Six hundred and fifty-four days ago I sat down at my computer and wrote a piece about unchartered waters. It was intended to bring a measure of hope in some very uncertain times. We had just made the decision to suspend in-person worship, but no one really knew what that might look like. Our tech folks, Emily Beekman in particular, went to work and we began recording worship so we could stay connected as best as we could. It was just strange preaching to a camera and nothing else, trying to picture people sitting in their spots scattered throughout the sanctuary. I wrote everyday through 2020 and began to wonder how long the pandemic would last as well as how long I might keep writing. Then we made the decision to read through the Bible during the year 2021. And God prompted me to turn the daily writing into a daily Bible study. It has been an incredible journey. Thanks for joining us. Along the way we have celebrated holidays together, major and minor. We have remembered people, dates, and events. I have no idea who has been reading or how far some of the writings have been sent. It has been a challenging and sometimes difficult year. Through it all, we have had God’s Word to turn to. My hope and prayer for all of us is that we have grown in faith this last year. If this was your first trip through the Bible, congratulations! Look what you have done. If this is a repeat journey, great job! Either way…what Bible are you going to read through this next year? My journey in 2022 will be through the blue letter edition of the Bible. Not only are the words of Jesus in red, but throughout the Old Testament the prophecies about Jesus are in blue! Every read through, God reveals more and different things about Himself. And His Word also reveals things about me. Some of them I like and others, not so much. That is how we grow.
Some days I have had a helper in my writing. Many days as I have sat at my desk at home writing, my buddy Casper has stood next to me, “helping”! But he has written as well. So, I will let him share some thoughts with you.
Hi everybody it’s me Casper. I’m another year older now, almost eleven. And during the year I have gotten a new brother and a new sister. They are greyhounds like me. They’re OK but, well, I liked being an only dog too. My dad said I could share some thoughts with you since this is the last day we will be writing. It will be nice to have my dad back. I think he is about out of words! This year I learned that all three of us are adopted but my dad said that he is adopted too. Only he said it is because Jesus was willing to take away his sins and now, he is an adopted son of Jesus and my mom is an adopted daughter of Jesus. I think that’s pretty cool to be one of Jesus’ kids. It’s not too bad being adopted because that means somebody loves you and not only that, they picked you. So that must mean Jesus picked the people He adopted too. I think Jesus adopted a lot of people. I learned that naps are good things. My dad says that is rest and God rested after he created everything. I would have to rest a long time if I created everything. I have to take a nap after I do zoomies in the backyard for 5 minutes. Dad said we are supposed to rest because we function better when we do. I don’t think he always takes his own advice though. I learned that it is good to say thank you when people do things for you. So me and Hickory, my brother, and Happy, my sister say thank you by snuggling with mom and dad and we give them kisses and lots of tail wags too. And most of the time we even come when they call us. I also learned that you have to accept people just like they are. My brother is scared of lots of things, and he gets really shy, but we still love him anyway. And my sister is kind of a drama Queen. But she’s really really fast. She even won a bunch of races. I did too back in the day, but she is way faster than me. But that’s ok. We love her too. God made each one of us just the way He wanted us to be, and He loves us so we try hard to love each other. Oh, and one more thing. It is good to share. We have lots of toys but there is one everybody likes, and we have to take turns. Sometimes we bark at each other and once in a while I growl. That usually gets me in trouble. I don’t always want to share but dad says that’s one of the ways we show each other love. I don’t like it so much when he is right. So that’s all for me, at least I think so. It was fun to share with you once in a while and it gave my dad a break.
As I look back over the year there is much to be thankful for. Yes, we had some challenges. There were some folks who joined the church triumphant. It hurts down here but as believers we live in the promise that one day, we will all be together again in a place way better than this. We have had the privilege of worshiping in person and it is amazing what a lift that brings to so many every week. We were together for Easter and Christmas. It was awesome and amazing to see people. Many of you have spent time checking in on others. Thank you. You have been the hands and feet of Jesus. For all the volunteers, you have made ministry richer and easier for all of us. Thank you. For the many people who make Sunday morning run; you are awesome. Thank you. For Matt, Lawrence, John, Patti, Emily, and Val. I appreciate your servant hearts and love of Jesus. Thank you. Church council kept meeting in spite of the pandemic via zoom. Thank you for your leadership. For those of you who gave faithfully, you have blessed many through your gifts. Thank you. And a special shout out to Patti Wiese and Emily Beekman for sending these writings out for 654 days. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all of your hard work.
If you are old enough you have heard these words. I’m so glad we had this time together, just to share a laugh and sing a song. It has been a good 654 days, but it is time to sign off. It has been a pleasure spending part of the day with you. And as another comedy classic would say, Good night and God bless.
May we always be:
In His Grip,
Pastor Matt W. and Casper
In the first ten verses of today’s reading there are three parts: the binding of the evil one, the reign of God’s holy people, and the release of the evil one for his final attempt at a battle. There are also four themes. The evil one’s war is futile…he cannot withstand even an angel. God’s holy people will be vindicated and glorified. God will have the final victory. Even when sinful and depraved humans experience Christ’s good purposes in the world they still flock after the evil one when he gains even a small amount of freedom to act.
Like the Old Testament angel of the Lord the angel coming down from heaven has God’s authority. This is symbolized by the key that controls the bottomless pit and the power to put chains on God’s great enemy for 1,000 years. God has as sovereign plan for the evil one. He will be shut up in the abyss for 1,000 years and then briefly released to deceive the nations once more before being cast into the lake of fire. What a grand and glorious day that will be!!! The 1,000 years in the pit for the evil one is a preliminary defeat for him and the powers of evil. Deception is the trademark of the evil one who is a liar. The faithful believers who experience Christ’s reign will not be deceived. The little while might be the equivalent of the symbolic three and a half years…it is a limited time. Verse 4 portrays a heavenly tribunal which includes the elders, the victorious martyrs, and God’s people. Beheading was a common form of execution for Roman citizens. By law Roman citizens could not be crucified except under extreme situations. The faithful who had remained true to Christ and resisted receiving the mark of the beast will judge the condemned. They will sit on thrones similar to those of the elders who worshiped the One sitting in the throne. At the onset of the kingdom, authority is officially transferred from angels to men. A new world order is established with the overcoming Saints of the church age coming together with Christ in His kingdom. Those who had been beheaded are believers martyred by the beast. In verses 5-6 John contrasts the first resurrection with the second death. Let me explain. From this is looks like the resurrection of the dead does not happen all at once. This passage indicates that there will be a first resurrection of dead believers before the 1,000 years and a final resurrection after the millennium is finished, before the great white judgement throne.
Now we see the fifth of the seven beatitudes. This focuses on the promised reward of life. God’s faithful people will reign with Christ as priests of God. The first resurrection is assured for all believers, but the blessedness mentioned here belongs more precisely to those who have a part in the first resurrection. The second death is the everlasting death of torment in the lake of fire for unbelievers who face the great white throne judgement. John has previously stated that the one who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death. Verses 7-10 speak of the final defeat of the evil one. His all-out attempt to conquer God will result in his demise. These verses have two main purposes: to show God’s absolute justice because the evil one and his followers are worthy of punishment and will never change. And second, to show the depravity of those who follow the evil one. It is amazing that in spite of seeing the nature of Christ’s reign in the world for many years people still flock to the evil one’s standard when he is set free. These factors are the basis for the judgement at the great white throne. As a result of the evil one’s deception the world’s armies will gather for battle against God again as they had done before Christ’s second coming. When he is free to act the evil one always seeks to deceive. He will gather an army once more in a final attempt to overwhelm God’s people. Gog and Magog was a common rabbinical title for the nations in rebellion against the Lord, and the names recall the prophesied invasion of Israel in Ezekiel 38-39. Jewish traditions vary regarding the locations of Gog and Magog. Symbolically they are towards the north, the direction from which Israel’s enemies traditionally approached. The names represent nations and rulers from every corner of the earth that oppose God’s people. Repeating the earlier scenes in which God’s enemies assemble for battle, the evil one here makes a last-ditch attempt to confront God and His forces. We see the comparison between the evil one’s followers and Abraham’s descendants. Both are as numerous as sand along the seashore. This should be terrifying to all of us to think there are that many who follow, practice, and delight in evil. We see too the characteristics of those who follow the evil one. Their names are not written in the Book of Life. They are judged according to their works, and they are found to be worthy of endless death. These unbelievers are destined for the lake of fire along with the members of the evil trinity. Once again, no battle occurs because God sent fire down from heaven and consumed them, just like Sodom. If there was doubt before, we see again that the enemies of God cannot stand against Him. In the lake of fire, they will be tormented forever. Rebellion against God has eternal consequences. The thought of eternal torment may bother some people, but God has made it crystal clear that those who chose evil over Him will pay for their disobedience. The message of scripture is that God will deal sternly with sin and rebellion by those who choose to reject Jesus Christ and His saving work. More than any other book in scripture, Revelation shows that the unrepentant persist in their rebellion despite the consequences. Revelation also shows that God is just and deals with sin as it deserves.
The rest of chapter 20 speaks of the final judgement. We see a court hearing at which the dead are judged on the basis of their works. God’s response to eternal rebellion is eternal punishment. The great white throne is a picture of God’s holy rule and judgement. The One occupying the throne may be God the Father or both the Father and the Lamb as seen in the new Jerusalem. The earth and heaven have fled is a poetic way of describing the burning up of this creation and its related works. There is no place anymore for this sin polluted creation in the new heaven and new earth. Even creation knows that you can run but you cannot hide. The rest of the dead from verses 5 are raised and made to stand before God’s throne of judgement. To some the first resurrection includes only martyrs so that both believers and unbelievers will stand before the great white throne. There are others who point to the broad promises to Christians in the Book of Revelation of ruling with Christ as evidence that all Christians will experience the first resurrection and thus will not have to endure the great white throne of judgement. Once the people were gathered the books were opened, including the Book of Life. This book holds the names of those who have experienced God’s saving power. Books in general refers to the record of all works done in this life. Since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God the opening of these books would certainly lead to eternal sentences in the lake of fire. Here’s the thing. None of us will be judged acceptable based on what we have done in this life, many will be saved by God’s grace received by faith in Jesus Christ.
The sea is the resting place of unburied bodies. Death and hades refer not only to dying but to existence beyond the grave. The picture here is of all intermediate abodes of human bodies giving them up to God in judgement. While unbelieving humanity is judged according to its works, death and hades, the Lord’s final enemy is also destroyed by being cast into the lake of fire. The second death is spiritual and eternal, just like the punishment of the wicked. The first death is physical dying. Both are included in the overall meaning of the death that came upon the human race because of Adam and Eve’s sin. The expression death and the grave refer to the reality of death. It is the last enemy God will destroy. The lake of fire portrays the horrible end of God’s enemies who will not experience the first resurrection.
Everything takes a decided turn for the amazing in chapter 21. Here we see the new Jerusalem. This vision involves God’s creation of the new heaven and new earth. The old creation has disappeared because it was decayed and badly tainted by sin. The sea was gone. The sea was associated with chaos, or the abyss and it was sometimes portrayed as a roaring monster. The new creation will be free from all such evil. New here suggests freshness not just a second beginning. This is the fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah 65:16, 66:22, and 2 Peter 3:13. It is significant that this eternal renewal has already begun in the life of believers because using the same term, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” The old passes away before the new heaven and earth arrive. The fact that there will be a continuation of some features of the present creation in the new heaven and new earth is implied by the description of the New Jerusalem as the holy city, a title that is applied to the present Jerusalem. But the differences between old and new are drastic. The New Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven, prepared as a bride, is where God’s people or Christ’s church are prepared for the marriage of the Lamb. Christ is the husband or Lamb, and the church is His bride. This new creation is a gift from God. In the beginning God created everything good and in the end, God will create a new, unbroken world. This picture of Jerusalem as a beautiful bride stands in stark contrast to the vision of Babylon as the prostitute.
God is now home among His people. Both Old Testament and New Testament expectations are fully and finally realized. Ever since humanity sinned, separation from God had been humanity’s greatest problem. God has repeatedly called His people to Himself through the prophets, through Jesus His Son, and through the presence of the Spirit. In the new heaven and new earth, God’s people will finally experience ultimate and everlasting fellowship with God. This recalls the incarnation where Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us. In the new heaven and new earth there will be no more death, sorrow, crying, or pain. God’s people will know the creative wholeness and salvation that Christ brings. The believer’s rebirth through faith in Christ brings newness to that person’s life, but it is only in the eternal state that God will make all things new. John is to record this because it is trustworthy and true. It is finished echoes from the throne just like it did from the cross. This connects Christ’s death with the assurance of eternal life. It also proclaims the completion of God’s wrath being poured out in Babylon. Now the focus is on the One who created the new heaven and new earth. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. Using the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet John portrays God as encompassing total reality and total truth. God was from the beginning, and He is also the end, the goal. Because Christ is supreme and in charge of all things, He dispenses the water of life to all who are thirsty for it. Water of life here is tied back to Jesus’s references to living water in John 4:14. Jesus spoke of this water in connection to eternal life and life in the Holy Spirit. We will see a similar offer to the one who is spiritually thirsty in 22:17. All who are victorious, that is God’s children who in life will inherit His blessings will persevere. The best part is that the believers will be sons and daughters of His. They will be rightful heirs forever. Adoption is a covenant relationship, and the adoption language certifies their privileges and responsibilities.
The list of vices in verse 8 summarizes sins described throughout Revelation. These sins characterize people who have not experienced adoption by God. Their fate is the lake of fire for all of eternity. John mentions liars several times. It seems that he believed that deception is the root of all sin. Elsewhere he describes the evil one as the father of lies. Verses 21:9-22:9 are a symbolic vision of the new Jerusalem. We see vivid word pictures used to describe the bride, the wife of the Lamb. This is all who respond to Christ’s message of salvation. Another of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the last plagues invited John to come with him. There John saw the bride, the wife of the Lamb. The angel took John, in the Spirit, to a great high mountain. In scripture experiences with God often occur on the mountains. They are places of revelation. This high mountain overlooks the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. We are reminded that God’s presence and eternal life cannot be reached by human effort but are received as a gift. The description of this new city emphasizes God’s glory which is the source of plight for the city. Jasper is opaque on earth, but the heavenly jasper is clear as crystal, having a transparency that mirrors God’s purity and integrity. The description of the great and high wall that contains 12 gates named after the twelve tribes of Israel echoes Ezekiel 48:30-35. There is scholarly debate as to the meaning of the 12 gates. Some point to the 12 tribes and others believe
They represent all of God’s people, including both Israel and the church. Some think they are all of the Israelites. Many believe the 12 tribe represent the redeemed people of God. The foundation for this community of God’s redeemed is the 12 apostles of the Lamb. In Jesus, God’s promise to bless all of the families of the earth through Abraham has been fully realized. The 12 apostles being the foundation of the new Jerusalem recalls Paul’s imagery of the apostles as the foundation of the house of God in Ephesians 2:20. There were gates on all four sides, three to a side. This is the same formation the tribes of Israel took as they encamped around the tabernacle of the Lord as they wandered in the wilderness.
