The Revelation of John is a prophetic book that explains God’s judgement against the nations and salvation of His people through Christ. Writing from a thoroughgoing Old Testament framework, John detailed the ways in which God has set limits for evil and provided strength for His people. The rhetorical force of the book is that in light of God’s justice and glory, His saints should endure persecution and resist compromise with the world as they await the day of their vindication and reward.
(1) In Rev 1:7, 13 John cited prophecies from Zechariah and Daniel to portray the Lord’s return to judge the nations. In Daniel 7, the Lord gave Daniel a vision of the nations that would rule on earth. The vision concluded with the arrival of a divine figure who also resembled a man and was given authority to rule all nations forever (Dan 7:13-14). One like a son of man came with the clouds and approached God to receive His kingdom. John said that Jesus would come with the clouds and be seen by all (Rev 1:7). The voice John heard speaking to him when he was on the Island of Patmos, in exile, was the voice of Jesus and He resembled the ruler Daniel described (Rev 1:13). John wrote that when Jesus returned, the nations that pierced Him would mourn over Him just as Zechariah prophesied that the inhabitants of Jerusalem would mourn over their sin for rejecting God and piercing Him (Zech 12:10).
(2) In Rev 1:17, Jesus told John that He is the First and the Last, echoing Isaiah’s descriptions of the Lord. In Isaiah 41, the prophet compared the gods of the nations with Israel’s God, the Lord. Isaiah described God as the Creator, the First and the Last, the One outside of time and eternally existent (Isa 41:4). Isaiah repeatedly stated that the Lord’s eternal nature distinguishes Him from the gods called upon by the nations in vain (Isa 44:6; 48:12). Jesus told John that His resurrection validated His deity, that He is the First and the Last (Rev 1:17). Jesus restated His eternal nature to John at the conclusion of Revelation (Rev 22:13).
(3) In Rev 2:14, John confronted the church in Pergamum for allowing idolatrous and immoral teachings like those Balaam offered to Balak king of Moab. Balak was frightened when the powerful Israelites approached Moab and sent an envoy to hire Balaam to prophesy against Israel (Num 22:1-19). Balaam spoke only what the Lord would say to him and he blessed Israel four times (Numbers 23-24). But after Balaam and Balak parted ways, Israel committed idolatry and immorality with the Moabites and the Lord sent a plague among the people (Num 25:1-15). In Num 31:16, Moses wrote that Balaam had set Israel up for failure by advising Balak to trap Israel with sexual immorality and idolatry. John viewed Numbers 22-25 as a unit and connected Israel’s pagan behavior to Balaam’s interaction with Balak and the idolatrous Moabite people. John’s use of Numbers 22-25 served to warn the believers at Pergamum that actions speak just as loudly as words. Teaching that allowed for idolatry and immorality would have to be confronted lest the Lord execute wrath on the church just as he did on the Israelites.
(4) In Rev 2:20, John rebuked the Thyatirans for tolerating the teaching of Jezebel who was the wife of Israel’s king Ahab. Jezebel was from the Sidonian people and worshipped Baal. She influenced Ahab and Israel to commit idolatry, and “Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (1 Kgs 16:33). Jezebel commanded Ahab’s servants to kill Naboth so that Ahab could have Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kgs 21:1-16). Elijah prophesied that Jezebel would suffer the judgement of being eaten by dogs (1 Kgs 21:23-24), and it came to pass just as Elijah said (2 Kgs 9:30-37). To say that the Thyatirans permitted the idolatrous teaching of Jezebel was no small rebuke. The church needed to remove those who taught in accord with Jezebel and hold to the word of Christ.
(5) In Rev 2:27, John wrote to the church in Thyatira that those who endure will enjoy authority over the nations when Jesus judges the nations in accord with Ps 2:9. In Psalm 2, the psalmist recounted the Lord’s proclamation concerning the king of Israel whom the Lord installed in Jerusalem to rule the nations. The Lord called the King His Son and promised to give Him the nations as His inheritance (Ps 2:7-8). The Lord told the King that He would break the nations with a rod of iron and shatter them like a piece of earthenware. John saw in Ps 2:9 a word of encouragement for the faithful in Thyatira. As they endured with God’s word and remained steadfast during their trial, they would rule with Jesus as He fulfilled Ps 2:9 by reigning over the nations.
(6) In Rev 3:7, John wrote to the church at Philadelphia that God held the key of David and would keep open the door of their witness. The author of 1 Chronicles wrote that the residents of Jerusalem taunted David because their city was securely shut, and he could not enter (1 Chron 11:5a). However, “David did capture the stronghold of Zion (that is, the city of David)” (1 Chron 11:5b). John told the Philadelphians that God had opened the door for their testimony and no one would be able to shut it. As God had the power to open a city that its inhabitants thought securely shut (as David understood), God also had the power to embolden the church in Philadelphia despite their limited strength. God’s power displayed for David was available for the church in Philadelphia.