Revelation — A Vision of the Victorious Christ and the End of the Earth
The book of Revelation is one of the most intriguing and confusing books in all of Scripture. Intended as a message of hope and encouragement to the faithful, as well as a warning and exhortation to the wayward, Revelation has been a source of anxiety for many an unstable soul. It is filled with strange language and symbolism, as well as clear instruction. It has inspired many books, movies, teaching materials and even systems of belief—some sound, some fanciful and others downright demonic in origin.
The opening chapter tells us the author and setting of this book. It was written by John, during his exile on the island of Patmos—probably sometime between the persecution against Christians initiated by Caesar Nero after 64 A.D. and the reign of Domitian in 96 A.D. [Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps & Charts, p. 484].
Although liberal scholars contend that this is not the same disciple of Jesus who wrote the Gospel of John and three epistles, there is little reason to doubt that he was the author. His style of writing is different than that found in the aforementioned books, but then so is his subject matter. In the Gospel of John, he recounts the history of Jesus’ ministry on earth. The epistles are letters to individuals (II & III John) and a doctrinal handbook (I John). Naturally, an apocalyptic book would require a different tone, style, etc., than these. True to form, John uses terms such as “the Word,” “Lamb of God,” and other motifs that distinguish the Apostle’s earlier works [Ibid, p. 482].
The book may be easily divided up into three main sections, based upon the words of Christ in Revelation 1:19 [Nelson’s, pp. 484-486]:
- “Things which you have seen”—details from the Apostle’s vision of Christ on the Lord’s Day recounted in chapter 1
- “Things which are”—Christ’s instructions to the seven churches in Asia in chapters 2-3
- “Things which will take place after this”—future events described in chapters 4-22.
There are many different interpretations of Revelation. Basically, these can all be boiled down to four main views:
- Preterist—Everything in Revelation was fulfilled during the period of the Roman Empire, and is, therefore, over and done with.
- Historical—This book gives a panorama of church history from the apostolic age until Christ’s return.
- Idealist—Everything in Revelation is a figurative illustration of the struggle between good and evil.
- Futurist—Everything after the opening three chapters (and in some circles, those also) are considered future events yet to be fulfilled at the end of the age.
Under the Futurist interpretation are found multiple sub-categories—including pre-, mid- and post-tribulation rapturism; a-, pre- and post-millennialism, and other ideas. For an excellent overview of various views on end-times prophecy, I recommend Millard J. Erickson’s book, Contemporary Options in Eschatology: A Study of the Millennium, available through Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Contemporary-Options-Eschatology-Study-Millennium/dp/0801034426. Although it was written in the 70’s and is no longer in print, you can still find previously-owned copies online or in used bookstores.
It is no mistake that Revelation is the final book of the New Testament. It is probably the last part of the canon of Scripture that was written at the tail end of the early church age. Not only that, but just as the first book of the Bible tells us about the beginning of humanity, so the last book talks about the end of our existence on the earth.
Please prayerfully read each chapter in a good translation of the Bible, first, and then compare to what you find herein. Ask the Lord to help you discern what is true about His Word, as it may have eternal consequences. Hopefully, by studying what Revelation actually says, we can determine together what it means, and apply it to our lives as the Lord intended.
Revelation Chapter 1
In the first few verses of this chapter, the author tells us what his book is about, what its purpose is, and what his readers were supposed to do with it. The title of this final book of the Bible comes from Revelation 1:1, which says, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants things which must shortly take place.”
In the Greek, the word for shortly, tachos, can also mean quickly, speedily, or soon. The idea is that we are talking about something that plays out in a short period of time. This is why Preterists believe the events described in Revelation have already taken place. They reason that, since John wrote that this was going to happen shortly, then it must have occurred sometime during the Apostle’s lifetime, or not long thereafter.
However, this is not necessarily the case. Remember, according to God’s timetable, time is somewhat relative. If “one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day”—as the Apostle Peter stated in an end-times context (2 Peter 3:8)—then what seems to be a brief period of time to the Lord may seem much longer in coming to you and me.
John indicates an unnamed messenger revealed things “to His servant John,” who faithfully “bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw” (Rev. 1:1-2). So here we have the means by which the Revelation came to the author, and who served as the Lord’s secretary, writing and distributing the message.
There is a blessing connected with the reading and heeding of the message within the book (v. 3). And, again, the idea of imminence is communicated with the final phrase of the introduction, “…for the time is near.”
Beginning in verse four, John addressed his intended audience at the time of his writing, “the seven churches of Asia.” These are not, as some suggest, figurative churches in ancient cities that represent ages of the universal Church, spiritual states of the Church in general, and so on. These were actual churches existing in John’s day, which faced the very issues Jesus addressed in the messages He dictated to John in the following verses and continued in chapters 2 and 3.
According to Chuck Swindoll’s excellent book, Letters to Churches…Then and Now, available at http://www.amazon.com/Letters-Churches-Then-Charles-Swindoll/dp/0849982901, John does not refer to the vast continent of Asia in the Eastern Hemisphere of the modern-day world. Rather, he speaks of the Roman province of Asia at the western edge of what we now call Turkey. This province, which touches the Black and Aegean Seas, was divided into the smaller districts of Mysia, Lydia, Caria and Phrygia, which contained the seven cities evangelized by the apostles Paul, Barnabus, Silas and others.
To these, John wrote:
Here we have represented the entire Triune God, YHWH—represented in the Father, the Spirit, and the Son. The identity of the first Person is our eternal God, the Father, who existed before creation, now is, and will continue long after everything else ceases to exist. We are not told the exact identity of the seven Spirits standing before Him. I have heard some Christian leaders say this is the “seven-fold” Spirit of God. According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, the Greek term, hepta, carried with it the idea of completeness—since seven was the total number of days in the week, and so on. It also communicated fullness to ancient believers. At any rate, it is referring to none other than the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is identified by name as a reliable witness, first to rise from the dead and ruler over every earthly authority. Remembering how Jesus loved us, washed away our sins in His own blood and made us kings and priests to “His God and Father,” John broke out in praise in verses 6-7.
The next couple of verses would have directed John’s Jewish readers to the prophetic scrolls of the Old Testament. Making reference to Daniel 7:13, John said, “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him” (Rev. 1:7). He hailed back to Zechariah 12:10 with the next part of that verse, saying, “even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him.” In Revelation 1:8, we find a link to Isaiah 41:4 & 48:12, which would affirm the deity of Christ, when He identified Himself as “the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” And just in case there remains some uncertainty, He added, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
John then identified himself as “both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:9). He said he was on the island of Patmos—a desolate, rocky little volcanic island in the Aegean Sea about 37 miles west of Miletus. He was exiled there because of his faith in and preaching of “the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” While “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day”—that is, Sunday—John heard behind him a voice as loud as a trumpet declaring, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” and commanding John to record in a book everything he saw in order to send it to the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea (vv. 10-11). When he turned around to identify the source of the voice, John beheld an awe-inspiring sight.
In verses 12-16, John described what he saw: seven golden lampstands, with “One like the Son of Man,” walking among them. This radiant Being
This sounds remarkably similar to the heavenly Man who appeared to the prophet in Daniel 10:5-6. Revelation 1:16 continues by saying Jesus had seven stars in His right hand, a sharp two-edged sword in His mouth, and the appearance of the sun shining at full strength. He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.
Naturally, John was overwhelmed by what he saw. The apostle admitted, “I fell at His feet as dead” (v. 17a). Like the prophet Daniel, it was only when the Son of Man touched and encouraged him not to be afraid that the man of God was able to continue in the Lord’s presence (Rev. 1:17b; c.f.—Daniel 10:7-19).
Jesus told John, “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. …And I have the keys of Hades and of Death” (Rev. 1:18). Our Lord, who conquered Death and the Grave had access and authority to release souls from their prison. He commanded John to write the following: “the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this” (v. 19)—indicating the apostle was to inform the seven churches and subsequent readers of what he beheld in his vision concerning the past, present and future.
In the final verse of this chapter, Jesus explained two of the symbols in John’s vision of his glorified Lord: He said that the seven stars which John saw in His right hand “are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands…are the seven churches” (20). In the Greek, angelos means “messenger.” While many English Bibles transliterate the word to “angels,” it may also refer to the teaching pastors over each church—a fact which is borne out by the use of the phrase, “to the [angelos] of the church in ___, write…” in the following two chapters.
Revelation Chapter 2
Letter #1 from Jesus was addressed “To the angel [messenger] of the church of Ephesus” from “He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands” (Rev. 2:1). Like an ancient high priest, the Lord tended the lamps that represent YHWH’s presence. But He also exercised authority and preserving power over the leaders of the ancient church.
Like the Apostle Paul, who—with Apollos, Priscilla and Aquila—established the church in Ephesus (See Acts 18:24-20:1 & 16-38), Jesus started out by listing the virtues of the Ephesian church, as His all-knowing eyes saw them:
- Their good works, labor and patience (Rev. 2:2)
- Their intolerance of those who were evil
- The way they tested those who claimed to be apostles, but were not, and exposed them as liars
- Their perseverance and untiring labor in Jesus’ name (v. 3).
“Nevertheless,” He said, “I have this against you, that you have lost your first love” (4). In this city—which was an important religious, political and commercial hub—the believers had apparently been doing all the right things, but had lost their motivation behind it all. They were mechanically performing all the right practices, but for not quite the right reasons. Like so many Christians today, they were doing good deeds out of a sense of duty; not passion or zeal for the Lord.
Jesus instructed, “Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first…” (Rev. 2:5, NLT). If they didn’t have a change of heart, He’d come quickly and remove their lampstand—representing either the Lord’s presence, the church, or both—a frightening prospect indeed for believers who were a minority among a thriving center for idol worship!
Jesus conceded that the Ephesians did “hate the deeds of the Nocolaitans, which I also hate” (v. 6). According to Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament, one church tradition holds that this religious sect was started by Nicolas, one of the seven deacons chosen in Acts 6:5-6. He later became apostate and founded an Antinomian Gnostic sect, characterized by sensuality, idolatry and unchastity. A careful analysis reveals the Greek word, Nikolaites, is a compound of nikos (meaning to conquer/control) and laos (people). It literally means, “control people.” Whoever these people were, the Ephesians had rightly rejected and expelled practitioners of this heresy from their assembly.
As He had formerly done during His ministry described in the Gospels, Jesus admonished, “He who has an ear, let him hear what he Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7), indicating this message—although directed to the Ephesian congregation at that time—has a universal appeal, even to this day. Then He promised whoever overcomes will get to “eat from the tree of life which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” (See also Genesis 2:9 & 3:22; Rev. 22:2 & 14).
Jesus’ next letter was addressed to the leader of the church in Smyrna (Rev. 2:8a). Nowhere but in the first two chapters of this book do we find this church or this city mentioned in the Bible. However, Smyrna—now known as Izmir in modern Turkey—is the only one of the seven Asian cities still standing today. Described by its own currency as “first in Asia in beauty and size,” this city was home to “the largest public theater in Asia, as well as a famous stadium and library” [Letters to the Churches…Then and Now Study Guide, © 1986 by Charles R. Swindoll, published by Insight for Living, p. 15]. It was both a zealous center of Roman emperor worship and home to an anti-Jewish population, which made it one of the most dangerous cities in the empire for believers to live.