This angel who was giving John the tour of the new Jerusalem had a gold measuring stick to measure the city, it’s walls and gates. Measuring defines accepted boundaries. This recalls Ezekiel 40-41. The city is laid out like a cube. It’s length, breadth, and height are all equal. The cube was an ancient symbol of perfection. The most holy place in the temple and the temple itself were cubic in design. The symmetrical measurements of the city are so vast (1,400 miles) and the wall is so thick (200 feet) that they almost surpass the imagination. The imagery suggests that the city is the dwelling place of God’s presence, just as the tabernacle and temple had been. It is impossible to be certain whether ordinary measurements should be applied to the eternal state, though the reference to the measure of a man may imply that they should. The measurement of 1,400 miles equals 12,000 stadia. The number 12,000 symbolically represents the people of God. In the ancient world walls were important not only to the defense of the city but also to its status. The fact that these walls are nearly 200 feet thick indicates the strength of God’s redeemed people. The measurement of 144 cubit uses a multiple of 12 to represent God’s people. A cubit was the length of a man’s forearm, a standard measure of 18 inches. The wall is built of jasper. The city is fashioned in gold which is not opaque like earthly gold. Instead, like God’s transformed people, the heavenly gold is clear and pure. The 12 stones adorning the foundation of the city’s walls are a reminder of the twelve stones in the high priest’s breastplate that represented the people of God. The exact color of some of the stones is uncertain but it is probable that the jasper is colorless, sapphire is blue, chalcedony is green or greenish blue, emerald is bright green, sardonyx has layers of red and white, Sardis is blood red, chrysolite is yellow, beryl is blue or blue green, topaz is golden, chrysoprase is apple green, Jacinth is blue or bluish purple, and amethyst is purple or violet. It is interesting that things that are precious and luxurious on earth are considered building materials in heaven.
There will be no temple in the new Jerusalem because the Father and the Son will be there. Christ referred to His body as a temple and the church called itself a temple of God. This may seem like a conflict with earlier visions but keep in mind each vision in the book is a separate symbolic representation of God’s presence. Now that God is dwelling with His people there is no need for a temple. The vitality, energy, and life of the city are not in institutions or physical sources of light and power. They come from the Lamb and the glory of God. The sun and moon were features of the first creation, but Jesus is the Light of the world. With the statement that the nations will walk in its light God’s promise to Abraham is fulfilled. From all the nations Christ’s redeemed will enter the city in all their glory. This glory is God’s glory which is reflected in people who have repented and walk with God. The city gates are never closed because there is no night. This is in contrast to the ancient days when the city gates would be shut right at night to keep the residents safe and the enemies out. But now all the enemies of God and His people have been destroyed and there is no night. Therefore, the gates never need to be closed. Gold people will enjoy peace in His supremacy. There is no more fear or failure. There will be nothing evil or unclean there either. Evil here refers to things that are dishonest and idolatrous. Those whose names are not in the Lamb’s Book of Life will not be in the city.
John’s vision of the city also deals with God’s provision of water and food for His people. Although God originally made a garden of delight for His people, Adam and Eve, they were disobedient and lost it. Now Eden is refashioned and united to the celestial city as God’s marvelous gift for his faithful people. The river flowing with the water of life is reminiscent of the water coming from the temple in Ezekiel 47, as well as Jesus’ expression of rivers of living water in John 7:38 symbolizing the new covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit. And, although humans were denied access to the tree of life after they sinned it is now freely available. The tree on each side of the rivers shows that there is no wrong side of the river in heaven. The tree produces 12 crops of fruit each month, demonstrating God’s constant provision . The leaves of the tree are a healing balm for the nations. Everyone will be made whole. Ever since the first sin humanity has been cursed because of their rebellion against God. Now the rebellion, sin, and the curse are gone forever. His servants will worship Him there. Revelation gives us glimpses of authentic worship. Before sin came into the world, God went to the garden of Eden in the cool of the evening to walk with Adam and Eve. The first sin destroyed that and even Moses didn’t see the Lord’s face. Now, when all sin and evil is gone, we will see God face to face. Paul said we now see in a mirror dimly but then face to face. The human fears of death and of seeing God will be removed. God’s people will bear His name. The glory of God will shine forever, and the eternal inhabitants of the New Jerusalem will reign forever with the Lord as implied in 1:6 and stated in Daniel 7:18,27.
The rest of chapter 22 is the epilogue. There are utterances by an angel followed by a concluding plea for Christ’s return, and a closing benediction. The epilogue has a number of direct verbal connections with the introduction to the book (1:1-11) and it sums up important themes such as encouraging faithful perseverance, warning evildoers, affirming the authenticity of the prophetic message, and restating the nearness of Christ return. The visions of Revelation are meant to inform the servants of God, the believers who will serve and reign with the Lord eternally as to what could take place very soon. Everything that John records in Revelation is trustworthy and true because God who has all authority has sent the messenger. However, this does not mean the visions are easy to understand. Verse 7 brings the sixth of the beatitudes found in the Book of Revelation. The blessed here are those who are obedient. John is still awestruck at what he has seen, and he falls down at the feet of the angel who has showed all these things to him. Again, John is chastised and warned to worship only God. Instead of sealing up what he has written, John is instructed to not seal up the words because the time is near, the time of fulfillment is potentially close. Some things have been sealed, like the seven thunders, because God does not reveal everything. This is serious business here. We are encouraged to be ready when the Lord returns and if we are waiting for later, or for when we think we are closer to our end, we could well be in trouble. Eternal life is guaranteed for believers but there are no guarantees about tomorrow or even the rest of today. If we are not right with the Lord, now is the time.
Vile people who refuse to accept God’s forgiveness will continue to be vile. But John reminds the righteous to maintain their integrity. This verse (11) is a warning to evildoers. It also calls on the righteous to recognize the crucial significance of Christ’s return relative to their commitments and actions. Christ is coming soon to repay people for their actions, be they good, bad, or indifferent. Not every statement of belief is genuine, and faith will show itself in actions. We are indeed saved by grace and the power of God in Jesus Christ. Our works do not save us, but they indicate the seriousness of our confession and provide a just basis for our ultimate reward or punishment. Verse 14 brings the seventh and last beatitude. In response to the connection between actions and ultimate results, this beatitude promises acceptance for those who wash their robes. These are those who have been purified by trusting in Christ and following Him faithfully. These folks will enter the gates of the holy city and eat of the fruit from the tree of life.
Outside the city gates is a very different story. Verse 15 lists those not allowed into the city. This contrasts with those who enter in listed in verse 14. These unrepentant sinners remain outside the city, though it is unclear just where outside the city. It is yet another warning to those who do not repent that they will not be allowed to enter the city of God. The reference to sinners as dogs was a familiar Jewish designation for rejected outsiders. Jews still used this term for Gentiles in John’s day. Jesus sent the angel to bring John this message for the church. Jesus validates the message of the Book of Revelation. He is both the root and offspring of David. He is also the bright morning star which was a prophetic name for the Messiah. Come! Is a repeated invitation. The bride is the church, the Lamb’s wife, the people of God. The thirsty can drink freely from God’s provision. Verses 18-19 are a solemn declaration. John issues an oath to protect the integrity of the Book of Revelation. He declared a curse upon anyone who alters the contents of the book or message. The curse contrasts with the statement of blessing on all who read aloud, listen to, and obey the prophecy. At the time Revelation was written, scribes would sometimes alter books to suit their own viewpoint. Early Christians quickly developed their own means of authenticating both messages and messengers. Here is the promise: “I am coming soon!” The response is amen, meaning yes it shall be so. Revelation closes with a benediction similar to those in Paul’s letters. The fitting final sentence invokes the grace of the Lord Jesus, the foundation of our forgiveness and the basis of our eternal hope. Amen
In His Grip,
Pastor Matt W.
Today is our last free day in our 2021 journey of a lifetime reading. If you have made it this far CONGRATULATIONS!!! Now you have the reading schedule so you can choose a different Bible and begin reading all over again. Perhaps you want to read chronologically this time. I have a few copies of the chronological daily walk Bible if anyone is interested. This is the Living Word of God, and each read through, God reveals different things for us to ponder and embrace. And if your old reading sheet is a bit tattered, we have more. It has been a great journey in a challenging year. But God is good all the time and all the time God is good. So here are some final thoughts.
Rome has played a sizable part in the Book of Revelation. Economic gain was the driving force of Rome’s imperial expansion. Egypt for instance supplied much of the grain for Rome, while Judea provided items such as fish and balsam wood. Colonial governance, military peacekeeping efforts and the extensive system of Roman roads were all designed for Rome’s material benefit. Local people who joined forces with Rome also profited from the imperial enterprise. So it makes perfect sense that the merchants would weep and mourn over Babylon because no one would purchase their cargo or goods any longer. In Revelation John was especially concerned about Roman economic exploitation through the trade in luxury goods. John’s list of goods in verses 18:12-13 was modeled on the listing of cargoes mentioned in the lament for the city of Tyre in Ezekiel 27. John adapted it to the realities of the Roman Empire. Items like gold, silver, cinnamon, and citron wood were luxuries, not necessities for the Roman elite. Taken in this light, Revelation was not only a prediction of doom for the wicked kingdom of Babylon but also a challenge to any nation that focuses on wealth and luxury while rejecting the rule of God.
Interpreting Revelation has caused and continues to cause much debate. At least four standard methods for interpreting the book have developed. Preterists view the book as referring almost exclusively to first century events, like the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. Historicists view the book as referring to the unfolding of church history until Christ’s second coming. Idealists see the book as symbolizing the eternal conflict between good and evil. Futurists see the book as mainly about the end times. Sometimes interpreters blend two or more of these approaches. There are the premillennialists who believe that the current age between Christ’s first and second comings will end when He returns to inaugurate a literal 1,000-year rule on earth with His holy people. After that Christ will execute the final judgement and inaugurate His eternal kingdom. The amillennialists believe the 1,000 years represents the current age between Christ’s first and second comings, in which Christ reigns spiritually with His people. At the end of this age, Christ will return, execute the final judgement, and inaugurate His eternal kingdom. The postmillennialists believe during the current age following Christ’s first coming, Christ will establish through the church an age of peace on earth, represented by 1,000 years. Then Christ will return, execute the final judgement, and inaugurate His eternal kingdom. Differences over these different perspectives have caused conflict among Christians. Regardless of where you fall in what all of this means all believers can agree on the message of Revelation. Christ will visibly return and rule in an actual new heaven and earth. A real spiritual warfare is taking place. Hell, like heaven, is real and all people will be judged by God’s standards. The prophecies of Revelation offer hope to God’s people in the midst of pain, suffering, and confusion in the world.
We have seen many judgements in the Book of Revelation, and they are there for a purpose. They are not just about destruction thought it may seem like it. There were many tormented sufferers with the fifth trumpet but instead of turning to God, they sought death. Many prefer to die rather than admit their sin. But this judgement was a chance for people to repent and turn to God. In the sixth seal the people cried for rocks to fall on them to hide them from the wrath of the Lamb. By seeking escape from judgement, they showed fear rather than trust in God. At the end of the sixth seal, in spite of all the plagues, people still refused to repent of their evil deeds and turn to God. For some people, it doesn’t matter what happens to them. They won’t change, even under pressure. Revelation emphasizes the ultimate justice of God and the principle of retribution. Believers and unbelievers alike will receive exactly what they deserve. The judgements are a part of God’s mission and offer a last chance to repent. The judgements, like the plagues in Egypt, disprove the power of the earthly gods and of God’s enemies. The judgements are God’s partial answer to the prayers of the Saints for retribution. Judgement occurs in God’s time, not ours. Even though God has made it clear that sin is wrong and judgement is coming, many people still refuse to repent and accept God’s grace. Even in the final days, when Gods sends His witness to prophesy concerning the coming destruction, many people will prefer to align themselves with evil forces and will gloat over the demise of God’s prophets. Those who so oppose God and flee from Him will eventually be excluded from His presence. Judgement against disobedience and evil ways is inevitable, even in the church. God, however, patiently waits for repentance and offers His grace.
Much has been made of the Roman rulers during the first century so here is a snapshot of eight of them. Octavian ruled from 27BC-14AD. He was given the name Augustus. This was Caesar Augustus who was in power when Jesus was born. He became the first Roman emperor after defeating Marc Antony at the battle of Actium in 27BC. The title Augustus initiated emperor worship. He was succeeded by his adopted son Tiberius who reigned from 14-37 AD. He was a wise and humble ruler. It was Tiberius who appointed Pontus Pilate as governor of Judea. Next was Gaius or Caligula. He was the son of Augustus’s general Germanicus. Caligula was nicknamed “little boots” for his military attire. He went insane, squandered the treasury, ruled as a despot, and was assassinated. He was followed by Claudius. He ruled from 41-54 AD. He was Tiberius’s nephew, proclaimed emperor by the Praetorian Guard after Caligula’s death. He was a friend of Herod Agrippa I. He ended the persecution of Jews in Alexandria but in 49AD he expelled all the Jews from Rome. He married Nero’s mother Agrippina, who poisoned him. Nero comes next. He was adopted by Claudius and succeeded him. Nero ruled from 54-68 AD. He spent his time on pleasure. He loved to build things and set the city of Rome in fire in 64 AD so he could rebuild it the way he wanted. Paul appealed to him, but Paul also instructed the Romans to submit to him. Later Nero murdered his wife and his mother. He was the first persecutor of Christians. Nero was succeeded by Vespasian who ruled from 69-79 AD. He was a successful legate (general) and the son of a tax collector. Vespasian began the Jewish war by invading Galilee in 67 AD. As emperor he reformed Rome’s finances, reorganized the armies, and ruled with a reputation for justice. He also began the construction of the colosseum. Vespasian died of an illness. Titus was the son of Vespasian. He ruled from 79-81 AD. Titus ended the Jewish war with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. As the emperor he completed the colosseum, gave disaster relief after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, and a fire in Rome in 80 AD. He died of a fever. Domitian was the younger son of Vespasian who grew up in Titus’s shadow. Domitian coveted power. He was a capable administrator. He rebuilt damaged parts of Rome. He proclaimed himself divine and demanded to be worshiped as god. He also extorted new taxes and relentlessly persecuted Christians. He was the ruler when John wrote Revelation. Domitian died by assassination.
As the last book of the Bible, Revelation draws on all that has gone before and depicts the ascended and heavenly Jesus in the splendor God the Father promised to Him and to those who trust in Him. The visions of Revelation show that God’s people will face suffering in this sinful world. Christ will return in judgement. He will rescue all who call on His name. Scripture repeatedly underscores that one of the greatest blessings of the new heavens and new earth is that restored humankind will once again behold God face to face and live in His immediate presence. How awesome is that?!
In His Grip,
Pastor Matt W.
From 17:1-19:10 the great drama that unfolds focuses on the powers that are hostile to God and responsible for the persecution and suffering of God’s people. Rome’s power was captivating to many but John doesn’t focus on that. Instead he is intentional in defining Rome’s sins. He provides God’s assessment before outlining its fall and Heaven’s response. This is a continuation of what we read in 16:17-21. One of the seven angels who had poured out the seven bowls, an angel of judgement, summoned John to a new scene where he sees the coming judgement of the great prostitute, who rules over many waters. Rome was located on the Tiber River. They controlled the seats of power and water trade routes throughout the Mediterranean, from the British Isles to the Euphrates River. Both the kings and the inhabitants of the earth are seduced into committing spiritual adultery with Rome. Adultery with Rome is a biblical image for worshiping and serving other gods. Being drunk in scripture usually depicts nations and people that engage in wanton and immoral behavior. They were drunk with materialpossessions, false worship, and pride. The wine of Babylon’s fornication and immorality is judged forcefully and finally by God in the wine press of the fierceness of His wrath. John is carried away in the Spirit into the wilderness. This was his way of describing a visionary experience. John sees a depiction of Rome’s moral corruption and excessive luxury. This illustrates how such wealth can become an abomination to God. In the wilderness John saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that had seven heads and ten horns. There were blasphemies written all over the beast. The woman wore purple and scarlet clothing and she was dripping in gold, precious stones, and pearls. She was holding a gold cup that was full to overflowing with the abominations, obscenities, and the impurities of her immorality. The woman represents Babylon and she is dressed like a Queen. Her appearance might be regal but she is anything but. We see two distinct views here. The first is from the standpoint of the people who look at the outer appearance. She looks splendid on the outside. The second view is from the perspective of God who looks at the heart. From that vantage point she looks horrible, disobedient, filthy, immoral, and evil.
