1. Theme: The revelation of Jesus Christ
2. Key Verses: Revelation 1:1,2
Revelation is divided into sections of verses. Each section in the outline is labeled to relate to the different things which Jesus has revealed in this book about Himself and His work in history.
I. Introduction * Chapter 1:1-9
A. Purpose of the book: to reveal to God's people things which must shortly come to pass (Rev. 1:1-3)
B. Message of the book: blessings of heaven for the believers and warnings of judgment for the disobedient (Rev. 1:4-9)
II. Jesus Christ is Revealed * Chapters 1:10 - 4:11
A. Jesus' authority in the midst of the churches (Rev. 1:10-20)
B. Jesus' message to the churches (Rev. 2:1 - 3:22)
1. To Ephesus: commendation, warning, blessing (Rev. 2:1-7)
2. To Smyrna: commendation, warning, blessing (Rev. 2:8-11)
3. To Pergamos: commendation, warning, blessing (Rev. 2:12-17)
4. To Thyatira: commendation, warning, blessing (Rev. 2:18-29)
5. To Sardis: warning, blessing (Rev. 3:1-6)
6. To Philadelphia: commendation, warning, blessing (Rev. 3:7-13)
7. To Laodicea: warning, blessing (Rev. 3:14-22)
C. Jesus' glory, authority and power is displayed (Rev. 4:1-11)
III. The Seven Seals: God's Plan in History * Chapters 5, 6
A. Preparation for opening the seven seals (fulfilling God's plan) (Rev. 5)
1. No man can open the seals (Rev. 5:1-4)
2. Jesus Christ can open the seals (Rev. 5:5-7)
3. Jesus Christ is praised (Rev. 5:8-14)
B. The first seal is opened: the gospel goes into the world and accomplishes its purpose (Rev. 6:1,2)
C. The second seal is opened: persecution follows and silences the gospel (Rev. 6:3,4)
D. The third seal is opened: there will be spiritual famine for all except the believers (Rev. 6:5,6)
E. The fourth seal is opened: the believers bring a message of judgment to the whole world (Rev. 6:7,8)
F. The fifth seal is opened: believers are protected by Christ, but they must be patient until the final tribulation is complete (Rev. 6:9-11)
G. The sixth seal is opened: final judgment comes upon the whole world (Rev. 6:12-17)
IV. The Prelude to the Seventh Seal * Chapter 7
A. The believers are protected from judgment (Rev. 7:1-3)
B. The believers are all accounted for (Rev. 7:4-8)
C. The believers glorify their Lord (Rev. 7:9-12)
D. The believers are identified (Rev. 7:13-17)
V. The Seventh Seal is Opened: The Six Trumpets Announce the Final Tribulation Which Prepares the World for Final Judgment * Chapters 8, 9
A. Preparation for sounding the seven trumpets (Rev. 8:1-6)
1. The nature of the tribulation: no word of grace (Rev. 8:1)
2. The agents of the tribulation: the believers who are given the trumpets of judgment (Rev. 8:2)
3. The motivation of the tribulation: the prayers of God and the believers (Rev. 8:3-6)
B. The first trumpet sounds: the gospel is silenced (Rev. 8:7)
C. The second trumpet sounds: the organized churches are polluted with sin and false gospels and have no spiritual life at all (Rev. 8:8,9)
D. The third trumpet sounds: The gospel condemns the unbelieving members of the organized churches (Rev. 8:10,11)
E. The fourth trumpet sounds: The organized churches no longer bring the hope of salvation (Rev. 8:12)
F. The final tribulation is certain and terrible (Rev. 8:13)
G. The fifth trumpet sounds: the first woe prepares the whole world for judgment through false prophets who keep men in their sin (Rev. 9:1-12)
1. Satan is allowed to darken the world through false prophets and the world becomes more sinful in thought and in deed (Rev. 9:1-3)
2. The believers are protected from false prophets (Rev. 9:4)
3. The whole world follows false prophets and is without hope (Rev. 9:5, 6)
4. The false prophets are deceivers who appear to be loyal to Jesus Christ but whose king is Satan (Rev. 9:7-12)
H. The sixth trumpet sounds: the second woe prepares the whole world for judgment, through false prophets who silence the church (Rev. 9:13-21)
1. Satan is loosed at a precise time to massively assault and destroy the church (Rev. 9:13-16)
2. The assault is through deceitful false prophets. The church will be full of wickedness, worshiping Satan. The world is not given the true Gospel (Rev. 9:17-21)
VI. The Prelude to the Seventh Trumpet * Chapters 10:1 - 11:14
A. God decrees an end of the Gospel of salvation (Rev. 10:1-7)
B. Believers bring God's Word during the tribulation, a message of joy for themselves but a message of bitter judgment for the world (Rev. 10:8-11)
C. God's Word separates believers from unbelievers and judges all who will not believe (Rev. 11:1-6)
D. During the tribulation period the witness of the true gospel will be killed. The churches will drive out and condemn the true witnesses and will rejoice in its own gospel (Rev. 11:7-10)
E. At the end, true believers go to be with God and the apostate church is judged (Rev. 11:11-14)
VII. The Seventh Trumpet Sounds: The Third Woe Is the Judgment of the Whole World Which Completes God's Perfect Plan * Chapter 11:15-19
VIII. The Conflict Between the Kingdom of Jesus and the Kingdom of Satan * Chapters 12-14
A. The conflict in history (Rev. 12:1 - 13:5)
1. The church has God's authority and brings forth Christ into the world (Rev. 12:1, 2)
2. Satan persecutes the church and Jesus Christ (Rev. 12:3, 4)
3. Jesus Christ rules and cares for His church in the world (Rev. 12:5, 6)
4. Jesus Christ and His people defeat Satan through the cross (Rev. 12:7-12a)
5. Satan persecutes all men, but the believers are given the truth (Rev. 12:12b-14)
6. Satan persecutes through false gospels, but it will not go on forever (Rev. 12:15, 16)
7. Satan persecutes believers throughout time (Rev. 12:17)
8. Satan rules during the New Testament time over all the unsaved who worship him (Rev. 13:1-5)
B. The conflict during the tribulation (Rev. 13:6-18)
1. Satan works through false gospels to silence the true believers during the final tribulation (Rev. 13:6-10)
2. False prophets look and sound like they bring the true gospel (Rev. 13:11-13)
3. False prophets deceive the unbelievers in the church, causing them to worship Satan and do his work (Rev. 13:14-18)
C. The victory of the Lord Jesus Christ and His people (Rev. 14)
1. The redeemed are faithful and proclaim God's glorious gospel (Rev. 14:1-5)
2. Jesus completes His gospel (Rev. 14:6-20)
a. Judgment comes upon Satan and all unbelievers (Rev. 14:6-11)
b. The redeemed receive blessings instead of judgment (Rev. 14:12, 13)
c. Jesus Christ is the Judge (Rev. 14:14)
d. The earth is ripe for judgment and has no strength to withstand it (Rev. 14:15-20)
IX. The Seven Plagues or Vials: God's Wrath upon the Earth * Chapters 15-16
A. The prelude to the pouring out of the seven vials (Rev. 15:1 - 16:1)
1. Believers glorify their Lord for their salvation and His mighty authority (Rev. 15:1-4)
2. Believers are given the vials of wrath which bring God's judgment upon the unsaved (Rev. 15:5 - 16:1)
B. The first vial: unsaved men suffer the consequences of their sin (Rev. 16:2)
C. The second vial: all unsaved men remain spiritually dead (Rev. 16:3)
D. The third vial: the gospel now only brings judgment (Rev. 16:4-7)
E. The fourth vial: the unsaved receive no protection or relief from judgment, and blame God for their misery (Rev. 16:8, 9)
F. The fifth vial: the world is in great spiritual darkness, and there is no longer a hope of salvation (Rev. 16:10, 11)
G. The sixth vial: believers participate in the judgment of the churches and the world, which are full of false gospels (Rev. 16:12-16)
H. The seventh vial: the final judgment comes at the end of time at which time the universe is removed and the kingdom of Satan is cast into hell (Rev. 16:17-21)
X. The Kingdom of Satan is Judged * Chapters 17-18
A. The kingdom of Satan fills its cup of iniquity (Rev. 17)
1. The kingdom of Satan rules all over the world (Rev. 17:1-2)
2. The kingdom of Satan appears beautiful but is full of evil and opposes the believers (Rev. 17:3-6)
3. Satan rules over all unsaved men and earthly kingdoms throughout time, and will assault Christ and his people fiercely at the end of time (Rev. 17:7-18)
B. The kingdom of Satan is fallen (Rev. 18)
1. The kingdom of Satan and all unbelievers are judged (Rev. 18:1-3)
2. Saved men turn away from the kingdom of Satan and the things of the world. They participate in judgment as judges (Rev. 18:4-8)
3. Unsaved men do not repent but lament the destruction of the physical creation and the kingdom of Satan on Judgment Day (Rev. 18:9-19)
4. Saved men rejoice over God's justice (Rev. 18:20)
5. The kingdom of Satan is removed far from believers (Rev. 18:21-24)
XI. Jesus Christ is the Judge * Chapter 19
A. Jesus Christ is praised (Rev. 19:1-6)
B. Jesus Christ's people are blessed (Rev. 19:7-10)
C. Jesus Christ and His people judge Satan and his host (Rev. 19:11-16)
D. Satan and all his host are cast into Hell (Rev. 19:17-21)
XII. Jesus Christ is Sovereign * Chapter 20
A. Satan's power to deceive the nations is limited during the time the gospel goes into the world (Rev. 20:1-3)
B. The believers serve God whether they live or die, while unbelievers await the general resurrection (Rev. 20:4-6)
C. God allows Satan to deceive the nations and persecute the believers during the tribulation (Rev. 20:7-9a)
D. God judges Satan and his kingdom and casts them into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:9b-15)
XIII. The Glory of Jesus Christ and His Church in the New Heaven and Earth * Chapter 21-22:5
A. The blessings of the redeemed (Rev. 21:1-7)
B. The curses of the wicked (Rev. 21:8)
C. The church in heaven (Rev. 21:9 - 22:5)
1. It reflects God's glory (Rev. 21:9-11)
2. It's inhabitants (Rev. 21:12-21)
3. It is the dwelling place of the Lamb (Rev. 21:22-24)
4. It's security (Rev. 21:25-27)
D. The glory of God (Rev. 22:1-5)
XIV. Jesus Christ's Final Words * Chapter 22:6-21
A. Command to obedience (Rev. 22:6-9)
B. Believers obey, unbelievers do not (Rev. 22:10-15)
C. The Lord Jesus Christ authenticates and defines His truth (Rev. 22:16-19)
D. Farewell (Rev. 22:20, 21)
4. General Comments
Revelation does not explicitly identify the writer John with any other man named John in the Bible. As we did with I, II and III John, we shall assume he is the apostle, based upon similarities in content and style with the gospel of John.
The book of Revelation has intrigued people for centuries. Often students of Revelation have been enchanted by the possible connection between the details of Revelation and specific physical events of the world in which they live. Unfortunately, people's fascination and attraction to Revelation has not usually been tempered by a respect for proper Bible study methods. Too often, misguided curiosity has resulted in an amazing variety of bizarre interpretations of Revelation, all which contradict what is taught in the rest of the Bible. One wrong approach to Revelation is so common that we ought to say a few things about it.
There is a method of Bible study that can be expressed in the following way, "I interpret all things literally." This approach misapplies the word "literal." The word "literal" does not have any thing to do with interpretation. It describes how we view the Biblical data, not the conclusions we draw from our observations. It is not possible to interpret a passage literally. Anybody who takes the Bible seriously reads the Bible literally. That is, they believe the words in the Bible are exactly the ones that God gave to His prophets, and trust that the Bible is correct and accurate about the people, places and events of which it speaks.
The method of Bible study presented above can also be expressed in the following way. "Every verse should be understood in a plain common sense way. Any other meaning is a distortion of the verse." The problem with this principle as a foundation for Bible study is that we cannot trust our common sense. It is shaped by our personal limited experience and is corrupted by sin.
We can express the above method of Bible study in one more way as, "I take all things in a straight forward physical sense," or as, "I interpret things physically unless proven otherwise." That is, in general, people who hold this view of Bible study resist any attempt to attach a spiritual dimension to verses in the Bible. Therefore, the question often comes down to whether the literal information in the Bible conveys a spiritual or a physical idea.
We must never be trapped by the kind of Bible study which was presented above. It is particularly dangerous with a book as difficult to understand as Revelation. For one thing, it is written in cryptic language. Only through correct and careful study will we be able to assign the correct meaning to the different words and phrases. Secondly, the chapters form a complex interrelated structure. Sometimes ideas in one part of Revelation are repeated in another part, but in a different form and with a different emphasis. Sometimes parts of Revelation introduce and complete other parts, mixing and blending ideas without a clear separation between them. Thirdly, Revelation includes dramatic portrayals of the conflict between the forces of good and evil, as well as sweeping descriptions of history, past, present and future. These are things which are not part of a person's ordinary experience. Therefore, we are certain to go astray in our understanding of Revelation if we do not study it correctly.
Faced with the task of surveying a part of the Bible that is difficult to understand, and consequently is often misunderstood and abused, we must approach it humbly and patiently. We must recognize that God is the author, in control of not only its contents and the form in which it is written, but also in control of who will be able to understand it. There is only one way to be sure we are thinking right about what we read in Revelation. Ask God for His help. He is the only source of the wisdom and insight we need. We must be willing to be guided by Him as we think about Revelation, no matter where it may lead us.
God gives the Holy Spirit to equip His people to receive His wisdom. He makes them spiritually alive. Therefore, they are able to receive what He has to say. God gives His people the principles they will need to interpret His words and the willingness to apply them to what they read in the Bible. Essentially, God commands His people to return to Him and ask Him whenever they need to understand the Bible. That is, He teaches them to compare the words and phrases in one part of Revelation with what He has said about the same words and phrases in another part of Revelation, or in other parts of the Bible. The most honest and fruitful method of Bible study is to compare the details in Revelation with the rest of Bible. Only the Bible's use of specific words and phrases will help us decide what they mean. This is the method that we shall use as we analyze this book, just as we did in our analysis of all previous books of the New Testament.
Before we look at the details of Revelation, it is important and helpful to try to get the big picture. In that way we will avoid interpretations that differ and conflict with the general intent of Revelation. Additionally, we can use the larger perspective of Revelation to help us understand the details when we study them later on.
