Studies in Revelation

A commentary on the Book of Revelation.

In the study of any book of the Bible or any topic of Scripture, a certain amount of ground work is needed for understanding, orientation, and motivation. This is particularly so with the Book of Revelation or prophecy in general. Revelation is a book that has been called everything from a hodgepodge of nonsense to a masterpiece. Because it contains a large amount of symbolism and because of the faulty approaches or methods of interpretation applied to its study, many have a difficult time grasping its meaning. It has become a book which is the object of the widest possible divergence of interpretation.

Regardless, God promises blessing to the student of this book (Rev. 1:3). In fact, Revelation is a book in which all the great themes, seed plots, lines of doctrine and Bible prophecy find their fulfillment. It is in this book that the victory of God as the God of history is seen in the culmination of the ages and the establishment of the eternal state.

Click here to purchase the printed version of the book.

Series ID: 
43
/assets/worddocs/jhk3_rev.zip
Ad Category: 

Foundations for the Study of Prophecy (Revelation)

In the study of any book of the Bible or any topic of Scripture, a certain amount of ground work is needed for understanding, orientation, and motivation. This is particularly so with the Book of Revelation or prophecy in general. Revelation is a book that has been called everything from a hodgepodge of nonsense to a masterpiece. Because it contains a large amount of symbolism and because of the faulty approaches or methods of interpretation applied to its study, many have a difficult time grasping its meaning. It has become a book which is the object of the widest possible divergence of interpretation.

Regardless, God promises blessing to the student of this book (Rev. 1:3). In fact, Revelation is a book in which all the great themes, seed plots, lines of doctrine and Bible prophecy find their fulfillment. It is in this book that the victory of God as the God of history is seen in the culmination of the ages and the establishment of the eternal state.

The Purposes of Prophecy

It Is Not Designed to Make Us Prophets

God did not give us prophecy so we could become a prophet or the son of a prophet and thereby predict the future. It is not given so we can predict who the Man of Sin or the Antichrist or the beast will be, nor is it given so we can predict the precise day and hour when the Lord will return.

History is full of those who thought they knew who the Antichrist would be or was. Men have said it was Napoleon, others Mussolini, others that it was Hitler, others John F. Kennedy because of the head wound by which he died. Some have said it would be Henry Kissinger because he was from one of the countries of the Old Roman Empire and because he was so involved in seeking peace between the Israelis and Arabs a few years ago.

From the Bible we can see the alignment of nations that will occur in the last days and we can see how our world is fitting into the pattern of those conditions morally, politically, religiously, and economically that will exist in the last days and in the days often referred to as the Tribulation or more accurately, Daniel’s Seventieth Week.

From this we may take warning and encouragement from the Scripture, but we need to be careful about making predictions. It is only logical that the ‘last day’ conditions will undoubtedly exist or begin to fall into place before the Tribulation begins in preparation for the terrible days that lie ahead. God will obviously be placing the props on the stage of human history and putting the actors in the wings ready to come on the stage of this great drama. We may see those who possess characteristics consistent with the key players we see revealed in Scripture, but we need to be careful about making predictions.

This means that when we see such conditions developing, we can know that those days could be near, that conditions appear to be rapidly marching toward the events of the last days which could mean suffering for the body of Christ, the church, in the form of greater persecution. Though I believe in the blessed hope, the pre-tribulation rapture, the unfolding of these events in preparation for the Tribulation period also means we should take the necessary precautions and prepare as well as we can for difficult times since we could see them before the Lord returns for the church.

But we should also know that these conditions can wax and wane like the moon to some degree so we can never be sure as to the time. All we can say is that this is like what will happen or that the present world affairs are growing and shaping up as we see them in the prophetic Word.

It Demonstrates the Accuracy of the Bible

In all the writings of the world, the accuracy of biblical prophecy is unique and stands as one of the great evidences of the God-breathed nature of the Bible. The cults are basically silent on the future and when they are not, they end up with egg on their face.

The test for any prophecy and the authenticity of its source is fulfillment, and hundreds of Bible prophecies have been fulfilled in minute detail. This is true of prophecies fulfilled in Old Testament times, in the life of Christ (birth, life, death, and resurrection), and in relation to even the shaping of world events of our day. Compare Deuteronomy 18:20-22; Jeremiah 28:9; but also Deuteronomy 13:1-5.

Note that a false prophet’s prediction might very well come to pass. The determination of whether he was a true or false prophet was not made on this basis but on whether or not he led the people away from God. The success of false prophets was permitted in order to test God’s people (vs. 3).2

The ultimate issue for all prophecy is its spiritual impact on the lives of God’s people. Does it cause men to follow the Lord or turn them away from Him?

Ezekiel’s Prophecy concerning the city of Tyre is an illustration (Ezek. 26:1-5). About 350 years before Christ, Philip of Macedonia dreamed that one day he would throw off the Persian yoke. His son, who had already shown an ability for military logistics and leadership, had a falling out with his father at about the age of 15 and became a playboy on the Mediterranean. Later Philip was murdered, some even accused Alexander, but he returned to Macedonia. At age 21 he formed a military force and began conquering one country after another. He never lost a battle and he stopped his conquest at India only because his men were homesick.

The inevitable happened and he met Darius the Persian at the headwaters of the Tigris/Euphrates in the Battle of Isis. Darius and his men were put to riot by this upstart Greek. Alexander’s men being flush with victory wanted to pursue Darius back to Babylon and fight the final campaign. Alexander said, “No.” He felt that the time was not right because they didn’t have the proper supply lines. The Phoenicians would come in and help Darius. Instead, Alexander said, “Let’s go down to Tyre. Let’s defeat it and then the Phoenicians will throw in with us.”

Well, how much do you know about Tyre? Though besieged many times, no one was ever able to capture the city. Years before Alexander decided to go down to Tyre, Nebuchadnezzar went after Tyre himself. He besieged the city for 13 years. As it happened, both Nebuchadnezzar and the people of Tyre decided to quit about the same time. The people of Tyre decided to make one last effort. They picked up all they could load in boats and at midnight, they went out and camped on a large rock-like island about 300 yards from the shore and reestablished themselves. Nebuchadnezzar made one last attack against the city, but when he found the city vacant, he left in disgust.

Because of the success of this move, Tyre built an impregnable fortress and city there on the rock some 900 feet from the mainland. Now, years later, Alexander said, “We will go up against the great fort on the rock and it will fall as other cities have. So he did. He commandeered boats, and attacked the city, but he was repulsed time and again. He was upbraided by his men and their argument was, “You can’t fight over 900 feet of water.” So Alexander took the dust, the rubble and the ruin from the old city of Tyre and poured it into the sea. It took seven months, but he built a causeway out to the rock and the city fell in one day. After that the site of the old city became nothing more that a flat rock where fishermen spread their nets. And what had Ezekiel prophesied years before Alexander’s time?

Now it came about in the eleventh year, on the first of the month, that the word of the Lord came to me saying, 2 “Son of man, because Tyre has said concerning Jerusalem, ‘Aha, the gateway of the peoples is broken; it has opened to me. I shall be filled, now that she is laid waste,’ 3 therefore, thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and I will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. 4 And they will destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers; and I will scrape her debris from her and make her a bare rock. 5 She will be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea, for I have spoken,’ declares the Lord God, ‘and she will become spoil for the nations …’” (Ezekiel 26:1-5)

Why begin our study of Revelation here? God said this about Tyre 2000 years ago, but the Hebrew prophet spoke these words 350 years before Alexander the Great.

It Reveals the Power and Wisdom of God

As just demonstrated, prophecy shows how God continues to control the affairs of this world in spite of the great and constant opposition of both Satan and man to the purposes of God (read Isa. 10:5-19). Though Assyria boastfully acted on her own initiative as an enemy of Israel (vs. 7), she was but an instrument of God’s wrath against a rebellious Israel. God was always in charge and through Isaiah the prophet, He prophesied that He would destroy Assyria so completely that a child could easily count the number of leaders that remained (vs. 19). Assyria fell between the fall of Nineveh in 612 B.C. and the battle of Charchemish in 605.

It Reveals the Plan and Purposes of God

In the process of this study we will see this plan unfold along with some of God’s purposes. We will see God’s purpose for Israel, why they were cut off from the place of blessing, what God is doing today with the nation of Israel and with the Gentiles, and we will see God’s purposes for the church, for the Tribulation, and for the millennial reign of Christ.

It Protects Believers from Satan’s Counterfeits

Understanding prophecy can also protect Christians from the counterfeit strategies of Satan and the world system that lies under his control. As an example, one of the ancient counterfeits and one that will be a key note of his last day strategies, a strategy already prominent today, is the belief in one world government which is portrayed as a utopia and the last final hope for mankind. Nationalism will be hated and internationalism praised as the answer. Another illustration is the postmillennial belief that the church will be able to bring in the kingdom by the efforts of God’s people in concert, of course, with God. But an understanding of prophecy which warns of Satan’s attempts to bring the world together under his last-time leader (an anti-God, anti-Christ figure) warns us not to fall for any kind of one world movement.

It is Designed to Give Comfort

When we hear of wars and rumors of wars or hear of the problems of the Middle East or Russia, or we see the condition our country is in and the way it is in the control of the ‘one worlders,’ the knowledge of prophecy can give comfort by reminding us of God’s plan and that He is still on the throne, in control, and carrying out His purposes and plans (note that the purpose of these verses is to bring comfort John 14:1-3; 1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11; 2 Thess. 2:2).

It is Designed to Promote Holiness

The greatest purpose of the prophetic Word, as designed by God, is the pursuit of holiness by His people. This is everywhere evident in one prophetic passage after another. Check all the passages dealing with the return of the Lord and you will find that, almost without exception, our Lord’s return is used as a basis for an exhortation to godliness. This includes living as aliens in His service, living for heavenly treasure, and finding comfort in the midst of suffering and persecution through the assurance of Christ’s return.

Some illustrations:

Philippians 3:15-21 Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; 16 however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. 17 Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. 18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. 20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.

Colossians 3:1-5 If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. 5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.

1 John 2:28-3:3 And now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. 29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him. 1 See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

Titus 2:9-15 Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect. 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. 15 These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

1 Peter 1:13-17 Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 17 And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth;

As we see how prophecy has been fulfilled, as we see it being fulfilled, as we contemplate the fulfillment of future events and their ramifications, and as we remember and live in the light of the coming Judgment (Bema) Seat of Christ, prophecy should have a special message and appeal for us to live now in the light of the sure and blessed hope of the future.

It is Designed to Unfold the Loveliness of Jesus

Revelation 19:10 And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said to me, “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”

Prophecy is designed to reveal truth concerning the person and work of the Lord Jesus. This is nowhere more evident than in the book of Revelation.

Dangers in the Study of Prophecy

The Danger of Sensationalism

Two passages are particularly pertinent here:

Acts 17:21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. (RSV)

2 Timothy 4:3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, … (RSV)

The Athenian philosophers were always ready to hear or tell some ‘new thing,’ but Paul warns us that this idea did not die with the Athenian philosophers. It is still with us today among Christians and non-Christians alike who often run from one prophetic conference or prophetic teacher to another, but in the process, they often show no real interest in other areas of Bible study. Why? Because they are looking for something sensational, novel, exciting, and entertaining, or because they are simply curious.

Prophecy was not meant to be sensationalized. It was meant to instruct believers according to certain clear-cut purposes of the Word that we have studied. Prophecy is fascinating and can be exhilarating, but should we be any more interested in it than in any other major tenet of Scripture? I think not.

Of course we should look expectantly for the return of the Lord and the blessed hope, but we need all of Scripture to do that effectively. Furthermore, reality reminds us that 2000 years have passed since the promise of His coming. This does not minimize the certainty of His return, but it should provide us with balance so that we live and anticipate His coming as though He will return today, yet work and serve as though He will not come for another 1,000 years!

The Danger of Ignoring Prophecy

Of course the opposite of the above, ignoring Bible prophecy, is also a danger. Prophetic teaching was strong in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, but began to decline in its popularity in the ’80s. I think this was so partly because it was sensationalized, which, after a while, had a deadening affect.

I remember hearing comments by well-known prophetic speakers that we could expect the Lord’s return within twenty years, at least by the ’70s or ’80s. The idea was that in view of the shaping of world events, they didn’t see how it was possible for the return of the Lord to be delayed any longer than that. Many times this would be followed by disclaimers like, “Now, no one knows the day or the year of the Lord’s return, but …” Another common statement was something like this, “We have more reason to believe the return of the Lord for the church will be in our day than any other generation in history since the early church.”

Though world events were still moving toward the picture we see in Revelation and prominent passages like Daniel 9, still things on the surface seemed much the same. Israel became a state in 1948, thousands of Jews began to flock back to their land, and there was all the news and talk about peace in the Middle East. But the fact the Lord did not return within that twenty-year period, as many expected, seemed to lull the church into a kind of prophetic sleep. Add this to the fact that in the ’80s we moved into a time known as the ‘age of consumerism’ and we can see how the church surely began to forget about the return of the Lord and began to look more and more like the world.

Our need is to maintain the biblical balance. We should be looking for the Lord’s return as One who might come tomorrow with the impact that should have on us from the standpoint of heavenly treasure and living as aliens. At the same time, from the standpoint of ministry and involvement in our society, we should live as though He will not return for years to come.

The Danger of Pride

In 1 Corinthians the Apostle reminds us that knowledge without love makes us arrogant (2 Cor. 8:1) and pride is, of course, a danger we all face in some area of our lives. But, for some reason, people tend to become more puffed up over their knowledge of prophetic truth than in other areas.

Prophecy is a complicated area of Scripture with many divergent viewpoints even within the same prophetic scheme of things. As a result, people often view the knowledge of prophecy as a sign of maturity, great intelligence, or spiritual insight. The tendency is to think that if someone knows a lot about prophecy, that person is something close to the incarnation of the Apostle Paul. You often notice a tendency in this direction in some of the well-known speakers who specialize in prophecy. And though by-in-large they are godly and well-meaning in their purpose, pride nevertheless still comes out in some of the comments and attitudes displayed. There is a kind of arrogance, an attitude like, ‘you better come and hear what I have to say, or get my monthly newsletter and get the latest scoop, because I have it all figured out.’

The Danger of Imbalance

Imbalance is a problem in any area of life. One of the unique things about the Lord Jesus is the fact of His balance. The Apostle John described Him as One who was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). He was and is perfectly balanced. But what happens to us? We tend to become overly occupied with one area of doctrine or truth to the exclusion of others. We find a ‘hobby horse’ and ride it to death. This is especially true with the study of prophecy, especially from the standpoint of coming events and world affairs.

Of course we need to be alert and aware of world events, and we need people who are on top of these things, but our tendency is to so focus on them that we neglect other important areas of truth—principally the heart of all prophecy—the person and work of the Lord Jesus which includes His second coming. This doesn’t mean one cannot have a specialty, an area of doctrine in which they specialize such as the family, or the church, or prophecy. We need those specialists who devote much of their time to such studies, but we all still need balance and to need to know the whole counsel of the Word.

The Lord Jesus and His coming form the heart of all Scripture and especially in the passages on prophecy. The great hope of the church and mankind is the personal and visible return of the Savior. The last book of Scripture is called “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” and much of its content deals with “the things which must soon take place.” The visible return of Christ in all His glory is the prominent note or theme of this book (Rev. 1:7, 8; 19:10; see also 1 Thess. 4:13f; 2 Thess. 2:8f; Tit. 2:13f; Phil. 3:19-20) so we would never deny the importance of prophecy, but the appeal here is for balance.

Until then there will be the rise of one false hope after another—utopias, world leaders, and false messiahs, but none will be able to deal with man’s problems. Only the Lord Himself can do that.

The Danger of Discouragement

If you are new at the study of prophecy, don’t become discouraged if at first the study of prophecy seems like a large puzzle. Keep in mind the purposes of prophecy. In time, it will begin to fit together as you pick up the pieces one by one, but never expect to have all the answers to all the questions.

Prophecy and the Terms
Used for King and Kingdom

In Bible prophecy or prophetic passages of Scripture, God often uses the same language to describe both the king and the kingdom. Why? Because the kingdom takes on the characteristics of the king. As a result, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish one from the other in a prophetic passage since they both represent each other. Point: Is the passage talking about the king (the ruler), or the kingdom of the ruler, or both? Let’s note a couple of illustrations.

(1) Daniel 7:17-19 calls the four beasts “kings,” but in verse 23 the fourth beast is called the fourth kingdom.

(2) In Revelation 13:1-3, the system of the beast, which many believe is the revived imperial form of the Roman empire of the future, is clearly in view because of the ten horns and the seven heads. It is a reference to a ten-nation confederation of ten kings that come together to form the revived Roman empire. But in verses 4-7, the king, the one who emerges as the ruler of this last day system, seems to be in view. Sometimes a clear distinction is made, other times it is not.

Kinds of Fulfillment in Prophecy

Double Reference Fulfillment (Near and Far)

Bible prophecy may have both a near and a far fulfillment. “Two events widely separated as to the time of their fulfillment, may be brought into the scope of one prophecy. This was done because the prophet had a message for his own day as well as for a future time.”3

In addition, the fulfillment of the near often became the assurance of the fulfillment of the far.

Illustrations:

(1) The Abrahamic promises had their ultimate goal in the coming of Messiah through whom all the families of the earth could be blessed, but the promise and birth of Isaac under the most adverse conditions would help Abraham to believe that in his seed all the families of the earth should be blessed.4

(2) Daniel 8:9-11 and 23-27 provides another example. The little horn of these two passages were prophecies of Antiochus Epiphanes of Greece who, in 175 B.C., plundered the temple in Jerusalem and desecrated it by offering a pig on the altar, but many believe that this passage ultimately anticipates the character and actions of the last day ruler of the Revived Roman Empire or the antichrist.

Dual or Partial Fulfillment

A prophetic passage may totally look to the remote future for its fulfillment, but at the same time there is often a dual fulfillment in the future with part of the prophecy to be fulfilled before the rest of the prophecy.

The prophet would be given a vision of future events which would appear together like great mountain peaks in the distance, but in actuality they were separated by a valley of time, a parenthetic period that would come between the fulfillment of the two parts of the prophecy.

Scriptural Illustrations:

(1) Isaiah 9:6a: The prophecy of the birth of Messiah, refers to the first advent though some often also see an immediate fulfillment in the birth of Isaiah’s son but the context favors the remote view. This was remote and looked to the future. But Isaiah 9:6b-7, the prophecy of the government that will rest on His shoulders, looks at the second advent. Like a valley that separates two mountain peaks, the two events are separated by hundreds of years and the church age.

(2) Isaiah 11:1-5: The shoot that will spring from the stem of Jesse, refers to the first advent, and 11:6-10f, the wolf that will dwell with the lamb, looks to the results of the second coming in the millennial reign of Christ.

(3) Compare Isaiah 61:1-3 with Luke 4:17-20: The Lord quoted Isaiah 61:1-2a, but He stopped abruptly in the middle of verse 2, put down the book, and then stated that “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Why did He leave out verses 2b and following? Because they must wait until the second advent for fulfillment.

(4) Another passage that adds insight to this issue is 1 Peter 1:10-12. In these verses Peter tells us that the salvation about which he has been writing is the subject of Old Testament prophecies. The content of these prophecies embraced both the sufferings and glories of Messiah (vs. 11). But he also shows that though the prophets spoke by the Spirit of Christ within them, they did not always understand their own utterances, especially as to the time (or times) of these things, so they diligently searched as did Daniel to find this out (Dan. 8:27; 12:8). The perplexity lay in the two mountain peaks—the sufferings and the glories.

  • They knew they were speaking of the future and in that, they were serving not themselves, but those who would live in the days of Messiah in the far future. “Serving” is the Greek diakoneo, to serve, minister. It reminds us that the writing and teaching of the Word is a service, a ministry to others, specifically today, the church.
  • The prophets knew that God would bless the Gentiles, that grace would come to them (vs. 10).
  • They saw the sufferings (Isa. 53 for example) and the glories (Isa. 11 for example), but they could not see the valley, the interim between the two. They could not fully understand the relationship of the sufferings of Messiah to His glory. They could not see that the sufferings related to His first advent and the glories to His second advent.

Single or Complete Fulfillment

Some prophecies look only to one historic fulfillment. This may be reasonably near or very remote, but once accomplished, it is done, fulfilled. Some illustrations are:

(1) The destruction of Tyre (Isa. 23; Ezek. 26) and Nineveh (Nah. 1:15f and Zeph. 2:13).

(2) The birth place of Messiah in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2).

(3) Daniel’s Seventieth Week (Dan. 9:24-27), the unprecedented time of trouble coming upon all the inhabitants of the earth (Rev. 3:10).

Historical Fulfillment as Prophetic Foreshadows

A Bible prophecy may have its foundation in some event in biblical history, yet at the same time be a prophecy in the form of a type, a picture, or foreshadow of a future event.

As mentioned earlier, the prophecy regarding the antichrist of the abomination of desolation (Dan. 8) may be foreshadowed in the person and actions of Antiochus Epiphanes (Dan. 8:9, 21-25).

Psalm 22 undoubtedly had its origins in some event in the life of David, yet it goes far beyond anything David experienced, and the Psalm became a miraculous prophecy of the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Several of the fulfillment quotations in the gospel of Matthew fall into this category:

(1) Matthew 2:15, the life of Israel and their deliverance was used by Matthew as a type of deliverance of God’s Son from Egypt to protect Him from Herod.

(2) Matthew 2:17, the wailing of Israel at the time of the exile, is used as a prophetic shadow of the time of the slaughter of the young children after the birth of Christ.

(3) Matthew 12:39, the experience of Jonah in the belly of the great fish, also became a foreshadow of the resurrection.

Prophecy and the Time Element

Length of a Prophetic Year

In Bible prophecy, time consists of 30 days in a prophetic month, but it consist of 360 days to a prophetic year, not 365. God’s prophetic calendar year is calibrated on 360 days. Thus, promises like that of Daniel 9:25 are to be figured on a calendar year of 360 days.

When this is done, beginning in 445 B.C., the time of the decree to allow Israel to return to restore and rebuild Jerusalem to the time of Messiah, we are brought precisely to the birth or the triumphal procession of Christ.

Daniel 9:24 shows us that God would finish His dealings with Israel in 70 weeks of years, or 70 x 7, i.e., 490 years. That this prophecy is dealing with 70 weeks of years and not days is clear from two things: (a) Daniel was thinking of years and not days in verse 2 of this same chapter in relation to the 70 years of captivity, and (b) in 10:2-3, when days were in view, the Hebrew text makes this clear by adding “days” to the word “weeks.” Literally, the Hebrew text reads “weeks of days.”

At the beginning of the 70th week of years, or the last seven years (Dan. 9:27), a Roman ruler, i.e., ‘the prince of the people who would destroy Jerusalem,’ would come on the scene and make a covenant with the nation of Israel for one week or seven years, the 70th week. How do we know he will be a Roman? By his description in verse 27. It was the Romans who destroyed Jerusalem and he is their prince.

Midway through that 70th week, after 3 1/2 years, he would break his covenant, stop the sacrifices in the rebuilt temple (either just before or perhaps during the first 3 1/2 years), desecrate this temple, demand to be worshipped himself, and it would be a terrible time of desolation and anti-Semitism as never before in history.

Revelation 6-19 deals with this same period of time of seven years and defines half of this period, 3 1/2 years, in terms of specific numbers of days and months. This shows us that the length of God’s calendar is 360 days. How? The last half (3 1/2 years) is defined as 1260 days and as 42 months (Rev. 11:2-3 and 12:6, 14). When this is calculated (i.e., divide 1260 days by 3 1/2), you get a year of 360 days, not 365. Or multiply 3 1/2 times 360 days to get 1260 days.

Problem of the Order of Events in Prophecy

Prophecy does not always keep to a chronological order in the unfolding of events. This means as future events are described they are revealed in God’s own order for His own emphasis, but not necessarily in the order of their occurrence.

While Prophecy is for instruction and understanding, it is also for comfort and warning. The comfort or warning is usually more important than the chronological order. The comfort and warning challenges our way of life, the chronological order (which we can do nothing about anyway) often serves only to satisfy our curiosity.

Let’s ask a basic question. Which comes first, the day of God’s wrath, the day of reckoning in judgment, or the millennial reign, the time of peace and Messianic prosperity? The answer is obvious. Before the Lord will reign, He must put down His enemies. But when we compare Isaiah 2:1-22 we find the order reversed. Verses 1-4 describe the blessings of the millennial kingdom as a means of comfort and motivation, but this is followed in verses 5-11 by a description of Israel who had failed to walk in the light of the Lord. As a result, verses 12-22 describe a day of reckoning, the judgment aspect of the Day of the Lord that must come upon the nation before she will turn from her rebellious ways.

When reading or studying Revelation, people often assume that each section is chronological so that the next chapter or series of events naturally follows the preceding, but that is not the case. Rather, a number of sections in Revelation are parenthetical and the chronological order is halted in order to develop in more detail some aspect of this end-time period like a key person(s), or event(s), or condition(s).

Some examples:

(1) Chapter 7 stops the chronological progress begun in chapter 6 and forms an interlude which gives us information about the 144,000 and about multitudes who will be saved during the Tribulation. The six seals are described in chapter 6, but the trumpet judgments don’t begin until chapter 8 which constitutes also the seventh seal. Six of these trumpet judgments occur chronologically and are described through chapter 9. The seventh trumpet is not sounded, however, until 11:15.

(2) So again the story of the progress of judgment on earth is halted and we have another parenthesis from 10:1-11:14. Here a vision is given concerning the little book, concerning the no delay once the seventh trumpet is sounded, and concerning the two witnesses.

(3) Revelation 11:15 picks up the chronological process again and the seventh trumpet is sounded. Other sections which are somewhat parenthetical regarding persons and systems are chapters 12, 13, and 17-18.

Prophecy and the Church

In Old Testament prophecy, the church is omitted because it was a mystery that was not revealed until New Testament times (Eph. 3:1-5, 9; Col. 1:25-26; Rom. 16:25-26). The Old Testament prophets saw the coming of the Savior, His birth, death, life, resurrection, etc. The Old Testament spoke of the salvation and blessing of the Gentiles, but not in terms of the church where Jew and Gentile become one in Christ and coequal. The Old Testament illustrates truth for us that is applicable to the body of Christ in many ways, but the church as an institution is simply not there.

Likewise, you will not find the church mentioned in Revelation 6-18 because this portion of the book is dealing with Daniel’s 70th week and the resumption of God’s program for Israel. The church and the term church is mentioned repeatedly in chapters 1, 2, and 3, but it is not mentioned again until Revelation 19 in the symbolism of the bride and in connection with the return of Christ to earth. There He is seen coming with His bride who has been prepared for the wedding supper of the millennium. If the church is to go into the period described by chapters 6-18, why isn’t it mentioned? Because it is not there. Instead, the church is even given a special promise that it will be kept out of this time of testing for those who dwell on the earth (Rev. 3:10).


2 Charles C. Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, Expanded Edition, NASB, Moody Press, Chicago, 1995, p. 296.

3 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, Dunham Publishing Company, Findlay, Ohio, 1958, p. 46.

4 Pentecost, p. 47.

Ad Category: 
Biblical Topics: 
Passage: 
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

The Introduction Proper (Revelation)

Having looked at some basic principles and definitions for prophecy as a whole, we now want to look at some points of introduction to the book of Revelation itself.

Title of the Book

Our Bibles carry the title of the book as “The Revelation of John,” or “The Revelation to John” which means it is a revelation given to the Apostle John, but the proper name is found in the first words of 1:1, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” Revelation is from the Greek word apokalupsis meaning “a disclosure, an unveiling.” The name “revelation” (note that it is singular) is derived from its use in 1:1, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.”

“Of Jesus Christ” is a genitive construction which can mean “about Jesus Christ” or “from Jesus Christ.” This is what some grammarians call a “plenary genitive,” i.e., a genitive doing double duty since both aspects are true.

(1) It is the revelation that comes from Christ (cf. the second clause in 1:1, “which God gave Him to show to His bondservants,” and 22:16 make this point clear). Jesus Christ, being God Himself, gave this revelation to His servant.

(2) But Jesus Christ is also the center of the book. The book is supremely the revelation about the Savior who has overcome and will return to defeat all evil (1:7, 13 [Note that each message to the seven churches begins with some aspect of the vision of Christ in 1:13-16]; 5:5-14).

Let’s note one more thing about the title. While this book contains several visions and unveilings, it is one book and one total revelation centered around one person and His literal return to earth—the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not the Book of Revelations (pl). The noun Revelation in verse one is singular and is so in the Greek text.

Theme of the Book

The prominent theme of the book certainly concerns the conflict with evil in the form of human personalities energized by Satan and his world-wide system, and the Lord’s triumphant victory to overthrow these enemies to establish His kingdom both in the millennium (the 1,000 years of Revelation 20) and in eternity.

This is accomplished by taking the reader and hearers (1:3) behind the scenes through the visions given to John to see the demonic nature and source of the awful evil in the world along with the conquering power which rests in the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, who is also the Lamb standing, as if slain, but very much alive, angry, and bringing the judgment of God’s awesome holiness against a sinful and rebellious world.

Importance and Purpose of the Book

I suppose there is no book in the New Testament which has been as neglected and as controversial as this book, at least in some quarters. Some assert that Revelation is impossible to interpret. Others claim it should not even be in the New Testament much less studied and read. An illustration of this can be found in Martin Luther’s attitude and remarks. For Luther, Revelation was “neither apostolic nor prophetic” and because of its overuse of visions and symbols, Christ was neither taught nor accepted in this book.5 Luther was offended by this book. Some seminaries avoid it almost entirely or give it very little attention, and many people and schools dismiss it as a hopeless conglomeration of visions and dreams.

The point is man has attempted to do precisely what God has told him not to do. Revelation 22:10 says, “seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.” God does not intend for the truth of this book to be sealed to man. He intended the church to study and understand the message of Revelation. Why is that?

First, because blessing, not confusion is promised to those who will read it (1:3). Though filled with horror, it ends in the triumph of righteousness and faith.

Second, the Bible says “all Scripture is profitable,” meaning every book of the Bible. But Revelation has a unique and very important place as it is the consummation and climax of God’s revelation and redemptive history. As the final book of the Bible, Revelation brings together a number of lines of prophetic truth which run parallel throughout the Old and New Testaments, but, apart from the book of Revelation, they find no complete prophetic fulfillment.

I remember reading about a young believer who, at the conclusion of reading Revelation for the first time, jumped up and shouted, “We Win! We Win! The point is that without the book of Revelation, the Bible would be incomplete. Other Old and New Testament books add new dimensions and give added information and details of prophetic truth regarding the end times, but only Revelation draws them all together into a final conclusion.

This forms one of the arguments for the Bible as a completed canon. All the themes of Scripture are fulfilled and find their culmination in Revelation. There is no need for more revelation from this standpoint. With this book, we truly have “a faith once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

Third, this book is also important because it deals with “things which must shortly come to pass.” It is the only major prophetic book in the New Testament that deals in an in-depth way with the events of the Day of the Lord. Many other passages deal with this period of time like Matthew 24 and 1 Thessalonians 5, but not to the extent Revelation does.

Fourth, it is also important because of the way it reveals the Lord Jesus. It reveals Him as the Lamb of God and King of kings who, in the consummation of His program of salvation, restores to man what was lost by the fall and much more. All of Scripture ultimately speaks of the Lord, it points men to Him, but it is Revelation which thoroughly demonstrates the culmination of God’s complete salvation in Christ.

Fifth, Revelation is also important because of its unique warnings and challenges to the church in the section spoken of as “things present” (2-3). But even beyond this, the rest of the book also has a very pertinent message for us today for two reasons:

  • On the one hand, it provides us with an extended commentary on the spiritual warfare described in Ephesians 6:12. What we see revealed in this book is but the culmination of the warfare with rulers, principalities, and powers of evil under the control of Satan. As such, it calls us to walk carefully and to understand that what is happening around us is not merely a struggle with flesh and blood, but with supernatural entities that are as real as we are.
  • On the other hand, it gives us light concerning things to come, of things that have not as yet occurred in history, but will. It thereby comforts and encourages us to carry on in the light of the sure and final judgment on evil and consummation of God’s kingdom in time and eternity.

Sixth, it is important because it discloses conditions that will be present in the end-time system of the beast and the final world empire, politically, religiously, economically, and internationally. Such conditions, one would think, would naturally begin to come together to set the stage, as props are prepared for the world stage, before this end-time drama would actually unfold. Thus, while Christ’s return for the church is imminent, those members of the body of Christ who will be living in this moment of history can know that His return must be even more imminent, i.e., just around the corner.

Author and Date

According to the book itself, the author’s name was John (1:4,9; 22:8). He was a prophet (22:9), and a leader who was known in the churches of Asia Minor to whom he writes the book of Revelation (1:4).

Traditionally, this John has been identified as John the Apostle, one of the disciples of our Lord. That the style is different from the style of the Gospel of John stems only from the difference in the nature of this book as apocalyptic literature.

An early church father, Irenaeus, states that John first settled in Ephesus, that he was later arrested and banished to the Isle of Patmos in the Agean Sea to work in the mines, and that this occurred during the reign of the Roman emperor, Domitian. This supports the author’s own claim to have written from Patmos because of his witness for Christ (1:9).

Domitian reigned in Rome from 81-96 A.D. Since Irenaeus tells us that John wrote from Patmos during the reign of Domitian, and since this is confirmed by other early church writers, such as Clement of Alexander and Eusebius, most conservative scholars believe the book was written between 81-96 A.D. This would make it the last book of the New Testament, just shortly after John’s gospel and his epistles (1, 2, and 3 John). Others conservative scholars believe it was written much earlier, around 68, or before Jerusalem was destroyed.

Interpretation of the Book

(1) This book is a part of the canon—a part of that which God has spoken. It belongs in the Bible.

Early church history supports the Apostle John as the author. So it was written by an apostle and this is one of the requirements or tests for inclusion into the canon of Scripture.

The book refers to the human author simply as John without further identification. This would imply the author was well known to the readers of Asia Minor, as would be the case with the apostle John who we know lived in Ephesus. This further supports the Apostle John as the author.

This book was widely circulated and received as inspired Scripture by the beginning of the third century, the early 200s.

There were a few small groups who did not accept it as Scripture, but this was primarily from opposition to the thousand year reign so clearly taught in chapter 20. Much of this came from heretical groups, but on the whole, the early church accepted it as inspired Scripture.

(2) As a part of the Bible, this book is what God has spoken through the Apostle, the human author. The principle is that God is its author and Scripture emphatically declares that God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33). If we accept it as Scripture, as did the early church and the majority of the church historically, we must approach the book as a book intended to be understood, not as a book to mystify and confuse. It is as Moses wrote: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us and our children forever” (Deut. 29:29).

(3) The uncertainty and confusion that this book has been accused of creating is not the fault of the book nor the fault of God. Rather, the confusion is the product of the way men have tried to approach this book. A great deal of confusion has been caused because of a bias against such things as: (a) a literal 1,000 year reign, (b) the coming of the terrible judgments depicted, and (c) a desire to spiritualize prophecy in general. The confusion has come from those who have tried to spiritualize or allegorize prophecy and especially this book.

In allegory, words are not taken in their literal or normal meaning. They are spiritualized which means that the interpreter looks behind the literal, plain meaning of the text for a hidden and more profound meaning. This turns exegesis or Bible study into an artful play of human ingenuity and fanciful imagination.

The result of this approach is a potpourri, a mixed bag of interpretations. One man sees one thing and another sees something else because when the normal method of interpretation is abandoned (which includes the proper use of symbols) you have no objective controls to your interpretation and no control over human imagination.

Schools of Interpretation Used with Revelation

    The Preterist School

Preterist is from a Latin word meaning “past.” This school of thought sees Revelation as already fulfilled in the early history of the church by 312 A.D. with the conversion of Constantine. Note the spiritualizing nature of their interpretations: Revelation 5-11 is a record of the church’s victory over Judaism; Revelation 12-19 is record of her victory over Rome; and Revelation 20-22 is record of the glory of the church. The persecutions of Revelation, it is claimed, are those of Nero and Domitian and all was fulfilled by the time of Constantine (312 A.D.).

Revelation for the Preterist is purely symbolic history rather than prophetic of coming events in history. This not only does total injustice to the nature of the book as prophecy, but to the normal meaning of words.

    The Historical Approach

This approach sees Revelation as a symbolic presentation and a panorama of the total period of church history from John’s day to the end of the age or Christ’s second advent. In this view, Revelation does not just deal with a future time, but covers all of history from the time of John. The problems is most adherents of this view see the book culminating in their day and as many as 50 interpretations have evolved. Why? Because the literal, normal approach of interpretation has been abandoned. Further, such a view must ignore the imminent return of the Lord.

    The Idealist Approach

This approach sees the book as portraying in symbolic terms the age-old conflict of the principles of good and evil with no historic elements whether past or future.

    The Futuristic Approach

The term “futurist” comes from the fact this interpretation sees the book from chapter 4 on as yet to be fulfilled. This is the approach taken in this study, though I do believe it is also an extended commentary on Paul’s statement in Ephesians 6:12.6 The futurist approach follows the principle of interpretation known as the literal, plain or normal method of interpretation. This method which will be defined below recognizes the use of symbols, but understands them in their plain, customary, and normal meaning just as we do in our language. The term star, for instance, can refer to a star in the heavens, or it can refer to a famous athlete, someone who excels in athletics. It depends of the context.

There are several reasons for the futuristic approach. The prophecies found in this book have simply not taken place. There is nothing in history that comes close to the events of the majority of the book. For instance: (a) No judgments in history have ever equaled those depicted in chapters 6, 8, 9, and 16, but in these chapters, these judgments are presented as things that will occur. (b) The resurrection and judgment of chapter 20 have never occurred, but are clearly presented as future facts. (c) Obviously, the great anticipation of the book, Christ’s visible return as portrayed in chapter 20, has also not taken place.

Only the futuristic approach which is based on a literal or plain method of interpretation has any objectivity about the contents of the book.

Structure of the Book

The contents of Revelation are given in terms of a series of sevens, some explicit and some implied: seven churches (chap. 2-3); seven seals (chap. 6-7); seven trumpets (chap. 8-11); seven signs (chap. 12-14); seven bowls (chap. 16-18); seven last things (chap. 19-22).

Some divide the contents of the book around four key visions: (a) The vision of the Son of man among the seven churches (chap. 1-3); (b) The vision of the seven-sealed scroll, the seven trumpets, the seven signs, and the seven bowls (4:1-19:10; (c) The vision of the return of Christ and the consummation of the age (19:11-20:15); and (d) The vision of the new heaven and new earth (chap. 21-22).

The contents may also be divided up based on the division of 1:19: (a) “the things which you have seen,” The Things Past (chap. 1:1-20); (b) “the things which are,” The Things Present (chap. 2-3); and (c) “the things which shall take place after these things,” The Things Future (chap. 4-22). Some look at 1:19 differently, but the most natural way to take this verse is as it is translated in the KJV, the NAS, and the NIV.

Method of Interpretation and Use of Symbolism

One’s method of interpretation is crucial to a correct interpretation of Scripture because without a correct method, the Bible becomes putty in the hands of the interpreter. You often hear the complaint that you can prove anything you want to with the Bible. And the implication is simply that everyone comes up with a different interpretation, especially with the Book of Revelation. A further implication is that we simply cannot have a sound and objective system of doctrine. But this is incorrect on several points:

(1) The commands of Scripture to know the Word and maintain a system of sound doctrine show us that God expects us to know and come to an objective understanding of the Bible and that this is to become the foundation for sound theology in all categories of truth or doctrine, prophecy included (1 Tim 1:3, 7, 10; 4:6; 6:3; 2 Tim 1:13; 4:3; Tit 1:9, 13).

(2) Without a sound system of doctrine derived from the Bible as our authority, men are left to the shifting sands of their own experience and imaginations. We are invariably left with some form of mysticism and neo-orthodox theology in which the Bible only becomes the Word of God when it speaks to you and a passage of Scripture may do this not only in different ways with different people, but in ways that are completely contradictory.

(3) You cannot prove anything you want to with Scripture if you follow the rules of sound hermeneutics. Hermeneutics means the science and art of Biblical interpretation and it is this that provides controls over the imagination and ideas of man.

(4) Hermeneutics is called a science because it follows rules that guide and control the interpreter. It is called an art because it requires skill and practice to apply the rules correctly as in any skill. This is evident in Paul’s words to Timothy and the context for the words, “accurately handling the Word of truth” in 2 Timothy 2:15. Without an accurate handling of the Bible, we end up with error, not truth. We must, then, using the science of hermeneutics, seek to ground interpretation in fact or the objective data of Scripture—context, grammar, historical setting, meaning and use of words, literary style, etc.

Some passages of Scripture and areas of doctrine are more difficult and hard to be dogmatic on, but this does not mean that they are beyond our grasp or that we should ignore them. We should continue to study these areas being careful to apply ourselves to a careful study of the Word as the inspired Word of God always examining our position as objectively as we can (Acts 17:11; 2 Tim 2:15).

It is also true that no one comes to Scripture without certain preconceived ideas. No one is completely objective (though we must strive to be so) and this is why our method of interpretation is so important as a check (Acts 17:11). But even with that there is also the need to humbly ask God to help us deal with our preconceived notions and prejudices. We need the humble attitude and prayer of the Psalmist who prayed, “Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things from your Law” (Ps. 119:19).

It is also obvious that men will vary in their skill and knowledge of exegesis (one’s personal examination of the text to determine its meaning in its historical and literary context) and this will affect their ability to accurately interpret the Bible. But again, the responsibility is not to give up, or ignore Scripture, or to treat it as a mystic would do. Instead, our responsibility is to be careful students, ever seeking to be as objective as possible, to be willing to say I am not sure, or I may be wrong, and to continue to grow in the art and science of the study of the Bible as our only objective guide for truth.

As Ramm so aptly put it, “That God has spoken in Holy Scripture is the very heart of our faith and without this certainty we should be left to the relativity and dubiousness of human knowledge. God has spoken! But what has He said?”7 (italics his). “This is our primary and basic need in hermeneutics: to ascertain what God has said in Sacred Scripture; to determine the meaning of the Word of God.”8 (italics his). The Bible is no profit to us at all if we do not know what God has said, what it means, or if we think we know, but are wrong.

We must know and have the correct method of interpretation, a correct hermeneutic, so that we do not confuse the voice of God with the voice of man. The false methods of men are what make the Bible a source of confusion rather than a source of light and truth, not the Bible itself.

We must have a method that provides: a check on the imaginations, feelings, background, prejudices of men, a protection against the delusions and misuse of Scripture by Satan, and one that enables us to bridge the gap between the minds of the biblical writers and our minds, the minds of interpreters who live many years later, even hundreds of years later, in a different time, usually in a different place, and with a different language. This is the tremendous gap created by differences of culture, history, geography, and language.

The only method of interpretation or hermeneutic that brings such controls and that moves us toward objectivity is the literal or normal and plain method of interpretation. This is the method that I will be employing in this study of Revelation. But what does this mean?

    The Literal Method of Interpretation

To interpret means to explain the original sense of a speaker or writer versus imposing our ideas on the text. To interpret literally means to explain the original sense of the speaker or writer according to the normal, customary, and proper usage of words and language.9 “The literal or normal interpretation of the Bible simply means to explain the original sense of the Bible according to the normal and customary usages of its language.”10

The Control: The literal or normal method operates by rules which help us to ground interpretation in fact. These are the rules of context, grammar, the analogy of Scripture, cultural and historical background, and the normal meaning of words according to their use in various contexts.

    Spiritual or Allegorical Method Compared

“Allegorism is the method of interpreting a literary text that regards the literal sense as the vehicle for a secondary, more spiritual and more profound sense.”11 The spiritual or allegorical method sees the literal sense as well figures of speech as a symbol to convey some secondary or mystical, metaphorical, or spiritual idea that is hidden, but the hidden meaning is developed and controlled by the interpreter’s own ideas or ingenuity rather than by the rules and guidelines of context, grammar, the analogy of Scripture, cultural and historical background, and the normal meaning of words.

Clearly there are dangers to the allegorical method of interpretation.

(1) The allegorical method does not interpret Scripture. It ignores the common meaning of words and gives rise to all manner of speculation ignoring what the author really intended to say.

(2) In the allegorical method, the authority in interpretation is the imagination of the interpreter or his mind rather than the Scripture itself. In the final analysis, in the allegorical method one is left without any means by which the conclusions of the interpreter may be tested.12

(3) The allegorical method results in shear nonsense because “To understand a speaker or writer, one must assume that the speaker or writer is using words normally and without multiple meanings. This is what the literal method of interpretation assumes of God in Scriptural revelation. It believes the Bible to be revelation, not riddle.”13 Again we remember Deut. 29:29.

The word “literal” is sometimes taken to mean non-figurative. The literal approach, however, recognizes the fact and use of symbolism, or figures, but attempts to understand them, as with any other literary method, on the basis of their normal and plain meaning as dictated by the normal rules of interpretation. This provides a check on our imagination or prejudice.

Let’s look at several illustrations:

PSALM 22: Verse 18 speaks of the casting of lots. This is a literal statement and is a prophecy of a literal happening, one that did happen when Christ was crucified, but verses 12-13 depict the fierce enemies of the Lord as strong bulls and ravenous lions. These are obviously figures or symbols, but with a very plain and literal meaning which is derived by the rules of the literal method—context, usage, culture and history. It important to realize that a symbol only has meaning when we understand how or what it previously meant literally in the historical and cultural setting of the time.

  • The Bulls of Bashan. By studying the historical background, the geography, the culture, and Scripture itself, we find that the area of Bashan lying northeast of the Sea of Galilee was a place where bulls became fat and strong. In the Bible, then, the phrase, “the rams or bulls of Bashan,” at times served as figures or symbols of Israel and especially as symbols of her leaders. It was used to portray those who had become luxurious, proud, and full of their own prosperity and importance. So this symbol pictures Christ’s enemies like the bulls of Bashan, with a full feeling of power and strength, ill natured, self satisfied and bullish in their attitude.
  • The Lion symbolizes Christ’s enemies as those who stand and gap with open mouths like a lion roaring over its killed prey. They weren’t literally lions, but they acted like lions based on our knowledge of how lions behave when standing over their prey.

JOHN 1:29: “Behold the lamb of God” is obviously another symbol, but it too has a plain meaning based on historical and Scriptural facts. In the light of Old Testament teaching and Israel’s sacrificial history, it points to Christ as God’s sacrifice, the one who would die for our sin as God’s innocent substitute.

JOHN 6:25-59: In this passage John records Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand. This is an historical event, but it contains a number of spiritual truths and applications. For instance, Christ refers to Himself as “the bread of life.” The literal method understands this is symbolic but its meaning is derived from the significance of bread for our daily food for sustenance.

REVELATION 8:12: This passage speaks of judgment that will affect the sun, moon, and stars. Here there is no indication of symbolism other than one’s own bias against such catastrophes. The stars are literal because there is nothing in the context to indicate otherwise. We are imposing our imaginations on the text if we say, this is symbolical of world rulers or the loss of spiritual light in the world. Why? Because there is nothing in the passage or context to suggest this. We must let the passage speak for itself.

REVELATION 9:1-12: Here John records seeing a star fall from heaven. But in this passage, by context and the analogy of Scripture, this is plainly a symbol. Why? How can we know this? The following are some important keys and helps:

  • We should always read a passage literally and assume that the literal meaning is the prophet’s meaning unless there is adequate reason from context to read it otherwise.
  • But we should always note carefully words like “as,” “like,” “as it were,” and similar expressions (cf. 6:1; 9:7). Why do we do this? Because words like “as” normally indicate a figure or symbol by way of a comparison or an analogy and not an identification. Compare Revelation 8:13. The text here does not say, “I heard one flying like an eagle in mid-heaven …” Some would make this refer to perhaps an angel, but I think we should take it literally. If God made a donkey speak to Balaam, why could and would He not, in this tremendous hour, not use an eagle as a voice of woe to stress His sovereignty over creation.
  • Always, where a figure of speech is suggested by the context, interpret by the analogy of Scripture. Allow Scripture to interpret Scripture while always bearing in mind the context and other rules of interpretation.
  • Look for interpretive clues and identifications within the text itself which indicate a figure is being used. Note the following three examples:

REVELATION 9:1: All the English translations rightly view the star as a person rather than as a fragment of a star. This is indicated by the personal pronouns, “to him” in verse 1 and “he” in verse 2. Some would say the keys were given to the fifth angel, but word order would suggest the “him” looks back to the star who fell from heaven and not the fifth angel who sounded his trumpet. The star, who is further identified as a king in verse 11, is the subject of the passage, not the angel who simply announces this judgment by blowing his trumpet.

  • The star is also connected with the Abyss which is a demonic abode according to the analogy of Scripture (cf. Luke 8:30-31; Jude 6; 2 Pet. 2:4).
  • Further, he is identified as the angel of the Abyss, the king of demons and this identifies him as Satan which also perfectly fits with the analogy of Scripture which in other places refers to angels as stars (Matt. 9:34; 12:25-28; John 12:31; Eph. 2:2; 6:12: Rev. 12:7f).

ISAIAH 14:12-16: Though this a taunt taken up against the king of Babylon, most believe, due to the strong language of the passage, that it must look beyond any human being. Ultimately it must refer to Satan who Scripture portrays as the prince of this world and the power behind many of the world rulers (Eph. 2:2; 6:12). This speaks of Satan who controlled the king of Babylon and the Babylonian system of the past and will control the system of the future. In Isaiah 14:12-14, Satan is called “star of the morning,” lit. “bright, or shining one” which refers to him as a bright morning star.

LUKE 10:18: In Luke 10:18 the Lord refers to Satan as falling from heaven, like a star, and this all fits with the context and emphasis of Revelation 9 and 12. This is totally in keeping the natural use of words in language and is even found in our own English idiom. We likewise use the term “star” in both a literal and symbolical sense. We speak of the stars in heaven, but we also speak symbolically of the star of the game, of the stars in Hollywood because, like a star, they stand out among others in some particular way. It has a symbolical meaning, but it depends on the context and its normal use for its true meaning.

The literal method of approach that will be used in this study will recognize the presence of symbols, but they will be interpreted by the normal and plain meaning of the symbol derived by historical background, context, grammar, the analogy of Scripture, and general usage.


5 Alan Johnson, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, Frank E. Gaebelein, general editor, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1981, p. 404, 407.

6 Johnson, p. 410.

7 Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, W. A. Wilde Company, Boston, 1956, pp.1-2.

8 Ramm p. 2.

9 Paul Lee Tan, The Interpretation of Prophecy, Assurance Publishers, Rockville, MD, 1974, p. 29.

10 Tan, p. 29.

11 Ramm, p. 21.

12 Pentecost, pp. 5-6.

13 Tan, p. 30.

Ad Category: 
Passage: 
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

1. The Prologue (Rev 1:1-8)

The Superscription
(1:1-3)

1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must shortly take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.

Title and Theme of the Book (1a)

The title of the book is “The Apokalupsis of Jesus Christ.” “Revelation” is the translation of the Greek noun, apokalupsis, meaning “a disclosure, an unveiling.” The term “revelation” itself is derived from the Latin revelatio (from revelare, “to reveal or unveil that which has previously been hidden”).

This was the title assigned to the book in the Latin Vulgate. The Greek title is Apocalypse, taken directly from the first word in the Greek text, apokalupsi. In this noun form the word is not found anywhere else in Greek literature, but as a verb it is continually used in the Gospels and the Epistles, in many different ways, especially in reference to some form of divine revelation to man (as of the Son of Man, in Lk 17:30). It is used by Paul in referring to the same coming event (Rom 8:18; I Cor 1:7; II Thess 1:7), and frequently in I Peter (1:7, 13; 4:13; 5:1). In the Greek text of Daniel this word is often found referring to the uncovering of secrets, or the interpretation of dreams, or the revelation of God (see Dan 2:19, 22, 28, 29, 30, 47; 10:1; 11:35).14

Apokalupsis means “to expose to full view what was before unknown, hidden, and secret.” In its first appearance in the New Testament (Luke 2:32), it is used of Simeon who, taking the baby Jesus in his arms, blessed Him and spoke of Him as “a light to lighten the Gentiles” (KJV). It reminds us that God intends for this book to bring light and to be understood by its readers. This opening clause is a mark of distinction which gives us not only the title, but the theme. Notice that it is not the revelation of John, but of Jesus Christ which was given to John. The common title sometimes used for the book, “The Revelation to John,” merely identifies John as the human author. But how are we to understand the phrase, “of Jesus Christ”?

Grammatically, the words “of Jesus Christ” can be either a genitive of object meaning a revelation “about Jesus Christ,” or a genitive of subject meaning a revelation “from Jesus Christ.” “From Jesus Christ” would point to Christ as the author who gave this to John through His angel (cf. 22:16). Writers differ with some arguing for one or the other of these views. Some would argue that as 22:16 shows, it is from Christ and that the subject is about “things which must shortly come to pass” (vs. 1b). Others say, no, it is a revelation of and about the person of Christ. But grammatically it is likely that “of Jesus Christ” is what grammarians call a plenary genitive and includes both ideas.15 It is a revelation about and from the Lord Jesus. It is a revelation, a disclosure about the Christ Himself. It reveals His present work in the church, and discloses future events, but the events concern the person of Christ Himself and His return and activities associated with His second coming. In support, note the following verses:

  • 1:5 — “and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness.”
  • 1:7 — “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him,” so we have an unveiling.
  • 1:13f — Reveals Christ’s ministry in the middle of the lampstands.
  • 5:5-6 — Reveals Jesus Christ as the Lion and the Lamb.
  • 6:14f — Reveals the unveiling of the Lamb on the throne and His wrath.
  • 19:10 — Reveals the return of the Lord as King of kings.

The Communication of the Book (1b-2)

    The Chain of Communication

In keeping with the teaching of the New Testament regarding the procession of the ministries of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we see the headship of the Father who initiates this revelation through the Son (cf. 1 Cor. 11:3). First, it proceeds from the Father to the Son—“which God gave to Him.” For other Scriptures supporting the doctrine of procession see John 3:34, 35; 5:20-24; 7:16; 14:10, 24; 16:15).

Second, the communication proceeds from the Son through an angel, “and He sent and communicated it by His angel.” The term angel, angelos, is found 175 times in 171 verses of the New Testament. Though some verses refer to men, the vast majority refer to angelic beings. This prominence shows the importance of angels in the worship of God, in the communication of revelation to man, and in the execution of God’s purposes and judgments.

Angels were often God’s instruments of communication or his messengers which is the basic meaning of the word, “angel” (Heb. 2:2; Acts 7:53). They will again be used as God’s special messengers in the time described in Revelation 6-19. Angelos is used seven times of the angel or messenger to the seven churches in chapters 2-3, though in these chapters, it refers most likely to a human messenger, someone responsible for communicating the Word in each of the seven churches. The prominent idea is a messenger, an instrument of communication used by God.

There is a great deal of interest today in angels. Numerous books have been written about angels and so-called angelic encounters. Little figures of what angels are supposed to look like are a very popular item in the stores and not just around Christmas time. But we need to be careful about this interest in angels since Satan, who disguises himself as an angel of light, surely has fallen angels under his command who do the same and pose as instruments of good, even claiming revelation from God (2 Cor. 11:14-15). One of the largest cults in the world today claims it was begun because of an encounter with an angel; and shortly after the time of Paul, a false system of religion arose called gnosticism in which there was an intricate belief system in angels. Paul seems to warn about this system in its incipient form in Colossians 2:18-19.

An extremely interesting statement and a very timely one for any generation, but especially for our society, is found in Galatians 1:8. “But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” Since the fall of Satan, no true angel from heaven would ever preach a false gospel, but hypothetically speaking, should one do so, Paul says he is to be accursed, devoted to destruction as are all the fallen angels or demonic beings (Matt. 25:41). The good angels are servants who do many tasks for God, but above all, they are messengers, as the name implies, who are responsible to witness truthfully to the person of the Lord Jesus. Three characteristics of angels: (a) they will agree with and bear testimony to the message of the Bible regarding the person and work of Christ (Rev. 1:1-2; 19:10), (b) they will always honor God and never seek honor for themselves (Rev. 19:10), and (c) they act on God’s behalf to do His will and often for the sake of Israel and the church as is so evident in the book of Daniel (10:13f; 12:1) and Revelation (see also Heb. 1:7, 14; Ps. 103:20).

