Friday, April 17, 2015

Echoes of the Old Testament in Revelation 13

In reading Revelation, one cannot imagine a more Old Testament saturated New Testament epistle. The imagery in ch.13 depicts a monstrous behemoth arising from the sea, a place of bubbling chaos that in other texts gives way to a Leviathan (Job 3:8). This multifaceted beast is most probably derived from Daniel 7, especially as it is similar to various animals found there (a bear and a leopard in Dan. 7:5-6; c.f. Rev. 13:2). John of Patmos describes this beast as singular, whereas Daniel describes it as a plurality and both beasts act similarly: speaking with arrogance (Dan. 7:8) or uttering blasphemies (Rev. 13:5). John’s singular beast has many of the same characteristics as Daniel’s three other beasts, but John seems to blend these allusions together. For example, the beast has the body of a leopard (v.2), feet of a bear (v.2), and a mouth like a lion (v.2): all of these characteristics are found in the individual beasts in Daniel 7:4-6. Daniel’s story culminates with the fourth final beast in Dan. 7:7 where it is described as “different from all the beasts that preceded it, and it had ten horns,” which is echoed in John’s telling of the story in Rev. 13:1, where the beast described also has ten horns. Perhaps John sees and uses Daniel 7 in a blended fashion, using each separate image to inform a collective entity.
A quotation is found in Rev. 13:10. In Jeremiah 15:2, God is responding to what appears to be apostasy committed by his people, and when God quotes his people as saying “where shall we go” he responds as such:

“Those destined for pestilence, to pestilence, and those destined for the sword, to the sword; those destined for famine, to famine, and those destined for captivity, to captivity.”

The incorporated imagery suggests that John is keen to invoke the history of apostasy in Israel, with the hope that this inserted image will jar his readers into remembering what happens to them when they worship other gods. In Jeremiah 15:3, God follows this up with this phrase “I will appoint over them four [my emphasis] kinds of destroyers…” and he describes these kinds as various animals that consume life. This suggests a warning also to those who would forsake God in times of persecution. 

The phrase “the book of life” appears at least once in the Old Testament. Psalm 69:28 refers to “the book of the living.” Contextually, the reference in Psalm 69:28 refers to the security of the believer of being included in God’s deliverance from oppression. This climaxes in 13:10 where John uses “the book of the living” as “a call for the endurance and faith of the saints” (v.10). The call for perseverance in the face of abomination and desolation is mighty in John’s apocalyptic narrative and it is one that all should heed.


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