Sometimes, as long as we are familiar with the Scriptures, when we read the New Testament, we get a sense of “déjà vu.” It’s that faint sense of recollection that we have heard or seen something before. The reason for this is because the New Testament authors, under the inspiration of the Divine Author of the entire Scriptures, are constantly recalling previous Scriptures to bring us God’s progressive revelation with a unified truth. The Scriptures have a ring of truth and unity and a supernatural sense that no other book on this planet shares.
Regardless of innumerable attestations of the Bible, the unity of the Scriptures is an internal attestation of God’s divine authorship. This is why we might read sections of the gospels or New Testament letters even where they are not making direct quotations of Old Testament texts and hear the ring of familiarity – even through a translated text.
One of the most amazing aspects of this in the Scriptures is considered when we realize that each text individually has its own historical context. For example, when God delivered Israel from the hands of Egypt, God brought judgment upon Egypt through plagues. The ten plagues of Egypt were a local judgment on a local people in a real time and place. While we read the narrative about the exodus on pages, God actually ordained and wrote a living narrative in real history. God has sovereignty in his authorship that no other human author possesses. In delivering his people through judgment, God consistently reminds us in later texts of Scripture that this real historical event of the exodus in its local setting is a picture of something much greater on a grander scale. We see this most prominently in Christ who is the Son who came out of Egypt to deliver God’s children (Matthew 2:15).
Again, at the time of the Babylonian exile, God delivers his people through judgment upon the great city as he returns his people to their land. When we read the Old Testament, we get the sense that even when God is chastising his own children for their sin, he will not allow those who hate him and his children to go unpunished. God’s children will always have hope that God’s enemies will not win, and God will restore his children and bring them home.
When you and I read the New Testament, we are constantly shown that these repeated themes help us to know that the history we read is not disconnected from us in our time. In Christ, we are God’s children and we don’t need to wonder what will happen to the enemies of God and his children in our current world. God continues to point us in the same direction as he pointed his children in Egypt and Babylon. He even uses the judgments upon Egypt and Babylon to remind us that one day his judgment will not just be with a local people in a local place, but it will be a universal application of God’s judgment upon the entire unbelieving world.
A great example of this “universalization” is found in Revelation 16. In this amazing chapter, persecuted Christians can take great comfort in the fact that God will pour out his wrath on unrepentant idolators and persecutors of God’s children. The church in this world can know for sure that there will be vindication and God will bring retribution on all who are unwilling to humbly repent and trust Jesus. In Revelation 16 we read the account of bowls of wrath being poured out. The wrath of God is described as plagues upon the world. There are frogs, darkness, waters turning to blood, hail, and even painful sores. It is impossible to read this chapter and not think of the exodus. This time in Revelation 16, there are not ten plagues but seven. This is because seven is a number of fullness and completion. We read that the judgment does not just come on one Pharaoh in one geographic location, but the scope is the whole world (vs. 2, 14..). At the end of these judgments there seems to be a very final sense of the completion of judgment upon the nations. The seventh bowl is poured out and the whole earth quakes, nations fall, and we are told to remember that Babylon was once the epitome of pride and arrogance in the world and it has been finally destroyed (vs. 17-20).
These images of Egypt and mention of Babylon should be of extreme importance and comfort to Christians. This is the case because we have a historical foundation of real events in world history. We know that God actually did bring these judgments on real places in real times. If God is referring us back to history, it is as if he is saying, “If I have been faithful in judgment for the delivery of my people in the past in real places and times, you can be absolutely sure that I will be faithful in judgment of this whole world and the delivery of my people on the final day.” In Revelation 16 God says this (through John) in spectacular apocalyptic language and imagery to impress upon us that his sovereign judgment and salvation is on a scale beyond everything we can imagine in our little place in this world.
Because of Christ’s victory in the cross, Christians persevere in this world looking forward to the final day of salvation in the final consummation of all things. It may be disturbing to us to think of the scope of judgment that is yet to come to unbelievers, but I hope that it also motivates us to be evermore concerned about the proclamation of the gospel and ultimately concerned about the vindication of God’s holy name in all of his creation. We persevere and live toward that day because in Christ, God’s victory is also ours and history gives us certainty because God has already proven himself faithful.
So take notice of Biblical déjà vu, it’s often there for very good reason!