Revelation or Research?

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.

23 thoughts on “Revelation or Research?

  1. 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. -Plong.

    I think the answer you give Plong is an adequate answer. I dont think if John’s vision was researched, that it would change the authority or the truth that is found in Revelations. So authority of the visions? Doesn’t change. To me, if anything, I think validates what John’s saying. It doesn’t seem to me that the book of Revelation would get a second look if there wasn’t any “depth” [for lack of a better term] to what John had to say.

  2. 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? -P. Long

    It is always interesting to learn a new of looking at things. Either way, it doesn’t change the value of the Revelation. However, I tend to think it was an actual vision that he had. It isn’t surprising that what he saw in his vision lines itself up with the Old Testament. Whether it is research or not is an interesting question though that some day we will have an answer. I do prefer the last suggestion that John used his Old Testament knowledge and language to describe what he saw. Either way the book is still inspired.

  3. I don’t think that this book was research. I agree with Aaron, that it is an interesting thing to consider, and I have never thought of this idea before, but overall, I think that this has to be a vision. For one thing, I think Revelation has much more expansion on the concepts and ideas it draws on from the OT. I don’t think there is any way John could have reached this depth and had it still be considered inspired without some creative writing help from God. Granted, you see much of the imagery and you can find similar concepts from the OT in Revelation, but to me, again, it doesn’t seem possible for John to have this measure of depth without some further leading from God. He may have started with research, but he ended with revelation and vision from Heaven.

  4. I am not sure the argument matters much anyway. It would only make sense that John’s vision of apocalypse would resonate with the Hebrew Bible’s Daniel and Isaiah. We today see these two Hebrew texts as future occurances. I do find it fascinating that it is possible for John to have written a book that comments on apocalypse while using sources from the Hebrew Bible though.

  5. “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” (P. Long).

    Why is this a problem? And how could we trust the author with anything if it wasn’t what it claimed to be? Therefore, I think that Revelation is what it says, a series of visions. There is a beautiful and wonderful consistency throughout Scripture, so it isn’t surprising when themes are similar….

  6. “Why is this a problem? And how could we trust the author with anything if it wasn’t what it claimed to be?” –Rachel

    I agree with Rachel. Why would it be a problem? Why wouldn’t it be what it says that it is? Of course as you said P. Long “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.” If John had come in and started describing everything he had seen without using the Hebrew Bible to explain it, people might have thought he was absolutely crazy and maybe not believed him. Other people of that time would have known what the Hebrew Bible said, therefore it would have been good of John to allude to it in order to explain to people what is going to happen.

  7. The book of Revelation is certainly, as P. Long states, is a complex web of allusions that often confuses it readers perhaps because the entire book really is connecting back to the Hebrew Bible. As far as the question of if John had a vision or if he mostly used previous knowledge looking back to the Hebrew Bible to write the book of Revelation, I tend to agree with P. Long’s final statement of some mixture of both.

    I fully believe 2 Tim. 3:16 in which Scripture is God-breathed thus perhaps it does not impact our beliefs as much as previously thought. However, it is still an interesting topic to dive into and think about. John knew the Hebrew Bible because as a Jew, he would have studied and known the Hebrew Bible, thus he could have written Revelation in mindfulness of the Old Testament texts. However, there are absolutely plenty of Biblical examples of visions (such as Daniel), thus there is no reason discount that John did indeed have a vision and wrote in light of that vision. I would state a mixture and balance of both is most likely.

  8. I do have to admit that I have sadly to say but I have not read all of Revelation start to finish. This is sad because I would consider myself a Christian. So, in saying this I have to say that I would not be able to argue the point that John is writing this book because he is seeing thees visions, although I do see very smart Christians that have studied these passages learned the meaning and found them to be Johns visions of the end times. Like I said I at this point in my life may not be able to argue that John saw thees as apocalyptic visions or not but what I can tell you is that I trust the Holy Spirits guidance in my reading of scripture and my fellow Christians.