First of all, let us list the main personalities in Revelation. Most prominent among them all is the Lord Jesus Christ, Creator (Rev. 4:11), Savior (Rev. 5:8,9) and Judge (Rev. 6:16). Revelation also features God's corporate church, inhabited by believers and those who pretend to be believers (Rev. 2:9), as well as God's true church of only the redeemed (Rev. 7:4). Finally, in Revelation we see Satan and all of his host (Rev. 12:3,9). One challenge in our study of Revelation is to recognize these different personalities as they appear in the different chapters. The problem is that they are not always described in the same way. Nevertheless, we must seek to sort out the different personalities in order to be sure that we properly understand the actions ascribed to them.
Next, we must understand the events Revelation describes. Although the descriptions of the events require effort to understand, none of them are exotic or unique to the book of Revelation. The difficulty in understanding the events correctly is that they are interrelated and described throughout Revelation from several different perspectives. Our job is to recognize the different events as they appear and understand how they relate to each other.
We can summarize the drama of Revelation in the following way. Revelation tells the story of how Jesus prepared and fulfilled the gospel of salvation. Revelation describes how He sent the gospel out into the world by means of His messengers. Revelation describes the world's hateful reaction to both the gospel, and the faithful messengers who declare it. Revelation explains that the world is motivated and aided in its hatred by Satan, whose real target is not the believers but Christ Himself. Revelation explains that the attack upon the believers is in the form of persecution and apostasy, all which is meant to silence their faithful witness. Revelation describes how Jesus and His messengers achieve ultimate victory over Satan and all of his host. Finally, Revelation describes how God's people receive the fulfillment of the promise of God, which is eternal life in God's perfect universe, unmolested by those who hate them and unfettered by the sins that had so easily beset them.
Revelation highlights Jesus Christ, the conqueror and King, the great victor (Rev. 1:18, 2:8, 5:9-14, 6:2, 11:15, 12:5, 14:6-19, 15:2-7, 19:11-16, 20:4, 22:3). In a way, the whole book of Revelation is a description and an explanation of Revelation 17:14. This book truly is a revelation of the mighty God, Jesus Christ, declaring who He is and describing what He does in His universe, always successful despite all the opposition that comes against Him and His people.
Revelation also brings a message of comfort to God's people amid the persecution they endure for their faithfulness (Rev. 1:9, 2:10, 6:9,10, 7:14-16, 11:1-12, 12:14-16, 16:6, 17:6, 19:2, 20:4, 21:1 - 22:5). Revelation declares that their tears are recognized (Rev. 7:17, 21:4) and their prayers are heard (Rev. 8:3,4). Revelation reminds them of their present and future reign as they conquer sin in themselves and in others through the power of God's word (Rev. 1:6, 5:10, 20:4, 22:5). Revelation reminds them of their final victory over sin and their enemies (Rev. 5:9, 7:9, 15:2). Revelation reminds them of their future glory (Rev. 14:13, 21:1-3).
Along with the glories of Jesus and His people, and the beauty of their eventual communion in eternity, Revelation also describes the demise of all that is wicked in this sin cursed world. Judgment is one theme which dominates the book of Revelation, and to a certain extent determines how it is put together. Let us briefly see how this is so.
1. Revelation 1:1-20 introduces us to the eternal Judge, who He is, what He has done and what He will do.
2. In Revelation 2:1- 3:22, we are reminded that judgment begins at the house of God, the church.
3. The glory of the Judge's wisdom, power and authority are described in Revelation 4.
4. Revelation 5:1 through 6:17 take us on a journey through history from Pentecost to Judgment Day. In this section are described the seals of God. The seals emphasize that the fulfillment of God's will is certain, including His decree of judgment. Jesus, who created the universe and saved His people, will also judge the rest of the world at the end of time.
5. Revelation 7:1 through 11:19 also describes an historical period. In this case it begins at the time of the tribulation and ends again at Judgment Day. These verses describe the trumpets of God. They warn about the coming judgment, not necessarily to encourage men to flee from the wrath to come, but to declare that since men hated the gospel and did not seek its refuge they must prepare to meet their God. Judgment is imminent and sure in this passage.
6. Revelation 12:1 through 14:20 highlights the background to the historical conflict between Jesus and Satan, which will conclude in judgment. In these verses believers are reminded of the spiritual source and nature of the persecution which they suffer.
7. Revelation 15:1 through 16:21 focuses primarily upon Judgment Day. In this section are described the vials, or bowls, full of the wrath of God. In this section the readers are reminded about the true spiritual situation of believers and unbelievers, that unbelievers will endure the wrath to come and that believers will participate with Jesus in that judgment.
8. Revelation chapters 17 and 18 further describe the judgment of Satan and his host, while Revelation chapter 19 describes the glories of the victorious Judge.
9. Revelation 20 is another look at history from the cross to Judgment Day, emphasizing that the Judge is sovereign and in total control of all persons and events. After the cross, the outcome of the struggle between good and evil is never in doubt. Jesus is the champion of His people and the victor over Satan and his host.
10. Revelation 21:1 through 22:6 describe the wonder and beauty of the perfect fellowship between Jesus and His people which follows Judgment Day.
11. The final words of Jesus the Judge are found in Revelation 22:6 through 22:21. They are words of warning to all who read this book, "Be sure that you are saved because judgment is coming."
Above all, Revelation reveals the majesty and glory of God. Although Revelation is a message which Jesus brings from God to His people (Rev. 1:1, 22:6,7), the message is about Himself, who He is and what He has done to preserve His own honor and justice (Rev. 5:13), as well as save, protect and glorify His people (Rev. 5:9, 7:3, 19:8, 21:11).
As we have in our survey of the other New Testament books, we shall analyze only selected verses of Revelation. However, because Revelation is complex, and because an explanation of only some of the details might still leave a student puzzling over the meaning of a passage as a whole, we shall offer a brief discussion or summary of the content and the logic of the larger sections of Revelation. Therefore, we have arranged the observations on specific verses differently than we have for the other New Testament books.
5. Observations on Specific Verses
Revelation 1:1-3 declares that God wants to educate His servants about things which will soon come to pass. He does this because He loves them. He wants to encourage them during the hard times they will face so that they will remain faithful until the end.
Verse 1 states that Revelation is a message "which God gave to him (Jesus) to show unto His servants." This does not mean that God is different than Jesus. We must understand the phrase in the sense of John 5:19 and 12:49, in which we read that Jesus is in full agreement with what the Father wants to reveal, because it is His will too. Therefore, Revelation 1:1 means that Jesus brings the message of God because He is in full agreement with it, in as much as He is also God. In a way, the words "God" and "Jesus" are repetitious. This emphasizes that what will be revealed is of great importance.
The words "he (God) sent and signified (showed precisely, as in Acts 25:27) it by his angel (Jesus) unto his servant John" say the same thing as the first phrase. The fact that the verse contains a duplicated statement is important. It shows that the message of Revelation is certain (Gen. 41:32, II Cor. 13:1), or in the words of this verse, it "must" come to pass.
It might surprise some students that we identify the word "angel" with Jesus, especially if we are accustomed to think of angels as spiritual beings in the sense of Hebrews 1:14. However, the word "angel" really means "messenger" and can refer to any kind of messenger, including human beings, as in James 2:25. The word "angel" is used 76 times in Revelation and does not always refer to the same person. Whenever we encounter the word "angel," we must consider the immediate and extended context to discover who is in view. In Revelation 1:1-3, the focus of the word "angel" is upon Jesus. He is God, who originated the message and first brought it to men.
The words "shortly come to pass" mean that the message of Revelation has a contemporary application, not only to John's day, but also to the time in which all New Testament believers live. At one time there were things that had to be sealed up because they were for the "latter days," for "the time of the end" (Dan. 8:26, 10:14, 12:4,9). Now the things must be written for it is time (Rev. 1:19, 22:10).
Revelation concerns events which take place after Jesus went to the cross, or more significantly, events which result from the fact that He went to the cross. As we read in Revelation 1:3, the time for the message "is at hand." According to Matthew 3:2 and Mark 1:15, the phase "at hand" means the message was already a reality at the time that John the apostle received it from Jesus. The message of Revelation is for the New Testament churches (Rev. 1:19,20), concerning their trials, tribulations and glory.
The phrase "shortly come to pass" conveys a sense of urgency. One thing that will certainly come to pass is Judgment Day. One of the major themes of the book of Revelation is that it is coming soon. In other words, the message of Revelation is not given for entertainment. There is much at stake and no time to waste (Rev. 22:10-19).
This passage describes Jesus Christ's concern for His church. He is competent to save, to guide and to judge His church. He is the authoritative sovereign Lord over His church, actively scrutinizing and purifying His church.
We read in Revelation 1:6 the words "hath made (past action with present effect) us kings." This does not refer to some future age. It applies to all believers of all generations. Christians reign the moment that they are saved (Eph 2:6, Rev. 5:10). For one thing, they are part of a royal family (I Peter 2:9). For another thing, they walk in the world representing Jesus their King as they bring His royal law, the gospel (II Cor. 5:20, James 2:8), and wield His royal authority as the gospel they bring does its work of either saving or condemning (Matt. 16:19, II Cor. 2:14-16). Not only that, they reign over their sinful bodies while they live on the earth as they wait for the completion of their redemption at the last day (Rom. 5:7, 6:12).
The words "he cometh with clouds" in Revelation 1:7 mean that Jesus comes for final judgment (Rev. 14:14). Jesus does not come again to usher in a new era of grace on this sin cursed earth. When Jesus returns, He will no longer offer hope for sinners (Heb. 9:27,28). Besides, when He comes back this earth will be no more (Rev. 20:11).
In the phrase "they also which pierced him (Jesus)," the word "they" refers to believers. The word "pierced" can be understood as a fatal wound one person receives in order to prevent judgment upon others (Num. 25:7,8). It was for the believers' sins alone that Jesus was gravely hurt (Isaiah 53:5). Jesus endured the wrath of God so they would not be judged (Rom. 8:3, II Cor. 5:21, Gal. 3:13, I Peter 2:24). In this sense "they pierced Him."
The rest of verse 7 refers to unbelievers, people who are headed for destruction without the benefit of an atonement for sin. These people will "wail" when they see the Judge come (Matt. 24:30, "shall ... mourn"), and when they see the destruction of the sinful world that they hold so dear (Rev. 18:9, "lament").
One message of Revelation is that Jesus is coming soon. For some it will be a time of joy and wonder (Rev. 5:9,10). For others it will be a time of terror (Rev. 6:16,17).
The words "in the Spirit" in Revelation 1:10 mean more than the fact that John was a believer in the sense of Romans 8:9. They mean that John was standing where God stands. The words "on the Lord's day" do not refer to our day of worship, but to Judgment Day, the day the trumpet is heard (Matt. 24:31, I Cor. 15:52, I Thess. 4:16). The idea of verse 10 is that John is going to give us a message that is a look at history from God' unique perspective. John will see things from the perspective of the end of time, that is, as if he were looking back upon history which has already taken place.
According to Revelation 1:13, Jesus begins His revelation to His servants while He is "in the midst of the seven candlesticks," that is, "in the midst of all the churches throughout time" (Rev. 1:20). Jesus is among the churches because He is first of all concerned for each individual believer. He is with them to comfort them when they are persecuted, to chastise them when sin besets them, and to guide them into a more faithful walk with Himself.
Jesus is also among the churches because He is concerned for each congregation as a whole, that is, each local corporate congregation which identifies itself with the true gospel. Jesus corrects those members of each local church who are truly saved, and condemns those who only outwardly pretend to be His followers, but who, by their unfaithfulness, distort the gospel. In fact, Jesus will remove the gospel from any local corporate church which is overrun by members who abandon a faithful witness and embrace the world.
Each local corporate church is important to Jesus. Each church is a steward of the gospel and is commissioned to bring the message of the gospel, a message of wrath and grace. The witness of each church is important, both the witness of individual believers and witness of the congregation as a whole. Therefore the message of encouragement, instruction and judgment goes to the churches first.
History is not the record of the events of the powerful and dominant nations of the world. Rather it is the story of how God deals with His churches in Jesus Christ. After His churches' work is done, after all whom God has chosen to salvation have been gathered into the Kingdom through their witness, the end will come (Matt. 24:14, Rev. 7:3).
Let us briefly explain some of the attributes of Jesus listed in Revelation 1:13-16. His garment covers His foot (Rev. 1:13), which means that He is not naked (Isa. 20:3,4). The idea is that Jesus is no longer exposed to the judgment of God. He has a girdle of gold (Rev. 1:13), which means that He is encircled with righteousness (Isa. 11:5). His head and hair are white (Rev. 1:14). This refers to His purity and holiness (Isa. 1:18). His eyes are like fire (Rev. 1:14), meaning He sees as a Judge (Jer. 5:14, 23:29). His feet are burned in a furnace (Rev. 1:16), meaning He passed through hell (Matt. 13:42,50). All these descriptions reveal Jesus as the Savior and the Judge. That is what He is to the churches.
In Revelation 1:20, the word "mystery" refers to the gospel (I Tim. 3:16), which Jesus brings to all the nations of the world (Eph. 3:3-6). The mystery is the program of salvation which is complete at Judgment Day (Rev. 10:7).
The word "angels," here as well as throughout chapters 2 and 3, refers to believers. This conclusion is based upon the identity Revelation 1:20 makes between the word "angel" and the word "star." From Genesis 22:17 and Daniel 12:3, we see that believers are called stars. Jesus is also called a star (Rev. 22:16), and it is in His image that believers are made (Rom. 8:29).
The word "angel" is singular in chapters 2 and 3, probably because it refers to the leaders of these particular churches. However, the angel is representative of all the members of the church. After all, the revelation which John wrote is the word of God and is meant for all believers. Therefore, all believers are the angels or messengers of God, to whom He reveals His plans.
All together, the different characteristics of the seven churches form a composite that represents all churches of all times. What is said to these churches is a message meant for all churches throughout the whole New Testament age. Although there were seven historical churches for which this letter was intended, and each church had its own strengths and weaknesses, we can think of the message in chapters 2 and 3 as really one message, repeated seven times, each time with a different emphasis. Any church that has ever existed can take counsel from what is written to all seven of the churches in Revelation 2 and 3.