Jesus identified Himself as “the First and the Last, who was dead and came to life” (v. 8b). That first title showed His preeminence over this city, which claimed to be foremost in beauty and size; the second reveals His power even over the very real and present threat of death which these believers faced daily. The Lord said He knew all about their work, their trouble, and their poverty—as well as “the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (9).
Jesus warned of even more suffering to come, whereby “the devil is about to throw some of you into prison” to test them for ten days (10). But the Lord, who Himself suffered imprisonment and execution, encouraged the believers not to be afraid, but “Be faithful until death,” expecting the “crown of life” as their reward. The Greek word for crown, stephanos, refers not to a diadem of precious metal, but a wreath typically awarded the victor in an athletic competition. For this congregation, Jesus had no rebuke, but said, the person who overcomes “shall not be hurt by the second death” [i.e.—hell] (Rev. 2:11; c.f.—20:14).
Jesus’ third letter was dictated “to the angel of the church of Pergamos [Pergamum]” from “He who has the sharp two-edged sword” (Rev. 2:12). This was no benign representation of Christ, as the sword is always an emblem of judgment and vengeance against evil.
Again, this city was nowhere else named in Scripture. A city set upon a hill, Pergamos was only second to Alexandria for its library. It was a center of emperor worship and had several temples to pagan gods. Most prominent was the altar of Zeus—one of the seven wonders of the then-known world [Letters, p. 21].
Jesus told the believers at Pergamos that He was aware of their works and that they lived “where Satan’s throne is” (Rev. 2:13). They had held fast to His name and did not deny faith in Jesus—even when one of their congregation, Antipas, was martyred for Christ.
But then Jesus stated His grievances against the believers in this city:
- They tolerated “those who hold the doctrine of Balaam,” who corrupted the Israelites with idolatry and sexual immorality (Rev. 2:14; c.f.—Numbers 25 & 31:1-16).
- They also had “those who hold to the doctrine of the Nicolaitans” in their congregation (Rev. 2:15).
So accustomed were these Christians to the presence of idolatry, they had actually accommodated two wicked sects within their fellowship. Like many ‘progressive’ churches today, the believers were tolerant to an extreme concerning that which the Lord considered abominable!
Reminding them of the two-edged sword that represented the authority and discernment of God’s word (See Hebrews 4:12-13), Jesus told the man in charge of this church, “Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth” (Rev. 2:16). Jesus gave the spiritual leader of this church the choice of dealing personally with this cancerous growth of apostates, or of letting the Lord execute violent and decisive judgment against them Himself.
To overcomers in this city, Jesus promised “some of the hidden manna to eat” and said He’d give them “a white stone” on which was engraved a new name known only to its recipient (v. 17). According to Exodus 16 and Psalm 105:40, manna was the “bread from heaven” which God fed His people in the wilderness. In John chapter 6, Jesus identified Himself as the “true bread from heaven,” and the “bread of life.” According to Adam Clark’s Commentary, there is an ancient Jewish tradition that the Messiah would recover the manna hidden with the Ark of the Covenant before the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem. Whether the Lord was talking about giving these people actual bread or Himself, it was surely something good that would satisfy their deepest hunger! Vincent’s Word Studies of the New Testament says scholars have suggested that the white stone was an ancient symbol of acquittal in court, a signet given in token of friendship, or election/adoption. Isaiah 55:13, 56:5 and 62:2 all talk about God giving His people a new name. In either case, Jesus seemed to be offering a new identity to anyone who learned to trust Him and resist compromise.
Next, Jesus addressed Thyatira’s leader. This city was mentioned in Acts 16:14 as the homeland of Lydia, the “seller of purple” converted by Paul in Philippi. Although not mentioned as one of the apostle’s stopping points in the record of Acts, perhaps he, one of his associates, or Lydia herself carried the gospel to this podunk town—known chiefly as a prosperous manufacturing and marketing center [Letters, p. 26].
Jesus was described to these folks as “the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass” (Rev. 2:18). Fire and brass are Old Testament symbols of purification and judgment. His burning eyes and brass feet signified the Lord’s perception and holiness.
Jesus started out by identifying the congregation’s virtues: the Thyatirians’ “works, love, service, faith and patience,”—especially noting that they were doing more good at that time than before (v. 19). But then Jesus addressed the glaring problem in that body of believers: “you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols” (20).
You may remember the infamous Old Testament queen, Jezebel, who—with her husband King Ahab’s consent—killed YHWH’s prophets and made Baal and Asherah worship the state religions of Israel. She abused the king’s authority to sentence an innocent man to death and steal his land. And she made life a living hell for the faithful who resided in the Northern Kingdom. (1 Kings 16:29-21:29). Because of her notorious witchcraft and spiritual harlotry, the wicked queen died a horrendous and violent death—with not even enough of her body left to identify her, after she was thrown from an upper window to be trampled by horses and eaten by dogs (2 Kings 9).
It was in this same spirit of sensuality and idolatry that some self-proclaimed prophetess was luring believers into all sorts off immorality in the Thyatirian church! Jesus said He had given the woman time to repent, but she had kept right on doing evil (Rev. 2:21). Now He was going to make her sick and cause trouble for the people who had committed adultery with her [whether spiritual or literal], unless they turned from their wickedness first (v. 22). Concerning her physical or literal offspring, Jesus made a pronouncement of death (23). When He finished with this wicked woman and her associates, everyone would know that the Lord “searches the minds and hearts” and gives everyone what they deserve.
To those in Thyatira who weren’t involved in Jezebel’s heresy and “have not known the depths of Satan,” Jesus said He would add “no other burden,” but urged them to “hold fast what you have till I come” (24-25). To overcomers in this city, who kept His works to the end, the Lord promised “power over the nations,” and quoted Psalm 2:9 regarding the authority God had given Him (Rev. 2:26-27). He also promised “the morning star,” (v. 28)—a reference to Himself, according to Revelation 22:16.
Revelation Chapter 3
Jesus continued His correspondence with the leaders of the seven churches of Asia in this chapter. Sardis, another city mentioned nowhere else in Scripture, is the focus of His next message. The Lord addressed this church as the One “who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars” (Rev. 3:1b, NIV). Some scholars suggest the seven Spirits refers to the Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 11:1-5, which lists seven characteristics that rest upon the “Rod from the stem of Jesse” to exercise YHWH’s authority on the earth [Letters, p. 31]. The reference to the seven stars in Jesus’ possession definitely shows His authority over the seven church leaders.
To the leader of the church in Sardis, a once-splendid city that was then in decline, Jesus had nothing positive to say at first, but launched directly into His rebuke. While this church had a reputation of being alive, it was spiritually dead (v. 1c). Christ ordered the pastor, “Be alert and strengthen what remains, which is about to die, for I have not found your works complete before My God” (Rev. 3:2 HCSB). He urged this congregation to remember what they had received and heard, to guard/hold fast/keep watch over/preserve it, and to repent (v. 3a). If they weren’t careful, this church would be like the stewards caught unaware by a thief in the night in Jesus’ parable of the end times and Paul’s epistle to Thessalonica (c.f.—Rev. 3:3b, Matthew 24:42-51 & 1 Thes. 5:4).
For the few in Sardis “who have not defiled their garments,” and those who overcame, Jesus promised white raiment—a biblical symbol of righteousness, holiness and purity before God (Rev. 3:4-5a). To each individual in this dead church who still had a vibrant faith, the Lord further promised, “I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life” (5b). For those unashamed to stand up for Him, Jesus would fulfill His promise from Matthew 10:32 and Luke 12:8 to stand up for them: “…but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels” (Rev. 3:5c).
The sixth message of Christ was addressed to the leader of the church of Philadelphia—the “city of brotherly love,” from which our American counterpart gets its name. This was another place not mentioned elsewhere in Scripture. According to Vincent’s Word Studies, this earthquake-prone area was well-known for its wine production and bore the image of Bacchus (the god of wine) on its coinage.
To this church, Jesus revealed Himself as holy and true, and made reference to Isaiah 22:22, identifying Himself as “He who has the key of David” and exercises absolute authority over the royal palace (Rev. 3:7). Fully aware of their works in spite of persecution, the Lord said, “See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name” (v. 8). Unbelieving Jews who had opposed the faithful in Philadelphia Jesus said would be made to “come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you” (9). This calls to mind Proverbs 16:7, which says, “When a man’s ways please the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.”
Because they kept His command to persevere, Jesus promised to preserve these believers “from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” (Rev. 3:10). The Greek preposition ek means “out of from within” and is the same word used to describe the multitude out of every nation, tribe, people and tongue rescued from the Great Tribulation in Revelation 7:9-15. The idea is that, while they may go through a part of it, they will most certainly be delivered from the worst of it—just as He had previously promised elect Jews in Matthew 24:21-22.
Because His return will be sudden, Jesus urged the Philadelphian believers to cling with all their strength to what they had, so “that no one may take your crown” (Rev. 3:11). He promised to make the faithful permanent pillars in the house of God, and to write on them the names of God, the New Jerusalem, and Christ’s new name (v. 12).
The Lord’s final letter was addressed to the church in Laodicea—home of Epaphrus, one of Paul’s associates, and a recipient of at least one letter from the apostle (See Colossians 2:1 & 4:12-16). Located between the cities of Philadelphia and Colossae, Laodicea had grown independently wealthy from its production of beautiful black wool [Letters, p. 44]. It was also notorious for its lack of zeal about anything and its intolerably bad drinking water [Ibid, pp. 44-45]. In addition, according to Word Pictures in the New Testament, Laodicea was the source of “a famous Phrygian powder for the eyes.”
To this self-sufficient church, Jesus made His most pointed rebuke and appeal. Calling Himself “the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God,” He compared the believers in Laodicea and their lack-luster works to the tepid water in their city (Rev. 3:14-15). Like visitors to their city so often did when they tasted the water that flowed from their aqueduct, Jesus said, “because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (16)! As with the modern church in America, Jesus would rather have had the Laodicean Christians commit to one extreme or another than to be passive and apathetic like their neighbors.
Next Jesus addressed their independent spirits. The people of Laodicea were wealthy and complacent—totally unaware that, spiritually speaking, they were “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (17). In verse 18, Jesus counseled these spiritually bankrupt individuals to do three things to remedy their situation:
- “[B]uy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich”—invest in what is truly valuable, as Jesus said in Matthew 6:19-21.
- Instead of black wool, they needed the white garments of righteousness to cover the shame of their nakedness (c.f.—Rev. 19:8).
- “[A]noint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see”—their spiritual blindness could only be cured by a dose of reality from the Lord.
Echoing Proverbs 3:12 and Hebrews 12:6, Jesus said, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent” (Rev. 3:19). The only remedy for spiritual apathy is heavenly discipline. It’s much better for us to humble ourselves before the Lord than to be humiliated by Him.
Expressing His desire for genuine fellowship and intimacy with these believers, Jesus gave an analogy of a VIP knocking at the door of their hearts. “If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (v. 20). To those who overcome, He promised a seat with Him in the throne room of God (21).
Revelation Chapter 4
Interestingly enough, this chapter begins where the previous one ended—with a door. After he had recorded everything Jesus wanted to say to the seven churches in Asia, John was called up to heaven for an angelic perspective of what was to happen at a later date. Instantly the apostle was transported in spirit through an open door in heaven to God’s throne room (Rev. 4:1-2).