    • Alan, I would also have to admit that I have never fully read through the book of Revelation. And therefore I would also say that I don’t have enough knowledge to know for sure if John was just retelling things he had read in other parts of the Bible or if he did indeed see these amazing visions. But I would also point out that even in the first chapter there are several verses that to me seem to point to the fact that John did actually see things he wrote about and that they are prophecies of what is to come. Like I said earlier, there is really no way to know for sure if John really did see all of these things but from what I have read I would definitely lean towards the view that he actually was visited by the Holy Spirit and was shown these amazing things.

  9. Up until the point of reading this article I had never heard the theory that John did not actually experience these visions but instead he wrote on what he could recall from the other biblical texts and wrote about those texts in the vision genre. I could see how the similarities between some of the “visions” that John has and other biblical prophecies would cause some to suspect that John was just regurgitating the Bible. From my point of view I would say that these scholars are accusing John of plagiarizing the Bible. And while I can see some of the reasons for this point of view, I definitely do not agree with it.
    Obviously I do not know enough about this book to say for certain that John did indeed go through these visions, but I find it hard to believe that he would write these visions down as visions if they didn’t actually happen. For me, the verse that confirms this idea is the first verse in the book of Revelation, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angels to his servant John.” (Rev. 1:1). I think that despite the very colorful language of this book and the wild visions that John talks about, I do believe that John was a witness to these incredible things and wrote them down just as he saw them.

  10. It is difficult for me to believe that John did not actually have a literal vision, and that the book of Revelation is merely a compilation of research that he put together to form a coherent eschatology. However, the evidence in the above article–based in the book of Ezekiel–is actually quite solid. Revelation 7, dealing with the 144,000 that are the protected remnant, is obviously a reference to the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), but perhaps this has more to do with the audience that John is writing to. What I mean is, perhaps John’s constant references to the Hebrew Bible are meant to supplement and clarify his visions to his readers. For example, if I were to explain a vision I had from God to my peers, I would obviously use language that they understand, and if I was trying to make this vision align with Scripture, I would of course reference it as much as possible! It is also important to keep in mind that the jewish audience that John was writing to still had many struggles with the person of Christ–if he was truly God and man in the same body. (Maybe that is why John had such a high Christological view in his introduction.) Thus, it is easy to see why John would want to include the Hebrew Scriptures as much as possible in his prophecy. However, against all this, it is definitely true that the book of Revelation serves many purposes, not just one. It is an apocalyptic book, a letter, and I believe it includes many elements of research. Why can’t we have all three?

  11. It is certain that John is the author of this book, there is no doubt about it. However, when it comes to believing that John had visions and then wrote the book of Revelation or that he had knowledge about the Hebrew Bible, that is uncertain. I thought that John had the visions and then wrote the book without relying on the Hebrew Bible, but since every line alludes to the Hebrew Bible, it is possible that John knew about the Hebrew Bible and then used that context to clarify what he had seen in the visions. I am sure that the knowledge that he had helped him interpret the visions that he had. With this in mind, I believe that he wrote the book of Revelation due to the visions that he had and also got support to make his visions clear. I agree with Dr. P Long that John used a combination of what he had seen in his visions and also his knowledge about the Hebrew Bible and then wrote Revelation.

  12. The book of Revelation has always been a tough book for me to comprehend and understand exactly what it is saying. So, I think it is interesting that P Long brings up the idea that maybe John did not even have these visions in the first place but is referencing back to the Hebrew Bible and using information from the text and alluding it to the audience he was speaking to now. Or it could very well be that John did actually have these visions and he is giving account for what God revealed to him. Just like Paul said in his blog post, John could have been trying to use language that his audience would understand him using. One thing that I think is interesting is that this is not the first time we see allusion to the Old Testament in the Bible. There are numerous times in the New Testament that we see references to the Old Testament within the text. It is really hard to know for sure if what John records in the book of Revelation actually happened, but as Christians, we can trust that since it is in the Bible it has some type of importance to it. I rely on the fact that while I read the Bible the Holy Spirit is at work revealing different things to me, and that God is speaking to me through the words I read.