The woman had a name written in her forehead: Babylon the Great, Mother of all prostitutes, and of the abominations of the earth. Babylon was the symbol of the idolatries and demonic obscenities of the world. As Mother she had produced offspring who copied her character, or lack there of. Rome, like Babylon, prostituted herself to false gods and led other nations into idolatry and adultery. Even worse, she was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people who were witnesses for Jesus; along with the wine of her fornication. The names on her forehead suggests that all spiritual harlotry and abominable acts are somehow the offspring of Babylon. That makes her actions doubly repugnant to God, as are the acts of anyone who persecutes God’s people. The woman’s hatred of Christianity is clearly portrayed in this verse. Being drunk from saint’s blood implies a time of extraordinary slaughter. John stared in utter a amazement but the angel asked why he was so amazed. In response to John’s amazement the angel prepares him to understand the mystery of the woman and the beast with the seven heads and ten horns. The destruction within this vision is contrasted with the destiny of the people of God in the new heaven and earth.
The description of the beast who was, and is not, and will ascend and go to perdition is a conscious contrast to the description of God. This beast will go to eternal ruin or punishment. Those whose names are not written in the Book of Life are deceived by the beast because they do not know it’s certain eternal destiny. All they see it’s one who once existed and has now made an incredible emergence. When Domitian became emperor (81-96 AD) he was as evil as Nero. Both men were fierce persecutors of the church. Many thought Domitian was the embodiment of Nero’s spirit, if not Nero himself. The angel, said “you saw” indicating that the angel’s interpretation occurred after John saw the vision. This beast was once alive but now isn’t. This is a direct contrast to God who is and who was and who will come again. In contrast to God’s people, the people of the world are not written in the Book of Life. They will be amazed by the apparent resurrection of the beast. The angel told John he needed wisdom to understand. The mind that has wisdom possesses divinely aided spiritual understanding. This is a mind that is receptive to God’s truth. The seven heads of true beast represents the seven hills on which Rome was built. However, this might also refer to successive world empires. According to this view five would be past kingdoms. That would include Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, MedoPersia, and Greece. The sixth would be the Roman Empire and the seventh was yet to come. This seventh could be a sort of revived Roman Empire. Kings here might refer to Roman emperors but this is unlikely since more than five had reigned before the writing of Revelation. Thebeast is related to the seventh kings but also has a separate identity. The eighth world empire seems to be some form of a reestablish the Roman Empire over which the antichrist establishes the imperial authority of a dictator. He will overcomethree horns or nations and will claim universal authority. A limited time to reign is allowed to ten kings or horns. The ten horns, symbolic of the world kingdoms that follow the beastrule simultaneously under his direction. While these verses have caused speculation concerning a ten nation confederacy ( from the client kingdoms of Rome, to the states opposed to the HolyRoman Empire, all the way to the European Union) all these conjectures are beside the point. The point is that all nations opposed to God will be defeated.
Whatever power they might amass, the beast and the kings have no hope of winning because Jesus is Lord of all lords and King of all kings. Those God has called and chosen and who remain faithful to Him will stand with Him as victors. Many of those whom the beast defeated and even killed are now numbered in the conquering army of the Lamb. The Lord’s army is composed of the called, chosen, and faithful. While the prostitute rules over the masses, it does not bring her victory. Instead, the beast hates and kills the great prostitute. The evil one strikes even those he uses for his evil purposes. The woman in the vision John saw is the great city of Babylon and the ancient “mother of harlots”. So the evil influence of this city over the world’s leaders has continued from Babel through ancient Babylon to Rome. But we see that God is always in control. He put a plan into the minds of the enemy that will fulfill the Lord’s divine purposes.
Chapter 18 contains seven poetic responses or taunt songs to the fall of Babylon. Ancient taunt songs derided a defeated enemy. In these taunt songs the fall of Babylon, or Rome, is portrayed as a traumatic event for subservient kingdoms, especially those who had profited from her luxury. The sacking of Rome by the Goths and Visigoths (400’s AD) brought the prosperous empire to an end. John saw another angel come down from heaven. This angel had great authority and the earth grew bright from his splendor. Splendor is not normally used for anything except the divine presence. This angel may well have come from the presence of God, seated on the throne. He had a proclamation: Babylon is fallen. Once a beautifully dressed woman, Babylon became a desolate den for demons and unclean birds such as vultures. The normal dwelling place for demons is the bottomless pit. As the degradation of Babylon progresses many filthy and evil things made their dwelling there; foul spirits, foul and dreadful animals to name a couple. This unparalleled judgement from God has come because of Babylon’s spiritual fornication with the nations and their kings. This occurred primarily because of their commerce which provided many merchants an abundance of wealth. There was extravagant luxury because Rome plundered conquered nations of their wealth before God’s justice fell on her.
The second taunt song comes from another voice calling from heaven. This is a warning from heaven to flee the doomed city.If people stay they will be punished with her. She had a tremendous number of sins. In fact they are stacked up all the way to heaven. And worse yet, God remembers her evil deeds. Sometimes God might seem slow but He is not weak and He does not forget…good or evil. And because she has done so much evil she will pay double for her sins. God will avenge Babylon’s long history of iniquities and sinful works to the fullest extent and beyond. Babylon didn’t glorify God. She glorified herself with a royal lifestyle. She thrived in pleasure and excess. Now judgement will leave her with torment and sorrow. The climactic judgement of ancient Babylon arrived in one day as Darius the Mede invaded the city and killed Belshazzar. Two plagues would overtake Babylon; mourning and famine. These plague are a reminder that destruction was not merely a human action. It is the Lord God who judges her.
Songs three through five are three laments. It is quite similar to Ezekiel’s laments over the destruction of Tyre. (Ezekiel 27). First the kings of the world lament as they mourn the loss of the luxury they have obtained from alliance with the wicked city. The world’s kings were illicit partners of Babylon’s and when they see her burning they weep aloud, probably as much for their own loss as for hers. However, they keep their distance to escape her torment. This is a futile attempt to avoid punishment. Next are the merchants of the world, singing their laments. They profited greatly from the Roman economy but all their trade ceased as the great city was swiftly destroyed. Their merchandise included gold, silver, jewels and pearls. There was fine line and purple, silk and scarlet. Fragrant and precious wood was traded along with ivory, bronze, iron, and marble. There was a host of different spices and animals available as well. Suffice it to say you could get anything you wanted in Rome.Rome was decked out much like the the harlot or prostitute of Babylon. There was also a huge slave market in Rome. The merchants would lament the fall of Rome because it would forever end their accustomed luxuries. Material goods can be swept away in an instant. The next lament was sung by the captains of the merchant ships along with their passengers and crews. These were the ones who made their living from trade on the sea. During the reign of Julius Caesar the Mediterranean was cleared of pirates and trade blossomed. The swift loss of Roman authority would upset the system of trade. Many ship captains and owners became wealthy with all of the cargo and trade that went to and from Rome. They throw dust on their heads in an expression of great sorrow and lament. This was also seen in the laments over Tyre. All of this resulted in a call for heaven to rejoice. The people of God are not to grieve because the judgement was for their sakes. They had suffered persecutionfrom the evil forces represented by the great city. Verse 20 is an introduction to a longer hymn of praise found in 19:1-5.
The seventh taunt song comes from an angel powerful enough to hurl a huge millstone weighing thousands of pounds into the sea as an illustration of the swiftness and violence of Babylon’s judgement. These heavy millstones were used throughout the ancient world to grind Olives or grain. In Matthew 18:6 Jesus spoke about using such stones in judgement. This dramatic throw down shows that the power of Rome was forever thrown down. Rome will never be the same again. There will be no more music, no trades or crafts. There will be no light and none of the joy of a Bride and groom either. There would be no merchandise. And there would be no more of Rome’s deceptionsor sorceries. This is the magic arts. In 9:21 this is used to refer to the sins of humankind at large. And the blood here running in the streets refers to all the martyrs for the cause of Christ throughout history. It could also refer to those who were slain during the great tribulation, especially during the beasts resign.
Chapter 19 begins with a song of victory. It expands the message of the sixth taunt song which calls for rejoicing. Various groups direct praises to the Lord. The praises can be divided into two sections: thankfulness for the destruction of the evildoers and thankfulness for the reward of God’s people. Verses 1-2 focus onwhat John heard rather than what he saw. The first three part praise comes from a vast crowd. This is the great multitude that no one could number in 7:9, and the first of four hallelujahs. In His righteous justice God kept His promise of judging the great prostitute, who represents moral and spiritual corruption and persecution of God’s people. God is praised because evidence of Babylon’s judgement will continue eternally. In response to the first two praises the elders and the living creatures again prostrate themselves before the enthroned God. Is essence the representatives of the angelic realm praise the Lord for the destruction of the system that originated in a fallen angel, the evil one. Everyone is called to praise the Lord, from the greatest to the least.
John heard another loud shout from a vast crowd. This is the final thunderous praise the Lord! God reigns! He is the Almighty reigning in complete and total supremacy. The time has come for the marriage feast of the Lamb. It will be the wedding of the millennia. This is the wedding of the Messiah to His bride, the church. This comes after complete victory and it brings eternal fellowship. The bride wears a garment of precious fine linen that symbolized the good works of believer. In other words, the white garment signifies faithful obedience to God. Now we see the fourth beatitude in the Book of Revelation. Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the lamb. This affirms the hope of the faithful. God is in control and He determines who will participate. Jesus often used meals toexplain the kingdom and He ordained a meal for the church.John added that these words are true because they come from God. John fell at the angels feet but the angel chastised him. He is a created being like John and the only one who deserves worship Is God.
What follows next are John’s words about triumph and judgement. We are moving into climactic scenes. God’s enemies are defeated and punished in two episodes. The faithful experience a 1,000 year resurrection followed by the final judgement. John now describes a new vision of Jesus Christ as the holy warrior and conquering King. This is what the Jews expected the first time Jesus came. This rider is both a judge and a righteous warrior. He is named faithful and true. He embodies God’s authenticity and reliability. This verse answers the question in 13:4, “who is able to make war with him?” The answer Is...Christ can defeat him. His eyes were like flames of fire which parallels the description of the glorified Christ in 1:14. Fire is piercing judgement. He had many crowns on His head which show Christ to be much more powerful than the evil one or the beast. This contrasts with the beast with seven heads, each with a crown. In ancient society a name was more than a title. It conveyed a person’s character. He had a name written on Him that no one knew except Himself. This means that there are parts of the character of the eternal and limitless God that only God knows, though Christ may reveal such things at His second coming.
His robe was dipped in blood. This may speak to His redemptive death in the cross or, the blood of Christ’s enemies signifying His total victory. This would come from His trampling of the wine press of the wrath of God. His title was the Word of God. We read at the beginning of John’s gospel where he wrote, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The Word of God is John’s distinctive designation for Jesus. However, this is not the name that no one knew. Christ’s armies of heaven, dressed in victorious white and riding on white horses contrast with the locust forces of the abyss, the three frog like spirits, and the defeated armies at Armageddon. White horses, a common symbol of victory, would be appropriate for those who are already victorious over the beast. The sharp two edged sword that comes out of His mouthis the one spoken of in 1:16. It is for striking the nations. This could be a general statement of judgement or a specific reference to the armies of the earth being killed with the sword in verse 21. Christ ruling with a rod of iron fulfills the prophecies found in Psalm 2:8-9 and Isaiah 11:4. This iron rod represents Christ’s power as a ruler and as supreme shepherd. His fierce wrath will crush all the clusters of grape as harvested in 14:18-20 in the winepress of the wrath of God. His title as King is kings and Lord of lords means He is the One who is supreme over all earthly rulers.
An angel was standing in the sun calling to the vultures flying high in the sky to come. The birds are told to gather to feast onthe carcasses of the fallen armies gathered in opposition against Christ. This feast upon the flesh of the defeated armies opposed to God is contrasted with the feast of the Lamb. The enemies that form for battle are quickly destroyed. These two feasts are called the marriage supper of the Lamb and the great supper of God’s judgement. These are two perspectives on the end of timeand they illustrate the two sides of the Good News: grace and judgement, reward and punishment. In the battle the beast and the false prophet are captured and cast alive into the lake of fire. Some translate this the lake of burning sulfur. This is a graphic picture of eternal punishment and the destiny of all unbelievers. They are the first to suffer the torment of the lake of brimstone. The rest of the beast’s allies are killed by the sword from the mouth of the victorious Christ. The two beasts are followed by the dragon(20:10) and then by death (20:14) and unsaved humans (20:15). While one side of God’s Word (grace) leads to repentance, the other side (judgement) carries out the death sentence.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
The true Lamb and His followers stand in stark contrast to the evil trinity we have just seen. The lamb is standing on Mount Zion. This is a synonym for the earthly Jerusalem, focusing on the hill where the temple was built. In the Old Testament, Mount Zion was the first fortress of the Pre-Israelite city of Jerusalem. In both Hebrews 12:22 and here in Revelation there is debate as to whether this is a reference to the earthly or heavenly Mount Zion. With the Lamb were the 144,000. They had on their foreheads the name of the Father. This is a contrast to those who followed the beast and were marked with his name. Some debate whether or not this sign or name was visible to all or only to those in heaven and in the new earth and heaven. Again, John heard a great and mighty sound, this time like the roar of ocean waves, or the rolling of loud thunder. And there were many harpists playing their harps. This was the sound of a great choir, singing a new song. It was most likely the one that we saw in 5:9-10 that was sung before God’s throne. Since that song is about redemption and victory in Christ only those already in heaven and those redeemed from the earth, like the 144,000 are allowed to learn it.
These 144,000 are the ones not defiled with women. These warriors are ritually pure or unpolluted, and morally without blame. They have kept themselves as pure as virgins. Referring to men as virgins is a metaphor for the faithfulness of God’s people. This image could refer to the church as the virgin bride of Christ. It also suggests that the church constitutes soldiers in a holy war that are required to keep themselves chaste. They are a reminder that redeemed believers will not compromise with evil. They will reject false doctrine and refuse to worship the beast. In the New Testament the first fruits are the first part of a crop to be gathered, implying a much larger harvest to come later. At such times, the term emphasizes only the sanctified nature of a sacrifice. The commitment of the 144,000 to God emphasizes that they are the holy ones, set apart to God. However, the continuing offer of the gospel and the harvest imagery also implies that many others will come to faith in Jesus Christ. These faithful people are a special offering who have been purchased for God. They have told no lies. John teaches that liars never enter heaven. (John 8:44, Revelation 21:8,27, 22:15). These 144,000 were not sinless in their earthly lives but they were without deceit and fault with regards to their testimony regarding Christ. In particular they did not participate in falsehood because they rejected the lie of the antichrist. They were without fault or blemish because they refused the mark of the beast.
From verses 6-13 three angels are flying through the sky with messages from God. The first angel proclaims the Good News, which includes the message that God will sit as judge. The end Is near, so this message provides a last chance summons to repent and believe. This angel who preaches to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people helps to fulfill God’s promise that the gospel will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations (Matthew 24:14) before Christ returns. The word gospel, which means Good News, is used only here in the Book of Revelation. But look; even at this late stage in God’s judgement He continues to offer everlasting life to the world. The gospel message at this point begs unbelievers to fear God and give glory to Him so they can escape the hour of His judgement. Some responded to the miracle of the resurrection of the two witnesses. Some believe the activity of this angel is occurring behind the scenes, prompting a worldwide proclamation of the gospel by those who will declare the truth even at the cost of their lives. The angel also tells people again what God has done in creating the heavens, earth, sea, and all the springs of water.
