Some people like to read the Bible by jumping around from verse to verse, building a huge list of references, and coming to conclusions that way. This is definitely a useful approach if you know the whole Bible very well, but for many people it can seem confusing and overwhelming. Because we often hear people treat Bible verses like puzzle pieces, it’s no wonder that so many people feel like the Bible is a puzzle. Fortunately, you don’t have to know everything about the Bible in order to get started reading. We can read through parts of the Bible and allow our understanding to grow naturally over time, as we slowly make connections between the different pieces.
There are two books of the Bible in particular that pull together many different pieces and give us an overview of the whole story: Daniel & Revelation. Daniel, located in the middle of the Biblical tale, is the story of a Jewish Prince who is taken captive to the land of Babylon, and forced to serve in the Babylonian king's royal court. Daniel's book looks at where things have come from and predicts where they are headed. It is a helpful transition piece that sets up the future of Israel as a nation, the arrival of the Messiah, and the events of world history.
Revelation, on the other hand, tends to just confuse and frustrate people outright because of its many symbols and strange language. What people don’t often realize is that Revelation picks up themes from the book of Daniel, and has over 500 references to other stories in the Hebrew Old Testament. Revelation makes the most sense if you read it as the conclusion of the Bible. This book wraps up all the storylines and brings them to a definite conclusion. While some people like to jump right into Revelation and start interpreting it on its own, you will find it easier to understand and more enjoyable if you read it after you have read quite a lot of the rest of the Bible - or better yet, the whole thing.
One major example is the famous Beast in Revelation 13. Many people who are not religious still know about this beast because it is associated with the number 666 and the mysterious "Mark of the Beast." People will dedicate seemingly endless time to studying this specific detail, trying to identify who the beast is in the real world, without actually learning the lesson that Jesus and John are trying to teach us.
The beast described in Revelation 13 and 17 is actually made from parts of other beasts in Daniel 7 and 8. We learn in the book of Daniel, that these beasts represent political powers that attempt to rule the world - great empires like Rome, Greece, Persia, and Babylon, and that this final beast is like a mixture of them all. When we put Daniel and Revelation together, we being to understand that the word Babylon can also refer to all human systems that oppose God and work to harm people. The story of the Beast in Revelation is a warning to any kingdom or empire in history that proudly elevates itself to the level of God and demands obedience and servitude from people as if they were a god. It's also a prediction, that one day in the future a specific power will arise that will embody the worst characteristics of empire that have come before, and make a final grand stand against God and the people who follow him.
This, then, takes us right back to Genesis 11, the first time we hear about Babylon in the Bible. The Tower of Babel (the same Hebrew word for Babylon) is a story about people building a giant tower to heaven as an act of rebellion against God - and as a way to make a name for themselves. In this story, we are specifically shown that in this region of the world, the people were technologically more advanced than neighboring societies: they had bricks instead of stones to build with, giving them a definite advantage and allowing them to, in their own words, "make a name" for themselves (Genesis 11:4 ESV).
But before they can get too far along, God puts a stop to the rebellion, confusing their ability to communicate with each other and scattering them across the continent. God does not allow evil to continue on unchecked; he won't let the people of Babylon build a huge tower that instills fear and dread into all the people around them.
And then, we see God choose one man, Abraham, to lead a people that pursue God’s goodness and resist evil. They will serve as an example of how God wants the world to be run, an anti-Babel society. They will be the way that God brings his goodness into the world. And so, from Genesis to Daniel to Revelation, all the pieces fit together to teach us a lesson. The beast is an ancient problem that comes about when people try to take the place of God and exert their will over His creation, but God won’t let evil win, and uses his own followers to bring out goodness in the world and expose evil for what it really is.
The puzzle pieces fit together to create a bigger picture. But the Bible doesn’t need to be a puzzle for you. Learn to walk through the story one page at a time, and the Bible will begin to explain itself.
- Look at Revelation 1:9-20 and compare it to Daniel 10:1-9 and Daniel 7:13-14. What similarities do you see? What differences? How is Revelation picking up images that have come before?
- In Daniel 3, there is the famous story of Nebuchadnezzar's golden statue and the fiery furnace that would burn anyone who refused to bow down to it. With that story in mind, read Revelation 13:11-18 and try to identify the common themes. In light of Daniel 3 - when Daniel's friends refuse to bow down to the statue - what might the message of Revelation 13 be?
- How do you personally feel about the book of Revelation? Have you experienced it as something that is deeply connected to the rest of the Bible story, or as something that is radically different from the rest of the Bible? What makes you feel this way?
- If you'd like more details on the theme's we'll be unpacking in this series on Revelation, take a look at our final post in our Romans series. What context might the Roman Empire and Christian History give us for reading the book of Revelation