Sometimes God commands, corrects and condemns churches by stating principles. For example, that is how much of the messages are structured as God speaks through the apostle Paul. At other times, God speaks by means of examples, as He does in Revelation 2 and 3 (Rom. 15:4, I Cor. 10:11). This second way emphasizes that the message is not a philosophical theory, but a statement of reality. It is a message which must be reckoned with, for the blessings and cursing will soon come to pass.
One phrase common to all seven churches is "he that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches" (e.g. Rev. 2:7,9). This phrase does not mean that some people have a natural inborn ability to hear, or that some people make an extra effort to hear while others do not. All people are deaf to the Spirit, to what God says by His Spirit. A man can read or hear the word of God, but in himself he cannot hear its spiritual meaning, that is, understand its intent. God must give a man the ability to hear spiritual truth. God promises that men will hear (Isa 29:18, 50:5). However, it is a promise of the gospel which is fulfilled only in the lives of those who are saved (Matt. 13:11,16).
Another phrase common to all seven churches is "to him that overcometh" (e.g. Rev. 2:7,9). This phrase does not mean that by grim determination, skill or personal wisdom a man can succeed in both subduing sin in his life and conquering his enemies. The Bible teaches that only Christ gains the victory for His people (John 16:33, I Cor. 15:57). Therefore, only someone who is saved will overcome (I John 5:4, Rev. 12:11).
These two phrases are identical appeals. The point of both phrases can be expressed as, "check if you are saved" (II Cor. 13:5).
According to Revelation 2:9, Jesus' churches must endure the contradiction and interference of "them which say they are Jews (true believers, Rom. 2:28,29), and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan." This pretense is called "blasphemy." In the Kingdom of God, among the wheat grow the tares (Matt. 13:37-43). Therefore, the greatest danger to the believers, the greatest attack upon the gospel is from deceivers within a church. This idea is a big part of the message of Revelation.
The word "tried" in Revelation 2:10 as well as the words "try" and "temptation" in Revelation 3:10, are translations of similar Greek words. The words mean to try in order to determine guilt or innocence. Since men are always guilty, the words really mean to judge for condemnation.
The word "tribulation" in Revelation 2:10 is not a translation from the same Greek word translated "try." The word "tribulation" does not refer to judgment but means affliction or persecution instead.
The phrase "the devil ... that ye may be tried" (Rev. 2:10) means that for some people the attacks of the devil turns out to be their judgment, in the sense of I Corinthians 5:5. The logic of the phrase goes something like this. When the devil attacks people outwardly, the destruction of their flesh causes some of them to come to their spiritual senses and cry out to God for salvation. If, then, they become saved, it means that they were God's elect and have been tried for their sins in Christ, when He went to the cross. The message of the phrase is that God sometimes allows persecution for the eventual salvation of His people.
The phrase "hour of temptation" (Rev. 3:10) refers to the trial of Judgment Day (Rev. 3:3, 14:7). This is the judgment which is directed to unbelievers at the end of time. It is the hour which comes "to try them that dwell upon the earth," and is not directed toward Christians. In fact it is a judgment which believers will help administer (I Cor. 6:2, Rev. 2:27, 20:4).
When we compare the word "manna" in Revelation 2:17 with John 6:49-58, we conclude that it refers to Jesus Himself, the real life giving bread sent from heaven. The words "white stone" also refer to Jesus who is called the Rock or the chief corner stone (I Cor. 10:4, I Peter 2:6), pure as snow (Rev. 1:14).
The words "a new name written" do not refer to the names people use as labels that identify their parentage and that distinguish them from each other. Instead, Jesus' name refers to all that He is, that is, His nature. According to Revelation 19:16, two of Jesus' names are "King of Kings and Lord of Lords." The focus is not upon these specific names, but upon the fact that Jesus is God Almighty and Ruler above all other authorities. The word "new" is equivalent to the word "fulfilled" (Heb. 8:8-10). The name is called new because Jesus is revealed as the one who has fulfilled the gospel promise. In a similar way, the word "new" is used in the phrase "the new song" (Rev. 5:9) to describe the song of praise and joy of those who have been redeemed in fulfillment of God's promise.
The words "which no man knoweth" mean that no man has the innate ability to know who God is. More than that, no man's perspective is free from the distorting and dimming effects of sin. As Revelation 2:17 puts it, only "he that receiveth it (by grace)" can know God (John 1:12, 3:27), which according to John 17:3 means only a man who is saved knows the name.
Revelation 3:12 does not mean people who are saved have been carved with an insignia. It means that they belong to God, and bear His mark of ownership, the mark being how they think and behave. Also, they have the name of the city of God, meaning that they show by their faithfulness they belong to the Kingdom of God, that they are citizens of a heavenly Jerusalem.
By comparing Revelation 2:27 with Psalm 2:8,9 and Revelation 19:15, we see that ruling with a rod of iron means to bring a message not of grace, but of judgment. It is what the Judge of the universe will do to all unbelievers. Jesus is the owner of all things because He made all things (Isa. 64:8, Rev. 4:11). Therefore, as a potter who made the pot can also break the pot, so Jesus can destroy those who are marred by sin (Jer. 18:1-10). Jesus judges by means of the two-edged sword that goes out of His mouth (Rev. 1:16), which is His word (John 12:48, Heb. 4:12).
It is easy to see that Jesus will Judge. However, according to Revelation 2:27, it is what believers will do too, as we read "he shall rule ... even as I received of my Father" (compare John 5:22-24,30). Believers judge in the sense that they proclaim God's word which seals unbelievers in their sin, exposing their rebellions and preparing them for the final judgment to come (II Cor. 2:14-16). Believers will also participate in the judgment at the last day (Dan. 7:22, I Cor. 6:2,3).
After, reading the words in Revelation 3:5, "He that overcometh ... I will not blot out his name out of the book of life," we might be inclined to conclude that he who does not overcome will be blotted out. This seems to imply that it might be possible for a person to be saved and then somehow lose his salvation. However, we have clearly shown in previous parts of this survey course that a person's salvation is absolutely secure. Therefore, this phrase must be understood differently.
There is a book that lists those who are saved (Phil. 4:3). It is the book in which only the elect are written from the foundation of the world (Rev. 17:8), the Lamb's book of life (Rev. 21:27). In contrast, the book mentioned in Revelation 3:5 is the book in which the whole human race was listed from creation. In Adam all men had life. When sin came in, all men died. Anyone who does not become saved will also experience the second death, eternal damnation. The Bible calls this being blotted out of the book of the living, that is, not being included in the list of the righteous (Exodus 32:33, Psalm 69:28).
Some artist has used Revelation 3:20 as the inspiration for a painting, in which a man is standing outside of a house knocking on the door and leaning toward the door, listening for an answer from within. That painting matches the mental picture most people have of this verse. Unfortunately the implication most people make from this image, and the doctrine many people teach based upon it, is that Jesus is standing outside of a man's heart knocking and hoping that the person would possibly open his heart and let Him come into his life. How poignant and plaintive! How wrong and insulting to God!
If we modify the picture to conform to what the Bible teaches, then we must imagine a door that has no handle on the inside. This portrays the fact that no one can open the door because they are dead in sin. We must recognize that God alone opens doors (Acts 14:27, II Cor. 2:12, Col. 4:3). God takes the initiative and does all that is necessary to restore fellowship with men. Incidentally, He enters in, not only to the life of a man, but into his house. When a man becomes saved, he brings Jesus wherever he goes, including to the house (inhabitants) in which he lives (Acts 16:15, 31).
We should add the fact that, even if the door had a handle, no one would want to open the door because all men are enemies of Jesus. More than that, they are afraid of Jesus because he is the Judge coming to call upon sinners (James 5:9). Who wants to open that door? A person only wants to open it when he has been saved and has nothing to fear and when his heart has first been changed, causing him to desire to fellowship with Jesus his Savior. If we want to use the image of a man opening the door, then according to the Bible, a person only can open the door when God gives him the ability to open it, just like a person has ears to hear only when God gives the ability to hear spiritually. God must make a man able to hear the knocking and able to open the door.
This chapter reveals that Jesus' authority extends far beyond the church. He is the majestic, glorious and sovereign Creator who is Lord over all things, fundamentally because He created all things. He is always in control of all the awe-inspiring and sometimes frightening "things which must be hereafter" (Rev. 4:1). As He said to John, "Fear not, I am the first and the last ... and have the keys of hell and death (Rev. 1:17,18) ... to him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne" (Rev. 3:21). The joy of this chapter is that we see Him receive the honor and worship that He deserves from all of His people.
Many Bible teachers say that the words "come up hither" in Revelation 4:1 refer to the rapture. That idea together with the fact that the word "church" is no longer used after chapter 3, except in Revelation 22:16, has convinced them that the events described from chapter 4 on occur after the rapture of the church. This false notion has led to conclusions which are wrong, and which have been obstructive to an accurate understanding of not only Revelation, but also of many other passages of Scripture. One of these un-biblical conclusions is that the church, that is, true believers, will not experience the tribulation. Another one is that the focus from chapter 4 on is upon national Israel instead of the church. We must set aside these notions, for they contradict what we read in the rest of the Bible.
First of all, the Bible clearly teaches that believers will be on the earth during the tribulation (Matt. 24:21,22). Secondly, the Greek word for "come up" is also used in Revelation 13:11 in connection with the beast that John sees "coming up" out of the earth. These facts conflict with the notion that the words "come up" must be a reference to the rapture of believers. Thirdly, the idea that, as some people teach, the church is not in view after chapter 4 because the word "church" is omitted after that point, is wrong. After all, the word "church" is not used in Mark, Luke, John, Titus, I or II Peter. Certainly we cannot deny those books have a message about and for the church.
The "four and twenty elders," of whom we read in Revelation 4:4,10, refer to all believers throughout time, being an assembly of all Old Testament and New Testament believers, built upon the 12 tribes and the 12 apostles. They are clothed in white, which is the righteousness of the saints (Rev. 19:8). And they have on their heads crowns of gold, which shows them to be kings (Rev. 1:6).
The word "beasts" found in Revelation 4:6,7 could also be translated "living creatures." The word "beast" was probably chosen by the translators because of the descriptions in verse 7. However, the words "living creatures" better prepares us to accept the Bible's explanation of the word.
The "four beasts" represent Jesus Christ Himself. This surprising conclusion is based upon a careful comparison with Ezekiel 1, which is the antecedent to Revelation 4:6,7, as well as upon careful observation of Revelation 4:6,7 itself. Ezekiel 1 describes "visions of God" (Ezek. 1:1). Ezekiel was seeing Him whose appearance was "of the likeness of the glory of the LORD" (Ezek. 1:28). Ezekiel 1 is, therefore, a complex word picture of the nature of God. A few of the details that correspond to Revelation are as follows. The rings that accompanied the living creatures were "full of eyes" (Ezek. 1:18), which identifies with Revelation 4:6. The four faces in Ezekiel 1:10 match the description of Revelation 4:7. According Ezekiel 1:24, they made noise like the voice of great waters, as Jesus' voice does (Rev. 1:15).
The descriptions of the beasts themselves also link them to Jesus. The first beast, like a lion, is a picture of Jesus who is the lion of the tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5). The second beast, like a calf, is a picture of Jesus who is the sacrifice for sin (Heb. 9:19,20,23, Rev. 5:6). The third beast, having the face of a man, is a picture of Jesus who became man for His people (Dan. 7:13, Luke 19:10, Heb. 2:14-16). The fourth beast, like an eagle, is a picture of Jesus who is the protector and gentle provider of His people (Exodus 19:4, Deut. 32:11, Rev. 12:!4, compare Matt. 11:28,29).
At first, the fact that the four beasts honor Him who sits upon the throne and worship as the believers do (Rev. 4:8,9) does not seem to fit with the idea that they are a picture of Jesus. How can God worship God? That is, would God glorify God? Yes! Of course He does. And why not? He deserves to be glorified by Himself. He is worthy (John 12:28, 17:4,5).
Revelation 5 completes the picture of chapter 4. Jesus is revealed to be not only the Creator of all things, but also the only Redeemer of His people. Revelation 5 explains that God's promises, which are the "things which must be hereafter," can only "shortly come to pass" because of Jesus' personal sacrifice. Revelation 5 declares that God's gospel plan is fulfilled and Revelation 6 briefly describes the progress and effect of the gospel, which is proclaimed in the world. Revelation 6 covers the historical period from the cross to Judgment Day. These two chapters really tell the whole story of Revelation. The other chapters elaborate upon the "things which must come hereafter" summarized in Revelation 5 and 6.
The words "right hand" in Revelation 5:1 signify supreme authority as in Ephesians 1:20,21. The word "book" is the book which John is instructed to write (Rev. 1:11), the book of Revelation, or more accurately, the Bible, of which Revelation is a part. The words "written within and on the backside" mean the book is full and nothing more can be added. The idea is that what is written in Revelation completes the gospel message to man (Rev. 22:18).
Unfortunately the book cannot be opened because it is sealed with seven seals. A seal in ancient times was a piece of wax that spanned part of the opening of a letter. It had an insignia embossed to show from whom it was sent. Therefore, the seals in Revelation 5 show the book's divine origin. The book contains the words of the King and have the full weight of His authority behind. A seal was affixed to a letter in order to discourage any tampering with its contents. The seven seals are a guarantee that nothing in the book will ever be changed (Esther 8:8). God's plan is sure and unchangeable. Because the book is sealed, it cannot be read and its contents proclaimed. This is a picture of the fact that the plan cannot "come to pass" until some prerequisite is satisfied. The closed seals mean that someone must be found to fulfill the demands of the gospel for God's plan to benefit anyone.
To be as clear and accurate as possible we ought to say that the book particularly focuses upon the message of things that come "hereafter," that is, after the events of redemption, after the cross. We say that because Jesus had to go to the cross before the seals could be opened. In other words, the seals are opened and the message of the book is proclaimed because the work of salvation by Jesus was completed. The book particularly reveals the events which follow that work of salvation.
Altogether, verse 1 gives us a picture of God's complete control of the message in the book. Whatever happens as the book's message comes to pass in the earth, is a result of the plan of a sovereign God.
The "strong angel" in verse 2 is Jesus. This is evident when we compare it with Revelation 10:1 that uses the same words, although they are translated "mighty angel." He asks a question of which there can be only one answer. What no one else can do because they are not worthy, Jesus does because He is. Jesus alone is a worthy sacrifice to appease the wrath of God and release His people from the condemnation from the law of God. Jesus is strong enough to open the seals because in Him is displayed the power of God, to create and to save.
