One of the problems when studying the Book of Revelation is that while the book claims to be a series of visions experienced by John, the book is a complex web of allusions to the Hebrew Bible. In fact, while Revelation never quotes the Hebrew Bible, it alludes to the Hebrew Bible in almost every line. If this is true, then did John in fact have a vision, or did he write his book using the genre of a vision? Is this book a Revelation, or is it Research and interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, applying the prophecy of the Hebrew Bible to John’s current situation?
Here is one example drawn from Revelation 7. John sees four angels holding back the four winds until God’s servants are sealed on their foreheads. These are the 144,000 Jewish witnesses who are protected from the wrath to come (cf. 9:4, 14:1-4). While it is possible to see this as a vision experienced by John, it is clear that this is an allusion to the book of Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 9:4-6 there is another “sealing” of those who will be preserved out of the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. A mark is placed on the forehead of every man who has “groaned over” the abominations committed in the Temple of God prior to fall of Jerusalem. A man clothed in linen (presumably an angel) passes through the city marking those to be preserved, the rest will be destroyed without pity.
John appears to be consciously evoking Ezekiel 9 here – the context is similar, a judgment of God, and the result is similar, those “marked” by God are preserved, those who are not will be slain. Did John “experience a vision” or did he re-use the text of Ezekiel in order to describe a similar coming tribulation and preservation of God’s people?
It is equally possible that John experienced a vision and then used his knowledge of the Hebrew Bible to explain what he had seen and heard in that vision. Either way, the book of Revelation is much more than record of a series of strange dreams.