly there are many parallels between these two chapters and the structure, objects and function of the Tabernacle. But a shadow or symbol is always less than the real thing to which it points and which it represents.  Instead of the altar and the mercy seat there is the Lamb who is slain. Instead of a mere symbol of God’s presence is God’s throne, which in John’s visions is at the very centre of all things. As the writer to the Hebrews informs us ‘Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence’ [Hebrews 9:24].)

Old Testament perceptions of the Tabernacle

[1] The Old Testament Tabernacle spoke of the presence, the glory and the holiness of God [Exodus 30:36; 40:34-38].  

[2] It also spoke of the exclusion of sinners from God’s presence. The holiness of God excludes sinful humans.
In Psalm 15:1 the question is asked ‘LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary (tabernacle)? Who may live on your holy hill?’
Similarly in Psalm 24:3: ‘Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place?’
Thus in the Tabernacle we find the Curtain, embroidered with Cherubim, banning access to the symbolic presence of God – the Most Holy Place.

[3] In the Tabernacle were God’s prescribed means of restoring and maintaining human relationship with God. We find in the Tabernacle the repeated sacrifices and rituals prescribed to obtain forgiveness and atonement, and so to maintain human relationship with God.
Indeed, in Ezekiel 10 and 11, in response to human sinfulness, we read of the glory of the Lord departing from the Temple. So sinful had Israel become that God abandoned them to their sin and its consequences.

But later in Ezekiel we read of the permanent presence of God among his people – his sanctuary, his tabernacle, among them for ever.

Compare these two passages, [different translations render ‘tabernacle’ as ‘sanctuary’ or ‘dwelling’]:
Ezekiel 37:26-28
Revelation 21:3

New Testament perspectives on the Tabernacle
The New Testament perspective is that the symbolism of the Tabernacle [and the Temple] has already been fulfilled, in and through the first coming of Jesus Christ:

Firstly, in the incarnation of Christ [read John 1:14], and
Secondly, in the gift of the indwelling Spirit [read 1Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; Ephesians 2:21,22].

This presence of the Spirit within believers individually and corporately, is, Paul teaches, the ‘deposit guaranteeing what is to come’ [2Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; also Ephesians 1:13,14], that is, guaranteeing the ultimate reality of life in the presence of God depicted in Revelation 7, 14,15 and especially 21 and 22. Revelation looks forward not to a rebuilt physical Tabernacle/Temple, but to God’s real, forever, presence with his people. Indeed, we are clearly told that here is no ‘temple’ there, because God himself and the Lamb are there [21:22].

In addition to the Tabernacle itself, are its furnishings. Of these, the Ark of the covenant is mentioned once in Revelation [11:19]; the altar is mentioned several times; the golden altar (the altar of incense that was in the Holy Place) is mentioned in 8:3,5 and 9:13.  The candlestick [lampstand] is also mentioned [1:12,20]. We will look further at these when we study the text.

C. THE CHERUBIM
In Genesis 3:24 cherubim with flaming swords barred access to the tree of life.

In the Tabernacle golden cherubim were embroidered on the massive curtain that separated the Most Holy Place [the Sanctuary] from the Holy Place. Within the Most Holy Place two golden cherubim were set on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant [the ‘Mercy seat’]. In Solomon’s temple, as well as these, there were multiple golden cherubim. In all of this, cherubim were associated with the presence of God, the glory of God and the exclusion of the sinner from God’s presence.

Read and discuss these scriptures:
Exodus 26:1, 31; 36:8,35; 37:7-9 [in the Tabernacle]
1Kings 6:23-35 [in Solomon’s Temple]
2Chronicles 3:7-14 [parallel account – Solomon’s Temple]

In Ezekiel’s visions cherubim surround God [1:4-24, especially 4-9; 10:1-22]. This reflects the Old Testament description of God as ‘enthroned between the cherubim’ [Psalm 80:1; 99:1; Isaiah 37:16].  In each of these references God, the one enthroned between the cherubim, and who therefore is understood to have authority over all, is begged to come and save his people from their enemies.

Revelation, speaking to persecuted Christians, presents us with a picture of four ‘living creatures’ in the very centre, around the throne of God [Revelation 4:6b-9; 5:6,8,11,14; 6:1; 7:11; 14:3; 19:4]. Here also they indicate the presence of God. Again they speak of the glory of God. But, whereas before they served as reminders and enforcers of our human exclusion from God’s holy presence because of our sin, now they rejoice in the salvation of sinners, in the removal of the prohibition, and join with the whole universe in worship of God and in praise of the Lamb whose blood has demolished the sin barrier.

[Note that some commentators do not identify these four living creatures of Revelation with the Old Testament ‘cherubim’.]

D. THE KING AND THE KINGDOM
The concept of king and kingdom is embedded in the Old Testament. Ideally, God is the King of his people, but they rejected him as King and begged for a human king like the other nations [1Samuel 8:4-9]. Although God’s theocratic ideal was thus discarded, God used the image of king and kingdom to teach the truth about his own everlasting kingdom. David becomes a prophetic symbol of Jesus Christ, and David’s physical kingdom a prophetic symbol of Christ’s eternal spiritual kingdom.