There He saw a vision of God the Father that was very similar to what the prophets Daniel and Ezekiel had seen. The first thing John remarked about was “a throne set in heaven” (c.f.—Rev. 4:2 & Dan. 7:9). The One enthroned on it had a rainbow around Him and was surrounded by a sea of crystal (Rev. 3 & 6; Ezek. 1:22-28). There were four living creatures before the throne which were covered with eyes and had six wings (Rev. 4:6-8; Ezek. 1:5-20). Revelation 4:9 calls the Lord the “One who lives forever and ever,” as Nebuchadnezzar and the angel did in Daniel 4:34 and 12:7.
Attempting to put the glory of YHWH into words, John said the Being on the throne was glowing like a highly polished or faceted gemstone of jasper or sardius (3). Both of these are forms of the semi-precious mineral, chalcedony, a type of silicon dioxide which may be transparent, translucent or opaque; glassy or waxy in appearance, and range in color from brilliant red to dark brown [The Eyewitness Handbook of Rocks and Minerals, by Chris Pellant, 1st American Edition, © 1992, p. 88.]. Interestingly enough, sardius is the first stone on the high priest’s breastplate, while jasper is the last (See Exodus 28:17-20). The emerald rainbow must have offered a lovely contrast to the Lord’s glowing reddish body.
Around the central throne were 24 lesser thrones, on which were seated 24 elders clothed in white robes and wearing golden crowns (Rev. 4:4). The Greek indicates that these were not the elaborate diadems of royalty, but rather stephanos—the wreaths given to victors in a competition or to honored guests.
The throne of God rumbled with lightning and thunder and murmured with voices. Seven flaming lamps, representing the seven spirits of God, burned before the throne (v. 5). The radiance of God, the lamps, the crystal sea and everything else must have been dazzling to John’s eyes and defied description!
Unlike the creatures Ezekiel saw, which had eyes all over and four different faces on each body, John saw “four living creatures full of eyes,” each with a different face: One looked like a lion, the second resembled a calf, the third had a man’s face, while the fourth was like an eagle (7). Like the angels in Isaiah’s vision (Isa. 6:2-3), each had six wings. Their eyes never closed in sleep, as their job was to lead worship in heaven, calling out day and night, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come” (Rev 4:8, NIV).
Whenever the living creatures began their praise of the eternal God, the elders responded by falling on their faces and casting their crowns at the Lord’s feet (vv. 9-10). They responded antiphonally, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created” (11).
Revelation Chapter 5
Following this introduction to the majesty of heaven, John noticed the scroll in the right hand of the One seated on the throne. This was a double-sided document, “with writing on the inside and on the back,” bearing seven seals (Rev. 5:1). Here is another parallel between John’s vision and the book of Ezekiel; the latter also saw a double-sided scroll (Ezek. 2:9-10). The one John saw was special: Like an ancient Roman will or edict, it bore the seals of seven signet rings pressed into hot wax, binding the scroll tightly shut. Only the individual authorized to do so was allowed to break the official seals.
A strong angel served as the clarion call for that one person, asking, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” (Rev 5:2, NIV). For several tense moments, there was no answer. John wept, thinking there was “no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it” (vv. 3-4).
One of the 24 elders consoled the apostle, “Do not weep. The lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals” (5). The term “lion of Judah” comes from Genesis 49:9-10, where Jacob blessed his fourth son through Leah, calling him “a lion’s whelp” and declaring that the scepter would not depart from this tribe. In several Messianic prophecies, the title of root or branch from Jesse or David referred to the special descendant of King David who would rule all of earth and heaven (e.g.—Isa. 11:1 & 10).
That’s when John saw Him. in this symbolic vision from God, Jesus appeared as a sacrificial Lamb—bloodied, but alive—with seven horns and seven eyes, representing “the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Rev. 5:6). Because He had conquered sin, death and the grave, Jesus was worthy to break the sacred seals of God’s scroll.
When He took the document from God’s hand, the four living creatures and the 24 elders bowed in worship of the Lamb (vv. 7-8). With harps and golden bowls of incense—which John explained was representative of the prayer of the saints (c.f.—Psalm 141:2)—the elders sang a new song.
“You are worthy to take the scroll,
And to open its seals;
For You were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth.” (Rev. 5:9-10)
Over and over in the Psalms, God’s people are urged to “sing a new song” to YHWH (Psa. 40:3, 96:1 & 149:1). The exhortation was repeated in Isaiah 42:10. Believers can’t help but declare what the Lord has done and is doing in a fresh, original way.
The phrase, “You made them a kingdom and priests to our God” (Rev. 5:10, HCSB), hails back to Exodus 19:5-6, where YHWH said He would do this for the nation of Israel, if they would obey Him. These elders did not currently occupy the earth to reign over it, but they were looking forward to that day—perhaps what John later described in Revelation 20:4. Peter had previously said something similar in his first epistle: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). The promise originally made to the nation of Israel was now fulfilled in those who believed in the Lord Jesus, the Lamb of God.
A chorus of countless angels—“the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands”—joined with the elders and living creatures, shouting, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:11-12). Then the rest of creation—every living thing in heaven, on earth, beneath the earth and in the sea—joined in singing their praises, concluding with one more round of face-down worship by the four angelic worship leaders and the 24 elders (vv. 13-14).
I cannot end a discussion of chapters four and five without calling attention to some fantastic worship songs based on this passage. If you go to CCLI’s Song Select website at https://us.songselect.com/search/results?AllowRedirect=False&Page=1&SearchTerm=worthy%20is%20the%20lamb, you can see there are dozens of songs written about the Lamb of God that was slain. My favorite is “Revelation Song,” by Jennie Lee Riddle, which you can listen to and see lyrics for at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dZMBrGGmeE.
Revelation Chapter 6
In this chapter, things really start to get interesting, when Jesus begins to open the seven seals on the scroll in heaven. I imagine seven sheets of parchment rolled up and sealed one-by-one. As each portion of the bundle was released from its bonds, a new aspect of prophecy was revealed.
Coinciding with the opening of the first four seals, each of the four living creatures spoke in turn with a voice like thunder, “Come and see” (Rev. 6:1, 3, 5 & 7). This was an invitation for John to look at what was released upon the earth. Commonly referred to as “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” the horses and their riders seem to coincide with the colors of the steeds in Zechariah 6:1-3, as well as the “birth pangs” mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 24:4-8.
The first seal releases a powerful world leader (either an individual or a governing body) sent out to conquer the nations of the earth. He is described as one seated on a white horse, wearing a crown and carrying a bow (Rev. 6:3). In Matthew 24:4-5, Jesus said there would be many coming in His name, claiming to be the Christ, and that we should not be deceived by these false messiahs. I believe this first rider represents a counterfeit savior, who will deceive the nations into believing he has all the answers to our problems. Although I am not sure Barack Obama is the antichrist, as some claim, I do think he resembles this conquering ruler with his promises of “Hope and Change,” during his original campaign in 2008.
It is also interesting to note that the emblem of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)—of which many past and present government and business leaders are or have been a part—is a naked rider on a white horse with his hand raised in triumph. The Latin word, ubique, which means “everywhere,” is unfurled at the bottom of the logo. To learn more about this organization that controls so much of our nation and its leading institutions, go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_on_Foreign_Relations. To see a list of CFR members, as of 2014, go to http://www.cfr.org/about/membership/roster.html.
As seal number two was broken, a rider on a red horse appeared who was granted the power to “take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword” (Rev. 6:4). Jesus told His disciples that they would “hear of wars and rumors of wars” and that “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” before His coming (Matthew 24:6-7). This rider must then represent an individual or a group determined to wreak havoc on the earth by destabilizing governments and stirring up conflict everywhere.
Certainly in our day, more than any other, we are experiencing more war than peace. As mentioned in my blog, “The World at War,” only a few nations on this planet are relatively free of conflict. You can see a map illustrating the various war zones of the earth at http://www.visionofhumanity.org/#/page/indexes/global-peace-index. We have this second rider to thank for all the destruction and heartache he has brought to mankind.
Where there is war, there soon follows famine. The third rider sat upon a black horse and carried a balance in his hand (Rev. 6:5). As he was revealed, a voice from among the four living creatures commented, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine” (v. 6). In ancient Rome, a denarius was a day’s wages for a hired hand.
Imagine paying about $60 for the amount of grain that it would take to make a few loaves of bread! That would be the equivalent of a denarius, with the United States’ minimum hourly wage of $7.25 for an eight-hour work day. We may not be spending that much in the US for grain or flour, but in poorer Third World countries this kind of scarcity is a fact of life—especially where war has disrupted the ability of people to raise their own crops. Olive trees and grape vines, which grow back each year, will not be affected. This, too, Jesus cited among the “beginning of sorrows” before His return (Matthew 24:7).
Wherever there is hunger, disease and death cannot be far away. A pale horse carrying Death, with Hades [the grave] following close behind, are released next to kill one-fourth of the world’s population with the sword, starvation, death and ravenous beasts (Rev. 6:7-8). These agents of destruction coincide with the judgments YHWH declared against Israel in Ezekiel 5:12. Jesus included famine and disease among the birth pangs in Matthew 24:7.
Whether the riders are human or spirits, we are not told. However, humanity at this point in history seems bent on destroying itself through these very agents of ruin and death. There is a war on almost every continent. Due to climate change and natural disasters, food is becoming increasingly scarce and expensive. Even diseases we thought we had wiped out or had under control are resurfacing and striking with a vengeance. Animals deprived of their natural habitats and food sources are becoming more and more bold and desperate in their interactions with humans. With a current world population at 7 billion, imagine how horrible it will be to see 1.75 billion of our neighbors wiped out by these plagues!
With seal number five, we see a shift in the flow of events. Instead of another horse and rider, our focus is directed toward the altar of God in heaven. Underneath are the souls of men and women martyred for their faith in Christ (Rev. 6:9). They cry out, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (v. 10). Jesus warned of martyrdom in Matthew 24:9-10 and said that nations and individuals would hate, betray and kill His followers.
Again, in this generation, we are seeing more martyrs than in all the preceding centuries combined. Especially in China, North Korea, North Africa, Middle Eastern countries and other places where Islam and ISIS prevails, men and women of faith are being persecuted and brutally murdered because of their refusal to adopt the religions or regimes of men.
In heaven, John saw each martyred soul receive a white robe (Rev. 6:11). They were instructed to wait patiently until all those destined to give their lives for Christ had been killed—conceivably so God could judge their murderers all at once. Those yet to come would include people killed during the Great Tribulation because of their refusal to worship the antichrist.
According to Revelation 6:12-14, with the opening of seal number six, a rapid succession of catastrophic worldwide disasters is unleashed on the earth and in heaven.
- A terrible earthquake shakes the earth and moves every mountain and island out of its place.
- A solar eclipse occurs, in which the sun looks as “black as sackcloth made of hair.”
- A lunar eclipse soon followed, wherein “the moon became like blood.”
- A meteor shower reminded John of a fig tree dropping its ripened fruit when shaken by the wind.
- Some sort of atmospheric disturbance makes the sky seem to recede like a scroll being rolled up.
Isaiah 34:4 and Joel 2:31 used similar language to foretell the coming of God’s wrath against the nations. Jesus said these signs would follow the tribulation and precede His gathering of the elect from the earth (Matthew 24:29-31). A parallel passage in Luke’s Gospel, which also mentions false messiahs, war, famine, disease and martyrdom, says “there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven” (Luke 21:8-16).