Third, the communication comes from the angel as the Lord’s messenger to John who is called His bond-servant (vs. 1) (cf. Rev. 17:1; 19:9f; 21:9; 22:6,8,16).

Finally, the communication of the book is from John to the body of Christ. This is seen in the words, “to show to his bond servants” (vs. 1), and in the words, “to the seven churches …” in verse 4. “Bondservants” is the Greek word, doulos, a significant term especially when applied to the people of God. The bondservant was one who was owned by his master lock, stock, and barrel. He was totally under the authority and power of his master and dependent on him for everything—his responsibilities, his daily food, housing, and supplies, and his purpose in life. Ironically, however, it is in this servitude to Christ that we experience true freedom—freedom from bondage to sin, self, Satan, and the religion of the world. But it is not just a freedom from something. It is also a freedom to be something, a freedom to know, serve, and walk with God in the peace and righteousness of Christ choosing to serve Him rather than sin.

Perhaps the use of the terms “angel” (messenger) and “bond-servant” should remind us of two key areas of truth that are related as root to fruit. They remind us of what both angels and men should be, especially the body of Christ which has been left on earth to represent the Lord Jesus as His messengers. We are to be instruments of light as portrayed in the symbol of the lampstand. This means we are messengers of Christ and servants of God, but our willingness and ability to be effective as messengers of the message of the Savior as was John is greatly dependent on truly living as bondservants of the Savior. We see this truth in the first verse of Paul’s message to the Romans where he identifies himself as “a bondservant of Jesus Christ” and then as one “called to be an apostle” (Rom. 1:1). The secret of Paul’s ministry to the nations as a preacher and an apostle and a teacher (2 Tim. 1:11) is indicated in the order of these words of identification in Romans 1:1. He was first and foremost a bondslave, one utterly surrendered to the ascended Christ, and then he was an apostle, one sent with the message as a preacher and a teacher.

One of the vital principles of the Christian life is that the way up is down, and the way to life is death—death to self and its control. The Lord Jesus is the perfect example of this, who, though being God of very God, took on the form of a bondslave in the form of true humanity and humbled Himself to die in our place that we might have life (Phil. 2:6-8). He, as a servant, came not to be ministered to, but to minister and give His life for our redemption (Mark 10:45). He taught us that becoming a productive servant begins with dying to ourselves as a grain of wheat. He said:

John 12:24-26 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal. 26 If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall My servant also be; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.

General Eisenhower once rebuked one of his generals for referring to a soldier as “just a private.” He reminded him that the army could function better without its generals than it could without its foot soldiers. “If this war is won,” he said, “it will be won by privates.” In the same way, it is the common, servant-like believer who becomes the very backbone of the body of Christ. We are often overly impressed by our great evangelists and superstar Bible teachers and leaders who stand before large crowds, but if the glorious message of the person and work of Christ is to reach the world, it will be done by a church that functions as bondslaves of the Savior (cf. Luke 12:15; 12:32; 2 Pet. 2:19; 1 John 3:17).

One man tells this story of his experience with hummingbirds:

Recently we put up a hummingbird feeder with four feeding stations. Almost immediately it became popular with the hummingbirds that live in our area. Two, three, or even four birds would feed at one time. We refilled the feeder at least once a day. Suddenly the usage decreased to almost nothing. The feeder needed filling only about once a week. The reason for the decreased usage soon became apparent. A male bird had taken over the feeder as his property. He is now the only hummingbird who uses our feeder. He feeds and then sits in a nearby tree, rising to attack any bird that approaches his feeder. Guard duty occupies his every waking hour. He is an effective guard. The only time another bird gets to use the feeder is when the self-appointed owner is momentarily gone to chase away an intruder.

We soon realized that the hummingbird was teaching us a valuable lesson. By choosing to assume ownership of the feeder, he is forfeiting his freedom. He is no longer free to come and go as he wishes. He is tied to the work of guarding his feeder. He is possessed by his possession. His freedom of action is as circumscribed as if he were in a cage. He is caged by a situation he has created.16

Someone has said, “The true test of a servant’s heart is whether or not I am willing to act like one when I am treated like one.”

    The Aim and Purpose of the Communication

“Show” is deiknumi, “to exhibit, disclose, point out.” Again we see an emphasis on disclosing the message of Revelation. God intends for this book to be communicated to His people.

“Shortly” is the Greek en tacei which can mean either of two things. It can mean soon as in the immediate future or in prophetic terms, it can mean imminent, i.e., they could occur at any time or in our day. One must remember the truth of 2 Peter 3:8, that one day is as a thousand years and vice versa from God’s viewpoint. It may also mean “rapidly, quickly, speedily.”

The point is, by comparison to the rest of history, once these things begin to unfold they will occur rapidly (cf. Luke 18:8; Acts 12:7; 22:18; 25:4; Rom. 16:20). There will be no more delays in the plan of God and in His long suffering (cf. Matt. 24:22). A similar word, tacus, is translated six times in Revelation meaning “quickly” which may illustrate the concept (cf. 2:16; 3:11; 11:14; 22:7,12,20). In view of the words “the time is near” in verse 3 (cf. 22:10), it may be best to take en tacei as “soon” and understand it to refer to the imminent return of the Lord. Imminent means “ready to take place, impending.” “The church in every age has always lived with the expectancy of the consummation of all things in its day. Imminency describes an event possible any day, impossible no day.”17 (See Appendix 1 for reasons in support of imminency.)

    The Manner of the Communication

“Communicated” is shmainw, meaning “to show, signify, reveal by signs or symbols” as is often the case in this book. But it can also mean to reveal by words without the use of signs or symbols. John was communicated to by both the spoken word and by visions in which he saw things that were full of symbolic meaning as in 1:10-12, but these symbols are designed to be understood according to the normal meaning of the symbols.

    The Things Communicated

That which is communicated is first of all defined as the “witness” of John. This is marturew, “to be a witness, act as a witness, testify or bear witness.” It carries the idea of “attestation, verification, validation” and stresses that John was bearing testimony as a witness of what he received. That witness is defined and described in a three-fold way which shows it importance and why we need to pay attention to it message:

(1) “The Word of God”—This book with its visions is called the Word of God and is part of the whole canon of Scripture. It stands in harmony with the rest of Scripture and provides us with the culmination and conclusion. This description stresses its authority and importance to the church. It brings out the concepts of inspiration, canonicity, preservation, and illumination (cf. 1:9; 3:8, 10; 6:9; 12:11; 17:17; 19:9; 20:4).

(2) “The testimony of Jesus Christ”—The word “testimony,” marturia, a noun form of the above marturew, also carries the idea of “attestation, verification, validation.” This could mean “the testimony about Jesus Christ,” an objective genitive, or “the testimony from Jesus Christ,” a subjective genitive. The latter is preferable because of the phrase, “the Word of (from) God,” and the context. The point is John testifies to both the Word of God and to the validation of his message from Jesus himself.”18

(3) “And of all the things which he saw”—The first two defined and described his testimony from the standpoint of its nature or character and source. This calls attention to the many details and areas that he saw and that will be found in the book—the great events and personages which precede and surround Christ’s coming, His kingdom, and His eternal glory.

The Promise, Plan, and Value of the Book (3)

    The Promise—Blessing

“Blessed” is makairos, “happy, blessed” (cf. Matt. 5:3). This is a promise of the happiness, spiritual blessing, and joy that will come from knowing and responding to the truth of the book. There are seven beatitudes, the word “blessed” appearing 7 times in the book of Revelation.

Lehman Strauss defines them as: The Blessed Challenge (1:3), The Blessed Comfort (14:13), The Blessed Cautiousness (16:15), The Blessed Calling (19:9), The Blessed Conquest (20:6), The Blessed Cherishing (22:7), The Blessed Conformity (22:14).19

    The Plan—Exposition and Application

“He who reads.” Note that this is singular while the next clause, “those who hear,” is plural. This reflects the early form of worship and one of God’s primary plans for taking in the Word. The Scripture was publicly read to the congregation. The early church didn’t have a large number of copies of the Scripture nor any books of the New Testament when they were received, so they would be read and undoubtedly also, expounded on by the pastor and teachers given to the body.

“And those who hear.” In this we see the responsibility of the flock to hear and respond. It is these who are blessed. “Hear” is akouw, “to hear, listen, attend, perceive by hearing, comprehend by hearing.” It includes concentration and learning, and of course, to hear, one must be present when the Word is taught (Heb. 10:25).

“And heed the things …” “Heed” is threw, “to guard, watch over, preserve” or “observe, apply, obey.” In this context, the main idea is that of personal application with obedience.

“The words of this prophecy” and “the things which are written.” Note that “words” and “things” are plural. They point us to the content of the book, but include the various categories and truths that make up the content of Revelation—the person of Christ, the church, the saints, the Tribulation, witnessing, faithfulness, overcoming, the angelic warfare, Israel, Satan, demons, judgments, the millennium, the resurrection, the eternal state, etc.

“Of this prophecy.” In addition to being called the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, it is called “prophecy.” Prophecy involves not only future events, but also moral and spiritual things that train, exhort, and comfort. It particularly refers to truth received by direct revelation from God (1 Cor. 14:30).

“Which are written in it.” “Written” is in the perfect tense and means “stands written.” The perfect tense stresses the permanence of the record and perhaps its availability. God has made His Word available to us and preserved it in the Canon of Scripture. In the New Testament, the concept of the Word which stands written is found over sixty times.

    The Value—Its Timeliness

“For the time is as hand.” “Time” is kairos and refers to a definite season or period of time, but one that is marked out by its contents or characteristics. The time in mind is the time of Christ’s return marked out by all that will happen just before, during, and after (1:19).

“Is near” is engus which includes: (1) near as to place, close by, like the car near the garage, and (2), near as to time, soon. The idea is “near from the standpoint of prophetic revelation, i.e., next.” Again we see God’s reckoning of time (2 Pet. 3:8-9). The next phase of God’s program for the earth will be the events of this Revelation. The world is ever coming closer to this awesome time. The value of this book is that it provides orientation to the times, motivation to ministry and godliness, comfort, and instruction.

The Salutation
(1:4-8)

4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come; and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne; 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us, and released us from our sins by His blood, 6 and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father; to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7 Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. Even so. Amen. 8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

The Writer (4a)

“John.” The human author is John the Apostle (1:4a). “The Hebrew idioms in the book, the authority of the author in relation to the churches, the use of distinctively Johannine terms like logos and “Lamb of God,” and the corroboration of Irenaeus, Origen, Tertullian and Clement all affirm that the Apostle John was the author of this book.”20 Every New Testament book was written by an apostle or by one who was closely associated with an apostle, i.e., like Luke who was a companion of the Apostle Paul. This was one of the marks of inspiration and necessary for recognition of a book into the canon of Scripture.

The Recipients (4a)

“To the seven churches in Asia” (1:4b). The whole book is addressed to seven historical churches in the province of Asia Minor. This fact should prevent anyone from saying that Revelation is nothing more than a piece of poetic idealism.21 As will be discussed later, these seven in their historical situation are representative of the church at any particular point in history. Chapters two and three contain specific letters to these seven churches with special warnings, exhortations, commendations, and instructions.

The Greeting (4b)

“Grace to you and peace.” First, we should note the order of God’s blessings: Grace, then peace. Peace is always the product of knowing and appropriating the grace of God in Christ. This order can never be changed. Ignore the grace of God and you forfeit the peace of God (cf. Heb. 12:14 with vs. 15). Peace is the product of grace (2 Pet. 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 3:18). Peter exhorts us, “but grow in the grace and knowledge of …” The more we experience the grace of God, the more capacity we have to experience the variegated aspects of God’s peace. Though the message of Revelation is primarily one of judgment, this benediction of grace and peace is notable. God here seeks to comfort and strengthen His people. Knowing this book brings a greater capacity to understand God’s grace in his patience during this age and even in the events of the future for God does not wish for any to perish, but to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9). Having a grasp of God’s program for the future also gives peace.

For an overview of the nature of grace and peace, see Appendix 2.

The Source of the Divine Blessings (4d-8)

Note that the preposition, “from,” is used three times in verses 4 and 5. This points us to three distinct and separate ministries found in the distinct ministries of the trinity.

    From the Timeless and Eternal One

We should note in passing that this designation of God corresponds to the division of the book given in Revelation 1:19, the things past, the things present, and the things to come. It reminds us that He is the God of history. This should comfort and strengthen as we study about all that has, is, and will happen in the future. Behind it all is the eternal and sovereign God of the Bible.

“Who is” is literally “the one who is.” It ascribes the fact and quality of continual existence as a distinctive and emphatic quality of God’s being and essence. He is the “I Am” of the Old Testament.

“And who was.” “Was” is the imperfect of the verb “to be” and refers to God’s continual existence in past time. It stresses the Father has always been.

“And is to come” is literally “the one coming” or “the coming one.” The Greek construction again describes a fact and quality that characterizes God. It speaks of the future coming of God to take control of all things in a world that has been in open rebellion. He is coming to put down His enemies and establish His reign through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Cor. 15:20-28).

    From the Seven Spirits

Ryrie comments,

The number seven, occurring 54 times in the book, appears more frequently than any other number. In the Bible it is associated with completion, fulfillment, and perfection (cf. Gen. 2:2; Ex. 20:10; Lev. 14:7; Acts 6:3). In Revelation there are seven churches and seven spirits (1:4), seven lampstands (1:12), seven stars (1:16), seven seals on the scroll (5:1), seven horns and seven eyes of the Lamb (5:6), seven angels and seven trumpets (8:2), seven thunders (10:3), seven heads of the dragon (12:3), seven heads of the beast (13:1), seven golden bowls (15:7), and seven kings (17:10).22

“The seven Spirits.” To whom or what does this refer? Some take this to refer to the seven angels who are before the throne, but it seems best to understand this as a reference to the Holy Spirit and the perfection or fullness of His actions and the manifold nature of His ministry. This fits both the context and the analogy of Scripture as demonstrated below:

(1) The book is presented as coming from three sources who seem to be presented as equal with one another. The last of these is clearly defined as Jesus Christ, the third member of the trinity. If the first is the Father, and the third is the Son, the second would in all probability be the Holy Spirit rather than seven angels. First, because only the Holy Spirit is equal with the Father and the Son, and second, though angels are involved in the visions of the revelation, only one angel was really involved in specific communication of the book to John (cf. 1:1).

(2) Because the obvious parallel to the seven-fold ministries portrayed in Isaiah 11:2.

Why then is the Holy Spirit referred to as seven spirits? There is only one Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:4), but in the Bible, seven is consistently associated with perfection, fulfillment, and completeness. Evidently, because Revelation is the final book of the Bible, the culmination, the fulfillment, and climax of the ages. The number seven becomes prominent to demonstrate this.

    From Jesus Christ, the God-man Savior

In verses 5a-7 there is a three-fold emphasis on Christ’s person and work to draw attention to who He is, what He has done, and will do.

    Appellatives (titles) of Jesus Christ (5a)

(1) Our Prophet—the faithful witness. The Greek text is very emphatic. Literally it reads, “the witness, the faithful One.” This stresses the character of His witness as faithful. The Lord Jesus is the logos, the very revelation of God to man (cf. John 1:1, 14, 18). He answers man’s need of the ideal prophet or spokesman and revelation from and for God (Deut. 18:15-22).

(2) Our Priest—the firstborn of the dead. First, since He could not be the firstborn from among the dead without dying, this statement must first look back to Christ’s substitutionary death for the sin of the world (Heb. 5:1-10; 9:11-14; 10:14). Second, the firstborn from the dead is also an obvious reference to the fact of the resurrection. By the resurrection God the Father verified His acceptance of Christ’s offering of Himself by raising Him to prove our justification (Acts 2:23-24, 31-32; 4:25), prove to the world that He is God’s Son (Rom. 1:4), and prove that this Jesus will judge the world (Rom. 17:31). Third, the mention of the firstborn points to Him as our forerunner in resurrection. The first one brought forth from the dead in a glorified body is a promise that more will follow. The Lord Jesus is God’s guarantee of our resurrection and glorification (John 11:24-26).

(3) Our King—the ruler of the kings of the earth. “The ruler” is literally “the one who rules …” or “the ruling one …” It ascribes the quality of rule to Him and characterizes Him as the one who rules, the ruler (cf. 19:16). It is a rule that is going on now and it is a rule over all governments even though the world lies in rebellion and unbelief. Nations, kings, and governments rise and fall by His sovereign authority and power (cf. Matt. 28:18). Compare Daniel 2:20,21; 4:17; 5:18.

So Christ is now seated at God’s right hand, having spoiled Satan and Satan’s demonic hosts by His death and resurrection. But one day He will rise from His seat and begin to take the reigns of control through the events of the Tribulation (cf. Dan. 2:44; Rev. 4; 5; 11:15-17).

    Accolades (praise) to Jesus Christ (5b-7)

(1) For His present ministry—“who loves us.” The Greek text uses one article with two adjectival participles which descriptively portray the person, work, and ministry of the Lord. Literally—“the one who loves, … and who released us, …” The construction of the Greek text ascribes Christ’s love for us as a constant quality and characteristic. It speaks of His constant care and ministry on our behalf.

(2) For His past ministry—“who released us … and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father.” “Released” looks at a past historic fact. It looks at this as an accomplished fact, as something that does not need repeating and Scripture strongly stresses this in the truth of the finished work of Christ. Again, it is a descriptive participle only now in the aorist tense. It is descriptive, classifying Christ as the Releaser, the one and only one who has accomplished what is necessary to release men from the penalty and power of sin.

The object of the releasing is “us,” a reference to believers in Christ, but it is available to any who will put their trust in the Savior (John 3:16).

The verb is luw, “to untie, set free, release.” It stresses that man, apart from Jesus Christ and His work on the cross is in bondage, chained to his sin problem: both its penalty (physical, spiritual, and eternal death) and its power (weakness and domination by a sinful nature). Some MSS have “washed us” from louw, “to wash.”

“From” is the Greek word ek, a preposition meaning “from, out of, away from.” It is a preposition of separation.

“Our sins” stresses two things: First, that the problem facing man is sin, imputed sin, inherent sin, and individual. Man’s problem is not the lack of a great society. Man is a fallen creature and this has caused both man’s separation from a holy God and the corruption of society. In himself, mankind does not have what it needs to rectify its problems. Only Christ, the sin releaser can do that. Second, it stresses that the sin problem is personal. Every person is up against the eight ball of sin and needs the saving grace of God (Rom. 3:23).

“By His blood” is a metonymy for the work of the Christ on the cross, His substitutionary death by which He dealt with the sin problem. Compare for instance, “the pen (a symbol of literary power) is mightier than the sword” (a symbol of military power).

As we think about this, we should be reminded of the total effects of what we have been separated from by His death in our place. The separation includes: (a) the PLACE from which separation takes place—Satan’s Kingdom (Col. 1:13), (b) the COMPANY from which separation takes place—Satan’s World System (John 17:15-17), (c) the CIRCUMSTANCES out of which one is brought—the Penalty and Power of sin and death—(Rom. 6:1f; Eph. 2:1f; Heb. 2:14, 15), and (d) the PERSONS with whom a connection is severed—the Son’s of disobedience (Eph. 2:2f; 5:6f).

“And He has made us a kingdom …” “Kingdom” is singular. Not kings, but a kingdom. It is collective and stresses our relationship to each other as believers and to Christ as our king. A kingdom is a place of rule. We are a kingdom, a people in whom God is to rule and who will one day reign with Christ, but because of the word “priests,” that’s not the focus here.

“Priests” is plural. Here we see our individual position, responsibility, and the purpose of this kingdom. We are a kingdom of priests to God who are to represent Him to the world. We have a collective priesthood, but every believer is a ministering priest before God. This is a far cry from what we so often see in churches today where the pastor is viewed as the minister and the people see themselves only as laymen or lay people.

“To Him be glory and dominion …” Before John turns to His future ministry and the keynote of the book—Christ’s coming again—there is a doxology of praise which both concludes what has been said and introduces what is about to be said regarding Christ’s return.

“To Him” is what we can call a dative of possession. It points us to that which rightly belongs to Christ. In this we see the great purpose of our lives.

“Be the glory.” This is the Greek doxa and refers to that which should accrue to Christ, the praise, the adoration, the rule, the respect and worship because of who He is and what He has done.

“And the dominion.” This is the Greek kratos. It means (a) power, might, and (b) rule, sovereignty.

“For ever and ever.” Man’s rule as given to him by God was lost in the garden of Eden, but never again once the Lord, the God-Man Savior, assumes His reign on earth at His second coming.

(3) For His future ministry—“Behold, He is coming with the clouds …”

“Behold” is designed to arrest our attention and get us to focus on this as the great theme of Revelation. He is coming for us (1 Thess. 4:13-18) and then with us to earth (Rev. 19:11-16), but in between, He is coming to judge the world for its rebellion (Rev. 6-19:10).

“Is coming” is the present tense of the verb, ercomai, “to come, go.” This is a future present used to denote an event which has not yet occurred, but which is regarded as so certain that in thought it is viewed as already occurring or accomplished.

“With the clouds” reminds us of Acts 1:9f and the promise of the angels at the ascension of the Lord Jesus. This may have been the Shekinah glory of God and it could be so here. There will be clouds, but clouds of the glory of God manifesting the coming glory of the Lord to rule and take up the reigns of government over the earth in a visible way (cf. Matt. 24:30).

“Every eye” simply points out that all mankind will see this in contrast to the ascension which was seen only by the disciples.

“Those who pierced Him.” In the light of Zechariah 12:10, this refers primarily to the Jews who asked for His death, but it could also refer to the Romans who carried out the sentence. In essence we all caused His death because of our sin.

“And all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him.” Literally “and they shall wail over Him” (Matt. 24:30). The Greek word is koptw and means literally “to beat the breast in wailing and mourning.” For some it will be the mourning of repentance. For others it will be the mourning over the judgments that He will pour out on the earth and sinners.

The Benediction to the Greeting (7c-8)

The benediction begins with the words of verse 7, “even so, amen.” This confirms what has been said and introduces what is to follow.

“Even so” is the Greek nai, a particle of affirmation. It confirms the sure return of the Lord and the statements made about Him.

“Amen” means “to be firm, sure, true.” It is a further affirmation of the promise of the verse.

There is some disagreement about who is here speaking. Ryrie thinks this verse refers to the Father and is His affirmation of the Son. Others as Walvoord, believe it speaks of the Son.

Reasons in favor of this as a reference to the Son are: (a) He is the central person of the first chapter, and (b) in verse 17 Christ uses a similar expression of Himself when he says, “I am the first and the last.” (c) Finally, toward the close of the book two expressions are united and applied by Christ to Himself which seems to identify Him as the one speaking here (cf. 22:6, 22:13, and Isa. 44:6). This authenticates who He is—God Almighty.

However, since this follows the salutation which comes from the trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, perhaps it could be from the Godhead itself.

“I Am the Alpha and Omega.” These are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. It is equivalent to our A and Z. This does not relate so much to time but to truth. It expressed the extent of God’s knowledge and wisdom (Col. 2:3). It stresses Christ’s or the Godhead’s omniscience or infinite knowledge and wisdom. This stands then as a strong authentication of the book of Revelation because it comes from the Alpha (a) and Omega (w).

“The Almighty” is the Greek pantokratwr from pas, “all” and kratos, “might, power.” It stresses God’s omnipotence, but also God’s sovereign supremacy over all things. It declares God’s supremacy over all the universe. The word was used in secular literature to describe the attributes of the gods and John is probably using it here in contrast to the Roman emperor’s self-designation as the autokrator.23

Walvoord has an excellent summary of these opening verses.

Jesus Christ is the central figure of the opening eight verses of Revelation. As the Source of revelation He is presented in verse 1. As the Channel of the word and testimony of God He is cited in verse 2. His blessings through His revealed word are promised in verse 3. In verse 5 He is the faithful Witness, the Firstborn of the dead, and the Ruler of the kings of the earth. He is revealed to be the source of all grace who loves us and cleanses us from our sins through His shed blood. He is the source of our royal priesthood who has the right to gather in Himself all glory and dominion forever. He is promised to come with clouds, attended with great display of power and glory, and every eye shall see the One who died for men. He is the Almighty One of eternity past and eternity future. If no more had been written than that contained in this introductory portion of chapter 1, it would have constituted a tremendous restatement of the person and work of Christ such as found in no comparable section of Scripture.24

Application Questions:

    1. How well does my life exhibit the character of a bondslave?

    2. Am I a careful messenger who accurately bears testimony to the person and work of Jesus Christ?

    3. Am I involved in ministry as a believer priest or am I more of a spectator?

    4. Am I living as a sojourner who looks with great anticipation for the Lord’s return, or have I become more of an earth dweller whose primary goals are in this world?


14 Everett F. Harrison, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, New Testament, Chicago: Moody Press, 1962, electronic media.

15 A plenary genitive is when the noun in the genitive functions both as a subjective and an objective genitive due to context.

16 W. L. Barnes, Free As a Bird.

17 Alan Johnson, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, Frank E. Gaebelein, general editor, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1981, p. 417.

18 Johnson, p. 417.

19 Lehman Strauss, The Book of Revelation, Loizeaux Brothers, Neptune, NJ, 1964, p. 23.

20 Charles C. Ryrie, Revelation, Moody Press, Chicago, 1968, p.14.

21 Ryrie, Revelation, p. 14.

22 Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, Expanded Edition, p. 2013.

23 Fritz Rienecker, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, edited by Cleon L. Rogers, Jr., Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1980, p. 812.

24 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Moody Press, Chicago, 1966, p. 40.

Ad Category: 
Biblical Topics: 
Passage: 
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

2. The Things Past (Rev 1:9-20)

Revelation can obviously be outlined or divided in a number of ways, but most commentators see 1:19 as a divinely-given outline. Walvoord writes:

The advantage of this outline is that it deals in a natural way with the material rather than seizing on incidentals as some expositors have done or avoiding any outline at all, as it true of other expositors. It is not too much to claim that this outline is the only one which allows the book to speak for itself without artificial manipulation …25

The point is that this God-given outline supports and demonstrates the futuristic approach of the book. Revelation 1:19 becomes a key to how we should interpret the book. Verse nineteen gives a three-part division: Following the prologue or introduction, we have what John calls “the things which you have seen,” i.e., the things past. This is followed by “the things which are,” the things present, and then “the things which will take place after these things,” the things future. Based on this breakdown, Revelation falls into the following three divisions:

(1) The things past are the things which John had seen from verse 9-19 including verse 20 which is an explanation of part of this vision, the vision of the glorified Christ (1:9-20).

(2) The things present are “the things which are.” This deals with the messages to the seven churches and the state of the church or the church age (2:1-3:22).

(3) The things future refer to “the things which shall take place after these things.” This takes us the reader into the future or things to come, and deals with the things that will occur after the church: the tribulation, the millennium, and the eternal state (4:1-22:21).

Remember that,

If one follows the plain, literal or normal principle of interpretation he concludes that most of the book is yet in the future. No judgments in history have ever equaled those described in chapters 6, 8, 9, and 16. The resurrections and judgment described in chapter 20 have not yet occurred. There has been no visible return of Christ as portrayed in chapter 19.26

Circumstances of the Vision
(1:9-11)

9 I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos, because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, 11 saying, “Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

In verses 9-11 John provides us with those facts which are pertinent to the nature of the book and how John came to write it.

The Receiver of the Vision (9a)

“I John, your brother and fellow partaker in the …” John, of course, was well known among the churches of Asia Minor. He refers to himself as simply John in 1:1 and 1:4, but twice he says, “I John” (1:9; 22:8) which seems to add emphasis for the purpose of authenticating his witness.

In his epistles John described himself as an elder (2 John 1; 3 John 1), but here he simply calls himself “a brother and fellow partaker …”

“Brother” is the Greek adelfos, a word often used as a technical term for believers in Christ because we are all born again into God’s family. It stresses the close relationship we all have regardless of our position or gifts in the church or in society. We are still brothers under the authority and care of the Father and our older Brother, the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Fellow partaker” is the Greek sunkoinwnos, “to share jointly, to have in common with others.” It reminds us of the doctrine of koinwnia or fellowship and how we, as believers in Christ, share many things in common—a common hope, common blessings, common sufferings, and common responsibilities.

“In Jesus” is the uniting factor and the basis of our brotherhood or fellowship (1 Cor. 1:9). It calls to mind our union or position in Christ or the co-identification that we share together in Him. Note, three things are mentioned that he had in common with the seven churches.

First, John speaks of himself as “a fellow partaker in tribulation.” “Tribulation” is the Greek qlipsis from qlibw, “to crush, press hard.” Qlipsis means “trouble, affliction, distress.” The Greek has the article with the word “tribulation,” but it goes with all three nouns linking them together as three related things that often come simultaneously to believers in Christ. Literally, “the affliction, kingdom, and endurance in Jesus.” It does not refer to “the tribulation” to come as though it had already begun. Specifically, “tribulation” in this verse refers to the persecutions and distress that John was facing on the isle of Patmos and that much of the church was experiencing for their faith in Jesus Christ because of the persecutions of the Roman emperor, Domitian.

Second, John then spoke of a “kingdom”: Though we may experience tribulation, we also share in a kingdom that enables us to become overcomers in affliction. This refers to Christ’s kingdom and rule. There are three aspects of this in which all believers in Christ share:

(1) There is the present mystery form, the kingdom of God within you which includes God’s sovereign provision, control, and deliverance: Compare Col. 1:12-13 with the mystery parables of the kingdom in Matthew 13 which describes the present mystery form between Christ’s first and second comings.

(2) The predicted millennial reign on earth in which all believers will take part with varying degrees of responsibility and rewards depending on their faithfulness to walk with the Lord (cf. Rom. 8:17; 1 Cor. 3:12f; Rev. 2:26; 3:12, 21; 20:4).

(3) The eternal form of the kingdom, the eternal state (Rev. 22:1-22:5).

However, not only do we share in tribulation, but as sharers in Christ’s kingdom and rule, we can also share in the endurance that comes to us in Christ. So …

Third, John referred to “perseverance” as further common thing we share in Jesus. This is %upomonh from %upo, “under” and monh, “to abide.” It means endurance, the ability to abide under pressure regardless of the intensity or length of time. This is a joint ability that all believers have in Christ if they will walk in faith and keep their eyes on the Savior (cf. Col. 1:9; Heb. 12:1-2). This is especially true when we fix our gaze on the future glory and the blessings to come (cf. the close of each message to the seven churches).

The Place of the Vision (9b)

John was on an island called “Patmos.” Patmos was a small, bleak, and rocky island about ten miles long and six miles wide. It was a place where prisoners and undesirables were banished and forced to work in the mines. According to early church fathers like Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Eusebius, John was sent here and forced to work in the mines though way up in years. This points to the source of his affliction and endurance as a partaker of Christ’s rule and reign in his life.

“Because of the Word of God” points us to the cause or reason for John’s banishment as an undesirable—his unswerving faithfulness to proclaim the Word and share Jesus Christ with men. Please note, though men could circumscribe his human activities, they could not bind the Spirit of God nor the testimony of Jesus Christ nor the power of the Word of God (2 Tim. 2:9).

Moses wrote the Pentateuch in the wilderness. David wrote many psalms while being pursued by Saul. Isaiah lived in difficult days and died a martyr’s death. Ezekiel wrote in exile. Jeremiah’s life was one of trial and persecution. Peter wrote his two letters shortly before martyrdom. Thus in the will of God the final written revelation was given to John while suffering for Christ and the gospel.27

The Spiritual Circumstances (10-11)

“And I was in the Spirit.” The tense, the verb used, and the fact of this statement pointing us to the reason for the visions of this book all suggests this refers to something unusual instead of the normal experience of the Spirit controlled walk.

Explanation: First, such visions as depicted in this book are never stated to be one of the products or promises of the Spirit filled walk (Gal. 5:22f). Rather, it refers to a state where God could supernaturally reveal the special contents of this book. Second, the verb here can be classified as an ingressive aorist describing an entrance into a condition. The verb is ginomai, “to come to be, become.” Literally, “I came to be in the Spirit.” It refers to an entrance into an unusual state. “Such was the experience of Ezekiel (Ezek. 2:2; 3:12, 14; etc.), Peter (Acts 10:10-11; 11:5), and Paul (Acts 22:17-18).”28

    The Time of the Vision

“On the Lord’s day” is taken by interpreters in two different ways: (a) the Lord’s day as the first day of the week or Sunday, or (b) as a reference to the Day of the Lord, the Tribulation.

Explanation: “Lord” is the Greek kuriakos, an adjective meaning “belonging to the Lord, lordian, imperial.” And though the Day of the Lord in other places is always written differently (%hmera kuriou), due to the unique emphasis of this book, a number of writers as Walvoord, Ryrie, and Pentecost and others believe this word does not refer to Sunday, but rather to the Day of the Lord of the Old Testament, an extended period of time when God will deal in judgment and sovereign rule over the earth.29

John, through this spiritual state, was projected into the Day of the Lord, that imperial day and time when the Lord would return in His kingly glory and take the reins of earthly government via the events and conditions of chapters 4-22. Support for this is as follows:

(1) Unless this is the exception, the expression, “the Lord’s day,” as a reference to Sunday is nowhere else used in the Bible. This word, kuriakos is used only here and in 1 Cor. 11:20 where it is used of the Lord’s supper, but not a day. Outside the New Testament it meant “imperial.”

(2) The day that the early church regularly met, the day of Christ’s resurrection, was consistently called “the first day of the week,” and never “the Lord’s day” (cf. Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:2,9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1,19; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2).

(3) Further, Walvoord adds, “it is questionable in any case whether the amazing revelation given in the entire book could have been conveyed to John in one twenty-four-hour day, and it is more probable that it consisted of a series of revelations.”30

(4) “And I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet” calls attention to the awesome nature of what John was about to see, a vision of the glorified Christ. Trumpets are used in the Bible to announce important occasions and to assemble God’s people for some kind of preparation. The important occasion here is the vision of Christ which is preparatory to all that follows.

    The Command to Record the Vision

“Write in a book what you see” is one of twelve times John was told to write in the book what he saw. This indicates John was to write after seeing each vision. In 10:4, John was told not to write, but seal up what was spoken.

“And send it to the seven churches” shows us again that God’s intends for the church to have and know the contents of the book of Revelation. The entire book along with the individual messages were to be written for and sent to the seven churches.

Content of the Vision
(1:12-16)

12 And I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; 13 and in the middle of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His breast with a golden girdle. 14 And His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire; 15 and His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been caused to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. 16 And in His right hand He held seven stars; and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.

The Position of the Lord (12-13a)

Having turned to see the voice, a figure for the one who was speaking to John, he was then given and recorded the vision of the seven golden lampstands and the glorified Christ seen in the very center of the vision. The Position of the Lord in the middle of the seven golden lampstands (1:12-13a), is of course, the most striking feature of this vision. It draws our attention not only to His glorious appearance, but to the central place He has and deserves in the life of the church.

The meaning of the seven golden lampstands with Christ in the center:

The vision is for the seven churches of Asia Minor (vs. 20) who represent the church at large throughout the ages. Its truth is for our comfort, encouragement, challenge, and instruction.

In the Old Testament, the lampstands of the tabernacle and the temple consisted of a seven-branched lampstand, a single stand with one center lamp and three on each side. Here, however, we have seven separate lampstands arranged in a circle with Christ standing in the center.

The lampstands are made of gold, a symbol of the deity of Christ who gives beauty to the church when it exhibits His character. He is the reason for our value. In ourselves, we are only clay vessels.

The lampstands are filled with olive oil, a symbol of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and they are responsible to give out light, their principle function, in the power of the indwelling Spirit.

But the key note is the circle of lamps with Christ in the center pointing emphatically to the centrality and priority of Christ. He is the center, the hub, and the heart of the church at large and of each individual local church. Note that the Lord has a direct relationship with each church. He is in our midst to minister to us, to search us, and to enable us and we are in the world to give off light to point men to Christ.

The Description of the Lord (13b-16)

The description which follows symbolically represents the attributes and traits of Christ which demonstrate His relationship to the events of the book of Revelation and His qualifications to carry out and accomplish all that will follow. But before the description of His glory or deity begins, note how He is defined: as “one like a son of man.” This title points to his true humanity and Messianic character. Though portrayed in all the glory of His deity in the similes that follow, He is still the Son of Man, one made like His brethren that He might be a faithful high priest and reclaim what Adam lost in the fall (cf. Heb. 2:9f). Note also, as the Son of Man, He is seen “clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His breast with a golden girdle.”

This vision is introductory to chapters 2 and 3, the letters to the churches, and the events that follow dealing with the judgments of the Tribulation. This portrays Him in His role as the Son of Man who is also a priest and judge. His role as priest and judge is a somber and significant note as He stands in the midst of the seven churches because it calls our attention to just exactly who He is.

(1) His head and hair (14a)— “were white like wool, like snow.” This corresponds and is designed to remind us of the vision in Daniel of “the Ancient of Days” (Dan. 7:9). This represents (a) His eternal wisdom, the wisdom of age as the one whose “goings forth are from old, from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2), and (b) His complete purity or holiness symbolized in the white wool and snow.

(2) His eyes (14b)— “were like a flame of fire.” This speaks of His penetrating vision, searching righteousness, and judgment into the affairs of the church and mankind as a whole. Perhaps there is in this a connection with the Bema, the judgment seat of Christ for believers, and the Great White Throne Judgment (GWTJ) for unbelievers. The fire which will try men’s works at the Bema and prove the condition of their heart at the GWTJ will be the penetrating and holy gaze of Christ (1 Cor. 3:12f; 2 Cor. 5:10,11; Rev. 20:11-12 and Rom. 3:23; 4:2).

(3) His feet (15a)— “were like burnished bronze.” Literally, the Greek says, “his feet like fine brass (or refined bronze) as when it has been burned (refined—the perfect tense of completed action) in the furnace or oven.” “The idea may be ‘glowing’ and it would indicate that the metal is not only the finest and brightest, but it is aglow as if still in the crucible.”31

In Scripture both brass and fire stand for divine judgment as seen in the Old Testament types of the brazen altar and other items of brass used in connection with sacrifice for sin (Ex. 38:30).32

Christ is able to stand in the midst of the church as priest and judge and will be able to execute the world wide judgments that follow on the basis of the divine judgments He Himself endured through His life and sufferings on earth as the Lamb of God without spot or blemish.

(4) His voice (15c)— “was like the sound of many waters.” His voice as John heard it was like a mighty waterfall. As the water of Niagara Falls is so loud that it silences all voices around, so this portrays Jesus Christ as the absolute voice of authority to which all human authority must bow.

(5) His right hand (16a)— “And in His right hand He held seven stars.” Verse 20 will explain the mystery of the seven stars in the right hand of the Savior. For now, it is enough to recognize that the right hand is a symbol of strength, power, and honor. The stars, the angels or messengers, are in a place of honor, but they are also under His authority, strength and protection.

(6) His sword (1:16b)— “and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword.” Sword is mentioned a total of nine times in Revelation. Here, it is the Greek r%omfaia, mentioned five times in Revelation. Another Greek word for sword, makaira, the short Roman two-edged sword, is mentioned four times.

The r%omfaia was the long and heavy broad sword of the Thracians and other barbarous nations who often marched as God’s instruments of judgment over one country after another. It symbolizes the irresistible authority and devastating force of our Lord’s judgment (cf. 19:15). Hebrews 4:12 speaks of the Word of God as “quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword.” In Hebrews 4:12, however, the Greek word is macaira which speaks of the penetrating power of God’s Word to uncover our inner lives and to get to the root of our needs.

However, it is this same word which, proceeding out of His mouth, will be the basis of Christ’s judgment of men (cf. John 12:48). So, this may also be in view since this sword comes out of the mouth of Christ. It is thus, an instrument of judgment, of war, of death and destruction.

(7) His countenance or face (16c)— “and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.” This is undoubtedly a reference or symbol of the brilliance of the divine glory of Christ portraying His holiness and deity. It was this that blinded Paul on the Damascus road and which here caused John to fall at Christ’s feet as a dead man (vs. 17). Here is the Sun shining in the midst of the church. He and He alone is our source of light and righteousness. Paul describes us as heavenly luminaries in Philippians 2:15. The Greek word there is fwsthr which can refer to the sun, but also to the moon or planets that get their light from their sun. He is to us what our sun is to the moon. He is our light, our holiness, and our means of becoming light to the world. Do we take His holiness for granted or do we fall prostrate before Him in humble submission and adoration? This naturally brings us to our next point:

Consequences of the Vision
(1:17-20)

17 And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as a dead man. And He laid His right hand upon me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. 19 Write therefore the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall take place after these things. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”

The Word of Comfort (17-18)

On several occasions when men have had a glimpse of the glory of God, they rightly fell on their face in humble submission and reverence or responded in some way that showed the effect on man the creature when faced with the awesomeness of the Creator’s glory. But when they did this, God spoke or touched them or both (cf. Dan. 10:8-10, 15-16; Matt. 17:6-7). And so here, the Lord Jesus placed His right hand upon John and spoke words of comfort.

Why did the Lord do this? Because the sovereignty and holiness of God that becomes terror and judgment to the unbelieving world becomes a source of comfort and protection to the believer in Christ because He stands cleansed and purified in the merit and love of Christ (Isa. 6:1-8).

The basis for having no fear “I am the first and the last.” This is similar to 1:8 and both of these statements are applied to Christ later in the book (21:6; 22:13; 2:8). But we need to ask why does the Lord describe Himself as the first and the last? A couple of Old Testament passages point us to the meaning and significance of this.

Isa. 41:4, 48:12-13 “Who has performed and accomplished it, Calling forth the generations from the beginning? ‘I, the Lord, am the first, and with the last. I am He.’”… 12 “Listen to Me, O Jacob, even Israel whom I called; I am He, I am the first, I am also the last. 13 Surely My hand founded the earth, And My right hand spread out the heavens; When I call to them, they stand together.”

By the context we can see that this description stands for God’s independent, self-existence, and self-sufficiency as the transcendent and sovereign God of the universe. He stands outside and independent of all creation. This same designation is used in Revelation 2:8 to comfort a church in affliction because it stands for Christ’s deity and sovereignty over all our affairs. Christ, our Savior and Lord, is God, the origin and goal, the self-existent one who sees the beginning from the end, in whom all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge abide, and who is in total control.

“And the living One; and I became dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.” In these words we see His assurance of eternal life and resurrection. He is the one who, as the eternal God, became man and died, but who conquered death by His death for sin and by His resurrection.

“And I have the keys of death and of Hades.” As the one who conquered death, He has the keys of death and Hades. “Keys” means authority and power. In Scripture a key is a sign of authority and power. While going through seminary in Dallas, Texas, I worked in the Dallas Juvenile Detention Home and carried a large key that was attached to my belt with a chain that was used to unlock and lock juvenile inmates. It was a sign of authority. So, the Lord Jesus has control over both death and hades. What does this mean?

(1) This means He is the Lord over physical death which terminates life in this world. By His death for sin and His resurrection, Christ has wrenched from Satan’s hands any authority the devil had over death (cf. Heb. 2:14-15). This means “no man can die apart from divine permission even though afflicted by Satan and in trial or trouble”33 (cf. Ps. 68:19-20).

(2) He is the sovereign over hell or life after death. “Hell” (KJV) and “Hades” (NASB) is the Greek %ades. The Greek word %ades, commonly translated “hell,” refers to the intermediate state and is to be distinguished from the lake of fire or Gehenna, which refers to the eternal state. To avoid confusion it is better to transliterate the word %ades (as does the NASB) and to use the word “hell” as referring to the eternal state only.34

As the one who has the keys over death and hades, Christ is sovereign over death in this life and over the life to come.

Please refer to the Glossary in Appendix 7 for definitions of hell and related terms.

The Word of Command (19-20)

Now the apostle is commanded to write the things which he had seen and would see in the visions to follow. As pointed out previously, this gives us God’s outline for the book and shows us we should have a futuristic approach to the great majority of the book of Revelation.

Verse 20 explains the mystery of the seven golden lampstands and seven stars. In Scripture, “mystery” refers to what was before unknown but is then revealed by revelation from God. It is not something mysterious, but previously unknown. The lampstands are the churches portraying their function and purpose in the world and the stars are the angels or messengers of the seven churches.

But, how do we take the word “angels”? “Angels” is the Greek angelos which means “messenger.” In scripture, it is used of both men (Luke 7:27; 9:52; Jam. 2:25) and angelic beings. So, is this a reference to angelic beings who function somewhat like guardian angels? Or do we take this as a reference to human messengers who either carry the message of these letters or who are leaders of the seven churches? Much more will be said on this in the next chapter, but Walvoord has a good summary:

It is possible that these messengers had come actually to the Isle of Patmos, but it is more probable that they refer to the leaders in these churches to whom the messages primarily are addressed. The spiritual significance is that these angels are messengers who are responsible for the spiritual welfare of these seven churches and are in the right hand of the Son of Man, indicating possession, protection, and sovereign control. As the churches were to emit light as a lampstand, the leaders of the churches were to project light as stars.35


25 Walvoord, p. 48.

26 Charles C. Ryrie, Revelation, Moody Press, Chicago, 1968, p. 9.

27 Walvoord, p. 41.

28 Walvoord, p. 42.

29 Taken from Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, p. 42; Ryrie, Revelation, p. 17; J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, and class notes taken at Dallas Theological Seminary, 1965.

30 Walvoord, p. 42.

31 Fritz Rienecker, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, edited by Cleon L. Rogers, Jr., Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1980, p. 814 quoting Henry Barclay Swete in The Apocalypse of St. John, Macmillan, London, 1907.

32 Walvoord, p. 44.

33 Walvoord, p. 47.

34 Walvoord, p. 47.

35 Walvoord, p. 45.

Ad Category: 
Passage: 
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

3. The Message to Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7)

“Forsaken First Love”

Distinctive Features
About the Seven Churches

Before actually beginning the exposition of the message to Ephesus, it would be helpful to consider a few of the distinctive and common features that can be observed in each of the messages to the churches of Asia Minor as we find them in Revelation 2 and 3.

The Selection of These Particular Churches

Why seven and why these? These were letters to seven historical churches at the time of John’s writing. The letters each dealt with actual conditions of church life in John’s day. But as God’s Word is written to the whole body of Christ for all history, they are also representative of all churches both in John’s day and at any time in the history of the church. Just as the letters to the Corinthians concern not only the church at Corinth, but all churches past, present, and future, so do these letters. Reasons:

(1) The fact there are seven, but only seven listed. Though many other churches existed and many were larger and better known, only these seven were selected. Seven is the number of completion and it is suggested that these seven perfectly represent conditions that would be characteristic of various churches throughout history.

(2) Though each letter is written to a specific church, all the letters close with the words “let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (pl.).” Each message is pertinent to all the churches, not only of John’s day, but of ours as well.

The Sufficiency of Christ

It should be noted that each message with its warning or counsel or comfort begins by calling attention to some aspect of the majesty and glory of Christ as to His person and work as it is revealed in the vision of chapter one. But, significantly, this is always in some way related to the needs, problems, and conditions within the local assembly. This serves to stress how Jesus Christ perfectly meets our need, and is the source of our strength. All the problems and needs of the church are met in Jesus Christ. He and He alone is the ANSWER to our needs and the SOLUTION to our problems. Please note:

(1) Christ is the Author of each message: it is a special word from Him.

(2) Christ is the Answer for our every problem: He is our need and solution.

(3) Christ is the Authority for our lives: we are all answerable to Him.

The Omniscience of Christ

Each letter begins with a statement of the Lord’s omniscience like “I know your works or deeds” (cf. 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, and 15). How awesome this is and how careful this should make us. This should make us careful to walk by the Spirit for it is Christ Himself, whose searching eyes, like a flame of fire, tries our works. Yet, how comforting for there is no problem and no condition that we face that He does not know or care about.

Our Susceptibility to Local Conditions

In each letter to the churches, there is a unique relationship between the problems they faced and the particular nature and character of the environment in which they lived. It is these conditions that presented particular temptations, testings, and problems.

Chapters 2 and 3 contain seven messages that are extremely practical for us today both on a personal and a corporate level. For the most part, each letter contains six divisions:

    1. A reference to the City or Assembly, the destination of the letter

    2. A description of Christ, the Author and Answer

    3. A Commendation or Approval

    4. A Condemnation or the Ailment

    5. A Counsel or Admonition

    6. A Challenge and an Assurance

Now let’s look at the church at Ephesus and the problem of forsaken first love in verses 1-7.

The City and the Assembly
(2:1a)

Ephesus was located near the mouth of the Cayster River only three miles from the coast. It became the capitol of Asia Minor, was connected by highways with the interior of Asia and all her chief cities, and became a great commercial center. The emperor had made Ephesus a free city and it was given the title “Supreme Metropolis of Asia.” It also contained one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the temple of Diana, and was a center of mystical cult worship. “The temple was 425 feet long, 220 feet wide, and 60 feet high, with great folding doors and 127 marble pillars, some of them covered with gold. The worship of Diana was ‘religious immorality’ at its worst.”36

The church of Ephesus was established by Paul on his third missionary journey (read Acts 19-20), and it was from this church that Paul called the elders of Ephesus to meet him at Miletus when he was on his way to Jerusalem (Acts 20:16f). After that, Ephesus became the residence of the Apostle John before and after his exile, but no church stands there today. Many believe this church may well represent the apostolic age in its moral and doctrinal purity.

The Author and the Answer
(2:1b)

“The One who holds the seven stars.” This is a note of warning and comfort. It stresses Christ’s authority, control, possession, and provision for the messengers of the local churches who have the responsibility to lead and teach God’s Word. They are in the hand of the risen Savior to whom all authority in heaven and earth has been given (Matt. 28:18). As the one who holds them, He will provide for, protect and enable them for their ministry. But this also stresses the messenger’s need to be both submissive to and dependent upon his Lord for all that is needed for his ministry.

“The One who walks among the seven lampstands.” “Who walks.” In the vision of chapter one, He is evidently standing, but here we see not only Christ’s constant presence in our midst, but His active ministry. In that ministry, He examines us for the quality of our production, He provides for our needs, and He is always available to us seeking to minister and to have fellowship. Our need is to be available to Him! This is also a note of warning and comfort.

The Commendation or Approval
(2:2-3)

The Lord’s Knowledge

The opening words of verse 2, “I know,” serve to stress Christ’s omniscience, interest, and evaluation of the works, life, and activity of the church. Nothing escapes Him, nothing! Compare 1 Corinthians 3:12f; 2 Corinthians 5:9-10; Psalm 139:1-12.

Their Works

“Deeds” is the noun, erga, the plural of ergon, and refers to “a deed or action or task (this was an active church), to occupational or official activity or service (shows Christ was aware of their official ministries and service, i.e., elder, deacon, teacher, helps, etc.), and of achievements, accomplishments (Christ knew what they had done on His behalf). Compare 1 Corinthians 15:51.

“Toil” is kopos, and referred to a toil or labor to the point of weariness. It stresses the depth and degree of their labor for the Lord. Compare Colossians 1:29-2:1.

“Perseverance” is Jupomenw, from Jupo meaning “under” and menw meaning “to abide.” It refers to the capacity or ability to endure, to remain under pressure or pain over the long haul. It looks at staying power. Compare James 1:2-4. This word stressed the extent of their labor whereas “toil,” kopos, stressed the degree. Verse 3 will expand on this.

Their Moral and Doctrinal Purity

“That you cannot endure evil men.” “Endure” is the Greek bastazw, “to bear, carry as a burden,” and then, “to endure,” “tolerate.” Now compare Galatians 6:1-5. However, when men refuse to respond to the Word and personal rebuke, there comes a time when believers should no longer tolerate their actions and must take the necessary steps as outlined in the Word. Point: The Ephesian church had refused to allow apostasy and immorality to go on in the church. They exercised church discipline when men refused to respond to God’s Word (Matt. 18:15-18; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1; 2 Thess. 3:6-15; 1 Tim. 5:19-20; Titus 3:10-11).

Their Spiritual Discernment

“And have put to test …” peirazw, “to make proof of, to test, try, prove.” They remembered the word of the apostles regarding false teachers (Acts 20:20-31; Jude 17-18). There are three major areas to test: (1) the message and doctrinal belief (1 John 4:1-2); (2) the manner of life (1 John 3:10; 4:8; Jude; Matt. 7:15f); (3) the audience, to whom do they appeal? (1 John 4:5-6).

Verse 3 summarizes their perseverance. They endured. They had not grown weary but things were not as they should be. Ephesus was orthodox in theology, practice, and service, yet something was missing which, if not corrected, would ruin their light-bearing capacity. This is followed, then, by condemnation. A key to their problem can be observed by comparing the deeds, labor and perseverance here with that of the church at Thessalonica (1 Thess. 1:3) where the same Greek words are used, only we should note the accompanying phrases—work of faith, labor of love, and endurance of hope. Faith, love and hope were the sources of the work, the labor, and the endurance. This stressed production from a vital spiritual life.

The Condemnation or Ailment
(2:4)

“Forsaken first love.” The word “left” is the Greek word afihmi, “to leave, forsake, depart.” It stresses an act for which one is personally responsible. This is not LOST LOVE, but LEFT LOVE and suggest three particular problems: (a) they had moved away from their original position of devotion and fervor for the Savior by a gradual departure (Heb. 3:7f); (b) they came to put service for the Lord ahead of love, devotion, and fellowship with Him (remember 1 Thessalonians 1:3 and compare Proverbs 4:23); (c) their labor gradually came to be merely mechanical, the thing they were responsible to do, but the Savior wants it to be the result of the abiding life, the result of an intimate walk with Him through the Spirit of God (John 15:1-7; Gal. 5:1-5, 16-26; Eph. 5:18).

But the Man in the midst of the churches saw what was missing: they had left (not “lost”) their first love (Jer. 2:2). The local church is espoused to Christ (2 Cor. 11:2), but there is always the danger of that love growing cold. Like Martha, we can be so busy working for Christ that we have no time to love Him (Luke 10:38–42). Christ is more concerned about what we do with Him than for Him. Labor is no substitute for love. To the public, the Ephesian church was successful; to Christ, it had fallen.37

When the Lord first appointed the twelve disciples, it is significant that Mark tells us that Jesus appointed them for two main purposes marked off by two Jina purpose clauses in the Greek text: (a) to be with Him and (b) to send them forth to preach and to cast out demons, and the order here is very significant. The first order of His appointment was their fellowship, being with the Lord Jesus, with their ministry in the world being the product of that fellowship as root to fruit or enablement to activity.

With this in mind, we come to the Lord’s loving counsel and admonition.

The Counsel or Admonition
(2:5a, b)

The church as Ephesus from all outward appearances was a very spiritual church for it was certainly a church that was very active in the work of God. They toiled for the Lord, endured much, were doctrinally sound, and took a strong stand against the deeds of the Nicolaitans (vss. 2-3, 6). Nevertheless, something was wrong. They were guilty of a sin that is sometimes hard to detect. But the Lord, who knows our hearts as well as our outward deeds, counsels Ephesus to do three things that were desperately needed to reestablish their closeness and walk with the Savior, or they would lose their witness. There is a very important lesson in this message for God’s people in any period of history, but the message here is particularly important for our performance oriented society. It is the warning that, if we are not ever so careful, we can lose our spiritual vitality, the abiding life principle where we live and serve out of our awareness of Him, and slip into mere orthodox routine. Someone has rightly said that a routine can become like a rut which can be nothing more that a grave with the ends knocked out.

The three things they needed:

(1) Remember. This is a call to reflect, to go back and recall the past. The Savior is saying, “remember the way it used to be in your relationship with Me.” Undoubtedly, the process of looking back is also a call to recognize one’s true condition. We can’t very well confess sin if we don’t clearly see it for what it is. Has our Christian life lost some of its excitement and joy? Are we finding our Christian work rather boring and dull, even to the point of drudgery? Have we lost the joy of the Lord, if so, it is because we have left the position of devotion and occupation with Christ.