The words "thou has redeemed us" in Revelation 5:9 are the words of the four and twenty elders and the words of the four beasts. Both the four beasts, which represent God and the four and twenty elders, which represent believers (Compare Rev. 5:10 with Rev. 1:6) worship God for the same reason. That is, the believers were saved, and so was Jesus saved. Jesus was saved in the sense that He had to come out of hell in order to complete the redemption of His people (Psalm 22:1,20,21, 69:1,9,21, John 12:27).
According to Revelation 5:11-14, the things which must come to pass are planned for the purpose that Jesus may be glorified, for all that He is and all that He has done. All the angels in heaven and all the believers on earth and heaven willingly and lovingly worship the eternal Lamb. To this God says "Amen."
As we read chapter 6, we must not think that the events related to the seals are completely distinct from each other and that they follow each other in consecutive order. There is a rough progression in time as each seal is opened. However, the emphasis is more upon the character of the events and how they relate to each other spiritually, rather than chronologically.
How do we understand the first seal? Let us look at some of the details. As soon as the seal is opened, there is a voice of thunder, which identifies with God's mighty word (Job 37:5). The words of the book can be proclaimed because they are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The white horse is the steed Jesus rides as the great conqueror (Rev. 19:11). In fact, each horse in chapter 6 refers to strength or might. The bow, used to shoot arrows, identifies with the judgment of God (Psalm 45:4-6). Jesus conquers as He saves His people (Col. 1:13, 2:14,15) and as He empowers them to resist Satan's attacks (Rom. 8:37, Eph. 6:11, I John 4:4, 5:4). The idea of the first seal, as a whole, is that first we see the gospel going throughout the world and successfully bringing people out of the kingdom of darkness, while at the same time condemning all who turn from God's offer of salvation.
Now we come to the second seal. The red horse identifies with Satan (Rev. 12:3), as well as, in a remote way, with the persecution and death of the saints (Rev. 6:9,10). The peace which is taken away refers to the peace of the gospel. Satan tries to take the gospel away by killing the believers physically, or by killing their witness through various kinds of persecution (Rev. 6:9). The idea of this second seal is that persecution follows the proclamation of the gospel.
The third seal brings the divine reaction to the world's hatred for the gospel and those who proclaim it. The black horse brings darkness (Rev. 6:12). The words "a measure of wheat for a penny and three measures of barley for a penny" is a reference to famine (Lev. 26:26, Ezek. 4:16,17), not necessarily physical famine, but of a lack of spiritual bread (Amos 8:11, Lam. 2:12-14). By comparison with the use of the word "hurt" in Revelation 9:4, we see that the oil and wine refer to the believers. The idea of the third seal is that, to those people who resist and seek to destroy the gospel, God brings a special kind of judgment. Eventually He closes the opportunity for men to hear the gospel and to become saved. Believers, however, are always assured of hearing and being spiritually protected by God.
The fourth seal brings a "pale" horse. The word "pale" is used only four times in the Bible. It means green, as a reference to believers (Rev. 8:7, 9:4). The words "Death and Hell" refer to the second death and the punishment that comes to all who endure it. The fourth part of the earth represents all of the earth, since the word "four" is associated with the whole earth (Isaiah 11:12, Rev. 7:1). The words "sword" (Rev. 19:21), "hunger" (Isa. 65:13), "death" (Rom. 6:23) and "beasts" (Lev. 26:22) all refer to judgment (Ezek. 14:21). The idea of this seal is that unbelievers are condemned not only by the words which the believers proclaim, they are also condemned by their reaction to the words, namely as they refuse to take heed to the words and as they persecute the believers who proclaim the words (II Cor. 2:16, Phil. 1:28).
The fifth seal is not so much a description of another event on earth between the cross and Judgment Day, as it is a peek into heaven to see one thing that is going on there while the gospel goes out on the earth. The seal reveals the protection of the saints "under the altar." Actually, it is their souls that are in view because the resurrection of their bodies has not yet taken place. The souls represent all believers who are slain physically or who suffer in other ways (Rom. 8:36). The idea of this seal is that God is in control no matter how bad things seem physically or spiritually. Also, the idea is that persecution and physical death is not a victory for Satan and his host. The outwardly sad events are all taking place to fulfill the plan of God.
The sixth seal brings us to Judgment Day. Accompanying this is the destruction of the physical universe (Rev. 6:13,14). It is a great day of wrath and terror for the unbelievers. Then they will discover that their god, which is this sin-cursed earth, will not hide them from the Lamb who comes to judge. The events associated with the sixth seal will be developed in greater detail later in Revelation, especially chapters 15 and 16.
What does God's wrath tell us about Him? Is He reactionary, being surprised by how sin has spoiled His creation? Is He petty and overly sensitive, unable to be above the insults which the men cast His way? Is He fearful, striking out in anger because He feels threatened by the rebellion of men? Is He weak, unable to control His temper? No! No! He is righteous and holy. Sin must be punished because it is rebellion against Him who is so worthy of honor. God must judge because it is right.
What does God's wrath tell us about men? Are they sufferers of an over reaction, much like the unfortunate victims of child abuse? Are they like animals or inert objects, to be hunted down without regard to their personality or to be cast aside as a broken or marred vase. No! No! They are hateful creatures, unthankful, selfish and willingly disobedient. Men must be judged because it is right.
Incidentally, the seventh seal is not opened until Revelation 8:1. It ushers in another series of visions which pertain to the final event before the world ends, namely the great tribulation. Some of the details of the tribulation will be revealed in Revelation 8 through 11.
Revelation 7 is like a prologue to chapters 8 and 9. Just before Jesus describes the terrible preparations for final judgment upon the world, just before judgment begins upon the church, He comes with the message in chapter 7 that, no matter what happens to the organized church, no matter how wicked the world gets, believers are always protected. Their salvation is sealed even though God's plan requires that the iniquity of men grows full in preparation for their eventual judgment.
The phrase "four angels" in Revelation 7:1 is also used in Revelation 9:14. In Revelation 9:14, it refers to Satan's messengers who are bound in the river Euphrates. The messengers are servants like the believers are, but they are servants of Babylon, through which the Euphrates flows, and Babylon is the kingdom of Satan, especially the part of Satan's kingdom which is associated with the apostate churches in the world. The winds refer to the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit who gives life (Ezek. 37:9,14). It blows upon the earth to bless men, who are alluded to by the words "sea" and "tree." The picture in verse 1 is that Satan and his host seek to prevent the blessing of the Spirit from going out to men.
The words "another angel," by means of comparison with Revelation 10:1 and 18:1, can be identified with Jesus Christ, who is referred to as "another mighty angel" or "another angel ... having great power." This angel comes from the east, as Jesus does (Isaiah 41:2, Matt. 24:27).
Jesus' message is authoritative and clear. He commands Satan and his host that they may not hurt the true believers, the elect who will be sealed by the gospel (Rev. 7:3). As Satan and his host "hurt the earth and the sea," as they turn people from the gospel and make them slaves of sin, which is the greatest harm that can be done to people, the servants of God are protected. The elect are sealed on their foreheads, which means that they have a new mind, the mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:16, Phil. 2:5). Even if the elect are not all saved immediately, because God calls His people at different times, the machinations of the evil one will not thwart Jesus' evangelistic designs. All whom God has determined to save will be saved.
From Revelation 7:4 we learn that the ones who have been sealed on their forehead are numbered at 144,000 and are called the children of Israel. The number 144,000 must understood as a representation of all the believers who have ever lived, both of the Old Testament times and of the New Testament times. The number is similar to 24 found in chapter 4. The number is derived by combining the number of the tribes of Israel (12) with the number of the apostles (12) through multiplication to get 144. The number 1000 completes the number in Revelation 7:4, giving us 144,000. One thousand represents the complete amount believers, much like the 10 coins represent the full amount of coins (Luke 15:8-10) and the 100 sheep represent the full amount of sheep (Luke 15:3-7).
Although the number of believers is figuratively measured at 144,000, the actual amount is more than a man can number (Rev. 7:9). The idea of the measurement is similar to Revelation 21:16,17, in which the actual measurements cannot be taken physically, but represent a spiritual idea. In chapter 21 as in chapter 7, the idea is the full amount of all whom God has chosen to save.
The 144,000 do not refer exclusively to Israelites, people who are Jews by physical heritage. Some teachers insist that only national, physical Israel is in view, because of the tribes mentioned in verses 5 through 8. However, that cannot be true for at least two reasons. One reason is that not all the tribes are mentioned in this chapter. Dan and Ephraim are missing from the list. Therefore, this is not meant to be a comprehensive list of all of the Jews who would inherit God's blessings. Another reason is that chapter 7 identifies the 144,000 as Christians, the only people who are "sealed" (II Cor.1:22, Eph. 1:13, 4:30). They are from all nations and have white robes (Rev. 7:9). They have made their robes white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14). Jesus dwells among them (Rev. 7:15) and cares for them (Rev. 7:17). All of these statements apply to Christians alone, no matter what their nationality.
We must highlight a phrase in Revelation 7:14 that is not clear in our English Bible. The phrase "out of great tribulation" is more accurately rendered "out of the great tribulation." There is actually a definite article "the" before both words "great" and "tribulation." However, the emphasis of this phrase is not upon a specific unique historical event, unless we think of it as the experience unique to all believers, as we read in II Timothy 3:12.
These chapters return us to certain events revealed by the first six seals, events which take place right before Judgment Day. Those events are part of a span of time associated with the great tribulation.
The words "silence in heaven" in Revelation 8:1 are ominous words. They correspond to the curse of God, that is, His refusal to send words of grace (Psalm 28:1). The words "half an hour" are a translation of one Greek word, found only here in the Bible. It is a word composed of a prefix which means "half" and a root which is commonly translated "hour," often referring to the hour of Judgment, as in Revelation 18:10,17,19.
Perhaps the idea of half-an-hour is that the time for judgment is close but not yet arrived. It is as if when Jesus said that His "hour (of judgment) is not yet come" (John 2:4), He was in the previous "hour," but at the half-hour point, anticipating the judgment He would soon have to endure for the sins of His people. That matches with the main subject of Revelation 8-11, which is that the events of the tribulation take place on the threshold of Judgment Day.
We could think about the phrase "half an hour" in another way. The word "half" could be a reminder of the half shekel given by the all the Israelites as a ransom for their souls (Exodus 30:11-16). The half would then identify with the grace of salvation. Therefore, the silence for a "half hour" would mean there is no message of grace from heaven. This idea matches with a prominent message of Revelation 8-11, which is that the gospel will be silenced before Judgment Day.
In either case, verse one opens up a terrible passage which reveals a time just before the full hour of judgment comes. There will be a time of silence in heaven, that is, a time when there is no word of grace for the world. After the elect are spiritually secure, the greatest kind of tribulation the world has ever known begins (Rev. 7:3), a time of great spiritual apostasy (Matt. 24:21-24, II Thess. 2:3,11,12) which will prepare all the unsaved for the final Judgment (II Thess. 1:8).
We have stated that the word silence means to withhold a word of grace. However, in Psalm 50:3 and Isaiah 65:6 God says that He will not keep silent but will recompense men for their evil deeds. In these verses, silence means to withhold a word of judgment. Maybe this second idea is in view, but it is hard to fit it in Revelation 8. The reason is that the pattern so far in Revelation has been for a seal to be opened followed by the seal's description. If we keep that pattern with the seventh seal, then Revelation 8 describes the silence of the seventh seal as full of trumpets of doom. Therefore, in Revelation 8, the word "silence" does not seem to refer to the blessing of delayed judgment, but rather the curse of present judgment.
We met the "seven angels" of Revelation 8:2 before in Revelation 1:20. They are the believers who stand before God. They stand boldly because they are not afraid of being consumed in His presence, in as much as they have "washed their robes and made them white by the blood of the Lamb" (Heb. 4:14-16, Rev. 7:14). They also stand humbly because they are God's servants (Luke 17:10, Rev. 1:1), awaiting His orders. To them God gives seven trumpets to blow.
The trumpets are instruments which are meant to be blown as an announcement of imminent judgment. They could be called warning trumpets. However, the sound they make is not intended to cause people to repent and turn to God, in order to flee the wrath to come. Instead, the trumpets sound out the message "It is too late! Prepare to meet your God and Judge! Your destruction is sure and soon!"
The idea of the trumpets can be illustrated by the story of the fall of Jericho. (Joshua 6). The lives of Rahab and her family, the only people who were saved out of that wicked city, were already secure when the Israelites blew the trumpets. The trumpets were not meant to awaken the rest of the citizens of Jericho to their peril and drive them to seek some escape while there was still time. There was no more time. The last trumpet announced the day of their death. Therefore, the message of Revelation 8-11 is that the trumpets announce impending judgment upon the world, and as we shall see, judgment especially upon the apostate churches in the world (Jer. 4:5,19-31).
We see the trumpets in the hands of the believers because they sound the warning of impending doom as they bring the word of God. The judgment of unbelievers is sealed not only by the content of what believers say, but also by the reaction of the unbelievers to what they hear (II Cor. 2:14-16, Phil. 1:28).
The words "another angel" in Revelation 8:3 refer to Jesus Christ. In chapter 8 we see Him offering incense, which means that He is praying (Psalm 141:2). His prayers are offered together "with the prayers of all the saints." Their mutual prayer is an appeal for judgment and vengeance (Rev. 6:10), not in a sinful hateful sense, but in a holy desire to see that God's justice is done. The answer to their prayer is that judgment must await the determined end of the persecution of the believers and the silencing of the gospel (Rev. 6:11).
Prayers of judgment might seem insensitive, even uncaring and cruel. However, Jesus and His people care very much. They care for God's will and glory, something in which unsaved people have no interest. There is nothing cruel about God's demand for obedience and payment for disobedience. Obedience is best for men's souls and best for God's honor, two of the few things that are of real value in the universe.
Revelation 8:7-13 reveals the events associated with the first four trumpets. The four trumpets do not announce a sequence of events in time, but describe the same events within the short span of time called the great tribulation, with each trumpet revealing the events from a slightly different perspective.
It is instructive to notice that, according to verse 5, Jesus Christ ("the angel") takes full credit for casting upon the earth the wrath of God ("fire of the altar"). Above all things, we must not forget that as we read about the havoc and sorrow which the inhabitants of the earth experience during the tribulation, God is sovereign. Events are never out of control. In fact, He initiates the events and knows what their effects will be. God claims full responsibility for the tribulation and the tragic consequences it brings to the unbelievers.