Another angel proclaims part of the bad news of judgement to those among all nations who will not receive the good news of the gospel. Babylon is first mentioned in Revelation here and it becomes the focus of God’s judgement in the following section (16-18). Babylon is no doubt a cryptic description for Rome, and it represents earthly power and corruption. The coming of God as judge includes the end of earthly powers. Here the great city is Babylon. Earlier the great city was most likely Jerusalem. Next comes a third angel. This angel announces with a loud voice, God’s judgement on the counterfeit worship of the beast and his statue. This is the tragic eternal destiny of the one who rejects the offer of the gospel and worships the beast. God’s response to the rebellion against His reign is anger or wrath, pictured as a cup of bitter wine. It is poured full strength. This is significant because in the first century world wine was mixed with water because the water quality was so horrible. Only when someone wanted to get drunk did they drink wine without water. Now God’s wrath will be experienced full strength by those who follow the beast. This is the worst possible outcome for non-believers. Even worse, their torment will also include fire, burning sulfur and smoke. This description of judgement echoes God’s judgement on Sodom and Gomorrah. Those condemned to a fiery end will suffer for all of eternity and in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb. The torment will never end. The threat of persecution and death was very real to the Christians first reading this letter so John calls God’s people to obedience and faithfulness. The patience of the Saints here echoes 13:10. Those who patiently keep the faith of Jesus and the commandments of God even in very difficult times will receive a special divine blessing.
Again, a dramatic voice from heaven instructs John to write, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” God desires that those who endure persecution be with Him and enjoy His blessings and rest. This is the second of seven beatitudes in Revelation. Six of the seven are clustered in the latter third of the book, perhaps as promises to encourage exemplary Christian response in the extremely difficult circumstances of the end times. The mention of hard work and good deeds in connection with eternal reward foreshadows the assigning of rewards based on works. “From now on” may mean from the point in the tribulation John is referring to, or from the time John was writing to the original readers. Spiritual rest is available to anyone who comes to Jesus Christ in faith. The martyrs under the fifth seal had been told by the Lord to rest a little while longer until God’s plan was complete. Here the believers who have died are also told to rest from their labors, in the knowledge that their good works will be remembered and rewarded.
What follows is the harvest of the earth. The reference to the Son of Man with a gold crown on His head indicates this figure is Jesus Christ. A gold crown is a symbol of status or power, clearly distinguishing Jesus from the angels. Some hesitate to make this identification because it seems strange that another angel gives the one like the Son of Man the command to reap. But there is no impropriety in having a representative of God the Father entrust judgement to the Son of Man. The sharp sickle was the primary tool for harvesting in the ancient world. Since the 144,000 have been received by God as the first fruits of His harvest, the rest of the harvest of the earth is surely ripe for salvation, as well as judgement. Here the temple and altar represent God’s presence. The power of the Son of Man(Jesus Christ) is shown in that with one thrust of His sickle, the harvest of the earth is reaped. This pictures the events of chapters 16-19 as parts of one rapid succession of judgement. This judgement is experienced by inhabitants of the entire world.
Another angel came from the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. He is placed in charge of the harvest of the clusters of grapes that are also ripe, meaning worthy of judgement. There is another angel at the altar who has power over fire. This could well be the angel in 8:3-5. Perhaps the fire will burn the tares separated in the harvest. A wine press was a trough in which workers trampled grapes with their bare feet, causing the juice to flow down into a vat. This common Old Testament sign of God’s wrath and judgement also explains how the “wine of God’s wrath” is produced. Wine presses were built outside cities and towns and here the city is Jerusalem. The image of the wine press is symbolic of an unbelievable quantity of blood shed which points to an unparalleled slaughter of life. The bloody River of death stretched nearly 180 miles and it was deep as a horse’s bridle was high. This is mass destruction. God’s enemies do not stand a chance when the Son of Man comes in judgement. The carnage here is linked closely with the final battle in Revelation 19:17-21. God is just and fair in giving people exactly what they deserve.
Chapters 15-16 form the third and final cycle of seven judgements. They are introduced with a vision of God’s victorious people singing a hymn of praise. Then a scene of the temple is presented from which angels emerge carrying the bowls of God’s judgement upon the earth. This cycle of seven last plagues brings God’s wrath against His enemies to completion. John calls this another sign of great significance. A sea of glass is mentioned in 4:6 as a place of worship before the throne of God. Here it is seen mingled with fire, often a sign of God’s judgement. The fire shows that the wrath of God acting in judgement has reached its zenith. The sea of glass also serves as a victory stand for all of the overcomers. Those who have victory over the beast are believing martyrs who “did not love their lives to death.” Others see the sea mixed with fire as victory through testing. Those who had been victorious over the beast hold harps that represent ultimate peace. Their place on the glass sea symbolizes their endurance in the fire of persecution. The song of Moses and the Lamb signifies that God’s will is united in the old and new covenants. The song is a reference to Exodus 15:1-18. This remembered the great Old Testament redemption of Gods people from slavery in Egypt. The song of the Lamb compares the completed redemptive work of Jesus Christ with God’s deliverance in the Exodus. The song recognizes that God is all powerful. For persecuted Christians this is a message that brings comfort and security. The fact that John uses three names for the Lord places great emphasis on just how mighty and powerful He really is. John also reminds people that God is both just and true. This is the foundation of human integrity in the midst of a confused, unjust, and dishonest world. God is the King of the nations…all of them. He is not some localized deity attached to one nation or a human monarch with limited ability. Verse 4 begins with a rhetorical question that assumes that only a fool would fail to do so. God alone is holy and that is the basis for our worship and salvation. All nations will worship God. Some will be forced to acknowledge God, but all will recognize that God’s deeds and judgements have been revealed and are righteous and just.
God’s tabernacle implies His presence and even the plagues have their source in God’s presence. Christ’s sacrifice removed the veil between God and humanity. Now those who do not belong to Christ experience the full force of God’s presence. The heavenly temple of the tabernacle links the powerful imagery of heavenly temple with the strong parallels in chapter 15 to the Exodus period when the majestic presence of God is seen clearly in the tabernacle. In the new heaven and earth, the tabernacle of God will be with believers because He will dwell eternally with them. Seven angels came forward to administer the seven plagues, which are the last plagues God will send forth before Christ returns. These angels were wearing robes of bright white linen with gold sashes across their chests. White linen is a symbol of purity. It was also worn by the priests when performing their duties. These angels are not about intercession. They have come as agents of judgement. The linen therefore represents the purity and justice of God’s judgement. The gold sashes symbolize their divine mission as ministers of justice on God’s behalf. The gold bowls were like the offering pans that were used in ancient worship and were similar to those holding incense representing the prayers of the people. The smoke that filled the temple had its source in the power and glory of God and it prohibited access into the most holy place.
In chapter 16 we see all seven bowls of the seven final plagues of God’s judgement and wrath. With the seventh bowl “it is finished” is shouted from God’s throne. These are the same words Jesus used just before He died on the cross. The loud voice that begins this chapter Is God’s. No one was allowed into the temple until the seven plagues had been poured out upon the earth and its inhabitants.
The first bowl is poured out and a foul and loathsome sore came upon the men who bore the mark of the beast. This is very similar to the sixth plague in Egypt. (Exodus 9:9-11) Just as God’s great power could not be denied by the Egyptians and their magicians, so unbelieving people will be unable to deny God’s sovereign justice as the bowls of God’s judgements rapidly progress.
The second and third bowls are similar to the first plague in Egypt where water was turned to blood. Perhaps John had in mind that much of Rome’s food and wealth came by way of the sea. After Julius Caesar rid the sea of pirates, shipping became Rome’s lifeblood. Its end would mean economic ruin for the empire. The second bowl turns the sea to blood just like the second trumpet but then only one third of the water was affected. This bowl brings about the death of every living creature in the sea. The scope here is global. The third bowl is also like the third trumpet and targets springs and rivers. The effect here is also worldwide. The angel who had authority over the waters may well have been the same angel who poured out the third bowl. Angels and archangels are portrayed as having special roles in the hierarchy of heaven. This angel confirms these judgements as coming from God, who is both just and holy. Punishment of God’s enemies is just reward because they killed God’s holy people and prophets. Because they have shed blood, now they must drink blood. The principle of “lex talionis” , the law of retribution, was the basis of both Roman and Jewish jurisprudence. This means God is completely just in judging and rewarding people on the basis of what they have done. The voice from the altar was an antiphonal response to the angel’s proclamation in verses 5-6. This affirms God’s authority and justice. This doxology in the midst of judgement reminds persecuted Christians that God truly cares about His suffering servants and fulfills His own purpose in everything.
The fourth bowl is unlike any of the plagues of Egypt or the earlier seals or trumpets. Everyone was burned by the powers and fire of the sun. Unlike the fourth trumpet where the sun is diminished, here it is intensified. However, the people refused to repent of their sins. They would not turn to God or give Him glory. The evil one wields great power and once he gets his claws into people it is very difficult to get away. In fact, the people who were burned by the sun actually cursed God. Wow! They cannot argue against the power of God or His existence, but they will not acknowledge Him.
The fifth bowl is focused against the throne of the beast referring to his worldwide kingdom and authority. This is the only place in Revelation where the throne isn’t referring to the one the Lord sits on. John could be referring to Rome here, the political power at that time. Rome’s empire spanned the sea and ruled the world. This plague caused the beast’s kingdom to be plunged into darkness, similar to the ninth plague in Egypt and to the fourth trumpet though this is much more extensive. The evil one’s subjects literally ground their teeth and gnawed their tongues in anguish. Some of these pains and sores may have been similar to the five months a of scorpion sting during the fifth trumpet judgement. But again, they cursed God in heaven for their pains and did not repent.
The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great Euphrates River and dried it up. This was the largest River in Mesopotamia and it stood between Babylon and Israel, and it also formed the eastern boundary of the Roman Empire. If it dried up it would allow kings from the east to move their armies westward with little resistance. From John’s Jewish perspective these armies would always be identified with Mesopotamia rather than China or India which were farther east. The sixth trumpet also involved the Euphrates. Both judgements deal with demonically inspired military forces. The army of 200 million will kill a third of all humankind (9:18), and the army here will do battle against God. This plague brought three evil or demonic spirits that looked like frogs. They are agents of deceit and represent the demonic role of the evil trinity. These three evil spirits had the authoritative words of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. There is great deception in their signs that are used to persuade the kings of the earth to gather together for battle against the Lord. It is interesting to note that in 6:15-16 the kings of the earth recoil in fear before the judgement of the Lamb. Now the kings of the earth no longer fear the Lord. They are ready to fight Him. In verse 15 readers are warned to look! because the Lord will come unexpectedly like a thief in the night. Being ready for His coming requires preparation. Those who are not prepared will miss out. This is followed by the third beatitude. Those who are blessed are the ones who are ready so they will not be caught unprepared. The demonic spirits gathered all the rulers and their armies to one place; called Armageddon or Harmagedon. This is most likely from the Hebrew “har” meaning mountain or hill, and Megiddo which was one of the three cities Solomon fortified. The fortress of Megiddo stood on a hill in the largest pass through the Carmel Mountain range, strategically guarding the Jezreel Valley. Many armies used this route and the site became a bloody battlefield. It became a symbolic term epitomizing the final conflict between God and the forces of evil. Some believe that this is not an actual place but a symbol of the final battle between good and evil.
The seventh bowl is the climax of all of Revelation’s judgements. A mighty shout came from the throne saying, “it is finished!” just like Jesus on the cross. This is God’s final act of judgement before Christ comes. The enemies of God had assembled themselves for battle but when the moment comes God announced it was done. Judgement was complete. NO ONE can fight God. So, this scene pictures an end to rebellion against God. What remains are various descriptions of the end. The catastrophic events of this judgement scene recapitulate (summarize and state again) the scenes portraying the destruction of the world. They also foreshadow the final judgement when the earth will be dismantled to make way for the new creation. The great city of Babylon seems to be the epicenter of the most destructive earthquake the world will ever see. The quake seems to be worldwide wreaking havoc on the cities of the nations. Babylon had not been forgotten before God. Here God acts on His earlier promise that Babylon would fall and that the cup of His wrath would be dispensed. Babylon here could refer to several different things. It may refer to the ancient city rebuilt, or it can be a symbolic name for Rome. It may also refer to any proud human society that attempts to exist apart from God. Babylon’s classic manifestations of rebellion against God are the Tower of Babel and the Babylonian Empire under Nebuchadnezzar. In addition to the massiveness of the earthquake, huge hailstones fell from heaven, weighing 75 pounds, which is a talent. And, despite the severity of these plagues the people of the world still refused to worship God, cursing Him instead. The terrible hailstorm is a reminder of the seventh plague on Egypt. Seventy-five pound hailstones would be phenomenally destructive.
In His Grip,
Pastor Matt W.
Here we find ourselves at the second interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets. This interlude has two parts just like the first one. Chapter ten deals with the seven thunders and the little scroll and 11:1-13 reveals the two witnesses. This interlude ends with the announcement that the second woe is over. Another mighty angel came down from heaven and he appears somewhat similar to the huge bronze colossus that stood as a symbol of human power in the harbor of Rhodes for several decades before it was toppled by an earthquake in the late 200’s BC. The statue was still laying there in pieces when John wrote Revelation. This statue was nearly 100 feet tall tall and it represented the sun god Helios. The angel was surrounded by a cloud. This suggests that this angel dwarfed the colossus and by implication, all idols. The rainbow over his head is a reminder that God on the throne is encircled by a rainbow which is a Biblical sign of God’s covenant with humanity. The angel is impressive with a face shining like the sun and feet like pillars of fire. The fact that his face was shinning like the sun may mean he came from the presence of God. Think about Moses when he would come from the tent of meeting and his face shone so brightly he had to cover it. And fire is always a sign of judgement. This angel is holding a small scroll in his hand. It might be small but that doesn’t make it unimportant. It is a critical part of God’s purposes in events still to come before eternity begins. This mighty angel stood with one foot on the dry land and the other on the sea. This is an image of taking possession. A majestic representative of God’s throne is intervening in the affairs of the earth. The angel gave a great shout, like the roar of the lion. When he shouted seven thunders answered.
John was being obedient, ready to write down what the seven thunders said. Revelation reveals God’s intentions in the world without eliminating the mystery of God’s ways. The martyrs didn’t receive an immediate answer to their cries and questions. The meaning of the seventh seal is cloaked in silence and now, the seven thunders are kept secret. We do not know what the seven thunders said because a loud voice, perhaps that of Christ commanded John to seal up what they said. The angel with one foot each on land and sea raised his right hand towards heaven. This would be like taking an oath. It is common today but rare in biblical days. When they made an oath the Jews were very careful not to swear lightly by God’s name. In Matthew 5:33-37Jesus rebuked insincere oath taking. When God swore an oath, He did so in His own name as the highest possible point of reference. Only by the all powerful authority of the eternal Creator can the mighty angel make the declaration about how and when the mystery of God would be finished. After the sounding of the seventh trumpet there will be no more delay in the unfolding of events leading toward Christ’s return. God’s mysterious plan for the world is no surprise. The prophets who served God in the past warned that the day of the Lord would come.