“Are fallen” is the perfect tense in the Greek. It looks at a completed act with existing results, a state, and not a process. We are in a fallen condition (are out of fellowship) and working in the energy of the flesh whenever we move away or cease to operate out of condition of love and devotion that stems from personal fellowship or a walk of faith with the Lord Jesus.

(2) Repent. Repent is the Greek word, metanoew. This word means to change the mind or purpose, to change one’s decision. It means to recognize one’s previous decision, opinion, or condition as wrong, and to accept and move toward a new and right path in its place. The verb is in the aorist tense in the Greek which may look at a single, decisive act. Repentance includes confession of sin with a view to stopping the bad behavior so it can be replaced with what was right.

(3) Repeat. “Do the deeds you did at first.” This is not a call to more Christian service or to renewed Christian activity. They had plenty of that. Then what does the Lord mean and how does this apply to us?

“First” is prwtos which means “first in time, place, or rank.” It clearly looks back to the beginning of a Christian’s life, but could it not include those deeds which should be first in a believer’s life and are the most important because of what they mean to us, to God, and our fellowship with Him?

So, what are the first deeds? John does not say, but in the light of the above mentioned passages they include the basic techniques and disciplines of fellowship and abiding in the Lord. It would include such things as honest confession of sin, prayer, Bible study, reading, meditation, memorization, fellowship with believers, being occupied with Christ and refocusing all of our life on Him, the faith rest life, reckoning on our position in Christ, etc. (cf. Mark 3:14; 6:30-32; John 15:4-8; Ps. 119).

The Alternative—Removal
(2:5c)

Removal of their lampstand or witness is the alternative. Our Lord was and is saying, either do the above three or else you will lose your light-bearing capacity. Left love means lost light. The church of Ephesus does not stand today. Its light has been not just dimmed, but completely snuffed out.

A Second Commendation or Approval
(2:6)

They hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans. Scholars differ on their understanding of this group. Some think they were the followers of Nicolas according to early church Fathers (cf. Acts 6:5). Since their heresy seems to be associated with the doctrine of Balaam in 2:14-15, some believe this was an antinomian sect that advocated license in matters of Christian conduct, including free love. Others believe, based on the etymology of the word which can mean, “one who rules the laity” or “laity-conqueror,” that it was an error that exalted the clergy over the laity. Regardless, the church at Ephesus took a strong stand against the heresy and is commended by the Lord for doing so. Note that what was merely a matter of deeds in Ephesus, became an accepted doctrine in Pergamum because it was tolerated. An important lesson. If we do not correct our practices by the Word, they will become traditions that become the doctrines of men who nullify the Word of God.

The Call or Appeal
(2:7a)

A final exhortation (2:7a). “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” This is a loving call to hear what the Holy Spirit is teaching in these seven messages. Note the change from an appeal to the individual, “he who has an ear,” to the plural, “what the Spirit says to the churches.” This change broadens the appeal of each message to all the churches because the messages are representative and applicable to all of us. Here the Spirit of God who is the Spirit of truth and the author and teacher of Scripture is calling on us to evaluate our openness to respond to the things that need to be learned and applied in these messages.

The Certainty or Assurance
(2:7b)

Each message of Revelation 2 and 3 concludes with a promise to the overcomer, but there is a great deal of disagreement over the meaning of the overcomer promises. “Overcome” is the nikaw, “to conquer, prevail, triumph, overcome.” But the question is how exactly are we to understand these promises to those who overcome? This is where the disagreement exists. There are four primary views of these passages:

(1) The loss of salvation view: The promises are written to believers to encourage them to overcome lest they lose their salvation. To fail to overcome is to lose salvation.

(2) The ultimate triumph of faith or the perseverance of the saints view: According to this view all genuine believers persevere and overcome the world by living godly and obedient lives. Overcoming equals faithfulness or obedience which proves the genuineness of salvation.

(3) The all believers view: According to this view, all believers become overcomers the moment they believe in Jesus Christ. The very act of believing overcomes the world: “Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:5). Faith, not faithfulness is the primary focus in this position.

(4) The rewards view: According to this view, the overcomer passages are promises of rewards given to believers to encourage them to be faithful by overcoming the trials and temptations of life through faith in their new life in Christ.

For a discussion of the various views and some of the issues involved, see Appendix 3. For reasons discussed in Appendix 3, the fourth view is the position that is presented in this study.

The promise regarding the tree of life: “To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7b).

“Paradise,” paradeisos, is a Persian word meaning, “a pleasure park, or garden.” The Septuagint uses it to translate the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2:8-10. To the oriental mind it meant the sum of blessedness. Christ, as the “last Adam,” is the restorer of paradise lost as is seen clearly in Revelation 22:1-4, and 14.

But what about “the tree of Life”? First, the tree of life is literal. It is not just a symbol for eternal life or for the person of Christ. In Revelation 21:1-22:5, John is describing the eternal state which includes the new heaven and the new earth with the new Jerusalem, a literal place with some 25 verses devoted to its description. It is not a symbol.

Second, it is probably not just one tree, but a collective term referring to a whole row of trees that exist between the river and the avenue described in Revelation 22. This is all a part of the beautiful park or paradise of God.

Third, having a right to the tree of life is not equivalent to salvation, nor is it necessary for the maintenance of life. Why? Because possession of eternal life and the maintenance of eternal life comes from possession of Jesus Christ who is our eternal life. All believers possess eternal life at the point of believing in Christ (John 3:16). Furthermore, eternal life, as God’s gift to those who believe, is never maintained by what we do. Compare 1 John 5:11-12; John 1:12; 3:16, 18, 36; 5:24; 6:47; 11:25, 26; 20:31; 17:3.

Fourth, the tree of life, then, must offer some kind of superlative experience and blessing though the details are simply not explained to us. It is left with a certain vagueness, but in 2 Corinthians 12:4 we read that Paul, when he was caught up to Paradise, heard inexpressible words which a man is not permitted to speak. Hodges writes, “The vagueness surrounding the promise of the tree of life is an example of the deliberate inexplicitness of the rewards which are mentioned. Almost all of the other promises have something of the same undefined, but numinous, character.”38

It is simply a special reward for those who overcome through a walk of faith that results in faithfulness; it is a special reward of special blessing that will somehow enrich the blessings of paradise. I am reminded of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:58 which promise:

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.


36 Warren W. Wiersbe, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the New Testament, Victor Books, electronic publishing.

37 Wiersbe.

38 Zane C. Hodges, The Gospel Under Siege, Redencion Viva, Dallas, TX, 1982, p. 118.

Ad Category: 
Passage: 
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

4. The Message to Smyrna (Rev 2:8-11)

The City and the Assembly
(2:8a)

Again we should note that it is the risen and ascended, but active Savior who addresses the church in these messages. He walks about in the midst of the church (2:1) and as the one whose penetrating eyes are like a flame of fire (1:14), He knows every detail and situation of His church, individually and corporately. He knows all about the society in which we live and how it affects us and our testimony for Him, but as the all-knowing Savior, He comes and lovingly speaks to us where we live and calls us to find our source of happiness and strength and life in Him.

The City of Smyrna

    Its location

Smyrna lay just 35 miles north of Ephesus on the west coast of Asia on the Aegean Sea. It was the loveliest of all the cities and was sometimes called “the Ornament of Asia,” “the Crown of Asia,” or sometimes “the Flower of Asia.” It was beautifully situated. It stood at the end of a road that journeyed westward across the lands of Lydia (western Asia Minor) and Phrygia (a land in the center of Asia Minor, our modern Turkey) and traveled out to the east.

In relation to the sea, it stood at the end of a long arm of the sea which ended in a small land-locked harbor in the very heart of the city making it one of the safest harbors. It controlled the trade of the rich Hermus Valley and was a great, wealthy, and important city.

The city itself began at the harbor and traversed the narrow foothills. Behind the city rose a hill covered with temples and noble buildings which encircled a hill named the Pagos, but the hill was also called the “the Crown of Smyrna” because of the way the buildings formed a crown around the hill.

    Its history

Smyrna had been a Greek colony as far back as 1000 B.C. Around 600 B.C. it was invaded and destroyed by the Lydeans and for 400 years there was no city there at all. Then around 200 B.C. Lysimachus had it rebuilt as a planned and unified whole. It was built with streets that were broad, straight, sweeping, and beautifully paved. The city had experienced death and had literally been brought back to life. It is undoubtedly because of Smyrna’s historical past, Christ refers to Himself as, “He who was dead and has come to life.”

But there were other significant facts about Smyrna. It was a free city, one that knew the meaning of loyalty and fidelity to Rome unlike most cities. Cicero called it, “one of our most faithful and our most ancient allies.” It was the first city in the world to erect a temple to the goddess Roma and to the spirit of Rome. Her fidelity to Rome was famous in the ancient world. So again, Christ said to the church there, “be faithful unto death.”

In all of this there existed what was called “municipal vanity” and it was known for its “municipal rivalry and pride.” Everyone there wished to exalt Smyrna. So, it was not without reason that Christ spoke of Himself as “the first and the last.” In comparison with His glory, all earthly distinctions are pure emptiness and strife for being first in something pales into insignificance in view of His eternal glories.

Another fact of importance concerns the Jews there. There was a population of Jews in the city who were not only numerous, but influential and who did everything they could to hurt the church in Smyrna. So, the Lord also addresses this issue in this letter as well (vs. 9-10).

Another interesting fact is that the city received its name from one of its principle products, a sweet perfume called myrrh. This was a gum resin taken from a shrub-like tree. Though it had a bitter taste, the resin of the tree was used in making perfume (Ps. 45:8), was one of the ingredients used in the anointing oil of the priests (Ex. 30:23), and in the embalming of the dead (John 19:39). Smyrna is Ionic Greek for myrrh, a fragrant perfume used in burial. Many believe this church represents the martyrs of all time and the sweet smelling fragrance of their devotion until death (cf. 2 Cor. 4:14-16).

Finally, Smyrna, unlike the city of Ephesus, stands today. Though many of these believers died a martyr’s death, Satan could not stamp out their testimony. Suffering has a way of keeping us pure in our devotion to Christ and it was evidently so with this church.

The Christ, the Author and Answer
(2:8b)

Again we see how the perfections of Christ’s person and work answers to the needs, problems, and conditions in each church. Since many in this church died for their faith, Christ assures them of their resurrection and future rewards because He is the first and last, the eternal God who became man, died and rose again (1 Pet. 1:3; Acts 2:24).

Literally, the Greek says, “He came to be dead and began to live or came to life again,” an obvious reference to the cross and the resurrection. It describes what we might call an experience, an episode, a passing phase He went through for us, death. He passed into death, through death and out of death, and came to life in a triumphant event, the resurrection.

Application:

The risen Christ is one who has experienced the worst that life could do to Him. No matter then what might happen to the Christians at Smyrna or to us, our Savior has gone through the worst life can bring. As such, He is one who feels for us in our suffering with special love and compassion and is ever present to come to our aid and comfort (Heb. 2:15-18; 4:15).

The risen Christ has conquered the worst that life can do. He triumphed over pain, the cross, the devil, sin, and death. He defeated all the enemies and He offers victory and the conqueror’s crown.

But this calls for our loyalty and commitment to Him, not simply for rewards, but because of what we have in Him and love Him.

The Church and Its Affairs
(2:9-11)

The Comfort and Approval (9)

He knows your tribulation (2:9). The word “tribulation” is qlipsis which means “pressure, a literal crushing beneath a weight.” “The pressure of events is on the Church at Smyrna, and the force of circumstances is trying to crush the Christianity out of them.”39

He knows your poverty (2:9). The word “poverty” is ptwceia, and describes absolute poverty or complete destitution. To grasp this word, we might compare it with another, penia. Penia refers to one who has the necessities, but nothing superfluous; ptwceia describes the state of one who has nothing at all.40 Christ offers no criticism of this church. The saints were faithful in spite of suffering at the hands of their Jewish persecutors and I am sure they thought they were poor, but in contrast to Laodicea, which thought it was rich and was poor, these saints were rich (3:17).

Application: Our Lord, so faithful to know and observe our lives and needs, first assures them He knows and cares for their condition and the great suffering on His behalf, and then commends them for their spiritual wealth in the midst of their physical poverty and suffering, much of which was brought about by the religious Jews of Smyrna. So, while poor, they were rich. They were rich positionally in Christ (Eph. 1:3) which, of course, was by grace. They were also rich in that God had counted them worthy to suffer for Him (1 Pet. 3:14-17; 1:6; 4:13-14). Finally, it appears they were rich in their spiritual lives because they were living close to God by faith.

He knows your persecutors (2:9b). These were the religious Jews who claimed to be the seed of Abraham. They were, but only physically. Spiritually they were of Satan and under his power and control (John 8:33-34). In Numbers 16:3, Israel was called the congregation of the Lord, but here Christ calls these unbelieving Jews, the congregation of Satan (cf. John 8:33 with 8:44).

The Counsel and Admonition (10)

Concerning fear and suffering. “Do not fear” is literally “fear nothing.” No matter how small or how severe, the One who has overcome death says, “fear nothing.” They could cast their burden on the Lord. He cared and He had overcome (Phil. 4:6-8; 1 Pet. 5:7; Isa. 41:10).

Concerning the future and testing. Some would face prison and severe testing, even death. It would be for ten days, a rather short period, or perhaps a reference to ten principle persecutions under the Roman emperors from Nero to Diocletian. But note the connection of this with Satan. This persecution is attributed to the Devil. It is a continuation of the serpent’s battle with the Lord Jesus Christ and those who belong to Him (Gen. 3:15; John 15:18-21). Human means and men are those we see persecuting the church of Jesus Christ, but invariably, behind the scenes is the old arch enemy, the prince of the power of the air. But never fear, the binder of believers in prison shall be bound, he is a defeated foe (Rev. 20:1-3; Rom. 16:20; Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14-15).

Concerning faithfulness and rewards. Be faithful until death. This means, be faithful to the point of martyrdom. Continue to trust the Lord, be faithful to Him and the truth of His Word even in the face of death.

The promise: “I will give you the crown of life.” The reward here is not eternal life. Eternal life is a gift through faith or personal belief in Jesus Christ (John 1:11-12; 3:16; 1 John 5:11-12). This is a special reward for endurance under persecution.

Application: Note that victory in this present life is closely associated with occupation and orientation to the weightier things of eternity and the glories which shall follow (2 Cor. 4:16-18). Here is one of those things which should distinguish believers from unbelievers. Believers are to be sojourners who live with a view to eternity, while unbelievers are scripturally classified as earthdwellers (1 Pet. 1:17; 2:11; Rev. 3:10; Isa. 24:17).

The Challenge and Assurance (11)

The promise to the overcomer is that he shall not be hurt by the second death. The second death is eternal separation from God in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:1, 14). Believers may face physical death, but because they have had a second birth (John 3:3-7), no believer will ever face the second death (Eph. 2:1, 5; John 5:24; 11:25). Then, why this promise? Does this imply the possibility of the loss of eternal life? Regardless of what this passage means, it is an emphatic negation of the possibility. Some in Smyrna, as Polycarp, would die a martyr’s death, so the Lord is reminding them of this fact.

To overcome means here to remain faithful to the Lord even if it meant death. Here our Lord was simply reminding them that though some would die for Him, the second death could never touch them. The use of this negative promise, “will not be hurt …” is a literary device known as litotes. This is a rhetorical device used to affirm the positive by a negation. Hodges has a good explanation of litotes.

If someone says to me, “His request presented me with no small problem,” I know exactly what he means. The person who made the request of him had presented him a BIG problem!

In the phrase “no small problem” we have a very common figure of speech. Its technical name is “litotes” (pronounced, lie’-tuh-tease’). Litotes occurs when an affirmative idea is expressed by the negation of its opposite. In the sentence we started with, the affirmative idea is that the problem is very large. The phrase “no small problem” negates the opposite idea.41

Concerning the positive or affirmative emphasis behind the use of litotes, Hodges continues and writes:

What is the positive idea which it understates? Fortunately, the context helps us. In verse 10 we read: “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” The Smyrnan Christians are challenged to face possible martyrdom with courage and fidelity to God. Their reward for doing so will be a superlative experience of life in the world to come. So to speak, they will be “crowned” with the enjoyment of life “more abundant” (see John 10:10).

In this light, Revelation 2:11 can be seen as truly an understatement. The overcomer (that is, the faithful Christian) will be more than amply repaid for whatever sacrifice he may make for Christ’s sake. His experience will be truly wonderful—far, far beyond the reach—the touch—of the second death. That is to say, this conquering Christian is as far above the experience-level of eternal death as it is possible to be.

In a masterly understatement, the Lord Jesus says in effect: “The first death may ‘hurt’ you briefly, the second not at all!”42

But perhaps there is something else here. The word “hurt” is the Greek adikew, “to injure, to hurt or do harm” (cf. Rev. 6:6; 7:2-3; 9:4, 10, 19; 11:5). It may also be used in a broader sense of “do wrong” (cf. Rev. 22:11). So, is there a way in which a believer can be said to be hurt or harmed by the second death? Unbelievers who persecute believers and who seek to get them to recant or renounce their faith in Christ are in some ways the personification of the second death and are not only acting out of their spiritual death against the believer, but are themselves, headed for the second death. So, when a believer fails to overcome the trial and recants because of the pain of the persecution, would he not then be hurt or harmed by the second death because he would then have lost his reward (2:11)?

Many believe that Smyrna represents the martyr period of the church, the church in extreme persecution under the Roman emperors. One classic illustration of this is in the true story of one of the great church fathers named, Polycarp. According to Ignatius, not long after the book of Revelation was written, he became the pastor of Smyrna and died a martyr’s death for his faith. The following is from the Martyrdom of Polycarp, translated by J. B. Lightfoot.

9:3 But when the magistrate pressed him hard and said, ‘Swear the oath, and I will release thee; revile the Christ,’ Polycarp said, ‘Fourscore and six years have I been His servant, and He hath done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?’

10:1 But on his persisting again and saying, ‘Swear by the genius of Caesar,’ he answered, ‘If thou supposest vainly that I will swear by the genius of Caesar, as thou sayest, and feignest that thou art ignorant who I am, hear thou plainly, I am a Christian. But if thou wouldest learn the doctrine of Christianity, assign a day and give me a hearing.’

10:2 The proconsul said; ‘Prevail upon the people.’ But Polycarp said; ‘As for thyself, I should have held thee worthy of discourse; for we have been taught to render, as is meet, to princes and authorities appointed by God such honor as does us no harm; but as for these, I do not hold them worthy, that I should defend myself before them.’

11:1 Whereupon the proconsul said; ‘I have wild beasts here and I will throw thee to them, except thou repent’ But he said, ‘Call for them: for the repentance from better to worse is a change not permitted to us; but it is a noble thing to change from untowardness to righteousness.’

11:2 Then he said to him again, ‘I will cause thee to be consumed by fire, if thou despisest the wild beasts, unless thou repent.’ But Polycarp said; ‘Thou threatenest that fire which burneth for a season and after a little while is quenched: for thou art ignorant of the fire of the future judgment and eternal punishment, which is reserved for the ungodly. But why delayest thou? Come, do what thou wilt.’43

Walvoord writes:

The Faithfulness of Polycarp to the end seems to have characterized this church in Smyrna in its entire testimony and resulted in this church’s continuous faithful witness for God after many others of the early churches had long lost their …

… The purifying fires of affliction caused the lamp of testimony to burn all the more brilliantly. The length of their trial, described here as being ten days, whether interpreted literally or not, is short in comparison with the eternal blessings which would be theirs when their days of trial were over. They could be comforted by the fact that the sufferings of this present time do not continue forever, and the blessings that are ours in Christ through His salvation and precious promises will go on through eternity.44


39 William Barclay, The Revelation of John, Vol. I, Westminster Press, Philadelphia, p. 95.

40 Barclay, p. 95.

41 Zane C. Hodges, Grace Evangelical News, electronic version.

42 Hodges, Grace Evangelical News, electronic version.

43 Martyrdom of Polycarp, translated by J. B. Lightfoot, electronic format.

44 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Moody Press, Chicago, 1966, pp. 64-65.

Ad Category: 
Passage: 
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

5. The Message to Pergamum (Rev 2:12-17)

“A Church Married to the World”

The City and the Assembly
(2:12a)

Pergamum, a city of the Roman province of Asia, in the west of what is now Asiatic Turkey, occupied a commanding position near the seaward end of the broad valley of the Caicus. It was probably the site of a settlement from a very early date. Pergamum was one of the most prominent cities of Asia, located in the western part of Asia-Minor, about 45 miles north of Smyrna and about 20 miles from the Aegean Sea. The modern village of Bergama, Turkey, now covers part of the ancient site.

The first temple of the imperial cult was built in Pergamum (c. 29 B.C.) in honor of Rome and Augustus. The city thus boasted a religious primacy in the province, though Ephesus became its main commercial center. Pergamum is listed third of the ‘seven churches of Asia’ (Rev. 1:11) and forms the third letter, an order which suits its position in geographical sequence.

Pergamum was very wealthy, the center of emperor worship with many temples devoted to idolatry. This was the place ‘where Satan’s throne is’ (Rev. 2:13). The phrase has been applied to the complex of pagan cults, of Zeus, Athena, Dionysus and Asclepius (Esculapius), established by the Attalid kings, that of Asclepius Soter (the ‘saviour,’ ‘healer’) being of special importance. These cults are illustrative of the religious history of Pergamum, but “Satan’s throne” could be an allusion to emperor worship. This was where the worship of the divine emperor had been made the touchstone of civic loyalty under Domitian.

Here was the magnificent temple of Esculapius, a pagan god whose idol was in the form of a serpent. The inhabitants were known as the chief temple keepers of Asia. When the Babylonian cult of the Magians was driven out of Babylon, they found a haven in Pergamum.

It marked a crisis for the church in Asia. Antipas who is called, “My witness, My faithful one” (v. 13), is probably cited as a representative (probably the first to be put to death by the Roman state) of those who were brought to judgment and executed there for their faith.

Pergamum was a university town with a large library of 200,000 volumes given as a gift from Anthony to Cleopatra.

The title of the Magian high priest was “Chief Bridge Builder” meaning the one who spans the gap between mortals and Satan and his hosts. In Latin this title was written “Pontifex Maximus,” the title now used by the Pope. This title goes all the way back to Babylon and the beginnings of the mother-child cult under Nimrod of Genesis 10 and his wife Sumerimus. Later, Julius Caesar was elected Pontifex Maximus and when he became Emperor, he became the supreme civil and religious ruler and head of Rome politically and religiously with all the power and functions of the Babylonian pontiff.

Today a small village called Bergama is located here with a Christian testimony which continued into modern times. This church may depict the history of the church from the time of Constantine until the rise of the papacy from the time of Constantine forward.

The Christ, the Author
(2:12b)

Again, as in each of the seven messages, the message is related to the picture of the glorified Savior in chapter one. This serves to stress His sufficiency and our need to live in the light of His person and work, past, present, and future.

“Sword” is r%omfaia, a long spear-like sword, but here it is seen with two edges to emphasize the double-edged, sharp, penetrating character of the Word of God or God’s truth as it is found in the person and work of Christ and God’s holy Word as it reveals Him.

The word “sword” is mentioned a total of nine times in Revelation. R%omfaia is mentioned five times and makaira, the short Roman two edged sword, is mentioned four times. The r%omfaia was the long and heavy, broad sword used by the Thracians and other barbarous nations who often marched irresistibly over one country after another as God’s instruments of judgment. First of all, then, it symbolizes the irresistible authority and devastating force of our Lord’s judgment (cf. 19:15).

In Revelation 1:16 and 19:15 the r%omfaia is described as proceeding out of the mouth of Christ. The mouth, an instrument of speech, portrays this as the Word of Christ. In Revelation 19:13 Christ is called the Word of God and then, in verse 15, we have the statement about the sword that proceeds out of His mouth and by which He will slay the wicked.

Interestingly, John 5:24f and 12:48 teaches us that Christ’s acts of judgment will be carried out on the basis of His Word. It seems clear the sword coming out of Christ’s mouth is a reference to the Word and is a symbol of its truth, penetrating power and authority, severity, and the fact that Christ judges men on the basis of the Word.

The sword is the symbol of the Word of Christ which separates believers from condemnation and from conformity with the world (Rom. 12:2; 8:1; 1 Pet. 1:23; Heb. 4:12). But this same sword, the Word of Christ, also guarantees judgment to the world on the basis of its absolute truth.

Here again we see the sufficiency of Christ in His capacity to meet our needs and deal with our failures. Pergamum was a church that was married to the world. They were in compromise with the world, but it is the Word of Christ which transforms us from the world.

Romans 12:1-2. I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

The Commendation and Approval
(2:13)

Again, as in each of the letters, we have the statement made about our Lord’s knowledge of our affairs. This repetition is not without significance. Here the Lord assures them He knows of their steadfastness in the midst of Satan’s headquarters or dominion. Satanic activity was rampant here spreading to all parts of the world because of the extreme amount of pagan idolatry and emperor worship carried on in this city.

“Where you dwell” is the Greek katoikew from kata, “down,” and oikew “to dwell.” It means, “to settle down, dwell permanently, be at home.” Another word group used of believers is the paroikos group (paroikia, paroikew) “to be a stranger, sojourner in a place, or a visitor,” (1 Pet. 1:17; 2:11; Heb. 11:9; [cf. Luke 24:18; Acts 13:17; 7:6, 29; Eph. 2:19]). Similarly, we might also compare parepidhmos, “stranger, resident in a strange place, alien” (Heb. 11:13; 1 Pet. 1:1; 2:11).

First, there may be here a note of warning regarding their attitude toward this life and the world. This is especially true for the book of Revelation because of the use of what practically becomes a technical term for those who have settled down in the world as “earth dwellers” (cf. Rev. 3:10; 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 14; and 17:8). Believers are to view themselves and live: (a) as sojourners, (b) as aliens, and (c) as ambassadors with their citizenship in heaven. We are never to be at home in the world in the same way that unbelievers are (cf. Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Pet. 1:17; 2:11; 2 Cor. 5:19-20 with Rev. 3:10). The story of Abraham and Lot provide us with a good illustration of this truth. Abraham dwelt in tents by faith (Heb. 11:8-10), but Lot lived by sight, he became wedded to the world and wanted to settle down there (Gen. 13:9-13).

Second, there is also a note of exhortation here as well as comfort. It reminds us that God not only knows our pressures, our temptations, and the problems we face, but that He is always there to help us if we want it. He noted they had remained steadfast regardless of the Satanic depths and atrocities of their environment and was there for them to enable them to overcome if they would only continue to walk by faith in dependence on Him.

The principle of the Christian life is not escape, but endurance and conquest by faith. It may be much easier to live somewhere else in easier circumstances, but our duty is generally to stay and become a testimony for the Lord and overcome the world in which we live. We should always remember that the grass usually looks greener somewhere else, but until we are with the Lord or in the millennium, life will be full of trials of some sort and to some degree. The call is for strength with all power, according to His glorious might, for attaining of all steadfastness and patience, joyously giving thanks … (cf. Col. 1:11-12a).

The mention of the fact they had held fast to Christ’s name, and the death of Antipas would suggest persecution and attack by Satan to destroy this church. Since this was unsuccessful, Satan turned to other methods as we will see in what follows.

“Where Satan’s throne is,” not simply seat. This statement stems from the fact of the extreme idolatry and demonic nature of the religious activity connected with the worship of the serpent god of Esculapius, the worship of the Emperor of Rome, and the persecution these Christians faced as a result.

The situation at Pergamum reminds us of the reality of the angelic conflict or the spiritual warfare of this present form of the world (Eph. 6:10). In the past, because of its godly heritage, America has been sheltered from some of the more obvious forms of demonic conflict that we have only read and heard about from missionaries. But Satan, though a defeated foe, is still alive and well and, as a roaring lion, is carrying on his havoc in the world which is now rampant in America. We are now facing Satan’s activities as never before and many believe this is in part preparing the world for the Tribulation. Satanism, devil worship, ritual murders, sacrifices to Satan, and gross immorality are no longer unheard of, but are occurring in our cities all across America. The New Age movement with its mysticism, channeling, belief in mystical forces, etc. is rampant in book stores, in schools, in our government, on TV, in the movies, in politics; it is literally everywhere. For an excellent resource regarding our present world scene as it pertains to culture, current issues, cults, and the occult, see Probe Ministries web site at http://www.probe.org.

As mentioned above, the reference here in verse 13 is a reference to Satanic power manifested in the particular religious, political, and idolatrous character of Pergamum. It became the seat of emperor worship and, according to Hyslop who wrote The Two Babylons, it also became the new home of the mother-child cult of Babylon which was moved from Babylon after the death of Belshazzar. It was later moved to Rome.

One of the prominent features we find in Revelation is a prophetic picture of the revival of ancient Babylonianism (Rev. 17-18). This means that one of the things that will occur in preparation for the events of the coming Tribulation will be a rise, not only in Satanic activity, but of his activity in the various forms of ancient eastern mysticism and occult activity that was so much a part of this cult. We are seeing it today in the New Age Movement.

The Condemnation and Admonition
(2:14-15)

After approving what He could, the Lord proceeded to admonish. Like them, most believers have things in their lives that are good, but there is always room for improvement. There are things that are wrong! Do we have ears to hear?

The Doctrine of Balaam (14)

Balaamism, as we might call it, was a compromise in the realm of morals. For people in this city to eat things sacrificed to idols meant to engage in the feasting and orgies of the various idolatrous temples. It meant to commit fornication. The teaching or doctrine of Balaam was a perversion of the Christian doctrine of liberty (see 1 Cor. 8-10; Rom. 14-15:3; Gal. 5:13). Let’s compare the following three ways we can look at the subject of Balaam.

    The Way of Balaam (2 Peter 2:15)

The way of Balaam is really the way of covetousness and refers to one who hires himself out to do religious work merely for personal gain; it’s the merchandising of one’s spiritual gifts for personal gain out of covetousness.

    The Error of Balaam (Jude 11)

This refers to Balaam’s error in thinking that he could get God to curse His covenant people and bypass His covenant promises because of their evil. Seeing their evil, Balaam supposed that a righteous God must curse Israel. But he was blind to God’s faithfulness to His promises which was based on the higher morality of the cross and God’s grace though the sacrifices that pointed to the cross.

    The Doctrine of Balaam (Revelation 2:14)

Since Balaam found out he could not curse Israel, he realized he would be able corrupt them by getting them to marry the beautiful women of Moab. So he taught or advised Balak to tempt Israel in marrying the daughters of Moab. This would defile their separation and cause them to abandon their pilgrim character. It was a teaching that promoted a breakdown in separation from the world. Note that Pergamum comes from two words, per, which has the idea of “completely, thoroughly,” and gamos, “marriage.” The church at Pergamum began to lose their pilgrim character and was becoming thoroughly married to the world (cf. Jam 4:4; 1 Pet. 1:18; 2:11).

The Teaching of the Nicolaitans (15)

The reference to the Nicolaitans identifies the group who were teaching Balaamism. Note the words “thus … in the same way” of verse 15. As mentioned earlier, some think this refers to the followers of Nicolas (so say some of the church fathers), while others believe the word comes from nikaw, “to rule,” plus laos meaning “people.” Scholars are divided on the precise problem here, but it seems clear that they were subjugating the people to Satan’s authority by teaching compromise with the world which always neutralizes the church by compromise. The church loses its pilgrim perspective and adopts the viewpoint, values, priorities, and pursuits of the world.

Christians often reject the overt acts of what they think of as worldliness defined by a list of prohibitions or obligations both negative and positive, while retaining the viewpoint or attitude of worldliness. But worldliness is found more in attitudes and values than in acts because what we do is really the product of our thinking or belief system. Millions of people go through all the motions of worship each week but maintain a heart that is completely out of touch with God and end up, in reality, worshiping themselves. We can meticulously avoid all overt acts of worldliness as we might define them, and still have a heart full of hypocrisy, criticism of others, jealousy, bitterness, envy, and preoccupation with the details of life rather than eternal treasures. There are many examples we might mention of worldliness, but one example that comes to mind is the Madison Avenue gimmickry which so often goes on in the name of evangelism or church growth. See Appendix 4, on the subtle snares of worldliness.

Whoever the Nicolaitans were, they were conquering the people by bringing them under Satan’s authority through influential teachers who were tolerating or even promoting evil or license. In our study of the messages to the seven churches, we have gone, then, from “murder” to “mixture.” Martyrdom tends to purify the church, but mixture, a breakdown in biblical separation into worldliness, putrefies the church.

The Counsel and Appeal
(2:16)

In verse 16, the Lord called this church to repentance with a sharp warning of judgment with the sword out of His mouth, suggesting that the judgment is based on the truth of His Word. Remember, the sword symbolically represents the two-fold ability of the Word of God to separate believers from the world while at the same time to condemn the world for its sin. It was the sword of salvation and deliverance as well as the sword of death.

Worldly thinking must be dealt with positively and quickly or it eats into our lives individually and corporately (cf. 1 Cor. 5:7-9). Like cancer, worldliness eats deeply into our viewpoint of life and what we expect from it. This impacts our values, and then our priorities and pursuits. And while we may begin to recognize much of its presence and seek to root it out, some of its remnants often remain below the surface, hidden like barnacles below the waterline on a ship.

The Lord counsels the church to repent. The verb “repent” is here an aorist imperative in the Greek text which carries with it an element of urgency. It calls for an immediate response, one designed to arrest the direction in which the church was going. “Repent” is metanoew, “to change the mind.” Here is one of those generic terms that must be understood within the context in which it is found just as with the word salvation (cf. in Phil. 1:19 the Greek swthria, “salvation, deliverance, preservation”). “In both the New and Old Testaments, repentance means ‘to change one’s mind.’ But the question must be asked, about what do you change your mind? Answering that question will focus the basic meaning on the particular change involved… . Biblical repentance also involves changing one’s mind in a way that affects some change in the person. Repentance is not merely an intellectual assent to something; it also includes a resultant change, usually in actions.”45 Repentance is used in Scripture in at least three ways:

(1) A repentance that is merely a change of mind about something in a context that does not deal with salvation (Matt. 21:28-32). It is a real repentance, a change of mind, with a real result, but it has nothing to do with salvation.

(2) A repentance that is unto salvation. In a context dealing with salvation or eternal life, etc., it has to do with changing one’s mind about one’s condition in sin and need of the saving work of God in Christ. It is equivalent to faith or a part of faith like two sides of a coin (cf. Acts 2:38 with 11:17; Acts 5:31 with Eph. 1:7, and Acts 19:14). First, we acknowledge our sinfulness and inability to save ourselves, and then (the other side of the coin) we turn to Christ in faith as the only means of salvation.

(3) Then there is a repentance that deals with some spiritual issue in the Christian life in which repentance is a change of mind concerning the path we are following and is equivalent to confession of specific sins with a view to spiritual change, pursuing the path of godliness. This is the usage in these letters.

The Issue: Either we repent of our worldliness, acknowledge its presence and evil and commit to moving in a godly direction, or we face divine discipline and the loss of our light bearing capacity—our very purpose for existence as a church. It appears they did. A Christian church has continued into modern times in the modern city of Bergama.

The Solution: The Christian needs to live in the Word, the two-edged sword, which penetrates and transforms us by the renewing of the mind with the mind of Christ (Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Cor. 2:16). This includes keeping our focus on eternal treasures (Matt. 6:19f; 1 Pet. 1:12f). The alternative is divine discipline on the basis of that same Word, which, if neglected, results in our discipline according to the warnings and principles of Scripture (John 15:1f; Heb. 12:5f).

This warning is immediately followed by a special exhortation and assurance.

The Challenge and Assurance
(2:17)

The Challenge

“He who has an ear …” is again an appeal to the individual for spiritual change. Spiritual change in a church has to begin with the individual.

“To him who overcomes …” Here is God’s challenge to believers to overcome by faith in the Savior’s victory and provision. Specifically, overcoming in this context meant to refuse to eat of things sacrificed to idols and to remain sexually pure, to avoid fornication, and remain distinct and separate from the world. While initial faith that is genuine brings one into union with Christ, it is the continuation of an active faith from living in the Word, feeding on the things of Christ, that overcomes and leads us into the abundance and sufficiency of Christ’s life with great reward both now and in the future.

The Assurance

    The Hidden Manna

“The hidden manna” is literally, “of the manna, the hidden.” It is a restrictive attributive which defines the distinctive identity of the manna. With this construction, there is some emphasis on the hidden character of the manna. In the Old Testament, the manna stood for God’s faithfulness to provide and sustain His people through the wilderness wanderings in place of the leeks, melons, garlic, and onions of their old life in Egypt, an apt picture for the world system. As a memorial to God’s faithfulness, a portion of the manna was placed and thus hidden in the Ark of the Covenant (Ex. 16:32-34; Heb. 9:4). Trench calls our attention to the fact that it was after this manna was laid up in the Ark that it obtained the name, “hidden.”46

Manna was also called, “food from heaven” (Ps. 78:24). In John 6:48-51, the Lord spoke of Himself as the true bread from heaven that gives eternal life in contrast with the manna in the Old Testament. He said, “your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died” (John 6:49). While the manna sustained their physical life for a time, it was only a picture of the one who would come and who would give life and life abundant (John 10:10).

From the use of manna in Scripture and from the nature of the promises to the overcomer, I would suggest there is a two-fold meaning and application here:

(1) It has a present meaning or application. It refers to the sufficiency of the person and work of Jesus Christ as He is revealed in the Word which the world does not know or see since the natural man does not see or discern the things of Christ (1 Cor. 2:14). Therefore, believers need to daily feed upon His life in the Word for daily sustenance and blessing (cf. Heb. 3:7f). This and this alone can make us fruitful believers, and provide true happiness and stability of life, something which the allurements of the world simply cannot give.

(2) It has a future meaning. The promise of manna looked forward to a greater capacity to enjoy all the manifold blessings and glories of the kingdom in the presence of Christ that would come to the overcomer who refused to eat of the things sacrificed to idols.

    A White Stone

By repeating “I will give,” there is an emphasis on the grace of the Savior and the second gift is highlighted as distinct from the first. Though rewards are promised for faithfulness, they are still a matter of the grace of God for it is by His grace and strength that we experience the capacity for faithfulness.

“A white stone.” This is perhaps the most difficult to interpret of all the rewards mentioned in chapters 2 and 3 because of the various uses of white stones and because no other passage tells us anything about white stones.

Stones were used in the secret societies as amulets of protection and by judges who determined a verdict by placing a white and black stone in an urn. If the white one came out it meant acquittal of all charges. But, since there will be no need of protection in eternity and because I believe these are rewards to believers who already stand acquitted, justified in Christ, neither of these seem to fit with what John had in mind.

“Stone” is pshfos and may be used to designate a precious stone, like a diamond. This idea is supported in this verse by the word leukos which may mean more than just white, and can be equivalent to “splendid, shining,” or even, “glistening.” Compare the following verses which support this interpretation (Matt. 17:2; Rev. 3:4, 5; 6:11; 7:9, 13; 19:14). Some seek to connect it in some way to the promise of the hidden manna, the Ark of the Covenant, and the priesthood. They see it as a diamond which corresponds to the Urim and Thummim worn by the high priest and would speak of special priestly prerogatives and access into the very presence of God. Others see an analogy to the stone awarded to victorious gladiators or warriors when they returned from battle. It would be much like a ‘well done’ for service rendered.

There was also a custom in John’s day in which special stones were given which entitled the bearer to special hospitality and friendship. As you can see, there were many customs and several possibilities for the meaning of the stone. Whatever, it clearly symbolized special blessing and privilege that will be given to those believers who overcomer the influx of the world on their lives.

    A New Name

“A new name which no one knows …” Here the Lord promises us a special name. Why? It could show intimacy and God’s personal love and concern for each one of us, but as a special reward for believers who overcome, it probably has a different significance.

It undoubtedly demonstrates something of the character of the overcomer or something of his new responsibilities or both. Abram’s name was changed to Abraham to portray the fact that he was to become the father of a multitude. Jacob, which means supplanter, was changed to Israel, the one over whom God would henceforth rule. Unstable Simon became Peter the little rock. Similarly, the overcoming believer is promised a new name which may show something of what God has accomplished in his or her life through a walk of faith in faithfulness.

The custom of giving a new name to mark a new status was known in the heathen world as well. The name of the first of the Roman Emperors was Octavius; but when he became the first of the Emperors he was given the name Augustus. This very name marked his new status; he was now unique and superhuman and more than man.47

The significance of a new name, then, would not be lost on readers living in John’s day since only recently the title of the Roman emperor had been changed. Thus, the new name to be awarded faithful believers was an assurance that they would one day be elevated to a position superior even to that of Augustus. The gift of this new name marks the believer’s entrance to a new and higher stage of responsibility symbolizing new and greater authority. Regardless of the meaning, for our day when we are often identified by an impersonal number, it highlights the fact we are not just impersonal numbers, but those who are personally known and loved by God.


45 Charles C. Ryrie, So Great Salvation, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1989, p. 92.

46 Trench, Epistles to the Seven Churches.

47 William Barclay, The Revelation of John, Vol. 1, The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, p. 122.

Ad Category: 
Passage: 
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

6. The Message to Thyatira (Rev 2:18-29)

“The Church in Compromise”

The City and Its Affairs
(2:18a)

Thyatira was smaller than Pergamum and 40 miles southeast, but it too was another city in the Roman province of Asia, in the west of what is now Asiatic Turkey. It passed under Roman rule in 133 B.C. and was an important point in the Roman road system, for it lay on the road from Pergamum to Laodicea.

It was also an important center of manufacture; dyeing, garment-making, pottery and brass-working are among the trades known to have existed there. A large town (Akhisar) still stands on the same site.

The Thyatiran woman Lydia, the ‘seller of purple’ whom Paul met at Philippi (Acts 16:14), was probably the overseas agent of a Thyatiran manufacturer; she may have been arranging the sale of dyed woolen goods which were known simply by the name of the dye. This ‘purple’ was obtained from the madder root, and was still produced in the district, under the name ‘Turkey red,’ into the present century.48

Because of its industry, the city was known for its trade guilds, or organized groups and associations for potters, tanners, dyers and bronze workers. It was particularly known for its wool and dying industry as illustrated in the life of Lydia, a distributor of the purple garments for which this city was famous (Acts 16:14). These guilds created a tremendous problem because it was extremely hard for a merchant to pursue his or her trade without belonging to one of these guilds. To belong to these guilds put a Christian in a compromising position because of the pressure from the guilds to participate in their pagan, idolatrous feasts. “Each guild had its own patron deity, feasts, and seasonal festivities that included sexual revelries.”49

Some of the symbols in the letter to the church (Rev. 2:18-29) seem to allude to the circumstances of the city. The description of the Christ (v. 18) is appropriate for a city renowned for its brass-working (chalkolibanos, translated ‘fine brass’, may be a technical term for some local type of brassware). The terms of the promise (vv. 26-27) may reflect the long military history of the city.50

This church may portray the period of the church during the middle ages and the time of the papacy.

The Christ, The Author and Answer
(2:18b)

Again, we are pointed to the Lord Jesus as the issue and answer to every need and problem in life, no matter where we live and what our conditions. Walvoord writes:

In keeping with what follows, Christ is introduced as the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. This description of Christ is similar to that in 1:13-15, but here He is called the Son of God rather than the Son of Man. The situation required reaffirmation of His deity and His righteous indignation at their sins. The words “burnished bronze,” which describe His feet, translate a rare Greek word chalkoliban, also used in 1:15. It seems to have been an alloy of a number of metals characterized by brilliance when polished. The reference to His eyes being “like blazing fire” and the brilliant reflections of His feet emphasize the indignation and righteous judgment of Christ.51

Obviously, this description of our Lord stresses His authority in discipline and judgment as the Son of God, an expression found only here in the book, and the penetrating power of His knowledge along with the swiftness of His judgment. Thyatira was standing in idolatrous compromise and allowing a false authority to supplant the authority of Christ.

The Church and Its Affairs
(2:19-23)

The Commendation or Approval (19)

As the One who has infinite knowledge of all the affairs of His people, this church is commended for its works and service, and for the fact this had even increased. But please note a contrast which has a special lesson for us. Ephesus had a godly zeal for sound doctrine and holiness (2:12), but she was lacking in devotion and love to Christ—cold orthodoxy.

Thyatira had a definite and even greater ministry of service and endurance, one that seemed to be motivated by faith and love (cf. vs. 19), but Thyatira lacked on the side of zeal for sound doctrine, moral purity, holiness of life, and zeal against false teaching and practice. Obviously, the church needs to have both, it needs a balance or it must eventually lose its testimony and capacity for ministry.

The Condemnation or Ailment (20-23)

The church is strongly rebuked for tolerating a false prophetess with her teaching which promoted immorality and idolatry. She was evidently teaching that a believer’s freedom in Christ allowed them to not only belong to the trade guilds, but to participate in the immoral and idolatrous feasts that very often included cultic prostitution.

Jezebel refers to a literal woman who falsely claimed prophetic powers and who had somehow taken a position of leadership, perhaps because of her unusual gifts. Her actual name was probably not Jezebel, but she was a virtual Jezebel in her actions (1 Kings 16:31-33; 2 Kings 9:30-37). As the Jezebel of the Old Testament enticed God’s servants to abandon their loyalty to the Lord and to participate in her idolatrous practices, so this woman of Thyatira was enticing Christians to abandon their loyalty to Christ and a separated life. Her teaching was probably similar to that of the Nicolaitans.

In His grace, the Lord gave her time to repent, but she had no time nor interest in it. The fact she was called Jezebel suggests she not only was a false prophetess, but an unbeliever. The issue here then was a call to repent in the sense of changing her mind about her present evil course and condition and about her need of Christ so that she would turn to Him in faith.

Verse 22 refers to her judgment for failure to repent. While this refers to a literal judgment God would bring upon this woman, it also forms a prophecy of the Lord’s judgment on those churches which follow her adulterous ways.

“Bed of sickness” forms a sharp contrast between her luxurious and licentious couch of immorality and the pain of God’s divine judgment that awaited her for her rebellion.

“And those who … into great tribulation” simply refers to the severe judgment God would bring on her followers. It should not be taken as a reference to the future unprecedented time spoken of in Matthew 24:21 and literally called, “the tribulation, the great one” in Revelation 7:14.

The adultery mentioned here includes both spiritual adultery (idolatry), and physical adultery (fornication in cultic prostitution). This is the only place adultery is indicated. The fact adultery constitutes a violation of the marriage vow could indicate that some of those who had been seduced by this Jezebel’s teaching were believers, those who had been betrothed to Christ as His bride (cf. 2 Cor. 11:2; Jam. 4:4).

“Unless they repent of her deeds.” Note the change from “they” to “her.” This stresses that their deeds of immorality were really the product of her teaching, example, and error. It reminds us of what a great responsibility those in places of leadership have (cf. Luke 6:40; Jam. 3:1), but also of how we need to be sure that the lives and teaching of our leaders truly line up with the Word of God.

Verse 23 gives the effects. But we need to distinguish between two groups seen in the church at Thyatira. Compare “And I will kill her children” with verse 24 “But I say to you …” In verse 24 the Lord addresses the faithful remnant, those who would not tolerate her and who rejected both her doctrine and her practice. In verse 23, He speaks about those who followed her.

Some see these as unbelievers, mere professing Christians who were totally entangled in her doctrine and practice, but that they were unbelievers seems to me to be an unnecessary assumption as suggested by the use of the term “adultery” and in view of the problems at Corinth (1 Cor. 10-11). Certainly, some may have been only professing Christians, but others were likely to have been true believers, people who had put their faith in Christ, but who had been seduced by this woman’s trickery, and who refused to listen to the truth on this matter so as to repent of their actions.

First, there were those who tolerated her (verse 20). In other words, they rejected her teaching, refused to follow her, and refused to commit fornication and to eat things sacrificed to idols. But, contrary to the believers in Ephesus, they refused to deal with her through church discipline. What she was teaching was clearly license versus true Christian liberty. This teaching was contrary to Scripture, but they tolerated her presence rather than deal with the problem.

Second, there were those who were her children—her spiritual progeny. These are referred to in verses 20b-23. Evidently, these were those who accepted her teaching and, like Ahab who was influenced by Jezebel of old, followed her example by participating in the activities of the labor guilds which meant involvement in eating things sacrificed to idols and fornication. Some of these could have been true believers who were judged and died the sin unto physical death (1 Cor. 11:28-32; 1 John 5:16-17).

The Counsel and Admonition
(2:24-25)

Verse 24. This counsel is to those believers who will hear, repent and break off the compromise. “The deep things of Satan” in verse 24 most likely refers to the false doctrine being taught. They taught moral evil and that its experience was necessary to truly appreciate good. Note the words “as they call them.” They were evidently teaching license as good and bragging about the debts of their sin.

No other burden, i.e., command is placed upon them—they were only to reject Jezebel, and avoid immorality and idolatry. They were then told to hold fast to what they had. This is no minor warning. The tendency of believers is to lose ground rather than hold fast and move ahead.

In verse 25 the words, “what you have, hold fast until I come,” warns against the universal principle that things always tend to degenerate rather regenerate. It’s much like the second law of thermodynamics which simply put says, life goes from order to disorder and not vice versa. Things naturally go downhill unless there is great effort against those forces that, like gravity, tend to pull us downward. So there is always the need to cling to the Lord and hold tightly through a close walk with Him in the Word, regardless of the many blessing we possess in Christ and where we are in our spiritual journey, babe in Christ or mature (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1-13; Phil. 3:12-14).

The Challenges and Assurances
(2:26-28)

Verse 26 speaks of the promises and assurances to the overcomer.

“The overcomer,” as suggested previously, refers to those believers who overcome the specific challenges of these verses and are rewarded for their faithfulness. This is suggested by the exhortation to hold fast in verse 25 and by the words, “who keeps My deeds until the end,” in verse 26.

“And he who keeps My deeds.” “My deeds” undoubtedly refers to Christ’s way of life and to obedience to NT principles and imperatives. To keep Christ’s deeds means to experience Christ’s life and character in contrast to Jezebel’s works. Keeping His deeds is a result of overcoming through the walk of faith and daily fellowship or the abiding life. We must remember that Christ is not calling us to overcome in our own strength, which is really weakness, but to appropriate His strength and power through the knowledge of the Word and by faith. The issue is that of Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” But overcoming is also the basis for special rewards like positions of authority and responsibility the Lord promises believers in the millennial kingdom like authority over nations, etc. Undoubtedly, it is because we overcome in His strength and grace and never by our own strength that we find the elders, representatives of the body of Christ, casting their victors’ stefonos) crowns, (emblems of rewards) before the throne (see Rev. 4:10-11).

Verse 27. After mentioning authority over the nations, the Lord Jesus immediately speaks of return and promises He will return, rule, and reign to remind the overcomers that they will share in all of this with Him at second advent to earth. All believers will be in the reign of Christ and in the kingdom, but not all will share in that reign in the sense of verse 26.

“The Morning Star” is referred to in three passages:

(1) In Revelation 22:16 it is a reference to the Lord Himself.

(2) In 2 Pet. 1:19 is seems to be a reference to the fuller understanding we will receive at the return of the Lord for the church when the Lord is personally present to enlighten us.

(3) In Rev. 2:28 (our passage) the context suggests that in some way it relates to the overcomers and their reward in ruling with the Savior. Perhaps it is the assurance of His presence and provision to be able to handle the authority given over the nations assigned. As a promise to the overcomer, the one who keeps the Lord’s deeds to the end, it can hardly be a symbol of Christ’s return since all believers will share in His return regardless of their spiritual state. Paul teaches us a similar truth in 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11. The Apostle shows us that all believers, whether awake (spiritually alert and sober) or asleep (spiritually out of fellowship), will be delivered from the coming wrath of the Tribulation and taken up to be with the Lord if they are living on earth when He returns. It is significant that the words Paul uses for awake and asleep have a moral connotation and are different words entirely from those used in chapter 4:13-17.

More than likely, the key to the meaning of the morning star is found in Revelation 22:16 which says, “I am the root and offspring of David, the bright morning star.” Literally, the text says as in 2:28, “the star, the morning one.” This means the brilliant or bright one, the brightest of all the stars. Note: this links Jesus with the throne of David and describes Christ as the star. Jesus is descended from the royal line of David and is the star, the King himself, who was prophesied in Numbers 24:14-19 as the star who would come out of Jacob and possess the scepter.

The Lord is promising the overcomer that he will share His royalty and splendor as the morning star. First, the Lord said that the overcomer would be given a dominion like His own (cf. 2:27b, “as I have received authority from My Father”), and so here in 2:28, the overcomer will be given a rule and splendor like that of the Lord’s. In this promise, the Lord promises a dominion and a splendor just like His own.

Verse 29 again repeats the familiar call to hear, a call that goes beyond this one church to all the churches. Only here as in all the rest of the messages, the call to hear follows the promises to the overcomers whereas in the previous three letters, it precedes it. Again we see the personal and loving concern of the Spirit of God for His people and His desire that we all respond in faith and obedience.


48 The New Bible Dictionary, Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 1962, electronic media.

49 Alan Johnson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, Frank E. Gaebelein, general editor, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1981, p. 443.

50 New Bible Dictionary.

51 John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Scripture Press, Wheaton, IL, 1983, 1985, electronic media.

Ad Category: 
Passage: 
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

7. The Message to Sardis (Rev 3:1-6)

“Deadness in the Church”

The City and the Assembly
(3:1a)

The City of Sardis

Sardis was a city exceedingly fabled for its past wealth and splendor, but it had deteriorated greatly. Its greatness lay in the past. Sardis had, at one time, been considered to be impregnable because of its ideal physical arrangement and topography for defense. It sat on a hill or mountain surrounded by steep cliffs almost impossible to scale with only one narrow way of approach. Yet Sardis had been attacked and conquered twice because of its arrogance manifested in its lack of watchfulness (3:2-3). The city was also famous for its woolen, textile, and jewelry industry.

Sardis was devoted to the worship of the mother-goddess Cybele and no temple worshipper was allowed to approach the temple of the gods with soiled or unclean garments. A white and clean robe was required to approach its so-called gods. Yet note the following account of the actual moral conditions of this idolatry. Andrew Tate writes,

Her worship was of the most debasing character and orgies like those of Dionysos were practiced at the festivals held in her honour. Sins of the foulest and darkest impurity were committed on those occasions; and when we think of a small community of Christians rescued from such abominable idolatry, living in the midst of scenes of the grossest depravity, with early associations, and companionships, and connections, all exerting a force in the direction of heathenism, it may be wondered that the few members of the church in Sardis were not drawn away altogether, and swallowed up in the great vortex.52

From this, you can see the obvious allusions to the historical setting in the Lord’s words in 3:4-5.

The Church of Sardis

Though filled with external works and activity, this church is known as the sleeping church. As Paul put it in 2 Timothy 3:5, they had a form of godliness, but, because of their failure to walk with the Lord, they were denying the real power of God through their hypocrisy. They were out of touch with elements of true spirituality. Some may have been only professing Christians engaged in religious activities who had never truly trusted in Jesus Christ. More than likely, however, they were carnal believers who had made a good start, but had failed to move on, to grow and experience true spirituality. They were active, engaged in works, but temporally dead, out of fellowship with Christ (Eph. 5:14-18).

The Christ, the Author and Answer
(3:1b)

The answer, as always, is centered in Who Christ is—The Savior who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars. These two aspects of Christ’s ministry to the church are brought immediately to the forefront because they give us the key to both the problem of this church and its solution.

The Seven Spirits of God

“The seven Spirits of God” is a reference to the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son to the believer (John 7:37-39; 15:16, 26). He is the Son’s gift to enable believers to experience genuine spirituality through the multiple ministries and work of the Spirit symbolized here in the number seven which is a clear allusion to the seven-fold ministries of the Spirit mentioned in Isaiah 11:2-5. But believers have a responsibility to walk by the Spirit who indwells them. The responsibility is to walk by faith in His enabling power and to deal with the sin in their lives through honest confession or they will hinder (grieve and quench) the work of the Spirit. So part of the problem was the believers in the church at Sardis were grieving and quenching the ministry of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19).