Amid the darkness of these chapters is a ray of comforting light. For with the message of unavoidable judgment is a companion message, which is that the believers are always spiritually protected, even when God sends His wrath upon the earth.
The first trumpet announces "hail and fire mingled with blood." These words describe the judgment of God upon the enemies of God's people (Exodus 9:24-26), a judgment which precedes the final destruction of their enemies (Exodus 14:23-31). The words "third (part)," can be understood in the light of Zechariah 13:7-9 to refer to believers. The word "third" is equated with "green grass" which, according to Revelation 9:4, also refers to believers.
Do we dare put these details together and conclude that the tribulation which precedes the final judgment is associated with the death of the believers? Yes, that is what our analysis has led us to. However, let us think a little more carefully about these things so we will correctly understand what Revelation means by the great and final tribulation.
Believers should expect to endure the physical hardships to which God subjects all of His creation and its inhabitants, which are consequences of His curse in response to sin (Eccl. 3:10,16-20, Hosea 4:1-3). However, the book of Revelation, in agreement with the rest of the Bible, repeatedly declares that believers must also expect affliction for their efforts to be faithful (Rev. 2:10, 6:11, 11:7,8, 13:7, 18:24).
As we spend time reflecting upon the message of Revelation, we realize that the focus is not upon physical persecution, suffering and death. Sometimes believers do pay a physical price for daring to be a Daniel. However, that is not a real trauma for them. Physical death means that they go to be with their Lord in heaven. Physical persecution of believers is not the kind of great tribulation which Revelation 8-11 has in view. Additionally, since believers' souls are eternally protected, the great tribulation cannot relate to some kind of spiritual peril of believers either.
The conclusion of all this is that the events of the tribulation are not a tribulation for believers at all. The trauma of these terrible times must therefore be the experience of the unbelievers. The idea of Revelation 8:7 is that the death of the believers is a great tribulation for the unbelievers. How could that be? Maybe we could answer that question by posing another one. What would be the greatest tragedy for unbelievers, whether they recognize it as a tragedy or not? Is it not that they no longer have a gospel witness, that they no longer have any spiritual hope or guide in life, that they have only wrath awaiting them?
With this in mind, we must think of the death of the believers in the sense that their witness is dead. That can happen if believers are physically killed. However, often the physical death of the saints has been the impetus for the spread of the gospel (Acts 8:1). A more effective way to kill the witness of the gospel is for churches to go apostate. That often confuses the unbelievers who hear the conflicting messages of the false and true believers, thereby neutralizing the witness of the true believers. The witness of the gospel is also killed in an apostate church when believers abandon it because the truth of the gospel is so compromised that they can no longer be identified with its distortion and neglect of the truth. That allows the unfaithful members of the churches, especially those members in leadership roles, to accelerate their program of rebellion unchecked. The result of that is a loss of a witness to the remaining members in the church and a loss of a witness to the unbelievers in the community.
The nature of the tribulation is that God allows apostasy to engulf the churches of the world so that the gospel is rarely heard. The destruction of the "third part," means that in various ways God silences the witness of the believers, either as He allows them to be killed, or as He allows the organized churches to be overrun and controlled by false teachers and deceivers. Therefore, when Revelation 8:7 reveals that a third of trees and all the green grass is burned up, the images represent the believers (Psalm 1:3, Rev. 9:4) whose witness is destroyed. The spiritual destruction of the organized churches of the world, in which the believers are normally found but which contains few if any believers, is a great tribulation for the unbelievers because they no longer hear the declaration of a faithful gospel.
The second trumpet announces "a great mountain burning with fire." Through Exodus, 19:18 we can identify the phrase with Mount Sinai and the law of God. The word "sea" refers to the people of the world, especially the unbelievers (Isaiah 57:20, Rev. 17:15). The word "blood" reminds us of both defilement (Lev. 3:17, 15:25) and death (Rev. 6:10). The idea is that God has sent His law to all men, but the unfortunate result is not repentance, but blood. God's law brings defilement and death for the third part, that is, the part of the human race associated with the church. The churches are defiled because they are disobedient to the law and they are dead because they no longer have any spiritual life, being full of rebellious members subject to the wrath of God.
The third trumpet announces a "great star from heaven," called "Wormwood." This refers to Jesus Christ, who brings judgment (Jer. 9:15, 23:14,15). In this case, the destruction is upon the "rivers" and the "fountains," two words which identify with the gospel (Zech. 13:1, John 7:38, Rev. 22:1). The gospel has become "bitter" to men because now it brings only a message of judgment, not because the gospel message has changed, but because people will not believe the blessed promises of the gospel, and so are subject only to its curses. Revelation 8:10 and 11 once again announce that the gospel will be silenced in the sense that God allows churches to go apostate.
The fourth trumpet announces destruction upon the third part of the sun, moon and stars. The sun identifies with Christ (Malachi 4:2), the moon with the law of God (Col. 2:16) and the stars with the believers (Daniel 12:3). All of these are darkened a third to focus our attention upon the fact that the gospel of Christ is no longer shining from the churches in the world, that is, from most of the churches. Their lights have gone out. Their candlesticks have been removed. The idea of this trumpet is that the churches are no longer ambassadors for God, much to the spiritual peril of unbelievers in and out of the organized churches.
The first four angels blow their trumpets to announce that the gospel will be silenced. As the churches forsake the Lord, He removes their candlestick. That is, they no longer are commissioned to bring the light of the gospel. He does this by darkening their understanding of the gospel and by removing the true believers from their midst. Either the believers will be driven out of the churches, or the teaching of the churches will be so adulterated that the believers will leave.
The message of the trumpets also includes the fact that the silencing of the gospel, the removal of the gospel witness, is part of God's plan to prepare all men for judgment at the end of time, especially unbelieving members of the apostate churches. The silencing of the gospel is one thing that "must shortly come to pass," for it is all part of God's plan. God does not plan for men to sin, but it is His plan that sinners must be judged. God prepares them for that by removing the gospel from them.
The next three trumpets repeat and reveal more details of the message of the first four trumpets. They are also given the added label of three woes. They are called woes for at least two reasons. First of all, they are woes because they describe the fact that unbelievers have been given up. The fact that the gospel is silenced, that it is not heard in most of the churches, is a spiritual tragedy for people in the world, both in the churches and in the secular world. People of the world do not realize that it is a tragedy, and even rejoice when they no longer hear the preaching of the true gospel. Yet they are headed for hell, with no voice to warn them. That truly is a great woe.
Secondly, the trumpets are woes because they describe the fact that unbelievers are accountable for the role they play in the silencing of the gospel. The silencing is in accord with God's will. Yet the spiritual liability of anyone who participates in the furtherance of the silencing of the gospel is great. The situation is similar to the events which led up to the crucifixion. Jesus' death upon the cross had to come to pass. It had to be that He was betrayed into the hands of those who sought to kill Him. Nevertheless, it was a great woe for Judas to betray Jesus (Luke 22:22). Similarly, it is a woe, a great spiritual liability, to be one of the people who contributes to the silencing of the gospel (Zech. 11:17, Luke 11:42-52).
The fifth angel blew his trumpet to announce the first of the three woes. Of the many important messages associated with this trumpet, one is that unbelievers will suffer greatly because the gospel is silenced, another is that the elect will be protected, and a third is that false prophets will be the means by which the gospel will be silenced.
The "star ... (who) ... was given the key of the bottomless pit" in Revelation 9:1 is Jesus (Rev. 1:18). Verse 2 reminds us once more that Jesus is fully responsible for the wrath of God that comes upon men and that darkens them. As we read in Romans 1:21, the minds of men who willingly turn from God are darkened so that they will not understand the gospel. The darkening is God's doing. He is giving them up so that they will be ripe for the final judgment.
The "locusts" in Revelation 9:3 are prominent players during the tribulation. They are described as having power like a scorpion with stings in their tails (Rev. 9:10). The idea is that the harm of the locusts comes as a delayed reaction. That is, the locusts seem harmless at first, but the poison is felt later on. They are, in short, deceivers.
The locusts, by their connection to scorpions with tails, can be understood to refer to false prophets in the church (Isa. 9:15), who are associated with Satan (Rev. 9:11). Locusts are a judgment sent by God (Exod. 10:12-15), but the agents by which God administers that judgment are all the unbelievers who are servants of the devil, and who have control of what is being taught in the churches, as well as all the people who gladly love to have it so (II Tim. 4:3,4).
According to Revelation 9:7,8, the locusts seem to rule as believers do, that is, they have "as it were crowns like gold." Also, they seem to be submissive to God, that is, they have "hair as the hair of women" (I Cor. 11:13,14). However, they only bring torment to all who believe their lying message. Unbelievers, whose ears have not been opened, who cannot hear the gospel and who have no hope in anything beyond the grave, live a miserable life in this sin cursed world, hoping that physical death will bring annihilation (Rev. 9:6).
Incidentally, the five months, mentioned twice (Revelation 9:5,10) identifies with the five months during which the "waters prevailed upon the earth" during the flood of Noah's day (Gen. 7:24). The idea is that the torment of the locusts, like the waters of the flood, are worldwide. There is a universal preparation for the final judgment.
The revelation of the sixth trumpet, from Revelation 9:13 through 11:13, is the longest and most detailed. The sixth trumpet, or second woe, focuses upon those who participate in silencing the gospel. Of the important messages associated with this trumpet, one is that Satan will appear to have won the day. He will appear to have accomplished his objective because the true gospel will be heard in very few churches. The witness of the true gospel will be effectively dead, at least until the end of time when Jesus returns to triumph in righteousness.
The horses in Revelation 9:17 are a picture of power (Psalm 147:10), in this case not of physical power but of power that comes from the false prophet's mouth (Rev. 9:19). There is a power that can save, the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16). In contrast, the power of false prophets is the seducing lies of their king, Abaddon or Apollyon. The power is "in their tails, for their tails are like unto serpents" (Rev. 9:19). That is, they appear to be bringing the truth, but since they are like devouring locusts, the end for all who follow their ways is death, especially spiritual death. They have power to kill in the sense that they keep unbelievers in their sins and reduce the witness of the true believers.
The "mighty angel" in Revelation 10:1,2 clearly is Jesus (Rev. 1:15). He is revealed to be totally in control of all things, being astride the sea and earth (Micah 1:3, Hab. 3:15). This picture represents His sovereignty over all the people of the earth, no matter how wicked and enslaved to Satan they are.
Jesus is revealed to have in His hand a "little book open." The book is that book we have encountered before, in which John writes all the things revealed to him by Jesus, things which must shortly come to pass. The book represents, then, the will of God as expressed in His gospel plan for the ages. The book is little because the trumpets sound when God's plan is almost complete, for the trumpets describe the events which lead up to the finish of the gospel (Rev. 10:7).
Revelation 10:9,10 identifies with Ezekiel 2:9 through 3:27. The prophet's message of warning directed to an apostate church is sweet to his mouth because he speaks God's words, which are always his delight (Psalm 19:10, Jer. 15:16). However, the words are bitter in the sense that the prophet is horrified when he thinks about the destiny of the members of churches who rebel at God's word and do not heed His warning.
Although it seems as if false prophets have a free hand and are able to silence the gospel because of their superior strength and ability, the message of the sixth trumpet includes the messages that God is in total control of all that is happening (Chapter 10), and that true believers not only have the power of God in their testimony, they also will have the final victory at the last day (Chapter 11).
The "temple of God" in Revelation 11:1 refers to true believers, in whom dwells the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 6:19, "ye" and "your" plural pronouns). The temple contains both the "altar," representing Christ, and all "them that worship therein." The purpose of the decree to "measure" these things is to reveal that God knows precisely who His people are. As He includes only those who are true believers, He also excludes those who are not (Rev. 11:2). In addition, the decree reminds us that God is building His temple, that is, saving people as time goes by.
Revelation 11 focuses upon the tribulation, continuing the discussion of Revelation 8 through 10. The time period is described as "forty and two months." However, to avoid any misunderstanding we ought to point out that the discussion of the final tribulation is interrupted in Revelation 11:3-6 by a look at some important events that take place throughout the New Testament time. This time period is described as "a thousand two hundred and threescore days." Revelation 11:7 picks up the discussion from verse 2 concerning the final tribulation.
It seems as if the 42 months and 1260 days are numerically equal and so should be identical time periods. However, the Bible uses different numbers because it is referring to different spiritual situations. The period of 42 months is a time in history when the "holy city" (churches) is "tread under foot" (the true witness is destroyed when unbelievers alter the gospel that the churches preach and remove the influence of the true believers). In contrast to that, Revelation 11:3 through 6 describe the 1260 days as a time when the "two witness" (believers) "have power" as they bring the gospel. Revelation 11 includes this interruption in the discussion of the tribulation in order to put the time of the tribulation in its historical perspective. The time of the tribulation is not a real victory by Satan and his host, for all during the New Testament time God has successfully "measured" His temple. The time of the tribulation comes only when the witness of His people has completed its intended purpose. The time of the tribulation is a time when God is still in control, as He allows the churches to be over run by false gospels in preparation for Judgment Day.
The use of the words "1260 days" in Revelation 11:3 and 12:6 comes from Daniel 9:25-27. It is a complex passage that requires a more lengthy analysis than this course will allow. For our purposes, we shall the following possible understanding of Daniel 9:27.
The words "he (the Messiah) shall confirm the covenant with many for a week" look forward to the time that Jesus comes to make the covenant sure. The covenant is the gospel of salvation (Heb. 8:10), which was made sure when Jesus came to declare the gospel (Luke 4:18-21). The confirmation began after Jesus was baptized in A.D. 29 and continues throughout the whole New Testament period. The words "in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease" could refer to the fact that when Jesus went to the cross, the physical temple in Jerusalem ceased to be the holy place for sacrifice (Matt. 27:51). The Levitical sacrifices stopped being the sacrifices God honored because His Son had shed His blood in fulfillment of them all. The time from Jesus' baptism to His crucifixion can be shown to be about three and a half years. The remaining three and a half years could be the rest of the "week," that is, the New Testament period after the cross, referred to in the words of Revelation 11:3 and 12:6 as "a thousand two hundred and threescore days."