Thus Revelation speaks of Jesus as ‘the Root of David’, ‘the root and the offspring of David’ [5:5; 22:16]. And Revelation speaks repeatedly of ‘the throne’.
It is important to note that these prophetic symbols of God’s kingdom are always about an eternal kingdom.

Study these verses:
2Samuel 7:13,16
1Kings 2:45
1Chronicles 17:14
Psalm 89:3,4
Isaiah 9:7

In addition to these promises that David’s throne [symbolic of Christ’s kingdom] would last for ever, there are also statements that God’s throne, God’s kingdom, is eternal:

Exodus 15:18
Psalm 45:6
Psalm 146:10
Jeremiah 10:10
Lamentations 5:19

When the Old Testament speaks of the reign and rule of God and of his Messiah [his Christ] it speaks of a kingdom that has no end. It is important to keep this in mind as we approach Revelation.

Jesus, in the Gospels, referred repeatedly to the Kingdom. He, the King, was present, therefore the Kingdom was also present. For this reason we can never view Jesus Christ as not yet King – he is, and always has been, the King. Nor can we view the kingdom as something that has not yet begun. That would be to contradict those scriptures that teach that believers are already in the kingdom and heirs of the kingdom. Similarly, there is no Old Testament expectation of a temporary kingdom, a temporary reign, of Christ.

As we will see when we study the text of Revelation: God’s Kingdom has already been inaugurated, and his reign is for ever and ever.  We will also see that God’s people are already members of his kingdom, already ‘in the kingdom’, and already are ‘a kingdom’, though not yet experiencing all of its blessings.

E. JERUSALEM
Jerusalem has a key role in the Old Testament. It was the city of David – the city of the great king. It was the capital city of Israel under David and Solomon, then of Judah after the kingdom divided. It was the centre of true Old Testament worship: there was the Tabernacle/Temple; there the Levitical sacrifices and offerings were presented; there the annual Feasts were kept: the Passover, the Firstfruits, the Tabernacles, the Day of Atonement.  For these ‘feasts’ the Israelites made pilgrimages to Jerusalem from wherever they lived. Because the Temple was there, because the Ark of the Covenant was there, because the intercession of the priests was there, it was also called ‘the city of God’, ‘the holy city’.

Study these verses:
Nehemiah 11:1
Psalm 46:4-5
Isaiah 52:1
Daniel 9:16

Although Jerusalem fell both spiritually (by the sins of her kings and her people) and physically (by the judgment of God executed by the nations), Old Testament prophecy looks forward to a time when Jerusalem will again be glorious [Isaiah 60].

But when we turn to Revelation we find that the ‘new Jerusalem’, the ‘holy city’, it not a physical city at all: it is the Church, the bride of the Lamb:

Revelation 21:2
Revelation 21:9ff

CONCLUDING COMMENTS:
Much of the controversy regarding the interpretation of Revelation has intimate connection with how we interpret prophetic aspects of several Old Testament realities.

These realities are:

The descendants of Abraham – are they physical ‘Israel’ or are they all true believers? This has bearing on how we understand the verbal predictions about ‘Israel’. It is very difficult to find any support for the concept of a restored national ‘Israel’ in Revelation. There are only three references to ‘Israel’ – one a reference to history, one that limits the number of the saved of Israel to 144,000 [if you are a strict literalist], and one that states the names of the twelve tribes of Israel are written on the gates of the ‘city’. There are no references to Abraham, and the two references to ‘Jews’ are highly derogatory.

The Davidic King and his Kingdom – are these predictions about the restoration of Israel as a political kingdom with a descendant of David on a physical throne, or are they predictions of Christ and his eternal kingdom? To interpret the kingdom of Christ as a physical reign on earth for one thousand years is to fly in the face of the words of Christ, who said his kingdom was ‘not of this world’, and of both the Old Testament and Revelation which refer to his reign as ‘for ever’.

The new Jerusalem – is it a physical city, or is it a spiritual reality? Revelation clearly teaches that the new Jerusalem is actually the Church, the Bride of the Lamb.

The restored temple – is it a physical temple, complete with all of its furnishings etc [which speak of our sin and exclusion from God], or is it God’s real presence with his people for ever? Again, Revelation states unequivocally that there is no Temple in the new heavens and the new earth because God and the Lamb are there.

What we do with those Old Testament chapters which talk of a restored Israel, a Davidic king, a new Jerusalem, and a restored temple cannot be at odds with the teaching of Jesus Christ and the apostles. They were convinced that all the prophetic mysteries which were previously hidden have been made known in Jesus Christ. To give to them a fulfilment apart from and additional to Christ appears to be a serious mishandling of the Scripture. The book of Revelation is clearly a book about Jesus Christ. We dare not make it a book about Israel.

See Appendix #2: The Restoration