The Seven Stars

In the introduction I shared my reasons why I, along with many others, have believed the seven stars referred to the spiritual leadership which is primarily responsible to hold forth the light of the Word to the local flock of believers. Here, it appears, was another key area of weakness; the failure to communicate and receive the Word in a consistent and an in-depth way with personal application and response of the mind, heart and will. Therefore, the two life-giving provisions of God for man—the Holy Spirit and the Word—were being neglected. The result was spiritual deadness (Zech. 4:6; Heb. 4:12; Eph. 3:16-19; 1 Thess. 2:13).

The Church and its Affairs
(3:1c-6)

The Condemnation Declared (1c)

As with all the churches, the Lord declares, “I know your deeds.” That which is invisible to men is perfectly clear to the Lord who is in the business of revealing our true condition regardless of how spiritual we may think we are. He uses His Word, the convicting work of the Spirit, and other agents (trials and members of the body of Christ) as mirrors of reproof to show us our need and draw us to Himself. The question is, as He will challenge us in verse 6, do we have eyes to see and ears to hear?

So, in the very next words, we see a rude awakening and reality:

  • We see that they had a name, a reputation—what men thought.
  • We see they were alive, that is, they were an active church full of programs and church activity—what men see.
  • But, regardless, they were dead, without true spiritual vitality—what the Lord saw and knew.

The point is they had a reputation, they were known far and wide, and they were active, filled with activity, action, and programs, just like a great deal of the church today all across America. By the world’s standards they were successful and they were probably proud of their church, but our Lord says not so, “you are dead.” So what does He mean by “dead?”

In Scripture, death stands for the concept of separation as well as the absence of life.

  • For the unbeliever, death means without spiritual life, unregenerate, and without God—separated from relationship with God.
  • But for the believer, death, like sleep, is sometimes used as a symbol for carnality, for being out of fellowship with God, separated from Christ as the source of the abundant life (Eph. 5:14).

Some could have been only professing believers, and so they were spiritually dead, just professing believers involved in an active church. But I don’t think that is the emphasis here. He was talking to true believers who were spiritually carnal and working from the energy of their own resources rather than from His (the Word and the Holy Spirit).

This is a warning. A church is in danger of death:

  • when it begins to worship its own past or history, its reputation or name, or the names in the church,
  • when it is more concerned with forms than with function and life,
  • when it is more concerned with numbers and noses, than with the spiritual quality of life it is producing in its people,
  • when it is more involved with management than with ministry or with the physical over the spiritual.

This illustrates the problem of institutionalism in the church, but today, we also have a new scenario that can be a part of this picture, the megachurch which has become a part of American jargon with megabucks, megatrends, and the megamall. Our megamalls have been styled as “cathedrals of consumption” because they are designed to feed the consumer appetites of our lifestyle today. But if we are not careful, churches can become “cathedrals of consumption” as well.

The Counsel Advised (2-3)

“Be watchful.” We could translate this, “become and stay awake” or “get awake.” By the analogy of Scripture this was a command for believers to get back into fellowship, i.e., to repent or confess their sin and start walking in the Spirit and in the light of the Word (Eph. 5:14-18).

For the unbeliever or the merely apparent believer, this becomes a call to become genuine with Christ, to put one’s faith in the Savior (cf. 1 Thess. 5:4-8).

“And strengthen the things that remain.” Strengthen is an aorist imperative of the verb sthrizw which means “to strengthen, make stable, firm.” The aspect of the verb (an aorist imperative in the Greek) carries the idea of urgency like, do it now, before it is too late. This is basically a command to get with God’s plan for spiritual stabilization and strength. And what is that? A life in the Word. If you have any doubt about that, spend some time reading and meditating on Psalm 119.

Note the following verses where sthrizw is used:

(1) Romans 1:11, compare this with Luke 22:32 (Christ’s warning and command to Peter) and John 21:15-17. Here is the principle of pastors and teachers strengthening believers by feeding the lambs and the sheep with the Word.

(2) Romans 16:25-26. Here we have the principle of believers receiving the Word in the assembly as well as from personal study.

“The things which remain.” When people stop operating from the base of God’s Word and from the power of His Spirit, spiritual decline always begins. It’s a kind of law of spiritual degeneration. But even in such a state there is at first some semblance of what is right in a man’s life—good habits, traditions and actions, a remembrance of morality, even though people forget the source. Remember, the church of Ephesus had good works (Rev. 2:2), even though it appears they too lacked the right spiritual source when we compare them with 1 Thess. 1:4, but eventually even this was lost because Ephesus failed to go back to do the first works.

Even human good is better than evil and God uses such morality to benefit society and even His own church. This is one of the purposes of good government, to restrain evil and promote good. Morality in parents helps to produce the same in their children. But the point is, without the proper spiritual base and the absolute guide of Bible doctrine even this will be finally lost. So, He quickly warns, “which were about to die.”

“For I have not found your deeds completed …” “Perfect” is the verb plhrow which may mean “to fill, make full,” or “complete.” The verb is in the perfect tense which means its aspect (how the writer perceives its verbal action or state) is stative, resultative, or completed. It conceives the verbal idea as completed, or as completed with continuing results and looks at an existing condition. The word “complete” refers to “the deeds” done. This is what was incomplete or not completed. But does this mean they need more works, or that there was something incomplete about the works accomplished, or both? The context suggests both, but perhaps the focus is on the second, a missing element in their deeds. Their works were incomplete in that they lacked the proper source and motive. They had not measured up to God’s standards. They were not Spirit produced and could not stand the test of His examination. At the judgment seat of Christ they would fall under the category of wood, hay and stubble (1 Cor. 3:12-15). They were imperfect either in quality (works of the flesh) or they were imperfect in content.

“Remember therefore what you have received (perfect aspect) and heard (aorist)” (3:3). This represents faith and the truth they had received as a trust and the perfect aspect of the verb “received” calls attention to the abiding responsibility incumbent upon the receiver.

“And keep it, and repent.” Compare this verse with Colossians 2:6 and 1 Thessalonians 2:13. They were to remember the early days of their life in the Word, when the Word was received by faith and was their source of strength and wisdom for all of life. This former life of faith they were to keep, to hold fast to continually, but it was also vital that they repent carefully because a true change of mind and heart is necessary for a genuine and consistent walk with the Lord (Prov. 4:23, 26).

The Commendation Stated (4a)

They are comforted and commended because there were a few who had not fallen into the above condemnation.

“Soiled garments” speaks of the contamination of the life and witness by accommodation to the standards of the world prevalent in any society. More precisely, it refers to the unrighteousness of men in immorality, apostasy, idolatry, or of their own religious works of righteousness in mere external religion and legalism (Isa. 64:6; John 6:63).

The Certainties Promised (4b-5)

They are next comforted and assured by calling their attention to certain verities or certainties that the Lord promises to every believer in Christ. The certainties come in three distinct parts: (a) arrayed in white garments, (b) name not to be blotted out, and (c) their name confessed before His Father.

    The White Garments (5a)

“Walking with Christ in white” is a reward for faithfulness. Note that the reason given in 3:4 is stated in the words, “for (the causal use of %oti, “because”) they are worthy.” The worthiness here is linked to the fact that these were believers “who have not defiled their garments.” This shows us that walking with Him in white is a reward for personal righteousness or deeds of righteousness. Note also how this fits with Revelation 19:8. Walking in white must refer to the white garment of fine linen mentioned in Revelation 19:8. There we are told the bride of Christ (the church) is “… to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean.” This is then declared to be the righteous acts of the saints, a reference to deeds or acts of righteousness produced in the life of the believer by the Holy Spirit because only these deeds will stand the test of the Judgment (Bema) Seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:13).

No person is ever worthy of salvation righteousness. Justification, or salvation righteousness, is a gift given through faith in the finished work of Christ. It is based on His worthiness and record, not ours (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:4-7), but the white garment mentioned in 3:5 is related to the garment of 3:4 and is given as a reward for a worthy walk. While some writers assume that all Christians will wear these white garments in the kingdom, this verse teaches us that only overcoming believers, those who haven’t defiled their garments (verse 4), will wear these particular garments representative of the righteous acts of the saints in the kingdom.

    His Name Never to be Erased (5b)

In verse 5, the overcomer is also promised he can never have his name erased from the Book of life. Could this suggest the possibility of the loss of salvation? Such a concept is totally contrary to the analogy of the faith in the New Testament which teaches us all believers are kept secure by the power of God and the finished work of Christ (cf. John 10:28-29; Rom. 8:38-39). As Charles Stanley so aptly put it, “Does it make any sense to say that salvation is offered as a solution for our sin and then to turn around and teach that salvation can be taken away because of our sin as well?”53

Because so many do not understand the nature of salvation as a finished work of God in Christ and are insecure in their faith, verses such as this are misunderstood as suggesting the possibility of the loss of salvation, or as a proof for the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. This results in a fixation on what the verse does not say rather than on what it is saying in the context biblically, historically, and culturally. This verse was never intended as a warning. Instead, it is a promise of encouragement in view of the historical setting of John’s day. To say that verse 5 suggests the possibility of losing salvation is at best, an argument from silence.

If we understand the promise of 3:5 in its historical and contextual context, we will find that it is not dealing with the issue of losing or proving salvation at all. By the use of a figure of speech known as litotes (an affirmation expressed in negative terms), we have an emphatic declaration that stresses the certainty of the promise. In other words, a positive point is made by denying its opposite. This not only stresses the security of the believer—for every believer’s name is written in the book of life—but is a way of promising something special to the overcomer in the kingdom and eternal future. Bob Wilkin, who agrees with this view, quotes William Fuller and writes:

William Fuller, who defends this understanding of Rev 3:5, writes, “A command that everyone keeps is superfluous, and a reward that everyone receives for a virtue that everyone has is nonsense.” The eternal-rewards interpretation takes the command seriously, views the reward as a powerful motivation to obedience, and doesn’t distort the Gospel!54

Tatford also interprets Revelation 3:5 in a similar way when he writes,

Practically every city of that day kept a role or register of its citizens … one who had performed some great exploit, deserving of special distinction, was honoured by having his name inscribed in golden letters in the citizens’ roll. Our Lord’s emphatic statement, therefore, implies not merely that the name of the overcomer shall not be expunged, but per contra that it shall be inscribed in golden letters in the heavenly roll.55

There is even evidence that a person’s name was sometimes removed from the city register before death if he had been convicted of a crime.56 When these messages were written, Christians were under the constant threat of being branded as social rebels and stripped of their citizenship if they refused to recant or denounce their faith in Christ. So here, as a source of motivation and encouragement, the Lord personally reminds the overcomer not only of the safety of his heavenly citizenship, but of the special acknowledgment the Lord Himself will give before the Father and before His angels.

    His Name Confessed Before the Father and His Angels (5c)

As just indicated, this promise is related to the previous promise and may really be a part of that promise. It is likewise not dealing with salvation, but with reward by way of an accolade, a special acknowledgment or public recognition for faithfulness. Again we need to keep in mind the historical background mentioned above. Though the overcomer may experience blame and ridicule and loss of citizenship before the world because he or she refuses to follow after the world or bow to its threats, the overcomer will experience special reward in the form of public recognition. Undoubtedly, special accolades like, “well done, you good and faithful servant,” is in mind.

The Challenge Needed (6)

See the preceding studies for the nature of this challenge to have ears to hear.

Some final lessons:

(1) The means for living the Christian life so vital for spiritual reality is a knowledge and a careful application of the Word through the various ministries of the Spirit (vs. 1).

(2) The signs of a successful church, one truly in touch with God is not names, noses, and numbers, but Christlikeness. How much do the people of the church demonstrate the Savior in their personal lives, in their families, in their values, priorities, ministry, etc.? It is never just activity or works or size or reputation. Activities and reputations by themselves are never a proof of true spirituality.

(3) Genuine godliness is the foundation of moral goodness. Moral goodness is always incomplete and on the verge of degeneration without godliness through the Spirit and the Word with its absolute truth.

(4) God is always faithful to reward His people for their faithfulness to Him. Salvation is by faith alone, sola fide, in Christ alone, but rewards are the product of overcoming faith in the life of Christ appropriated in the Christian’s life.


52 Andrew Tate, The Messages to the Seven Churches of Asia Minor, p. 299, quoted by Walvoord in The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Moody Press, Chicago, 1966, p. 79.

53 Charles Stanley, Eternal Security, Can You Be Sure? Thomas Nelson, Nashville, 1990, p. 181.

54 J. William Fuller, “I Will Not Erase His Name from the Book of Life (Rev 3:5),” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (Sept. 1983), p. 299, quoted by Bob Wilkin, Grace Evangelical News, March, 1995.

55 Fredk. A. Tatford, Prophecy’s Last Word, p. 63.

56 Alan Johnson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, Frank E. Gaebelein, general editor, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1981, p. 450.

Ad Category: 
Biblical Topics: 
Passage: 
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

8. The Message to Philadelphia (Rev 3:7-13)

“The Church of the Open Door”

The City and the Assembly
(3:7a)

Philadelphia, which means “brotherly love,” was situated in Lydia along the Hermus River valley about 38 miles southeast of Sardis. It was backed by volcanic cliffs and though the land was rich and fertile from the volcanic residue, Philadelphia was a dangerous place to live due the many earthquakes experienced by the region. Because of its location, the city was in constant danger of earthquakes and experienced shocks as an everyday occurrence according to Strabo. As a result, many of its inhabitants chose to live in huts outside the city in the open country. Note the allusion to this in the promise of 3:12, “and he will not go out from it any more.” Like Athens, Philadelphia was a temple warden and gave to the emperor the title “The Son of the Holy One.” It is undoubtedly for this reason the Lord is called, “He who is holy, who is true” in verse 7.

Barclay points out another important historical feature about this city and one also alluded to in the statements of the message to the church there:

Philadelphia was founded for a special purpose and with a special intention. It was situated where the borders of Mysia, Lydia and Phrygia met. It was a border town. But it was not as a garrison town that Philadelphia was founded, for there was little danger there. It was founded with the deliberated intention that it might be a missionary of Greek culture and the Greek language to Lydia and Phrygia; and so well did it to its work that by A.D. 19 the Lydians had forgotten their own Lydian language and were all but Greeks … That is what the Risen Christ means when he speaks of the open door that is set before Philadelphia. Three centuries before Philadelphia had been given an open door to spread Greek ideas in the lands beyond; and now there has come to it another great missionary opportunity, an open door to carry to men who never knew it the message of the love of Jesus Christ.57

The symbols of the ‘crown’ and the ‘temple’ mentioned in verses 11 and 12 are undoubtedly allusions by way of contrast with the games and religious festivals that were a part of life in the city of Philadelphia. In contrast with the instability of life in a city prone to daily earthquakes, those who ‘overcome’ are promised the ultimate stability of being rewarded with special privileges in the temple of God. This church may picture the modern missionary era of church history.

The Christ, the Author and Answer
(3:7b)

Once again our risen Lord presents Himself in an aspect of His person and work which is fitting to the needs and problems of the assembly to ever remind us of the sufficiency of His life.

“He who is holy” asserts the Savior’s deity as the absolutely righteous One, the One totally set apart from sin. In Isaiah 40:25, Yahweh calls Himself “The Holy One.” It is a title of deity and contrasts Him with the claims of Emperor worship.

“Who is true.” “True” is the Greek word alhqinos. It means “the real, the genuine, the ideal,” and stands opposed to what is false and to what is only a picture or type of the real.

First He is the One of whom all the Old Testament spoke. There we find only pictures and shadows, but He is the reality and the substance (Col. 2:16-17).

Second, this places Him in contrast to all the deceptions of the world and the false and futile answers it offers to man. God’s answer for man is Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).

“Who has the key of David.” In Revelation 1:18 the keys speak of Christ’s power to give salvation and victory over death and the unseen Satanic world which tenaciously tries to hold men under the dominion of sin and death (Heb. 2:14). Here, however, the key speaks of (1) His royal claims as Lord and Head of David’s house. It anticipates and looks to His rule and kingdom on earth. (2) But it also reminds us of His royal authority or sovereignty even now over heaven and earth (Matt. 28:19).

By way of application let us remember this. When men by their arrogance and ecclesiastical or political position and actions would strive to shut out true Bible believing believers from effective service, we need to remember His power and authority. Men may bind us, as they did John and Paul, but God’s Word is not bound (2 Tim. 2:9). But further, when we think we must compromise God’s principles of the ministry and resort to human gimmicks, Madison Avenue techniques, or any kind of worldly means to accomplish spiritual objectives or as the keys to open doors, we need to again reflect on the truth of this passage. The Lord holds the key to opening doors to ministry as well as the door to the hearts of men. So note the following description.

“The One opening …” (3:7b) In the final analysis it is always our Lord who opens all true doors of ministry to us. This church had a little strength, i.e., they were small in numbers by man’s standards as man counts success, but this must never disturb or discourage us.

“And who shuts and no one opens …” There is also an important lesson here as believers seek God’s guidance for ministry. Paul and His missionary team had planned to minister first in Asia, but were forbidden by the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:6). Then they wanted to minister in Bithynia, but they were not permitted to minister there either (vs. 7). Instead, they were called to Macedonia. In other words, at that point at least, the Lord shut the doors to Asia and Bithynia, but opened them in other places. Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 16, Paul expressed his plans to eventually visit Corinth (16:5-7), but he carefully qualified this with “if the Lord permits” (vs. 7). However, for the moment, he was committed to staying at Ephesus to minister. Why? Because “a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries (evidently a sign to Paul of God’s hand on his work at Ephesus)” (cf. vss. 8-9). But when we turn to 2 Corinthians, we find that Paul had to change his plans in regard to Corinth due to circumstances beyond his control and the sovereign leading of the Lord, the One who opens and closes doors. The obvious lesson is that we must learn to grab the opportunities when they come, but not push and get frustrated when the Lord isn’t opening the door. For other passages using the open door image see Acts 14:27; 2 Cor. 2:12; Col. 4:3.

The Church and its Affairs
(3:8-13)

The Commendation Stated (8)

    (1) For Faithfulness with opportunities given to them

The statements of commendation flow out of the truth of Christ as the One who opens in verse 7. They were using the opportunities (the open doors) the Lord had given them as the door opener. This is implied in verse 8a. Christ knew their deeds, and so He put before them an open door of ministry. We should note that “put” of the NASB, or “set” of the KJV, or “placed” of the NIV is the perfect tense of Greek didwmi which literally means, “I give.” It is used according to context in the sense of “bestow, grant, supply, deliver, commit, and entrust.” While the idea here is clearly that of placing before the Philadelphian believers open doors of ministry, it should be noted that this word is used of entrusting something to someone for some type of stewardship: money for investment purposes (Matt. 25:14-15), the keys of the kingdom (Matt. 16:19), and someone’s care (John 6:37, 39; 17:6, 9, 12, 24; Heb. 2:13). See also Luke 19:23 where didwmi is used of putting money in the bank to gain interest. There are two points to ponder here. First, open doors of opportunities, no matter how hard we think we have worked to open the doors to this ministry or that one, are gifts from the Savior because without Him, they would not open. Second, open doors are trusts given to us for faithful stewardship just as with our spiritual gifts or our finances.

Please note: If we will be faithful to live in the fullness of His life, He will bring opportunities of service and ministry.

    (2) For spiritual competence

“You have a little power.” They were small in number by comparison to the religious and idolatrous people of the city, but, small as they were, they did have power, spiritual capacity because they were operating from the source of Christ’s life and authority.

    (3) For faithfulness to the Word

“And have kept My word.” This was the secret to their lives and ministry (Heb. 4:12). Keeping God’s Word and keeping our hearts dependent on and close to Him go hand in hand (Prov. 4:20-23). “Kept” is the Greek threw, “to watch over, guard, keep, preserve” and “give heed to, pay attention to, observe” especially of the Law, or the Word, or teaching, etc.58 Undoubtedly, both ideas are involved. They were committed to Christ’s Word or the Word about the Savior to preserve it from false ideas and adulterations, but they were also committed to observing its truth in their lives.

    (4) For attestation to their faith in Christ

“And have not denied My Name.” This speaks of their spiritual fidelity and separation from the world. Remember, one may confess the Lord with his mouth and yet, in some way, deny Him with a life that is inconsistent with the truth of Scripture or the character of Christ.

The Comfort Promised (9-11)

    (1) Comfort concerning their persecutors (9)

“Those of the synagogue of Satan.” The synagogue refers to the place of Jewish worship and study.

“Of Satan” is a genitive of possession, Satan’s synagogue, that which belongs to him. Satan was its head and the power behind the scenes. More crime, evil and persecution have been perpetrated in the name of religion and by the religious, self-righteous type than almost any other one source of evil. Religion is Satan’s trump card, and one of his primary weapons that he uses to both deceive and hurt mankind. This is what we have here. Religious persecution by religious Jews operating under Satan’s control whether they realized it or not. The Lord’s word to the religious leaders in John 8:41-47 is fitting here:

41 “You are doing the deeds of your father.” They said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me; for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. 43 Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies. 45 But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me. 46 Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? 47 He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.”

“Who say they are Jews and are not.” They were literal Jews, physical descendants of David and Abraham, but in claiming to be Jews they were also claiming to be God’s people, religious guides to the truth, and the means and access to God. The Apostle Paul comments on what constitutes a true child of Abraham in Romans 9:6-8. There he makes the clear distinction between racial Israel and regenerate Israel.

Rom. 9:6-8 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.

They were not children of God regardless of their claims and religiosity. They had rejected God’s Son and revelation of God, they were of their father the Devil, as Christ plainly told them. To be a true Jew in the biblical sense one had to have the hope and faith of Abraham. Abraham was the possessor of faith in the promises of God to him and faith in the coming Messiah.

The promise: Since faithful believers will reign with Jesus Christ and share in His throne, these persecutors will in essence have to fall down at the believer’s feet in “operation footstool” (Phil. 2:10-11, Heb. 2:13).

    (2) Comfort concerning the Tribulation (10)
    The reason for deliverance

“Because you have kept the word of my patience” (3:10a). “The Word of My patience” refers to the Word, the testimony of Scripture regarding the truth of Christ as the suffering, resurrected, and so also, the victorious Savior who endured the shame of rejection and the cross and who endures today as the resurrected and ascended Lord now sitting at God’s right hand (Heb. 1:3 with 12:1-3).

“Kept” is again the Greek threw, “to guard, watch over, protect,” or “obey, observe” as with the principles and commands of Scripture. This is a non motion verb in contrast to verbs of motion like swzw, “to save, deliver,” and lambanw, “to take.” This is important because this same word is used of the promise which follows. We will see why when we consider the promise.

But what does it mean to keep the word of His endurance? It means to be a believer, one who has trusted in the person and work of Christ who now sits at God’s right hand for us. Rather than reject this message, they had kept it by faith.

    The promise of deliverance (3:10b)

“I will also keep you from the hour of testing, …” “Testing” is the Greek peirasmos, “a trial, temptation, or testing.” The context must determine the exact meaning of the word. Here the context shows us the reference is to a very specific meaning, that of world-wide testing or tribulation.

“Hour” is metaphorical for a shortened period. Because of the clause that follows, this clearly refers to more than the general trials or testings or temptations which people today may encounter. The hour is defined in three ways:

(1) It is “the” hour of trial. The presence of the Greek article specifies this as a very specific time of testing.

(2) It is to come upon the whole world. The term translated “world” is oikoumenh, meaning “the inhabited earth,” but modifying it is the adjective, %olos, “whole, complete.” The testing is worldwide.

(3) Finally, it is designed to test a certain category of people defined as “those who dwell upon the earth.” The verb “dwell” is katoikew from kata, “down” and oikew, “dwell, live.” Katoikew means “to live, dwell, reside, settle (down),” or it can mean “inhabit.”59 The construction of the Greek (a substantival present articular participle) describes the inhabitants as those who are characterized as earth dwellers. As used in Revelation, “those who dwell upon the earth” is basically a technical term for unbelievers because they are earthdwellers, i.e., people bound only to this life and what it can give (6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 14; 17:8; Isa. 24:17f). In contrast to believers who are to think and live as sojourners or aliens, the earthdweller is quite at home on earth.

“The hour of trial,” sometimes referred to as “the Tribulation,” refers to the time of wrath or judgment described in chapters 6-19. This is the same as Daniel’s Seventieth Week (Dan. 9:27) and the time of Jacob’s trouble described by Jeremiah as unprecedented in its judgment (Jer. 30:7).

The promise:

First, note that this is not a reward to the faithful. This will come in verses 11-12. Instead, this is a promise to the church as a whole. This is clear from 3:13 which broadens this as a promise to the churches at large. All believers are to listen to these messages and their warning, exhortations, and promises and act accordingly. As in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, this is to bring comfort to the church.

Second, the promise is “I will keep you from the hour …” i.e., from the Tribulation. This is very specific and carefully described in the Greek to emphasize and clearly teach the pre-tribulation rapture of the church. The Greek words for “keep out” are threw ek meaning “out of.” There are four other ways this could have been stated if John wanted to imply that church age believers would be in the Tribulation, but none of them were used.

  • threw en = To keep in. This would be a promise of preservation in the Tribulation.
  • threw dia = to keep through. This would be a promise to keep us through the Tribulation.
  • airew ek = to take out, or swzw ek = to save out. This could mean that believers would go into the Tribulation and then be taken out of the Tribulation.
  • airew apo = to take from. This would mean that believers would go into the Tribulation and then be taken out of the Tribulation.

Rather than any of the above, John chose to use threw ek, which means “to keep out.” This is a promise that believers will never get into the Tribulation. But how? Paul describes this for us 1 Thessalonians 4:13f. We can chart it like this:

Some have tried to argue that this construction means just the opposite of the above interpretation. Gundry, for instance, in his book, The Church and the Tribulation, believes it argues for a post-tribulational emergence of the saints. He writes, “As it is, ek lays all the emphasis on emergence, in this verse on the final, victorious outcome of the keeping-guarding.”60 Although this is generally true with ek, if ek is related to a non-motion verb like threw, the idea of motion out of something is negated by the static nature of the verb. The fact then, that a motion verb like swzw is used here with ek shows the fallacy of Gundry’s argument. However, even if a verb of motion were used, it would not prove Gundry’s argument. A good illustration is 2 Corinthians 1:10 which has [email protected] ek, “delivered us from death.” Certainly Paul did not mean that God had delivered them out of death through resurrection, but that He had kept them from death.61 Another illustration of this use of ek with a verb of motion is James 5:20, “save him from (the peril) of death,” swzw plusek.

As James 5:20 and 2 Corinthians 1:10 means saved from the peril of death, i.e., from dying. So likewise 1 Thessalonians 1:10 and Rev. 3:10 means delivered from the peril of wrath, the time of testing, the Tribulation.

    (3) Comfort and admonition concerning the imminent return of the Lord (11)

His coming is promised to be “quickly.” This means “suddenly, unexpectedly, without announcement” and not necessarily soon. It implies imminency and so the charge here is to “hold fast,” a warning against spiritual carelessness and carnality. The warning reminds us to live in the light of His coming, to hold fast to Him in faith and service. For when He comes it will mean examination and rewards. He will not forget our service on His behalf, but we must hold fast to the hope and expectation of His coming for us or we will live carelessly, indifferently to our calling and purpose as believers. When that happens we lose our crowns, rewards for faithful service. So the Spirit quickly adds, “that no one take your crown.”

“That no one take your crown” is an interesting picture. To lose a crown is to be deprived of the honor or glory potentially available through faithful living.

There are two possible ideas here:

(1) It could refer to rewards which are lost and given to others because we failed to hold fast. Swete states, “‘The picture is not that of a thief snatching away what is feebly held, but rather of a competitor receiving a prize which has been forfeited.’”62 I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 9:24 where the apostle challenges us regarding rewards, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win (lit. lay hold of).” There is also the parable of Luke 19:24 where the Lord says regarding the unfaithful servant, “Take the mina away from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.”

(2) Or, it could refer to rewards lost because of the evil influences that we might allow to hinder us in the race of life (cf. Matt. 13:7, 22; Col. 2:18; 2 John 8; Rev. 2:20 with 2:25f).

Actually, both concepts are true as the above Scriptures make clear.

Certainties for the overcomer (12)

In verse 12, then, the believer who overcomes is promised three specific things:

First, he will have as a reward a special ministry as a permanent and prominent fixture in the temple of God (Eph. 2:21f). All believers are in the spiritual building and household of God (Eph. 2:21-22), but some will be pillars as special rewards. To be a pillar is a sign of special reward with a permanent position of honor and responsibilities in the millennium and eternal state. Pillars stood for stability, ornamentation, and service.

Second, he will never be removed from this place of preeminence in the eternal temple. The overcomer has a fixed eternal place of honor in the sanctuary of God. “He will not go out from it anymore.”

Third, he will have three special names: he will have written on him God’s name and the name of the new Jerusalem along with Christ’s own new name. This would all signify the priestly dignity and prominence given to the victors.

The Challenge and Admonition
(3:13)

Finally the letter is closed with the usual charge to all the churches or to the church of God at large wherever it may exist in the world to hear and take this message to heart.


57 William Barclay, The Revelation of John, Volume I, The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, p. 158.

58 G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, 3rd edition, T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1937, p. 445.

59 Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, translated by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, University of Chicago Press, electronic version.

60 Gundry, The Church and the Tribulation, p. 57.

61 Dan Wallace, Selected Notes on Syntax of the New Testament Greek, 4th edition, Dallas Theological Seminary, pp. 139-141.

62 W. R. Ross Jr., “Dallas Theological Seminary Thesis,” p. 52.

Ad Category: 
Passage: 
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

9. The Message to Laodicea (Rev 3:14-22)

“Lukewarmness in the Church”

Introduction

All of the messages to the churches of Asia are extremely practical, but perhaps none fits the conditions in both Europe and in North America as does the message to Laodicea, the church that had become so lukewarm in its deceptive self-sufficiency. Regarding this condition, MacArthur has given us an accurate picture. He writes:

One of the remarkable sidelights in the staggering political changes in Eastern Europe is the fact of a vibrant Christianity that has emerged in the midst of the suffering, persecution, and atheism of these Communist dominated countries.

By contrast, in free Europe where there has been prosperity and democracy, the church is almost completely dead. The church has ceased to have any impact on the society. Atheism and humanism have taken over. Government and public policy is governed almost totally by philosophies that are antibiblical and even intolerant of the truth of Scripture.

If you look at the U.S., you find much the same thing. Government and the media, which affects the thinking of so much of America, are, for the most part, liberal and intolerant of Christianity. Leadership in both Europe and the U.S. are working for a one world government while the populace is preoccupied with their comfort and pleasure or the good life. The moral climate or condition of both free Europe and the U.S. is rotten to the core. According to a number of polls, if you compare the values, priorities, practices, and pursuits of professing Christians and non-Christians alike, you find very little difference on the whole.

Yet, much of free Europe and all of America owe their freedom, their prosperity, and blessings to the preaching of the Word of God, to the reformation in Europe, and to the ministries of men like the Wesleys, George Whitfield, and Jonathan Edwards in America.

What then is the problem? Is it freedom? Is it prosperity? No! But there are inherent dangers in both freedom and prosperity, subtle dangers.

It is more than a curiosity that the church has flourished behind the Iron Curtain while dying in the West. The reasons are clear. Lacking any visible external threat to our faith, many in the free world have lost any sense of the subtlety of the enemy and how he attacks. We have grown careless and apathetic. We have become concerned more with our own comfort and well-being than with the command of Christ that we should follow in His steps (1 Pet. 2:21).63

So, what’s the problem? People simply can’t stand prosperity. With freedom and prosperity come the temptation to trust in our blessings rather than in the Blessor. We become fat, comfortable, and self-sufficient. If we have plenty, we tend to think we have need of nothing. If we do not have enough, looking at the wealth around us, we tend to think that what we need is what others have—material blessings.

The problem is that men are putting their faith in the wrong thing, in their material world, in treasures on earth. Christ told us in no uncertain terms to do the opposite, to lay up treasures in heaven. Paul instructs us in 1 Tim 6:17-19:

Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. {Instruct them} to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.

In other words, in the words of the Savior, we need to lay up heavenly treasures (Matt. 6:19f). Scripture warns us of this very problem over and over again.

God warned Israel in Deuteronomy 6:10f against forgetting the Lord as the source of their freedom and salvation. Nine times in Deuteronomy He tells them not to forget what the Lord had done for them and 15 times He tells them to remember the Lord and His deliverance.

The Lord Himself in the letter to the church at Laodicea warns and instructs us against the deadening and lukewarm effects of trusting in material wealth (the details of life) rather than pursuing a vital faith relationship with Jesus Christ.

The Laodicean church was a church that had lost its impact on the world because it had become occupied with the world and because it had left the Lord standing outside. Whether one believes in the idea that the seven churches of Asia portray seven historical stages the church would go through or not, certainly this church illustrates conditions of the church in the 20th century in a large portion of the world.

The City and the Assembly
(3:14a)

Laodicea was the chief city of Phrygia in the Lycus valley, strategically located where three highways converged. It was thereby a highly commercial and wealthy city. It was a city of wealthy bankers and financiers. The many millionaires combined to build theaters, a huge stadium, lavish public baths, and fabulous shopping centers. Sound familiar?

It should be obvious, but clearly, the American Mall, the big discount stores, and shopping centers define American culture in the ’80s and ’90s. The ‘80s has gone on record as the decade of consumerism and the ’90s has certainly continued the trend, even adding Internet shopping to the list. Consumerism is completely out of control.

I was in the north part of Dallas not long ago and was amazed at the number of shopping centers, restaurants, strip malls, and huge enclosed malls. But it’s like this all over America, especially in the big cities. There is a concentration of buyers, sellers, and products; jammed parking lots and crushing crowds with millions of dollars being spent by people buying things they don’t need with money most of them don’t have.

Americans spend more than 30 percent of their income on luxury items, compared to less than 10 percent just forty years ago. Statistics on personal consumption published by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reveal that Americans’ spending on recreation rose from 42.7 billion in 1970 to 246.8 billion in 1988—a 477 percent increase!

Consumer Credit outstanding in America went from 167 billion in 1975 to nearly 660 billion in 1988. That’s a whopping 295 percent increase!64

In 60 A.D. Laodicea was destroyed by an earthquake. Being highly resourceful and self-sufficient, the people restored their own city rather than receive a government loan from Rome. That was very commendable and a far cry from what we find today in America. It demonstrated a self-sufficient attitude that would have detrimental spiritual results if carried over into their relationship with the Lord.

In addition to being a banking center, it was a manufacturing center for woolen garments and medicinal eye salve, powders and tabloids (3:17-18).

They did have one inadequacy, however—their water supply. Laodicea received its water through an aqueduct coming from a spring four miles to the south. The waters of neighboring Hierapolis, however, were famous as hot springs and would have provided a contrast with the tepid aqueduct water in Laodicea. By contrast also there was Colossae which had ice cold springs, but nothing like this was known in Laodicea.

Certainly, this church illustrates and speaks to the church in our time, our modern period of materialism, consumerism, self-sufficiency, do-your-own-thing kind of independence and individualism, religiosity, and apostasy.

The Christ, the Author and Answer
(3:14b)

Again, as with the previous letters, this one begins with a part of the description of the Savior as given in chapter one. So our attention is focused on the person of the risen Lord Jesus and how He alone is the answer and solution.

“The Amen.” Amen is the Greek amhn from the Hebrew A^m^n. A^m^n is from a root meaning “to be firm, stable, sure, established, and trustworthy.” It is used in Isaiah 65:16 of God as “the God of truth,” literally, “the God of Amen.”

The word was used to acknowledge and emphasize what was valid, sure and true, or important and significant. It is used in the Old Testament as a liturgical formula in which a congregation or individual accepts both the validity of an oath or curse and its consequences (Num. 5:22; Deut. 27:15ff.; Neh. 5:13; Jer. 11:5). Twenty five times, always in the gospel of John, John records the Lord’s use of this word, amhn, translated as, “truly truly, I say to you.” Here in Revelation 3:14, the “amen” is explained with the words, “the Faithful and True Witness.”

“Amen” also connoted the idea of finality or the last word; is used of our Lord as the True One, the last word and final authority in each individual’s life as well as for the entire world. As used of Christ, it points to Him as the end, the finality and certainty of all things. With Him one needs no substitutes, no subtractions or additions. With Jesus Christ there is no further search needed for truth for in Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). Thus, every promise He makes is true and every woe He pronounces shall come to pass.

“The Faithful and True Witness.” As mentioned, this clause defines the word “amen.” But it is especially designed to contrast Christ’s statement of verses 15 and 16 with the statement of the Laodiceans about themselves in verse 17. As the “Faithful and True Witness,” He stripped them and so also us of all our false appearances and pretentiousness, rationalizations and excuses. It stresses the need in each of us for honest examination followed by an honest to God confession that demonstrates a genuine desire for a change of life. It would further teach us the need to be in His Word which reveals our true condition (Heb. 4:12). The Lord said, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17).

“The beginning and the creation of God.” The word “beginning” is the Greek word arch meaning (a) first in time or (b) first in place, cause, or origin. The point is Jesus Christ is the origin, the cause, the Creator of all things (John 1:3; Col. 1:16-17; Rev. 1:8; 21:6). He is the Creator of this earth, now fallen under the curse of sin through rebellion to Him. But He is also the Creator of the coming kingdom and the eternal state of a new heavens and earth in which dwells perfect righteousness (cf. Isa. 65:17f).

As with the world today and many, many believers, Laodicea was occupied with and trusting in the things of this fallen creation that is now passing away and slated for destruction. They were trusting in the details of this life rather than in the Creator and in heavenly treasures.

Their priorities and security lay in temporal things rather than in the eternal and in the Creator Himself (Matt. 6:19f; 1 Tim. 6:17-19). Perhaps, like much of Christianity today, their hope and faith was in a responsive Christ who is supposed to satisfy His people by quickly granting them ease and comfort. It is a Christianity that wants heaven or millennial conditions now in this present fallen world under Satan’s control. But that is not the message of the Bible and certainly not the message of Revelation.

The message of Revelation is about a continuing struggle with evil both in the church age (Rev. 2-3) and in the Tribulation to come (Rev. 6-19). It’s a struggle that will only get worse and worse and will not end until it is brought to an end by the personal return of the Lord.

The hope of the church and the biblical message that enables people to weather life’s storms and grow through them is gratitude for what happened at the cross of Christ combined with a passionate confidence in what will yet take place at His blessed coming. Surely, the only source of real stability in this present (a kind of stability that does not require the character-weakening mechanism of denial nor the demand for comfort) is a deep thankfulness for the past work of the Savior combined with a confident expectation for the future glories promised by Christ.

The Church and its Affairs
(3:15-22)

The Condemnation and Admonition (15-17)

Please note that in this church there was no commendation. This church is condemned because it is neither hot nor cold, but simply lukewarm. What does this teach us?

“I know your deeds.” As before, the Lord begins with a solemn reminder of His knowledge of the true condition of our lives. Since His witness is true and He is the Amen (the final word) it is as foolish for us to run and hide, as it was for Adam and Eve. We should never run or hide from his witness to us through the Word, or from the disciplines He brings into our lives. Why? Well, not only does denial dishonor the Lord and bring with it serious consequences to our fellowship with Him (see vs. 20) and our ability to grow up spiritually, but sooner or later we are going to have to face the Lord for the way we have lived and used or abused His grace.

Rom. 14:11-12 For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every Tongue shall give praise to God.” So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God.

“Hot” is zestos, a word which means “boiling hot.” It is found in Rom. 12:11 where we are first warned against “lagging behind in diligence,” but also exhorted to be “fervent (zestos) in spirit, serving the Lord,” an obvious cause and effect relationship. It refers to spiritual fervor, zest, zealousness for the things of Jesus Christ. Our word zest comes from this word.

“Cold.” Christ says “I would that you were either cold or hot.” Why cold? Why is cold preferred to lukewarm?

First, there may be an allusion to Colossae which had cold springs. The point is that cold water is refreshing, it provides refreshment for the weary, and hot water has a healing or soothing effect upon the sick or on aching and sore joints and muscles. But Laodicea had neither; in fact, it was nauseating.

Note our Savior’s comment at the end of verse 16. “I will spit you out of My mouth.” The translation “spit” of the NASB or NIV, or “spue” of the KJV, are not really strong enough. The Greek word here is emew which means, “to vomit.” There is another word, ptuw that means “to spit” that John could have used if that is what he meant.65 From the standpoint of their ministry they provided neither refreshment nor healing, they could only cause nausea. In other words, they were useless to the Lord and His purposes for the church in the world. Remember Matthew 10:42 and the cup of cold water given in the name of Christ. They were even useless for that.

Second, when a person is cold and feels its bitterness, he is more apt to seek warmth or refuge from the cold and flee to Jesus Christ for his needs. But if one is lukewarm he becomes more difficult to reach because he feels comfortable and self-sufficient (3:17b).

“I would.” This is the Greek ofelon, a fixed form used to express an unattainable wish. It’s equivalent to “would that, I wish.” It assumes the nature of an interjection where one wishes that a thing had happened, but has not and probably will not. They had become thoroughly hardened and indifferent to Christ through the deceitful riches of the world and their sin (cf. Heb. 3:7f).

What does it mean to be lukewarm? Verse 17 expresses what Christ means by lukewarmness. It refers to Christians who are indifferent or apathetic because they are self-sufficient and self-satisfied. Christians who are trusting in themselves and their wealth or what they thought their wealth could buy them. Note their threefold claim:

(1) “I am rich”—they had an over abundance of material blessings, but by this statement, it shows they were proud and trusting in that richness as though wealth had the power to give them security and happiness.

(2) “… and have become wealthy”—they continued to add to their wealth. Not only was wealth a sign of security, happiness, and success, but the truth is, it never really satisfies and people want more. I can’t remember who it was that said this, though I know he was a very famous wealthy man, but when asked how much is enough, the millionaire replied with one word, “more.”

(3) “… and have need of nothing”—They were so well off they thought they needed help from neither man nor God. They had bought into the satanic delusion that money can buy anything. They didn’t need to trust God. They could simply go out and buy whatever they needed or desired. There was no need to wait on the Lord, no need to put Him first.

They sought their security in their talents, abilities, human resources, and financial wealth. They thought they were protected from all dangers, were insulated from all problems, and immune to every kind of tragedy.

These are the kind of people who thought they deserved special treatment: first class accommodations, the finest clothes, the best of everything. Their real God was comfort and pleasure.

The problem was that they sought their happiness in things and their security in their wealth. As a result they neglected the Lord and biblical values. They neglected real service or ministry to others.

America has more churches per capita than any other country. Our currency reads, “In God We Trust.” But according to recent statistics, there is very little difference between the lifestyles of Christians and non-Christians. The moral degeneracy of our nation in its attitudes, values, and beliefs is everywhere obvious. The crime rate, substance abuse, the divorce rate, abuse of women and children, the secularism, rise of the occult, the new age movement, and many other signs make it clear this country is in critical condition regardless of its Christian heritage and its many churches.

We are the wealthiest nation in the world with more churches, more Bibles, Christian literature, and Christian schools than any other nation in the world, yet, we are losing the battle.

Why isn’t the church more effective in the world today? Is the problem simply with the world? Is it too stubborn and too blind to listen? Or could part of the problem be with us? Have we, because of our materialism and in spite of our religiosity, excluded the Savior? Have we literally shut Him out of our lives so He can no longer flesh out His life in ours to impart His vision, His character and values into ours?

What’s the cure for the American church? What do we need to do? In the verses that follow, we have the Lord’s counsel and advice along with His promises and rewards.

The saddest thing about the Laodicean church (and that which characterizes America today) is not just the Lord’s statement about their condition as “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked,” but the words that preceded this indictment, “and you do not know that you are …” How sad to be this numb and blind! Let’s note the description:

“Wretched” is the Greek word (talaipwros) which comes from the word talai meaning “to bear, undergo” and another word (pwros) which means “hard, callous.” I don’t want to make too much of this because etymology (the derivation of words) is the not the primary basis for understanding words, usage is. But perhaps the use of this word suggests that they were wretched in the sense that they were bearing severe calluses on their soul, hardened against the truth.

“Miserable” means “pitiable.” It describes one in such a state that he becomes the object of extreme pity, like a beggar. The real pity is that they were like a drunk in the cold, they could not feel their condition.

“Poor” is “beggarly.” This word referred to one who begs for crumbs trying to fill his hunger or craving. Those who try to find happiness and security in the details of life are like beggars trying to exist on crumbs while, as we see in verse 20, Christ stands at the door inviting us to come in out of the cold and dine with Him in fellowship.

“Blind” They were without spiritual insight or discernment. They were walking in darkness. Their eyes were bad and so their whole body was full of darkness (Matt. 6:23). Here was the crux of their problem; it was spiritual blindness, poor spiritual insight or a lack of biblical perspective or vision. Here is something we must not ignore. The problem of seeking happiness in the treasures of the world is at heart, an eyesight problem, a problem of blindness or poor spiritual eyesight (Matt. 6:19-23).

Compare Psalm 119:11-14, 99-105; 19:10; Proverbs 16:16 and note there the results of good eyesight or spiritual illumination.

In Revelation 3:17, Christ, as the True and Faithful Witness, describes the condition to which they were blind and totally insensitive because of their lukewarmness, a condition caused in part by their failure to desire (1 Pet. 2:2), know and respond to the Word (1 Thess. 2:13).

Further, the Lord says they were:

“Naked” is the Greek word gumnos from which we get our word gymnasium. It meant (a) to be totally without clothes, or (b) to be poorly clothed, dressed in rags. Though they were rich, and manufactured and wore expensive clothing, and though they made eye salve, they were, spiritually speaking, in pitiful condition.

Application:

For the unbeliever, or the mere professing Christian, this means to be without the righteousness of Christ. All our religious or moral good works, if we are without Christ, are but filthy rags (Isa. 64:6).

For the believer, this means to be without the fruit of the Spirit, the genuine character of Christ. It means hypocritical Christianity.

Satan and the world wants us to think that the good life is what we all want and need. People watch shows like “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” and game shows where people win large amounts of money. They follow the lotteries and think, “Wow, if only I could have that kind of luck.” The implication is that money buys the good life, but not so. There is no “good life” to be purchased for any amount of money.

Materialism is a destructive pathology. Statistics indicate the more money you have the more likely you are to commit suicide. Actuarial figures reveal life expectancy decreases as income increases. Money adds to stress and that in turn takes years off one’s life. One study shows that money also intensifies moral decline and family disintegration. Marital infidelity and divorce rates rise with income levels. Money cannot buy happiness.66

The Counsel or Advice (18-19)

“I advise you.” This word, sumbouleuw, means “to give counsel” or “to take counsel together.” This reminds us (or should) that the whole of the Word is the counsel of God setting forth the will of God. So He calls us to come and take counsel together with Him (Isa. 1:18). What is the Lord’s counsel or advice?

“Buy from Me.” How can you buy from Christ what is only given through faith? (cf. Rev. 21:6; 22:17). The answer is given for us in Isaiah 55:1-3.

1 Ho. Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. 2 Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance. 3 Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you, According to the faithful mercies shown to David.

“Buy” stands for the concept of acquire or gain. No one can actually buy these things from Christ. He only uses these words as a medium to carry their thoughts from the material world and material wealth to the spiritual world and the need of spiritual wealth that can only be received by faith. Also note the concept of the source. They can be bought only from Christ.

Note what it is that can be bought or acquired. “Gold.” Here the Lord counsels the church to turn to Him for true riches. Gold here is a picture of faith produced by God’s own Word by which men bring the spiritual riches of Christ into their lives (cf. 1 Pet. 1:7; Rom. 10:17; 5:1).

“White raiment.” Again we would divide this into two categories: (a) For the unbeliever, this refers to the righteousness of Christ which is imputed to the believer at the point of faith in Christ (Rev. 3:5; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9f). (b) For the believer it would refer to the experiential righteousness, the fruit of the Spirit. Acts of righteousness from living in the Word and walking in fellowship by abiding in Christ (John 15; Rev. 3:4; 19:8; Gal. 5:22-23).

“Eye salve.” Since this obviously has to do with spiritual sight, this most likely refers to the person and work of the Holy Spirit as God’s anointing who anoints our eyes to discern His Word (John 14:26; 1 Cor. 2:14-16).

We need to remember that these letters are written to the church, to believers in Christ. There could have been unbelievers in their midst, but unbelievers are really not a part of the church. Christ is addressing believers here and says, “those whom I love, I reprove and discipline.” He loves them and promises to reprove and discipline them to bring them out of their self sufficiency and into the sufficiency of His life. This could require severe testing, pain and heartache to bring them (or any believer in this state) to a point of personal need and dependency upon the Lord (Heb. 12:5-15).

In view of this, they are warned to become zealous and to repent of their ways. In other words, repent in order to stop the discipline before it begins.

“Be zealous” is a present imperative which commands a continual state. This is maintained by using our divine operating assets, the Word, the filling of the Holy Spirit, prayer, etc.

“Repent” is an aorist imperative which means don’t delay, do it now, but it also looks at action designed to arrest a condition, the condition of lukewarm self-sufficiency.

The verb is metanoew, “to change the mind.” It is equivalent to confession of the past or the present with a view to a change in the future.

The Call and Invitation (20)

Christ is represented in relation to the church locally and universally in that these letters have application locally and universally. But this appeal has special application to the individual for the church is made up of individuals. Note the words “if anyone hears.” A condition can exist in the life of a believer which necessitates inviting Christ to come in for personal fellowship. But this is not the way this passage is often used and understood.

This passage is often used in presenting the gospel and in offering salvation to a lost sinner. Such a view is based on two assumptions: (a) that the Laodiceans, or at least some of them, were indeed lost, and (b) that the Greek text eiseleusomai pros means “come into.” Both of these assumptions have little evidence to support them.

Wallace writes:

With reference to the first assumption, that those in the Laodicean church were not believers, note that in the preceding verse, the resurrected Lord declares, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline.” Here filevw is used for “love”—a term that is never used of God/Jesus loving unbelievers in the NT. (Indeed, it would be impossible for God to have this kind of love for an unbeliever, for it routinely speaks of enjoyment and fellowship. ajgapavw, rather, is the verb used of God’s love for unbelievers [cf. John 3:16], for it frequently, if not normally, speaks of commitment and, when used with God/Jesus as the subject, the idea is often of an unconditional love.) This filevw must be applied to the Laodiceans here, for the verse concludes, “Be zealous, therefore, and repent.” The inferential ou (“therefore”) connects the two parts of the verse, indicating that the Laodiceans are to repent because Christ loves (filevw) them!

The second assumption is that eijseleuvsomai pros means “come into.” Such an assumption is based on a less than careful reading of the English text. The ASV, NASB, RSV, NRSV, for example, all correctly renders it “come in to.” (Note the space between the prepositions.) The idea of “come into” would be expressed with eijs as the independent preposition and would suggest a penetration into the person (thus, spawning the idea of entering into one’s heart). However, spatially pros means toward, not into. In all eight instances of eijsevrcomai pros in the NT, the meaning is “come in toward/before a person” (i.e., enter a building, house, etc., so as to be in the presence of someone), never penetration into the person himself/herself. In some instances, such a view would not only be absurd, but inappropriate (cf. Mark 6:25; 15:43; Luke 1:28; Acts 10:3; 11:3; 16:40; 17:2; 28:8).67

“I stand” is in the perfect tense which points to action completed with continuing results and marks out the loving patience of the Lord and His desire for our fellowship.

“Knock” is in the present tense which looks at continuous action. What gracious condescension that the Creator—God—Savior would seek our fellowship. The Lord stands, knocks and speaks. His speech is an invitation for men to open up the doors of their hearts and to invite Christ in for fellowship.

“I will dine with him and he with Me.” Dine is a Greek word which referred to the main meal of the day—a real feast. This Greek word, deipnew, was used not only of the chief meal of the day—a full course dinner—but of the meal which was the occasion for hospitality and fellowship. At this meal, however, He is the host. It is He who sets the table and we are His guests dining on that which He has provided.

We can perhaps make application for the lost, for those without Christ, but we must be ever so careful in how we do this. Unbelievers are not saved by asking Jesus to come into their lives. Unbelievers can only invite Christ into their lives as personal Savior by faith in the person and work of Christ (John 1:12; 3:16, 36). Christ comes in through the ministry of the Spirit of God by believing in Jesus Christ as to both His person and work as the only means of salvation, not by simply asking Christ to come in. This means believing in Christ as the Son of God, the God-man who died on the cross as God’s substitute and payment for one’s own sin, and believing that God raised Him from the dead, the proof of His person and work (Rom. 10:9).

Actually, this passage is addressed to the church—to believers. This is a call to fellowship with the Savior. As an invitation to Christians, it’s a call to repent, as commanded in verse 19. It is a call for confession of one’s sins with a renewal of mind and heart to continue to draw upon the glorious life of Christ daily through walking by the Spirit and living in the Word. It means abiding in Christ, the vine (John 15:1-7; 1 John 1:7-10; Eph. 4:20-24; 5:14-18; Rom. 8:1-16).

The Comfort and Assurance (21)

Not only does He promise to come into the life of the one who invites Him (vs. 21), but again special blessing is promised to the believer who overcomes. He is promised the privilege of sitting with Christ on His throne. This means the privilege and right to share in Christ’s authority and rule in the millennium and eternal future.

But note the basis of this: “as I also overcame and sat down.” The real victory over death, sin and Satan was accomplished by Christ in His life, death and resurrection. Because of His sinless life and perfect obedience to the Father’s plan—even the death of the cross—He overcame sin, Satan and death and was granted the right and authority as the God-man to sit with the Father until operation footstool, until he makes His enemies the footstool for His feet (Phil. 2:5-11; Heb. 1:3, 13).

But by our union and identification with Him in His person and work, and through our faithfulness in the conflict as we draw upon His life as the source of ours, we get to share in His reign as a reward for faithful service. This is truly amazing because, whenever we do overcome in the battles of life, it is always through Him.

The Challenge or Appeal (22)

Verse 22 ends the letter to Laodicea and also concludes these two chapters and the letters to the seven churches by the appeal to hear. It is an appeal which each time is made to all the churches because all seven letters are vital to us all.

The great lesson concerns a church that is religious, but basically useless. It is a church that has excluded Christ from their fellowship in selfish, materialistic, self-dependence. It is a church where Christ stands on the outside, excluded by the church’s apathy to His Word, a Word which convicts, enlightens, warms and softens hearts, and makes people productive. Thus, the call is to hear, to open our ears.

Like Laodicea, the church today is lukewarm. Am I? Are you? We have seen what it means to be lukewarm and how we are to deal with lukewarmness. We have also seen its causes and cure. Do we have ears to hear this message as the Lord challenges us in this passage? Are we blind to the effects of our own forms of greed?

Conclusion

Think for a moment about Madison Avenue with all its advertising techniques. They are designed for the financial gain of the advertisers, not that of the buyer. Regardless of their claims such as, “you need a break today,” or whatever the alleged benefit of the product, it is really without much concern for the welfare of people other than they want to keep our business. It is exploitative, manipulative, and designed by greed to play on the weaknesses of the public. The goal is to get us to buy what we can’t afford, what we do not need, with money we often don’t have. And many times it is either harmful or wrong according to biblical standards. Advertisers often seeks to reach the most vulnerable in society and intentionally market products that are both addictive and destructive.

But this greed-driven behavior is not exclusive to the world. We find it in the church among God’s people too, but often we are too blind to see it. Think of how often greed, laying treasures on the earth, and desires for the good life negatively affect the body of Christ:

(1) Think of how it tarnishes the testimony of Christ when business professionals compromise integrity and biblical values to cut a less than honorable deal.

(2) Think of how greed shreds families when parents devote their best energies to dreams of the “good life” leaving little strength or time for caring for the spiritual well being of their family.

(3) Think of how greed injures the church and ministry for the same reasons because people are so engulfed in the pursuit of position, power, praise, prestige, and pleasure that there is neither time nor energy to devote themselves to the Word, to ministry, or to liberal giving.