Just like Ezekiel’s experience, the scroll tasted sweet in John’s mouth. The experiences for God’s people would be sweet, including the victory of God’s plan and the vindication of His people. John’s sour stomach resembles the effects of Ezekiel’s hard message for Israel. The process of bringing God’s plan to fruition involves hardship. The events of Ezekiel 2-3 occurred soon before God’s judgement on Judah and Jerusalem and were in effect the prophet’s commission. John may have sensed a similar commission here to prophesy his message of judgement to the world. John’s prophecy about people’s, nations, tongues, and kings may refer to the second woe since there is a focus on the testimony of the two witnesses. Unlike Ezekiel, who prophesied for Israel alone, John must prophesy about or against all the people of the world. There is debate whether “about” or “against” is the best translation. “About” allows for bothpromise and judgement.
Chapter 11:1-13 pictures the willful rejection of God’s continuing call for repentance. The many attempts to silence His witness ultimately fail, and God triumphs. Many attempts have been made to identify the two witnesses of this chapter. Moses and Elijah, who appeared with Jesus at the transfiguration are the most likely people. They represent the law and the prophets. Others have suggested Enoch and Elijah because they did not die but were taken up into heaven. Some believe they are Peter and Paul. And still others think James and John. But, more important than their identities is their role of confirming God’s message by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Deuteronomy 17:6) God provides a twofold witness to the world about the impending judgement, making it clear that His word is certain to be fulfilled.
John was given a measuring stick. These were often reeds that grew in abundance along the banks of the Jordan River. Often they reached a height of 20 feet. They grew tall and straight and were lightweight and perfect for measuring. The instructions to measure the temple are reminiscent of Ezekiel’s visions. The Jerusalem temple was destroyed in 70 AD and many scholars believe these details symbolize God’s precise knowledge and care for His people who belong to Him. They also believe that this is the temple of the tribulation period that will eventually be desecrated. The measuring of those who worship there may mean that those who worship the Lord in the temple will be protected, while unbelieving Gentiles will not. Luke 21:25 prophesies that the Gentiles will tread the holy city underfoot until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. It seems that the period of 42 months is the conclusion of the times of the Gentiles. Gentiles here can also be translated as nations. The outer courtyard in the Jerusalem temple, outside the stone warning fence, was regarded as the place for the gentile nations. John makes a very clear distinction between the people God recognizes and those He does not. The 42 months is equivalent to 1,260 days and three and a half years. It can also be referenced as time, times, and half a time. John uses these time designations repeatedly in this book when persecution is evident and evil appears to dominate the world. God’s people will be secure in Him even though God allows evil forces to persecute them. During the period of persecution God will not abandon the world but will send His two witnesses to proclaim the coming judgement, just as God sent Jonah to Nineveh. The two witnesses wore clothes of burlap. Clothes such as these were symbolic of both mourning and repentance. These two were mourning for the unrepentant world to which they prophesy.
The two witnesses are described as two olive trees and two lamp stands, linking them to the vision in Zechariah 4 of the two anointed ones, who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth. There the two anointed ones are Zerubbabel and Joshua the priest. The overarching principle for these and all other witnesses for the Lord is that their testimony to the truth is “not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit.” Zechariah 4:6. In Psalm 18:8 God is portrayed with fire coming out of His mouth, a picture of judgement on His enemies. Here anyone who tries to harm the two witnesses fire will come from their mouths and consume them. These two witnesses have great power for the time they are given by God. They can prevent rain, identifying them with Elijah whose prayer caused it not to rain for three and a half years. They can also turn the water into blood and strike the earth with plagues. This is a picture of Moses and the plagues in Egypt.
When they finish their testimony the scene changes dramatically. The word finish here is the same word Jesus used on the cross when He said “It is finished.” At this point we encounter the beast for the first time. It is associated with the bottomless pit or abyss and like all enemies of God, the beast engages in war against God’s witnesses and kills them. This is the same bottomless pit that the cloud of smoke and locusts came out of. The bodies of the two witnesses whom the beast killed lay in the street of the great city. Many believe this to be Rome but John also tells us this great city is where the Lord was crucified which points us to Jerusalem. Some look at this as symbolic and is intended to represent the sinful world in which Christ was crucified. Sodom was the prototype for the moral degeneration of this great city. That could point to a number of cities in the world at this time. Egypt here is the reference for rampant idolatry. The evil here is so vindictive that it even desecrates the dead. There was a direct connection between how the Lord was treated by evil forces and the experience of persecuted Christians. For three and a half days all the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations walked by the dead bodies of the two witnesses. These are the ones that judgement will fall on. Leaving people’s bodies out for public display was a way to dishonor them after their death. The Romans left bodies hanging after their crucifixion as a means of disrespect and a warning for others to see. The people of the world, those tied to the evil one will walk past the bodies and they will gloat and celebrate. God’s enemies despise and reject His messengers. Being dead for three and a half days recalls the three and a half year ministry of the two witnesses. But, this is not the end of their ministry. God wasn’t defeated in the death of Jesus and He will not be defeated in the slaughter of His two witnesses. After the three and a half days God breathed life back into the two witnesses and they stood up. This left not a shadow of a doubt about God’s power and might. People were absolutely terrified. It is a powerful experience for sinful humans to face the power of the living God. Not only were they alive but a loud voice from heaven commanded them to “Come up here” and they rose to heaven in a cloud, the same way Jesus ascended and will return, in the clouds.
At the same time there was a great earthquake that destroyed one tenth of the city and 7,000 people died. Earthquakes often accompany key moments in biblical history. The number who died shows that God is involved in judgement. Those who survived were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. Those who survived were forced to acknowledge God’s power and sovereignty over the world. Chapter 11 ends with the blowing of the seventh trumpet. This is also the third woe. Here we see a scene of final judgement and the eternal kingdom. The scene provides a dramatic window into the ultimate Christian hope with God. In the midst of judgement, the reader is reminded of eternity with God. With the blowing of the seventh trumpet there were loud voices in heaven. They were singing a victory hymn. The earth has been transformed into the realm of our Lord and His Christ, who is enthroned as King forever. The 24 elders, representing God’s people confirm God’s victorious enthronement. Their worship acknowledges God’s sovereign rule as the Almighty. They were previously seen as continually worshiping God and the Lord Jesus. Here their thanksgiving to the Lord God Almighty enters a new phase. They praise God’s power and wrath and the corresponding distribution of reward and judgement. This stanza of heavenly thanks seems to reflect on the fulfillment of the great Messianic prophecy in Psalm 2.
We see God described as “the one who is, and who always was.” The other description, “who is to come” no longer applies because in this scene eternity has come and God has begun to reign. The nations were filled with wrath when they refused to do as God commanded. We will see the wrath of the evil one in 12:12 but the divine wrath cannot be rivaled. God will reward His holy people with new life as His children. Fearing God’s name implies accepting who He is. They have responded by faith to the everlasting gospel. The end of the age will be the time to destroy those who have not accepted God’s love. They will go into the lake of fire. This doom of God’s enemies is the third and final woe.
The temple of God here is not the one in verses 1-2. That earthly temple had an outer court given to the Gentiles. This temple is in heaven. Here the ark and the temple are symbols of God’s presence. The earthly ark was the copy of the design of the Ark in heaven. For Israel, the ark represented God’s presence, leadership, and protection while they were in the wilderness and the promised land.
In chapter 13 the evil one is pictured as a dragon. He plots to challenge God’s purposes but is thwarted. Having failed in direct confrontation with God and Christ, he attempts to attack God’s people. There are three brief scenes here. There is the woman and the dragon, elaborations on the war in heaven, and the war on earth. The woman is clothed with the sun. This is interpreted by some as the church, by others as believing Jews, and still others as ethnic Israelites. Many believe she represents God’s people from whom came the Messiah. This woman is marked by God’s glory in contrast to the prostitute who is destined for destruction. The garland of 12 stars is a reference to the twelve tribes of Israel or maybe the 12 apostles. The stars recall Joseph’s dream which signified his preeminence over his brothers. The description of labor and pain before giving birth to the Child who becomes the ruler of the nations may speak specifically of Mary, the mother of Jesus. However, many also believe that this woman has a broader reference. She may represent the believing remnant within the nation or simply the Jewish nation. This may also represent the biblical theme of Israel while waiting to be delivered. The backdrop to this is Genesis 3:15 where we first see the struggle between the evil one and the seed of Eve.
The red dragon represents the evil one. There are varying beliefs as to what the seven heads, ten horns, and seven crowns are. The description is very similar to the beast from the sea in 13:1. A diadem is a sign of absolute power but distinguishable from the crown used in most of the rest of the New Testament. This combination could well refer to the evil ones brilliance, power and glory as god of this age. The numbers represent a mix of divine and created powers. Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus embodied the evil ones attempt to devour her baby after it was born. The dragon used his tail to sweep away one third of the stars out of the sky. Many associate this with the rebellion of a third of the angelic host following the evil one. Jesus was the son who was to rule all nations with the rod of iron. And although Jesus was killed by agents of the evil one, He was snatched away from the dragon and raised from the dead. He is caught up to the throne, a picture of the ascension of Christ.
The wilderness here is a place of protection prepared by God for the woman. This reference to God feeding the woman recalls God providing food for the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness. She will be safe for three and a half years, or 42 months, or 1,260 days. The Christian church must also face its own wilderness. Revelation presents messages of endurance and perseverance in the face of trouble and shows that God provides places places of escape and refuge for His people. Verses 7-9 clarify the dragon’s identity and power. God dispatches Michael, the warrior archangel to confront the dragon and his angels. God does not have to engage in this battle Himself, and the evil one is defeated. The evil ones expulsion to the earth means that the earth becomes his base of operations, and his anger is vented towards the remaining inhabitants of earth. It is very likely that the end times will be the greatest period of spiritual warfare. The heavenly defeat of the evil one is followed by a reference to his earthly setbacks, including the crucifixion of Christ, the verbal witness of believers, and the martyrdom of some of the brethren. All these events precede the coming of the kingdom of God. The evil ones defeat is encouraging for Christians who, like the recipients of Revelation are not afraid to die.
Verse 13 picks up from verse 9. The woman is brought to her place of protection as though she is carried on the wings of a giant Eagle. God will strengthen His people but He does not promise they will escape persecution or death. Even the earth acts as protection for the woman here, swallowing up the flood the evil one brought forth to over take her. The waters of chaos are contained just as they were at creation. This enrages the evil one and he declared war on the rest of her children, here identified as believers, who keep God’s commandments and continue in their testimony for Jesus. It is clear that the evil one is getting desperate because the time is short. The dragon took his stand on the shore of the sea.
The beast rises from the sea and like the dragon it has seven heads and ten horns. The crowns represent its political and military power and indicate that the evil one is the head of this beasts empire. The seven headed beast may well refer to gentile world power as it relates to Israel, especially in the end times. The heads are identified as mountains and mountains are often symbols for kingdoms. The seven heads could be Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Persia, Rome, and a restored Roman Empire. The beast receives his power and authority from the dragon. The evil one makes the beast a pseudo-deity by giving it his power , throne, and authority. In John’s day Roman emperors claimed divinity. One of the heads is most likely an empire. The thing about the evil one is he often imitates God. Here the beast mimics the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is often connected with Nero. A tradition emerged that Nero was so evil that he either did not really die or he would be reincarnated as another tyrant like Domitian. The beasts seven heads are often linked to the seven hills of Rome and to seven kings. Here the world marveled at the miracle healing of the beast and they worshiped him. This is because the world is convinced that there is no one like him and no one can successfully make war against him.
This beast has four characteristics. He blasphemes God, has authority for a limited time, makes war against God’s people, and rules the world. But God is still in control. The beasts authority extends over all the people of the world. This includes God’s holy people. He is even given authority to conquer them. Those who worshiped the beast received his mark and they are not listed in the Book of Life. This book is the register of all who will receive eternal life, in contrast to those who are destined for the lake of fire. These names have been in the book since the beginning. So the thing is, widespread spiritual delusion and blasphemy as well as martyrdom and persecution should not surprise believers at any point in history. God’s holy people are summoned to endure and remain faithful while experiencing temporary persecution. God will vindicate them.
The rest of chapter 13 brings about another beast. Another here signifies one of the same kind. Their outward appearances are different but they are closely related. This beasts actions here make it clear that he is the false prophet described in 16:13, 19:20, and 20:10. This beast is the third member of the evil trinity. As a high priest of false religion he leads the world into worshiping the first beast and the dragon. This beast had two horns like that of a lamb. This is the only place that lamb does not refer to Christ. The lamb with two horns is an emblem of Jewish worship and religious authority. The beast receives his authority from the dragon too. Here we see how the evil one mimics God. The beast is portrayed as a lamb, the same symbol used to represent Christ. Except, this lamb spoke like a dragon. The image is of a false messiah and the two horns could point to Nero and Domitian. This beast performed miracles like God, making fire flash down to the earth in a show of power. In New Testament times false prophets astounded people with reports of divine visitations and of idols speaking for the gods they represented. These practices involved worship of demons and were prevalent in the Roman emperor cults. Those who refused to conform were put to death. Many Christians were martyred this way.
God never relinquishes ultimate authority. These creatures of evil have been allowed to rebel against God, but they are NOT in control. The evil one performed miracles that deceived the people of the earth, commanded the people to make a statue of the first beast and gave life to the statue so it could speak. Anyone who refused to worship it was killed. The evil one required everyone to be given the mark on the right hand or forehead. This was a mark of ownership. There is no evidence of this practice in the first century so it is assumed to be a counterfeit of the seal in the foreheads of the servants of God found in 7:3. It is also similar tho the branding of slaves. In other words, the beast owns them. The text does not tell us explicitly what the mark is or what it might look like. In both Hebrew and Greek the letters of the alphabet represent numbers which gave names a numerical value. Through the years, as people turned to the Book of Revelation they used this numbering system to point out those who were evil. During WWII people made the names of Mussolini, Hitler and others equal the number 666. The number of the beast is the number of a man: 666. The beast is merely a man, not a god as the signs might suggest. The number six is just short of seven, the number of completeness, and is intensified by using it three times. The number represents supernatural evil. No one could participate in commerce, either buying or selling unless they bore the mark of the beast. This resulted in Christians enduring poverty because they had very little business and they couldn’t sell crops either. Wisdom is needed. John is giving a clue to help his readers solve the meaning of the beasts number. John hides the man’s identity, perhaps because revealing the name would place him and his readers in danger.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
After the first six seals were broken there was an interlude. In fact all of chapter seven is the first of three interludes in the Book of Revelation. They serve to define the place of God’s holy people and to give perspective on the previous scenes. In chapter seven there are two visions that communicate how God protects His people and assures them of His calling. The visions are of the 144,000 servants of God and the innumerable multitude in heaven. The four angels seem to be God’s divine agents associated with judgement and the four winds represent destructive forces from every direction. Keep in mind that some of these angels we see have been created for very specific purposes. These four angels were created just to hold back the winds. Remember, angels are created beings just like us although they have been created for very different purposes and they serve in very different places. Before the judgements are unleashed God prepared to seal 144,000 of His servants on their foreheads. Seals are the sign of ownership or authority that in ancient times were stamped onto a document by pressing a signet or cylinder into a lump of clay at the point where the document was opened and closed. God called for a temporary halt by the four angels of destruction until the angel carrying the seal could finish his job. The $64,000 question here is who exactly are the 144,000. John listed the twelve tribes of Israel but that doesn’t necessarily correlate with the twelve tribes. Instead it communicates that God knows exactly which people on earth belong to Him. By the time John wrote in the 90’s AD Israel’s twelve tribes no longer existed. The ten tribes of the northern kingdom were dispersed in 722 BC when Assyria conquered them. The early Christian church regarded itself symbolically as the Israel of God. Often in the Book of Revelation numbers are symbolic. Keep that in mind. It is quite possible that the 144,000 represents all faithful Christians. It is a number that symbolizes completeness (12X12X1000), a reference to all who will be saved. There are traditions who firmly believe that there will only be 144,000 in heaven. That is an erroneous assumption. The list of tribes begins appropriately with the tribe of Judah which is the royal tribe of Jesus but you will notice that the tribe of Dan is omitted and Manasseh, one of Joseph’s two sons is in their place. The tribe of Dan fell into idolatry and early Christians looked at that tribe as the epitome of evil. Ephraim is also omitted for the same reason. But Joseph and Levi are added.
