The first book of the Bible, Genesis, contains occasional prophetic statements scattered like seeds throughout its chapters. Revelation, the Bible’s last book, reveals the great flowering of God’s prophetic message. Between these two books we see the gradual growth of prophecy — part of what theologians refer to as progressive revelation. God did not have all the facts of His plan for humanity recorded in the beginning, but He has added details to the prophetic picture throughout the centuries and through successive biblical books (Hebrews 1:1, 2).
As a result, if we look carefully at many prophetic verses, we find additional information given as time goes on, expanding the prophecy like the growth rings of a tree. Even seemingly unique or isolated prophetic books, such as Jonah, are part of this development, reaching forward to future times through the ongoing addition of further layers of detail (Nahum 1; Matthew 12:39-41). Like other types of Scripture, prophecy is given “here a little, there a little” (Isaiah 28:10, ESV), and individual prophecies may contain many reflections of earlier and later revelations. So how do we connect these scattered prophetic messages?
You can use an effective tool to help “connect the dots”: the body of cross-references included in the margins or center reference column of your Bible. But many of us don’t use this aid or don’t use it as effectively as we could. Let’s look at the book of Revelation to understand this “power tool” in action.
Revelation quotes the Old Testament hundreds of times (estimated 550-850 times, depending on whether only direct quotations or allusions are counted). Seen another way, of the 404 verses in Revelation, some 278 of them (almost 70 percent) make clear reference to the Old Testament, and some of those many verses actually contain two, or even three, Old Testament references. While Revelation quotes or alludes to 24 of the 39 books in the Old Testament, most of the allusions come from the prophetic books, especially Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah. That’s where the cross-references of your Bible come into play.
Take, for example, John’s vision of a “new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21), which most cross-references compare with many of the statements in Isaiah chapter 60 (see sidebar). By comparing the Old Testament and New Testament prophecies, we see that the apostle John’s statements were actually part of a continuing inspired prophetic tradition. John adds many details to the prophetic picture, but looking back at the earlier references can also provide more context for the later prophecies.
Looking at these combined verses, the similarities between Isaiah’s vision and that of John become clear. Despite slightly differing details of order and wording, by using the cross-references for the verses in either book, we can piece them together and see how closely John’s vision matches that of Isaiah.
In fact, the correspondences between these two chapters are so similar, some skeptics claim that John “copied” Isaiah. But this is unrealistic — not only because John knew many of his readers would be familiar with the book of Isaiah, but also because his vision contains so many details that are additional to, and independent of, what Isaiah wrote. It is as if both prophets were given similar visions, but John was given a clearer picture with more details, which fits the overall principle of progressive revelation that we find throughout the Bible.
The principle of progressive revelation is clear. Carefully comparing Old and New Testament parallels (or parallels between books in the same testament) by using cross-references can help us better understand all the relevant verses of a given prophecy — just as we can better understand Isaiah through Revelation, and vice versa.
So why not dust off that study tool you have ignored for a while, and put it to work!
Seeing Isaiah in Revelation
|Light of God|
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.
Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.
The wealth on the seas will be brought to you . . .
. . . and there was no longer any sea.
. . . to you the riches of the nations will come.
The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.
Your gates will always stand open, they will never be shut, day or night . . .
On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.
For the nation or kingdom that will not serve you will perish; it will be utterly ruined.
But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars — they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur.
. . . the City of the Lord, Zion of the Holy One of Israel.
|Revelation 21:10b . . . the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.|
. . . but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise.
|Revelation 21:12, 21a
It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. . . . . The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl.
|End of Darkness|
The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.
|Revelation 21:23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.|
Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light . . .
for there will be no night there.
. . . and your days of sorrow will end.
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Then all your people will be righteous and they will possess the land forever.
|Revelation 21:27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.|