We are not exempt from the consequences of our own forms of greed. It litters the landscape around us with victims of our self-centered drives.68


63 John MacArthur, “Masterpiece,” May/June, p. 2.

64 MacArthur, p. 2.

65 Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, translated by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, University of Chicago Press, electronic version (under emew).

66 MacArthur, p. 2.

67 Daniel B. Wallace, Th.M, Ph.D., Associate Professor of New Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary, Scripture Twisting, The Biblical Studies Foundation web site at www.bible.org. (Note: for our non-Greek readers, I have transliterated the Greek words used by Wallace in the article on the BSF site.)

68 J. M. Stowell, “Moody Monthly,” May, 1990, p. 4.

Ad Category: 
Biblical Topics: 
Passage: 
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

10. Introduction to the Things Predictive (Rev 4:1-22:21)

Chapter 4 transports the reader to the things which shall take place after these things (i.e., after “the things present” in chapters 2 and 3, or the church age). In the section that follows, the Apostle John points to the series of events that will occur sometime after the rapture as they are described in chapters 6-22. Following what many believe is God’s own inspired outline of the book of Revelation (Rev. 1:19), chapter four introduces us to the things future, the prophetic part of the book: the seals, the trumpets and vials; Satan and his last day activities; the future of Israel; the 144,000; Babylon; the beast and false prophet; the two witnesses; the marriage of the Lamb and the return of Christ.

Note the following natural chronological order:

As suggested previously, chapters 2 and 3 unfold the moral and spiritual condition of the churches in the time of John, but they also illustrate conditions that would be present historically in any age down through history. They may also portray various stages the church as a whole would go through during the present age of the church.

Chapters 4 and 5 are introductory in that they prepare the reader for the future events unfolded in chapters 6-22. This is evident from the words, “after these things” of 4:1. This is the Greek, meta tauta. “After” is the preposition meta which shows sequence and refers to that which follows. Tauta, “these things,” refers to the things of chapters 2 and 3. Specifically, according to chapter 1:19, they occur after “the things which are,” the present time, the church age. All that follows, then, is chronological in that these events follow the church age, meta tauta , “after these things,” (4:1), after the things of chapters 2 and 3, or the church, but chapters 4 and 5 are represented as occurring before chapter 6 and following.

Spiritually speaking chapters 4 and 5 form a prologue to the Tribulation events and give us heaven’s perspective of the terrible judgments that will be poured out on the earth. One cannot understand the nature of the Tribulation judgments without this scene. In these two chapters, John was given “heaven’s perspective of earthly events as he walked through the door that was opened to him in 4:1.”69

While chapter 4 is a prologue to the future things of chapters 6 through 22, chapter 5 is an introduction to the seven seals, the trumpets, and the vial judgments of chapters 6 through 19. Chronologically, then, the prophetic events of chapter 6 through 22 occur after the rapture. How long we have no way of knowing. It could be days, weeks, months, or even years, though the latter is highly unlikely since the only thing keeping Satan from raising up his last day scenario through the man of sin is the presence of the Restrainer—the Holy Spirit operating through the body of Christ, the church (2 Thess. 2:5-9). Once the church is gone, Satan will undoubtedly move quickly to bring his one world system into being.

We may divide the final portion of the book into four sections:

  • The Tribulation (6:1-19:21)
  • The millennial reign (20:1-15)
  • The eternal state (21:1-22:5)
  • The epilogue and benediction (22:6-21)

The Throne in Heaven,
The Prologue to the Things Future
(4:1-11)

The Throne Standing in Heaven (1-3)

    The invitation or command (1)

“I looked and behold a door open in heaven.” “Behold” This is the Greek idou, an aorist imperative of the verb Joraw, “to see.” It came to be used, however, as a demonstrative particle meaning “see, look, behold.” It was used much like the Hebrew, [email protected], “behold, look, see” to enliven the narrative or to arrest the attention of the reader, undoubtedly because of the nature of the material introduced. Here is a vision of special importance, one vital to understanding the nature of the prophetic events described.

“A door standing open in heaven.” The word “door” is used four times in Revelation. In 3:8 it is used in connection with the door of opportunity for ministry given to the church at Philadelphia. Then in 3:20 it is used twice of the Savior standing at the door of the heart desiring fellowship. Here, the door is opened to give John and us heaven’s insights to the earthly scene that will follow. This is an essential prerequisite if one is to comprehend the nature of the events and the purpose of God behind them.

“Standing open.” The voice of this verb is passive. God opened the door for John which serves to remind us this is divine revelation. It reveals that which we could never see or know apart from this special revelation from God.

“And the first voice which I heard.” This does not refer to the first of a successive series of voices after he arrived, but is most likely a reference to the voice John heard in 1:10.

“Come up here and I will show.” Again, true prophecy has its source in heaven and men must take their stand there, which for us is the Word, if we are to understand God’s plan for the ages. It is there that it was mapped out and it is from there that it must be received.

Note the words, “what must take place.” “Must” is the word, dei. It refers to what is necessary and binding. It refers to a moral necessity which arises from God’s holy purposes or appointment.

    The placement of the throne (2a)

“Immediately I was …” This is the same as 1:10 and refers to a state of spiritual ecstasy into which he was transported to receive this revelation.

“And behold, a throne was standing open in heaven.” The KJV has “a throne set in heaven,” the ASV has “a throne set in heaven,” Phillips has “a throne had been set up in heaven,” the NIV has “there was a throne in heaven,” and the RSV has, “a throne stood in heaven.”

The verb here is the Greek verb ekeito, a passive imperfect of keimai which may be used as the passive of tiqhmi, “to be laid, to lie, be laid or set, stand.”70 So it may mean “to lay, place, or set something.” It could be translated as, “a throne was being placed in heaven,” or “a throne had been placed in heaven.” John is telling us this throne was purposefully set in heaven for the coming events or judgments. Perhaps John saw the throne being set and then he saw the One sitting on the throne. The suggestion is that this was not the eternal throne, but one especially set for the Tribulation judgments (cf. Psalm 9:7, “He has established His throne for judgment” and Dan. 7:9, “I kept looking until thrones were set up, And the Ancient of Days took His seat …” See also Dan. 7:13-14).

It appears this is a special throne prepared for the Tribulation and from this point on the Book becomes predominantly the Book of the throne. The word throne is mentioned 45 times versus only 15 times in all the rest of the New Testament.

Perhaps this throne is somewhere in the second heaven, outer space (see Rev. 6:16). God leaves His eternal throne, the throne of the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2) to establish this one to defeat His enemies and to establish His rule on earth (cf. again Dan. 7:9-14).

God is sovereign and the ruler of the universe, yet God’s rule is today hidden. The world under the power of the usurper rages against God, thinking it has jettisoned God’s authority. But God still rules under what we call God’s providence (cf. Isa. 10:5f). But now, in 4:2f, His rule and throne comes into view and later the whole world will know (Rev. 6:16).

Today when we pray, we approach the throne of grace (Heb 4:16). In Revelation 2 and 3 there is no throne other than the promise we will sit with Christ on His throne (Rom. 8:1; 1 John 5:14-15).

    The Person on the throne (2b-3 )

“And One sitting on the throne, and He who was sitting …” John is allowed to see the throne room and the thing that stood out was the One regally seated on the throne, the place where the sovereign Lord reigns. The Greek employs two present participles which stress that God is firmly seated as the supreme ruler and sovereign. The scene strongly portrays the fact that God is in control. Though the nations rage and devise their plans, He who sits in the heavens laughs (Psalm 2).

The sovereign Lord is described in terms of two precious stones, the jasper and the sardius. Rather than anthropomorphic characteristics, God is seen in gem-like colors. We should remember that God’s essential glory cannot be fully communicated to man. Scripture teaches God “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen, or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16). So these stones are used to portray something of God’s eternal glory, awesome holiness, and majesty.

“Jasper.” This was a clear, crystal-like gem, a translucent rock, perhaps even a diamond. It portrays the purity and brilliance of God’s holiness. Since such a stone picks up and reflect light, it calls our attention to the fact that God is light, a holy God who reveals, and unmasks the darkness.

“Sardius.” This stone was blood red undoubtedly portraying God’s wrath and justice, but it would also look at His redemptive work of love and grace in the person of the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world through His death on the cross.

In the Old Testament these stones had a special relationship to the tribes of Israel. Each tribe had a representative stone which the High Priest wore on his priestly garment. As the High Priest, he was representing each tribe before God at the altar. The Jasper was the stone representing the first tribe, the tribe of Reuben. The last tribe, Benjamin, was represented by the Sardius. So these two stones represent the whole nation, the first and the last and all in between.

Reuben means “Behold a Son” and Benjamin means “Son of my right hand.” Surely, then, these two stones also pointed to God the Son whom the Father would give through the nation Israel to save mankind in the person of His beloved Son. Jasper stands for God’s perfect righteousness (Hab. 1:13). As a holy and righteous God, He cannot fellowship with man in his condition of sin. Sardius stands for God’s perfect justice (Rom. 3:19) which means God must judge man in his sin. Being red like blood, it pictures redemption and God’s love and grace to reach out in Christ to provide a substitute, God’s Son (Rom. 5:8).

“And there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.” As a part of the majesty of the scene of the sovereign Lord, John also saw a beautiful rainbow of emerald green. But, unlike the partial rainbows we generally see on earth, this one completely encircled the throne. This too is significant in calling our attention to the person and work of God on behalf of man, the one who rebelled against God’s grace. In Scripture the rainbow is a sign of God’s faithfulness to His word and covenants. It is also a sign of God’s mercy, grace and long-suffering. The fact the rainbow completely encircles the throne emphatically stresses this. Green portrays fruitfulness; what proceeds from the throne will be infinitely effective.

Who is this on the throne? In Revelation 3:21 we see both the Father and the Son on God’s throne. Here we are told John saw only one sitting on the throne. Perhaps this simply illustrates the mystery of the trinity. However, in chapter 5, the Son is distinguished from the Father. Apparently, in preparation for the judgments to follow, the Son has risen from the throne and is seen standing in preparation for the scene chapter 5 is designed to depict or teach. After no one is found worthy to open and release the judgments of the seven-sealed scroll, the Lamb who is also the Lion and who has overcome so as to open the book and its seals, is then seen coming to the throne to take the seven-sealed scroll of judgment from the hand of the Father.

The Persons Around the Throne (4)

The subject here is the 24 elders. Note four things are stated about them: they are seated upon thrones around God’s throne, they are 24 in number, they are clothed in white raiment, and they have golden crowns on their heads. There are three main views as to who the 24 elders are:

    They are angels

Some say we cannot be certain they are redeemed men because in Revelation 5:9-10 some manuscripts have a change in the pronouns which has them singing of the redemption of others rather than of their own redemption. This is hardly proof, however, that they are angels. It only removes the passage as absolute proof that they are the redeemed. It in no way proves that they are not singing of the redeemed that they represent, or that they are not of the redeemed themselves.

Further in Colossians 1:16 it is argued, angels are called “thrones” and seem to have a place of rule in the governing of the universe. But Christ also said that the overcomer, believers in Christ, would share in His throne or rule (Rev. 2:26-27; 3:21, 20:6).

    They are the redeemed representatives of all ages

This would include all Old Testament and New Testament saints.

    They are redeemed representatives of the church only

This best fits all the details of the passage and of Scripture as I will attempt to explain.

(1) David divided the priesthood into 24 orders. There were hundreds of priests, and obviously all could not serve at once, so each order was represented by one. By Scripture’s own use, the number 24 has a representative character to it (cf. 1 Chron. 24; 25; Luke 1:5, 8, 9). Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us his family was “of the first course of the four and twenty.” So there was one high priest, 24 orders of priests with 24 who served as representatives of the whole.

(2) In the New Testament believers are a spiritual house, a holy and a royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). So the elders could easily be functioning as representatives of the church.

(3) Revelation 5:11 clearly distinguishes the elders from both the four living creatures and the many angels.

(4) They are called “elders” which is the Greek word presbuteros. In the New Testament this is virtually a technical term for officers and leaders in the church of Jesus Christ.

(5) They are seen with golden crowns. “Crowns” is stefanos, the victor’s crown and the same term used throughout the New Testament for the rewards given to New Testament believers (1 Cor 9:25; 1 Thess. 2:19; 2 Tim. 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Pet. 5:4).

(6) They are clothed in white raiment. In Scripture this is consistently associated with and promised to the believer, the overcomer. This is terminology of the saints not angels (Rev. 3:4-5; 19:8).

(7) A share in Christ’s throne or rule is promised to believers by our Lord in Revelation 2:26-27; 3:21.

(8) Finally, only the church is raptured before the events beginning in chapter 6 (the Tribulation) and is in heaven, glorified, and eligible for reward. Israel or Old Testament believers could not be represented here until after Daniel’s 70th week. Israel’s resurrection and rewards come then, “after the time of distress such as never occurred …” which is undoubtedly a reference to the Great Tribulation (Dan. 12:1-2).

So the evidence tells us that the persons around the throne are representatives of the church here prophetically foreseen by this vision given to John. This then becomes both a prophecy and a promise of the glorious experiences of all New Testament believers.

The Proceedings around the Throne (5)

“Flashes of lightening and sounds and peals of thunder.” This draws our attention to the judgmental element of the throne and the nature of that which will occur once the Lord begins to open the seven-sealed scroll and pour out its judgments. “These seem to be portents of judgments and are found again in 8:5; 11:19 and 16:18.”71 Psalm 29:1-2 calls us to “ascribe to the Lord the glory due to His name; worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness” (NIV). This exhortation is then followed up with a reference to the thundering of God’s voice as in a lightening storm, an obvious reference to the power and judgments of God (29:3). Man has been in rebellion to God and has ignored God’s holiness throughout history, but here God is about to act and put an end to man’s rebellion.

“Seven lamps of fire … which are the seven Spirits of God.” The seven lamps, defined as the seven Spirits of God, speak of the fullness and perfection of the Spirit and His ministries. In this context, however, there is one particular work of the Spirit which is being stressed. The Holy Spirit is viewed, not in His ministry of saving men, though that will surely occur in the Tribulation, nor is He viewed in any of His other ministries as seen in the church. Rather, here He is set forth in connection with His holy character (righteousness and justice) as light to illuminate the perfections of the throne. Everything inconsistent with the absolute righteousness and purity of God and His throne must and will be judged.

The Praise to the Throne (6-11)

    The four living creatures (6-8)

“And before the throne there was, something like, a sea of glass, like crystal” (4:6a). Many see an allusion here to the laver in the tabernacle (Ex. 30:18-21) and to the molten sea in Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 7:23-37), that were for the purification of the priests. They symbolized the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, God’s agents for cleansing the life. Here, however, the sea before the throne is like glass, solidified, like crystal—not water, for no cleansing is needed here. Perhaps again, as crystal sparkles and reflects the light, so this simply adds to the picture of God’s holy character.

“And in the center and around the throne, four living creatures …” The question is who or what are the four living creatures? Are they angelic beings, or are they merely symbolic manifestations of God’s glory? Again we must seek answers to such questions from the Word itself. Let’s note the facts stated about these four creatures from this passage:

(1) They are living creatures. The Greek word is zwon which means “a living being,” that which is vibrant with life. This would suggest angelic creatures, yet it could represent the attributes of God’s divine essence as living, and vital entities.

(2) “Full of eyes in front and behind.” The cherubim of Ezekiel 10 were also full of eyes signifying their intelligence and spiritual perception of the ways and judgments of God. This is most likely the emphasis here.

(3) In verse 8 they have six wings which reminds us of the seraphim of Isaiah 6. This would emphasize their quickness and availability in service to the One sitting on the throne.

(4) They, like the cherubim of Ezekiel 1:10 and 10:14, are seen in four representations: Like a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle. This also seems to tie them to angelic creatures.

(5) In verse 8 they are seen speaking about God in unceasing acclamations of praise and they fall down in worship before the Lamb.

All of this supports the fact that they are angelic beings who are a composite of both the seraphim of Isaiah 6 and the cherubim of Ezekiel 1 and 10.

What’s their purpose and what are they doing in this scene?

Their number is four. Three is the number of God and the Godhead and four, due to the way it is often used in Scripture, is the number of the earth, the world, and man. Scripture often points to four divisions of the race (cf. 7:9, nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues). Further, there are four elements: fire, water, earth and air; four wind directions, four seasons, four universal empires (Dan. 7), and four representations of Christ, the Savior of man in the gospels as we will show below. Thus, together they represent God’s judicial government and activities over man. They express the character of God’s throne in relation to the earth and man.

Their four-fold significance: (a) The Lion stresses kingly majesty. The lion is known as the king of beasts and highlights the attributes of majesty, strength or sovereignty. It stresses that God is King. The gospel of Matthew presents Christ as King, as the lion of the tribe of Judah (Rev. 5:5). (b) A calf or ox stresses service and patience. (c) Man emphasizes intelligence. (d) The eagle because he soars in the heavens, emphasizes deity, keen sight, and quick action.

They are “full of eyes in front and behind” (4:6) and “around and within” (4:8). This signifies their constant observance and knowledge of the affairs of the earth on behalf of God, plus their spiritual perception of God’s governmental purposes and acts. “Before” and “behind” could indicate the perception of God’s dealings in the past and the future.

Their ceaseless service night and day (4:8). There is no weakness or imperfection in their worship or service. No wonder Isaiah saw his sinfulness (Isa. 6:5).

Their proclamation is seen in 4:8b. They proclaim God’s perfect holiness. The triple “Holy, Holy, Holy” also speaks of the trinity.

The divine titles used: LORD is a reference to the Old Testament name of God, Yahweh, the self-existing One. God speaks of God in relation to creation. It stands for Elohim in the Old Testament, the name so often used in Genesis chapter one of creation. The Almighty points to God’s omnipotence and sovereignty.

Finally, they ascribe praise to God’s eternality.

    The 24 elders and their response of praise (9-11)
    The Explanation and Introduction (4:9)

Here we are pointed to the worshipful activity of these four awesome and holy living beings, symbols of power and holiness. And, as in Isaiah 6, they are seen in adoration of God giving glory, honor and thanks to Him. But then immediately, we see the results of their praise in the lives of the elders who respond in their own worship and praise (cf. 4:10-11 with the response of Isaiah to the worship of the seraphim in Isaiah 6:1-8). Giving “glory and honor” calls attention to the perfections of God, while giving “thanks” calls attention to the manifold gifts of God in creation and redemption.

Satan may have seduced the world through millenniums of struggle to accept him as the prince of this world and as the god of this age, but now beings mightier than he show the way of true worship. God alone is to receive the homage of men.72

    The Worship of the Elders (4:10-11)

They “will fall down (prostrate themselves) before Him who sits on the throne.” They had been sitting, now they prostrate themselves in worship. Worship is proskunew which means “to prostrate one’s self before another.” This naturally comes from their recognition of God’s character and being.

“They will cast their crowns before the throne.” What are the crowns? They are symbols of God’s rewards for faithful service. Why do they cast them before the throne? Though the crowns had been given to them by God for faithfulness as overcomers, when they see the worship of the living creatures, they recognize it was all by God’s grace and that no crowns rightly belong to us for we all owe our existence and lives to God. He alone is actually worthy, for all we are flows from what He is as we, by faith, allow Him to reproduce His life in us through the Spirit. They then ascribe to Him:

  • Glory is that which should accrue to God because of who and what God is in His essential being and works.
  • Honor is respect, reverence.
  • Power refers to God’s inherent ability, capacity, strength, i.e., His omnipotence to do whatever He pleases.

They acknowledge God not only as the Creator of all things, but as the sole motivation for creation, “because of your will they existed and were created.” I am reminded of Romans 11:33-35 which reads:

33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35 Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Creation is a natural voice and revelation of God. Day after day, it manifests God’s being and even His divine essence; it declares His glory (Rom. 1:18; Psalm 19).

In the town hall in Copenhagen stands the world’s most complicated clock. It took forty years to build at a cost of more than a million dollars. That clock has ten faces, fifteen thousand parts, and is accurate to two-fifths of a second every three hundred years. The clock computes the time of day, the days of the week, the months and years, and the movements of the planets for twenty-five hundred years. Some parts of that clock will not move until twenty-five centuries have passed. What is intriguing about that clock is that it is not accurate. It loses two-fifths of a second every three hundred years. Like all clocks, that timepiece in Copenhagen must be regulated by a more precise clock, the universe itself. That mighty astronomical clock with its billions of moving parts, from atoms to stars, rolls on century after century with movements so reliable that all time on earth can be measured against it.

But man in his own arrogance has rejected this clear revelation of God and so often in the process, he has also rejected God himself. Evolution, a pure figment of man’s imagination, has sought to replace the concept of creation, and in the process, it has sought to jettison God. So, in the minds of many today, humanism has replaced Theism, the belief in God. Man the rebel has believed the lie of Satan when by rights he should fall down in adoration and worship of the Creator. Instead, he stands in open rebellion and worships the creature, himself, in place of the Creator.

Chapter four concludes with this “great anthem of praise by the four living ones and the 24 elders to God as creator. In 5:11-14 the focus of worship is on God as Redeemer.”73


69 Charles C. Ryrie, Revelation, Moody Press, Chicago, 1968, p. 33.

70 G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1937, p. 243.

71 Ryrie, Revelation, p. 34.

72 Donald Grey Barnhouse, Revelation, An Expository Commentary, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1971, p. 98.

73 Charles C. Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, Expanded Edition, NASB, Moody Press, Chicago, 1995, p. 2020.

Ad Category: 
Biblical Topics: 
Passage: 
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

11. The Seven Sealed Book and the Lion Who was Also a Lamb (Rev 5:1-14)

Chapters 6 and following will unfold the ominous events of the Tribulation and describe the outpouring of God’s wrath on the earth. Over and over from this point on, what occurs will be described in terms of God’s wrath and judgment as an outpouring of His holy and righteous character. But before these events occur, man is given the perspective of heaven—a perspective which demonstrates something of the justice of these events and their necessity. In chapter four our attention was focused on the throne set in heaven and its Occupant. In chapter five the scene is still in heaven and continues the vision of the throne, only now the focus is on a new item of vital importance, the seven-sealed book (actually, a scroll, the Greek biblion) and its Recipient. The book contains the prophecy of events to be unfolded in the rest of the book of Revelation.

The Seven Sealed Book
(5:1)

The Position of the Book

The next thing catching the attention of John was the seven-sealed scroll held in the right hand of the Throne Sitter. The importance of what is taking place in this scene is evident by the position of the scroll which is in the hand of the Almighty Sovereign and Holy God of the universe. God, whose plans must be carried out, must now bring judgment to bear upon sinful man. The period of grace and God’s long-suffering has now come to an end. The “right hand” as always is a symbol of God’s strength and justice.

The Portrayal of the Book

“With writing on both sides.” John was impressed with the fact the book contained writing on both sides meaning that it was full, written all over. This clearly demonstrates the importance and comprehensive character of its contents. But what does this mean and teach us? While we are not told exactly what the book contains, several things suggest the following picture:

(1) From the context of Revelation and similar portrayal in Ezekiel 2:9-10, this scroll undoubtedly contains prophecies of the judgments of the Tribulation. Writing on both sides simply emphasizes the fullness of the judgments and their ability to accomplish the purposes of God.

(2) In the chapters that follow, the breaking of the seals result in the out-pouring of the judgments described in Revelation. This clearly shows that the seven-sealed book contains prophecies of all the judgments necessary to bring rebellious man to his knees, defeat Satan’s kingdom, restore the kingdom of the earth under the visible authority of God, and to reestablish man as God had originally intended before the fall and the invasion of the tyrant, Satan (Gen. 1:26-28).

(3) Later on, through the unfolding of the seals and the judgments that come out of the seals (like the trumpet judgments) voices in heaven are heard at the sounding of the seventh trumpet, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and He will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15). The seventh trumpet includes the seven last plagues or bowls judgments that bring an end to the kingdom of this present world under Satan’s authority. See also 12:10 which anticipates the doom and final days of Satan’s kingdom.

(4) So the seventh trumpet, with the plagues that follow, will result in the defeat of the enemies of God and the establishment of God’s kingdom through Messiah. One of the key features of Revelation concerns the two kingdoms: the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God. The words “king, kings, kingdom,” etc., occur thirty times and in twenty-five verses in this book.

Chapters 12-14 are parenthetical and halt the progress of the judgments in order to develop certain themes that are tied into the key players of the Tribulation drama (Satan, Israel, the beast, the 144,000, the angel with the everlasting gospel, the beast worshippers, and the reaping of the earth by the Lord, the One who is the true white horse rider).

When we compare 11:15-17 with 15:1-7 and 16:17, it seems evident that it is the seventh bowl which finishes the judgments and accomplishes the defeat of Satan and his end-time kingdom. This final bowl comes out of the seventh trumpet which comes out of the seventh seal. Its the telescopic effect discussed in the introduction.

All of this suggests that the seven-sealed book contains the story of man losing his lordship over the earth to Satan, the usurper, and its recovery through the God-man Savior, the Lion who is also the Lamb. He alone is able to accomplish what no one else in the universe can, and He does so through the judgments of the sealed book.

“Sealed up with seven seals.” “Sealed up” is katasfragizw from kata meaning “down” and sfragizw, “to seal.” This compound verb means “tightly sealed, firmly sealed,” and so, “very hidden, very secure.” “Seven” is the number of perfection or completeness. So all of this expresses the perfection with which the hidden counsels of God are securely hidden until they are disclosed by God Himself as here. Walvoord writes, “Further, the document is made impressive by seven seals, apparently fixed on the edges of the scroll in such a way that the seals must be successively broken if the scroll is to be unrolled and read.74

But there is another reason for the seven seals which is suggested by a knowledge of the two cultural and historical practices of John’s day.

The Roman Custom: The Roman custom of making a will included a ceremony involving a testator and seven witnesses. For each of the seven witnesses there was a seal. In addition, a very reliable friend was selected who would, for a coin, purchase the property for the family. In this way the property would become the property of the reliable friend, however, upon the death of the testator, the very reliable friend would return the property to the rightful heirs. For such a document, a long scroll of parchment was used. The writer of the document would begin writing and after a period, he would stop, roll up the parchment enough to cover his words, and then seal the scroll with wax. He would then resume writing, stop, seal another portion, and so on until the entire scroll was sealed with seven seals. In this way, the scroll would read a section at a time after each seal was broken.

In the analogy, the Lord Jesus is the reliable Friend who has purchased our redemption and is here seen opening the seals which provide us with our inheritance. In this case, He is reclaiming that which was lost by Adam. Further, this procedure was used to keep unauthorized persons from opening the seven-sealed scroll. Only a “worthy” person, the one with the right credentials, could open the seals, read the inheritance, and give it to the inheritors.

The Jewish Custom: Criswell points out that if a Jewish family were to lose its property or possessions by some kind of misfortune or distress, their property could not be permanently taken from them (the Old Testament law of jubilee and the kinsman redeemer protected them against this).75 However, their losses were listed in a scroll and sealed seven times. Then the conditions necessary to purchase back the land and their possessions were written on the outside of the scroll. When a qualified redeemer could be found, who could meet the requirements of reclamation (a kinsman like Boaz as in the story of Ruth), the one who had taken the property was required to return it to the original owner.

The Principle and Application

(1) The earth and its dominion properly belonged to Adam and to his progeny or descendants (Gen. 1:26-30; Heb. 2:7-8)

In this we see the Divine Purpose for Man Decreed (Heb. 2:6-8a)

(2) The earth and the human race was not meant to be ruled by angels, i.e., by Satan and the fallen Angels under his control (Heb. 2:5, 8b, 14-15; Rev. 9:1-11; 12:1-10)

In this we see the Divine Purpose Delayed (Heb. 2:8b), “But now we do not see all things subjected to him.”

(3) Therefore, some one must be found within humanity, a kinsman redeemer, one who is qualified to reclaim the lost inheritance, someone who was true humanity, yet free to redeem; not a sinful man, nor an angel (Heb. 2:9, 14-17). Note the elements of worthiness and redemption in Rev. 5:9-10.

In this we see the Divine Purpose for Man Accomplished (paradise lost regained) (Heb. 2:9, 14, 17)

So, man is faced with the big question, “Who is able?”

The Problem of the Scroll
(5:2-3)

John sees a strong angel—an angelic messenger of God—one of the unfallen angels all of whom are personally interested in man’s redemption and in this book. We also see that he speaks with a loud voice, undoubtedly to emphasize the importance of this question and in order to penetrate all of the universe with the question posed, “Who is worthy to open the book and break its seals?”

The vision opens with three notes of emphasis: a strong angel—only twice more is reference made to a strong angel in the book, viz., 10:1 and 18:21 (Greek). The angel proclaims—not merely says. The word signifies to announce as a herald. With a loud voice denotes urgency and great concern… . Who is the strong angel making the challenge? The answer is, doubtless, Gabriel, the one who ordered the closing and sealing of the book to Daniel.76

This scene dramatically calls our attention to the problem. There was no one qualified in any place in the universe to open it, or even look into it.

“No one … was able.” “Able” is an imperfect tense of a continual problem. The Greek word here is dunamai which means the ability to do something whether by ability, strength or power, or by authority or permission. Search was made in every conceivable place in the universe, but there was no one qualified and capable.

The Sobber
(5:4)

4 I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside (NIV).

John’s weeping stresses the effect on John, a godly man longing for the righteousness of God to be manifest in the world to rid the world of its ungodliness and the product of that—man’s stubborn rebellion and the evil, tyranny, and injustices throughout the world. John’s sobbing also demonstrates the inability of anyone else in the universe to solve man’s dilemma. When the dominion was lost, man began to experience tears, pain and sorrow because of his condition in sin and the onslaught of Satan’s murderous ways and dominion.

Mankind has sought answers to its problems by searching in all the wrong places. By-in-large, man has put his trust in mankind, in human governments, in wealth, in pleasure, in human philosophies, but the tears of man’s sorrow still continue to flow like a river the world over. The daily headlines and the news on TV are a constant reminder of this. The world, from the very early history of mankind as seen in the tower of Babel, has searched among the systems of the world and looked to the wisdom of man for its solutions instead of to the Lamb who is also the Lion, the Sovereign Savior. None of man’s solutions can even begin to provide for the enormous problems facing us.

The Solution:
The Sovereign Savior
(5:5-7)

John is commanded to stop his weeping because his eyes (and ours) are turned to that One who turns tears of sorrow into tears of joy, and weeping into laughter. Note the following chart which contrasts the two pictures here given of Christ.77

Jesus as the Lion

Jesus as the Lamb

the lion character refers to His second coming

the lamb character refers to His first coming

the lion speaks of His majesty

the lamb speaks of His meekness

as lion He is sovereign

as lamb He is Savior

as lion He is Judge

as lamb He is judged

the lion speaks of the government of God

the lamb speaks of the grace of God

As to His Person

(1) He is “The Lion of the tribe of Judah.” The lion is the king of beasts, and Judah is the royal tribe. Here we have an allusion to Genesis 49:9-10 where it is predicted that the future Ruler of Israel and of the earth would come out of the tribe of Judah, the royal tribe. This is, of course, a reference to the Lord Jesus who was of the line of David, a legal descendent by adoption through Joseph (Matt. 1), but also a physical descendent of David through Mary (Luke 3:23f).

(2) He is “the Root of David.” This is a reference to Isaiah 11:1 where it is prophesied that from Jesse, David’s father, the future Ruler of the earth, the Messiah, would rise up like a shoot or stem from the root of a cut down tree. The Davidic line would be cut down so that no man would sit on the throne of David (cf. Jer. 22:24-30), but from David’s line or roots would come the Messiah, David’s own progeny.

As to His Work

(1) He “has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” “Overcome” is the Greek verb nikaw which means “to win a victory, come off victorious, to conquer, be victorious over one’s enemies.” The tense is aorist. It is what grammarians call a culminative aorist which views an event or series of events from the standpoint of an accomplished act. It is used of verbs which signify an effort, or process, and the aorist denotes the attainment of the effort as an accomplished fact.

The Lord Jesus faced many battles like that of His temptation, of His ministry, and of course of the cross. In all of these He came forth victorious. The aorist emphasizes the complete success of Christ’s work in His ministry on earth, particularly the cross. This should remind us of His victorious shout just before He bowed His head and voluntarily died for the sin of the world. He cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

“So as to open” is an aorist infinitive which points us to the intended results of the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus in the plan of God. The results of Christ’s redemptive victory is the capacity and authority to break the seals and to pour out the judgments.

‘To open the book” refers to Christ’s authority and right to reveal the prophecies of this book, first to John and then to the church.

“To open the seals” refers to His authority to break the seals and unleash their judgments here revealed when the time comes for the Tribulation.

Verse 6: So what else does John see?

(2) “A Lamb standing as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes …” Each part of this symbolism describes certain aspects of Christ’s person and work.

“A Lamb.” Since the one standing is “the Lamb of God,” we might have expected to find the Greek article with the noun, but it is absent. Why? Because the absence of the article draws our attention to the quality or character of Christ as God’s sacrificial Lamb. Further, the term used here is the Greek arnion. The regular word for lamb is arnon. Arnion is the diminutive form and means “little Lamb,” but it came to be used as a term of endearment. The sacrificial lambs were not just lambs taken out of the flock, but those which had often been brought into the home, cared for and loved. It expresses God’s love for His Son and what it cost Him to give Him for us.

The term lion is used of Christ only once in Revelation, though this is the book which reveals Christ’s lion-like majestic authority and character. Yet the term “Lamb” (arnion) occurs in Revelation 28 times. The point is simply that His kingly crown, rule, and power lies in His Person and redemptive work as the Lamb of God who died in our place. The biggest battle was won on the cross. He could not take His place as Ruler until He had become the Kinsman Redeemer by the sacrifice of Himself as God’s arnion. The figure of the Lamb perfectly expresses the submission and controlled gentleness (meekness) of Christ as silent before His shearers and as He was led to the cross to bear our sin. This is clearly a prominent emphasis in this chapter and declared to be one of the reasons for His worthiness to open the book and its seals (cf. 5:9-10).

“Looking as if it had been slain” (NIV), or “standing as if slain” (NASB), or better, a lamb that appeared to have been slaughtered.78

“Standing” is a perfect tense of the verb, $isthmi, “to stand.” He had been slain, but now He is seen, not dead, but very much alive, indeed standing, firmly positioned, immovable and ready to judge. The perfect tense stresses this firm position.

“As if slain” or literally, “as slaughtered.” This verb, sfazw, means “to slay, slaughter” and was used especially of victims for sacrifice.79 The obvious reference is to the Lord Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Again the Greek text employs the perfect tense which stresses completed action with results going on in the present. The continuing results were not continued death, but the efficacious effects of Christ’s substitionary work for sin and His defeat of Satan’s power (Col. 1:12-13; 2:14-15; Heb. 2:14). The position of standing points to Him as the resurrected and victorious Savior. The marks are nevertheless there, the marks of death on His resurrected body, undoubtedly everlasting symbols of His sacrifice for us (cf. John 20:24-29).

“He had seven horns.” The horn is the symbol of power and of government, and seven (the number of perfection) shows us that Christ’s power and government are perfect. He will be victorious over all His enemies and rule in perfect righteousness and justice as prophesied in Isaiah 11.

“And seven eyes.” Eyes are symbolic of Christ’s omniscience, wisdom and insight. Again, seven emphasizes the totality and perfection of His knowledge and insight. In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3).

“Which are the seven Spirits of God.” Though Christ Himself is omniscient, He also is the One who sends forth the Holy Spirit into the earth, who likewise knows all and sees all. None of His actions and decisions in His righteous judgments against the sin of mankind will be made on partial knowledge.

(3) “And He came and He took it out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.” What a beautiful scene. The only one qualified is now seen moving to take the book out of the hand of the One on the throne. With the taking up of the scroll, action is now ready to begin. Once more we must notice what Christ is doing. He is not sitting in heaven at God’s right hand, making intercession. Instead, He moves forward to take the seven-sealed book containing the judgments of the Tribulation. This portrays His determination to establish the visible kingdom on earth when the time is right in the future. He is seen standing and walking between the throne and the 24 elders, the glorified, resurrected church there in heaven with Him. Walvoord writes:

In the act of receiving the book from God the Father, it is made evident that judgment and power over the earth are committed to Christ the Son of God. Daniel 7:13-14 is a parallel passage. There Daniel reveals the ultimate triumph of Christ when the kingdoms of the world are given to Christ. Daniel declares,

“I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. 14 And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.”

In that future day complete authority over the world will be realized by Christ, an authority which He will exercise both in the judgments which precede His second coming and in His reign for one thousand years which will follow His second advent.80

The Singers
(5:8-10)

Now the solution to man’s dilemma has been found in the Lion who was also a Lamb. This recipient of the scroll is worshipped, first by the four living beings and then by the twenty-four elders (5:8-10). Following this, these two groups are joined by an innumerable host of angels, and finally by all creation in recognition of the worthiness of the Lamb and in praise of His accomplishments (5:11-14).

We must not pass on to this scene without understanding the nature or the reason for what is taking place here. Remember, this chapter is a prologue to the terrible events of the great Tribulation by which all the enemies of Christ and of God’s purposes for Him are defeated and made the footstool of His feet. It is then that Christ will begin to reign as the God-man, but also as the King of kings in fulfillment of all Old and New Testament expectations. But when do the events of this chapter occur? I believe they will occur sometime after the rapture, with the church in heaven, but just before Daniel’s Seventieth Week or the time of Jacob’s distress.

So let’s review for a moment to get the perspective so that we can properly gain the impact of this scene.

(1) This section (chapters four and five) began with meta tauta, “after these things.” They deal with events which must take place after these things, or after the church age (4:1).

(2) The elders who represent the church are seen in heaven, glorified, robed and crowned.

(3) Also around the throne in heaven is a sea of crystal portraying not only God’s perfect holiness but the Old Testament laver which is now like crystal, and a symbol that there is no more need for daily cleansing of sin due to the finished work of Christ.

(4) There is also seen a new throne set in heaven, a throne of judgment for coming events rather than a throne of intercession. In this regard Christ is seen not sitting as our advocate and intercessor, but standing and moving to take the book or scroll full of judgments. The picture of Christ here with the titles given to Him (5:5) show that He has laid aside His role as intercessor and advocate for the church (who is now with Him in heaven) and is taking up a new work on behalf of Israel, to fulfill Israel’s kingdom promises.

Let’s also look back into some other New Testament verses to properly get the picture here.

(1) After Christ died on the cross for our sins and was raised from the dead, He was taken into heaven where He sat down at God’s right hand as our advocate and intercessor (Heb. 1:3; Rom. 8:34).

(2) Here Christ was to sit and serve as our intercessor until it was time for what we can call “operation footstool,” the time when Christ will move to defeat all His enemies and have all things brought into subjection to Him (Heb. 1:13; 10:12-14).

(3) Because of His humble submission to the Father’s plan to become man and die on the cross for man’s sin (i.e., His humiliation), God has highly exalted Him above all, giving Him a Name above all names with the purpose that all creation would one day worship at His feet and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God (Phil. 2:9-11).

(4) Now, we do not see all things subjected to Him. Instead, Satan, the usurper, is still walking about, the nations are still in an uproar (Ps. 2), and Israel is still in unbelief as a nation (cf. Rom. 11). We now see Christ in His humiliation, made lower than the angels as true humanity, suffering and dying for man’s sin on the cross, and then ascended and seated as our intercessor (Heb, 2: 8, 9, 14, 17, 18). But this is all temporary, until his enemies are made his footstool (Heb. 10:13).

Now back to our scene in Revelation five. The church is no longer on earth. Christ’s intercession and advocacy is no longer needed, so Christ is no longer seated on the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16). Instead He is seen standing and then moving to take the scroll full of Judgment. This is a clear sign that Christ, looking prophetically to the future, is about to proceed with His work as King and Judge; it is now time for “Operation Footstool.”

Is there any wonder therefore that the Lamb is here so greatly revered for what He is about to do. Note that it is when the Lion/Lamb takes the scroll that the actions of worship immediately follow.

Their Actions of Worship (8a)

(1) “Fell down before the Lamb.” In the previous chapter God is worshipped as the sovereign Creator, but here the center of heaven’s worship is the Redeemer of mankind. The living beings and the elders fall down before the Lamb in profound prostration of worship and recognition of the Lamb’s finished work of redemption and His worthiness to now accomplish what He is about to do.

(2) “And they sang” (5:9). Literally, the Greek text say, “and they sing a new song,” present tense of the verb adw, which means “to sing” but in the NT it is used of praise to God. “Song” is wdh and in the NT it is only used of a sacred song or a song of praise.81 The use of the present tense is interesting. When John wrote Revelation, he was recording what he had seen through the visions revealed to him. It is sometimes difficult to determine the reason for the use of a particular tense or the aspect (the portrayal of a tense as to progress, simple occurrence, completed action, etc.) of a tense in a given context, but this may be what is called an historic present, though this use is less prevalent in apocalyptic writing than in narrative literature. Most translations translate this as “they sang.” So why the present? John may have used the present simply because he wanted to show the scene as in progress, but more than likely, this is what grammarian call an historical present. Historical presents are often used to introduce, highlight, and bring to prominence the scene that follows, specifically, the song of praise extolling the worthiness of the Lamb to take and open the book.

Their Instruments of Worship (8b)

Harps and golden bowls full of incense are instruments to aid in praise and worship of the Lamb. The indication is that they each not only had a harp, but played it as an expression of their adoration of the Lord.

Since this scene is prophetic of the future, the “golden bowls full of incense which are the prayers of the saints” would certainly include the prayers of church age saints who will be in heaven with the elders who are seen around the throne.

But what does this teach us concerning prayer?

(1) That the bowls are golden stresses the value of prayer to us and especially to God.

(2) That the bowls are full would stress the extent and abundance of their prayer and worship. Our praise and worship will not be halfhearted or part time then, and it should not be now. The saints will be full of the prayer of praise.

(3) Incense was burned in the tabernacle and temple which gave off a pleasing odor and ascended upward to God. The incense portrayed the person and work of Jesus Christ who alone satisfies the character of God and is pleasing to Him. Biblical praying and praise to God through the Lord Jesus Christ fills the area with a sweet atmosphere and aroma which calls attention to God’s glory and to Christ’s person.

(4) But what do the prayers consist of? Lindsey says that the incense “represents the earnest prayers of believers of all past ages begging God to judge Satan and his followers and to liberate mankind and creation from its curse.”82. This would be in keeping with the example prayer Christ gave to the disciples, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).

Another view is that this refers only to the prayers of those then in heaven who are occupied with Jesus Christ and are full of praise only. Barnhouse is probably right when he says,

… today, prayer consists of confession, intercession, and worship. When we confess we are occupied with our sins; when we intercede, we are occupied with human needs, ours and others’ but when we worship we are occupied with Him alone. The day will come when prayer will be emptied of its need of confession. There will be no more laver. Prayer will be emptied of its need for intercession. There will be nothing remaining but that which may be symbolized under the bowls of incense, and all our prayer shall be praise and worship.83

Their Song of Worship (9-10)

Again, we should note that the goal of the song is to acclaim the worthiness of the Lamb to unleash the judgments of the seals. This is a keynote of this chapter. Terrible judgments will follow as an expression of God’s holiness and justice against man’s sin and rebellion. But what about God’s love? This is declared in the accomplishments of the Lamb as the gift of God’s love (John 3:16). Further, the Son gave His life as God’s solution to sin. But a large portion of the world has rejected and turned away from God’s Son. In this section we have what is in part a theodicy, a vindication of God’s goodness and justice in the face of the existence of evil and the judgments that will follow.

There are five reasons given in this new song that declare the Lamb as worthy. They fall into three time slots, all being based on the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.

(1) He “was slain” is an obvious reference to the cross and the substitionary death of Christ for the sin of the world. This looks at the past historic event, the demonstration of God’s love for the world.

(2) The words, “and with your blood you purchased men for God,” point us to the efficacy of Christ’s death and describes both its past and present. Note that it is viewed as an accomplished fact. “Purchased” is the Greek, agorazw and means “to purchase in the market place.” It is used of the redemptive work of Christ which sets us free from sin and death. But the tense, a consummative or effective aorist, points to our redemption as an accomplished fact. There is a present effect in that every time a person believes in Christ, His redemptive death becomes the means of the believer’s salvation.

(3) “You have made them to be a kingdom” points to a further present effect of the cross, the establishment of a kingdom. Whenever a person trusts in Christ, they are rescued from the kingdom of darkness and made a part of a whole new kingdom, a kingdom of light in accord with God’s will for man (Col. 1:13).

(4) “And priests to God” This stresses our present representative character. By Christ’s work we have access to God and can serve and represent Him to men here on earth during the church age.

(5) “And they will reign …” The Greek employs a future indicative of a promised future fact. Though God is always on throne, sitting in the heavens and in charge of all that goes on, the church is not ruling today. Though the church will rule with Christ in the future, it was never meant to rule in this present age (1 Cor. 6:2). Rather, the Lord’s promise was, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NIV).

The Sayings of Adoration and Exaltation

    The seven-fold saying of the angels (12)

Here we are told that a host of innumerable angels surround the throne with the four living beings and the 24 elders, and that their voice is heard. Please note—as one voice. Voice is singular which emphasizes they are speaking in perfect unity, as one. An innumerable company of mighty beings speak in complete appreciation for the Lamb, for what He has done, and is now about to do. They speak in a loud (Greek megas) i.e., a great voice. Megas speaks of both the intensity and degree.

The angels who were present at Satan’s revolt and again at the fall of man are overjoyed and excited at the prospects of these judgments, now that one with whom they have done battle over the centuries is about to be removed. Thus a seven-fold exaltation is said of Christ.

(1) He is “worthy to receive power.” Power (jdunamis) is mentioned first perhaps because the immediate situation calls for the need of great power to accomplish His purposes in the earth. He alone, as the perfect God-man Savior is worthy of such power for He alone will and can use it with perfect justice and equity (Isa. 11).

(2) “And wealth” refers to the wealth of the universe. All this is His by creation and now by redemption and reclamation.

(3) “And wisdom” refers to the Lord’s omniscience and its wise use in carrying out the purposes of God in the world.

(4) “And strength” (iscus) refers to working might or power in action and stresses His omnipotence to carry out God’s will.

(5) “And honor” (timh) refers to the esteem, the value and respect which is due to Christ because of Who He is and what He has and will accomplish to the glory of God and the benefit of the world.

(6) “And glory” (doxa) refers to the tribute and public display of adoration that should accrue to Christ and again, this stems from His person and work, both past, present, and future.

(7) “And praise.” Praise (“blessing” in the NASB) is the Greek word (eulogia) which means “fair or good speech.” It refers to the praise that should be given to the Lord because of His wonderful acts of redemption and reclamation.

    The four-fold saying of all created beings (13)

The emphasis of verse 13 is that all creation will finally praise Jesus Christ and recognize His sovereign authority and right to rule as the God-man. In chapter four the praise was to the Father. Here it is to the Son and the Father, both are praised.

This is the prophesy and fulfillment of Philippians 2:10-11. This means, that even the devil and his demon hosts are brought to this place, in spite of themselves and their defiance of God and Christ’s authority, and their unwillingness to praise Him. Here the angelic conflict will be resolved. Satan will be forced, after all these centuries of blasphemy, slander and accusations against God, to praise God and to admit God and His Son are worthy to be praised.

The four-fold blessing consists of “praise and honor and glory and power (the NASB has “dominion”) for ever and ever.” Praise and honor and glory are the same as above, only now a new note of praise is added—that of everlasting dominion. The Greek word here, kratos, is translated as “power” by the NIV, but that translation does not distinguish it enough from the other two words for power used in this chapter, dunamis and iscus. Kratos does mean “power, might, strength,” but it is particularly used of ruling power or sovereignty or dominion. The verb form, kratew, means (a) “to be strong, mighty,” hence “to rule, be master, prevail,” and then (b) “to get possession of, obtain, take hold of.”84 The emphasis here is clearly that of the Lion-Lamb prevailing against the rebellion of man and Satan and visibly taking control of the reigns of government over the earth through the events that will follow in chapters 6-19.

    The response by the living beings and 24 elders (14)

Here we have the proper response from the four living beings and the worship of the 24 elders, the effects of the above praise. The amen signifies “truly, truly.” This is heaven’s response—the response of the angelic hosts asserting the validity of the praise. The falling down of the elders in worship shows the church’s response (through the representation of the twenty-four elders) to the sovereignty of God and the worthiness of the Lamb to now extend that sovereignty to earth and recover it for God and redeemed mankind.

Walvoord writes:

The scene of chapter 5 can be considered as prophetic of future events in which the church of Jesus Christ bearing witness in the world today will be in the presence of the Lord in heaven. Those who have received Jesus Christ as Saviour and who have entered into the blessings of His redemptive work will be numbered among the tens of thousands pictured in chapter 5 as giving their worship and praise to the Saviour. That which John contemplated in prophetic vision will be an actual part of the future experience of the saints of God as they wait with Christ for the consummating events of the age and the establishment of His kingdom.85

All is now ready for the events of chapters 6-19—the outpouring of God’s divine wrath upon the earth and rebellious man.

The emphasis of these verses is clearly worship, recognizing the worthiness of the Lamb to take the book, open its seals, and pour out its judgments. But a further emphasis is the unified expression of worship. No one is preoccupied with themselves or with people. All attention is on the Lamb. No one is occupied with protecting their frail egos or vying for attention or worried about his position or praise, as we see in Luke 22 with the disciples. No one is seeking to promote their hidden agendas, for none now exist.

Obviously, God wants our worship just like this today. This passages serves as a beautiful example of what our worship and service for the Lord should always be like.

Romans 15:5-6 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus; 6 that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Barnhouse wrote:

Never will such music have been heard in the universe. Never will so many voices have intoned such mighty praise. The armies of armies come to the last note. The mightiest of God’s creatures sound the amen. We gaze upon the scene with no voice for utterance and, prostrate, we worship the Lord Jesus Christ who now proceeds to the most awful scenes of judgment with actions that rooted in His cross.86

Application

As we so clearly see from this chapter, in heaven, all believers in their glorified state, without a sinful nature, will be occupied with giving praise and glory to God. But that’s not something we should put off until heaven. May we now be living to the glory of God as those who love Him and are living in the moment-by-moment expectation of the Savior’s coming.

Three men worked on a large building project. One was asked, “What are you doing?” “I’m mixing mortar,” he said. The second man said, “I’m helping put up this great stone wall.” When the third man was asked, he replied, “I’m building a cathedral to the glory of God.”

Those three men could just as well have been working on a car, a truck, a house, a road, or any legitimate product or service a man or woman might provide. Most people work to earn a living, attain success, or amass wealth. Such reasons, however, must not be the Christian’s primary motive for working. Like the third man in our story, we need to see that what gives work eternal value is not the product or service of our labor but the process of laboring itself — doing the job faithfully to the glory of the Lord.87


74 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Moody Press, Chicago, 1968, p. 113.

75 W. A. Crisswell, Expository Sermons on the Revelation.

76 J. B. Smith, A Revelation of Jesus Christ, p. 112, quoted by Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, pp. 113-114.

77 J. Vernon McGee, Reveling Through Revelation, p. 47.

78 Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, translated by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, University of Chicago Press, electronic version.

79 G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1937, p. 435.

80 Walvoord, p. 116.

81 Baur, Arndt, Gingrich, electronic Media.

82 Hal Lindsey, There’s a New World Coming, Harvest House Publishers, p. 96

83 Donald Grey Barnhouse, Revelation, An Expository Commentary, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1971, p. 109.

84 G. Abbott-Smith, p. 256.

85 Walvoord, p. 120.

86 Barnhouse, p. 113.

87 The Bible Illustrator, Parson’s Technology, electronic media.

Ad Category: 
Passage: 
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

12. The Six Seals (6:1-17)

The Beginning of the Great Day of God’s Wrath

Introduction

As discussed previously, the outline for this study of Revelation is based on Revelation 1:19, the things past (the salutation and the vision of Christ, chapter one), the things present (the letters to the churches, chapters 2-3), and the things future (chapters 4-22). The last and major portion of Revelation, begins with chapter 4:1, but as mentioned, chapters 4 and 5 provide us with a prologue to the events and pictures of chapters 6-19. They give us heaven’s perspective of the judgments that will now be revealed. This is not without significance. Wilbur Smith writes:

A fundamental factor in this book, too often passed over by commentators, is of great help in understanding these chapters when it is recognized. That is, many scenes of this book are located in heaven, while the judgments themselves take place on this earth; and the scenes in heaven always precede the earthly events to which they are attached. Thus, the messages to the seven churches are preceded by a vision of the ascended Lord. The opening of the six seals in chapter 6 is preceded by a vision of the Lamb in heaven, worthy to open the book (chs. 4; 5). The judgments accompanying the blowing of the seven trumpets are preceded by a heavenly scene extending from 7:1 to 8:5. The dreadful events of chapters 11; 12; 13 are again preceded by a heavenly scene of instructions to John. The devastations accompanying the seven plagues (chs. 15; 16) are preceded by the announcements of the angels and the showing of “the temple … in heaven.” And, after the final judgment of chapter 20, the book concludes with a picture of the heavenly home of the redeemed.

I have always felt that there are two great truths to be drawn from this phenomenon. First, what is about to take place on earth, though unknown to man and unexpected by him, is fully known to those in heaven—the ascended Lord, the angels, the twenty-four elders, the living creatures, and the others. Secondly, what is to take place on earth is under the complete control and direction of heaven, so that we may safely say, judging from this book, as well as from other prophetic books in the Scripture, that everything that takes place on this earth only fulfills the Word of God. This principle is remarkably set forth in the preliminary announcements concerning the kings of the earth going forth to make war with the Lamb. Though we read of the ten kings satanically inspired, having one mind and giving their power and authority unto the beast (17:12, 13), nevertheless, it is God who “did put in their hearts to do his mind, and to come to one mind, and to give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God should be accomplished” (17:17).88

Chapters 6-19 concern the judgments and players of the events often referred to as the Tribulation, a period of time covering seven years. But as Ryrie points out:

There is no problem in outlining the events of these chapters; the difficulty comes in determining the sequential order of those events, particularly the relation of the three series of judgments to each other. Do the judgments of the seals (chap. 6), and of the trumpets (chaps. 8-9) and of the bowls (chap. 16) follow each other in succession, or do the trumpets and /or the bowls recapitulate the judgments of the seals with greater intensity? In other words, do the trumpet and bowl judgments follow the seals as different and distinct judgments or do they picture the same judgments? To this writer’s understanding they all follow in chronological sequence and there is no recapitulation.89

I would agree and this study will be based on the view that the judgments follow in chronological sequence with the trumpets immediately proceeding after the seventh seal is broken (cf. 8:1-2). With the breaking of each of the first six seals some form of judgment follows, but not with the seventh. Instead, only silence, but the trumpets are immediately announced as though they constituted the content of the seventh seal.