Even those who do not worship the Lord will know what this is all about. People of every station and socioeconomic status on earth will flee in terror from these disasters and will beg the rocks and mountains, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!” (Rev. 6:15-16). All of these images were described in by Old Testament prophets in Isaiah 2:10 & 19-21, Jeremiah 4:23-29 and Hosea 10:8. When the people cry, “For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” they will echo the words of Psalm 76:6, Joel 2:11, Nahum 1:6 and Malachi 3:2—all of which speak of The Day of the Lord and His final judgment against the wicked (Rev. 6:17).
Revelation Chapter 7
In this chapter, we find an interlude before the next wave of judgments that are unleashed upon the earth. John saw “four angels standing at the four corners of the earth” (Rev. 7:1). Since our planet is round, we know there are no corners to it. Nevertheless, this figure of speech was also used in Jeremiah 49:36, when God pronounced judgment against Elam.
The angels in John’s vision were holding back destructive winds from each direction, so they would not blow on anything. It is hard for this Midwestern girl to imagine a perfectly windless day. It would be quite odd and stifling, I think—like being in the eye of a hurricane before disaster strikes anew. This calm before the storm is, no doubt, intended to capture the attention of John and his readers, as another angel shouted instructions to the foursome: “Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads” (vv. 2-3).
The idea of sealing God’s people is not new. Another apocalyptic prophet described something similar in Ezekiel 9:3-6, when a “man clothed with linen” marked the faithful in Jerusalem, before destroying angels came to slay the idolaters in the city. A seal could be used to limit access to something by authorized persons only. The Persians affixed a seal to the stone over the pit of lions that Daniel was placed within, and the Jews affixed a Roman seal to the stone over Jesus’ tomb to keep people from interfering with the contents thereof (Dan. 6:16-17; Matthew 27:62-66). During biblical times, a seal might also indicate ownership, authentication and the guarantee of something yet to come. In Ephesians 1:13-14 & 4:30, as well as 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, the Apostle Paul used the same Greek word when he taught that believers in Christ are sealed by the Holy Spirit to show that we are God’s.
I think the significance of this action of sealing faithful Jews has an even deeper meaning. In Orthodox Jewish circles, it is common around Rosh Hashanah, the Feast of Trumpets [the Jewish New Year celebration], to wish that others may be written/inscribed and sealed for a good new year by God. After Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, they wish the penitent a good conclusion of God’s judgment [For more on the greetings and customs of this important Jewish holiday, go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosh_Hashanah.]. The events in this chapter preclude the blowing of trumpets by God’s messengers. I think it is no coincidence that John, a devout Jew, would have seen God put His seal of approval and protection upon God-fearing Jews before His judgment against mankind was set in motion.
John said the total number of those sealed was “144,000 of all the tribes of the children of Israel” (Rev. 7:4). A careful reading of verses 5-8 reveals that 12,000 from ten of the tribes, plus the two half tribes descended from Joseph [Manasseh in verse 6 and Ephraim—designated as Joseph’s namesake by Jacob in Genesis 48:14-22—in verse 8], were sealed. Dan was completely absent from the list of those sealed—conceivably because of that tribe’s idolatry, beginning with Judges 18.
Once the elect Jews were sealed, John’s attention returned to the Lord’s throne room in heaven. In Revelation 7:9-10, he saw an innumerable multitude of worshipers from every nation, tribe, people and language clothed in white robes and waving palm branches. You may remember that Jesus was greeted in such a way, as He entered Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt a few days before Passover and His crucifixion (Matthew 21:7-9, Mark 11:7-10 & John 12:12-13). You may not be aware that this is also part of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, as described in Leviticus 23:39-43, when the Jews celebrate the years that YHWH dwelt among them in the wilderness.
Imagine millions of believers shouting in their native tongues or a heavenly language, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:10). Psalm 3:8 makes a similar declaration. The angels, the 24 elders and the four living creatures fell to their faces and added, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” (vv. 11-12).
In 1985, Adrian Howard and Pat Turner composed a magnificent worship song based on this hymn of praise. You can see the lyrics and hear a recording from Integrity Hosanna’s album, Army of God, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RihfmBH8JbQ.
When quizzed about the sight, John had no clue as to the identity of these newcomers to heaven. So one of the elders explained, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:13-14, HCSB). It is important to note that the Greek preposition rendered “out of” in most English translations is the word, ek, which is very specific regarding location. The phrase containing this word would be more precisely translated, “out of from within the great tribulation,” meaning that these people had gone through at least part of that terrible time period on earth.
I believe these are men and women who have died in Christ before now—perhaps the ones the Apostle Paul referred to as “a great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 12:1. This would include saints that passed away from old age and natural causes, as well as individuals martyred for their faith. Although they went through the initial stages of trouble on earth—conceivably the first six seal events of Revelation 6, referred to as “birth pangs,” or “sorrows,” by Jesus in Matthew 24—they are now home in heaven to stay for the duration of the outpouring of God’s judgment on the remainder of the human population.
Because they have been purified by the blood of Jesus, these saints are able to appear before God’s throne and “serve Him day and night in His temple” (Rev. 7:15a). Along with the waving palm branches, we see another reference to Sukkot, when the elder adds that the One “who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them” (v. 15b, NIV). The Greek word, also translated “dwell among” in our English Bibles, is actually the Hellenistic term for tabernacle.
When the elder said they would no longer hunger, thirst, nor be stricken by the sun, he was also making reference to Isaiah 49:10, where God promised to pasture His flock in peace and safety (Rev. 7:16). In that same vein, he said, “the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters” (v. 17a). Those who know the Old Testament will be reminded by these words of the Shepherd song in Psalm 23:1-2. The last phrase of this chapter, “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 17b), would have reminded any devout Jew of Isaiah 24:8.
Revelation Chapter 8
The seventh seal of the double-sided scroll was opened in Revelation 8:1, followed by a reverent hush of anticipation in heaven for about one-half hour. Then “the seven angels who stand before God” were given seven trumpets, while another angel with a golden censor stood at a golden altar and burned incense that ascended to God’s throne (vv. 2-4). In both verses 3 and 4, this incense is offered “with the prayers of all the saints”—an idea also expressed in Psalm 141:2. The Apostle Paul told us in Hebrews 9:21-24 that the furnishings of the ancient tabernacle were copies of what existed in heaven. Here we see confirmation of that fact in John’s description of a golden incense altar and censors, as well as a temple in heaven, like what the Israelites had in the wilderness.
Unexpectedly, the angel with the censor took that article of worship, “filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth” (Rev. 8:5a). This produced thunder, lightning and a second earthquake upon the planet (v. 5b).
The seven angels with their trumpets prepared themselves, and then one-by-one, sounded their alarms—each followed by an awful plague on the earth (6).
- When the first angel sounded his trumpet, hail, fire and blood rained down upon the earth. One-third of the trees and all the grass were burned to ash (7).
- When the second trumpet sounded, a burning mountain was thrown into the sea, turning one-third of it to blood. A third of the sea creatures died, and a third of the ships were destroyed (8-9).
- When number three played, a huge meteor or comet, called “Wormwood,” fell on one-third of the rivers and springs—contaminating a third of the fresh water sources, so that people died when they drank from them (10-11).
- A second incidence of celestial disturbances occurred when trumpet number four sounded—one-third of the sun, moon and stars were struck, so it was darker than usual for a third of the day and night (12).
Then, as if these first four trumpet blasts had not brought enough disaster on the earth, an angel or eagle [depending on your translation] went flying above the planet, declaring greater woe to come for its inhabitants with the sounding of the remaining trumpets (13)!
- When trumpet number five sounded, John saw “a star fallen from heaven to the earth,” who “was given the key to the bottomless pit” (Rev. 9:1). According to Isaiah 14:12-15 and Revelation 12:4-5 & 7-9, fallen stars symbolize demons. This one opens the abyss and unleashes a horde of locusts which are demonic in their appearance, noises and power. For five months, they will be allowed to torment those not bearing the Lord’s seal with the terrible sting of their scorpion-like tails. So awful will this plague be that men will wish they could die in order to escape their suffering (Rev. 9:2-10). Their king is “the angel of the bottomless pit”—called in Hebrew Abaddon [or “destruction”] and in Greek Apollyon [or “destroyer”]. These images of doom very closely resemble what Joel described in his prophecies. When Revelation 9:2 says, “the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke” from the bottomless pit, it sounds very much like the “day of darkness and gloominess” that occur with the sounding of the alarm in Zion, according to Joel 2:1-2. Like John, the Old Testament prophet also described an army of locusts that looked like horses prepared for battle (Rev. 9:7; Joel 2:4), and an attacker with teeth like lions (Rev. 9:8; Joel 1:6). Unlike the literal locusts that invaded Israel during Joel’s lifetime, the demonic locusts of Revelation were not allowed to harm any vegetation, but only those who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads (c.f.—Joel 1:7-20 & Rev. 9:4).
- When angel number six sounds his trumpet an even greater horror is set loose: Four more destroying angels from the Euphrates River, who lead an army of 200 million demonic horsemen, will kill a third of mankind with fire, smoke and sulfurous gases from their horses’ mouths and the venom of their serpent-like tails (vv. 13-19).
Sadly, the survivors of this sixth plague are so steeped in sin, they do not repent of their idolatry, demon-worship, murder, substance abuse [in Greek, pharmakaeia, translated ‘sorcery’ in most English Bibles], sexual immoralities or thefts (20-21). When John said they worshiped “idols of gold, silver, brass, stone and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk” (v. 20), he was probably calling to mind Old Testament passages, such as Psalm 115:4-8 and 135:15-17, as well as Daniel 5:23, which say essentially the same thing about the foolishness of bowing to man-made images. Considering the horror of what will have just happened and what is yet to come, it is amazing that human beings will keep right on doing the same wicked and self-destructive things they always have!
Revelation Chapter 10
In this chapter, the scene shifts momentarily from the judgments on earth to a spectacular angel coming down from heaven. John said he was “clothed with a cloud,” and had a rainbow on his head; his face shone like the sun, and his feet looked “like pillars of fire” (Rev. 10:1). With one foot on the land and the other on the sea, he held a little open book in his hand and gave a mighty roar like a lion (vv. 2-3).
Seven thunders answered back, but John was not allowed to record what they said. Like his predecessor in Daniel 8:26 & 12:4-9, John was told, “Seal up the things which the seven thunders uttered, and do not write them” (Rev. 10:4).
Then the angel raised His hand and “swore by Him who lives forever and ever” and created heaven, earth, the seas, and all they contain, that God was going to wrap up prophecy with the sounding of the seventh trumpet (vv. 5-7). This was not the first time an angel swore an oath by the eternal God. In Daniel 12:7, one raised his hand and vowed, as he set a time frame of 3½ years for Israel to suffer before “all these things shall be finished.” Amos 3:7 tells us YHWH Elohim “does nothing unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.” Revelation 10:7 uses the same phrase.
John was then instructed to take and eat the little book that was open in the hand of the angel (Rev. 10:8). As Ezekiel 3:1-4 describes regarding that prophet’s experience eating a scroll, John noted that this prophetic book was sweet as honey in his mouth, but made his stomach bitter (Rev. 10:9-10). He was next told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings” (v. 11).
Revelation Chapter 11
Again, like Ezekiel, John was directed to “measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there” (c.f.—Rev. 11:1 & Ezek. 40-43). Although the apostle wasn’t asked to record his findings, he did take the rod from the angel and measure the temple complex—except for the outer court of the Gentiles. The angel speaking to John informed him that the holy city would be trampled by the Gentiles for 42 months—approximately 3½ years (Rev. 11:2). Also present for that time period would be the Lord’s witnesses—two powerful men who would prophesy 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth (v. 3).