    • I agree with you, I believe that the book of Revelation is very hard to interpret. Just like you, there are many things that I am still not sure about. I believe that the only way that we can learn about Revelation and make sure that it makes sense to us is by having experts interpret the lectures to us. However, there will still be many lectures that we will not understand even if someone tries to explain it to us. I believe that the best and most effective way to understand Revelation and many other books of the Bible is by relying on God himself and trusting on what we read and understand. After all, we already know that the Bible is God’s word. He speaks to us through the Bible. When it comes to believing whether he had the visions or not can be very confusing, but like I said, let’s have faith in what we read and know that God will help us understand what we can’t understand. Let’s be faithful and read the Bible diligently.

  13. I do think it its possible that John did see these visions, seeing what he saw and what he is explaining is so strange, so different that I don’t think he could have creatively thought up and created a genre of vision. Jesus knows the bible better than John and could have very easily evoked all these things of the Hebrew Bible. Although on the other hand, it would make sense for John to describe what he saw in those visions by what he has read and studied in the Hebrew Bible. It may have been the only way to describe them. But, regardless, the metanarrative of the bible and redemption history, does really seem to come full circle in the book of Revelation. I dont think there is any reason to not take revelation at face value for being an actual vision.

  14. I think that John was trying to show the connections in the Hebrew Bible to the New Testament. Revelation is a hard book to read because of the strange images described in the book. I think John is trying to present the Hebrew Bible to Christians of the time in a new in different way. Much like we reboot a movie with modern language and technology in order to get a new audience involved in an older movie. Revelation 8:6 “Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them” (ESV). Mirrors Joshua 6:4 “Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets”. In all honestly I think it is more likely this is what John is doin and by doing his research was able to find a new fresh way to get an old message to people who might not have understood what the Hebrew Bible was saying or the imagery within the Hebrew Bible. Either way he would have used imagery and description that the people of the time would have understood and I think that is what makes it so hard for us to understand today.

    The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016. Print. mirrors Joshua

  15. How could a man stranded on an island to die do his research? All the visions he receives are coherent with one other. Even though they are very connected, they are very difficult to understand in a way that for us we must study them very carefully and prayerfully. John was familiar with the old testament, the law was dear to his heart, that is the reason he was willing to die for it! That is the reason he was stranded on the island of patmos in the first place. I believe that in order for him to send these letters to the churches, he had to familiarize them with what he was talking about through something they could relate to. The book of Ezekiel was one reference I believe to do this. It is not that he did his research, the word of God was already dwelling within his heart, so it was much easier to describe the 144000 whom God had selected.
    The Lord used broken down people to tell his story, his truth in the best way possible they knew how. I believe some of John’s visions were hard to describe so he had to use the language that was close to his heart that most people would understand. It was a finite mind trying to describe an infinite God’s visions! That’s just mind blowing to me

  16. Is the book of Revelation a revelation or research? As Christians, I don’t think that’s something many of us ask. For the most part, I think many of us believe that it has always been prophetic, but never have I thought about it being a researched book. John was banished, so maybe he had old texts with him that helped him keep his sanity while he wrote the book. However, we know that John was God-inspired to write this, so it couldn’t have all come from research and the Hebrew Bible. John had to have had dreams and visions. Though John references Ezekiel, it seems like there had to be some sort of supernatural events happening for him to have these revelations. He saw thousands, upon thousands of angels all at once during his time on Patmos. Knowing even that part about Revelation, I don’t think we can come to the conclusion that John was doing a research paper to further into a book. Sure, there might be examples taken from Ezekiel, but God was inspiring John to write this and God already knew what He needed to put in his final canonical book of the Bible. So even if John didn’t have Ezekiel, God could have given him the understanding a knowhow from Ezekiel to put it in Revelation.

  17. Being a newer Christian, I am still learning how to read the Bible properly and make sure that I am reading it to properly understand it the way is was meant to understand. To be honest, I have not read entirely through Revelation yet and I am not sure if I understand it well enough to know if John really did have a vision or is it just written that way and he really did not have one. I really would like to understand it all more, but I am not at the point of knowledge as a Christian yet. Some would say that John did not have a vision and it all was ‘researched’ from the Hebrew Bible. Like I stated above I am not knowledgeable enough to make my own opinion on this question and it would be more of a guess.