A similar situation exists in connection with the seven trumpets. Following each of the first six trumpets, specific judgments follow, but not after the seventh angel sounds his trumpet. Instead, we are again given a glimpse of heaven’s response just as before (cf. 8:1 with 11:15-19). Chapters 12-14 form another interlude describing key players and making important announcements, but with chapter 15 the bowl judgments are anticipated and then described in chapter 16. The implication is that somehow the seventh trumpet prepares the way for the bowls that follow. In essence, then, the seven seals include the entire Tribulation period from its beginning to its conclusion since the trumpets and bowls ultimately come out of the seventh seal. See again the charts used in connection with the introduction to this study on Revelation. Walvoord states the same position. He writes:

The six seals seem to unfold successively in a chronological pattern. Out of the seventh seal will come another series of seven trumpets and out of the seventh trumpet will come another series of seven vials or bowls of the wrath of God. Different actors are prominent, namely, the Lamb opening the seal, the angels sounding the trumpets, and God Himself pouring out the vials. Actually, however, the seven seals comprehend the whole, as all the trumpets and all the vials are comprehended in the seventh seal. The seven-sealed book therefore is the comprehensive program of God culminating in the second coming of Christ.90

Note the following chart from the Expanded Edition of the Ryrie Study Bible:91

JUDGMENTS

Judgment
Series
Identified

Judgment
Series
Interrelated

The Seven Seals
(6:1-8:6)

1. Antichrist 2. War 3. Famine 4. Death 5. Martyrs’ prayers 6. Great earthquake

 

7. Announcement of Trumpets

The Seven Trumpets
(8:7-9:21)

1. A third of vegetation burned 2. A third of the sea judged 3. A third of fresh water judged 4. A third of the luminaries darkened 5. Increased demonic activity 6. A third of mankind killed

 

7. Announcement of Bowls

The Seven Bowls
(15:1-16:21)

1. Malignant sores 2. Sea turned to blood 3. Fresh waters to blood 4. Men scorched with fire 5. Darkness over the kingdom of the beast 6. Invasion from the east. 7. Greatest earthquake and widespread destruction

Discussing this same issue, Everett Harrison writes:

It has been claimed by some commentators that these three successive septenary series of three judgments are a recapitulation of the same events. That is, the trumpets review what the seals previously set forth, but with greater intensity; and the vials review the same events, characterizing them with even more severity. I have not been able to accept this view. For one reason, the sequence in each series is altogether different, and this alone, it seems, makes the concept of recapitulation impossible.92

Though this was discussed in the introduction to this study, let me summarize the make up of chapters 6-19. Chapters 6-19 cover the Tribulation events with chapters 6 (the seals), 8-9 (the trumpets), and 16 (the bowls) forming the chronological backbone and following one another sequentially. The others chapters give us important information about the key players in the drama of these end time events from the standpoint of heaven and earth. Ryrie has an excellent explanation of this.

The other chapters reveal vital information about the period but are not arranged in chronological order. They either cover the entire period, or spotlight an event within the period, or survey the first or last half of the period. The chapters in this section are arranged like a conversation on the telephone between two persons. They start telling the story in order (chap. 6) but soon there is an interruption to fill in some information (chap. 7). Then the order of events is resumed (chaps. 8-9), then some more fill-in (chaps. 10-15). There is a return to the progressive order of events (chap. 16) and finally more detail (chaps. 17-19). Sometimes the fill-in runs ahead of the story and at other times it backs up to add or emphasize pertinent information.93

(As a preparation for chapters 6-19 and for an overview of this future time often referred to as “the Tribulation,” see Appendix 5.)

The First Seal:
The White Horse Rider, False Peace
(6:1-2)

When the first seal is broken by the Lamb, one of the four living creatures in a voice of thunder tells John to “come” so that he might behold the vision of the breaking of the first seal

The “voice of thunder” is naturally symbolic of judgment as a coming storm. I was born and raised in Texas and spent many of my years of ministry there. It was not uncommon for us to have some pretty awesome thunder and lighting storms with heavy down pours of an inch or more within just a short period of time, but most of the time, we could hear the thunder long before the storm ever hit.

After the command to “come” John says, “I looked and behold.” This stresses the effect on John, He was startled and he exhorts us “to behold” what he saw so that we too may grasp its significance. What John saw was a white horse rider with a bow. A crown was given to the rider and he went forth conquering and to conquer. Each aspect of this is significant.

“White” is a symbol of peace and righteousness. For this reason some have tried to identify this rider as Christ, but “white” is the only similarity between this rider and the white horse rider of Chapter 19:11 which is clearly Christ.

Reasons this cannot be Christ

(1) This occurs too early in the Tribulation. At this time Christ is in heaven rewarding His bride while at the same time pouring out wrath from the throne mentioned in chapter 4:2. Christ’s coming on a white horse is at the end and is the culmination of the Tribulation. Also, note that Revelation 6:16 views the Lamb as still in heaven.

(2) Further support that the white horse rider is not Christ is the parallelism with the other three horses which are instruments of judgment. Each rider is an instrument of evil and judgment on the world. The Lamb is viewed as the One who opens the seals allowing the riders to go forth and would not be one of the riders.

(3) In Revelation 19 no more judgments follow. Christ’s own coming puts an end to the Tribulation judgments. Here, however, the judgments of the entire Tribulation have yet to unfold.

(4) The crown which this rider wears is the stefanos crown, a single crown and a victor’s crown, not the crown of a sovereign who wears the diadem crown. In chapter 19 the white horse rider wears many crowns, and they are the diadem crowns, the crowns of sovereignty.

The Identity of the Rider

This rider is the Antichrist, the false Christ who comes as a peacemaker. Later he will show his true colors and will then be called the beast. This is undoubtedly the prince who is to come and who will make a peace treaty with Israel according to Daniel 9:26-27. This fits with the picture Paul gives us in 1 Thessalonians 5:3. The world will be trusting in the peace and safety brought about by the tactics of the white horse rider, but it will be oblivious this very peace has inaugurated the Day of the Lord which will quickly usher in destruction.

1 Thessalonians 5:2-3. for you know very well that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape (NIV).

(1) White is a symbol of peace and he comes as a peacemaker. According to Daniel 9:26-27, one of his first feats will be to find a solution to the Arab-Israeli dispute by a peace treaty with Israel. This evidently begins Daniel’s 70th week, the unprecedented time of Jacob’s distress (Jer. 30:7).

(2) His weapon is a bow, yet no arrows are mentioned. The bow is a symbol of distant victory and since no arrows are mentioned it seems to indicate that he gains his victory by bloodless tactics.

(3) That all this is true is indicated further by the fact that peace isn’t taken from the earth until the second seal.

(4) He has a hidden agenda. His purpose is not world peace, but rather world domination. He goes out conquering and to conquer. He is the false Christ.

So, Revelation 6:2 says “he went out conquering and to conquer,” but the picture given here of a bow (perhaps a symbol of distant victory), but with no arrows mentioned, suggests that he conquers by cold war tactics through a one world order mentality that has been growing for years and continues to do so. Today the world is ripe for the rise of such a man with his world government as an answer to international problems. Prominent world leaders and movements have posed the idea that what we need is a world order with a charismatic leader who can mold the world into harmony and peace. In his book, written in 1973, The Day the Dollar Dies, Willard Cantelon quotes a number of world leaders to this effect. He writes:

Harold Urey said, “The only escape from total destruction of civilization will be a world government.” Robert J. Oppenheimer stated, “In the field of atomic energy, there must be set up a world power.” Arthur Compton added his word, “World government has become inevitable.” Dr. Ralph Barton Perry of Harvard said, “One world government is in the making. Whether we like it or not, we are moving toward a one-world government.” Professor Hocking wrote, “Therefore the alternative is that we vest all political power in one agency and resign that power ourselves.”94

James Warburg says, “We are living in a perilous period of transition from the era of the fully sovereign nation-state to the era of world government.”95 In Between Two Ages, Zbigniew Brezinski, former assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, openly advocates a one world government as a necessity. And this is not even the tip of the iceberg. Such thinking is all part of a deluding influence that will continue to grow as a product of the blindness and rebellion of man against God, being blinded by his own natural blindness and by the deceptions of Satan, and even by God’s own sovereign judgment (cf. Eph. 2:1-3; 4:16-17; 2 Cor. 4:4; 2 Tim. 2:26). Undoubtedly, this kind of thinking among world leaders will pave the way for the white horse rider who comes proclaiming peace, but it is really the system of the beast in disguise and a precursor to the horrible world conditions that will follow. In 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12, the Apostle Paul warns:

8 And then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; 9 that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11 And for this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.

This passage pertains to the end times, but the same thing is happening today, though in a lesser degree. Concerning this, Ryrie writes:

The deluding influence comes from God; it is both a punishment and a moral result of their rejection of the truth (vv. 10, 12). These verses reflect the OT concept that God is sovereign even in the activities of the powers of evil (cf. Ex. 4:21; Josh. 11:20; 1 Kings 22:19-23; 1 Chron. 21:1; cf. 2 Sam. 24:1). The result will be that men will believe what is false, as Satan works through Antichrist.96

Ironically, a large part of the world has greater access to the Bible and its revelation of the good news of the Lord Jesus than at any other time in history through the many translations of Scripture, through books, tapes, videos, radio, the internet, etc. In its moment of greatest need, however, the world will turn to a man who goes forth with a plan for peace just as our Lord Himself stated in John 5 when He was on earth.

43 I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another shall come in his own name, you will receive him. 44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another, and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?

The Second Seal:
The Red Horse Rider, War
(6:3-4)

The various colors of the horsemen surely represent in symbolical language the nature of the human agencies employed in the execution of these judgments (cf. “the red dragon,” 12:3; and the “scarlet beast,” 17:3). It is important to keep in mind, however, that the hand moving these instruments is the Lamb who, as sovereign Lord, opens the seven seals. Each seal is begun by the words “and He (the Lamb) broke …” Note also the words, “and to him was granted …”

Some commentators see the word “come” (Greek ercou) in each of the seals as referring to John, while others think the verb is addressed to the four horsemen. If it refers to the horsemen, the heavenly agents of God’s throne are successively calling these human instruments to move in their divinely appointed role. It emphasizes that they cannot move until God allows, even though they operate by their own volition and evil purposes (cf. Isa. 10:5-11). As such, the command “come” could be translated “go forth” (a present imperative of ercomai).

Others take this to be an admonition to Christ in the sense of Revelation 22:17 and 20 where the same word ercou is used. Interpreters of Revelation seem widely split between these views, but the most probable view is the first or second view. If the preponderance of manuscript evidence had the addition “see” as “come and see” then there would be no question, it would refer to John.

It seems best, however, to take this as a command to the four horsemen to go forth to accomplish their purpose. Reasons: (1) With the fifth and sixth seal, when human agencies astride the horses are no longer used, there is no command to come or go, yet John is still seeing the vision of the six seals. (2) In Revelation 4:1, when John is called up, the aorist tense is used, but here the instantaneous present “come” or “go forth” is used which would be more in line with a command to the four horsemen. This strongly stresses God’s sovereignty and is comforting to the human heart.

While the white horse was symbolic of a victorious conqueror and one who primarily gained his supremacy by cold war and bloodless peace maneuvers, red is a clear symbol of bloodshed or warfare and the rest of the verse clearly shows this to be the case (Rev. 12:3; Isa. 63:2f).

As with the white horse rider, so this rider is unnamed. Some see this as Russia because Russia is known as the Red menace and their army as the Red army. Certainly Russia, if she is the king of the North as depicted in Ezekiel 38 and 39, could fit strongly in the promotion of war and the removal of peace in the Tribulation period. Russia and her allies could easily help to promote the escalation of cold war to actual warfare, but the primary emphasis is on the fact that prior to and during the Tribulation, there will be constant tension among nations and the ambitions of men who will be clamoring for power and control. This will come to its climax just prior to the return of Christ. Walvoord understands Matthew 24:4-8 to apply to conditions characteristic of this age rather than the Tribulation.97 Walvoord writes:

Though “wars and rumours of wars” (Matt. 24:6) are characteristic of the age, it is evident that warfare occupies a large place in the consummation of the age with a resultant great loss of life. There apparently is a series of wars, the greatest of which is under way at the time of the second coming. The hope of permanent peace by means of the United Nations and other human efforts is doomed to failure.98

However, concerning the fact the seals closely parallel the events or signs of the end times spoken of by the Lord in His Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:1-15), Barnhouse writes:

The order of events follows closely that which was announced by our Lord in answer to the disciples’ questions on the Mount of Olives, “For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (Matt. 24:5). This is the white horse. “And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars … for nation shall rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom …” (24:6,7). This is the red horse of war. There are some who apply this passage to our day, thinking that the wars which trouble this age are those spoken of in prophecy. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The wars of our day are but rehearsals, but the wars which Christ prophesied take place after the believers are removed from the earth, after the man of sin has been revealed (II Thess. 2:3). These campaigns are described in the book of Daniel.99

The short-lived peace which the world will have known in those early days of the Tribulation (during part of the first half) will be broken by the red horse rider. International conflicts will begin to erupt all over the earth. We are not told here in Revelation 6 just what exactly causes this, i.e., the kind of political or military move, but men everywhere begin to slay one another. Until this point there would undoubtedly be “rumors of wars” (Matt. 24:6), but then nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom (Matt. 24:7). These parallels between the seals and Matthew 24 are too striking to be ignored.

      The Parallels Between
      Matthew 24:1-14 and Revelation 6

      Conditions

      Matthew

      Revelation 6

      False Christs

      24:4-5

      6:1-2

      Warfare

      24:6-8

      6:3-4

      Famine

      24:7

      6:5-6

      Death

      24:7-10

      6:7-8

      Witnessing

      24:14

      6:9-11

      Cosmic changes

      24:29

      6:12-23

Third Seal:
The Black Horse Rider, Famine
(6:5-6)

The third judgment, and an aftermath of war brings famine to the world. The “black horse” speaks of suffering and death and the “balances” of the careful rationing of food because of its scarcity.

The denarius, as a Roman coin, in ancient times was a normal day’s wage. In New Testament times this coin would purchase eight quarts of wheat, or eight measures (one measure equals about one quart) or 24 quarts of barley. Wheat was the better grain and barley was normally used only for livestock except in times of scarcity. During the Tribulation, however, one denarius (a full day’s wage) will buy only one measure (about one meal) of wheat, or three meals of barley with nothing left. Of course, the larger the family, the worse it will be. But note the words, “do not harm the oil and the wine.” These were luxury items which will apparently be unharmed at this point. There will be plenty of luxury items but only the super rich will have them. The average man will spend all he has on the bare essentials. Barnhouse has an interesting comment from his own experience on this.

Just after World War I, I spent a few days in Vienna at the time when misery was very great … There was a shortage of coal and the police had ordered everyone off the streets by nine o’clock. The city was filled with wealthy refugees from Russia and other countries. Walking along the boulevard one afternoon as the crowds were coming out of the opera which began early to conform with the curfew regulations, I saw men with bare feet in the snow, their skeletons covered with rags, their ribs seen through the holes in the cloths with which they attempted to cover their bodies. From time to time there was blood on the snow from their feet. Out of the opera came men escorting women with fortunes in jewels upon them. Never have I seen more wonderful displays in any of the capitals of the earth. The beggars blocked the way to the fine limousines that came for the rich. I saw the men striking the beggars with their canes to clear the way for the women. Poor girls not clad in the gaudy finery of prostitutes, but with poor clothing and in wooden shoes, clattered about clutching at the passerby and offering to sell themselves for a coin which at that moment could be purchased for one five hundredth part of a dollar. Mark well, there was no famine in Vienna. There was scarcity in the midst of plenty, but there was no hurt to the luxuries.100

The picture here is scarcity in the midst of plenty. This will be accentuated in the times of the Antichrist, especially in the last half of the Tribulation via his buying and selling policies.

The Fourth Seal:
The Pale Horse Rider, Mass Death
(6:7-8)

The color of this horse is ashen, a pale or yellowish green. The same Greek word is used in Revelation 9:4 of green vegetation. It is the Greek word clwros which denotes a yellowish green, the light green of a plant, or the paleness of a person who is critically ill. Our word chlorophyll or chlorine comes from this word.

We are told the name of this horse is death and that Hades follows. “Death” refers to physical death, not annihilation—only the physical body is claimed. “Hades” refers to the underworld, the prison and temporary quarters of the souls of unbelievers between their death and the time of the Great White Throne Judgment. This is the compartment called torments in Luke 16:23.

“Authority was given him over one fourth …” According to present figures and estimations this is about 800,000,000, a staggering figure. The emphasis of this judgment is death on a massive scale. Four powers of death are mentioned: (a) The sword refers to death by war and perhaps by the cruelty of the beast and his godless system under the domination of the Red Dragon, Satan. (b) Famine, of course, anticipates death on an even greater scale by starvation. (c) Pestilence speaks of death by disease and plagues. (d) Wild beasts, perhaps, as an aftermath of the above, anticipates the fact that people will be weak, unprotected and easy prey for wild animals.

The unprecedented character of the Tribulation is now beginning to show itself, and some believe this is still in just the first half of the Tribulation. However, others see the unprecedented nature of this fourth seal as an indication the second half of the Tribulation has begun.

Having quoted several Old Testament passages that point to the unparalleled nature of this future time of trouble (Dan. 12:1; Joel 2:1-3), Walvoord writes:

Inasmuch as the judgment described in the fourth seal is unparalleled, it seems to correspond with greater accuracy to the latter half of Daniel’s seventieth week than to the earlier half and for that reason must be the time of great Tribulation which Christ declared would exceed by far anything the world had previously known.

So great will be the trial of that period that Christ exhorted those living in Palestine at that time to flee to the mountains to escape their persecutors:

“21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” (Matthew 24:21-22).

If the supreme mark of this great tribulation is unprecedented trouble, the fourth seal certainly qualifies as describing this period. Though some expositors believe the great tribulation does not begin until chapter 11, on the basis of this evidence, some have come to the conclusion that the great tribulation must begin much earlier, possibly as early as the first seal of Revelation 6. Though the book of Revelation itself does not state specifically what event begins the great tribulation, the characteristics unfolded in the fourth seal would indicate the great tribulation is underway at the time.

… The fifth and sixth seals advance the narrative and describe the period specifically as “the great day of his wrath” (6:17), which almost certainly is a reference to the great tribulation.101

Obviously, regardless of when the last half of the Tribulation begins in the design of Revelation, the dreams of the world for a great society where the world will get better and better in all spheres of life, scientifically, intellectually, morally, socially, and spiritually, are very contrary to the picture we see in the Word of God. “Suddenly all of man’s programs for bringing in peace, plenty and longevity through medicine will be overturned in the short time that it will take to accomplish this judgment (Matt. 24:4-7).102 This should certainly warn all believers to never fall for any world leader or any form of world government program, for, as with the tower of Babel, they stand condemned by God’s Word as an attempt at world peace apart from God. They cannot accomplish what they promise and will be the product of a demonic system. Not until the return of Christ will we have a one world government characterized by righteousness and justice for only then will we have a ruler capable of establishing and maintaining such a rule, the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Fifth Seal:
Martyrdom of Believers
(6:9-11)

That these martyrs are introduced at this point strongly suggests that they come out the Tribulation. They are Tribulation martyrs. The fifth seal, then, parallels Matthew 24:9-14 and undoubtedly occurs during the last half of the Tribulation. My understanding of the chronology of Matthew 24 is that verses 4-8 refer to the first half of the Tribulation, the beginning of birth pangs, and verses 9-28 refer to the last half. Some see the last half beginning with verse 15 and the mention of the Abomination of Desolation, but the “therefore” that introduces verse 15 links this event very closely to the preceding events marked especially by the persecution mentioned in verse 9. It is this blasphemous event in the temple that shows the persecution will begin and that signals the need to flee.

The persecution of Matthew 24:9 is not just of the Jews, but is a persecution against any believer in Jesus Christ, Jew or Gentle. Note “you will be hated … on account of my Name.” These will accept Christ because of the preaching mentioned in Matthew 24:14, and this is undoubtedly carried out in part by the 144,000 mentioned in Revelation 7. The period called, “the beginning of sorrows,” the first half of the Tribulation, is now over. The Prince of Daniel 9:26-27 breaks his covenant with Israel, manifests his true beastly character, and begins to persecute Israel along with all believers in Christ. This will coincide with the events of Revelation 12:7-17.

Verse 9b, They are martyred “because of the Word of God.” This will be a day of absolute, unleashed, autonomous and idolatrous humanism with man worshipping his own reason and rejecting any idea of revelation from God. So anyone who believes the Bible and proclaims it message will be persecuted. But God has always preserved His Word and there has always been a remnant—those within mankind who have turned to God’s revelation for light and direction. This immediately and always creates opposition. The Word exposes and judges man’s deeds, and so, in haughty independence and defiance, the world persecutes those who stand for the Bible. This has always been true as history shows, but in the Tribulation it will become unprecedented.

“And because of the testimony which they maintained, …” or we could translate, “on account of the witness which they continually had.” The Greek text uses the imperfect tense of the repeated and continuous witness these saints maintained under the various persecutions that eventually led to their death. Of course, this is all future since this is a prophetic scene of the persecutions of believers in the time of the Tribulation that John is privileged to see.

“Testimony” is the Greek word marturia from marturew which means “to bear witness, be a witness, give testimony.” Marturew comes from martus meaning “a witness.” But martus is also translated “martyr” because it is used of those who have witnessed for Christ by their death. These believers will witness for Christ by their life as they hold fast to the Word of God in the midst of a degenerate world, but they will also witness for Christ by their death. Matthew 24:14 refers in part to their labors in addition to the labors of the 144,000 of chapter 7.

Verse 9a, “Underneath the altar the souls … slain.” “Souls” is the plural of the Greek yuch which may mean “the souls,” referring to the immaterial part of man. But yuch is often used in the sense of “the lives” or “persons.” John sees these martyrs very much alive. Men may destroy our bodies, but they cannot kill the soul or the person who indwells the body, the house for the person. At death, the soul or the person goes to be with the Lord (Phil. 1:21-22; 2 Cor. 5:6-8). The body “sleeps” but the soul or the person is conscious, awake.

“Slain” is the Greek sfrazw. This was a sacrificial term used for the slaughtering of the animals for sacrifice. The emphasis seems to be on the fact they were not just killed, but slaughtered.

“The altar” maybe the altar of incense or the altar of sacrifice. The use of the verb sfrazw suggest the altar of sacrifice which stood in the court of the tabernacle just inside the entrance. It was the means of access into the tabernacle complex. It stood for Christ, our Sacrifice and Access into God’s presence. But remember, the earthly tabernacle and its ritual was all patterned after the heavenly sanctuary (Isa. 6:1f; Heb. 8:1, 2, 5; 9:1, 11-12).

Some think that because these martyrs are seen “under the altar” the altar must be the altar of incense, otherwise they would have been seen on the altar. But there could be a good reason for this portrait. If this is the altar of sacrifice, it is significant that they are seen under it, not on it. The sacrificial animals were placed on the altar, killed there, their blood spilled and the animal burned to consume the sacrifice. But these sacrificial animals anticipated God’s Lamb, the Lord Jesus. Only Christ, the true Lamb of God, our Passover, is qualified to be placed on the altar to die for our sins and give access into God’s presence. These, however, are under it, under the blood or under the substitutionary death of Christ, and thereby saved and in heaven by the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The point is, as believers in Christ, they too share in the world’s hatred of Christ, and as living sacrifices for Christ they are slain, as martyrs and witnesses for the Lord (Rom. 12:1). Undoubtedly, by their death and the way they die others will come to know Christ.

For another perspective on this scene, Alan Johnson writes:

Depending on which altar is meant, one of two different ideas is connoted. In 8:3, 5 and 9:13 the altar is the golden altar of incense that stood in the tabernacle either in or before the Most Holy Place (Exod. 30:1ff.; Heb 9:4). Likewise, the other references in Revelation to “altar” also can be understood as referring to this altar of incense (11:1; 14:18; 16:7). In accord with this sense, the prayers of the saints would be for God’s vindication of the martyrs of Christ (cf. Luke 18:7-8).103

Verse 10. “Cried out” is the Greek krazw and means “to shriek, scream.” This word and the words “with a loud voice” lay stress on the earnestness of their cry and concern. These saints are in heaven, with no sinful natures and in God’s blessed presence. But they are seen crying out for justice. This is not a cry for revenge, but for God’s justice and righteousness to prevail on earth against the sin and the atrocities of man in rebellion to God. As in the disciples’ prayer, “Your kingdom come,” they are praying for the second advent which ushers in God’s righteous and just reign on earth.

“How long” asks the question, “When, Sovereign Lord, are you going to act in history?” They expect this because of their knowledge of God evidenced by the way they address the Lord. “O Lord” is the Greek %o despoths or “the Despot.” They clearly recognized the Lord as the Sovereign One in control of all the affairs of the earth and the universe. “Holy” is %agios which means, “set apart.” It is used of God’s perfect holiness or His absolute just and righteous character, as one totally set apart from sin. It is the expectation, much as with the prophet in Habakkuk 1:13, anticipating God’s holy justice to be poured out against an evil and rebellious world. “True” is alhqinos. It means “true in the sense of the ideal, genuine, real.” It stresses God’s veracity but also the fact He is the true and genuine Ruler of the world as opposed to the usurper, Satan.

“Will you refrain from judging.” “Judging” is krinw and means “to pronounce judgment” or “to act in judgment, carry out a sentence.” “Avenging” is ekdikew and means “to avenge, exact a penalty from, carry out justice against wrong doing.” These saints are acting on the truth of Romans 12:19, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.”

Note that the justice of God is directed toward “those who dwell on the earth.” The Greek uses a present adjectival participle which characterizes these as the earth-dwellers, those who have no interest in God, or in spiritual or heavenly things. As mentioned in connection with 3:10, in Revelation it is practically a technical term for unbelievers who live in rebellion against God.

Verse 11. The martyrs are each given a “white robe” to symbolize their fully redeemed state and the gift of righteousness by Jesus Christ. Since Tribulation saints along with all OT saints are not resurrected until after the Tribulation described by Daniel as “a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time” (cf. Dan. 12:1-2 with Rev. 20:4), some have suggested that these martyrs are given temporary heavenly bodies. The robes spoken of here and portrayed to John in this vision, however, may simply be the symbol of the fact they are clothed in the righteousness of God as believers in Christ.

Further, they are told they “should rest for a little while longer.” “Rest” is anapauw, “to give intermission from labor, give rest, refresh,” and in the middle voice as here, “to take one’s rest, enjoy rest.”104 This is a compound verb and is somewhat stronger than simply pauw. In the middle voice it means “to take rest, enjoy a rest.”105 Based on the facts their labors and trials are over, that God is all wise and on the throne, and they are now in the presence and protection of the Lord, they are told, “you yourself, enjoy your rest, leave it in God’s hands, for soon justice will be done.”

“A little while longer” refers to the short remaining time of the Tribulation, less than three and a half years, if these events occur in the last half of the Tribulation.

“Until the number of their fellow servants … were to be killed … should be completed.” Until the end of the Tribulation believers will suffer persecution and death on behalf of Christ as a proof of their love of Christ, the reality of God, and as a testimony to the world that God is worthy of the creature’s worship and obedience.

“Completed” is the verb plerow which means “to fill, or fulfill, or complete, bring to fruition.” This stresses the divine providence and purpose of God in the deaths of the martyrs. They are not without God’s knowledge or without God’s control or concern. The exact numbers are known to God and allowed by Him according to His own eternal purpose. For “precious” in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones” (Psalm 116:15).

The Sixth Seal:
Physical Disturbances
(6:12-17)

The nature of this scene which John beholds is awesome. It is awesome in its effects upon the universe as judgment, and in its effects upon mankind. Here is a turning point in history, a momentous event unlike any man has ever seen. It disturbs the normal order of the universe which man has taken for granted almost from the beginning of time. As we shall see, John calls this “a great shaking.”

The previous five seal judgments were largely brought about by the activities of man. But such is not the case here. Because of this, some have taken the position that it is only with the sixth seal that we have the wrath of God. Until this point it is merely the wrath of man. Because of this, they have also taken the position that the church will go into the Tribulation and will not be raptured until about midway through the last half of the Tribulation, just before this time of God’s wrath. They believe the church has been promised deliverance from God’s wrath, but since the first three quarters of the Tribulation is not God’s wrath, but man’s, the church will not be raptured until just prior to the sixth seal which alone constitutes the wrath of God (1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9).

But this is untenable for we have seen from chapters 4-5 that all the seals constitute an outpouring of God’s wrath and are unleashed by the Lord Himself. Further, they are all seen as the means or instruments by which He establishes His rule on earth. Finally, just because the first five seals employ human agents, that does not mean this is not part of the outpouring of God’s wrath. The other seals are intermediate instruments of God to execute His judgments of wrath. The only difference in the sixth seal and the first five is the degree and magnitude of His wrath. A good passage to illustrate this fact is Isaiah 10:5-12. Note that in this passage, Assyria is called “the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hands is My indignation” (vs. 5). Assyria was a human agent commissioned by God (vs. 6) to execute His wrath or judgment against Israel for her rebellion. The fact God used a human agency does not remove the fact this was God’s wrath in action.

So the sixth seal is the direct intervention of the Creator upsetting the normal order of His creation. The nature and effect of this judgment is such that it causes all of mankind from kings to slaves to recognize that God the Creator is acting in human history in divine wrath. If the six things that occur here were set off or caused by something which man does, like an atomic explosion, then it could be attributed to man’s foolishness causing universal ecological destruction. It should further be noticed that the magnitude of this is far above what even atomic fission could accomplish. This is an act, a direct intervention of God in history. The passage stresses that men see it as the direct hand and action of God.

When the sixth seal occurs God shakes the universe like a rag doll and all the world will know without a doubt not only that there is a God, but that He is acting catastrophically in divine wrath against man’s rebellion. It is interesting to note that this judgment affects the creation, that which from the beginning of time has spoken of God, an evidence of His being and of His nature, an evidence of His divine essence, but also an evidence that modern man has rejected and attributed to evolution (Rom. 1:19-22).

“And there was a great earthquake” (vs. 12a). Literally the Greek says “and a shaking, a great one came to be.” The Greek word here is seismos from seiw which means “to shake, agitate, cause to quake.” Our word seismology comes from this Greek word. “Great” is megas and means “large, great.” It is used of (a) an extension in space in all directions, as to length, numbers, or size, and (b) figuratively of measure, intensity, quantity, of natural phenomenon (strong, severe, intense), and of rank or importance. This will be the most severe, intense, shaking which the world or universe has ever known—one reaching out in all directions so that the whole universe is shaken like a rag doll. This is not just a great earthquake, but a shaking of the universe, in which even the powers (stars) of the heavens will be shaken (Luke 21:26; Matt. 24:29). This shaking affects sun, moon, stars, atmosphere, and earth, bringing about a tremendous quake all over the earth. The devastation of this is beyond our imagination, though many scientists today are actually trying to evaluate by scientific data how much devastation would occur if a meteor of various sizes were to hit the earth. Some actually think such is inevitable and that if large enough, it will destroy the earth.

“And the sun became black as sackcloth” (vs. 12b). The sun is the most conspicuous of the heavenly bodies and the most important to earth because of its warmth and light. Note its use in Scripture:

(1) To mark the time of day (Mark 1:32; Luke 4:40).

(2) Ecclesiastes speaks of “things under the sun” or life in the real world.

(3) It shows God’s order, permanence, consistency, grace, and faithfulness (Matt. 5:45; Ps. 19:1, 4-6); righteousness, beauty and light (Mal. 4:2; Matt. 13:43).

(4) It shows direction, i.e., east and west (Rev. 7:2; 16:12).

(5) Primarily, it rules the day and separates the light from darkness or night (Gen. 1:14, 16).

(6) In addition, it is for signs and for seasons; an indicator of seasons, and days, and years (Gen. 1:14).

Very important to the sun’s function is the sign aspect. The word sign brings to mind some spectacular display in the sun or moon, something foreign to normal experience. As God designed the sun and moon to be sources of light in the sky to give light and direction to men on earth, so God’s special acts with the sun and moon are designed to illuminate God to man and His actions in history (Joel 2: l0, 31; Matt. 25:24; Acts 2:19-20; Isa. 13:9-l0; Ezek. 32:7; and our passage Rev. 6:12).

All of these passages relate to the Lord’s return. These signs herald the return of Christ and His judgment— the direct intervention of God’s wrath in human history.

“Became black as sackcloth” is literally “as sackcloth of hair.” This was a very rough cloth made of the hair of a black goat and worn in times of mourning and despair. The blackening or darkening of the sun as a sign, speaks of God’s judgment and the withdrawal of His longsuffering. It shows this will truly be a time of great despair for man.

What causes this darkening? We are not told; we can only speculate. Perhaps it is caused by the ash, dust and debris which will fill the sky when the earth begins to quake (vs. 14). This will undoubtedly cause volcanic eruptions which will make Mount St. Helens look like a hiccup by comparison. When there is a large volcanic eruption, the sun becomes darkened by the substances in the air.

“And the whole moon became like blood (vs. 12c). Note the uses for the moon in Scripture: (a) a light for the night (Gen. 1:16); (b) it shows a fixed and consistent order to God’s creation (Jer. 31:35); (c) beauty (Ps. 8.3); (d) permanence and opportunity to know God (Ps. 72:5, 7); and (e) for signs, and for seasons (Gen. 1:14-16). What was true above with the sun in its function as a sign is also true of the moon.

“Became like blood” means the moon will take on a blood red color. As a sign, this speaks of the loss of life and death. How eerie this all will be to look up at night and see a blood red moon. Evidently through the atmospheric changes brought about by the shaking of the earth and the heavens, particles or substances will be in the air which will cause the moon to take on a red cast.

“And the stars of the sky fell to earth vs. 13a).” The word “star” (asthr) is used of any heavenly body seen at night, i.e., stars, planets, asteroids, meteors, etc. These are not stars as we often use the word which are huge and often dwarf the earth in size. These are meteorites or asteroids which are small by comparison to the earth. John compares them to unripe figs falling to earth from a fig tree when shaken by a great wind. However, what John sees is classed in the category of stars, which in Scripture have much the same meaning and significance, though to a much lesser degree, as do the sun and moon. They indicate time by their appearance, direction (used for navigation), order and precision, beauty and grace. Here, because of their size, likened to unripe figs, these are apparently meteorites or perhaps asteroids which are larger. Revelation 8:8 most likely refers to an asteroid and this to meteorites.

In his book, The Earth, The Stars, and The Bible, Paul Steidl says:

In the past the earth has been struck by a number of objects smaller than the Apollo asteroids. The famous Arizona meteorite crater is 4,200 feet across and 600 feet deep, but is estimated to have been caused by a meteorite of only two million tons, or about 300 feet across. The meteorite (or comet) which fell in Siberia in 1908 devastated over 1,000 square miles. The shock was felt as far away as Europe, while trees up to twenty miles from the site were blown over. Yet this body was estimated to be only 200 feet across.106

With such objects whether meteorites or asteroids, falling like unripe figs on earth, the damage and effects on the minds and hearts of men and on the topography and structure of this planet are astronomical. Thank God the body of Christ will not be here!

“And the sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up” (vs. 14a).

“The sky” is %o ouranos, “the heaven” or “the vault or firmament of heaven,” i.e., the sky and the aerial regions above the earth. Most likely this includes only our atmosphere. Scripture speaks of three heavens (2 Cor. 12:2; Deut, 10:14; Neh. 9:6; Ps. 68:33). There is (a) the first heaven, our atmosphere (Rev 6:14), (b) the second heaven, outer space (Rev. 12:7 perhaps), and (c) the third heaven, the eternal abode of God, the highest heaven (Ps. 68:33; 1 Kings 8:27; 2 Cor. 12:2).

“Was split apart” is the Greek word apocwrizw from apo which means “from,” showing source, separation, departure,” plus cwrizw which means “to separate, divide.” This compound verb means to tear apart, split or separate as when a huge curtain is separated or pulled back to reveal what lies behind it as in a theater. The illustration used in Revelation to express the idea is that of a scroll.

“Like a scroll when it is rolled up.” “Scroll” is the Greek word biblion and means a scroll, book, or roll. The figure is that of a papyrus roll which, when it is first unrolled for reading, splits apart or separates the two roles to reveal the contents on the inside.

Now remember that the great shaking mentioned in verse 12 affects the entire universe at once, The effects mentioned here upon the sun, the moon, the stars, the sky and the earth (the islands and mountains), are apparently not successive occurrences, but occur simultaneously as a part of the great shaking. Zephaniah and Joel both picture the Tribulation as a day of darkness and gloom, of clouds and thick darkness (Zeph. 1:15; Joel 2:2). Revelation 6:14b describes one of the effects of this great agitation of the universe, a tremendous earthquake. This causes volcanic eruptions that will fill the sky with smoke, volcanic ash, dust and rocks which, as mentioned previously, will darken the sun and make the moon blood red. The meteorite showers will also surely add to all of this. Then with the sky black with these particles and clouds and filled with darkness, God will cause the sky to separate and roll back separating the darkness, opening up a window-like effect into heaven.

Apparently this lasts for at least one full revolution of the earth so all the world sees this (vs. 15). But not only this, it appears from verse 16 they are given, through this window, a glimpse of God and the Lamb on the throne.

“And every mountain and island were moved out of their places” (vs. 14b).

“Were moved” is the Greek word kinew which means “to move, set in motion.” The whole earth is set in motion. The earth today has many geological faults, cracks below and in the crust of the earth. Through this worldwide earthquake, these faults will be undoubtedly set in motion causing the mountains and islands to be moved out of their present places.

With verses 15-17 we see who will be affected and their response.

(1) Those affected: Every class of society. No one is exempt. Money or status cannot protect one from these judgments (vs. 15a).

(2) Their actions: Now men not only know that the end is near, but they act like it. There is no buying, selling, or planning for the future while this seal is being poured out. Instead, people hide themselves among the caves and rocks of the earth (vs. 15b).

(3) Their attitude (vs. 16): In every age there have been those who have predicted the end of the world. There have been the dooms dayers (as they are sometimes called) but previously even those who believed it have by-in-large lived as though they didn’t believe it. But not now. Three things characterize their attitude: (a) They want to die. Speaking to the mountains and rocks they cry, “fall on us.” (b) They are struck with terror, perhaps not so much from the physical phenomenon as from the sight of God on the throne. They cry “Hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne …” (c) They are, in spite of this, unrepentant even though they know they are facing the day of God’s wrath poured out against sin. Note their words, “who is able to stand?” The idea here is not who can make it through alive, because they want to die. They sense God’s perfect righteousness and know they cannot stand before Him. They must be judged, yet no note of repentance is heard. This shows just how hard the soul of man can become!

The sixth seal is now over on earth and silence in heaven follows for about a half an hour, like the quiet while in the eye of a hurricane. But then suddenly a new wave of judgments will begin to be poured out on the earth, the seven trumpet judgments (8:1f). Chapter seven is parenthetic, it does not carry the chronological sequence forward, but adds some important details regarding the saved of the Tribulation, many of whom are martyred.

The remarkable wonder is that anyone is left alive. But millions survive. After this, it appears from other chapters in Scripture as Revelation 13, 17, 18, and Matthew 24:37f, that man on the whole goes on in pursuit of his rebel like ways, indifferent to God, buying and selling, giving in marriage and worshipping the beast. How soon man forgets! What a telling story this is about man’s condition in sin. I am reminded of Pharaoh in Exodus who continued to harden his heart in spite of the miracles he saw with his own eyes.


88 Everett F. Harrison, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, New Testament, Chicago: Moody Press, 1962, Electronic Media.

89 Charles Ryrie, Revelation, Moody Press, Chicago, 1968, p. 43.

90 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Moody Press, Chicago, 1966, p. 124.

91 Charles C. Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, Expanded Edition, NASB, Moody Press, Chicago, 1995, p. 2024.

92 Harrison, Electronic Media.

93 Ryrie, Revelation, p. 44.

94 Willard Cantelon, The Day the Dollar Dies, 1973.

95 James P. Warburg, The West In Crisis, Doubleday, 1959, p. 30.

96 Ryrie Study Bible, Expanded Edition, p. 1913.

97 John F. Walvoord, Matthew, Thy Kingdom Come, Moody Press, Chicago, p. 183.

98 Walvoord, The Revelation, p. 129.

99 Donald Grey Barnhouse, Revelation, An Expository Commentary, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1971, p. 124. (Barnhouse had in mind Daniel 11:40-45.)

100 Barnhouse, pp. 127-128.

101 Walvoord, p. 129.

102 Ryrie, Revelation, p. 46.

103 Alan Johnson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, Frank E. Gaebelein, General Editor, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1981, p. 475.

104 G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1937, p. 32.

105 Some believe NT Greek has pretty much abandoned the rules of classical Greek, and, therefore, the middle voice has very little significance, if any, in the NT. For arguments against this see Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, Zondervan, 1996, pp. 420f.

106 Paul Steidl, The Earth, The Stars, and The Bible.

Ad Category: 
Biblical Topics: 
Passage: 
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

13. The Redeemed of the Tribulation (Rev 7:1-17)

With chapter 7 the narrative sequence or chronological order is interrupted and we are taken into an interlude. That this is an interlude is obvious from the change in tone seen in a change of the subject matter and in the suspension of judgment. Chapter 6 closes with the sixth seal and the seventh is not opened until chapter 8. This chapter, then, is a parenthesis, but it is one which answers some very important questions. From the very nature of the judgments of the preceding section it would appear no one could possibly be delivered physically, much less saved spiritually. In fact these judgments give rise to the desperate question at the end of chapter 6, “for the great day of their wrath has come, who is able to stand?” Chapter 7 answers this question, and demonstrates that even in the midst of this awesome display of God’s wrath, the mercy of God is still present and seeking to bring men to Himself. Even in the midst of this wrath, God is providing an opportunity for men to be saved (Matt. 24:l4).

So, before the seventh seal and the intensified trumpet judgments of chapter 8, God gives us a panorama of salvation and the evangelistic activity of this period known as Tribulation or Daniel’s Seventieth Week. The fifth seal was a revelation concerning the martyrs who had been killed for their faith in Christ. Since the church has been raptured and the Tribulation begins with only unbelievers, how do people come to faith in Christ? We find the answer to this in the sealing of the 144,000 who are sealed at the beginning of the Tribulation. These are the first converts (Rev. 14:4), and it would appear from the juxtaposition of the sealing of the 144,000 in 7:1-8, followed by the great multitude saved in 7:9-17, the 144,000 become the great evangelists of the Tribulation period. They are supernaturally protected by God in their witness.

The Sealing of the 144,000 Jews
(7:1-8)

The Withholding of Judgment (1-3)

Immediately after the cry, “who is able to stand,” John sees four angels standing at the four corners of the earth. Angels, who are so prominent in Revelation, are the instruments that God uses to temporarily suspend judgment on the earth. They are used both to withhold judgment (7:1-3) and to execute it (8:2). The indication is that judgment is impending, it is about to be poured out. But prior to this, before any of the judgments of the Tribulation ever get under way, God will save, set apart, and protect 144,000 servants. Remember, this chapter is not chronological from the standpoint of the sequence of events, but deals with the issue of salvation during the entire Tribulation. The suspension here is not a suspension between the seals and the trumpets, but looks at what will occur just before the judgments begin.

The “four corners of the earth” speak of global authority and activity under God’s sovereignty. “Holding back” is the Greek word kratew. It is a strong word meaning, “to grasp, seize, restrain.” It comes from kratos which stresses power or ability in relation to a job to be done.

“The four winds” relate the restraint and the judgments that follow to the entire globe, the whole earth is affected. In several places in scripture “wind” is used as a symbol of divine judgment (Jer. 49:36; Jer. 51:1; 2 Sam. 22:11).

“So that no wind should blow on the earth” points to the purpose of the restraint: to keep these four angels from executing judgment upon the earth. But what about “the earth … the sea … and the trees”? Because of the mention of these three things, some have identified the judgments of these four angels with the trumpet judgments to follow (Rev. 8:7), i.e., the earth and trees smitten, and the sea harmed. But this is unlikely for the following reasons:

(1) The first trumpet judgment affects the earth, trees, and grass and is accomplished by the first angel alone. The second angel judges the sea (the bodies of salt water). The third angel brings judgment upon the fresh water, and the fourth brings judgment on the heavenly bodies. The point is there is no real parallel here to the four wind angels who are told not to smite the earth, trees and sea only.

(2) Revelation 14:4 teaches us that the 144,000 are those “who are purchased from among men (redeemed) as first fruits to God and to the Lamb.” This means they are the first converts after the Tribulation begins. They are saved at the beginning of the Tribulation. But the four trumpet judgments occur much later, at least in the first part of the second half of the Tribulation. So again, the four winds refer to the impending judgments of the Tribulation in general, pictured here as temporarily restrained.

Next, John sees “another angel” who is superior with authority over the other four angels (compare Ephesians 3:10 for the concepts of rank and authority among the angels of God).

“Having the seal of the living God.” For this concept and meaning of the seal see below.

“And he cried out with a loud voice” stresses the urgency of what must first take place. With the rapture of the church, there is no voice among men for God. Throughout history there has always been a voice from God among men, a remnant of believers. The Tribulation cannot go on without the raising up of a new remnant. The spiritual vacuum left by the rapture will be quickly filled by this work of God to bring 144,000 Jews to Christ.

“Do not harm … until” shows that the suspension of judgment is only temporary, until the sealing of these new bondservants of God.

“Sealed … on their forehead” The servants are sealed on their foreheads. But what exactly is the meaning and significance of this seal?

The verb “to seal” is sfragizw. It means “to make an imprint in wax” and it was often done with a signet ring. This was done in ancient times in various kinds of business transactions. It could signify a number of ideas: (a) It often showed a completed transaction had occurred. For the 144,000 it was their personal redemption. (b) It was often a mark of identification and ownership. These became the servants of God and God’s people. (c) Finally, it was often a mark of protection or security. This is clearly the emphasis here.

The sealing guaranteed their physical and spiritual protection. This is suggested by two things. First, by the fact judgment is suspended until the sealing occurs which indicates the sealing was done as a means of protection. Second, as survivors of the Tribulation, the 144,000 are seen standing on Mount Zion with the Lamb in 14:1, evidently a reference to the earthly Jerusalem. Some, however, take Zion here as a reference to heaven.

The seal is stated to be on their foreheads and in 14:1 this is described as “His (the Lamb’s) name and the name of His Father.” They will become quickly identified as the servants of God, i.e., His agents and evangelists versus the servants of the beast. They will not be ‘secret service’ believers! This undoubtedly also includes the gift of the Holy Spirit, the inward seal and capacity for service (Eph. 1:13-14).

In addition to the physical protection from death, the seal may also point to their protection from the apostasy and deceptions of the beast. It stresses their invulnerability to the beast and the false prophet both physically and spiritually. As the followers of the beast have his mark, so these have the mark of God. Today we are susceptible to certain things, though God may sovereignly protect us, and does, but evidently they will not at all be vulnerable. Further evidence of this is given in 14:1f where these are seen unharmed, standing with the Lamb on Mt. Zion, Jerusalem, and undefiled by the evil of the system of the beast (14:4-5). This passage is a prophetic portrait of the ultimate victory of Christ at the beginning of the Millennium. Ezekiel 9:4-7 undoubtedly provides the OT background for this passage. Referring to the Ezekiel passage, Alan Johnson writes:

In this passage a divine messenger with stylus in hand was to go through apostate Jerusalem of Ezekiel’s day and put a mark upon the foreheads of those who deplored the faithless idolatry of the Israelites. Those so marked were the faithful and true servants of God in contrast to the professed but false servants who had abandoned him. The sealed would be spared the divine slaughtering of the rebellious inhabitants of the city. Interestingly, the “mark” (taw) in the Phoenician script looked like a cross … and was later adopted by early Jewish Christians as a symbol of their faith in Jesus …107

They are called “bond servants” because throughout the Tribulation they will be serving the Lord as the great evangelists. The juxtaposition of the 144,000 mentioned here in the first half of this chapter followed by the description of the multitudes saved in the second half of this chapter would indicate a causal relationship. Note verse 9 and the statement, “After these things …”

The Identity of Those Sealed (5-8)

Who are the 144,000? When interpreters come to this passage, it is amazing to see just how wild their imaginations can get. Some argue that these could not be literal Jews, others would say that the numbers are not literal, but are merely symbolical of God’s preservation of His people. But the language, if language means anything, must be understood in its normal usage. If we do not take it in its literal sense then there is no check on one’s imagination nor guide for the real meaning of the passage. As an illustration, some say these are the 144,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, or they are Mormon elders, or they are symbolical for the church.

The 144,000 are Jews. The passage says they are from the 12 tribes of Israel, repeating the fact that 12,000 come from each of the 12 tribes making a total of 144,000. That these are Jews further fits with the entire scheme of Bible prophecy, with the fact this is the 70th week of Daniel, and with the nature of the Tribulation as the time of Jacob’s distress (Dan. 9:27; Jer. 30.7). The Tribulation is a time when God is concluding His dealings with Israel to establish and fulfill His promises to the nation (Dan. 9: 24f).

J. A. Seiss wrote:

Nor is there a vice or device of sacred hermeneutics, which so beclouds the Scriptures, and so unsettles the faith of men, as this constant attempt to read Church for Israel, and Christian people for Jewish tribes. As I read the Bible, when God says “children of Israel,” I do not understand Him to mean any but people of Jewish blood, be they Christians or not; and when He speaks of the twelve tribes of the sons of Jacob, and gives the names of the tribes, it is impossible for me to believe that He means the Gentiles, in any sense or degree, whether they be believers or not.108

How will they be saved? Since all believers are gone when the Tribulation begins, including the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit or the Restrainer from the New Testament standpoint, just how will these be saved?

(1) The work of the Holy Spirit will be more in accord with that of Old Testament times. But being omnipresent, the Holy Spirit will still be in the world working to convict and draw them to Jesus Christ (John 16:8-11; Gen. 6:3), to regenerate the human heart (John 3:3-4), and to select individuals for special service.

(2) There will still be copies of the Scriptures, books, tracts, and material on the internet containing the gospel message. Undoubtedly, this will be found and used by the Holy Spirit. Some are even hiding copies of the Bible in caves.

(3) Some Jews will have heard the gospel from friends or on the radio or TV before the rapture. Then when the church suddenly disappears, the Holy Spirit will convince these select 144,000 that the gospel message is indeed true.

(4) Perhaps others will simply be perplexed over the disappearance of thousands of people through the rapture of the church. Some will seek answers and the Holy Spirit will lead them to Christ. Regardless of the methods God will use, these will come to trust in Jesus Christ as their Messiah-Savior.

So there is really no problem with the identification of the 144,000 if we take the language used here in the normal, plain meaning of the text. But as Ryrie points out, there are three problems in the list as it is found in this text. He writes:

The first is the inclusion of Levi among the twelve tribes. Normally Levi, being the priestly tribe, was considered to have no inheritance among the twelve tribes. Perhaps he is included here because the priestly functions ceased with the coming of Christ. The second is the mention of Joseph instead of Ephraim. Normally Manasseh and Ephraim are both mentioned since they both received an equal portion of territory along with the rest of the tribes. Of course, a double number is counted in this list, but under the names of Joseph and Manasseh rather than Ephraim and Manasseh.

The third problem concerns the omission of Dan from this list, something that was necessary if Levi were to be included. The usual reason given for this omission is that Dan was guilty of idolatry on many occasions (Lev. 24:11; Judges 18:1-2, 30-31; 1 Kings 12:28). The same reason is often given for the omission of Ephraim. It has been suggested further that the antichrist may come from this tribe and that this accounts for its omission from this list (cf. Gen. 49:17; Jer. 8:16). Whatever the reason for Dan’s omission from the tribes from which 144,000 elect will come, this is not the end of God’s dealings with that tribe. The Danites will receive a portion of the land during the millennial kingdom. Indeed, in Ezekiel 48:1 Dan heads the list of the tribes as the inheritance is divided to them (cf. also v. 32). So the exclusion of Revelation is not permanent, for the gifts and calling of God with regard to his people, including Dan are without repentance.109

The Salvation of a Great Multitude
(7:9-17)

The Persons Saved (9)

(1) The Connection: “And after these-things” i.e., after the above vision concerning the sealing and salvation of the 144,000 Jews, John looked and saw another awesome sight—an innumerable multitude. As mentioned previously, by the juxtaposition of this passage (vss. 9-17) with the previous (vss. 1-8), this seem to point to a cause/effect relationship. In the fulfillment of God’s purposes for Israel, these 144,000 become the instruments God uses to lead multitudes to a saving knowledge of Christ as declared in these verses.

“And behold” is the Greek, idou, an aorist middle imperative of a verb “to see,” but it is used as a demonstrative particle to arrest the attention and/or to express amazement. The marvel is that in such a time as this, a time of God’s wrath, God’s mercy is equally manifest and He will save many people.

(2) The Innumerable Number: “A great multitude …” Not only will men be saved, but their number will be beyond human computation. Of course God numbers them and knows everyone that is His (2 Tim. 2:19), but unlike the 144,000, there is no definite number here.

(3) Their Nationalities: “From every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, …” The 144,000 were all Israelites, but this group is composed of all nationalities and groups. Undoubtedly this will include redeemed Jews beyond the 144,000 for this is the period of Jacob’s trouble when all Israel will be saved (cf. Rom. 11:26). In addition, these are from every nation which must include Israel and from all tribes which would include the 12 tribes of Israel.

(4) Their Position: The multitude is seen “standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (see also 7:15). This is the same throne mentioned earlier (Rev. 4-5) and shows they are in heaven in the presence of the Lamb of God as saved people. This is a place of privilege and honor. These are martyred Tribulation saints who are now in the presence of God and the Lamb. They are here in their intermediate state without their resurrection bodies since the resurrection of Tribulation believers does not occur until after the Tribulation (Rev. 20:4; Dan. 12:1-2). Death for the Tribulation saints, as with the New Testament saints, means being in the presence of the Lord in heavenly bliss and away from the trials of this life (7:15-17), but also in a conscious state (no soul sleep) where believers are still concerned about the glory of God (cf. 6:10).

(5) Their Spiritual Condition: “Clothed in white robes” again speaks symbolically of the imputed righteousness of Christ given to them at the point of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. This means they are in Him and share in His righteousness as justified saints. As verses 14 and 15 will show, this is the reason they have immediate access into God’s presence.

“And palm branches in their hands” suggests the element of joy and worship. The use of palm branches according to ancient traditions symbolized festive joy and worship as well as victory or triumph. “And this is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith, and who is he that overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:4-5). “Thanks be to God who always leads us in His triumph in Christ” (2 Cor. 2:14).

Comparisons Between to the Two Groups Described in Revelation 7

144,000 of 7:1-8

The Multitude of 7:9-17

Are Israelites only, 12,000 from the 12 tribes of Israel.

Come out of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues.

Consist of a specific number.

A great multitude which no one can number.

Still upon the earth in mortal bodies that need the protection of God.

In a state of glory before the very throne of God.

The Praise for Salvation (10-11)

The Praise of these Saints (vs. 10): Both “cry out” and “saying” are in the present tense. This is either what may be called the progressive present tense, looking at the scene in progress, or the customary present, that which will (since this is prophecy) characterize their lives.

“Cry out” is the Greek word krazw which means “to cry aloud,” but here it is a cry of joy and loud jubilation over their salvation. In John’s gospel the word is used of proclaiming the person of Christ.

“Salvation to our God” undoubtedly means salvation belongs to God. He alone is the source and means of salvation. Only God, the one sitting on the throne, and the Lamb can give salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

The Praise of the Angels (vs. 11): Angels are always seen in attendance to God, obeying His will, or in the worship of God’s person and work as in creation (Job 38:1-7), or as in man’s salvation (Luke 2:13-14). More particularly, the angels rejoice over the salvation of sinners (Luke 15:8-10).

More Particulars About the Multitude (13-17)

    The Questions, “Who” and “Where” (13)

The words, “and one of the elders answered,” indicates John had been puzzled over the identity of this group and God, who knows our thoughts, answers John’s question. The answer comes first through a question followed by more particulars about the multitude.

    The Answers (14-17)

Their origin: They are identified as those who come out of the Tribulation, literally, ‘The Tribulation,’ the great one. These are martyrs killed in the last half of the Tribulation during the reign of the beast as depicted in Revelation 13.

Note the contrasts and comparisons between these and believers of the church age. This shows that these Tribulation saints are distinct and different from the church age saints.

Church Age Saints

Tribulation Saints

Kept out of the Tribulation by the rapture (3:10)

Come out of the Great Tribulation through Martyrdom (7:14)

Clothed in white raiment or garments (%imation, mantle, cloak (3:5; 4:4)

Clothed in white robes (stolh, a festal robe) (7:9)

Sit on thrones about the throne (4:4)

Stand before the throne (7:10)

Wear crowns (stefanos, the victor’s crown as promised to the church) (4:4)

No crowns mentioned

Have harps and golden bowls full of incense (5:8)

Palm branches in their hands (7:9)

Sing a new song (5:9)

Cry out with a loud voice (7:10)

Declared to be a kingdom of priests who will reign with Christ (5:10)

Serve Him day and night (7:15, cf. 20:4)

Their actions: “Have washed their robes and made them white” (7:14b). What a paradox: white robes made white by blood. Of course, this is obviously a reference to the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. The point is they acted in faith, trusting in the person and work of Christ and God then justified them, imputing or crediting the righteousness of Christ to their account (Rom. 4-5).