Identified as “the two olive trees and the two lampstands,” as in Zechariah 4, these prophets will have the powers of Moses and Elijah to call down fire, stop the rain from heaven, and “to strike the earth with all kinds of plagues, as often as they desire” (Rev. 11:4-6; see also Exodus 7:14-11:10, 1 Kings 17:1, & 2 Kings 1:9-14). These messengers of God will be so hated by the human and demonic population of the world that, when “the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit” attacks and kills them, everyone will celebrate, and no one will be allowed to bury the men’s bodies (Rev. 11:7-10). When verse 8 says the witnesses’ “dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt,” John eludes to Isaiah 1:10 & 3:8-9, as well as Jeremiah 23:14, which identify Jerusalem as such. For the Gentiles who may not have caught this reference, John added, “where also our Lord was crucified.” How sad that this once-holy city will degrade to such a depraved condition again!
The good news is that the Lord will reanimate His two witnessed 3½ days later. Revelation 11:11 described the vision this way: “the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet…” This calls to mind the way our Creator first gave life to Adam in Genesis 2:7, and how He gave new life to dry bones in Ezekiel 37:1-10. So powerful and unexpected will be this resurrection, that all who witness it will be filled with fear and amazement—particularly when God calls the men back to heaven and removes them in a cloud, like Jesus (Rev. 11:11-12).
In case the raising of two dead men is not enough to sober their partying foes, the city will be rocked by a third earthquake—this one so violent that 7,000 will be killed and everyone will freak out, acknowledging God is responsible. They actually “gave glory to the God of heaven,” according to verse 13. The next verse announced that this is the end of the “second woe,” which included the army of deadly horsemen led by the seven winds (c.f.—Rev. 9:13-21 & 11:1-14).
When trumpet number seven is sounded, we don’t read of any further plagues right away. However, loud voices in heaven proclaim, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Rev. 11:15). In response, the 24 elders hit the deck again and thanked God for reigning (vv. 16-17). The time had finally come for Him to judge the dead—rewarding both prophets and saints who feared and served Him, while destroying those who had devastated the earth (18).
“Then the temple of God was opened in heaven,” and John saw the Ark of the Covenant therein (19). At the same time, the earth was struck with a thunderstorm, severe hail, and a fourth earthquake.
Revelation Chapter 12
Beginning with this chapter, events in the book of Revelation progress rapidly toward the climax of Christ’s return. The symbolism also intensifies, which tends to increase the possibility of misinterpretation.
In Revelation 12:1, John sees “a great sign” in heaven: “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars.” It is not uncommon in Roman Catholic circles to see this image depicting Mary, the mother of Jesus, whom they worship as the “Queen of Heaven.” We have already seen, from our study of Jeremiah, that the queen of heaven was an offensive pagan idol worshiped by the Israelites in their homeland and then in Egypt (See Jeremiah 7:17-19 & chapter 44).
I would suggest that, although Mary was the one woman who gave birth to the “male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron” (Rev. 12:5; c.f.—Psalm 2:7-9), she is not the one depicted in John’s vision. Rather the one adorned with the sun, moon and stars is more likely the nation of Israel.
In Genesis 37:5-11, Joseph had a dream with similar symbolism in which his father, mother and brothers—the forebears of the Hebrew nation—were represented by the sun, moon, and eleven stars. Also, the fact that the woman in John’s vision flees into the wilderness to be protected from the one who wanted to destroy her, seems to coincide with Jesus’ warning to his disciples [all Jewish] to head for the hills when they saw the “abomination of desolation” (c.f.—Rev. 12:6, Matt. 24:15-16 & Mark 13:14).
We find in Old Testament prophecy the image of a woman in labor in Isaiah 66:7 and following. There Zion, representing Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, was delivering a male child and giving birth to other children—an entire nation in one day (vv. 7-8). God promised her offspring peace and comfort (12-13), but also talked about the destruction of the wicked (14-17). He described an in-gathering of Israel’s offspring from the nations, and a new heaven and earth with a renewed worship of YHWH—while those who hated Him are appointed to eternal damnation (18-24). This is the book of Revelation in a nutshell! As with so much of biblical prophecy, the woman in Revelation 12 depicts—all at once—the birth of Jesus through Mary, but also the delivery of the nation of Israel and its persecution by the enemy.
The other sign depicted in Revelation 12 is much more obvious, and John tells his readers clearly whom it represents: The “great fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns and seven diadems” is none other than “that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world,” according to Revelation 12:3 & 9. Of course, the mention of the serpent refers to Genesis 3:1-6, where the devil—disguised as a serpent—convinced Adam and Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit.
In Revelation 12:4, John saw the dragon “drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.” As was already mentioned regarding Revelation 9:1, stars are frequently used in the Old Testament to represent angels (See Judges 5:20, Job 38:6-7, Isa. 14:13, & Dan. 8:10). Therefore, this verse would seem to indicate that a third of the angelic population has been lured away from God to serve Satan! Revelation 12:7 describes a war in heaven, wherein Michael and the good angels fought the dragon and his bad angels. Daniel 10:13 & 20-21 and 12:1 both identify Michael the archangel as the angelic defender of Israel, who is stronger than other spiritual beings. Fighting against this mighty angel and outnumbered two to one, the bad guys lost and were kicked out of heaven down to earth (vv. 8-9).
Interestingly enough, the Draconid meteor showers symbolically depict this scene annually. In 2015, between October 2 and 9, and then again around the 22nd, you can see these ‘falling stars’ which appear to come out of the constellation, Draco—the dragon.
In John’s vision, this expulsion of the devil and his angels was good news for the inhabitants of heaven, who had long been troubled by the devil’s constant accusations (10 & 12). But it is bad news for those who remain on the earth, since the devil will be incensed, knowing he has but a short time before his doom is sealed. Of great encouragement is the statement that believers can overcome him “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony,” and being willing to die for their Savior (11). In the Greek, logos indicates that the testimony is spoken aloud; it may also refer to one of John’s favorite titles for Jesus.
Since the beginning of time, the devil has had it in for “the seed of the woman” (Gen. 3:14-15). Job 1:9-11 & 2:3-5, as well as Zechariah 3:1, refer to him as “the accuser.” Here, at the end of time, is no exception. In Revelation 12:4, the devil is right there, ready to gobble up the woman’s offspring as soon as He’s delivered. King Herod the Great, consumed with demonic obsession over the preservation of his royal position, was the instrument Satan used to try and destroy Jesus when he was born (See Matt. 2). However, God protected the holy family, and Jesus was able to fulfill His mission before being taken up to heaven, as Revelation 12:5 depicts.
Quite possibly, Joseph, Mary and Jesus stayed in the less developed areas of Egypt to be cared for by the Lord in fulfillment of the 3½ years described in verse 6 (c.f.—Matt. 2:13-15 & 19-23). However, the repetition of this same period in further detail in Revelation 12:13-16, may indicate another fulfillment of this vision in a 3½ year time span to come. The phrase, “a time, times and half a time” would have immediately taken the minds of Jewish readers to Daniel 12:7, regarding the troubling of the Jewish nation before the end of all things. Much like the nation of Israel fled from Egypt [symbolized in Ezekiel 29:2-5 & 32:2-6 as a sea monster] and was supernaturally provided for for forty years, so Israel will flee to a special place to escape the dragon for 3½ years.
For centuries, the devil has opposed and hated Israel, so this persecution of “the woman who gave birth to the male child” will be nothing new (Rev. 12:13). John saw that “the woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness” to this place where God intends to protect and keep her from the dragon (v. 14).
There is actually an organization called, On Wings of Eagles, that helps persecuted Jews from all over the world immigrate to the nation of Israel. You can see their website at http://www.ifcj.org/site/PageNavigator/eng/programs/on_wings_of_eagles.html. Perhaps they or some other sympathetic organization will help airlift persecuted Jews from their homeland to some secret desert location, once the devil takes control of the earth’s power bases. Or maybe it will be some supernatural provision by God Himself that gets them to safety.
In verse 15, John told how the devil “spewed water out of his mouth like a flood,” trying to sweep the woman away. “But the earth helped the woman,” opening its mouth to swallow up the flood and keep her safe (v. 16). Whether this is an actual flood of water, or an invading army, we do not know. We can be sure, however, that the Lord will open up some sort of fissure in the earth to swallow up the water or the attackers.
Seeing that he can’t get to Israel directly, the devil then “went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (17). Very likely this refers to believing Jews who live outside the nation of Israel; or it may refer to Gentile believers, who have been grafted into the family of God through faith.
Revelation Chapter 13
The next scene in this apocalyptic drama takes place at the seashore—no doubt, the Mediterranean, to be exact. A monstrous beast resembling the dragon rises out of the sea, its seven heads covered with blasphemous names, and its ten horns adorned with ten crowns (Rev. 13:1). In verse 2, this creature is described as having characteristics not only of the dragon, but also of the four beasts described in Daniel 7:3-7.
- Its body was built for speed and conquest like a leopard and the empire of Greece under Alexander.
- Its feet were massive and powerful as a bear and the mighty army of ancient Medo-Persia.
- Its mouth was as intimidating and impressive as the roar of a lion and Babylon’s greatest king, Nebuchadnezzar.
- It had the coalition of nations and rulers [the heads and horns] or the division of power and complexity of ancient Rome.
One might therefore suggest that it was a combination of these former world systems revived for another showdown with the people of God.
If you compare John’s description with Daniel’s vision, the beast from the sea would be an empire, and its horns are leaders of this kingdom (Dan. 7:23-24). The heads may be nation-states within that kingdom—probably from somewhere near the Mediterranean Sea.
Unlike the previous beast representing Rome, this new one had a head which was fatally wounded and then healed (Rev. 13:3). Seeing this, the whole world, “marveled and followed the beast.” In other words, some leader connected with this governing body will be miraculously preserved from certain death, so impressing the multitudes that they will not only submit to his authority and the nation or coalition of nations he represents, but they will also worship the beast and the dragon who gave him authority (v. 4a). What a chilling thought: Whether identified by name or not, Satanism will be the designated religion of the day.
Some people have insisted the beast is a person and have proposed that such historical figures as Nero, Adolf Hitler and—more recently—Barak Obama were the antichrist ruler represented in this passage. However, the symbolism here and in Daniel 7 put forth, not a portrait of a man, but a nation or coalition of nations performing as a unit. Many with this view in mind have proposed the United Nations or the European Union.
A quick study of the Holy Roman Empire, via Wikipedia and other websites revealed that, over the course of its 844-year history, there were five main rulers over territories that include fourteen modern countries. Of those countries, eleven are now member-states of the European Union [c.f.—https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_Roman_Empire and http://europa.eu/about-eu/countries/member-countries/]. There were a total of three Reichs, or Holy Roman Empires:
- The First Reich (c. 962-1806), founded by the German, Otto I, and last ruled by Francis II
- The Second Reich (c. 1871-1918), reinstituted under Otto von Bismarck, which was the cause of World War I
- The Third Reich (c. 1934-45), under Adolf Hitler, stopped by WWII
There is evidence to suggest that the Lisbon Treaty, ratified and instituted in 2009, recreated the Holy Roman Empire by reforming EU institutions, policies and procedures. Most significantly, it created a more powerful head of Europa, by creating a spokesperson, called the President of the European Council, with a term of two-and-a-half years. It is also gearing up to create its own unilateral military, called a Common European Defense. [See http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=URISERV:ai0033&from=EN, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6901353.stm and http://www.civitas.org.uk/eufacts/FSTREAT/TR6.php.]