The "two witnesses" of Revelation 11:3 represent the true believers (Prov. 14:25, Isaiah 43:10-12, Acts 1:8, Heb. 12:1). The word "two" is used to highlight the fact that the testimony of believers is true and will come to pass (II Cor. 13:1), despite the apparent advances of Satan and his servants. Believers are "clothed in sackcloth" because they are both humble and in sorrow for the wrath to come upon the unsaved, nevertheless they boldly and powerfully proclaim God's word. The fire of God's word of judgment comes out of their mouths (Jer. 5:14, 23:29, Rev. 11:5). That means believers proclaim God's word, and people who refuse to believe and obey the gospel are condemned by the words believers speak. Like the prophets Elijah and Moses, believers proclaim that there is no grace for those who reject the gospel, that only the fires of hell await unbelievers (Rev. 11:6).
In Revelation 11:7-9, we meet the two witnesses after their work is finished. From the "bottomless pit" (hell) comes the "beast" (the kingdom of Satan, Satan and his host) to "kill" the witnesses (silence the gospel through false prophets in the churches). The death of the witnesses takes place "where also our Lord was crucified." That place is Jerusalem or, spiritually speaking, the churches. However, the churches are called Sodom and Egypt. In other words, the churches in which the true witnesses are dead is equated with a city full of people given over to their own lust, a land that is full of people dominated by their sinful, rebellious will.
The joy of unbelievers who are no longer "tormented" by having to hear a gospel of repentance and the wrath of God is short lived (Rev. 11:10). When the believers who died stand "upon their feet" (the resurrection) and all ascend "up to heaven in a cloud" (the rapture), all the unbelievers will see them and fear because they know Judgment Day has come. The ultimate victory belongs to Christ and His servants.
The seventh and last trumpet described in Revelation 11:15-19 announces the total and undisputed dominance of Jesus Christ as eternal King. First we see the joy of the redeemed who give thanks to God. Then we see how God deals with the unsaved. The message for them is that "thy wrath is come."
In Revelation 11:19, we see that the ark of God's testament is in God's temple, because that is where it always belongs. The ark brings to mind many things, one being the law of God which was placed inside of it (Exodus 25:16). The idea is that the law of God abides forever, always part of the church. The law is the expression of the perfect will of God and describes how His people can show their loving, grateful obedience to Him. The ark also reminds us of the mercy seat or the lid which covered its contents. The mercy seat was a picture of Jesus who covered the law, which condemned sinners (the word "propitiation" in Romans 3:25, is the same word as "mercy seat" in Hebrews 9:5). The idea in this case is that Jesus' removal of the condemnation of the law is eternally effective. The people of God both remember and glorify Jesus as Savior forever.
Before God describes the final judgment in more detail, He reveals the history of the conflict between Jesus and Satan, as well as the necessity for judgment upon Satan and his host. Jesus Christ and believers are the targets of Satan's hatred and abuse. However, these chapters reveal that God cares for them while they are on earth, and that Jesus and His people have the ultimate victory.
One important actor in the drama of history is "a woman" mentioned in Revelation 12:1. She is a picture of all believers, for she is "clothed with the sun (Jesus, Mal. 4:2)." The picture of a woman is chosen because believers are the bride of Christ (Rev. 21:9) and because believers "brought forth a man child," Jesus (Rev. 12:5), in the sense that Jesus was born into the church of His day where believers were found. In this vision we see her in heaven, which means that heaven is her country, where she belongs. The idea is that believers on earth are ambassadors from their heavenly country on temporary assignment on earth, and it is to heaven where they will someday return.
The moon can represent the law of God (Col. 2:14-16) or sometimes it can represent Satan, who as the moon which rules the night, or the kingdom of darkness. In either case, the moon is under the feet of the believers because in Christ they wear the victory crown, being victorious over the condemnation of the law (Rom. 8:1) and over the power of the devil (Rev. 12:10).
Another important actor in the drama of history is the "great red dragon." According to verse 9, we can identify the dragon as "that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan." He is seen first in heaven, because he had access to heaven as long as Jesus had not fulfilled the promise of redemption on the cross. However, the wages of sin is death for all, without exception. Therefore, the fact that Jesus faced the wrath of God for the sins of His people, the fact that there was no escape for the Son of God, revealed that Satan's future judgment was guaranteed. Therefore, when Jesus went to the cross, Satan was cast out of heaven to await the last day (Isaiah 14:12, Luke 10:17,18, Rev. 12:9). Also, since Jesus paid for the sins of His people, Satan no longer had a basis to accuse them in the presence of God as he had before (Rev. 12:10), nor could he maintain his control over them (Isaiah 29:20,21, 49:24-26, Matt. 12:29, Heb. 2:15).
The "seven heads" in Revelation 12:3 are mountains (Rev. 17:9), which in turn can be identified with kingdoms (Isaiah 2:2,3, Jer. 51:24,25). They are kingdoms upon which the harlot sits and rules, or as we read in Revelation 17:2, with whom the kings of the earth commit fornication. The idea is that the seven kingdoms represent all the kingdoms of the world throughout time, which have followed after the lusts of this world. They represent the rule of Satan throughout time as he manipulates the authorities in this world through whom he seeks to obtain his objectives. The "ten horns" are also ten kings, but in words focus upon Satan's rulership in the world near the end of time (Rev. 17:12-14). Because we see the crowns upon the seven heads and not upon the ten horns, the vision of chapter 12 concerns the time when Satan is ruling throughout history and not upon the work of Satan near the end of time.
Although Satan constantly attacks the church in order to get at believers, his real target is Jesus Himself (Rev. 12:4). His anger against Jesus is frustrated and deflected toward God's people (Rev. 12:13). However, Satan cannot really hurt them, even if he kills them physically, since they have been released from the tyranny of the kingdom of darkness, and go to be with God when they die (Col. 1:13, Rev. 12:11).
Incidentally, we must be careful to properly understand the term "war" in verse 7. We must not get the idea of a pitched battle, as if Satan is an opponent of comparable ability and wisdom to Jesus, nor should we think that it is uncertain whether Jesus will prevail. The war simply means that Satan opposes Jesus until the end, even though Jesus' victory is never in doubt and even though Satan is no match for the superior power and sovereignty of the King of Kings.
The help which the true believers receive from God is described as the two wings of a great eagle (Rev. 12:14). This represents the salvation of God (Exodus 19:4), as well as His constant care (Deut. 32:11). The help extends throughout the whole New Testament period, signified by the words "a time, times and half a time." That is, we could tie verse 14 to verse 6, both which describe a woman being fed or nourished, and see the equivalence of the phrase "a time, times and half a time" to "a thousand two hundred and threescore days," which is the time when God's people prophesy (Rev. 11:3).
The persecution believers endure is pictured as a flood (Rev. 12:15) to highlight the fact that the real danger they face is from unsaved people (Rev. 17:1,15). We can identify the flood with the river in John 7:38, which refers to the gospel. This comparison results in the idea that unbelievers bring a gospel in imitation of the true gospel. The help which the earth provides (Rev. 12:16) can be understood to refer to the relief believers get from their persecutors when these evil people are separated from the believers by death (Exodus 15:12, Num. 16:30).
Revelation 13 develops the message of Revelation 12 verses 12 through 15 of the previous chapter. It reveals how Satan and his host go out in the world trying to deceive all the people in the world.
The word "sand" (Rev. 13:1) refers to believers (Gen. 22:17). The opening words of the chapter reveal John standing with the believers. This emphasizes the fact that the believers stand together looking upon the evil which God allows Satan to work in the world. They are spectators and not victims, for as the next chapter reveals, all of God's people are secure in the salvation of the Lord.
The word "sea" refers to all of the unsaved people of the world (Rev. 12:12), who are citizens of hell. That is where the beast comes from (Rev. 13:1). The beast is another reference to Satan's rulership in the world, pictured by the ten heads and seven horns. Here, however, the vision shows crowns upon the horns instead of the seven heads, which indicates that Jesus is going to reveal something about Satan's rule near the end of time. It will be a time of false gospels and false prophets (Rev. 13:6). It will be a time when Satan's influence will appear especially effective and widespread (Rev. 13:7,8), except that he will not be able to influence true believers (Rev. 13:8).
One head of the beast was wounded to death which is a reference to the fact that Satan was given a mortal blow at the cross (Gen. 3:15, Heb. 2:14). The wound appears to be healed (Rev. 13:12) because Judgment Day has not yet come and Satan is still allowed to deceive people. However, Satan never recovers from his wound because he will be judged and cast into the lake of fire (Rev.20:10).
The other beast, described in Revelation 13:11, refers to all the false prophets who speak for Satan. They look like lambs, but their words are evil, satanic words of deception meant to lead people away from the true gospel. It is the objective of the false prophets to cause people to worship Satan (Rev. 13:12). They do that by appearing to have the same power as the true prophets, like Elijah who was able to call down fire from heaven (II Kings 1:10,12, Rev. 13:13). Yet as always their work is only a deception and is meant to cause people to worship Satan (Rev. 13:14).
The deception will be quite effective and widespread (Rev. 13:16), but only limited to those who are not saved. The words "right hand," which refers to the peoples' wills, and the word "foreheads," which refers to the peoples' minds, reveal the total enslavement of unbelievers to Satan.
By comparison with Mark 11:15, the words "buy and sell" in Revelation 13:17 can be identified with what "thieves" do. John 10:1-10 tells us that "thieves" means unbelievers. Therefore, Revelation 13:7 refers to the sad fact that unbelievers merchandise the gospel (Jer. 7:8-11). The idea is that only unbelievers distort and abuse the gospel as Satan wants them to. Believers never abuse the gospel or use it for personal commercial advantage.
The words "a man" in verse 18 are really the word "man," as it is used in Luke 19:10. The indefinite article, "a," is not part of the verse in Revelation or in Luke. The word man can be rendered "mankind." The number "Six hundred three score and six" is a decimal equivalent to two thirds, focusing upon the complement to the number one-third which we previously saw referred to the believers. Together with the word "man," the number 666 is a picture of all the unsaved portion of humanity. That view is supported by the fact that the number of man is also "the number of the beast." That is, the focus is upon all the unbelievers who burden the earth with their false doctrines and false worship.
Two images presented in Revelation 14 are the glory and the security of the people whom God has redeemed and the glory and sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ. The revelation of God is that persecution is one of the "things which must shortly come to pass" (Rev. 1:1), because it is God's will. Believers must trust that all things are under the control of their heavenly Father, and that for a purpose. They must remember that God is faithful to His people at all times. Believers must thank Him for His care despite appearances.
The idea that the name (or nature) of the Father is written upon the forehead of the redeemed means, by comparison with Exodus 13:9 and Ezekiel 9:4, that they are redeemed by God. Having been saved, believers belong to God (Rom. 1:6), and we can think of the mark as a mark of ownership (I Cor. 3:23, 6:20). Not only that, the mark on believers' foreheads means that their minds are changed to conform to Christ's mind (I Cor. 2:16, Phil 2:5).
The new song is the song of salvation. The word "new" refers to the fulfillment of God's promise of salvation (Heb. 8:8-10). Therefore, the song in Revelation 14:3 is called new because the redeemed sing about God's gospel promises, which are fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
The word "women" in Revelation 14:4 must be thought of in the sense of verse 8 or Revelation 17:6 and 17:18. In other words, the idea conveyed by the word "virgin" is not that true believers have never been married, but that they have washed themselves from their sinful association with the lusts of the world and the kingdom of Satan.
The words "another angel" refer to Jesus Christ all five times that they are found in this chapter (Rev. 14:6,8,15,17 and 18), as do the words "voice" in verse 2 and "third angel" in verse 9. "Angel" means messenger and in this chapter highlights the authoritative message declared by the voice of God. This is evident by seeing what the angel does. The different visions of the angel reinforce and expand the message that Jesus is totally in control of all that happens in the world, despite the evil work of Satan and his host. The angel brings the authoritative message of impending judgment and condemnation (Rev. 14:7-11). The angel brings the message of promised grace to the believers (Rev. 14:12,13). The angel personally brings the final judgment when the time is ripe (John 12:48, Acts 17:31, Rev. 14:14-20).
These chapters describe what happens when the seven vials of God's wrath are finally poured out in the Judgment at the end of time. Not only do we learn about the certainty of Judgment, we also learn that believers participate in the judgment of Satan and of all the unbelievers who hate the gospel.
The "seven angels" in Revelation 15:1 are the redeemed. This conclusion is based upon an examination of Revelation 21 and 22. In Revelation 21:9 we again encounter one of these angels. After the angel describes the beauties of heaven, John is so impressed that he wants to worship the angel. The angel then discloses that he is simply another believer (Rev. 22:9).
In Revelation 15:3, the song of Moses emphasizes salvation and judgment (Exod. 15:1,13, Deut. 32:2,4,10-14,24,25,36,41). We should add that the Song of the Lamb does too (Rev. 5:9, 6:17). They both contain the full story of the gospel. All that God has planned has come to pass. The Judgment of God on the last day is the final display of His absolute sovereignty (Exod. 15:18, Rev. 15:4). He is truly "King."
One amazing thing about God's method of judgment is that He gives the vials of wrath to the saints (Rev. 15:7). The believers will, together with Jesus, administer God's wrath upon all the wicked (Dan. 7:22, I Cor. 6:2).
The temple in Revelation 15:8 refers to Jesus Christ, in the sense of Revelation 21:22. The temple is full of the smoke of judgment (Isa. 6:4). Prior to the final judgment, the cry of all men who come to the temple is, like Isaiah, "Woe is me! For I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips" (Isaiah 6:5). Prior to the final judgment, that cry is answered with grace. That is, sin is removed by the coals of the altar (Isaiah 6:6). However, at the final judgment, if a man has not been cleansed of his sin already, it is too late because the coals are only for condemnation (Rev. 8:5). In the words of Revelation 15:8, "no man was able to enter into the temple." That means there is no longer any entrance into Jesus in order to avoid condemnation.
The word "till" in Revelation 15:8 does not mean that salvation will be restored for the unsaved after the plagues have been poured out. The idea of the word "till" is that all throughout the plagues there will be no salvation, even up to the time that the final plague has run its course. The fact is that, even after all the vials of wrath have been poured out, there will be no salvation because it will be the end of history on this sin cursed earth, and all the unsaved will have been consigned to hell.
Like the seals and trumpets before them, the vials do not present a series of consecutive events. The vials are describing one event in several different ways. If we compare each trumpet with each vial we will see similarities. One of the messages of the trumpets is that judgment must shortly come to pass. One of the messages of the vials is that same threatened judgment has come!