Their position: Their position before the throne is mentioned twice in these verses (vss. 9, 15) perhaps to stress the awesomeness of having access to the very throne of God through faith in Christ in contrast to the awful conditions on the earth. The focus here is on the reason. Such access is the result of having the white robes, the righteousness of Christ. Note especially the words, “for this reason” that introduces the statement about being before the throne.

Three things are prominent in verses 15-17 that we need to note about these saints in heaven: Their service, their satisfaction, and their sufficiency.

Their service (vs. 15b): John is told that these “serve Him day and night in the His temple” (7:15b). We must remember that this whole scene is prophetic of the future time of the Tribulation. The question is, does the scene describe the service of the multitude going on during their time before the throne, or does this looks forward in anticipation of the millennium and their service of God in the millennial temple. The tense of the verb, “serve,” is present. This could be the futuristic present describing what will certainly take place in the future, i.e., these will be busy in the service of the King. But more than likely, it is a descriptive present and describes the scene in progress as they wait on the Lord in service before the throne. Undoubtedly, it refers to heaven and stresses that heaven is not only a rest from life’s pressures and toil, but it is especially a place of worship and privileged service even before the kingdom on earth ever begins.

“Night and day” reinforces the concept of constant service. They have no need for rest or sleep or restoration from fatigue. The temple probably speaks of God’s presence, being in the place where God dwells. Concerning this statement, Walvoord writes:

The fact that they are declared to serve “day and night” has been taken by some as an indication that this is a millennial scene rather than heaven since there is never any night in the temple of God in heaven. The expression, however, can be understood as meaning simply that they will continually serve the Lord, that is, they will not need sleep or restoration as is necessary in earthly toil. They are delivered from the limitations of this life.110

Their satisfaction (vss. 15c-16): “And He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle …” (7:15c-17). The verb is skhnow, “to live, dwell, have one’s tent, encamp.” It was used of setting up or spreading a tent over something. It comes from skhnh (a tent, booth, tabernacle) and was used of the Mosaic tabernacle (Heb. 8:5; 9:2, 3, 6, 8, 21), of its heavenly prototype (Heb. 8:2; 9:11; Rev. 13:6; 15:5), and of the dwelling of God in the New Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven (Rev. 21:3). In John’s writing, the only place where skhnow is used, this verb refers to God’s presence among men. M. J. Harris writes:

Whereas in the body of the Fourth Gospel Jesus is pictured as the new temple (Jn. 2:19-22), in the Prologue he is the tabernacle (eskhnwsen, Jn. 1:14), the focus of God’s presence among men on earth (cf. Exod. 25:8-9). Where Christ is, there is God’s dwelling. Rev. 7:15 pictures one of the elders before God’s throne informing John that God would “encamp” (skhnwsei) over those who had come out of the great tribulation; he would “shelter them with his presence” (RSV), dwell with them continuously within his temple.111

The preposition, “over” (Greek, epi) answers the question of where, but also, with the meaning of the verb and the context (vs. 16), suggests the picture of spreading God’s presence like a tent over the innumerable host for their protections, blessing, and fellowship with God. These tents were places of rest and protection from adverse elements, and in the Old Testament the Tabernacle was a place of worship. These saints will have access to God’s perfect provision, protection, and fellowship in an unlimited way.

But when does this occur? Does this begin when the great multitude is in heaven or is this looking forward to the millennial reign of Christ and beyond? All the verbs are in the future tense except one, but even it has a future connotation. In view of the fact they are first seen before the throne in the process of serving the One on the throne, the statements refer to what will happen once they are before the throne and in the presence of God.

So, once they are before the throne, they will be under God’s tabernacle and in His presence, and so also delivered from everything evil or harmful that men are subjected to on earth, such as hunger, thirst, heat and even sorrow. These believers will know God’s personal and direct comfort, indeed, the personal comfort of the Great Shepherd Himself.

Here there is perfect sufficiency and perfect satisfaction. All the elements which can bring pain, suffering and sadness are absent like the sinful nature, the hostile world system, and the attacks of Satan. In addition, they will experience all that is needed for relief, joy and satisfaction. Namely, the Lamb Himself who will shepherd, guide and wipe away the tears, every single one with the understanding and comfort which He alone can give.

Some have argued that this passage suggests that there will be tears in heaven because of failure and wasted opportunities. But the emphasis of this verse is that the tears of the past, because of the trials of life as in the Great Tribulation, are removed when men arrive in heaven in the presence of the Lamb, for there they “will be occupied with the beauty and wonder of heaven and the worship of the Savior.”112

Their sufficiency (vs. 17): It is important to note that their sufficiency stems from the shepherding ministry and the presence of the Lamb who is seen in the center of the throne. This stresses the importance and centrality of the person and work of Christ to the Godhead and the preeminence He should always have to us. How often in this life we experience insufficiency, but only because, like sheep who tend to wander, we fail to walk under the shepherding care of the Great Shepherd.

“Springs of the water of life” is literally “life’s water springs.” The emphasis is strongly on the word “life” which serves to stress that from death onward, with our arrival into the presence of our Great Shepherd, we will drink of life on the highest level, both life eternal and life abundantly.


107 Alan Johnson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, Frank E. Gaebelein, General Editor, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1981, pp. 478-479.

108 J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse, Zondervan, 1865, I, pp. 405-6.

109 Charles Ryrie, Revelation, Moody Press, Chicago, 1968, pp. 51-52.

110 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Moody Press, Chicago, 1966, p. 148.

111 M. J. Harris, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Colin Brown, General Editor, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, p. 813.

112 Walvoord, p. 14.

Ad Category: 
Passage: 
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

14. The First Four Trumpet Judgments (Rev 8:1-13)

The Seventh Seal and the Silence in Heaven
(8:1)

The first parenthesis or interlude dealing with salvation in the Tribulation is now over and the narrative sequence begins again with chapter 8. Remember that the seven seals ultimately contain all the judgments needed to usher in the rule of the Lamb and the kingdom of God. This includes both the trumpet and bowl judgments. With the opening of the seventh seal, the seven-sealed scroll is completely opened and immediately there is silence in heaven. Everything becomes deathly still in heaven. In place of the choruses of the elders, the cries of the angels and the multitudes, all is quiet.

The stillness is so intense that it can be felt. This is a silence of expectancy, for this is the last seal. It is also a silence of foreboding that precedes the onslaught of judgments. It last for half an hour (which may be understood just as literally as the other time designations in the book). Silence at this point, after all the vocal expressions of worship previously noted, would be an awesome thing.113

Here, then, is a dramatic pause caused by the significance of this final seal, by the intensity of its judgments to follow, and by their final result. The seventh seal contains within its scope all the rest of the judgments of the Tribulation (the trumpets and the bowls) which will restore the kingdom of God to earth.

As mentioned previously, some have said that the seals, trumpets and bowls all describe the same period, or that the trumpets and bowls simply double back over all or portions of the seals. But very poor or no arguments are given for such a position. Especially significant is the fact that those who hold this position never explain the content of the seventh seal, nor do they give an adequate explanation for the content of the seventh trumpet. Certainly Revelation 11:15b-19 does not describe the seventh trumpet, but rather heaven’s response to the sounding of the trumpet because of its significance, i.e., the outpouring of the seven bowls followed by the return of Jesus Christ.

Further, chapters 12 through 14 do not set forth its content for they introduce key personages and events in another parenthetical section. These chapters again interrupt the chronological movement which is then resumed in chapters 15 and 16 with the announcement of the bowl judgments. Perhaps, it would be good to review the argument for this view, that the seventh seal contains the seven trumpets and the seventh trumpet contains the seven bowls is simply this:

(1) There is no precise explanation of the content of the seventh seal as with the preceding six, instead, the seven trumpet angels are immediately introduced following the announcement of the seventh seal (cf. 8:1 with 8:2f).

(2) When we come to the seventh trumpet we again find no precise definition as with the preceding six. Instead, heaven’s response is seen and heard in anticipation of what the seventh trumpet and its judgments will bring, specifically “… the kingdom of the world becoming the kingdom of our Lord …” Revelation 11:18 summarizes the activities and results, though the details of this are given in Revelation 15 and 16 in the bowl judgments.

(3) Chapter 5 gives the story of the seven-sealed book which contains all that is needed to restore God’s kingdom to earth. Here there is no mention of the trumpets or bowls. Why? Because each is ultimately contained in the seventh seal.

Thus we can see why there is silence when the seventh seal is opened: it is a display of awesome reverence for what God is doing.

The Seven Angels
(8:2)

Here the seven angels, who stand in the presence of God as attendants to His service ever ready to carry out His orders, are equipped to carry out the trumpet judgments. They are given seven trumpets which stand symbolically for God’s provision and authority for these seven angels to pour out these judgments.

Trumpets were used by Israel on all their national occasions: for assembly to battle, public assembly, to signal important events of the calendar year and almost any important occasion. In this context, they symbolize the announcement of judgment and the number seven signifies the completeness or perfect accomplishment of these judgments.

Joel 2:1 Blow a trumpet in Zion, And sound an alarm on My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, For the Day of the Lord is coming; Surely it is near.

The Single Angel with the Golden Sensor
(8:3-6)

The Identity of the Angel (3a)

“Another angel came and stood at the altar …” There is no way to determine with finality who this angel is. Some believe it is an angel of high rank, carrying out a representative work which illustrates the priestly work of Christ whose life and presence in heaven gives efficacy to our prayers. Others believe that it is Jesus Christ, because He is seen often in the Old Testament as the Angel of the Lord (Gen. 16:7; Ex. 3:2; Numb. 22:22), and because here this angel is ministering in a priestly function which is not the normal role of angels in Scripture.

But an angel could perform such a function as this in Christ’s behalf, symbolically, just as the Old Testament priests did. The Greek word for “another” is allos, “another of the same kind,” and not %eteros, “another of a different kind.” This indicates this single angel is another angelic being of the same order as the seven.

What can we learn from the imagery of this angel with the sensor and his function?

(1) The imagery is that of the Old Testament tabernacle which was itself made to serve as a copy of the heavenly (cf. Heb. 8:5; 9:1-5; Isa. 6:1-7).

(2) The altar is the golden alter of incense, which was before God (or placed before the Holy of Holies just outside the veil), but it belonged on the inside in the Presence of God (Heb. 9:3-4). It was kept outside of the veil because it had to be serviced and the high priest could only go within the veil once a year (Heb. 9:7).

(3) In the Old Testament the priest would burn incense on the altar of incense. The smoke would fill the temple or tabernacle and then ascend upward to heaven.

(4) The live coals on this altar originally came from the altar of brass, the altar of sacrifice or of judgment with the brass symbolizing judgment. This spoke of Christ our sacrifice who was judged for us. Anyone who rejects Christ’s sacrifice must face God’s judgment (John 3:16-19). Note that when this angel filled the sensor with fire from the altar and through the fire to earth, immediately, there were peals of thunder, flashes of lightning and an earthquake, all portents of divine wrath (Rev. 8:5).

(5) The sweet incense ascending heavenward was symbolic of worship and prayer and was a reminder that our prayers must have the character of sweet incense or the mediatorial presence of Christ to be accepted and heard by God. (a) The sweet incense speaks of the sweet savor of Christ’s person who satisfies the Father’s holy character and represents us before God, providing boldness and access to God (cf. Eph. 3:12; Heb. 4:16; 10:19-22). (b) The incense poured on the coals from the altar of sacrifice producing the smoke and sweet odor pictures both Christ’s person and work together. It is this (both His person and work) which makes our worship and prayer acceptable to God. The coals spoke of Christ’s death, the incense of Christ’s person.

(6) In Revelation 8:3-4 much incense is given to the angel which is added to the prayers of all the saints upon the altar of incense. The point is that the incense gives efficacy, meaning, and acceptance to the prayers of the saints because it represents the sweet savor of Christ’s person and work. Thus their prayers ascend upward into God’s presence, gaining His ear and answer.

The Identity of The Saints and Their Intercession (3-4)

We are not specifically told who these saints are, but the implication of the passage is that the saints here are Tribulation saints, both Jew and Gentile believers who are living on earth during the Tribulation. Their prayer is that God would pour out His wrath on a rebellious world, but their desire is to establish His kingdom and will on earth. However, “they may include the saints of all time whose longing petitions for the coming of the kingdom of the Lord are now about to be answered.”114

The Implications of this Scene (5-6)

There is a clear juxtaposition of ideas here. First, the prayers of the saints are made effective before God by the symbolic ministry of the priestly angel (8:3-4). The next scene is the angel acting in judgment, or in a symbolic way which speaks of judgment. This action is followed by a token judgment in physical phenomenon on earth, “peals of thunder, flashes of lightening and an earthquake.” Then we are told the seven angels prepared themselves to sound their trumpets. The point is that after the prayer ascends with the incense then the judgment descends with the coals of fire from the altar.

As the incense gives efficacy to the prayers of the saints, so the coals from the altar of sacrifice, Christ’s sacrifice for us, gives efficacy or the right to judge the earth and the earthdweller, the rejecters of Christ. Here is retribution for rebellion and rejection of Christ.

John 3:16-19. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.

John 3:36. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.

The First Four Trumpets
(8:7-12)

In chapter eight there is nothing to indicate we should take verses 7-13 in any way other than in their literal sense. If the literal sense makes good sense, and if there is no indication in the passage itself which suggests a symbolical interpretation, then these verses should be taken literally. This is mentioned for some, like Walter Scott, understand the third part of the earth to mean the devastation of the Western confederation of nations, etc. But there is nothing here to suggest this. These are literal judgments. Ryrie makes a good point:

As has often been pointed out, it would be very inconsistent to understand these judgments symbolically and interpret the plagues in Egypt plainly and actually. The judgment of the first trumpet presents a grim picture of devastation on the vegetation of the world.115

The Significance of the Number Four

Many Bible students believe that four is the number of the world. It marks God’s creative works. We might say that it is the signature of the world, or the universal aspect.

(1) On the fourth day God finished the material creation, i.e., the heavens and earth (Gen. 1:14-19).

(2) Revelation 7:9 gives us four divisions of mankind: nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues.

(3) There are four directions or regions: north, south, east, and west.

(4) There are four seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter.

(5) In presenting the Lord Jesus to men, there are four gospels.

(6) There are four kingdoms: animal, mineral, vegetable, and spiritual;

(7) Finally, in Daniel’s portrayal of the times of the Gentiles, we are given only four great world powers or kingdoms of prophecy, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.

In this regard, the seven trumpets are divided into four and three. The first four bring devastation to the world, God’s creation. The last three are aimed more directly at man though mankind is affected and hurt by all the trumpets. This is significant since these first four are areas of God’s common grace intended for man’s blessing. Yet man, on the whole today, attributes this world to evolution rather than to a personal God. The evolutionists often say, “God did not create the universe. Man simply created God in his imagination out of his fears and weaknesses.” But at this point in the Tribulation, remember that there will then be no atheists, only rebellious and hardened people.

The First Trumpet (7)

With the sounding of the first trumpet hail and fire are cast to earth mingled with blood. This results in the burning of one-third of the earth—specifically burned are the trees and the green grass. This would also refer to the various crops of the earth like wheat, barley, rice, corn, etc. Imagine the famine as a result of this.

Each aspect of this judgment, though undoubtedly literal, represents certain spiritual concepts in the wrath of God.

(1) “Hail” comes from above and naturally speaks of the source as well as the suddenness (cf. Isa. 28:2).

(2) “Fire” speaks of the consuming character of God’s wrath. These judgments consume and destroy the meaning and purpose of life on earth.

(3) “Blood” is naturally descriptive of death. It not only reminds us men will be killed by these judgments, but that the wages of sin is death. God is judging moral and spiritual death on the earth by the physical death caused by the hail and fire.

(4) One third of the earth is destroyed by fire. Why not one fourth, or one fifth? Perhaps, because three is one of the numbers of perfection as with the number seven. Three is the number of God or the trinity. God is referred to by the formula, “Who was, Who is, and Who is to come.” During the last half of the Tribulation, the world will be ruled by the trinity from hell—Satan, the beast, and the False Prophet. In other words, the world has sought a solution to its problems not in God (the Trinity) but in the Satanic trinity. So it appears that by the number one-third, God is stressing the impotence of Satan’s trio and the perfection of God’s wrath to establish His eternal purposes.

These are literal judgments, but they also seem to represent some very basic spiritual truth.

The Second Trumpet (8-9)

Let’s be careful to note exactly what this says and what it does not say. It does not say that a great mountain, burning with fire was cast into the sea. Rather, it says “Something like a great mountain …” The object which is cast into the sea is compared to a great burning mountain. It was a huge mountain-like ball of fire which was cast into the sea. It is the perfect picture of what we know today about asteroids. Asteroids are literally mountains hurling through space. There is one family of asteroids called the Apollo group with an orbit that crosses directly across the Earth. These asteroids are masses of rock which vary in size from just a few miles to several hundred.

About 3,500 asteroids have been cataloged, and more are discovered each year. Their orbits are generally very elliptical, with one end closer to the sun than the other. The largest asteroid, Ceres, is about 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) in diameter. Next in size are Pallas, about 332 miles (534 kilometers); and Vesta, about 240 miles (386 kilometers).116

What would happen if even a small asteroid struck the earth? First, as it entered our atmosphere, as with shooting stars, it would begin to heat up and glow white with fire by friction. It would actually begin to burn. Then, when it hit the sea (as this object will if this is something like an asteroid) it would cause tidal waves and devastation for hundreds of miles. The meteorite which fell in Siberia in 1908 devastated over 1,000 square miles. The shock was felt as far away as Europe while trees up to 20 miles away were blown down. Yet the 1908 meteorite was only about 200 feet across—a far cry from one mile across!

One of the most powerful and devastating volcanic eruptions was that of Krakatoa. Its eruption in 1883 was one of the most catastrophic ever witnessed in recorded history and provides us with just an inkling of what the future holds in the time of the Tribulation.

On the afternoon of Aug. 26, 1883, the first of a series of increasingly violent explosions occurred. A black cloud of ash rose 17 miles (27 kilometers) above Krakatoa. On the morning of the next day, tremendous explosions were heard 2,200 miles (3,540 kilometers) away in Australia. Ash was propelled to a height of 50 miles (80 kilometers), blocking the sun and plunging the surrounding region into darkness for two and a half days. The drifting dust caused spectacular red sunsets throughout the following year. Pressure waves in the atmosphere were recorded around the Earth, and tsunamis, or tidal waves, reached as far away as Hawaii and South America. The greatest wave reached a height of 120 feet (36 meters) and took 36,000 lives in the coastal towns of nearby Java and Sumatra. Near the volcano masses of floating pumice produced from lava cooled in the sea were thick enough to halt traveling ships.

Everything on the nearby islands was buried under a thick layer of sterile ash. Plant and animal life did not begin to reestablish itself to any degree for five years. The volcano was quiet until 1927, when sporadic weaker eruptions began. These tremors have continued into the 1990s.117

Other reports have mentioned that it killed 38,000 due mostly from the huge tidal waves.

Let’s look at the devastation described in verses 8 and 9.

“A third of the sea became blood” refers to the open sea or ocean. What sea we are not told, though it could very well be the Mediterranean Sea.

“Became blood.” This could be caused supernaturally as with the Nile River in Exodus 7:20, or perhaps it could be caused by the tremendous amount of death resulting in blood poured into the Sea. The Sea becoming blood would simply mean or refer to a tremendous loss of life. When the second bowl of Revelation 16:3 is poured out into the sea, in that part of the world, either the sea is turned to blood, or it is chemically changed so as to have the appearance of blood. Here there is a change in the color of one-third of the sea. In the next trumpet there is an effect on the taste of one-third of the fresh water supply.

“A third of the sea” means that one-third of the sea is affected, whereas in the second bowl (16:3) all the sea, or open water is affected with all its sea life. The third appears to be in one portion of the earth, the portion near the impact of the burning object.

Verse 9 tells us one-third of all sea life dies and one-third of the ships are destroyed. This again means one-third of all in the oceans, but all in that specific area. Evidently sea life is killed by the change in the water and the ships are destroyed by the impact of the burning object, probably by both the shock waves and tidal waves, whatever the cause.

The Third Trumpet (10-11)

Quite clearly this is a heavenly body burning with fire as it comes into the Earth’s atmosphere and hits the Earth. Evidently as the star enters our atmosphere it begins to burn and to break up affecting a very large area of land and especially the lakes, rivers and streams. This will cause a chemical change making the waters bitter.

The star is called “wormwood.” This was a type of wood growing in Palestine that had a very strong and bitter taste. The star is called wormwood because of the affect the star has on the water. It makes the water like wormwood, i.e., bitter, but it appears that while the wormwood in Palestine is not poisonous, this star will poison the water because those who drink this water die. Thus one-third of the fresh water supply of the Earth is made unfit for human consumption.

The reference to wormwood seems to draw the parallel of the experience of the children of Israel at the waters of Marah (Exodus 15:23-25). There the tree cast into the bitter waters made them sweet. Here the wormwood cast into the sweet water made it bitter. Such also is the contrast between Christ on the cross atoning for sin and making that which is bitter sweet and Christ coming in judgment which turns the vain hopes and ambitions of men into bitterness and despair. The result of this trumpet is to inflict a divine judgment from God upon men themselves.118

The Fourth Trumpet (12)

In contrast to the first three trumpet judgments against the land, sea, rivers, and fountains of water, the fourth trumpet is aimed against the heavens. It is interesting that it was on the fourth day that God created and made visible to the Earth the sun, the moon and the stars. So now the fourth trumpet judgment is aimed at these heavenly bodies—the gracious provisions of God’s common grace (Cf. Matt. 24:29; Luke 21:25).

The Luke passage teaches us that these very literal occurrences are signs. The Greek word here is shmeion, “a sign, mark, token.” But this word looks at what is supernatural, a supernatural act of God, but one with a message or a moral or spiritual purpose. It is designed to teach and communicate a point and to cause people to take note of something. In the last days, man, in his humanism and the deification of himself, will have rejected the truth of creation and the authority of God. So now God acts supernaturally in that part of His creation which so clearly declares His glory—the sun, the moon, and the stars. Why? To demonstrate the truth of God as the Creator and Sovereign of the universe. However, surely it is also a warning and an appeal. It warns of final judgment, the return of Christ, and appeals to man to repent.

“Smitten” is the Greek word plhssw which means “to strike or smite.” The word plhgh, “a blow, stripe, wound, or calamity, plague,” comes from this word. The point is that God strikes one-third of the light-bearing bodies of the universe which hinders their light-giving capacity in some way. Note the emphatic thrust of the word order of the Greek sentence, “and was smitten, the third of the sun.”

The statement, “so that one-third of them might be darkened,” focuses our attention on both God’s purpose or design and the result. “So that” is %ina, a conjunction which normally shows purpose (“in order that”), but the distinction between purpose and result are often very delicate so that a purpose blends into the result (“so that”). “Darkened” is skotizw and means “to blacken, darken.” From this meaning and what follows, this could refer to an eclipse that will begin and occur daily from this point on in the Tribulation. The rest of the verse gives us the result.

“And the day might not shine for a third of it, and the night in the same way.” The daylight hours are reduced by one-third and even the light of the night from the moon and stars will likewise be eclipsed for one-third of the night. Ryrie believes this means the day-night cycle is changed from a 24-hour day to a 16-hour day.119

Whatever, these things seem to defy what science knows about the laws of our universe. They are unexplainable apart from the omnipotence of God and this is the point. Matthew 24:29 tells us that “powers of the heavens will be shaken.” “Powers” refers to the stars, or the heavenly bodies perhaps so-called because of their light-giving capacity. “Shaken” is the Greek word saleuw and means “to agitate, to shake, cause to move to and fro.” The stars now so obedient and consistent in their orbit will then be moving out of their orbit. This is all tremendously frightening, and to live in these days will be beyond description.

The Eagle Flying in Mid-heaven
(8:13)

As the ass spoke to Balaam, so this eagle, by the power of God, will speak from heaven as it flies about the earth like a flying sound-truck giving warning of the coming last three trumpets. The first four trumpets seem to serve not only as judgments, but as warnings of the last three trumpets since they are far worse. This is supported by the effects of the fourth on the heavens which the Lord referred to as “great signs in the heavens” (Luke 21:11), and by the warning of the eagle flying in heaven. Then, by the cry of the eagle, “Woe, woe, woe,” these last three trumpets are designated as woes because of their severity. As bad as the first four will be, these last three will be even worse. “Woe” is the Greek ouai, an onomatopoetic term and a strong interjection of grief or denunciation. By onomatopoetic is meant the formation or use of words such as buzz or murmur because the sound of the word imitates the sounds associated with the objects or actions they refer to. So this is a very graphic warning of the nature of what is coming.


113 Charles Ryrie, Revelation, Moody Press, Chicago, 1968, p. 55.

114 Ryrie, Revelation, p. 57.

115 Ryrie, Revelation, p. 58.

116 Excerpted from Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia. 1994, 1995 Compton’s NewMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

117 Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia.

118 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Moody Press, Chicago, 1966, p. 155.

119 Ryrie, Revelation, p. 58-59.

Ad Category: 
Passage: 
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

15. The Fifth and Sixth Trumpets, and First Two Woes (Rev 9:1-20)

The Fifth Trumpet and the First Woe
(9:1-12)

The Fallen Star and the Opening of the Abyss (1-2)

As we begin our study of this judgment it is important to remember that these last three trumpets were called “woes” (8:13) to draw our attention to the increased intensity of these judgments as the Tribulation moves closer and closer to its end. Also, remember that one of the purposes of the Tribulation is to unmask Satan’s true character. The fifth trumpet will begin to do this even more clearly. In the church age, Satan often disguises himself as an angel of light with his servants doing likewise (2 Cor. 11:14-15), but from this point on in the Tribulation, the mask will come off and his true colors will be evident for the whole world to see.

This leads us to consider the “star from (out of) heaven which had fallen to earth.” A careful consideration of the context shows us that this star is not a literal meteor or star, but stands symbolically for a person, an angelic creature—specifically Satan.

In more accurate translations, the star is described as “had fallen” (NASB, NIV), looking at the result of a completed event rather than as “fall,” suggesting that John saw the star falling as in the KJV. “Had fallen” is in the perfect tense and points to a fallen condition or state, to what had already occurred with existing results. The event itself is undoubtedly described in chapter 12. That the star is a personality or another angel is suggested by the following:

(1) To this star is given the key to the bottomless pit and the star is called a “him.” Note also the translation “he” in verse 2. In the Greek text, “him” is an intensive, personal pronoun (autos). It is in the dative case and can be masculine (to him) or neuter (to it), but is properly translated “him” because the context is describing a person. Some take the pronouns here to refer to the fifth angel, but the nearest subject to the pronoun and the verb is the star.

(2) The star is seen performing the actions of personality. He opens the abyss (verse 2) which would indicate that the star is in charge of these creatures of the abyss and somehow related to them.

(3) The star is given the ascriptions and appellatives of a person. This is seen in verse 11 which describes the star’s specific relationship to the demonic creatures of the abyss. There he is spoken of as a king, specifically called the Angel of the Abyss, and given names, “Abaddon” and “Apollyon.” That the star of verse 1 is the king and angel of verse 11 seems clearly evident for two reasons: First, the mention of the fallen star in verse one would be meaningless unless he is the actor who opens the pit. Unless this is the case, why call attention to a fallen star. Second, the fact the star was given the key and authority to open the pit in order to bring destruction on the world also fits with the names given to this angel of the abyss. Both names, Abaddon and Apollyon, mean “destruction.”

(4) There is further support for this view in the fact that, in Scripture, angels are called “stars” (Job 38:7) and Satan is specifically referred to as a star (cf. Isa. 14:12 with Luke 10:18). Regarding Isaiah 14:12 as a reference to Satan, Ryrie writes: “star of the morning. Lit., the bright one. Evidently a reference to Satan embodied in the king of Babylon because of Christ’s similar description (Luke 10:18) and because of the inappropriateness of the expressions of verses 13-14 on the lips of any but Satan (cf. 1 Tim. 3:6).”120 While the description in Luke 10:18 does not use the term “star,” the description of seeing Satan “falling from heaven like lightening” can certainly fit the picture of a falling star streaking across the sky like lightning or a beam of light. “Lightning” isastraph, “lightening, brightness, a beam of light.”121

(5) Finally, Luke 8:31, 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 show us that the abyss, here called “the pit of the abyss,” in 2 Peter 2:4, “the pits of darkness,” and in Jude 6, “eternal bonds under darkness” is the abode of a portion of demons or fallen angels. Other Scriptures teach us that Satan is the ruler or king of the fallen angels; they are viewed as his angels (Matt. 12:24, 26; Eph. 2:2; Rev. 12:4, 7). See also John 12:31 and Ephesians 6:12. What we see in these verses fits very well with the facts of Revelation 9.

The opening of the abyss results in a literal darkness, but it is also symbolical of the spiritual darkness that is about to fill the earth and portrays the system and activities of Satan.

Regarding Satan’s fall, consider the following three points:

(1) Satan’s fall is both historic and prophetic. Historically, he lost his position as the anointed cherub when he sinned and rebelled against God. This fall and the reasons for it are recorded in Ezekiel 28:11f and Isaiah 14:12f. Revelation is another reference to this fall. Prophetically, he will be permanently cast out of heaven and restricted to earth in the middle of the Tribulation. Revelation 12:7-17 describes this event that will occur dead center in the Tribulation. It starts the Great Tribulation. While Luke 10:18 shows us the power of Satan has been broken, with the success of the seventy disciples over demons proving that (vs. 17), it may also be prophetic of Satan’s final defeat.

(2) During this interim, Satan evidently has access into God’s presence to accuse believers night and day. One of Satan’s chief purposes in this is to malign the character of God who sentenced him to the lake of fire (cf. Job 1:6-11; Rev. 12:10; Matt. 12:41). Satan is not called “the adversary,” antidikos, “an opponent in a lawsuit,” and “the devil,” diabolos, “the slanderer,” for no reason.

(3) Revelation 9:1-11 does not record the fall itself, but the aftermath of Satan’s fall to earth occurring in the middle of the Tribulation. Knowing that his time is short, he will do all he can to bring about pain and suffering on the earth including the greatest time of anti-Semitism the world has ever known (see Rev. 12:13-17).

Giving the fallen star “the key” obviously stands for authority and power to open the bottomless pit.

“Of the bottomless pit” is literally, “the pit of the abyss.” “Bottomless” is the abussos, “abyss, unfathomable depths.” This word is used Luke 8:31, Rom. 10:7 and in Revelation 9:1, 2, 11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:1, 3. “Pit” is the Greek frear, “pit, well, shaft.”

But what is this abyss?

(1) The abyss is the temporary abode and prison of a portion of the demon hosts where they wait their eternal and final judgment to the lake of fire.

(2) Various descriptions of this place: (a) In 2 Peter 2:4 it is described as “the abode of the judged,” Literally, “having cast them into tartarus” (tartarow, “to hold captive in tartarus”). Tartarus means “the abode of the judged,” and as “pits of darkness.” “Pits” is seiros, “a deep pit as used in storing grain,” and “darkness” is zofos, “blackness.” (b) In Jude 6 it is described as “eternal bonds under darkness.” (c) In Luke 8:31 and Romans 10:7, it is described simply as “the abyss,” abussos, “the place of unfathomable depth.” (d) In Revelation 9:1-2, it is described as “the pit or shaft of the abyss, and (e) as “the spirits now in prison” in 1 Peter 3:19-20.

(3) A study of the above passages show us that the abyss is a place of judgment for demons for specific sin. It is utterly black and the demons there are in total oblivion to the rest of the universe. It is also a place of bondage, a prison from which not even Satan can release them until he is give the key and authority to do so in keeping with God’s sovereign purpose for the Tribulation.

(4) The majority of these bound demons are there because they left their normal habitation and abode. This refers to leaving their heavenly sphere and purpose as designed by God. Some believe this includes whatever is involved in the events of Genesis 6.

(5) It appears that others were cast there by Christ during His ministry on earth according to Luke 8:31-33. In this regard, just some food for thought: (a) According to Luke 11:24f, demons travel and seek habitats in waterless places. (b) The Greek translation in the LXX for the Hebrew word, teJom, “deep, ocean, large body of water,” and for salaJ, “ocean, deep,” is our word abussos. (c) Revelation 21:1 and 22:1f describe conditions of the new heavens and earth in which the only water is the river of life. Evidently, there will be no sea or ocean in the new earth. (d) It is interesting that the specific judgment God used on the antediluvian world, the world involved with the fallen angels called, “sons of God,” in Genesis 6, was the flood. The flood was not merely caused by rain, but by the crust of the earth breaking up with water coming from subterranean levels. Is there some kind of relation between water, the oceans, and the subterranean levels and the abyss? Interestingly, the swine running into the water was certainly a judgment and was perhaps symbolical of the fact that Christ was sending them into the abyss.

In Revelation 9, Satan, the king of the fallen angels or demons, is given the power and authority by God to open the abyss and release these demons on earth as part and instruments of God’s divine wrath.

All the demons including Satan will be bound and thrown into the abyss again at the end of the Tribulation for 1,000 years (Rev. 20:1-3). Satan will be released from his prison at the end of the 1,000 years, and he will come out to deceive the nations. Some will follow him but the King of kings will quickly defeat him and cast him with his demon hosts into the lake of fire forever (Rev. 20:7-10).

The following chart illustrates the history of the imprisonment of demons:

Verse 2. “And he opened …” draws our attention to Satan’s character—cruel, vicious, and hurtful to the core. As soon as the opportunity is presented, he takes advantage of it. He does not need to be coaxed. He simply needs the opportunity—the removal of the restraining hand of God. Remember, as “the adversary,” he is the one who walks about like a roaring lion always in search of someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8).

“And smoke went up out of the pit … ; and the sun and the air were darkened.” “Air” is the Greek, ahr and refers to the atmosphere about the earth. Earth’s atmosphere will become polluted with the smoke pouring out of the abyss. This will block out the sun and suddenly all will be dark. This is a literal darkness, but is also symbolical of the spiritual darkness that will fall on the earth in the system and activities of Satan and his end time system of the beast.

This demonic activity that will literally fill the atmosphere will be clearly evident to the eyes of men, even the demon creatures themselves. Ironically, according to Ephesians 2:2 and other passages, our atmosphere and the world we live in even now are full of demonic forces and activity, but on the whole, they are hidden to the world. Many do not really believe in a real devil or in demons. Many may be blind to their existence now, but not so in the future.

Demonic Torment Loosed Upon Man (3-5)

Verse 3: The appearance of these demonic creatures of the abyss is given in verses seven and following. Here they are simply called locusts with the stinging power of scorpions. Descending out of the abyss, these are demons but they will take on the form described in verses seven and following. This is a literal phenomenon that will occur and it has spiritual significance. In Scripture locusts are associated with divine wrath (Ex. 10:12-20). This is why they are called locusts. But unlike the locusts of history who attack vegetation, these are commanded not to hurt the grass, etc.; their purpose will be to hurt men.

Verse 4: In this verse these demon creatures are told not to do what locusts normally do—attack vegetation. In Old Testament times and throughout history the locust is a symbol of destruction and terror. I have read that they may travel in a column 100 feet deep and up to four miles in length leaving the land stripped bare of all vegetation.122

Who gives this command to hurt only man but not the vegetation? In the light of God’s dealings with Satan in the Book of Job, this is probably God. The only one excluded from this torment of locust are the 144,000 who have the seal of God in their foreheads. We might assume, however, that as far as this plague is concerned, they stand representatively for all believers and that any believer would be spared this torment. Why? This is a judgment upon men who have rejected Christ, not for believers in Jesus Christ, those who had believed the message of the 144,000.

Verse 5: It is interesting to note that again specific limitations are placed on these demonic creatures by God. They are limited as to what and who they may strike (vs. 4), as to how far they may go in the torment (not unto death), and as to how long (five months) (vs. 5).

“Scorpion” is the Greek word skorpios. This was a lobster like vermin some four or five inches long. It had a claw on the end of the tail that secreted a poison when it struck.123 Please notice that these demons are not called scorpions, nor are we told that they look like scorpions, just that they have the power (vs. 3), and torment (vs. 5) of a scorpion. This means they have the power to cause tremendous pain, short of death, but extending for five months.

Verse 6: In this verse we see the effect which will drive men to seek suicide, but they will be unable to accomplish it. Death will elude them. This is astounding and clearly a supernatural restraint of God that stresses and demonstrates His absolute authority or sovereignty. As Ryrie puts it, “Bodies will not sink and drown; poisons and pills will have no effect; and somehow even bullets and knives will not do their intended job.”124

So in addition to the natural plagues that have afflicted the earth, now men are directly attacked and tormented by these demonic creatures.

The Demonic Locust Creatures Described (9-10)

These verses make it clear that these creatures are not ordinary locusts, and are only called such because of their function in judgment. The same applies, as mentioned above, to their likeness to scorpions. The emphasis is on the capacity to torment and to cause pain.

In their description John lists eight things about their appearance. He begins with the head and moves backward to their tails, the source of their power to inflict torment for the five months. Torment is their sole purpose. The description here defies imagination, but remember, these are demonic creatures that have come from the abyss. They are the worst of the demons of Satan. Whether they take on this form as a demonic-like apparition, or just what happens here we are not told. But they will be real and will inflict terrible torment upon mankind. It will be a literal hell on earth.

The Leader of the Demons (11)

This king over the demons is of course Satan. He is called the Angel of the Abyss because he is a fallen angel and because of his own relation to the abyss and to those within it. They are there because they followed his rebellion, he is given the key to release them and he will be bound there himself.

His name given in both Hebrew and Greek means destroyer. This is just another of the many names of Satan given in Scripture that portray his character and activities (cf. 12:9). As the destroyer he is the one chiefly responsible for all the forms of destruction in this life, from the Garden of Eden to the last battle at the end of the Millennium (Gen. 3—Rev. 20). In many ways, the Scripture is in essence a portrait of two, of Satan and his destruction, and the Savior and His deliverance.

The Announcement of Two More Woes (12)

With the first woe now past we are informed that the next two woes are still to come. As serious and fearful as the first woe is in its torment, it is only the first. The worst is yet to come. As we shall see in the second woe and have seen in the first, the Tribulation unmasks the true character of Satan in all his evil and cruelty, but it also demonstrates the depravity and rebellion of the human heart. This will especially be seen in this second woe.

Concerning this woe Walvoord says,

For the first time in history all those who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior will come under demonic possession and affliction. What is true in that hour is also true in some measure today, for there is no deliverance from the power of Satan nor from his affliction apart from salvation in Christ and the delivering power of God.125

Today we are seeing the stages set for this very black and degenerate hour that is portrayed in this sixth trumpet or second woe.

    The Sixth Trumpet and Second Woe
    (9:13-21)

The Voice From the Four Horns of the Golden Altar (13)

This is the same altar mentioned in 8:3 in the scene of the offering of incense with the prayers of the saints. The voice is probably that of the priestly angel and the implication is that this judgment like the preceding is in answer to the prayers of the saints so persecuted by the beast in the Tribulation.

The Release of the Four Angels (14-15)

The sixth angel is instructed to release four angels bound at the River Euphrates. The Euphrates is called great, perhaps not just for its size, but because of its prominence and importance in Scripture.

Verses 14-15 speak of four angels that are bound at the Euphrates River and then released to kill one-third of mankind. The Euphrates is mentioned twice in Revelation, here and in 16:12.

The epithet “great” is used in both occurrences. The entire length is 1780 miles, and it is by far the longest and most important river of western Asia. The Euphrates was the natural boundary separating the nations of the east from Palestine. Its broad stream flowed between Israel and her powerful enemy Assyria. The Euphrates was also the limit of the Roman conquests in that part of the world. We understand, therefore, that the literal Euphrates is here signified, and not the Turkish power.126

Who are these angels? They are fallen angels, demonic spirits similar to those in 16:13-14. The four angels of Revelation 7:1 are good angels who carry out the judgment of God. These, however, appear to be fallen angels because they have been bound. Good angels are never spoken of as bound, unless this is the exception. On the other hand, demonic spirits or fallen angels are bound or will be (cf. Jude 6; 2 Pet. 2:4; Rev. 20:2 with 9:1ff). These, then, are wicked angels prepared by God to be released as a further judgment against a godless, Christ rejecting world.

The expression “For the hour and day and month and year” refers not to the duration of their activity, but to the fact this occurs exactly on the hour of God’s appointment, i.e., the exact hour of the day, month, and year that God ordained it. God raises up both men and demons as His instruments to accomplish His purposes in history. Each acts out of their own volition, according to their schemes and nature, but God, knowing them from eternity past, raises them up in history to carry out His purpose even at the exact hour (cf. Isa. 10:5f; Rom. 9:11-18).

“So that they might kill a third of mankind.” This states their purpose in the plan of God. But just how do they do this? The following verses tell us. They do it through an army of 200,000,000. Earlier one-fourth of the earth’s population is killed in the fourth seal. Now one-third of the remaining population of mankind is wiped out. This means the earth’s total population is reduced by one-half by these two judgments alone and these judgments do not account for all the deaths that will occur. The other judgments also will result in widespread destruction of human life. As Walvoord says, “Never since Noah has such a substantial proportion of the earth’s population come under God’s righteous judgment.”127

The Army of Two Hundred Million (16-19)

Is this literal 200,000,000 man army or a description of an innumerable host? Walter Scott thinks that it should not be taken literally.

We have had the number of the invisible leaders, four; now both the reader and the Seer are informed as to the number of the invading hosts, stated to be “twice ten thousand times ten thousand,” or two hundred millions. This immense host is a number too vast for human conception. The mind gets bewildered in the effort to comprehend such an army which for number surpasses anything ever seen on earth. The unseen chariots of God are similarly numbered (Psa. 68:17) … A literal army consisting of two hundred millions of cavalry need not be thought of. The main idea in the passage is a vast and overwhelming army, one beyond human computation, and exceeding by far any before witnessed.128

Ryrie is of the opinion that this army is made up of demons. He says, “The weapons of this army are fire, smoke, and brimstone (vs. 17) which are weapons of hell and may further indicate that the army is made up of the inhabitants of hell—demons.”129 It is clear that the four angels are the demons, however, it is more likely that this army, like one gathered in 16:14, is a human army already in existence which these demons now cause to move against mankind similar to the work of the three unclean spirits who cause the kings of the earth to gather together for the battle of Armageddon (16:13ff). Walvoord writes:

There is no direct statement as to the origin of this army, but the implication is, from the fact that the angels of verse 14 were bound “in” or at Euphrates, that the army may come from the East. A similar and later development mentioned in Revelation 16:12 following the outpouring of the sixth vial also depicts an invasion from the East. Unless the vials and the trumpets coincide as some believe, these are two different events, possibly two different phases of the same operation. Chronologically the trumpets involved closely succeed one another and their judgments seem to fall like trip-hammer blows as the great Tribulation comes to its close. Whether the army is held to be the literal number mentioned or not, it is clear that this is a massive force of tremendous military power as evidenced in its capacity to slay a third part of the human race. It may be that the army here described continues to fight until the time of the second coming of Christ, and the number slain is the total number involved in the conflict.130

Verses 17-19 describe the army and its tactics or method of warfare. Quite clearly these are not ordinary horsemen or horses. Since this refers to a human army, it is probably best taken as symbolical of modern mechanical warfare. John has never seen tanks or armored vehicles, so he was given a vision of horsemen, as in his day—yet the vision went beyond his day and portrayed modern warfare. The fire, smoke, and brimstone could refer to any number of devices of modern warfare. Again in verse 18 it is mentioned that one-third of mankind will be killed.

The Great Society of the Future (20-21)

Through humanism and a Christ-rejecting society, man has little to look forward to, specifically, the horrible conditions of these two verses. Here we see the harvest, the true results of humanism and the great society the world is seeking to develop—but apart from God and the Lord Jesus Christ. The following three points describe the character of this society and its people.

    Rebelliously Unrepentant (20a)

“And the rest … who were not killed . . did not repent.” One would think by this time men would be crying out for mercy from God in deep repentance, especially since the world will know these all things that are happening are judgments from God (cf. 6:14-17). But no, by now the rest of mankind has become confirmed in their rebellion and depraved ways through the hardening effect of continued negative volition to God.

Significantly, the things they will refuse to repent of are “the works of their own hands.” This demonstrates the extreme humanistic nature of man that has always been evident, but especially in these last days. Men, as we see today, reject the works of God both in creation and in salvation. Man seeks to handle life by what he can do apart from God. But wasn’t this precisely the heart and nature of Satan’s temptation to Eve in Genesis 3?

    Religious, Demonic and Idolatrous (20b)

We should notice that this is a consequence of the refusal to repent. The translation of the NASV “So as not to” represents the conjunction %ina, “in order that” and the negative particle mh, “not.” This may look at a negative purpose or intent, or a negative result or consequence. Theologically, however, both concepts, as mentioned previously, are often involved together. Men often refuse to come to Christ, even though salvation is by grace, because they want to continue to pursue their present lifestyle of sin. As our Lord teaches us in the Gospel of John:

John 3:19-21 And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.

Men ultimately reject Christ in order to pursue their own course. Ironically, such a purpose is not without its consequences—the consequences of greater and greater degeneration as Paul makes clear in Romans 1:18ff. The consequences here in Revelation 9 are two-fold, though tied together: (a) rampant demonism and (b) gross idolatry. Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 10:20 that behind all idolatry is demonism or the worship of demons.

There are basically four levels of demonic activity in the world today:

(1) Demon influence and temptation: In view of Satan’s constant activity through his demonic forces, all people face this to some degree (1 Pet. 5:8; Eph. 2:2; 6:12-13; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 2:26).

(2) Demon Subjection or Control: This occurs through the lust patterns of the flesh and the many temptations found in the world which, of course, operates to a large degree under Satan’s control and influence. It is for this reason that he is called “the god of this world” (age) (2 Cor. 4:4) and “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 16:11). See also Ephesians 2:2 and 1 John 2:15-17; Mark 4:14-19.

(3) Demon Harassment or Oppression: This involves direct demonic attack that often leads to severe harm mentally, emotionally, and physically. This is possibly the cause of Paul’s thorn in the flesh that he describes as “a messenger of Satan” mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:7.

(4) Demon Possession: Demon possession is the condition where a demon (or demons) actually take up residence within the body of a person and not only controls the person, but uses their central nervous system and vocal cords. The gospels are filled with illustrations of this.

For more detailed information on this issue, see the bibliography at the end of this lesson.

The idols of gold and silver will probably include the whole gamut of materialism (cf. Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5), but by this time it will be far beyond this into rank idol worship in the form of worship of the beast (cf. Rev. 13).

The last phrase of verse 21, “which can neither see nor hear nor talk,” is stark irony to bring out the supreme foolishness of all forms of idolatry (see Ps. 115:3-8; Isa. 44:9f). Man’s idols, materialism included, are empty of capacity to meet his needs. Man’s idols are helpless nothings.

    Morally Decadent (21)

Here we have the natural outcome of the preceding two characteristics of man at this time. God is holy, just, love, goodness, mercy and grace, etc. Demons are unholy, unjust, hateful, cruel, murderous, destructive, immoral, etc. When men reject God, the only thing left is the world of Satan. Today Satan’s ministers (servants) often take on the form of goodness, the form of light. But of course, this is only a smoke screen. In the Tribulation, however, the true nature of Satan’s kingdom will surface. In verse 21 John gives us four results that characterize men of Satan’s kingdom and of all men of the Tribulation.

The first sin mentioned is murder. Note that the passage says “murders” (plural). Murder will be rampant. No one will think anything of killing another human being. The ‘law of the jungle’ will prevail. Unfortunately, we can see the nature of this in our own country today since we have left the absolutes of the Word of God. Currently, one of our judges is having to battle to keep a copy of the Ten Commandments on the wall of his court room.

The second sin mentioned is sorcery. This is again plural. The Greek word is farmakon, “a drug, incantation, enchantment.”131 Our word pharmacy comes from this word group. The verb farmakeuw means “to administer drugs.” The word referred to magical arts, but the use of drugs is often a part of witchcraft or demonism. This suggests that drugs will be a big part of the Tribulation. In the Tribulation practically everyone will be on drugs and men will kill and steal to get them.

The third sin mentioned is immorality. This is the Greek word porneia from which we get our word pornography. Porneia looks at sexual sins and perversions of every type.

The fourth sin mentioned is thefts. This is the Greek word klemma, “a thing stolen,” or “theft, stealing.” This too is plural and draws our attention to the complete moral breakdown where men will lie, steal, cheat, and defraud at every turn.

The bonds of society loosened, all mutual respect for each other’s rights, even in the most sacred relationship, completely gone, what follows? Greed will lure on the mass of men “not killed” to enrich themselves at the expense of society. “Each one for himself” is the order and motto of these coming days.132

What a horrible and grim picture the Spirit of God has painted for us of these final days!!! Men will hold nothing sacred anymore. Not life, not marriage or the family or sex, not one’s health, nor the property and rights of others. Man will be given over completely to sensual indulgence and he will do anything to satisfy his cravings. Is not this in itself the greatest judgment he will face? It demonstrates the total ruin of all meaning to life. I used to think this condition in society and the misery of man’s soul at this point would be great beyond imagination. But now in the nineties we see (in our country as well as others) the same signs of moral degeneration—a hardened and unrepentant spirit and moral decadence of the worst kind—murder and violence, stealing in every conceivable form (from petty theft to political and corporate fraud), and gross immorality. It’s a frightening picture.

I am convinced from Scripture that the church will not go into the Tribulation. I believer the Lord’s return for us is imminent and that we do not look for signs of His coming for the church. He could have come in John’s or Paul’s lifetime, and He could come for His bride today.

It would appear, however, that there are certain signs of the approach of the Tribulation in preparation for setting the stage for the events described in Revelation 6-19 and other prophetic passages. Surely we are seeing something of this today and the church could go through a great deal of persecution as the world grows worse and worse. Actually, many believers are undergoing tremendous suffering in various parts of the world already. May we continue to look up and pray, come quickly Lord Jesus.

Bibliography on Demonic Activity

____________. Demon experiences in Many Lands, Moody Books, 1960. This is a compilation of reports of demonic experiences from missionaries from all over the world.

Koch, Kurt E., Christian Counseling and Occultism, Kregel Publication, 1972. This book includes a systematic investigation into occult phenomena with case histories.

Montgomery, John Warwick, Principalities and Powers, Bethany Fellowship, Inc., 1981.

Montgomery, John Warwick, Demon Possession, Bethany Fellowship, Inc., 1976. This book is a medical, historical, anthropological and theological symposium.

Nevius, John L., Demon Possession, Kregel Publications, 1968. This is considered a classic on this subject. It was first copyrighted in 1894 by Fleming H. Revell Co. Nevius was a Christian Missionary in China and experienced first hand contact with rampant demonic activity.

Pentecost, J. Dwight, Your Adversary the Devil, Zondervan Publishing House, 1972. This excellent book by a Dallas Theological Seminary professor is a complete biblical study of Satan from the standpoint of his character and activity from his fall to his ultimate destiny. Highly recommended for general background for the study of demonology.

Unger, Merrill F., Biblical Demonology, Scripture Press Publication, Inc., 1952. This is a solid biblical treatment and the first of two books on demonology by an OT Scholar who was a professor of Hebrew and OT Interpretation at Dallas Theological Seminary.

Unger, Merrill F., What Demons Can Do to Saints, Moody Press, 1977. In this book, due to the number of letters and responses from missionaries and others, Dr. Unger took a different position from his previous book on the question, “Can a believer be demon possessed.” In this book, Unger makes a strong case for a yes answer.


120 Charles C. Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, Expanded Edition, NASB, Moody Press, Chicago, 1995, p. 1069.

121 The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 3, Colin Brown, general editor, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, p. 1001.

122 Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1977.

123 Mounce.

124 Charles C. Ryrie, Revelation, Moody Press, Chicago, 1968, p. 62.

125 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Moody Press, Chicago, 1966, p. 164.

126 Walter Scott, Exposition of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, Fleming H. Revell, Westwood, NJ, p. 210.

127 Walvoord, p. 165.

128 Scott, p. 211.

129 Ryrie, Revelation, p. 64.

130 Walvoord, pp. 166-167.

131 G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1937, p. 466.

132 Scott, p. 216.

Ad Category: 
Passage: 
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

16. The Angel and the Little Book (Rev 10:1-11)

The Appearance of the Angel
(10:1-3a)

Beginning with chapter 10 and extending through 11:14 there is another parenthetical section or interlude between judgments. Again, this does not chronologically advance the narrative of Tribulation events, but is descriptive, introductory and explanatory. It presents other facts and explanations that contribute to the total prophetic scene of the Tribulation period.

“And I saw another strong angel …” (vs. 1). While the key note of the chapter is “the little book,” the first thing John sees is the appearance of another strong angel. This is important because the appearance and character of the angel gives validity and significance to the little book and its message. Some see this angel as the Lord Himself because of the description given of the angel. He descends with a cloud (cf. Ps. 104:3; Rev. 1:7), his face is like the sun (cf. 1:16), and his feet are as pillars of fire (cf. 1:15). Others try to connect him with the sixth angel, but it seems apparent that he is neither. “Another” is the Greek word allos and means “another of the same kind.” He is an angelic being of the same kind, but different (another) from the sixth angel. He is very likely the same angel as in 5:2 and this angel is clearly not the Lord. Furthermore, as Ryrie points out:

Others, however, point out that an angel might have these characteristics as well. He is called a “mighty” angel (the same word as in 5:2). Similar characteristics are ascribed to a man (clearly an angelic being) in Daniel 10:5ff. Furthermore, the archangel Michael’s name means “who is like God,” which would make these characteristics not unexpected. Also, there might be some problem in a descent of Christ at this point in the book (v. 1). There would be no problem if this were an angel. If this is an angel it is quite possible that he is the same one that appeared in 8:3, the “another” in 10:1 merely distinguishing him from the seven trumpet angels as it does in 8:3.133

“Coming down from heaven” simply emphasizes his source and his authority. In no other Scripture is Christ viewed as coming down to earth before the end of the Tribulation. This again suggests this is not Christ, but a mighty angel from God’s presence.

“Clothed with a cloud.” The angels are ministering spirits sent out to minister or carry out God’s purposes as with these judgments. In this, He makes or clothes them as He desires for the task at hand (cf. Heb. 1:7, 14). Those who see this angel as the Lord, see the cloud as a symbol of the Lord’s presence,134 but for reasons mentioned above, this is unlikely. Rather, “clothed with a cloud” is a symbol of divine intervention and judgment (cf. Dan. 7:13; 1 Thess. 4:17; Rev. 1:7; Exodus 24:15-18).

“And the rainbow was upon his head.” The rainbow appears as a crown or perhaps a kind of halo. This is the Greek, iris, “a rainbow, (colored) halo or radiance.”135 Since a rainbow is a sign of God’s faithfulness to His word in Scripture, the colored radiance or rainbow teaches that his appearance and the messages of this chapter are a result of God’s faithfulness to His covenants and mercy. God was here in the process of fulfilling Old and New Testament promises.

“And his face was like the sun” stresses this glorious angel was invested with divine glory and holiness to show us he was acting in response to God’s holiness (cf. Exodus 34:29).

“And his feet like pillars of fire” emphasizes his stance as firm, stable, immovable. “Fire” points to judgment and shows that God is immovable in the outpouring of these judgments.

“And he had in his hand a little book which was open.” In contrast to the seven-sealed book in Christ’s hand (Rev. 5), this is a little book and it is open. “Open” is in the perfect passive to show the book had already been opened. It was an open book which may indicate that it contained Old and New Testament prophecies of the coming events, though the exact contents of this little book are not revealed in this chapter. The point is this book had been opened prior to this chapter, unlike the seven-sealed book that had its contents revealed gradually, seal by seal in the progression of the book of Revelation.