The second vision shows heaven with an innumerable crowd rejoicing because they are secure in Christ and all tears and sorrows have ended. This crowd of believers is too vast to count, fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham of descendants too numerous to count. This great multitude, in addition to praising God and the Lamb will later glorify God for judging Babylon. They will also proclaim the marriage of the Lamb. White robes and palm branches are ancient symbols of victory and success, adding to the celebration that occurs after God ends the hostile world. White robes are the garments of overcoming believers or martyrs. And people waved palm branches at victory celebrations. Ancient victory parades, heralded the accomplishments of conquerors, and included loud chants and shouts. The angels, elders, and four living creatures all prostrated themselves before God and responded together in a sevenfold, which means complete and extensive, doxology that recognized God’s eternal nature. This Doxology is book ended by the word Amen. Amen word means “yes, it shall be so”. Here it is a powerful affirmation of God’s resounding victory. It is interesting that one of the 24 elders asked John who the ones clad in white were and John’s response is revealing. It seemed to be an almost rhetorical question, you sir are the one who knows. Verse 14 tells us. This vast multitude has come out of the tribulation, a reference to the hour of trial that will come upon the whole world. In view of the great loss of life here martyrdom was most likely their means of escape. There was tribulation in John’s day but nothing like he great tribulation will bring. This will be a time of horrible and distressing events. Having their robes washed in the blood of the Lamb signifies Christ’s redeeming death for all of us. It may also imply martyrdom. Making them white speaks to their victory over sin and death and their acceptance by God into eternal life. Serving God day and night shows that we are called to serve Him as a continual duty. The great multitude will serve the Lamb day and night. The 144,000 are later described as the ones who follow the lamb wherever He goes. To serve here indicates priestly service before the Lord. The priesthood of Christians will enter a new phase in the presence of God in heaven. God’s temple symbolizes His presence and it refers to the inner sanctuary of the temple rather than the outer courts. Dwelling here can be translated as to live in a tent or “to tabernacle”. This verse echoes John 1:14. Believers who didn’t see Christ when He lived on this earth in His first coming, will go to heaven where He will dwell among them. For desert dwellers, life giving water and relief from scorching heat would represent paradise. This is an amazing picture of God’s provision for His people. And the Lord who is the shepherd from Psalm 23 is equated with the Lamb here. Both King David and the multitude will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Christ’s designation as the Good Shepherd of God’s people means that He protects and provides for the sheep, bringing hope and salvation to His people. The water of life is freely available for all those who choose to come to Christ.
Now it is time to open the seventh seal! This is like the end of the first act and it brings a dramatic silence. This points to the mystery of God in his dealings with His world. It is possible that the silence here mimics the rest of the seventh day of creation. It was silent for about half an hour. It is a brief silence but it preceded the unfolding of the second act of divine judgement when God will answer the prayers of His people. This is also the eerie silence that comes just before the storm. From 8:2-11:19 we see the second cycle of judgement that is structured around seven trumpets, and like the first cycle this one also includes an interlude. It ends with a glimpse of God’s eternal kingdom. The trumpet judgements are similar to the ten plagues in Egypt. They have the same purpose, to show the powerlessness of earthly gods and/or evil powers. They demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt the power and sovereignty of God. Verses 2-6 is a scene of preparation that introduces the seven trumpets, and continues the theme of God’s receiving and answering prayer. The sound of the trumpets is intended to get people’s attention and it signals an approaching end. The sound of the trumpet in the Old Testament had more than one significance. It was used to gather the Lord’s people, assemble the Lord’s army, announce a new king, and proclaim the year of jubilee. In this context the sounding of the trumpet is most likely a declaration of war.
The prayers of God’s people ask for His ultimate judgement and justice. The seven angels standing before the Lord are likely the seven angels of the seven churches. It is interesting that the prayers of the Saints have a part in the judgement of God. The mixture of prayers and incense that reaches God’s presence shows that God hears their prayers and is prepared to act. The golden altar reflects the splendor of the heavenly throne room. Just like incense was added to the offerings and sacrifices to make them acceptable to the Lord in ancient days, so too here incense is added to the prayers to make them acceptable before the throne. The psalmist the in 141:2 “ Let my prayers rise before you as incense, the lifting of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” Our prayers have always come before the Lord. When the silence is broken God responds with thunder, lightning, and an earthquake. These are earthly things that remind us of God’s power, presence, and judgement. After all this the angels with the trumpets prepared to sound them. Each of the first four trumpets affects one third of its intended target. The point here isn’t that this isn’t an exact measurement. This indicates that God’s judgement had begun but it hasn’t reached its full power yet. It is as though God is just warming up. Together the first four trumpets form a unified message of judgement on the entire physical world. Just like the first four seals, the first four trumpets are sounded in rapid succession. However, the effects of the trumpets are much more devastating. One third of all tress and grass, a third of the sea and the ships in the sea, a third of the rivers and springs of water, and evidently a third of all daylight and moonlight are affected.
When the first angel blows his trumpet a torrent of hail, fire, and blood breaks forth. It signals the destruction of plant life, just like the seventh plague in Egypt. Nothing escapes God’s judgement. All of the green grass is burned. Again, we cannot look at this as sequential. Each scene is self contained and communicates its own message.
The second angel blows his trumpet. A great mountain burning suggests a massive inland volcano that erupts explosively over a vast area of the ocean waters. But, the description of the effects on the sea indicates that this is probably more destruction from the wind blown pollution from volcanic ash. The water becoming blood mirrors the first plague in Egypt.
With the blowing of the third trumpet a great star fell from the sky. The name of the star was wormwood, literally bitterness. Wormwood is a shrubby plant that yields a bitter extract. It is not normally poisonous but the plague involves effects far more potent than the taste of the bitter plant. Many men die from the water. The rapid pollution of one third of the world’s drinking water would set off a chaotic crisis. Bitter water is connected with judgement from early in Israel’s national experience. The message: wide scale judgement has begun. Some believe the falling star is symbolic rather than physical. Others believe this is a huge asteroid that falls from heaven to earth, burning like a torch as it enters the atmosphere. It could fall on a third of the rivers and springs by disintegrating as it passes through the earth’s atmosphere.
The fourth trumpet blast caused one third of the sun, moon, and stars to be struck and they became dark. That meant that a third of both the day and the night were totally dark. This is like the ninth plague in Egypt. It is also like the heavenly disturbances involved in Christ’s description of his second coming. It could also be that one third of each day and night was completely dark, or it could be that there was one third less light because of cosmic and atmospheric disturbances.
Ancients regarded the eagle as a symbolic messenger of God. The three woes would be recognized as a message from God. The woes would sound like an eagles screech and are directed at the humans of this world who were not among God’s faithful people. There are three woes and three remaining trumpet judgements. The third woe is said to be coming quickly.
Chapter nine brings us the fifth and sixth trumpet judgements. Just like the seals, there is an interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets. These two trumpets demonstrate how God’s judgement impacts the people of the world and how futile it is to resist God. While these judgements should lead to repentance, they don’t. Sin has such control over the people that they choose to worship the evil forces that torture and murder them rather than repent and turn to God. The fifth trumpet, the first of the three woes’ sees a star that fell from heaven to earth. Some think this is a demon and others believe it is the evil one himself. It could also be an angel that was serving God. The bottomless pit is the interim jail for some demons. It is also the place of origin of the beast. And, it will be the place where the evil one is imprisoned during Christ’s reign. The key goes to the bottomless pit which is also known as the abyss and the underworld. When this one unlocked the pit thick dark smoke came pouring out. There was so much thick dark smoke the sun and air turned dark because of it. However, this wasn’t just smoke. Out of the smoke came locusts, multitudes of them. But unlike most locusts, these didn’t eat plants. These locusts were given scorpion like power to sting people. There were locusts in the plagues but they ate vegetation. These locusts attacked people and stung them with their tails. However, they didn’t sting everybody. They only went after those people who did not have the seal of God. These are not ordinary locusts. They didn’t kill those who were unmarked; they only tortured them…for five months. First, that is the normal lifespan of a locust. This suggests that their entire purpose was to torture people. Second, five is a symbolically complete number based on the fingers of a hand. In that time people will seek death but it will be nowhere to be found. There will be no escape from them. None. The description of these locusts is somewhat disturbing. In fact, their description is intended to cause revulsion and terror. It seems they had some sort of armor, like a battle horse would wear. They had what looked like gold crowns on their heads. That indicates that their torture dominates much of the earth. It might also mean they had a high rank among the demons but below their king, Abaddon. The king of the locusts is described in three ways: an angel from the bottomless pit who unlocked the pit rather than coming from it, as abaddon whose name means destruction, and Apollyon, the destroyer. John doesn’t make any direct connection between the evil one and this king of the locusts, but the prince of demons is linked with the evil one in the gospels. The evil one is also called the prince of this world and the prince of the power of the air. There is also a connection with the roman emperor Domitian, whose patron god was Apollo, symbolized by the locust.
Having hair like a woman’s teeth may be a reference to their long antennae and teeth like a lion indicates strength and cruelty. Their wings sounded like chariots with many horses who were running into battle. The angel of the bottomless pit is demonic and controls the demonic locusts. If this angel serves God this is one more example of the demons activity and, that of the evil one is under God’s control. This is the end of the first woe.
The sixth trumpet also brings terror. John heard a voice speaking from the four horns of the gold altar. The voice carries the authority of God. This indicates it is the voice of the Lamb who was slain and has redeemed His people. He commands the four angels who are bound at the Euphrates. Because they are bound it suggests these four angels are evil. Their location at the Euphrates points to both Assyria and Babylon, empires that had devastated the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The angels were symbols of destruction. Once again we see that God is in control and the angels are released at the right time…God’s time. Because there was a fourfold time designation; hour, day, month, and year we see even evil forces have to observe God’s timing. They were released to kill one third of the people on the earth. And their army was ginormous, 200 million mounted troops. The four angels relationship to these troops is uncertain. The number, 200 million is innumerable. At its greatest strength the Roman army numbered about 126,000 soldiers. To put this in perspective, the 2020 population of the United States was 329.5 million. One third of the people could number in the billions. Combined with the former destruction of one fourth of humanity, over half of the worlds population will have been killed. There was widespread killing after the opening of the fourth seal and many died during the catastrophes of the first three trumpets.
There were riders on the horses and their armor color matched the plagues of their horses; red for fire, blue for smoke, and yellow for sulfur. All of these are signs of judgement in scripture. Although it is the horsemen for whom the number of 200 million is given, the horses they ride and their killing power are primarily described. There are some similarities between the horses of the sixth trumpet and the locusts shaped like horses of the fifth trumpet. Remember though, the locusts are given power only to torture, not to kill. These horses are given authority to kill one third of mankind. The amazing thing here is that those who were left felt no need or desire to repent. Their unwillingness or desire to repent is like that of pharaoh when the plagues came upon Egypt.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
Chapters 4-5 introduce the visions and judgements to come. John presents God in His heavenly court, and the Lamb who has a central role. John contrasts the majesty of God with the so called majesty of Caesar. God’s power and splendor is unparalleled against any ceremonial court of any earthly ruler. The first eleven verses describe God’s throne room. It is almost impossible to imagine. This vision uses the visions found in Isaiah 6:1-4, Ezekiel 1:4-28, and Daniel 7:9-10 and builds onthem. All of these visions find God enthroned in power and majesty. God’s throne dominates the Book of Revelation and the worship in the rest of the book flows from this scene. God’s magnificence, grace, and glory are fundamental to the church’s worship. Verse 4:1 signals the beginning of a new section of the book which reveals the terrifying events that will occur in the future. The beginning does not signify chronological sequence but the beginning of a new visionary experience. The voice John had hear behind him earlier now commanded him to come. The voice of the Lord invites John to come and look at things from God’s perspective. By being in the Spirit, John could experience spiritual realities and grasp insights about God’s presence, the heavenly realm, and God’s intentions in history. Rather than painting a visual picture of God John used gemstones and the rainbow to suggest God’s qualities. The rainbow is from God’s covenant with Noah that God would never again destroy theearth by flood. But this might signal that a different kind of judgement was about to come upon the earth. In Revelation, we will see the earth destroyed by fire.
Twenty four elders occupy other thrones. Their identity is not certain. Some believe they represent all people. Others are certain they are the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. Others have identified them with the 24 divisions of the Israelite priesthood. Still others think they may be angels who comprise a heavenly ruling court. In this heavenly drama they act as antiphonal chorus, which is an alternating group of speakers or singers. The white robes and crowns point to those who are confirmed in righteousness and who possess ruling authority. The wearing of crowns indicates they had already been judged and rewarded. The thunder and lightening is God’s call to attention and it reflects the awesome majesty of God. The seven lamps or torches presents the fullness of the sevenfold character of the Holy Spirit. In ancient times torches were set in front of rulers to show their authority. These torches with burning flames represent the perfect Spirit of God. And they signify the unique role of the Holy Spirit in executing judgement. The sea of glass that sparkles like it is crystal is similar to the most dramatic part of ancient theaters. This was the glistening mosaic where the speaking orchestra was positioned to provide perspective. It may also be the basin in heaven whose counterpart was the “sea” in the tabernacle and then the temple. This was a the basin of water that the priests used to wash their feet and hands as they worked, offering sacrifices and burnt offerings. There were four living creatures there and they are very similar to the cherubim Ezekiel saw close to God’s throne. They represent the whole created order. Being covered with eyes means they see everything. They had knowledge and understanding. The four creatures symbolize four types of created beings. The lion represents wild animals, the ox represents domesticated animals, the Eagle represents birds and the human represents humanity. They are most likely drawn from the cherubim in Ezekiel 1 and the seraphim in Isaiah 6. They may represent the best of creation as worshiping God.Missing are the fish, which ancient people associated with the evil sea, and insects, represented by locusts in the evil kingdom. The four living creatures ceaselessly praised God’s basic characteristics: his holiness, His power, and His eternity. Restmight be necessary on earth but in heaven it is not necessary. There is nonstop worship, day and night. The holy, holy, holyhere comes from Isaiah 6:3 and is the highest affirmation of worship in scripture. Doubling something makes it emphatic but tripling makes it ultimate. Saying God is the one who is, who was, and the one who is to come speaks of the eternal nature of God; past, present, and future.
The antiphonal chorus of 24 elders provided divine perspective on creation. Whenever the four living creatures praise God, the 24 elders fall down, or prostrate themselves, and worship “the One sitting on the throne”. This is typical of Jewish indirectionto avoid speaking God’s name. By casting their crowns down they are showing their willing surrender of their authority in light of the worthiness of God as Creator. Because no one but God can create, He alone should be worshiped and recognized as sovereign. The phrase “you are worthy” is never used of God in the Old Testament but, it was frequently used in Rome during emperor worship. Here we see that ONLY God is worthy and deserves worship. Many in the ancient world believed the gods were too busy to be concerned with humans. But, God Almighty is involved as Creator and Lord. In Revelation, creation affirms that God is in sovereign control of the world. And, God has a purpose for everything are creates.