The first vial of wrath is poured out "upon the earth" (Rev. 16:2), or more precisely the inhabitants of the earth (Rev. 12:12, 14:16). The result is that the unsaved people suffer a "noisome" ("evil" as in Revelation 2:2) and a "grievous" ("wicked" as in I John 2:13 or "evil" as in II John 11) sore. The focus is not upon some physical infection, but upon a spiritual sickness that is a continual source of pain in the lives of the unbelievers. The idea of the first vial is that part of the judgment of God is that He lets rebellious sinners reap the bitter fruits of their lustful indulgences as He gives them up to their sin (Rom. 1:24,26,28).
The second vial is poured out "upon the sea" (Rev. 16:3), which represents unsaved, unbelieving mankind (Isaiah 57:20, James 1:6). The focus of the vial is that unsaved men are spiritually dead and unclean, both attributes which are pictured by the blood.
The third vial of wrath is poured out upon the "rivers and fountains of waters" (Rev. 16:4), which represent the gospel of blessing (Psalm 36:8,9, Zech. 13:1, John 7:38). The idea is that the gospel is no longer a blessing to unbelievers. First of all, they cannot understand the gospel because God has shut their ears to it. Secondly, God has allowed false prophets to pollute its message so that what unbelievers do hear is a confusing mixture of truth and lies. Thirdly, because they are unsaved, only the gospel message of judgment and none of the promises of salvation apply to them.
The fourth vial reveals that as God brings darkness in judgment, unbelievers have a hateful reaction. The "sun" in Revelation 16:8 represents Jesus (Mal. 4:2). Comparing this verse with Revelation 8:12, we can understand Revelation 16:8 to mean that the sun was darkened. The darkness is a picture of the fact that Jesus is no longer the life giving Savior, but rather the Judge who is a consuming fire (Joel 3:13-16, Zeph. 1:14-18). However, having only themselves to blame for the judgment they deserve, unbelievers amazingly "blaspheme the name of God ... and repent not to give him glory," even unto the end (Rev. 16:9). Unbelievers always blame God and Christians for their misery instead of admitting their own sinfulness.
The fifth vial is poured out "upon the seat of the beast" (Rev. 16:10). By comparison with Revelation 13:2, we see that God's wrath destroys all of Satan's authority, and destroys all of unsaved men's hope in the things which Satan promises. The fifth vial focuses upon the fact that, although the judgment which comes upon men because of their sinful life causes them to gnaw their tongues for pain, they stubbornly refuse to change, choosing to speak evil of God instead of looking to the reason why they suffer (Rev. 16:11). Unsaved men are completely in darkness. They cannot see that they perish as slaves of Satan and cannot see the blessing of God's grace.
The river "Euphrates" in Revelation 16:12, which is part of the sixth vial, runs through the city of Babylon. Babylon is a figure of the apostate church, which imitates the true church (Rev. 17:4,5). The dry river, a reminder of how ancient Babylon was destroyed historically, is a picture of the gospel waters being taken away as part of the judgment upon unbelievers. Unbelievers have no truth and so speak no truth. The kings are the believers (Rev. 1:6), who are appointed to judge the apostate church at the end of time (Isaiah 13:2-5, I Cor. 6:2).
The sixth vial of wrath focuses upon how God prepares the wicked for judgment, called "the battle of the great day of God Almighty." It is not a battle in the sense of a fight, but of a declaration and a display of the victor over the vanquished. God's honor will be vindicated at the Judgment Throne, the place which is also called Armageddon.
When the seventh vial is poured out, Judgment is complete. Not only will Satan, the prince of the air, be the target of wrath and judgment (Rev. 16:17), but also the whole universe will shake with the fury of the Lord (Isaiah 13:13, Joel 3:16, Heb. 12:26-29, Rev. 16:18).
The hail of a talent weight (Rev. 16:21) can be identified with the candlestick of a talent weight, and the candlestick represents believers (Exod. 25:39, Rev. 1:20). The hail can also be identified with David who had a crown of a talent weight, and David is a picture of Jesus (II Sam. 12:30). Altogether, the idea is that Jesus and His people are directly responsible for the judgment of Satan and his host.
Up to the very last event, which is judgment, and into eternity, unbelievers will be true to their rebellious nature. As the vision states, they "blasphemed God." Judgment does not restore people to God. Judgment cuts them off from God and reveals them for who they really are in their heart (II Thess. 1:8,9).
These verses focus upon the objects of God's judgment, including unbelievers in the corporate churches of the world. They reveal the nature of Satan's influence in the world, and the character of the people who are his willing slaves. Satan and his lackeys, the governments and people of the world, who for centuries pridefully blasphemed God, hatefully persecuted the saints and selfishly loved the things of this world, finally receive their reward. Evil does not prosper forever. Its destruction is swift and sure (Rev. 17:14, 18:17).
The prominent event in Revelation 17 and 18 is the judgment of the great whore, which is revealed to be a city (Rev. 17:18), namely Babylon (Rev. 17:5). Isaiah 13 and 14 also feature a message of judgment against Babylon (Isaiah 13:1). This comparison is helpful because in Isaiah 14 we learn that the king of Babylon is called Lucifer, a clear reference to Satan. That is, the historical king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, is a picture of Satan, and his kingdom corresponds to the "waters" or all the people and nations of the world (Rev. 17:15). The destruction of the king of Babylon and his realm pictures the certain and total destruction of Satan and his realm.
Revelation 17 and 18 describe the influence which Satan has upon the people and governments of this world. The focus is especially upon the apostate church which persecutes the saints (Isa. 29:9-12, Rev. 17:2,6, 18:9,24). The chapters describe Babylon's judgment (Isa. 13:6-13,19, Rev. 18:10,21) that occurs simultaneous with the judgment of the world, which loves the whore (Isa. 13:11, Rev. 18:3). It is a judgment which reveals the victory of God and the believers at the end of time (Isa. 13:3,5, 14:2, Rev. 16:12, 17:14, 18:20).
We see the woman or whore sitting upon "a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy" (Rev. 17:3). The beast also has seven heads and ten horns (cf. Rev. 13:1), which shows the world's close association with Satan. Again, the seven heads refer to Satan's rule throughout time (Rev. 17:9,10), and the ten horns to Satan's rule during the tribulation near the end of time (Rev. 17:11,12). One important characteristic of the whore is that she appears so attractive, at least to those people whose heart has been captured by this world (Rev. 17:4, 18:3). The message is that Satan seeks to deceive and enslave people by encouraging them to love this world and the things in this world (James 4:2-4, I John 2:15,16).
The beast upon which the woman sits is full of blasphemy. That means Satan seeks to deceive through the spiritual counterfeits to the gospel (Rev. 2:9, 17:3, 18:23). Yet this last book of the Bible is a revealer of deeper things. No matter how bad things seem to be, we see that God is the King, in control of all things. He is able to keep His people faithful despite the pressure of apostasy and persecution (Rev. 17:14)
As before, we see that the judgment does not bring with it remorse and repentance from the people of the world. Rather, their stubborn and unchanging love for the whore is revealed by the sorrow they have for the loss of the treasures they so greatly desire (Rev. 18:9-19).
Judgment Day is a great revealer of Jesus Christ. It shows Him to be righteous, worthy to judge. It shows Him to be wise, able to judge. It shows Him to be true to His word, willing to judge as He has said. It shows Him to be mighty, successfully judging as He has been appointed to do. Judgment Day shows all the glory of Jesus. Finally He receives the preeminence as He so richly deserves.
Evil will not rejoice in its wickedness forever. Jesus will not be mocked without a proper answer. Jesus will have His Day, because that is right and because He is worthy. Jesus will be honored and exalted for who He is and for what He has done. That is a revelation of one of the greatest "things which must shortly come to pass." Chapter 19 highlights Jesus' glory as the Judge, and chapter 20 highlights His glory as the Sovereign over the people and events throughout time, especially during the New Testament period from the cross to Judgment Day.
Praise belongs to the Lord because "he hath judged the great whore," the kingdom of Satan (Rev. 19:2). That means Jesus is mightier than His enemies, who hate Him and His people and oppose all His efforts to expose and punish sin, as well as to establish justice and righteousness.
Praise belongs to the Lord because he "reigneth," as Creator and Sustainer of all things (Rev. 19:6). That means Jesus has a purpose for what he has made and has carefully designed and managed His program for His universe despite the fact that it was distorted and polluted by sin, and despite the fact that Satan and unbelievers seek to usurp His authority. He is wise and able to fulfill His good will, exactly according to His royal decrees.
Praise belongs to the Lord because "the marriage of the Lamb is come" (Rev. 19:7). That means Jesus has brought all things together for the spiritual benefit of those whom He has chosen and successfully seen to it that they receive the blessings He has promised and secured for them.
The horse in Revelation 19:11 represents strength and power, especially for the purpose of judgment (Jer. 4:13, Ezek. 26:7-14). Jesus' horse is white to highlight the fact that His judgments are holy and perfect, for "in righteousness he doth judge." Jesus' judgments are not motivated by vindication and cruel delight (Ezek. 33:11). Instead, His judgments reveal Him to be "faithful and true" (Rev. 19:2,11). He is faithful to His word that the wages of sin is death, and faithful to the promise to redeem His people.
That His people are clothed in fine linen, clean and white (Rev. 19:8,14), reveals Jesus' high and noble objective for His people. The fine linen "is the righteousness of the saints," revealing that Jesus' work of redemption did not circumvent the righteousness of the law. Jesus did not cheat in order to secure a cheap redemption. In the words of Revelation 19:13, He alone willingly allowed His vesture to be "dipped in blood," in substitutionary judgment for His people. For all of that and more, the judgment described in verses 17-21 is righteous and true.
We ought to notice that all the wicked are thrown "alive into a lake of fire" (Rev. 19:20), revealing that the result of judgment is not annihilation (Rev. 20:10). We should also notice that the word "remnant" in verse 21 does not refer to the redeemed as it is used in Romans. The remnant are the wicked, who are objects of God's wrath. If the word refers to the remnant of the human race, we can conclude that the verse is teaching every last person who deserves judgment will receive it without any exception. If the word is a label identifying the corporate churches in which we normally find the redeemed, who are God's true remnant, we can conclude that the verse is teaching God will judge the apostate churches.
The angel in Revelation 20:1 is Jesus, the only one who has the key to the bottomless pit (Rev. 1:18). The chain in His hand is used to chain the "dragon," that is, Satan (Rev. 20:2). The meaning of the chain is often misunderstood. Many times people think that it means Satan is so confined by the chain that he can no longer continue any of his evil activities. However, that notion does not come out of this chapter. The meaning of the chain is found in Revelation 20:3, "that he should deceive the nations no more." The idea is that people from all nations of the world will see that they are sinners, trust in the truth of the gospel and be saved.
When Jesus went to the cross and successfully paid for the sins of all of His people, two things happened to Satan. One was that, because Jesus paid the full penalty required for sin on behalf of His people, God's word that the wages of sin is death was vindicated, and therefore, Satan's future personal judgment was guaranteed (Gen. 3:15, Heb. 2:14). Another was that Satan could no longer go to the court of heaven to accuse God's people as he once did (Job 2:1-6, Rev. 12:10). Satan could no longer claim authority over the souls of the people for whom Jesus had paid the penalty demanded by the law.
The chain that bound Satan did not restrict him to some geographical location. Nor was he unable to continue to influence the unbelievers in the world. Satan's big loss is revealed in Jesus' ability to call out all of His elect people from all nations through the preaching of the gospel (Luke 10:17,18, John 12:20-22, Acts 2:8-11,41, 11:18). He formerly could hold every person in a nation in bondage to his spiritual deception, as for example in ancient Assyria, Babylon and Egypt. But after the cross, Satan's ability to keep people enslaved was greatly reduced, revealed by the fact that people from all nations leave his dominion and become citizens of the Kingdom of God (Matt. 12:28,29, Col. 1:13).
Revelation 20:2 says that Jesus bound Satan a thousand years, after which Satan "must be loosed a little season" (Rev. 20:3,7). Sometimes the literal descriptions in the Bible have a physical historical basis, such as the accounts of Creation and the Flood. Sometimes the literal descriptions must be understood in a spiritual way. For example, the "thousand years" does not correspond to a space of time equal to 365 days times 1000. Since Satan was bound at the cross and no spiritual event took place around the year AD 1000, the thousand years must have a spiritual meaning.
Support for this view of the 1000 years is the fact that verse 4 teaches the "souls" lived during the thousand years (Rev. 20:4). The word "souls" is not equivalent to the word "people," as in I Peter 3:20, but rather to souls of those people who have been "beheaded," that is, the spiritual part of believers who were killed as they bore witness for Jesus. The space of time which begins at the cross and continues while believers souls and bodies are separated is the whole New Testament period prior to Judgment Day, which is a span of time longer than a thousand calendar years.
From Revelation 20:7,8 we can be a little more precise about the ending of the 1000 years. According to these verses, it seems that the thousand years ends around the time of the great tribulation, a time marked by deception (Rev. 20:7,8), which takes place just before Judgment at the end of time (Rev. 20:10,11). Therefore, the thousand years must be understood as the space of time between the two events of the cross and the tribulation which begins the preparation for Judgment Day. Both of these event are judgments, the first for Jesus and all of the elect, the second for Satan and all the unbelievers.
The last sentence of verse 5 belongs with verse 6. That is, verse 6 is an explanation of the "first resurrection." The first resurrection describes the salvation of believers. They alone, who were dead in their sins, were made alive in Christ (Eph. 2:1-6, Col. 2:13,14). They live and reign as kings a thousand years, as stated in verse 4 (Rev. 1:6, 5:10). The first resurrection is an experience which is common to all believers, because it applies to all for whom "the second death (wrath of God) hath no power," all who are "priests of God and Christ" and all who "reign." According to Revelation 20:6, they are "blessed." This is God's testimony of their spiritual situation and future hope. These words are an encouragement and comfort to believers, who must live out their lives during the thousand years and who may be persecuted because of their witness to the truth.
God reveals His power in chapter 20 to defeat His enemies and to preserve His people. God binds Satan in the fullness of time, loosens Satan when the determined time of the earth draws to a close and judges Satan and all of his host according to His own standard and schedule (Rev. 20:10-15). God also reveals His power to spiritually protect His people, even though they may die physically for their faithfulness to Him.
With the close of chapter 20, Judgment Day has come and gone. The story of the world has ended and in a way nothing more need be said. However, out of grace and love, God continues with His revelation, especially since it concerns Jesus, for in Revelation 21 and 22 we have a description of the beauty of Jesus throughout eternity. Even though the images are of a spiritual realm, which we cannot really see from our limited physical perspective, we can understand enough to rejoice and worship our Savior.