Whatever the identity of this world power, it will seem so great that no one will dare oppose it (Rev. 12:4b). For 3½ years it will dominate the nations and spout impressive words and foul lies against God’s name, His tabernacle and the citizens of heaven (Rev. 13:5-6). This sounds very much like the little horn of the beast described in Daniel 7:8, 11 & 20.
This world power will declare war against God’s people and hunt them down from among every tribe, tongue and nation (Rev. 13:7). We all thought the Holocaust was bad. It was only isolated to the handful of countries under Nazi Germany’s domination. Imagine the same atrocities being committed all over the world during the dominion of this tyrannical beast even worse than Hitler!
Those “whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb…” will follow blindly after this man and the nation he represents (v. 8). Exodus 32:31-33, Psalm 69:28 and Revelation 20:12 all mention this Book of Life. It is where God records the names of those who fear and serve Him, and preserves them from the Lake of Fire reserved for demons and rebels.
John repeated Jesus’ phrase, “If anyone has an ear, let him hear,” urging people of faith alive during this time to take notice and make sure they do not do what the unbelievers do (Rev. 13:9). Echoing the words of Jeremiah 15:2, John said “If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed” (Rev. 13:10, NIV). This is the time when “the perseverance and faith of the saints” (HCSB), to which Jesus also alluded in Matthew 24:13, is necessary. It’s the only way that any God-fearing person will be saved through all this!
The next beast John saw arose from the earth. It is a false prophet that looks like a lamb [Jesus], but talks like the dragon [Satan] (Rev. 13:11). Acting under the authority of the beast from the sea, this high priest of evil will convince everyone to worship the seven-headed monster whose deadly wound was healed (v. 12). He will perform counterfeit miracles to deceive the nations—even calling down fire from heaven—and will get everyone to make a replica of some sort “to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived” (13-14). Not only will this idol be made, but this guy will bring it to life somehow, making it speak and compel everyone to worship it (15). Those who refuse will be executed.
The false prophet will require every citizen to bear a loyalty mark on his/her forehead or hand in order to carry on commerce of any kind within the kingdom (16-17). As many apocalyptic books and movies have noted, this will consist of some coded number or name of the beast (17-18). When John told the understanding to “calculate the number of the beast,” he said it was the number of man [the indefinite article, “a,” does not appear in the Greek]. One ancient manuscript says 616; the rest say 666. Just like the false miracles, these marks on people’s hands and foreheads are counterfeits of the seal the 144,000 bear, signifying their approval by God as loyal citizens of His kingdom.
Never before in the history of mankind have we had the technology to make this prophecy come true. Through satellite weapons, a false prophet will be able to make fire come down from heaven. Holograms, robotics and supercomputers will be able to animate an image of a world leader. Bio-chip implants will be all that we need to produce the marks on heads and hands for businesses to scan and perform cashless commercial transactions. With all the fraud in this country, the day this is required rather than optional is not far away. With the deaths of billions through plague, this will seem like the only solution to a chaotic situation.
Revelation Chapter 14
In Revelation 14:1, we find Jesus standing on Mount Zion in Israel with the 144,000, “having His Father’s name written on their foreheads.” In Revelation 3:12, Jesus had promised to write God’s name on those who overcame. Perhaps this was the seal that was placed upon their foreheads in chapter 7—the name of God, to identify the people of God and to keep them safe.
In the next verse, John says he “heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters,” the rolling of thunder, and the sound of harps—all in one magnificent concert together (v. 2). Ezekiel 43:2 describes the voice of God in the same way. Only the 144,000—all faultless virgin men redeemed from the earth—were allowed to learn this song that came from heaven and sing it in God’s throne room (3-5). Verse 4 calls them “first-fruits to God and to the Lamb,” an idea which originates in Exodus 23:19, wherein all Jews were required to bring the earliest of their crops to the temple to offer to YHWH.
Next, John saw a succession of three angels flying between earth and heaven.
- The first carried “the everlasting gospel to every nation, tribe, tongue and people,” telling them to “Fear God and give glory to Him…who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water” (Rev. 14:6-7). This fulfills the requirement of Jesus’ end times prophecy that He would not return before the gospel of the kingdom was preached in all the world (Matt. 24:14 & Mark 13:10).
- Another angel announced the fall of Babylon, which induced the nations to spiritual fornication (Rev. 14:8). The cry, “Babylon the Great has fallen,” is a quote from Isaiah 21:9. The idea of nations drinking the wine of her sexual immorality comes from Jeremiah 51:7-8 & 49.
- The third angel warned of the impending doom of anyone who accepted the mark of the beast—not only the outpouring of God’s wrath on earth, but also the eternal torment of hell when they die (vv. 9-11). The wine of God’s wrath and the cup of His anger were originally mentioned in Psalm 75:8, Isaiah 51:17-23 and Jeremiah 25:15-25. Eternal torment with fire, sulfur and smoke is from Isaiah 66:24.
In contrast, John declared blessings on those “who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12). He recorded the blessing of a voice from heaven that says Christian martyrs from this point on will enjoy rest in heaven and the reward of their good works (v. 13).
After this, we see two harvests. First, a crowned individual “like the Son of Man” swings a sharp sickle from a white cloud and reaps the ripened grain of the earth (14-15). Daniel 7:13 makes reference to the Son of Man, giving clear evidence that points to Christ. Quite likely, this is an agent of the Lord Jesus who will come to “gather together His elect,” as described in Matthew 24:30-31 and Mark 13:26-27.
These are most likely the men and women who belong to Christ and have survived the trumpet judgments and the beast’s 3½ year reign of terror. Notice that the Lord does not pour out His bowls of wrath or trample the grapes in His winepress of wrath until these saints are removed. Also note that this event occurs after the sounding of the last trumpet (Rev. 12:15-18), just as the Apostle Paul taught that the resurrection of the saints would occur in 1 Corinthians 15:50-54.
The second harvest involves another angel with a sharp sickle who gathers the ripened clusters of grapes from the earth (Rev. 14:17-19a). Joel 3:13 uses a similar phrase to describe God’s impending judgment on the wicked. When Revelation 14:19b-20 talks about the angel hurling the grapes “into the great winepress of the wrath of God,” where they will be trampled outside the city and the blood will flow to the horses’ bridles, it echoes another apocalyptic passage in Isaiah 63:1-6. According to the final verse of Revelation 14, so great will be the population of wicked souls to be punished that the bloodbath will spread several feet deep over about 184 miles!
During the War Between the States, Julia Ward Howe penned the words of the song, “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in 1861, which were first published in 1862. You can hear and read the lyrics of this classic hymn, based on the final verses of Revelation 14, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORsNiReoCsw. This version was recorded by the Gaither Vocal Band.
Revelation Chapter 15
Now that all those who trust Christ have been removed to heaven, God is free to pour out the worst of His plagues on the rebels that remain. In Revelation 15:1, John said he “saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous:” consisting of seven angels prepared to mete out the final plagues which would complete God’s wrath on the earth.
Around a sea that resembled molten glass, John saw a choir made up of all the people who had triumphed over the beast, his image, and the mark and number of his name (v. 2). With harps they sang “the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb” (3a). They praised God’s works and His ways (3b). They asked the rhetorical question, “Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name?” recognizing He alone was holy, and foreseeing that all nations would eventually worship Him, once His judgments were manifested (4).
The innermost part of the tabernacle in heaven was opened, and out came the seven aforementioned angels, each garbed in pure white linen with golden sashes across their chests (5-6). One of the four living creatures handed each angel a golden bowl full of the wrath of God (7). As when the first temple was dedicated by King Solomon and Isaiah saw a vision of YHWH in that same temple after King Uzziah died, “the sanctuary was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power” (Rev. 15:8, ESV; c.f.—1 Kings 8:10-11, 2 Chronicles 7:1-2 & Isaiah 6:1-4). So overwhelming was His presence and power, that no one was able to enter the heavenly tabernacle until all the plagues were poured out.
Revelation Chapter 16
As soon as the command was issued from heaven, the angels began to empty the contents of their bowls on the earth and its inhabitants (Rev. 16:1). In quick succession, each one carried out this order:
- Bowl #1—A disease worse than smallpox covered every adherent to the new world order with painful, oozing, stinking sores (v. 2). These sound much like the sixth plague that was declared by Moses over the Egyptians in Exodus 9:8-11.
- Bowl #2—The entire ocean was turned to blood, killing all remaining marine life (Rev. 16:3).
- Bowl #3—All of the rivers and streams were turned to blood (v. 4), like in Moses’ first plague in Egypt (Ex. 7:14-25). The angel in charge of earth’s waters said it was appropriate, considering the blood of the martyrs that the world had spilled, that God gave them blood to drink (Rev. 16:5-6). A voice from the altar, where martyrs appeared in Revelation 6:9-10, chimed in that God’s judgments were true and just/righteous (Rev. 16:7).
- Bowl #4—Solar flares so bad that people are scorched with the heat came next. People began to curse God for these plagues, still not repentant or willing to give Him glory (Rev. 16:8-9).
- Bowl #5—When this was poured out “on the throne of the beast…his kingdom was plunged into darkness” (v. 10). Like the plague of darkness on Pharaoh’s kingdom, this was apparently something that could be felt (Ex. 10:21-23), because the citizens of the beast’s empire “gnawed their tongues from pain and blasphemed,” still unwilling to repent (Rev. 16:11)!
- Bowl #6—The Euphrates River will be dried up, in order to facilitate an invasion of armies east of it—including Iran, all the “-stans,” Russia, India, China and other oriental countries—to invade the Holy Land (v. 12). At that time, John saw “unclean spirits like frogs” emerge from the mouths of the dragon and the beasts from the sea and the earth (13). These three demonic spirits went to the rulers of the earth and performed signs, convincing them to gather their armies on the plain of Megiddo in Israel to fight against God (14 & 16). Oddly enough for this context, in verse 15, the Lord warns again that He is coming as a thief, and we don’t want to be caught with our pants down, so-to-speak (c.f.—Matt. 24:43, Luke 12:39, Rev. 3:3 & 11).
- Bowl #7—When the final bowl is poured out on the air, a voice from the temple declares “It is done/come to pass” (Rev. 16:17)—meaning God finally fulfilled His prophetic word and His promise to judge the wicked of the earth. Following ominous rumblings, thunder and lightning in the heavens, a worldwide earthquake unlike anything in the history of mankind flattens EVERYTHING—cities, mountains, islands, etc. (vv. 18 & 20). It divides the “great city” into three parts, and Babylon is remembered for her atrocities (19). A worldwide storm drops hailstones weighing as much as 75 pounds each on earth’s inhabitants, again inciting their blasphemies against God (21).
Revelation Chapter 17
Next, one of the seven angels who had dumped a bowl of wrath from heaven took John in the Spirit to the wilderness, where he showed the apostle yet another symbolic image (Rev. 17:1-3). There, John saw a woman dressed in royal purple and scarlet, decked out with gold, precious stones and pearls (v. 4a). She held a golden cup full of every imaginable kind of sin and filth, and she was drunk with the blood of saints and martyrs of Christ (4b & 6a). On the forehead of this prostitute was the title, “MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (5).