In chapter five John introduces the Lamb, Jesus Christ, the central figure of the Book of Revelation. He is God’s chosen agent for accomplishing His purposes. The scroll is like a dramatic script that details God’s plan for the world. It is sealed with seven seals, a complete number. The scroll was in His right hand which represents God’s authority and power. God has put His purposes for history in an impenetrable safe and His purposes will be completed only when the seals are broken. The writing both inside and outside of the scroll means that God’s plans for history are full and complete. At first no one in the divine universe seemed to have the power or authority, or waseven worthy to break open the seals. John wept because even though the revelation had been promised to him, he thought he would be denied knowledge of the divine script; God’s plan for history. John’s weeping highlights the significance of the anticipated revelation. One of the 24 elders called for John to stop weeping because there was One who could open the seals. The One was the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David. Both of these titles are Old Testament Messianic titles for Jesus. Because Jesus won the victory at the cross He is the only oneworthy to open the scroll and reveal God’s purposes. God’s plan for history centers around Jesus and what He has done. His relationship to the scroll indicated His control of history. God’s purpose is twofold. He will reclaim His kingdom and He will redeem His people. This twofold victory over the evil one is first predicted in Genesis 3:15 and then covenanted to Abraham in the promise of both land and seed, or descendants.
The Jews expected the Messiah to come as a conquering lion. Instead Jesus came as a Lamb. The Lamb who was slain was now standing. This refers to Jesus death and resurrection. This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, as John the Baptist called Jesus. The Lamb’s seven horns represent His complete power and His seven eyes represent His complete knowledge. The Lamb took the scroll from the right hand of the One seated on the throne. When that happened the 4 living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb. The crucified and risen Christ has divine authority to initiate the events of this age and He is worthy of worship. The picture here is quite amazing. The 24 elders each have a bowl full of incense. These are the prayers of God’s people and they play an important role in the Lamb’s opening of the scroll and the ensuing judgement. The whole created order joined in a new song of praise to the Lamb. He is indeed worthy because through His sacrifice, He won the right to break the seals of the scroll and enact God’s purposes in history. This song summarizes the implications of the Good News about Jesus.
The description of God’s people as a kingdom of priests who will enjoy ultimate victory and will reign with Christ reflects the images of Jesus as both King and High Priest. A ginormous angelic chorus numbering thousands and millions provides an antiphonal response. All of heaven responds to creation’sconfession of Christ’s sacrifice. Wow! Verse 12 is a doxology that ascribes to Jesus divine honors which are reserved for God alone. It echoes Isaiah53:7. The second response comes from every creature, even those under the earth, (the place of the dead) and in the sea (usually associated with evil). This may imply a mandatory response even by those in rebellion against God. From the vantage point of heaven, these verses look forward to the climactic point when “every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Their Amen affirms the truth of what John has seen, as the 24 elders prostrate themselves in worship.
From 6:1-16:21 there are three sets of seven judgements; seals, trumpets, and bowls. This is the core of the Book of Revelation. Chapter six contains the breaking of six of the seven seals on the scroll. The four horses and their riders sum up the power structures of the world. Their activities primarily lead to war, violence, economic imbalance, and death. In other words, it is pointless to put our hope in these power structures. Some believe this section describes the beginning of the tribulation period. Some believe the rider on the white horse to be Christ, like is found in 19:11 but the only real similarity between the two is the horse. The four riders represent the destructive, senseless world and show no redeeming qualities. When the first seal is broken we see a white horse and rider. His bow indicates the rider is a warrior and the crown suggests he is a ruler. This rider is powerful and the focus on war and conquest illustrates human depravity. The breaking of the second seal brought a red horse. He represents bloody violence on earth. Although peace was what Rome promised (the Pax Romana ) widespread violence was the horrible reality. This rider represents killing with the sword for war instead of peace on earth. There will be civil upheavals and ethnic cleansing. Seal number three calls forth the black horse which represents economic and social dysfunction, inequality, and famine. This is indicated by the scales used in commerce. This is shown by the cost of the staples of life, bread or the grain to make make it. A loaf of wheat bread or three loaves of barley bread will cost a days pay. But the luxuries of life, wine and oil will remain the same price. Here we see the picture of economic and social injustice. With the fourth seal comes a ghastly looking horse. In the ancient world pale green was the color for depicting a corpse. It is fitting this horse is ridden by one whose name is death. And Hadesfollowed after him to claim those who have died. This fourth judgement is the inevitable consequence of the first three. Up to this point they are characterized as the sword, famine, and pestilence. They are the same means God used to bring Israel to repentance. For the Greeks, Hades was the abode of the dead, just like the Jews believed Sheol was that place. Now we begin to see the consequences. The rider named death, and Hades are given authority over a quarter of the earth to kill with the sword, famine, disease or pestilence, and wild animals. Only killing one fourth of those on earth indicates that the final judgement has not yet arrived. These four things summarize the tragedies of the earthly existence. The world cannot offer hope to humanity.
The fifth seal introduces Christian martyrs who ask how God intends to deal with evil. These were folks who had been slain for the word of God and Christ’s testimony. This is the samereason John was on the island of Patmos. Rather than follow the world’s destructive ways the martyrs gave their lives for the word of God. These martyr’s souls were under the altar because that is where the sacrificial blood was poured out in temple worship. The martyrs are impatient for the Lord to avenge their blood and judge all those who are not among His redeemed. They shouted to the sovereign Lord because they trusted in His power to address their grievances. How long? Is God slow to act? Will justice be done? God does act decisively and his wrath must be understood in terms of justice and righteousness. This vengeance won’t be carried out until chapter 19. Each martyr is given the white robe of the overcomer and told to rest until God’s appointed time. The white robe is a symbol of the martyr’s victory and God’s full acceptance. Only God knows the full number of those Christians will be martyred before the end. In His sovereignty God will fulfill His purposes through his children who are martyred and God will vindicate them at the appointed time.
When the sixth seal was broken there was a great earthquake. This offers a glimpse of the end of the created order. These are cosmic disturbances and are associated in scripture with the Day of the Lord, when God’s judgement will overturn the whole created order. Late figs appeared in the winter, the off season, and were easily blown off the tree. The description of the sky being rolled up may be describing the scene of the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven. And the moving of every mountain and island would cause seismic damage way in excess of any recorded earthquake, ever. After that, in the face of God’s judgement, the unredeemed people will be terrified and seek a safe place to hide. But there won’t be any such place. The prophets warned repeatedly that the great day would be a day of wrath and judgement. The ultimate question is who will be able to survive, or who can stand? Unbelievers, no matter how strong cannot stand. Those protected by the Lord are enabled to stand, whether on earth or in God’s presence. God’s children will rejoice to see Him because they understand God’s response to the martyrs cry for vengeance and they themselves have nothing to fear from God’s judgement. However, those who have persecuted God’s people will quake in fear as they face the wrath of the Lamb.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
The Book of Revelation opens with a three part introduction. There is a prologue, a letter introduction, and a historical introduction. The word revelation introduces the book’s visionary nature as apocalyptic writing. God communicated His message through mysterious symbols, numbers, and word pictures. The revelation is from Jesus Christ. Notice there is no “S” at the end of revelation. This is one revelation , not many. Jesus is both the source and the main subject of this book. He is speaking to John, the disciple He loved, who has faithfully reported everything Jesus revealed to him. As with other writings and other apostles, John writes as an eyewitness to the amazing things in this book. The emphasis is on the sacrificial witness of Jesus. Revelation contains seven promises of blessings and God had promised to bless all who read the wordsof this book, listen to its message, and obey what it says. The time is near. This is a reference to when Christ returns. The second introduction spans verses 4-8. This is in the style of a Greek letter. The letter goes to seven churches in Asia. This doesn’t mean there are only seven churches. These seven represent the entire group of churches. John wishes the readers grace and peace. This is typical and consistent and indicates that peace flows from God’s grace. We see that God has always been in control and always will be. He is the God who is, who was, and who will come again. God is sovereign over every single situation. The sevenfold Spirit may refer to the angels of the seven churches, to seven other angels, or to the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Others believe that since the reference comesbetween references to God the Father and God the Son, this is a reference to the Trinity. Still others believe this refers to the knowledge of the Lord, counsel, wisdom, might, understanding, power, and the fear of the Lord. The number seven acknowledges the Holy Spirit’s perfection. In verses 5-6 John gives his reasons for praising Jesus. Doxologies often conclude with the word amen, which means it shall be so. John gives three different descriptions for Jesus Christ. First Jesus is the faithful witness. He is our role model for proclaiming the Good News of salvation. The second truth is that Jesus was the first to rise from the dead. Third, as ruler of all the kings of the world Jesus is the Lord of absolutely everything. Many early Christians died for that belief. John also acknowledged that the reason we have hope is because Jesus freed us from our sins by His shed blood. John also echoes 1 Peter 2:9 by referring to us as a kingdom of priests.
Jesus comes with the clouds of heaven and all will see Him. Coming with the clouds recalls Daniel’s vision of the coming of the Son of Man. (Daniel 7:13.) All will see, even those who crucified Him. This means universally as opposed to only the few who saw Him at His birth in Bethlehem. The mourning comes from those who may regret their unbelief. I AM is the name of God in the Old Testament and Jesus has applied this name to himself. First the seven I AM statements in John’s gospel and now here. Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. These are the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet meaning Christ’s actions are all encompassing. God is fully, totally in control. Verses 9-11 are the third introduction. This shows God communicating with humanity in historical events. John was isolated on the island of Patmos, away from the rest of the apostles but he still shared a sense of community with them through their shared suffering that was based on the hope Jesus Christ has promised all believers. And John was there because he was preaching the Good News. By John’s time Jews were persuading Roman authorities that Christianity was different than Judaism and therefore not an authorized religion. It was open season on Christians. John was worshiping in the spirit on a Sunday when a loud voice from behind him spoke like a trumpet blast. John was commanded to write down everything he saw and then send it to the seven churches. Each of the seven churches received the entire book plus an individual letter from Christ. God authorized John as a prophet and the herald of His revelation.
John’s first vision is a symbolic picture of Jesus Christ as the wise, secure, and powerful agent of God who cares for His people. When John turned to see who was speaking to him, he saw seven golden lamp stands. The lighted menorah was a symbol of God’s presence among His people and of His all seeing eyes in the world. These seven lamp stands represent the seven churches already mentioned. Son of Man was a title Jesus used for Himself and He was standing among the lamp stands. This was a reassurance that Jesus was amid the churches. The long garment and the gold sash means Jesus is dressed like the high priest, showing purity and holiness. White hair represent wisdom and maturity, again a reflection of Daniel’s vision of the Ancient One or Ancient of Days. Eyes that reflect fire and flames pierce through everything. In other words, the one who sees and knows everything will judge everyone. Having feet that are burnished bronze indicates security, strength, and power as well as His treading everything underfoot. God’s voice is loud, powerful, and authoritative. When He speaks all will hear. Seven stars represent the complete church and it is secure in the right hand of the Son of Man. The picture of Jesus’s face like the sun in brilliance is a throwback to the transfiguration. The sharp sword coming out of His mouth is both His effective message and His judgement. John experienced terror and a dead faint at this sight. This was and is not unusual when someone is in the presence of the Almighty. The Lord responded with grace, placing His right hand on John and telling him not to fear. And then Jesus told John He is God. He used His official name, I AM. When Jesus speaks of Himself as He who lives, and was dead and is alive forevermore, He is referring to His eternal existence. He has conquered death. He holds the keys of deathand controls the outcome of our greatest fear. Jesus has complete authority to provide hope in a hostile world. Again John is commanded to write. This revelation is intended to help the church, then and now, understand the present and the future from God’s perspective. John is told to write because this is an instructive word for the churches. And God explained the mystery of the seven stars in His right hand. Angels or messengers could be the guardian angels of these churches, the leading officials of the churches, or a personification of the ethos or culture of the church. Most likely this is a combination of the first and third suggestions.
The rest of today’s reading is a devoted to the letters to the seven churches. They reflect the state of the early church. We don’t look much different today really. God is still calling us to faithfulness and integrity today. Those who heed the message here will reap God’s promised rewards. Those who fail to do so will be judged. So here we go with the seven letters.
The letter to the church in Ephesus addresses tradition bound Christians who are faithful but have lost their early, zealous love for Christ and for each other. “Write to the angel” is a command that begins each of the seven letters. Ephesus had become the main city of the Roman province of Asia. The temple of Artemis was there. Ephesus had become the richest banking center in the world. They were very independent, declining help from Alexander in rebuilding their temple after it was destroyed by an earthquake. Their protective pride also led to an uproar against Paul. Christ said “I know” a refrain repeated in all the letters as well. Christ knew their activities and their circumstances. They had a good theology and it was marked by perseverance and faithfulness. They had examined various claims, exercised discipline on evil people, were able to discern what was true and false, and they had suffered patiently for their faith in Christ. BUT, they had forgotten the love they had for Christ and for one another in the beginning. The challenges and struggles, especially with the false teachers, had made their love grow cold. All of the good things they had done became an empty shell without love. The same is true for us today. If we do many things but without love, they have no meaning or value. Here Christ is calling back even those who have faith to repent of their cold heartedness. If not, He will remove their lamp stand which means they will lose their status as a church. God would treat them as He did the apostates in Israel. Not a whole lot is known about the Nicolaitans. Their teaching was heretical, perhaps having to do with food sacrificed to idols. It also,appeared some of their worship practices were immoral and maybe even idolatrous. The reward for obedience is fruit from the tree of life, that is eternal life.
The letter to the church in Smyrna pictured Christians suffering up under intense pressure. They needed a message of assurance. Smyrna represents a small church that remains faithful to God despite difficult circumstances. The city was an important seaport about 35 miles north of Ephesus. There was a large Roman cult there as well as a large Jewish population. These things made it difficult for Christian believers. However, this church is not rebuked by Christ in some way. Smyrna had been destroyed and rebuilt several times. Like Christ they had been dead but now were alive. It is the only city of the seven that has survived to this day. It is modern day Izmir, Turkey. Here Jesus connected material poverty with the blessing of being rich in God’s kingdom. Jews who had no faith are condemned for aligning themselves with the evil one in hostile opposition to the Christian faith. At the Jewish council of Jamnia, the Jews excluded Christians as unholy heretics. John was not anti Semitic. He was a Jew describing the actions of fellow Jews against Jewish and Gentile Christians. John saw the evil one as the source of human hostility against Christians. Their suffering would last ten days which symbolized a limited time of persecution. If they remained faithful they would receive the crown of eternal life. Faithfulness until death is described as being victorious, and overcoming the second death means receiving eternal Life.
The letter to the church in Pergamum shows Christians who are tempted to compromise their morality and loyalty to God. Pergamum was said to be the place where parchment was first used. The word Pergamum means Citadel in Greek. It was located roughly 50 miles north of Smyrna and it was situated on a high hill dominating the valley below. There was a famous library in Pergamum. This message came from the one with the sharp two edged sword. This indicates these Christians would receive the Lord’s most severe judgement. The two edged sword was the Roman symbol of authority, which typified Pergamum as capital of the province. If the church failed, the true governor of the city (Christ) would turn His authority against them. The throne of the evil one might well refer to the altar of Zeus on the mountain above the city. It could also refer to the emperor worship at the temple of Augustus. For many years the Roman pro counsel had his throne there and the great temple of Athena and other shrines were also located in Pergamum. Being the city of the evil one might also refer to the temple of Asclepius, whose symbol was coiled snakes. The city was dedicated to the Roman pantheon and emperor worship. Some in Pergamum were syncretists meaning they combined Christianity with paganism and engaged is all manner of activities. John compared them to Balaam who lured Israel into sin. Those who remain faithful will receive manna, food from heaven which has been hidden away there. During the exodus a jar of manna was placed in the ark of the covenant. Jewish tradition said that at the coming of the Messiah , the ark would reappear and manna would be eaten at the Messianic banquet. Jesus is the bread from heaven and the bread of life. White stones were often given to the victors in athletic competitions, and it was common for special banquets or festivities to use a white stone for admission. This suggests acceptance, victory, and invitation. The new name may well be the recipients transformed nature in Christ.
