Prophecy and the Revelation: Yesterday’s News is Today’s News
Where did the apostle John get all those visions and bizarre symbols in the final book of the Bible, the Revelation of Jesus Christ? Many people wish to understand all that God has for us, and many particularly wish to know how things will end up. That’s why most people read the Revelation.
But rather than hoping to see how things end up, maybe we would have more spiritual consistency if we viewed the Revelation as depicting how things have always worked. I wish to point your attention to three threads in the last book of the Bible that are first mentioned by the prophet Isaiah. Indeed, it seems that much in the Revelation builds on the prophecy of Isaiah, composed centuries earlier.
1. God is depicted as the One who rights all wrongs, including humbling nations. Even the strongest nations of our day may fall suddenly. The Psalms often advise us not to place our trust in princes, horses, or military might. We’ve seen recently how a massive nation like China can be humbled in a hurry; and our own nation rapidly has 20% unemployment. Once powerful empires have vanished or shrunk. The Lord knows how to correct nations by bringing them down. In the 8th century BC, the Lord “removed the boundaries of nations, plundered their treasures.” This is what happens when nations seek to defy the Lord. God promises to bring down many strong powers of that day: Moab, Philistia, Edom Cush (ask: where are these nations now? In the trash bin of history). Isaiah 20:5 says, “Those who trusted in Cush and boasted in Egypt will be afraid and put to shame.”
Yet, most dramatic is the announcement that “Fallen is Babylon” (Is. 21:9). Babylon was thought to be indestructible and invincible; yet the Lord tumbles her with ease. And what does Revelation 18:2 say: “Fallen, Fallen is Babylon the Great.” This time, John is using “Babylon figuratively for Rome, but in all centuries, the dynamic is the same: Our great God tumbles and humbles even the greatest of nations. They are like drops in a bucket (Is. 40:15). God wants his children to recall that he is that powerful—in all centuries.
2. Nothing is new under the sun: looting and urban decay are mentioned.
Lest we think that our breaking news is novel news, when various cities are subjected to looting, that is as old as the hills. In Isaiah 21:2, amidst a prophecy against Babylon, God says that he will sweep over that power like a whirlwind. Traitors will arise and “the looter takes loot.” (21:2) Earlier, Isaiah 10:6 says that God will send looters as the final stage of crumbling Assyria. Sounding as current as any news report today, Isaiah 17:14 says, “In the evening, sudden terror! Before the morning, they are gone! This is the portion of those who loot us.”
Isaiah 24 portrays how the Lord humbles nations, and in v. 10 says: “The ruined city lies desolate; the entrance to every house is barred.” Sounds pretty boarded up to me. Even the gates (24:12) are tattered and splintered. And God’s people are “plundered and looted . . . with no one to rescue them, they have been made loot” (Is. 42:22).
The Revelation vividly depicts the devastation of the once-strong city of Babylon in chapter 18, describing her as a “haunt for jackals,” ruined in a single hour (18:19), and devoid of the arts or commerce (18:22). Not only does the Lord tumble nations, but he may, either via looting or other means, humble the strongest of cities. Our trust must not rest in a city.
3. The Key of David
Finally, the Revelation (3:7) pictures Christ as holding the “key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” Where did John get that figure? From Isaiah 22:22, where he speaks of: “the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.”
The point of all this: don’t be rattled when things are in uproar. God has a long history of overturning and reversing nations and cities. Civic unrest, looting, ruined cities, oppression, and injustice are neither new for us, nor for the Lord. And He alone is the One who holds the keys that unlock any doors.
Look to him, rest in him, and know that our Sovereign God is at work in this world. It is our Father’s world, and “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet.”
The same Lord who wipes away all tears in Revelation 21:4 is the One who “will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces.” (Is. 25:8) Yes, Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Similarly, today’s headlines are yesterday’s—and likely tomorrow’s too.