Revelation 21 begins with the amazing words "I saw a new heaven and a new earth." Even allowing for the fact that this is a vision that is symbolic, and describes events which no man has ever seen before, we are awed by the idea of a new universe. The promise of a new universe means that God has a new environment for His people. It also means that God has kept His promise to redeem creation (Rom. 8:21). Gone is the present sin cursed universe. Instead there is a new universe wherein dwells righteousness (II Pet. 3:13). The new universe will be a totally spiritual universe, the home of a spiritual God and His spiritual people (I Cor. 15:50). That is something which we can believe because God has said so, even though we cannot really conceptualize or understand it. It is different from all that we know, a place having no physical sea or sun, as different from this present universe as a plant is from its seed.
John sees in the new universe a new Jerusalem prepared as a bride. This does not refer to a real city as we know it but to all the believers. This conclusion is based upon the description of the city in Revelation 21:16. Insisting upon a physical understanding of that verse would lead to the ridiculous idea that the heavenly Jerusalem is a cube, miles long on each side. Actually, the number 12,000 is composed of the number 12, referring to the church founded upon the 12 tribes or the 12 apostles, together with the number 1000 referring to the completeness of all the believers. What a relief, after seeing ugly Babylon, the city of unbelievers and its king, to see beautiful Jerusalem, the city of believers and its King.
Jesus is now in His glorified spiritual body. To that fact, Revelation 21 reminds us that believers will have spiritual bodies too (I Cor. 15:44-50). That is a strange and unacceptable idea to many people. But it is what the Bible teaches. For one thing, as I John 3:2 puts it, believers will be like Him, seeing Him as He is. For another thing, they are spiritual so that they are the proper inhabitants of the new spiritual realm. Finally, from the point of view a marriage, the bride and the bridegroom become one, which can only happen if they are of the same kind, namely both spiritual.
Revelation reveals grace to God's people from one end (Rev. 1:4) to the other (Rev. 22:21). To escape the Judgment, which is so insistently and dominantly proclaimed throughout Revelation, is a far greater blessing than any one deserves. To have the tears of the fear of condemnation removed (Psalm 6:6, Matt. 5:4), to have the tears of sorrow for the demise of all those who are not saved removed (Psalm 126:6, Jer. 9:1) and to have the tears of regret for having hurt Jesus and others removed is amazing grace (Rev. 21:4). To receive the power to overcome the peril of the law, the tyranny of Satan and the enslavement to personal sin is amazing grace (Rev. 20:6). To be included as a child of God, and be a beneficiary of a joint inheritance with Jesus Himself is amazing grace (Rom. 8:17, Rev. 21:7). To be made the bride of Christ is amazing condescending grace (Rev. 21:9). No wonder that eternity will be full of praise and honor to the Lamb.
In great contrast to all the wonderful things found in Revelation 21, we read the horror of verse 8. This verse is not describing the most desperate sinners of society, rather it lists all people who are not saved. We see that there is another place for the unbelievers, a place far removed from where believers will dwell. The new heaven and earth is no place for unbelievers. They do not want it, and since they are not spiritual, they do not belong in it.
In Revelation 21:11, we read that believers, pictured by the image of the city of God, have the glory of God. Upon comparison with Isaiah 42:8 and 48:11, that might seem impossible. God shares His glory with no one. The conclusion we must come to is that believers have the glory of God in the sense that Jesus, the glory of God, is in them (Col. 1:27, Rev. 21:3). To use the figure of Revelation 21, believers are called the bride who has the glory of the bridegroom, because the bride and bridegroom become one. The glory is not that believers somehow become God-like but that the believers share in the glory of the righteousness and eternity of God. As we read, they are clean and white (Rev. 19:8), as He is (Rev. 1:14). Also, they reign forever (Rev. 22:5) as He does (Rev. 4:9,10, 5:13).
There is a close parallel in several details between Revelation 21,22 and Isaiah 60. For example, we could compare Isaiah 60:11 with Revelation 21:25, as well as Isaiah 60:19 with Revelation 21:23. Therefore, from Isaiah 60:18, we can understand the word "wall" to refer to "salvation" and the word "gates" to mean "praise." The words wall and gates can more specifically be identified with the gospel.
Like a wall which determines the shape and the limits of the city, the gospel defines the people of God. By the gospel we can measure the size of the city walls, that is, who is in the city and who is not part of the city. From Revelation's point of view, the gospel determines who is a citizen of the city and therefore the city's size (Rev. 21:17).
The "golden reed," used to measure the walls and the city, is also a picture of the gospel (Rev. 21:15). The word "reed" is translated as "pen" in the expression "ink and pen" found in III John 13, which is what John used to write the word of God. Therefore, the reed identifies with the word of God as it measures the spiritual condition or the righteousness of men. In that way, the reed measures the size of the city, that is, the number of people who are righteous. The measure is 144 cubits, a number which is purposely not associated with any dimension of the wall to highlight the fact that the number is not a physical measurement of the wall. Instead, we must look at 144 as a product of 12 times 12, reminding us of the 12 tribes and the 12 apostles which God used to form His church in both the Old Testament and New Testament times. The 144 is representative of all the believers who have ever lived.
The wall also separates God's people from those who do not belong in the city and so protects the city. That is the idea of Revelation 21:27. However, the enemies of the city no longer surround the city, having been banished to hell. That is, the city dwells safely, which is the idea behind the phrase we find in Revelation 21:25, "And the gates of it (the wall or the city) shall not be shut at all by day."
The gates of the city are the entrances to the city (Rev. 22:14). Although the word "gate" is not the same as the word "door" used in John 10, the identity with Jesus Christ is clear. Additionally, from Revelation 21:21, we see that the gates, as pearls, refer to the gospel of the Kingdom of God (Matt. 13:45). Altogether, the idea is that only through Jesus and His gospel is there entrance into the city.
That the gates face in the four compass directions (Rev. 21:13) highlights the fact that believers enter the city from the whole world. People from every kindred, tongue, people and nation (Rev. 5:9, 14:6) come to the city of God (Isa. 60:3-9). The names of the twelve tribes of Israel, that is, the believers (Rom. 2:28,29, Gal. 6:13-16), are on the gates. This means, among other things, that the people of the world come to the believers in the sense that they show the way to the city of God and in the sense that they beseech the world on behalf of Jesus, who is the gate (II Cor. 5:20).
That there are no less than 12 gates and 12 messengers (Rev. 21:12) into the city means that at least three gates face each direction, highlighting the fact that the gospel, which calls the people of the world, is faithful and true, for only by two or three witnesses is a word established. That there are no more than 12 gates and 12 messengers highlights the completeness of the gates, in the sense that there are no more gates, that is, no more messages than that which God has established (Rev. 22:18).
The twelve foundations of the city (Rev. 12:14) identify with Jesus Christ (I Cor. 3:11). The foundation must be strong otherwise the walls will collapse (Psalm 11:3). Fortunately, the foundation is as strong as God's word, that is, as strong as God Himself. From Revelation 21:19,20 we learn that the foundations are decorated with the jewels of the high priests' ephod, which they wore in their service to God (Exod. 28:15-21). This reminds us that the city is build upon God's work through God's priests, the believers, who bring the gospel (I Cor. 3:9, II Cor. 5:20, Rev. 1:6).
Revelation 22:1-5 pictures a refreshing universe which has Jesus as its center. Jesus is the fountain, the source of the river of life (Zech. 14:8). The river is the word of the gospel, which reveals Jesus as Creator, Savior, Judge and King. Jesus is the life, from whom all other life comes and is sustained. Jesus is the Lamb, always the Savior who loves sacrificially. Jesus is the tree of life, which heals the believers from all nations. Jesus is the all wise God, who gives light to His people for all eternity.
The centrality of Jesus in all things is revealed in an interesting inverse relationship between the beginning and the ending chapters of the Bible. Let us roughly point out the reciprocal arrangement of the first and the last chapters of the Bible, which highlights Jesus as the centerpiece in history, that is, real history, history of the universe from the point of view of the One who made all things and for whom all things exist. Briefly, the arrangement is as follows.
1. Genesis 1:1 through 2:3 describe the glory of God and His first words to men.
2. Genesis 2:4 through 2:17 describe the dwelling place of men as well as the promises God gives to Adam.
3. Genesis 2:18 through 2:25 describe the woman which is presented to Adam.
4. Genesis 3:1 through 3:24 describe the curse of sin, especially as it affects men's relationship with God.
5. Genesis 4:1 to the end of the Old Testament describe how evil goes out into the world, how it is displayed by men's personal corrupt life, as well as their hateful attitude toward God and each other. At the same time, this part of the Bible describes the promise of the gospel to restore people to the beauty of holiness.
In the fullness of time, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Immanuel, came to fulfill the gospel and undo the work of sin for the benefit of His people. Therefore, in reverse order to what we listed before, we have the following sequence ...
5. Throughout the New Testament, all the way up to Revelation 20:15, the Bible describes how the fulfilled gospel goes out into the world, reconciling men to God and to each other, as well as preparing men for judgment. This part of the Bible also describes how God fulfills His promise to make His people holy.
4. Revelation 21:1 through 21:8 describe the blessings of grace, especially as it affects believers' relationship with God.
3. Revelation 21:9 through 21:21 describe the bride, which is presented to the second Adam.
2. Revelation 21:22 through 22:5 describe the dwelling place of believers, as well as the fulfillment of the promises in the second Adam.
1. Revelation 22:6 through 22:21 describe the glory of God and His last words to men.
In this arrangement we see that Jesus Christ is the center of history, not chronologically, but spiritually. Mount Calvary stands tall in the panorama of events that span the years from Creation to Judgment Day. It is in the center in the sense that it is the most important of all events to ever take place. All of that ever was, is and will be turns on Jesus as upon a supporting hinge. It is like the Cross is a glass, clear as crystal, which inverts all that is on one side of it and refocuses it in reverse sequence, but yet colored by the value of Jesus' death. All that exists has meaning and purpose only in light of the amazing person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Superimposed upon the inverse arrangement of history, is a progression. The progression is from the simple to the complex. History begins with one family, Adam and Eve, and ends up with a multitude of children before the throne of grace. History begins with a garden and ends up with a city. The progression is also from the perilous to the secure. History begins with the tree of knowledge of good and evil and its curse, and ends up with the tree of life, bearing fruits for the healing of the nations. The progression is also from the physical to the spiritual. History begins with a sun, earth and sea, and ends up with a new heaven and a new earth, where the earth is removed, where the sea is no more and where light comes only from the Lamb of God.
The word "shortly" (takei) and its cousin "quickly" (taku), found in Revelation 22:6,7, emphasize the fact that "the time is at hand" for the fulfillment of all the things in this book and for the return of the Lord (Rev. 22:10,12). Even though John wrote hundreds of years ago, from the point of view of Revelation, he wrote at the end of time (I John 2:18), just like all the other apostles did (I Cor. 10:11, I Peter 4:7). It is the end of time in comparison to the much longer time of history beginning with Creation. It is also the end of time because after the Cross and Pentecost, the last event which must take place is that the gospel goes out into the world and prepares both the believers and the wicked for the end of history on Judgment Day. That is, it is at the end of the sequence of events God has planned for history.
The words "this book" found in Revelation 22:7,9,10,18 and 19, must not be limited to only the book of Revelation. For one thing, all of the Bible has one Author. It is all the word of God (Rev. 1:2). Therefore, Revelation, together with the rest of the Bible, has the same authority, not only in the sense that it is faithful and true (Rev. 22:6), but also in the sense that all men must obey what it says (Rev. 22:7). More than that, what we understand about Revelation must be a result of a comparison of its details with the rest of the Bible. All the parts of the Bible are inseparably interrelated, with the result that what we read in one part of the Bible must apply to the rest of the Bible as well. In short "this book" refers to one book, the whole Bible.
In Revelation 22:18,19, God warns anyone who adds to the words of this book, which we have already learned means the whole Bible. In fact, verse 18 is a test which allows us who live after the Revelation was completed to recognize whether a man is a false prophet or a true prophet, whether his message is a false gospel or a true gospel. According to Revelation 22:18, anyone who claims to bring a message from God after Revelation was written is bringing a false gospel. The message he brings might be a product of his imagination, a result of a mental disturbance, or a trick. He might have had an experience of a tongue, a vision, a voice or a dream. However, none of those experiences could be a communication from God. Such a person either is a charlatan, self-deluded or under the influence of Satan. To him belong the curses of the Bible.
If a person claims that he received a message from God through a special revelation he is a false prophet, even if he brings a message that is identical to the words in the Bible. In fact, imitating God's words is Satan's favorite way to deceive in order to eventually lead people away from the truth (II Cor. 11:13).
We must not confuse Revelation 22:18 with Deuteronomy 4:2 and 5:22. The words "this book" do not appear in the two Old Testament verses. The idea in the Old Testament verses is that none of the Israelites who heard Moses must add to the words which God spoke through Moses, for that was God's prerogative. God would add more words as time went on, until His revelation ended in Revelation 22:21. But anything a man added to God's word would reveal him to be in great spiritual danger (Prov. 30:6).
Likewise, anyone who takes away "from the words of the book of this prophecy" also shows himself to be unsaved. This warning could apply to people who claim that the stories of Creation, the Flood, the miracles described in the Old and New Testament are not historically accurate or trustworthy accounts of the actual physical events. This warning could also apply to people who insist that some parts of the Bible do not apply to Christians and are only for the Jews. In contrast to those un-biblical notions, we must insist that every verse of the Bible has a direct authority over and relevance to all believers (Deut. 12:32, II Tim 3:16,17).
The last words God wants people to read are words of grace (Rev. 22:21). The greatest revelation of all is the grace of God. It is a story that is too wonderful for men to believe (Isaiah 53:1). That is, they would not believe it without the work of God in their hearts (John 6:29). The revelation of the story of grace begins in Genesis 1:1. It is not just that creation itself is a display of grace. It is. Rather, it is that in creation we already begin see the story of redemption. The revelation of the amazing story of God's love in Jesus Christ continues throughout the Bible to Revelation 22:21.
That Jesus is the Savior is the BIG story of all time, of eternity. Jesus is the Savior from a BIG penalty because of a BIG sin against a BIG God. Jesus is therefore the object of a BIG thankfulness, praise and worship. A revelation which results in BIG relief and GREAT joy for believers is that the grace of Jesus who is LORD over all things is with them now and forevermore.
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