The letter to the church in Thyatira confronts Christians who mix Christianity with pagan practices and a worldly lifestyle. Thyatira was a city with a large military detachment. It was located about 30 miles southeast of Pergamum. They were known for their many trade guilds and their wool and dye industry. The flaming eyes of God indicate penetrating perception, and the solid feet show Christ’s stability. This is incontrast to the nearby Colossus of Rhodes, a gigantic a statue that was thought to be indestructible… until it was toppled by an earthquake and destroyed in 226 BC. In this letter Christ emphasized knowing and seeing all things as He praised the Thyatrians. They have learned, loved, served, been faithful, and exhibited patient endurance. They were even getting better at these things! However, the mention of Jezebel is not good. She led Israel into pagan idolatry and immorality. This unknown Jezebel called herself a prophet but she was leading the people into various forms of immorality. Through messengers such as John, Christ had given this false prophet opportunities to repent of her sinful teachings and actions but like many, she refused. Christ’s judgement on Jezebel and her followers comes in three stages. Jezebel is on a bed of suffering. Disease was often considered an appropriate punishment for sin. Her followers will suffer greatly, and her children will die. This echoes the plagues in Egypt that ended with the death of the firstborn sons. God sees all thoughts and intentions and He gives whatever sentence people deserve. However, there were those in Thyatira who had not fallen prey to this Jezebel. Christ asked that they remain faithful until He comes. The depths of the evil one could be the secrets known by those who have been initiated into the things of the evil one. The reward for this is that they will share authority with Him as symbolized by the iron rod that will smash the opposition like clay pots. This is a quote from Messianic Psalm 2:8-9. The morning star is Christ Himself. For the overcoming believer, Christ’s presence is the light in the dark and difficult times before the Son’s coming. Also, morning star refers to the faithful believers share in the glory and splendor of Christ. The morning star is also the planet Venus, which signals the coming of a new day. Here it refers to the promise of resurrection at Christ’s return.
Next comes the message to the church in Sardis. This city is nearly 50 miles east of Smyrna on the southeast highway from Pergamum to Thyatira. It was home to a large colony of prosperous Jews, called “Shepherdic” after the city’s ancient name. The city had been the capital of Lydia. The worship of the Roman Caesar and Artemis, the goddess of fertility were active here. It’s fortified acropolis gave its residents a false sense of security. This letter comes from the one who has the sevenfold spirit of God and the seven stars. It might be that other churches looked at the church in Sardis and believed they were a dynamic church, but their secularism revealed their lack of spiritual life. They needed to wake up or they would fall flat. In fact John wrote that they were dead. This city that thought it was impenetrable because of its position on the hill was actually attacked through a secret tunnel, and the watchmen were caught off guard. The same would be true if the Christians didn’t refocus on the Lord. God would come like a thief in the night. Like the invaders in the city’s history, Christ would return just as suddenly and catch them unawares. But, there were those in the city who had not yet soiled their clothes. Soiled clothes represent an impure life while white clothes represent purity. Those who have not gotten dirty will find themselves walking with the Lord in those white garments. And even better, their names will never be removed from the Book of Life. Having your name in this book is the assurance of God’s acceptance and eternal life. For God to erase names implies condemnation and eternal death.
The letter to the church in Philadelphia encourages Christians who seem to be weak and powerless to realize that their true strength is in Christ. This is a message of comfort and there are no words of disapproval. The kingdom of God does not depend on human strength or wisdom but in God’s power and authority. Philadelphia means brotherly love. This was a small city about 40 miles southeast of Sardis. It’s location, vineyards, and wine production made it wealthy and commercially important. The city was situated in the Timolus Mountains, open to fertile plains to the east. But they experienced frequent severe earthquakesthat left them weak and impoverished. The key of David represents authority as the One who opens and shuts the door in the Davidic kingdom, a prerogative that is Christ’s as the rightful Son of David. As the gatekeeper of heaven Jesus has the authority to open and close the way there. Like the city of Philadelphia itself, the Christians there were not prosperous and they lacked status and power. But Christ had opened a door for them to claim His status and authority. In spite of theirweakness, the Philadelphia church was obedient and didn’t deny Jesus in their struggles and suffering. The Christians in Philadelphia had suffered mistreatment by anti Christian Jews but these people would eventually be forced to worship before the church and to acknowledge that Christ had loved His own. In the ancient world captives were often forced to prostrate themselves before their conquerors. The churches human enemies would ultimately acknowledge that Christians are the ones God loves. Jesus will protect Christians who persevere through trials. There will be a time of great testing at the end times when the world experiences tribulation. Christ calls Christians to hold on, and persevere in difficulty so they do not lose their victors crown. Christ promised that the faithful believers will be a pillar in the temple of God. A pillar is the most stable and permanent part of the building. This indicates a prominent place of service in Christ’s kingdom. The name of God that is inscribed on them portrays God’s ownership and the security Christians will enjoy. The new Jerusalem is not a realm constructed by humans but a gift from God in heaven. A new name was a sign of God’s blessing. Think about Abram, Jacob, Simon, Sari and others who were given new names.
The letter to the church in Laodicea castigates lukewarm Christians whose inconsistent lives stand for nothing but themselves. They sicken Christ to the point of His spitting or vomiting them out of His mouth. Laodicea was 45 miles southeast of Philadelphia and 90 miles east of Ephesus. It was a wealthy city with thriving banks, a textile industry, and a medical school. The city was also known for their sparse water supply. Laodicea was the economic and judicial center of a metropolitan region that included Colosse and Hierapolis. The citizens of Laodicea were very proud of their self sufficiency. After a severe earthquake in 60 AD they refused help from Rome and rebuilt the city themselves, making it very beautiful. This message is from the one who is the Amen. Used as an oath amen is a promise of truth and Jesus is the truth. His message is made authentic by the truthfulness and reliability of His word. The description of the faithful and true witness declares that He knew them as they really were. Though they were wealthy and very proud of their elite status and accomplishments, they didn’t measure up to God’s expectations. They were like their water supply; neither hot or cold. They were tepid. The hot springs in Hierapolis were famous for their healing qualities. Colosse was equally famous for its cold, refreshing springs. In contrast, the water in Laodicea was both smelly and lukewarm. This sort of water is distasteful. Jesus was saying that their commitment to Him was indecisive, distasteful, and revolting. And although Christians in Laodicea felt prosperous and self sufficient, Jesus actually saw their wretched, miserable and poor spiritual condition. Jesus’ prescription for them was a complete overhaul of their attitude moving from self reliance to dependency on God. They could buy whatever they wanted but they needed to acquire treasures in heaven so they would have spiritual riches through faith in Christ. Being purified by fire is often painful but Christ here means that material wealth will burn in the fire butspiritual wealth has eternal value. White garments represent spiritual purity. Black wool cloth and garments were prized exports of the city of Laodicea. This famous black wool was a source of Laodicea’s wealth; representing their proud and unredeemed spiritual condition. Their wealth was also due to their well known Phrygian eye ointment which was used in theeye clinic associated with the famed doctor Demosthenes. The Laodiceans needed instead to buy ointment from Christ through faith. Only His eye salve would enable them to see their sin and repent. A person or church must hear Jesus knocking and open the door to Him. Christ provides a pattern of revival for a church that has grown spiritually weak and fallen out of fellowship with Him. Simply opening the door can renew their former bond. After the door is opened and Jesus enters in, all will share a meal. A shared meal signifies acceptance, deep friendship, and a covenant relationship. The reward for victorious and obedient faith is to sit with Christ on His throne. Christians do not become divine but they share in Christ’s victorious reign.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
Today instead of looking back at what we have read I am going to look forward. We are about to embark on a journey through the apocalyptic Book of Revelation and I want to spend some time on the introduction. This is a book that scares many people. Some avoid it altogether. But this is one of my favorite books in the Bible. It is a book full of hope and I have read the end. We win!!! This will be longer than any other introduction I have done but there is good stuff here. So, here goes.
Jesus Christ is the divine author of this Revelation and He has described the coming events to His servant John, the disciple whom He loved. This is John the son of Zebedee, brother of James, and the same John who wrote the gospel that bears his name along with 1, 2, and 3 John. He was imprisoned on the island of Patmos because he had been preaching Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead. The date for this writing is most likely in the mid 90’s AD. This book is addressed to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia which is modern day turkey; a place where Christianity is now illegal and dangerous for believers. Though the message was directed to these churches, the message is for all churches and believers of all times. Roman persecution at the time was becoming severe. This had started under the emperor Nero and reached a fervor under emperor Domitian who ruled from 81-96AD. This was a time when Roman rulers demanded to be worshiped as gods, but Christians who believed that there was only one true God faced persecution, including martyrdom. Some Christians were advocating compromise with the Roman government. John wrote to encourage believers to stand firm in the trials that lay ahead. Here is a fun fact. The ancients believed in religious statues that could speak. Sometimes the image at a shrine would be hollow. This allowed a pagan priest to climb inside the statue and speak for that particular god.
John’s apocalypse is an amazing example of the salvation that is available to believers in Jesus Christ. This blesses all who read it and ponder, and it warns those who oppose Christ and the Good News He brings. The unfolding drama of the Revelation will stretch your imagination. It will also bolster your faith as you witness God’s supreme power. The visions you will read describe the struggles and trials of Christians. It details God’s judgements on those who persecute them, and shows the magnificence of the eternal hope and promise that God had made for His faithful people. John uses words and pictures to attempt to show us the things of God using human words. The word apocalyptic means to uncover or reveal. Here God is revealing in great detail what will happen in the end times. This type of writings is often found during times of great stress or persecution. This book has been used throughout history by believers who have suffered much at the hands of others. During WWII many clung to the hope in the Book of Revelation. Slaves in early America also used this book to bring comfort amid their harsh treatment and having been wrenched away from their homes, families and countries. Apocalyptic writing often uses symbols, symbolic names, codes, and numbers so that outside readers, especially enemies, would not be able to understand what was being written. Apocalyptic literature is not just found in the New Testament. Parts of the Books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah contain this literature as well. These revelations gave seers, dreamers, interpreters, and prophets messages of hope and salvation for God’s people and messages of judgement on God’s enemies. The prophets were obligated to share these messages with others, especially God’s people who were under persecution and distress. Readers understood that these promises would not be filled immediately, but they brought hope that God would act and that He is still in control. In the meantime, God’s people were to remain faithful. They were to persevere in the face of their suffering and trials. God would deliver them soon. All of this can be found in the Book of Revelation. John referred to the Revelation as prophecy, not because it was just a prediction of what was to come but because it was a message from God to be proclaimed. This message is addressed to God’s people and it is intended to show that God’s answer in distressing times will not be fully realized until the end of history when Jesus Christ returns in glory to judge the living and the dead.
The Book of Revelation speaks through visions, images, and figurative language rather than logical reasoning. Sometimes we see both the literal and symbolic together, in intriguing combinations. Reading Revelation requires imagination. It is like entering the realm of dreams with God and discovering that they contain amazing messages from Him. It will be nothing but frustrating if we read expecting everything to be in a logical order. Try looking at it as pictures instead. For instance we read in 8:7 that “all the green grass was burned” but in 9:4 we read that the locusts are not to harm the grass. This seems like a contradiction. But what we really have is different visions or parts of visions that aren’t necessarily sequential. Keep in mind that John saw the entire revelation in one revelation. There is no”s” at the end of Revelation. The Greek this book is written with is horrible. Perhaps John was dictating at such a speed that the writer could not keep up. Maybe John was writing as he witnessed all of this. Or it could be that he wrote after the revelation and couldn’t get the words on paper fast enough. Whatever the reason, this is a lot to remember. What John saw is meant to show God’s message in pictures. We cannot read one vision into another. Instead we read, concentrating on the main point of each vision.
Revelation portrays the stark nature of evil all while emphasizing how God is always present and at work to accomplish His purposes for His people. Evil can only do what God allows. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. He is the Lord over all of history from beginning to the end and ultimately the powers of sin and evil are futile. The evil one has already lost the war. Now all he can do is try to wrench people away from the Lord. Revelation shows us that what is done in earth has eternal consequences. And it reminds us that the Great victory over the powers of evil had already been won at the cross. Revelation moves forward in a series of repeating cycles. It is not organized topically or chronologically. This books pictures of Jesus’ victory, its symbolic descriptions of His purposes, and His second coming brought and still bring deep comfort to those Christians experiencing persecution. We often think that the persecution of Christians stopped long ago but that is not the case. There are 51 countries today where Christianity is illegal and hazardous to your health if you practice. And, if you add up the number of Christians killed for their faith in the twentieth century, that number totals more than the number of all the martyrs of the previous nineteen centuries combined. The evil one is still running rampant but despite all of his hatred and the misery God’s people have endured for the name of Jesus, the victory is already Christ’s. And because it is His, it is ours as well. As we move towards the end times there is nothing in scripture that says this will be easy. In fact it will be just the opposite. There will be hardship but we have this promise from Jesus: “in the world you will have troubles. But take heart, I have overcome the world .” John 16:33.
When you read Revelation you will notice that Jesus is at the center of everything. John wrote in part to reveal Christ in his glory. In the face of severe persecution Revelation dramatically reminds Christians of the source of their hope and vindication, and it challenges them and us to remain faithful. The Christians in the Roman province of Asia may have seemed weak and powerless to the world but Revelation repeatedly reminded them, as it does us today, that we serve a Mighty God. He controls history. He has accomplished our salvation. And He continues to work out His purposes.
There are many numbers in the Book of Revelation and those numbers have often inspired wild speculation as to what exactly they mean. When we understand the symbolism in ancient numbers this will help our reading. The symbolism is not rigid or exact so we must take care when we read. And, while some of the numbers in the Bible have symbolic meaning, using numbers to try to speculate when Christ will return is not helpful. Jesus made it clear that ONLY God knows when that will happen. God didn’t intend for the numbers in Revelation to help us predict the future. Instead their symbolic meanings help to explain the significance of the visions. So, here are many of the numbers and their meanings. One refers to God’s oneness. Two is the minimum number of people needed to give a legitimate witness. Three represents the Divine; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Four represents the known world, represented in Genesis by four rivers and in Revelation by four living creatures, horsemen, winds, and angels. Five is human completeness. Think five fingers on a hand. Six is incompleteness, an implication of evil, as in one short of perfection. It is neither humanly complete which is five, or divinely complete which is seven. Seven is perfection, divine completeness, and fulfillment. It indicates that God and the world are in harmony. Ten is a complete number and a way to indicate many. Twelve represents the tribes of God’s people, the number of disciples, and the number of God’s people. The supreme, ultimate evil is 666. One thousand is the foundational large number and 10,000 is a huge number rather than a precise count. Twelve thousand is a large number of God’s people, and 144,000 is the complete number of the people of God.
And one other thing. Many in the first and second centuries placed a heavy emphasis on angels. Angels have a servant role and are not to be worshiped. Jewish tradition had developed the concept of angels as mediators with God. In Pre-Christian Judaism God’s transcendence or otherness was emphasized to such an extent that people felt a need for meditators to communicate with Him. In this context, angels grew in importance. For Christians, Christ has a unique role as mediator between God and humans. Interest in angels or deceased Saints to communicate with God gets in the way of honoring Christ alone as the mediator between God and humans. Gods still has angelic messengers, but they are creatures who serve Him, not divine beings to be worshiped. Faithful Saints of the past, including Mary, are human beings. They may be honored in our Christian memories but they have no claim to divinity, and they should never be worshiped. God alone is worthy of our prayers and worship.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W