When the angel said she was “the great harlot who sits on many waters” (Rev. 17:1), he made reference to Jeremiah 51:11-13, where God also pronounced judgement on Babylon. The angle said that she had committed fornication with the kings of the earth and made everyone “drunk with the wine of her fornication” (Rev. 17:2). Without a doubt, this harlot must represent a belief system based in Babylonian thought—a religion that opposes true Christianity and leads people into a form of idolatry, instead.
This harlot was seated on a scarlet beast. This monster resembled both the dragon and the beast from the sea with its seven heads, ten horns, and blasphemous names all over it (c.f.—Rev. 17:1 & 3, 13:1 &12:3). The sight of this gruesome twosome was mystifying to John (Rev. 17:6b). Therefore, the angel kindly explained the symbolism of what the apostle was seeing (v. 7).
He cryptically explained, “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition” (8a). Somehow that kingdom existed before John’s day, did not exist at that time, and yet still remained. Anyone who does not belong to Christ will be taken in by this creature (8b)—just as they were by the kingdom/ruler that was mortally wounded in chapter 13.
The scarlet beast’s seven heads, the angel explained, represent both seven mountains where the woman lives and seven kings (Rev. 17:9-10a). “Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time” (v. 10b-c). The beast itself is an eighth king, “of the seven,” while the ten horns are ten more kings without their own kingdoms, who will receive authority to reign “one hour” with the beast (11-12).
Unified in power and purpose, these rulers will fight against the Lamb, but will be overcome by Him—“for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful” (13-14). The title, “Lord of lords and King of kings,” used for the Lamb/Jesus comes from Deuteronomy 10:17, Psalm 136:2-3 and Daniel 2:47, indicating His divinity and authority on earth and in heaven.
These leaders will hate the prostitute who dominates them and all the people of the earth. Therefore, they will “make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire” (Rev. 17:15-16). God Himself will put it into the hearts of these men to destroy the “great city which reigns over the kings of the earth” to fulfill His purpose “(vv. 17-18).
The exact identity of this harlot is not known for certain. Some have suggested a rebuilt Babylon in Iraq—something Saddam Hussein attempted to do at the height of his dominion. I have heard a few say Mecca. Islam is the most rapidly growing religion in the world—one that is frequently spread through deceit and by force. Its founder, Muhammad, borrowed ideas from many religions—including Babylonian offshoots, Judaism, Christianity and other regional religions of his day. Based on activities of present-day militant observers, one can easily envision this religion violently opposing Christians and Christ.
Many say the woman represents Roman Catholicism. This is the most widely-spread religion in the world. It, too, has many elements borrowed from Babylon. A great resource which includes many specific and shocking examples is Ralph Edward Woodrow’s book, Babylon Mystery Religion: Ancient and Modern—which is out of print, but still available at http://www.amazon.com/Babylon-Mystery-Religion-Ancient-Modern/dp/091693800X.
In fact, Rome has seven hills on which the city was built, which could point to that city as the scarlet beast, rather than its rider. Then again, Peter referred to Rome in code as Babylon (1 Pet. 5:13).
I once heard an evangelical pastor describe a painting he saw in the Vatican of a woman in scarlet astride a scarlet beast. When he asked the guide about the picture, he admitted that the artist meant it as a representation of the Roman Catholic Church! I have never been to Rome, nor seen a picture of this painting myself, but I would certainly be interested if anyone could provide more information about it.
While I would not rule out Rome or Catholicism as the woman in scarlet or the scarlet beast, I am more inclined to believe “Mystery Babylon” represents an anti-Christian belief system that has been incorporated into all false religions and countries controlled by its ideas. Most likely, it is Freemasonry, which is based on the Kabbalah—a collection of Hebrew writings of Babylonian mysticism, compiled by Jews during their exile in that pagan land.
According to an article entitled, “The Origin of Freemasonry: The Crusaders & Templars,” available through Media Monitors Network at http://www.mediamonitors.net/harunyahya19.html, the earliest known roots of Freemasonry can be traced back to the Knights Templar, a religious and military order created during the Crusades. Having slaughtered the Muslim occupants of Jerusalem in 1099, the Europeans faced the daunting task of keeping the city open for Christian pilgrims and preventing a return of the Turks and Saracens. They established military orders based in various monasteries that trained adherents in both religion and martial skills.
The Templars, who called themselves “The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Jesus Christ and the Temple of Solomon,” organized in 1118, twenty years after the conquest of Jerusalem. This name was chosen, because they were based on the temple mount. Even after Saladin recaptured the city and killed many of these knights, the Templars continued to exist and grew in power throughout Europe until opposed by the king of France and Pope Clement V in 1307. Evidence suggests that the order took refuge in Scotland, the only European kingdom that did not recognize the authority of the Catholic Church at that time. There, they infiltrated the wall-builder’s guild, and renamed it “the Masonic Lodge.” The Scottish Rite, the oldest branch of Freemasonry, dates back to the 14th Century and still uses the same titles employed by the Templars long ago.
Today, Freemasonry includes adherents from every religion. Among its members worldwide are some of the most powerful men and women in government, finance, media, and education. Many people claim it controls even the Catholic Church—primarily through the many Jesuit priests who have served as the “enforcers” of the religion since the time of the Inquisition.
Naturally, any world power would hate and want to destroy the seat of such influence—whether that be Jerusalem, Rome, New York, London, Mecca, Washington D.C., or some other city. When and how such a powerful system can be overthrown remains to be seen.
Revelation Chapter 18
From the beginning of this chapter, and including the first few verses of the next, all heaven celebrates the demise of Babylon, the horrible harlot that has manipulated the nations for so long. First, a glorious and mighty angel swoops down and loudly proclaims, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!” (Rev. 18:1-2). The first part of that pronouncement hails back to Isaiah 21:9, where a chariot rider made the prophetic announcement that ancient Babylon was defeated and all her idols were smashed. The second half comes from Isaiah 13:19-22, where God foretold the everlasting desolation of that land because of its pride and wickedness. While these passages spoke of the physical Babylon; the angel in Revelation refers to the spiritual Babylon—the one that has continued its evil influence long since the day that the ancient city of Babylon fell to the Medes and Persians.
Like Isaiah 48:20 & 52:11, and later 2 Corinthians 6:17, another voice from heaven urged, “Come out of her, my people,” to avoid being part of her sins and receiving her plagues (Rev. 18:4). “For her sins have reached to heaven,” and God has determined to repay her double for all the evil she has done (vv. 5-6). If this is, indeed, a religious system—such as Roman Catholicism, Freemasonry, Islam or New Age—then we would do well to heed the warning to disassociate with anything having to do with Babylonian thought, in order not to be sucked up into her destruction.
With a long description similar to Isaiah 47, Revelation 18:7 tells how luxuriously Babylon lived, along with her mindset of invincibility, when she says, “I sit as queen, and am no widow, and will not see sorrow.” When the death, mourning and famine God intends to send against that city/system overtake her in one day, Babylon will be forced to change her tune. God will show His superior strength through these plagues, and “she will be utterly burned with fire,” when God judges her (Rev. 18:8).
Like those in Ezekiel 27 who lamented the fall of Tyre, the rich and powerful of the earth who once profited because of Babylon will grieve her destruction (Rev. 18:9-19). They bemoan the fact that “no one buys their merchandise anymore”—their “gold and silver, precious stones and pearls, fine linen and purple, silk and scarlet,” things made of aromatic wood, ivory, bronze, iron, and marble; spices, incense and perfumed oils; “wine and oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and bodies and souls of men” (vv. 11-13). This is a religion that has consumed not only the earth’s greatest finery in jewels, precious metals, garments, works of art, olfactory delights and delicacies, but she has been involved in human trafficking, as well!
Meanwhile, heaven and God’s apostles and prophets are encouraged to rejoice, “for God has avenged you on her!” (Rev. 18:20). Using the same powerful imagery of a millstone cast into the waters from Jeremiah 51:59-64, an angel throws a heavy stone into the sea and declares, “Thus with violence the great city Babylon shall be thrown down, and shall not be found anymore” (Rev. 18:21). There will be no more sights or sounds of industry, art or celebration in that city, in punishment for her sorcery [not just magic, but drug use] and murder of the faithful (vv. 22-24).
Revelation Chapter 19
This chapter begins with a continuation of the celebration of Babylon’s fall—this time focused on the scene in heaven. The multitude of saints before God’s throne worship the Lord for righteously judging the harlot Babylon and avenging the blood of the martyrs (Rev. 19:1-2)—just as He had promised long ago in Deuteronomy 32:43. They are pleased to see the plume of smoke that will eternally signify her overthrow and destruction (Rev. 19:3). The four angelic worship leaders and the 24 elders also bow in worship (v. 4). And a voice from the throne upon which the Lord was seated urges every servant of God to praise Him (5).
Then our attention rightfully shifts to another celebration—not of the death of a notorious prostitute—but to the marriage of the Lamb to His faithful bride. With a thunderous roar, the multitude shouts, “Alleluia, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” (6-7). The bride, the worldwide Church of Christ [not the denomination, but the body as a whole], is dressed in clean, white, fine linen—which signifies the righteous acts of the saints (8). The angelic tour guide with John instructed him to write, “Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!” (9).
So amazed and grateful was John because of all he had been allowed to see, that he dropped to the angel’s feet and worshiped him (10). I love the heavenly messenger’s response: “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God” (Rev. 19:10, ESV).
Here is a good indicator of whether a spokesperson is from the Lord or some other source. If he/she allows or encourages people to bow to or praise him/her or anyone else, then that individual is NOT from God. If, like this angel, they admit they are no one special and that our adulation belongs to YHWH alone, then that individual is someone you can trust to speak for Him.
The last part of verse 10 adds that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy”—that is, the center and focus of prophecy is to exalt Christ; not sin, the devil, judgment, the prophet or the messenger. As the Apostle Paul once said, “no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3), and John said the test of whether a prophet spoke for God or the devil was whether he/she acknowledged Christ had come in the flesh (1 John 4:1-3).
Next, John saw the Lord Jesus as the Jews had expected Him to come the first time. No longer meek and mild, seated on a donkey’s colt, the One “called Faithful and True” appears on a pure white war horse (Rev. 19:11). The statement, “in righteousness He judges and makes war,” comes from Psalms 9:7-8 and 96:10-13. As John had seen in the first chapter of Revelation, Jesus’ “eyes were like a flame of fire,” He sported many crowns, and wore a name He alone knew and understood (Rev. 19:12). As Isaiah 63:1-6 had foretold, Jesus’ robe was red with blood from trampling the winepress of God’s wrath (Rev. 19:13). As John had already shared in his gospel and epistles, the Lord’s title was “The Word of God.”
The armies of heaven that accompanied Him also rode on white horses, but their attire was simply pure white linen (v. 14). We are not told whether Jesus’ warriors were human, angelic, or both. But it doesn’t matter too much, since they do not appear to do any of the fighting anyway!
As in the first chapter of Revelation, and also Isiah 11:1-5 and 49:2, out of Jesus’ mouth “comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations” (Rev. 19:15a, NIV). The second half of that verse anticipates the fulfillment of Psalm 2:9, saying, “He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron.” His divinity and absolute authority over all but the Father is affirmed with the title written on His thigh, “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:16), which comes from Deuteronomy 10:17 and Daniel 2:47.