  18. Revelation is one of those books that is extremely difficult to read because we are not sure what John and his thoughts truly mean. These visions that John has really demonstrate the level of confusion that he was writing through. As a Christian this part of the Bible is confusing because I no longer can piece together anything that John is concluding. Seeing as how these are visions, dreams or even a distortion of reality, we don’t know what John is talking about. Christians read this and it scares them, especially newer Christians. They don’t know that this future that revelation speaks about is more things brought up through Johns visions rather than promises given by God through a prophet. The hard thing to understand is that although John is given these visions, and it seems that these visions are inspired.

  19. While there is no way to definitively answer this question, I for one take the Bible at what it says. If the word of God says someone saw or was shown something through a vision, I believe it and take it to mean what it says, that is: a vision. John uses words and descriptions that strongly support this as well. IN Revelation 7, he states that he “Saw” four angels, “hears” a loud voice, and so on. It would seem natural that if he was simply making a comparison to something else, say for example something similar in the Old Testament, the book of Ezekiel, etc., he would say “sounded like that in Ezekiel”, or “looked like that told to us in Ezekiel”. Again, this is all hypothesizing and speculation. Nevertheless, there is no cause to not believe John witnessed what he describes from a vision and not merely an allusion to an Old Testament book. Additionally, in Revelation 7:13, John tells us an interesting fact. Here in this passage he states that an Elder in heaven “addressed” him, and also that John replied to Him. It would be impossible for John to be having a conversation with a heavenly being if John was simply making an inference to an Old Testament book. It would not be impossible for this to be taking place though, however, if it was occurring within the confines of a supernatural vision from God.

  20. Whether Revelation was truly a revelation or research is an interesting idea. You (P. Long) make a good point in that John seems to reference the Old Testament, like Ezekiel 9, but I would have to agree the most with the idea that he had a vision and then explained it through the lens of the Hebrew Bible. The only issue with this is that John does not take any of the credit for himself at the beginning of the book. He states very clearly that the person who is giving this message this is Jesus (ESVSB, 2453). Rather than think of John being the one using his knowledge of the Hebrew Bible, it is more likely that it is Jesus using his knowledge of the Hebrew Bible so that it makes sense to those who need to hear it. Christ knows humanity and he knows his people (John 10:14-15). As shown in Rev 2-3, at times he has not just general thoughts but specific messages for specific groups of people. And if anyone knows the Bible well, it’s going to be Jesus (Matt. 7:28-29). Because John says this is a message from Christ and that Christ has extensive knowledge of the Hebrew Bible, I would conclude that John received a vision, recorded it, and was able to understand it because he was hearing it through the lens of the Hebrew Bible.

  21. Revelation does allude to the Hebrew Bible a lot. I think of Revelation 17 and 18 which talk about the fall of Babylon, and the same analogies and ways in which John describes Babylon is very similar, if not exactly as Jeremiah 51 fortells about the destruction of Babylon. The analogies to a golden cup, and God’s wrath destroying Babylon with fire are all parallel with each other (Jer. 51:7,58 , Rev. 17:4-6 , Rev. 18:18). It is interesting how when looking farther into the references and parallels that John has with the other prophetic and apocalyptic texts they all share a similar story. There is no way that this could be a coincidence, especially given the number of references to the Hebrew Bible. Professor Long mentioned that “the book of Revelation is much more than record of a series of strange dreams” and he is right. The complexities of the form of writing (apocalyptic) alongside the references to the Hebrew Bible all bring about a complex and thought out string of thought in which John is trying to express. Whether or not John had these visions, or compiled his findings of the Hebrew Bible into his own apocalyptic vision writing is unable to be answered. The fact of the matter is that he wrote it out so that those who read and speak of it would be blessed for the knowledge and prepare for the times to come (Rev. 1:3).

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