An angel standing in or on the sun called all the birds to feast on the flesh of the horses and the warriors that come to oppose the King of kings (Rev. 19:17-18). Ezekiel 39:17-20 foretold the same thing. Although the beast, the kings of the earth, and all their armies gathered together to make war against Christ and His army, they were soundly defeated (Rev. 19:19-21). The beast from the sea and the false prophet were captured and thrown into the lake of fire (v. 20). The human soldiers “were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse,” providing an abundant feast for the carrion birds invited to this banquet (21).
Revelation Chapter 20
An angel came down from heaven and bound the dragon, Satan, with a huge chain (Rev. 20:1-2). For 1,000 years the deceiver was confined to the bottomless pit, where he was unable to “deceive the nations” and interfere with the affairs of men (v. 3). This will allow a brief respite of peace on the earth, until he is again “released for a little while” before God’s final judgment.
As the prophet had foreseen in Daniel 7:14, 21-22 & 26-27, thrones were set up, and the saints who had been martyred for Christ ruled with Him for 1,000 years, while the rest of the dead waited until after that period to live again (Rev. 20:4-5). John said those who take part in this first resurrection will be “blessed and holy,” unaffected by the second death, and will reign as priests of God and Christ (v. 6)—just as the elders anticipated in Revelation 5:10. This is the Millennial Kingdom eschatologists talk about—in which Israel is restored to peace and prosperity, nations come to Zion for judgment and sacrifice, and mankind gets to see what it is like to have a perfect government for the first time since Adam and Eve sinned.
Once the 1,000 years is over, however; mankind reverts to his sinful, rebellious self—completely disproving the idea that man is basically good. Just as soon as Satan is released from his prison, he will gather yet another army to oppose Christ (Rev. 20:7-8). Making reference to Ezekiel 38-39, John says Satan will come with “God and Magog,” with a multitude as vast as the sand of the sea to surround “the camp of the saints and the beloved city [Jerusalem]” (Rev. 20:8-9). This time, fire from God in heaven will wipe out the devil’s army, just as described in Ezekiel 38:18-39:8. The devil will at last be “cast into the lake of fire and brimstone” where his cohorts had preceded him (Rev. 20:10).
Once the devil has been dealt with, then God will be ready to judge the rest of earth and heaven. Every created thing will disappear, leaving only the dead—somehow miraculously reconstituted from the dust of the earth and the mud in the sea—to face the One enthroned on high (v. 11). Like Daniel 7:9-10, Revelation 20:12 says, “books were opened,” while all humanity stood before the Lord, “And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books” (NLT). Just as David, Jeremiah and Jesus prophesied, each person on earth will be evaluated, based upon what the Lord recorded about what they had done during their lifetimes (Rev. 20:12-13; c.f.—Psa. 62:12, Jer. 17:10 & Matt. 16:27). Daniel was told about this event, when his angelic messenger said,
“And at that time your people shall be delivered,
Every one who is found written in the book.
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake,
Some to everlasting life,
Some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Dan 12:1-2).
Death and Hades, too, were judged and cast into the lake of fire, which John explained “is the second death” (Rev. 20:13-14). Sadly, “anyone not found written in the Book of Life”—which is the record of those who have trusted Christ as their Savior (c.f.—Luke 10:2 & Rev. 3:5)—“was cast into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15). Hell is a place God never intended for humankind (Matt. 25:41), yet those who refuse Christ and choose to remain under the power of the devil will got to that place of everlasting torment with their master. First their bodies will be slain, and then their souls will die again and again in that burning pit.
Revelation Chapter 21
As the late Paul Harvey used to say, “Now wash your ears out with this…” Having laid out all the bad news of what would eventually come upon the earth and its inhabitants, the Lord reveals the good news of what is ultimately in store for those who love and serve Him. In Revelation 21:1, John was introduced to the new heaven and earth, which God will form after the old ones are wiped out. This one is different, in that the new earth will have no sea. The same thing was foretold in Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22. And like the prophet of old, John sees the New Jerusalem come down from heaven, “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2 & Isa. 61:10).
For the first time since the Lord left the temple in Jerusalem, His home will be with mankind. Better than that, a voice from heaven explains, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God” (Rev. 21:3). It won’t be just a few prophets or priests that are given occasional access to the Lord and His glory; all of us will enjoy the kind of fellowship Adam and Eve originally had in the Garden of Eden. This was God’s intention from the very beginning of the nation of Israel (Lev. 26:11-12), and the prophets of old looked forward to the time when this kind of intimacy with YHWH would be restored (Jer. 31:33, Ezek. 37:27 & Zech. 8:8).
More prophecy will be realized with the fulfillment of Revelation 21:4a—“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying” (e.g.—Isa. 25:8, 30:19, 51:11 & 60:20; Hos. 13:14). Pain will be a thing of the past, when God makes everything new (Rev. 21:4b-5a).
The One who sits on the throne declares, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” (v. 6a-b). He promises that anyone who thirsts may drink freely from “the fountain of the water of life,” and that those who overcome may inherit all things as His sons and daughters (6c-7). In contrast, those who are “cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers [drug addicts], idolaters, and all liars” will be excluded from this rich inheritance (8). As already indicated, these “shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
As had happened to one of the Old Testament prophets, John was whisked away by one of the seven angels who had poured out a bowl of God’s wrath “in the Spirit to a great high mountain” to get a better view of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:9-10; Eze. 40:2). The city was as radiant as a precious stone and as clear as crystal (Rev. 21:11). Like the Jerusalem described in Ezekiel 48:30-34, the New Jerusalem will be a high-walled city with twelve gates—one named for each tribe in Israel—with three on every side, each made from a single pearl (Rev. 21:12-13 & 21). John saw twelve foundations, named for each of the twelve apostles and adorned with precious stones (vv. 14 & 19-20). The wall was made of jasper, while the city was pure gold, as clear as glass (18). These materials from which the city was made are some of the same as what appeared on the breastplate of the high priest (c.f.—Ex. 28:15-21 & Isa. 54:11-12). Measured by an angel using a rod with human increments, as in Ezekiel 40:30, John saw the heavenly city was a perfect cube, 1,500 miles high, wide and long, with walls 72 yards thick (Rev. 21:15-17).
How gorgeous it must be! Everything is clearly designed to reflect the light and the glory of God. The New Jerusalem will have no temple, since God and the Lamb are there and accessible (v. 22). For this new heaven and earth, John saw neither sun nor moon, “because God’s glory illuminates it, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev. 21:23, HCSB)—just as prophesied in Isaiah 24:23 & 60:19-20. “[T]he nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light” and the gates of the city will constantly remain open, so “the glory and honor of all the nations” may be brought into it (Rev. 21:24-26)—again, just as foreseen in Isaiah 60:3 & 5-13. It will never get dark there, and “Nothing unclean and no one who does shameful things or tells lies will ever go into it. Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life will enter the city” (Rev. 21:27, NCV; c.f.—Isa. 52:1). For the first time ever, Jerusalem will be truly holy!
Revelation Chapter 22
In this chapter we find yet another fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy: the river of life flowing from the throne of God and Christ (Rev. 22:1). Psalm 46:4 mentions “a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God”; Zechariah 13:1 tells of a fountain that washes away the sin and uncleanness of Jerusalem, and Ezekiel 47:1-11 tells of its healing properties. As described in Ezekiel 47:12, the river in John’s vision is lined with trees of life bearing twelve fruits—a different one each month—and has leaves used “for healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:2). The curses of Genesis 3:16-19 will be done away with; instead, everyone will joyfully serve God and Christ face-to-face, with His name imprinted on their foreheads (Rev. 22:3-4)! Forever we will reign with Him in the light of His glory (v. 5).
Wrapping up this book of Revelation, the angel assured John that all he had been told was “faithful and true,” and the Lord had sent him “to show His servants the things which must shortly take place” (6). Many believers have taken that to mean he was saying this would all play out soon, yet the idea of the Greek phrase, en tachos, may be translated “in a short time,” “in haste,” quickly/shortly/speedily. Jesus used another form of this same word, when He said, “Behold, I am coming quickly!” (7a). The idea is not so much that John’s vision would be fulfilled soon after it was revealed to him, but that everything would happen in a short span of time, once it was all set in motion—kind of like the delivery of a child. Whoever keeps in mind “the words of the prophecy of this book,” Jesus added, would be blessed (7b). It’s not supposed to get us down, but to lift our spirits up.
For whatever reason, John again bowed before the angel and was corrected once more (8-9). This time the angel pointed out that he was a fellow servant with John, other prophets, and anyone who kept the words of this book. As YHWH so long ago commanded, we are not to worship men, angels or any other created thing, but God alone.
Unlike the Daniel, who was told to “seal the book” of his prophecy “until the time of the end,” John was commanded NOT to seal up the words that were given to him, since “the time is at hand” (c.f.—Dan. 12:4 & Rev. 22:10). The angel declared a curse against the unjust and filthy to remain so, while those who are righteous and holy should remain in those conditions (Rev. 22:11).
Again, Jesus said, “behold, I am coming quickly,” and added that His reward was with Him to give to everyone according to what he/she has done (v. 12). The promise of a reward at hand is reminiscent of Isaiah 40:10 and 62:11. One last time, Christ identified Himself as “the Alpha and the Omega, Beginning and End, the First and the Last” (Rev. 22:13). We are told that those who do what He says will be blessed to enter God’s city and eat from the tree of life, while “dogs” [a common Jewish epithet for homosexuals and unregenerate Gentiles], sorcerers, sexually immoral, murderers and liars will be excluded (vv. 14-15). In validation of the message, Jesus said He had sent His angel “to testify to you these things in the churches” (16a). He then identified Himself as “the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star”—a reference to both His divinity and His humanity. In Revelation 22:17, the Spirit and the Church chime in with an invitation for those who thirst to come drink freely from the water of life—which according to Jesus in John 7:37 was Him.
In closing, John printed a warning reminiscent of what Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 4:2 & 12:32, that anyone who adds to or takes away from the words of his prophecy will suffer dire consequences—the addition of plagues and the loss of eternal life (Rev. 22:18-19). He repeated Christ’s promise to come suddenly and wishes it so, and then pronounced the benediction, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” (vv. 20-21).
As the name of this book suggests, Revelation is an unfolding of characteristics and plans of Christ heretofore unknown to those who fear God. Many of the images hail back to other prophetic writings, as Jesus showed the Apostle John what is going to happen in the future.
This book is a warning to anyone who is not walking with God to trust Christ as Savior. To those who know Him, it is a reminder to keep doing what He commanded us to do. And to those who are suffering, it is an encouragement to hang in there and ‘keep on keeping on’ until He comes.
Although many in North American and English churches today have been brought up to believe that we will escape all or most of the Great Tribulation, this book actually teaches that many of this generation will go through some of the terrible testing that will come to the earth through the breaking of the seals and the trumpet judgments. We will, however, be sustained by Christ, who will remove those who trust in Him before the outpouring of the worst of God’s punishment with the bowls of wrath.
This book is meant to give us a proper fear of God, as well as a steadfast hope for the future. The things believers have to look forward to are worth our perseverance and patient waiting. The things unbelievers will face should cause them to take stock and change the course of their lives before all hell breaks loose and there is no chance to alter their destinies. Most of all, it should encourage Christians that we are on the winning side; Jesus will prevail; evil will be defeated; and the earth will be restored to the beauty and perfection God intended for everyone who fears and serves Him.
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from
the New King James Version of the Bible—© 1982, by Thomas Nelson, Inc.