“And he placed his right foot on the sea and his left on the land. Evidently for emphasis, this is mentioned three time in this chapter (10:2, 5, 8) and presents a picture of total conquest of land and sea. It relates this angel and the message of the little book to God’s purpose and promise to take possession of the entire world as it will be carried out in the final events of this momentous period of world events.

“And he cried out with a loud voice as when a lion roars” (vs. 3a). The lion, known as the king of the beasts, often roars when he has made a kill and takes possession of his prey. This stresses strength, kingship, possession, and victory on behalf of the Lord Jesus, the King of kings.

The Answer of the Seven Peals of Thunder
(10:3b-4)

“And when he had cried out, the seven peals of thunder uttered their voices.” This occurs in answer to the appearance and cry of the angel. As lightening appears and flashes across the sky, and thunder follows, so now the seven peals of thunder are heard following the appearance of the mighty angel. The thunder answers the lion-like voice of the angel. Note that the thunder and the voice of the angel are not the same.

Thunder is a symbol of judgment but also of revelation. It reminds us God has revealed Himself in history to man, first in creation and then in various ways through special revelation, i.e., through the holy Scriptures and through the Son. Thunder is portrayed as the voice of the Lord seven times in Psalm 29:3-9. The idea is that thunderstorms are a reminder to man that he should ascribe glory and strength to God and worship God as the Creator King of this world. In Revelation 10, the thunder is heard in a most electrifying message that John was both able to hear and understand.

“Seal up … and do not write them” (vs. 4). The message was so electrifying and astounding that John, as was his custom with these visions, was about to write down what he heard, but a voice out of heaven, perhaps the Lord Himself, forbids this action. Evidently the message was so awesome that man could not handle it. It is sealed and is never revealed in this book. The Lord will evidently explain and reveal this Himself when we are with Him. From the nature of the passage, or context, this apparently deals with God’s judgments and purposes for these things, but the details are sealed.

The Affirmation of the Angel
(10:5-7)

“And the angel … lifted up his right hand to heaven and swore by Him …” (vs. 5-6). With his feet firmly planted on the sea and the land, the mighty angel takes the position of oath taking—the raised right hand—in order to affirm the plan and purposes of God to take possession of the earth without further delay. The feet firmly planted adds a determined and emphatic note to this affirmation of what God is going to do.

The basis of the oath is the person and work of God as the eternal, self-existent God who created all things, i.e., “by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven …” It is significant for us who are living in these last days before the Tribulation that the key philosophical issue of our time revolves around these two issues—the existence of God and creation versus secularism and evolution. Modern man derides both. Instead of being the creation of a personal God who created mankind for His own glory and purposes, man is the impersonal result of time and chance.

“That there shall be delay no longer” is literally, “that time no longer shall be.” “Time” is cronos which refers to a duration of time, time as a period of time. Some see this as a declaration that time will be no more. As “there will be no more sea” (21:1), “no more death” (21:4), and “no more night” (22:5), so there will be “no more time” (10:6). But with all of these except 10:6 we have the negative “no,” the verb “to be,” and the word eti meaning “more.” In 10:6 “more” is missing. This is not saying that “time will be no more,” but that “time has run out,” that “there will be no more time before God completes His purposes on earth as the earth or world exists today.”

Verse 7 explains this and makes the concept clear. When the seventh angel sounds, then the mystery of God will be finished, there will be no more delay, time will have run out. But what is meant by the words, “the mystery of God is finished, as He preached to His prophets”? Surely, the mystery of God is the answer to the age-old question, why has God allowed Satan and evil to continue to exist? The answer to this is found in Scripture. It was preached by God to His prophets, they proclaimed it, and it is now found in the Bible.

Kelly identifies “the mystery of God” as: “… the secret of allowing Satan to have his own way, and man too (this is to say, the wonder of evil prospering and of good being trodden underfoot). God checks, no doubt, the evil in a measure, partly through human government and partly through His own providential dealings.”136

Certainly also, God restrains this evil through the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit in the church (2 Thess. 2:5-9). But when the Tribulation begins, this check will have been removed. This mystery, which the Tribulation will help to remove through its judgments, is a truth about God proclaimed by the prophets. It is a truth that involves two key features—truth concerning the conflict with Satan and evil, and truth about the establishment of God’s kingdom that will put an end to Satan and his activity.

Concerning the establishment of God’s kingdom, Newel writes:

This expression, “the mystery of God,” in this connection seems to indicate all those counsels and dealings of God made known by Him to and through the Old Testament prophets, concerning His governmental proceedings with men on earth looking always toward the establishment of the kingdom in the hands of Christ. When Christ comes to take the kingdom, there will be no mystery, but, on the contrary, manifestation.137

Concerning the problem of the age old conflict with Satan and evil, Scott has written:

Does it not seem strange that Satan has been allowed for 6000 years to wrap and twist his coils around the world, to work evil and spoil and mar the work of God? What havoc he has wrought! He is the god of this world and the prince of the power of the air. God’s saints have ever been the objects of his fiercest malignity. Is it not a mystery why God, the God of righteousness and holiness, allows evil to go unpunished and His own people to be crushed and broken on every hand? Truly this is the mystery of God. Is it that He is indifferent to the wrong, indifferent to the sorrows of His people? Nay, that were impossible. God bears with evil till the hour of judgment arrives, when He will avenge the cry of His elect, and come out of His place to punish the wicked. The checks and restraints upon evil now are unseen as to their source, and are only of partial application. Everything in the world and in the Church is out of order save what God by His Spirit produces.

Now, however, this mystery of God is about to be finished, and God by His Son, the Heir of all things, will wrest the government of the world from the iron grasp of Satan, confine him as a prisoner in the abyss for 1,000 years, finally casting him into the lake of fire for eternity, and then rule and reign in manifested power and glory…

This is indeed glad tidings proclaimed to His prophets of old, not declared by them (although they did that as their books testify), but to them, …”138

So when the angel of Revelation 10:7 says “time shall be no more” he means that once the seventh trumpet is sounded, this time of allowing Satan and rebellion to continue, will be over; God will act swiftly now to establish His rule of righteousness on earth. This period of the patience of God is over.

The Assignment Concerning the Little Book
(10:8-11)

The first assignment (vs. 8). The same voice that forbade John to write what the seven peals of thunder spoke (vs. 4), now commands him to take the open book or scroll from the hand of the angel.

The second assignment (vss. 9-10). John, in obedience to the voice, takes the book, but then the angel gives him another assignment. John is commanded to eat the book which will be bitter to his stomach, but sweet in his mouth. It will give him heartburn, but it will be sweet to the taste. What is the point of this? Eating is often a picture of learning and assimilating the word of God (cf. Ezek. 2:9-10; 3:1-4, 14; Jer. 15:15-18). The opened book undoubtedly contained prophetic truth and revelations from God. As a book already opened it could have contained Old Testament truth, but it also could well have contained new revelation that John was about to write as contained in the rest of Revelation regarding the subjects mentioned in verse 11. As Ryrie says, “the point of this interlude during which John was commanded to assimilate these prophecies before he wrote them is simply that it is necessary for the prophet of God to let the word of God affect him first before he ministers it to others.”139

In verse 10 John obeys the angel, and as the angel said, it was sweet in his mouth, but bitter in his stomach. Doubtless he was delighted with the fact of this revelation from God which revealed that God was taking over His kingdom and would defeat His enemies. But as he pondered and reflected on the nature of this revelation (God’s wrath, the revelation of the man of sin, Satan’s kingdom, the worship of the beast, the persecution of Israel, the manifestation of man’s heart and rebellion, etc.), the message of the book became bitter in his stomach—it gave him spiritual heartburn.

Likewise today we are invited to come to the Word of God and feed on its truth. As we study prophecy and contemplate the nature of our times we become more confident that the return of the Lord draws ever nearer and in this we rejoice, but these are days of ever increasing spiritual darkness, rebellion and apostasy. This saddens the heart and greatly increases the burdens and pressures of life. It causes bitterness of soul.

The third assignment (vs. 11). In verses 4 and 8 a voice from heaven speaks to John, then the mighty angel in verse 9. But now we read “and they (plural) said to me.” The verb is a third person plural, “they said.” This is what is known as an indefinite or a literary plural sometimes used to hide the precise subject. Whether this came from the voice from heaven, or from the angel, or from some other source is not important. It is left indefinite. What is important is the commission or the assignment. “You must (Greek dei, pointing to a moral necessity) prophesy again (following this interlude, he must once more pick up his prophetic pen) concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.”

“Many,” the Greek pollois, a plural dative from polus, is emphatic and strongly stresses the vastness of that which he must prophesy. The prophecies of the last days of the Tribulation encompass not just one people, or king, or domain, but the entire earth that belongs to God—that He is about to reclaim. The whole world will lie in rebellion and apostasy. All the races, peoples and kingdoms will come under the power of the beast and his satanic system.

The word “concerning” is the preposition epi used with the dative case. Contextually, this means, not to them, nor in their midst or presence, nor against them, but concerning their individual cases as it will exist in these final days of the Tribulation. This is undoubtedly the content of the little book, much of which we have in the final portion of Revelation and perhaps also in Old Testament prophecies such as Daniel.


133 Charles C. Ryrie, Revelation, Moody Press, Chicago, 1968, p. 67.

134 William Kelly, Lectures on the Book of Revelation, W. H. Broom, 1874, p. 200.

135 Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, translated by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, University of Chicago Press, electronic version.

136 Kelly, p. 206.

137 William R. Newell, The Book of Revelation, Moody Press, Chicago, 1935, p. 143.

138 Walter Scott, Exposition of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, Fleming H. Revell, Westwood, NJ, pp. 223-224.

139 Ryrie, Revelation, p. 69.

Passage: 

17. The Temple, the Two Witnesses, and the Seventh Trumpet (Rev 11:1-19)

Perhaps no passage in Revelation is more controversial than chapter 11. There is a wide diversity of viewpoints regarding the interpretation of this chapter, but most of this occurs because men try to symbolize or spiritualize the city, the temple, and the events that are portrayed here. Once again when the passage is taken in its normal or literal meaning much of the diversity immediately vanishes because the literal method provides a check on the imaginations of men and gives an intelligent understanding of the passage. Unless, of course, one is biased against the supernatural elements of these verses. As John Walvoord writes:

The guiding lines which govern the exposition to follow regard this chapter as a legitimate prophetic utterance in which the terms are taken normally. Hence, the great city of 11:8 is identified as the literal city of Jerusalem. The time periods are taken as literal time periods. The two witnesses are interpreted as two individuals. The three and half days are taken literally. The earthquake is a literal earthquake. The seven thousand men who are slain by the earthquake are seven thousand individuals who die in the catastrophe. The death of the witnesses is literal as are their resurrection and ascension.140

Again it is important to keep in mind that chapter 11:1-13 does not advance the chronological sequence of the prophetic events, but parenthetically describes: (a) the ministries of the two witnesses, which occur over a three-and-a-half-year period, and (b) the spiritual condition of the temple and Jerusalem as it will exist in the Tribulation. With 11:14 and following the last woe and the seventh trumpet are introduced along with heaven’s response because of what this means to the kingdom of God. Not until chapter 15 will the chronological developments continue again, namely the pouring out of the seven vials which constitutes the seventh trumpet and the last woe.

The Measuring Rod and the Temple of God
(11:1-2)

Verse 1. “And there was given me a measuring rod like a staff.” “Measuring rod” is kalamos, “a measuring reed or rod.” This came from a species of cane that grew in the Jordan Valley to a height of 12-20 feet. It was very straight, light, and was cut and used for measuring rods, usually 10 feet long. It was known as the “giant reed.”

“Like a staff.” Staff is rJabdos, a long rod or staff. It was used on a journey, or was carried by a ruler, or by a judge or umpire. In fact, a rJabdoucos was one who carried a rod or staff as an umpire or judge. Here John is no longer merely a witness, he is now to become actively involved, a kind of rJabdoucos to measure or judge the temple for God.

“Arise and measure.” “Measure” is the Greek word metrew and means “to measure either a space, number, or value.” Here it signifies that (a) this all belongs to God, the temple, the altar, and the worship involved, and (b) that he was to measure or judge the value, worth, and character of the standards of the temple and its worship and the people therein.

“Temple” here is naos and refers only to the Holy of Holies, and the Holy Place, part of the whole temple complex, the %ieron, the name used of the entire temple at Jerusalem. It presupposes the rest of the temple areas. But only the priests could serve in the naos.

“Altar” here refers to the brazen altar in the court where others could come to make their sacrifices.

Why is John sent to measure the temple? This is saying in effect that man and his worship are always judged by the standards of God. Further, believers, like John who have that standard, are responsible to judge by that standard in order to avoid apostasy and are to be instruments to turn men to Christ and true worship. Regardless of what man thinks, the only thing that counts is God’s judgment and standard of both our lives and our worship. As mentioned above, note that this measuring reed, the kalamos, was usually 10 feet long—far taller than any man. This suggest to us that our worship and character must come up to God’s standards, or man faces rejection and loss as it occurs here (1 Cor. 3:11-15; 11:17f; Heb. 10:23-39).

Therefore, no matter how beautiful the temple or church building, or the ritual and the priestly garb, or the prayers, or no matter how sincere the worshipper, it must all pass the test of the reed, the kalamas, or the kanwn, the Word of God. Necessary to passing the test is our worship which must be done in faith, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the Scriptures, and in the Spirit (John 4:22-24). Verse 8 will give us God’s evaluation and judgment of the Tribulation system. Ryrie says: “The measuring itself seems to be an act of knowing, claiming or staking out. In this act of John, God is giving assurance that He will take note of those who faithfully worship Him in the Tribulation days.”141

Verse 2. “And leave out the court which is outside the temple and do not measure it, for it is given …”

The outer court refers to the court of the Gentiles. Literally the Greek text says “the court, the outer one of the temple, cast without and do not measure.” We are told three things regarding the temple in verse 2: (a) John is told not to measure this court. (b) It is be left out because it is cast out, totally rejected by God. (c) It has been given to the nations who, in their rebellion to God, will tread under foot the holy city (Jerusalem) for 42 months.

Here we have a contrast. One part of the temple is measured, another part (the court of the Gentiles) is not. It is totally rejected, but why? Both parts are rejected and one part will be reclaimed for God, but not the other. Why? Because it represents the Gentile nations who will invade the holy city during the last half of the Tribulation beginning with the blasphemous actions of the beast (Dan. 9:27; Rev. 13).

One of the problems many have with taking this passage literally is the presence of the temple in Jerusalem. Many scholars believe John’s gospel was written between 85-90 A.D. though some argue for a date before 70 A.D., but this is far from conclusive. If the later date is correct, there has been no Jewish temple in Jerusalem since 70 A.D. To make matters more difficult, the Dome of the Rock presently sits on the temple site, or at least a portion of it. This is a very important place of worship in the Arab world. To tear it down would cause tremendous international complications, and we see evidence of this on a daily basis in the news. But for the temple to be measured in the Tribulation, the temple would have to be rebuilt and the Jews would never build their temple on any other site.

This passage shows us that the Jews will again have a temple in Jerusalem during the Tribulation. The temple will be rebuilt very early in the first half of the Tribulation and the Jews will offer sacrifices there as they did in the time of Christ. So the temple worship of verses 1-2a will occur during the first half of the Tribulation, during the time of the treaty between Israel and the Roman prince, the beast of revived Rome (Dan. 9:27). This is the same temple in which the man of lawlessness, “who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God” (2 Thess. 2:4). The treading under foot the holy city (Jerusalem) for forty-two months occurs in the last half of the Tribulation—the last 42 months (three and a half years). This will begin when the beast breaks his treaty with Israel and desecrates the temple. This is the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet (Dan. 9:27; Matt. 24:15-21; cf. with Rev. 12:13-14 and 13:1). From this point on Jerusalem will come under siege by the Gentile powers (Zech. 12:2-4; 14:2, 12).

Thus, the strong wording of Revelation 11:2 and the contrast with verse 1 stresses that God rejects this whole religious system because it will be a product of the times of the Gentiles and a false Messiah. It will, however, have another 42 months to operate and then God will establish the true temple.

The Two Witnesses
(11:3-12)

The Ministry of the Two Witnesses (3-5)

    God’s Provision for the Two Witnesses

“And I will grant authority to my two witnesses” (vs. 3a). Literally the Greek simply says “And I shall give to my two witnesses.” What is given is not stated. The idea however, is that whatever is needed to fulfill their task, God will give it, i.e., protection (vs. 5), miraculous power (vs. 5), authoritative and effective testimony (vs. 4), and ultimate deliverance (vss. 11-12).

This reminds us that the Lord always provides the resources necessary to accomplish whatever He sends us to do. Our job is to stay occupied with the Lord and to obey Him. Because of His faithfulness and divine essence, He will supply according to His purposes until our job and His purpose and design for our lives is over (vs. 7). So never worry (Phil. 4:6-7), the LORD will always provide no matter how dark or ugly or how large or small; He supplies against the bite of the mosquito or against the charge of the elephant. We need to constantly remember, “the battle is the Lord’s” (1 Sam. 17:47).

“To my two witnesses.” The text does not simply say “to the two witnesses,” but “to my two witnesses.” “My” is a personal pronoun that emphasizes relationship and fellowship (cf. Acts 1:8). This perhaps implies ownership. We belong to Him and are put here on this earth to serve God. But surely this also reminds us that effective representation of Christ only occurs when men walk in close fellowship with the Lord.

    The Nature and Character of Their Ministry

“And they shall prophesy … clothed in sackcloth” (vs. 3b). The words “witness, prophesy, and sackcloth” point us to the nature and character of their ministry. “Witness” is the Greek martus and refers to the witness or testimony of these men to the divine truth of God. “Prophesy” is profhteuw which is related to the verb, profhmi, “to speak forth.” The primary idea of the word was “to speak forth, to herald a message, preach.” Included in this was the element of foretelling or the speaking forth of future events. But the gift of prophecy as found in the early church included with it the direct communication of a divine message from God (1 Cor. 14:29-33). During the Tribulation these undoubtedly will receive direct communication from God as in Old Testament times and with the New Testament apostles and prophets (cf. 2 Pet. 1:20-21; Acts 21:1; Rev. 10:11; 1 Cor. 13:2).

While some disagree with this, many scholars believe this gift is not now active. Men preach and herald the Word, the faith once and for all delivered, and proclaim the prophetic events spoken of in Scripture, but with the completion of the canon of Scripture which was founded on the ministry and prophetic gift of the apostles and prophets of the early church, this gift ceased (cf. Eph. 2:10-22; Jude 3, 20; with 1 Cor. 13:8-13; Heb. 2:3-4).142

“Clothed in sackcloth.” “Clothed” is a perfect passive of periballw meaning “to throw around, about, to clothe.” The passive emphasizes that God caused them to be so dressed because of what it symbolized and the perfect tense (probably an intensive perfect) points to the present state of affairs; this would be their dress throughout their ministry.

“Sackcloth” is sakkos referring to a very coarse, dark cloth, often made of hair and worn like a sack. It expressed mourning, repentance and judgment. Their message will essentially be the message of John the Baptist, that of announcing the coming judgments and calling men to repent.

    The Time and Length of Their Ministry

“For twelve hundred and sixty days.” In Scripture a prophetic year is 360 days. Thus the 1260 days equals three and a half years—exactly half of the seven-year Tribulation. The big question is in which portion of the Tribulation do they minister, the first half, last half, or in a portion of each? Many try to place their ministry in the first half, but there are a number of reasons that seem to favor the last half instead.

(1) Immediately after this teaching regarding their ministry there is the announcement of the third woe and the seventh trumpet (cf. 11:14-15). This seventh trumpet occurs right at the end of the Tribulation and results in the ushering in of the kingdom of God. Though chapter 11 is an interlude, it could imply a natural sequence or relationship and may indicate they minister in the last half.

(2) The two witnesses pour out judgment on any who would attempt to harm them (vs. 5). It would appear that this condition better fits the last half of the Tribulation after the abomination of desolation when the beast is seeking to be worshipped, when there is great anti-Semitism and persecution against all believers.

(3) The hideous acts of verses 9 and 10 also seem to fit better with the character of the last half of the Tribulation with the lawlessness of the beast and his system and the worship of Satan (13:4).

(4) The reaction of men in verse 13 with mankind terrified and giving glory to God also better fits the very end of the Tribulation than the middle or even somewhat later in the seven-year period. During the last half of the Tribulation men will worship the beast and Satan and exclaim “who is like the beast and who is able to make war with him?” (l3:4). This could even be exclaimed after the death of these seemingly invincible prophets who are killed by the beast (11:8). But then, there is their resurrection, the voice from heaven, and the devastating earthquake (11:11-13). After this, those who are left, in terror, give glory to God instead of the beast.

(5) There seems to be a natural sequence and tie between verses 1, 2, and 3. In verses 1 and 2a we see the temple that is to be measured. We know the temple is present in the first half of the Tribulation (Dan. 9:27a). Then in verse 2b we have a reference to the court of the Gentiles and the 42 months (three and one half years), when the nations will tread under foot the city of Jerusalem. We know this occurs in the last half of the Tribulation, after the beast invades Palestine (Dan. 9:27b). Right after this, we then have the mention of the two witnesses who prophesy for 1260 days (three and one half years).

Note that days are used in reference to the two prophets or God’s witnesses, but months are used in connection with the unbelieving Gentile nations (cf. 12:6; 13:5). Why? Because God reckons time with believers on a daily basis, showing concern and care for His own. But not so with the unbelieving world.

    The Identity of the Two Witnesses

Because their miracles are similar to those of Elijah and Moses, and because Malachi 4:5 says “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible Day of the Lord” (Mal. 3:1), some believe one of these must be Elijah because Scripture says Elijah will come again. Thus, they insist these must be identified as literal characters out of the Old Testament. Further, Moses and Elijah were seen with the Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration. So many believe and teach the two witness here are Elijah and Moses, who are given bodies and who are brought back to earth. Others see them as Elijah and Enoch who were translated and never saw death.

The big question is are they literally Moses and Elijah (or Elijah and Enoch), or are they two men who will come in the power, spirit, and character of Moses and Elijah, etc., i.e., a virtual Elijah and Moses, but not literally Elijah and Moses?

There are several New Testament passages that bear on this question and shed important light on the problem.143

(1) Luke 1:17 clearly states that John the Baptist, as a forerunner of Christ, would go forth in the spirit and power of Elijah (cf. Mark 1:2-3 with Matt. 3:3), i.e., he was a virtual Elijah.

(2) Matthew 17:10-13 teaches us that Elijah had come and that John the Baptist was that Elijah.

(3) John himself said he was not Elijah, only a voice of one crying in the wilderness to prepare men for Messiah (John 1:21-22). John denied that he was a literal Elijah, though he saw his role as a virtual Elijah doing what the Malachi passage said Elijah would do (Mal. 3:1; 4:6).

(4) Matthew 11:7-14 adds some very interesting light on the whole issue. These verses show that John could have and would have fulfilled the Malachi passage if Israel as a nation had believed and accepted his message. But since they rejected both John and Messiah, another would have to come to fulfill the Malachi prophecy and this would need to occur prior to Christ’s second advent.

Since John could have and would have fulfilled the Malachi passage, it seems obvious the one who will come in the future, will be, like John, one who will come in the spirit and power of Elijah, a virtual Elijah, but not literally Elijah himself. He does not have to be a literal Elijah, or John could not have fulfilled the Malachi passage.

Thus, in Revelation 11, the two witnesses are not literally Elijah and Moses (or Elijah and Enoch), but two men whom God will raise up in the spirit and power of their Old Testament counterparts. They are similar from the standpoint of their ministries, but similarity does not mean identity. Their ministries are similar because they are ministering to Israel and such similarity would carry great significance to the Jews.

Some try to symbolize these two witnesses as movements or powers that occur in some religious sense. But clearly, these two witnesses are specific persons and not symbolical of movements or powers. This is proven by the article used with the word “witnesses” and by the fact that the term “witness” in the New Testament is always used of persons. Further, we must remember that they are not named in the text which would indicate that God does not intend for us to identify them. They are simply two exceptional men whom God will raise up in the Tribulation.

The Traits of the Two Witnesses (4-6)

    Their Character

“These are two olive trees and two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth” (vs. 4). These two figures are taken from Zechariah 4:1-14 in order to emphasize the truth of this Old Testament passage as it will relate to these two witnesses of the Tribulation.

Likewise, in this Old Testament passage there were two witnesses to God’s people: Joshua, the high priest (Zech. 3), and Zerubbabel, the civil leader (Zech. 4). Further, this Old Testament passage occurred in connection with the rebuilding of the temple, which was small by comparison to the temple of Solomon that had been destroyed. This smallness had become a matter of reproach to the people who were looking at things as they appeared (according to sight) rather than spiritually (according to faith) (cf. Zech. 4:10). When Zechariah saw the two olive trees and the lampstand he asked, “What are these my Lord?” The answer given was a word of comfort and encouragement, but also a warning. In verse 6 he is told, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel saying, not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts (armies).”

So in the Tribulation, the temple will be an apostate one, Jerusalem will be like Sodom and Egypt (Rev. 11:8), and the beast will at this time have set up his image in the temple, proclaiming himself as God (cf. 2 Thess. 2:4; Rev. 13:2-8). Regardless, in times of apostasy and “small things” (Zech. 4:10), when things seem bad, God has His witnesses who operate, not by the power and skill of men, but by the power and might of the Lord of Armies.

The olive tree was a source of olive oil used to fuel lamps in ancient times. The oil speaks of the ministry of the Holy Spirit who is God’s anointing bestowed upon men to enable them for service. The olive oil, then, is the fuel used in the two lamps that enabled them to burn brightly, to shed their light (witness) to a lost and needy world. So likewise, the two witnesses of the Tribulation will operate in the power and might of the Holy Spirit. Their power and effectiveness does not lie in human ability or ingenuity, nor can it be hindered or stopped by the nature of the circumstances. The Lord of Hosts (Armies) would be at work within them.

Now remember, the Tribulation will be back under the Old Testament economy and this includes the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit. Indwelling will again be selective to certain believers, rather than universal to all believers as it is today. The universal indwelling of all believers will end at the removal of the church at the rapture and won’t happen again until the Millennium. The fulfillment of Joel 2 to Israel is dependent on turning to Christ and faith (cf. John 14:16-17; 2 Thess. 2:6-7; Joel 2:12-18; 2:28, 32). Joel 2 has been partly fulfilled in the church, but can’t be completely fulfilled to Israel until there has been repentance and restoration.

    Their Conduct

Their ministry is characterized in conduct by four great miraculous powers: (a) they can kill their enemies with fire; (b) withhold rain for three and a half years; (c) turn water into blood; and (d) bring plagues upon the earth (2 Kings 1:10-15; 1 Kings 17:1f; and Exodus 7-11).

Why these specific miracles? First, they are a means of defense and protection to the two witnesses until their ministry is over (Rev. 11:5). But second, these specific miracles occur because of their significance to Israel. They will be used to turn the hearts of the Jews to the Lord in preparation for the coming King.

The Martyrdom of the Two Witnesses (7-10)

    The Time of Their Martyrdom (7a)

“And when they have finished their testimony.” The word “finished” is the Greek telew and means “to finish in the sense of accomplish, complete.” The tense is perfect which looks at their work as accomplished, done, but with continuing results. The results are souls saved and glory to God. They were invincible until their work was done, and then, according to God’s own timing and perfect plan, He allows their termination.

This illustrates the biblical truth, as with Job, Moses, Elijah, Peter, Paul and John, that the believer who is in the will of God need fear no man or system of the world or Satan; no one can shorten our life nor stop our work for the Lord until He Himself is ready. Remember, Revelation 3:7-8, He is the One “who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens.” When He puts before us an open door, no one, not even Satan himself can shut the door! Of course men can terminate their own lives or kill their own ministry by personal rebellion, carnality, and regression from the Lord as was the case with Saul and as did some of the Christians at Corinth. But people bring this on themselves by turning away from God and staying out of His plan and grace (1 Cor. 11:30-32; 1 John 5:16-17).

    The Means God Uses (7b)

“The beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them.” “The beast” mentioned here is the first of 36 references to one called the beast that will occur from this point on in the book of Revelation. Since chapter 13 describes and develops the beast and his political-religious system in detail, we will wait until then to discuss the beast. Here we are simply told that he is the one who makes war, overcomes, and kills the two witnesses. Their ministry has been diametrically opposed to his purposes, so the beast goes all out to hush their testimony, which he is unable to do until the end.

“That comes up out of the abyss.” Literally, “the beast, the one ascending up out of the abyss.” Walvoord sees this as a reference to Satan since he comes up out of the abyss (cf. Rev. 9). Thus he writes, “The beast out of the pit is Satan. The beast out of the sea is the world dictator (13:1). The beast out of the land is the false religious leader of that Day (13:11).”144 Everywhere else in Revelation, the title, “the beast,” refers either to the world dictator who is the head of the revived Roman empire and the ten nation confederation, or to his system over which he rules. The reference here to the abyss may simply draw attention to the character, nature and source of this ruler’s power and governmental system, i.e., Satan. It does not mean the beast is Satan or a demon, but that he is demon possessed and Satanically inspired. Scott who believes the beast is the revived empire of Rome, writes, “… whilst its historical rise is human, its revival is satanic.”

“Will make war.” “War” is polemos and refers to a military campaign. He will finally make all out warfare against these two witnesses, but he is successful only by divine intervention, and only then at the end of the 1260 days when their work is finished.

“And overcome them.” The verb “overcome” is nikaw meaning “to conquer, overcome.” John uses it of believers in 1 John 5:4-5 and in Revelation 2:7, 17; 3:6, 13 of believers who are overcomers by faith. Because the two witnesses are overcomers in Christ, this victory is only temporary by divine design. It is only an apparent victory, not a real one. God uses their death, as He so often does with believers, to His own purposes and glory. Christ, our Victor and Overcomer, has removed the sting of death. Their death is not the end of their testimony.

    The Display (8-9)

In these verses we see that their bodies will be put on public display as a symbol and proof of the beast’s power who has at last been able to kill these invincible witnesses. You might say it is a satanic object lesson to the world, one designed to say, “evil has conquered, Satan has won; Satan’s man is the true God, worship Him.”

“Their dead bodies” is the Greek ptwma, literally, their “fallen corpses.” This implies they are left right where they fall with no burial as the Old Testament Law required or demanded for even the worst of criminals (Deut. 21:22-23). Such an act reflects the total degradation of man under the lawless system of the beast, the man of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2). Their fallen corpses lie in the streets of the great city (Jerusalem) which is mystically called Sodom and Egypt.

“Mystically” is the Greek pneumatikos meaning “spiritually, pertaining to the Spirit”, or “caused by the Spirit.” Jerusalem is called such by the Spirit of God. In Scripture, ‘Egypt’ stands for the world, and ‘Sodom’ for the flesh. The point is the great city is dominated by the world system, by the flesh, and by Satan through the beast. The city has spiritually become totally reprobate along with the rest of the world.

According to verse 9 it is apparent that great throngs of people, people from all over the world, come to view the bodies and see the victory of the beast. Again we see the fiendishness and monstrous rebellion of man in the hardness of his heart against God. I am reminded of Psalm 2:1-6.

1 Why are the nations in an uproar, And the peoples devising a vain thing? 2 The kings of the earth take their stand, And the rulers take counsel together Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, 3 “Let us tear their fetters apart, And cast away their cords from us!” 4 He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them. 5 Then He will speak to them in His anger And terrify them in His fury, saying, 6 “But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”

    The Effect (10)

“And those who dwell on the earth.” Literally, “those dwelling settled down upon the earth, i.e., the earth dweller.” In John this is practically a technical term for unbelievers, for those totally at home on the earth and devoid of any heavenly hope, concerns, or desires (cf. 3:10, 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 14; 17:8).

“Dwell” is katoikew from kata meaning “down” and oikew “to dwell.” It means “to settle down, be at home, live permanently.” It is used of the Lord living in the believer in Ephesians 3:17 and in some MSS of the Holy Spirit in James 4:5. (Other MSS have katoikizw, “to cause to dwell, be at home.”)

Will rejoice over them and make merry; and they will send gifts.” Here is a kind of hellish Christmas, giving gifts not in celebration of the birth of Christ, but over the death of His two witnesses. “Rejoice” is cairw meaning “to be glad, happy.” “Make merry” is eufrainw, “to make merry at a feast, have a party.” They will have a party and declare a holiday because of their death. The first two verbs (“rejoice” and “make merry”) are in the present tense with the third (“send gifts”) being in the future. Of course, the context shows this is all future, but John uses the present tense (a future present) to draw our attention to the certainty and the continuous nature of the merry making that will go on during the three and a half days.

Ironically this is the only mention of rejoicing on earth in the Tribulation. But their rejoicing will quickly be turned into sorrow, pain, and fear (11:13). Of course such action show they had rejected the message of the two witnesses. This is also indicated by the fact their message caused them much torment.

“Because these two prophets tormented.” Here we see the reason for the fiendish party. “Tormented” is the Greek basanizw, “to torment, torture, to cause severe pain and distress, mentally or physically.” The message of the prophets that could have brought great joy and peace, brought the opposite because they had hardened their hearts against God.

Does this not reminds us that if one continues to reject the Word of God (that gives a peace that passes all understanding and a joy the world can’t give), that same Word, through the hardening of the heart, will bring torture to the soul and joy only over the apparent defeat of God and His people (Heb. 3:7f). O how we need to realize that negative volition to God’s Word is dangerous. The consequences are appalling.

The Resurrection of the Two Witnesses (11-12)

    Their Resurrection (11)

“And after three and one half days.” This is long enough for the bodies to have begun to decay. As the Lord did with Lazarus, God waits until there is no question about their death, then suddenly God intervenes.

“The breath of life from God.” “From” is ek meaning “out of.” The very life-giving breath from God Himself is breathed into them (Gen. 2:7) and “they stood on their feet.” “Stood” is an aorist tense and may stress suddenness. They are pictured lying there on the street with the party going on, and then suddenly, they stand up like a man waking up from a nap. What an effect this will have!

“And great fear fell …” “Fell” is also an aorist and stresses the suddenness of the effect. From drunken merry making one moment to soberness and great fear the next. The word “fell” is most graphic, like a wet blanket, they were enveloped in fear. Suddenly now, they begin to realize God was not dead nor defeated; Satan would not be victorious and they were doomed.

    Their Translation (12)

Not only are they resurrected from death, but now, like icing on a cake, God’s voice from heaven is heard and they are taken up in a cloud, perhaps the Shekinah glory of God. Ryrie says: “A crowd will be standing around or filing past their bodies lying in the street. Undoubtedly there will be television coverage. Suddenly they will stand up, a voice (not the announcer’s!) will be heard from heaven; the two witnesses will disappear out of sight in the cloud of glory.145

Walvoord also has an interesting comment here:

Though there are similarities between this event and the rapture of the church, the contrast is also evident. The rapture will take place in a moment, and apparently will not be gradual enough for people to observe. The parallel here is to the ascension of Christ on the Mount of Olives, when the disciples beheld Him ascending into heaven and, like the two witnesses, He was received by a cloud. This is a special act of God addressed to those who reject His grace and designed as a final warning of the supreme power of God over man whether in life or in death. This act of resurrection and catching up into heaven is distinct from any other mentioned in the Bible in that it occurs after the rapture and before the resurrection in chapter 20.146

    The Great Earthquake (13)

Now as a further demonstration of God’s power and sovereignty over the beast and his system, and with the effect of the preceding still vivid in their minds, a great earthquake occurs in and around Jerusalem killing 7,000 people. Those who are left become terrified and give glory to God. Perhaps some are saved through this, but the others will simply confess the glory and power of God without repentance, or faith. They are like the fallen angels who believe and know the reality of God, and yet tremble in their confirmed state of rebellion against God. Because of the hardness of their hearts, these will have become confirmed in their unrepentant condition. They have reached the point of no return.

The Seventh Trumpet and Third Woe
(11:14-19)

The Announcement of the Third Woe (14)

The parenthetical section (10:1-11:13), which elucidated some of the details of the Tribulation, is now completed. In 11:14 we have the announcement that “the second woe is past.” Literally, “has come” with the idea “has come and gone.” Here John again resumes the sequential movement of the book. So the second woe, concluded in chapter 9, is now mentioned as an introduction to the third and final woe. Thus John says, “behold, the third woe is coming quickly.” In 8:13 John was informed that the last three trumpet judgments, there called woes, would be more intense upon the earthdwellers. Now with 11:14 we are told the third woe is coming and quickly.

This is the seventh trumpet that will take us up to the return of Christ and the establishment of His kingdom. The picture here (vss. 15-19) is panoramic of the rest of the Tribulation. The stress is on the effects of the seventh trumpet: it ushers in the reign of Christ (cf. vs. 15 with 17). This judgment becomes the greatest woe because it includes the seven bowl judgments though they are not mentioned here. Chapters 12-14 form the third parenthetical section filling in more details of other key events and personages.

In verse 14 we are told the third woe “is coming quickly.” The word “quickly” is the Greek tacu and can mean (a) quickly in the sense of soon, i.e., the end of the age is near, or (b) “quickly” in the sense of “in rapid succession,” i.e., once the seventh trumpet is blown, its judgments will come like trip hammer blows in quick succession, the end will then be near. This last explanation best suits the conditions of the passage.

The Announcement of Christ’s Reign (15)

“And the seventh angel sounded.” The seventh and final trumpet is blown and immediately something happens in heaven; there is an immediate heavenly response.

“And there arose loud voices in heaven.” In contrast to 10:8 and 11:1 where a single voice was heard, now a great choir in heaven is heard praising God for what is about to occur. Note that their voices are “loud.” This stresses the joy and extreme exuberance over what God is going to do through the seventh trumpet.

“The kingdom of the world.” Some manuscripts have kingdoms (plural). If it were plural it would refer to all the kingdoms coming under the reign and authority of Christ. But the best manuscript support is for the singular, “kingdom.”

“Kingdom” (singular) refers to the reign and rule of the entire earth that God intended to be under man’s authority and rule, but was wrested from man by Satan (Heb. 2:5-8). Satan became “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) and “the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working [as a ruling king] in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). There are really only two kingdoms—Satan’s and God’s (cf. Col. 1:13). But through this trumpet and woe, Satan’s kingdom will be totally destroyed and the world will come under the lordship of Christ.

“Has become” is an aorist tense of the verb ginomai and means, “to come to be, become.” The aorist is an ingressive aorist and looks forward to the effects of the seventh trumpet, namely, the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. At this point the seven bowl judgments have yet to be poured out, but they make up the seventh trumpet and will now fall in rapid succession. That they make up the seventh trumpet is clear from the fact that it is the last trumpet that establishes the rule of Christ on earth.

“Of our LORD and of His Christ.” “LORD” is kurios and is here used of Yahweh of the Old Testament and refers to God the Father. “Of His Christ” refers to the Messiah of Old Testament promise and expectation whom the Father would and has sent.

“And He will reign forever …” The millennial reign of Christ will last for only 1,000 years, but the reign of Christ will continue on throughout all eternity in the new heavens and the new earth. So here we have the fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies that look forward to the eternal rule of God when God’s will will be done on earth as it is in heaven (cf. Psalm 2:2-9; Dan. 2:35, 44; 6:26; 7:14, 26-27; Zech. 14:9; Matt. 6:10).

The Adoration of the LORD God (16-18)

    The Actions of Adoration (16)

True worship results in action befitting the attitudes of the heart. So here, the 24 elders (the representatives of the church age saints who have already received their crowns and cast them before God) now recognize that it is time, or soon will be, for the reward of Old Testament and Tribulation saints. The coming of the kingdom will be connected with the giving of rewards to the faithful servants of God (Matt. 24:42-25:30). In recognition of God’s faithfulness to His people and the sovereign actions of God, they rise from their thrones (wherein they reign with Christ) and fall on their faces in deep respect and adoration of God. While they reign with Him they recognize that this is all because of who and what God is and what He has accomplished through the Lord Jesus.

    The Ascriptions and Assignments of Adoration (17-18)

In these verses thanksgiving is given for five things. Two are ascriptions of praise to God regarding His person and three are assignments to which God has committed Himself.

First, continual thanks (present tense) for God’s person. “Almighty” is the Greek pantokratwr from pas “all” plus kratew, “to rule, be master, to be strong, mighty.” It means possessing all power and rule. It speaks of God’s sovereignty and omnipotence as the supreme ruler of the universe. Next God is praised for His eternality. In the better manuscripts “who is to come” is here left out. Why? Because, as John looks forward to this point in history, God has come.

Second, thanks is given because at this point in history God will be exercising His complete sovereignty. The elders say “because you have taken your great power.” “Have taken” is the perfect tense of lambanw “to take hold of, possess.” In His immutability God has always possessed omnipotence, but He has not always exercised His absolute authority or power over the earth. Here, at this point, He takes hold of it in the sense that He begins to exercise it absolutely. The perfect tense points to action accomplished with continual results. This stresses that once God so acts it will be permanent and the world will begin to experience the results.

Third, thanks is given because now God truly, through the exercise of His great power, begins to reign. The phrase “and have begun to reign” is an ingressive aorist and denotes the entrance into a state or condition. The Tribulation judgments, as shown previously in chapter 5, represent the first steps of God in beginning to take the reigns of government. This is especially true at this point in the Tribulation because the return of Christ is now so near.

Fourth, thanks for the display of God’s wrath (vs. 18). Here we have the fulfillment of Psalm 2. Just before the return of Christ, as part of the sixth bowl, the armies of the world will be gathered together in the Plain of Esdraelon or the Valley of Decision (Rev. 16:16; Joel 3:14). At this point, as never before, the nations are enraged against one another and against God (Rev. 19:19). But their wrath is impotent against the omnipotence and the holy wrath of God. So John adds “and Your wrath came.” In this context especially, this refers to the final phase of the Tribulation, the seventh trumpet and the seven bowl judgments that are concluded by the personal return of the Lord. “Came” is a culminative aorist and stresses an event or action from the viewpoint of its results or effects. God’s wrath when it comes will overcome the rage of man. It will bring doom and judgment and an end to rebellion.

Fifth, thanks is given for the judgment and reward of Old Testament saints—including Tribulation saints. “And time came for the dead to be judged …” Literally the Greek has “and the time of the dead to be judged and to give the reward to Your bond servants …” This refers to the resurrection, judgment, and reward of Old Testament saints at the end of the Tribulation, Daniel’s 70th week, just prior to the millennial reign. This includes Tribulation saints as well because they are a part of Daniel’s 70th week, which concludes God’s program for Israel before the Millennium (cf. Dan. 9:24 with 12:1-3 and Rev. 20:4-5).

In looking back over verse 18, note that three things are said: (a) “The nations were enraged.” Here we have the reaction of the world in the Tribulation, especially in the last portion at Armageddon. (b) “And Your wrath came.” In the context this particularly speaks of the final out pouring of divine judgment in the seventh trumpet. (c) Literally “and the time of the dead to be judged.” This speaks of the resurrection of Old Testament saints. Now all of these three areas are given further elaboration in the last part of verse 8, but in inverted order.

First, the dead are not only judged, but they are rewarded. These are only Old Testament and Tribulation saints who are resurrected. The context makes this clear. They are “Your bondservants, the prophets,” “saints,” and “those that fear Your name, small and great.” As mentioned above, this fits precisely with Daniel 12:1-3 and Revelation 20:3-4. Unbelievers await the Great White Throne Judgment and the church is already in heaven.

Second, God’s wrath aimed at the enraged nations is taken up in the last part of the verse in the words “to destroy those who destroy the earth.” This refers to the final judgments that are aimed at those living on earth. These will be either killed outright or removed by Christ at the judgments of the Jews and Gentiles that will occur at the end of the Tribulation (Matt. 24:25; Rev. 19).

    The Ark of the Temple in Heaven (19)

We should note that this chapter began with the apostate temple on earth, but closes triumphantly with the heavenly temple in view. Again this stresses, as in Isaiah 6, the awesome holiness of God, the basic cause of God’s wrath (Heb. 1:13). Remember, this earthly, apostate temple is desecrated by the beast, but he cannot touch the heavenly temple which reflects God’s perfect righteousness, perfect justice and majesty.

The things seen in the temple are symbolical of: (a) the presence of God by the Shekinah glory which hovered over the mercy seat; (b) the faithfulness of God as evidenced by the contents of the Ark—the Law which guided God’s people, Aaron’s rod, a picture of resurrection, and the pot of manna, a picture of the person of Christ and daily provision; and (c) God’s divine holiness which could not be approached without blood, and spoke of the sacrifice of Christ. All this is seen in heaven to remind the Jews that God is going to fulfill His covenant promises. It is to encourage faith in Christ.

Accompanying the sight of the Ark is lightning, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm all of which are signs of doom and judgment. God in His absolute holiness must deal with the sin and rebellion of man. But before this judgment is poured out in the seven bowls of judgments, the chronological sequence is again interrupted to portray other events and situations that will be in existence during the last half of the Tribulation. This will serve to highlight the dramatic return of Christ as he comes back in the midst of such horrendous conditions.

Apart from the outpourings of the vials, which occur in rapid succession, there is little chronological movement from this point until chapter 19 and the second coming of Christ. Events and situations are now introduced which are concurrent with the seals and the trumpets. These serve to emphasize the dramatic climax of this period in the coming of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.147


140 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Moody Press, Chicago, 1966, p. 175.

141 Charles C. Ryrie, Revelation, Moody Press, Chicago, 1968, p. 71.

142 For support of the cessation of the gift of prophecy, see Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 130, #520, Oct 1973, p. 315; Contemporary Issues in the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit Part IV: Spiritual Gifts Today by John F. Walvoord; Also Bibliotheca Sacra, see Vol 149, #593, Jan 1992 Prophecy Rediscovered? A Review of The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, by Robert L. Thomas.

143 For an excellent discussion on this whole question see, Things To Come, by Dwight Pentecost, Dunham, Findlay, 1958, pp. 306ff.

144 Walvoord, p. 181.

145 Ryrie, Revelation, p. 74.

146 Walvoord, p. 182.

147 Walvoord, p. 186.

Ad Category: 
Passage: 
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

18. The Angelic Conflict (Rev 12:1-17)

War on Earth: Phase I
(12:1-6)

With chapter 12 we begin another parenthetical and explanatory portion of Revelation that discusses seven great personages of the Tribulation, particularly of the last half. These seven personages of 12:1-14:20 are: (a) the woman who represents the nation Israel (12:1-27); (b) the great red dragon, a picture of Satan (12:3-4); (c) the male child, the Lord Jesus (12:5); (d) Michael who represents the holy angels (12:7); (e) the remnant of the woman, regenerate Israel (12:17); (f) the beast out of the sea, the world dictator (13:1-10); and (g) the beast out of the earth, the false prophet and religious leader of the world (12:11-17).

Chapter 12 is descriptive of warfare, but it is primarily a conflict involving angelic forces, particularly, the fallen angels or the demonic world under Satan’s authority. Of course, Satan often employs human means to accomplish his purposes (as with the persecution of Israel) but what we must always keep in mind, as this chapter reinforces, is that behind the scenes is our nefarious arch enemy, Satan and his demonic forces. The warfare of this chapter occurs first on earth (12:1-6), then in heaven (12:7-12), and finally on earth again (12:13-17). In chapter 12 we have a clear revelation of the ultimate cause and answer to the problem of the anti-Semitism which has been a grim recurrence from the very early beginnings of Israel’s history. Part of the reason for the hatred and persecution which the Jews have endured over the centuries is the divine judgment of God for disobedience and rejection of the Word (cf. Deut. 28:15-68 with Lev. 26:14f). But another reason is Satan’s long-time hatred of Israel as the source of Christ, the means of Satan’s defeat and condemnation. In Genesis 3:15 we have the prophecy of this conflict and God’s declaration of Satan’s defeat through the seed of the woman. The nation God chose for this, as seen in the covenant that God made with Abraham, was Israel. Thus, Israel has been the perpetual object of Satan’s hatred, the ultimate cause behind all anti-Semitism.

The First Sign in Heaven (1-2)

This is the first of a number of places where the word signs occurs in Revelation. Regarding the signs mentioned in this section of Revelation, 12-14, Alan Johnson writes:

In this section there is what might be called a Book of Signs. While no signs (shmeia; … ) appear in chapters 1 to 11, at least seven signs are mentioned in chapters 12 to 19 (cf. the seven signs in John 1-11). Three are in heaven (12:1, 3; 15:1); four on earth (13:13-14; 16:14; 19:20). Only one is a sign of good (12:1); the others are omens of evil or judgment from God. These signs explain and amplify previous material (e.g., the beast in 11:7 is more fully described in ch. 13) and also advance the drama to its final acts.

This intermediary section (chs. 12-13), preceding the final bowl judgments (15:1ff.), picks up and develops the theme of the persecution of God’s people, which has already appeared (3:10; 6:9-11; 7:14; 11:7-10). Chapter 12 gives us a glimpse into the dynamics of the persecution of God’s people under the symbolism of the dragon who wages war on the woman and her children (v. 17). Chapter 13 continues the same theme by telling of the persecution of the saints by the dragon-energized beasts …148

“And a great sign appeared in heaven.” “Sign,” as used here and in verse 3, is the Greek shmeion. It refers to something like a special event, an object, or even a miracle that is seen and that stands as a sign or symbol designed to reveal some special meaning, truth, or idea.

“A woman clothed with the sun …” There are four women mentioned in Revelation. These are (1) Jezebel (2:20), a woman who claimed to be a prophetess in the church of Thyatira, and who stands for false teachers within the church in the church age; (2) The harlot (17:4), the false religious system of the last days, apostate Christendom; (3) the bride (19:7), the true church, glorified and returning with Christ; and (4) the woman (12:1), the nation Israel.

As already indicated, the woman is the nation of Israel. This is evident for the following reasons: (1) Her description is reminiscent of Genesis 37:9-10 where these heavenly bodies, the sun and the moon, represent Jacob and Rachel. This identifies the woman with Israel and the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant. (2) The 12 stars in her crown would link her to the 12 tribes of Israel or the 12 sons of Jacob, the patriarchs of Israel. (3) In verse 2 she is seen with child, one who rules with a rod of iron (vs. 5). This can be none other than Christ, who as promised in Scripture, was from the nation of Israel (Matt. 1:1-25; cf. also Psalm 2:8-9; Rev. 2:27; 19:15). (4) That she is Israel, the nation, and not simply Mary, the mother of Jesus, is clear from the fact she will be persecuted in the last half of the Tribulation (vss. 6, 13-17). So the woman is the nation of Israel, the matrix and source of Messiah.

The description given here is not merely to identify her but to describe her in queenly terms because of Israel’s prominence in the plan of God and especially in the millennial reign of Christ. This identifies her with the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant (cf. Psalm 89:34-37).

Verse 2 describes the woman in travail, waiting to give birth to the Christ child. This undoubtedly refers to the sufferings of the nation and her troublesome and restless times at the first advent of Christ. She was even then suffering under not only the judgment of the deportations (see Matt. 1:11, 17) but the hatred of Satan. In fact, it was because of the Roman rule that Mary and Joseph had to make the trip to Bethlehem for the census during the winter when Christ was born.

The Second Sign in Heaven (3-6)

Immediately following the description of the queenly woman with child in suffering, another sign, a great red dragon, appears in heaven. This is not without special purpose. The secret and cause of all the anti-Semitism in the world is the presence and hatred of Satan. The red dragon is clearly identified in 12:9 and 20:2 as none other than Satan himself.

That the red dragon is called “great” points to the magnitude of Satan’s power and activity in the world. “Red” emphasizes his murderous and blood thirsty character and behavior throughout history (cf. John 8:44). “Dragon” pictures his ferocious and intensely cruel nature. “Having seven heads and ten horns” relates him to the ten nation confederation of the revived Roman empire, the system of the beast (13:1). “Seven diadems” speaks of his ruling power, but also usurped power and authority which he has and will have especially in the last days. Satan is really a dragon, a hideous beast. Today he often appears as an angel of light; he masks his true identity, but in the Tribulation he will be seen for what he really is.

In verse 4, we read that his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven. But to what does this refer? There are three possibilities:

(1) The stars are luminous bodies from heaven which are cast to earth as a judgment or as an act of anger by the dragon in the Tribulation. But the fallen stars are linked by implication at least with the rise and actions of the great red dragon.

(2) The stars are used metaphorically for heads of state gathered together under the dragon’s power to create his world rule. But the stars are cast to earth, they are not found on earth.

(3) The stars stand for fallen angels who revolted with Satan at his fall which many Bible expositors believe is described for us in Isaiah 14:12-17 and Ezekiel 28:12-14. “Star” is a term used in Scripture of angelic beings and specifically of Satan (cf. Job 38:7a; Isa. 14:12; Luke 10:18; Rev. 9:1). In the light of the context (Rev. 12:7), then, it is not unlikely that the stars represent one-third of the angels who rebelled with Satan and who became his chief emissaries in his fight and hatred against Israel and the purposes of God (cf. Daniel 10 for an illustration of the great conflict of angelic beings in regard to Israel).

“And the dragon stood before the woman (i.e., Israel) who was about to give birth …” Verse 4a takes us back to the beginning, to Satan’s original fall; now verse 4b skips hundreds of years and takes us forward to the first advent of Christ and Satan’s efforts to destroy the Christ Child. In between were numerous attacks in Satan’s attempt to defeat God’s purposes through the seed of the woman and especially with the Jews. (a) Many believe that in Genesis 6 Satan tried to infiltrate the human race in order to destroy the promise of Genesis 3:15 by corrupting the true humanity of mankind. (b) In Genesis 10 and 11 Satan instituted the politico-religious system of Babylon with its mother-child cult under Nimrod and his wife, Semiramus.149 (c) Then, through the rest of the Old Testament Satan attempted over and over again to defeat God’s purposes with Israel through Pharaoh, through Amalek, through Balak and Balaam, etc., but always to no avail. (d) Finally, in Matthew 2:13, after Messiah was born, he tried through Herod to destroy the baby Jesus by putting to death all the boy babies two years and under (Matt. 2:13-18).

“And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne.” These words take us from the birth of Christ (verse 5a) to Christ’s ascension and session. Though the earthly life and death of Christ are not mentioned, this assumes the historic facts of the cross and the resurrection which were both necessary for Christ to defeat Satan and rule on the earth (cf. Heb. 2:14; Acts 17:30-31; John 16:10-11; 12:31-33). “Caught up to God and His throne,” the ascension and session, prove the facts of the cross and resurrection (Heb. 1:13). This is the proof of Satan’s failure and of Satan’s sure defeat (cf. Rom. 16:20). As Genesis 3:14-15 anticipates, Satan bruised Christ’s heel (the cross), but Christ crushed Satan’s head by His death and resurrection culminated by His ascension (cf. Col. 2:15). In between verses 5 and 6 intervenes the inter-advent age of the church and the first half of the Tribulation.

Verse 6 and the reference to the woman fleeing into the wilderness takes us to the trials of Israel in the last half of the Tribulation where she will be under great persecution for three and a half years, 1260 days. But we might ask, “What is the point of verse 6 to the whole picture thus far?”

The idea is this: since Satan failed to kill Christ, he will turn in dragon-like fury against the woman, Israel, and pour out his vengeance on her. Verses 13-17 give us the details of this persecution, but verses 7-12 point us to the immediate cause. Between Christ’s first and second advents, the church of Jesus Christ is the prominent figure in the plan of God. So much of Satan’s time and hatred is aimed at the church though the Jews still get their share as history so dramatically proves. But before the Tribulation begins the church will be raptured and out of the reach of Satan. However, something will occur in the middle of the Tribulation which will create the greatest anti-Semitism or Jewish persecution the world has ever known. This is described for us in the rest of this chapter.

War in Heaven
(12:7-12)

The First Opponent (7a)

The scene now shifts to heaven where a tremendous conflict occurs (though still future from our standpoint). The first opponent in this conflict is Michael and his angels. These are the holy angels of God led by Michael who is mentioned in Scripture in Daniel 10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 9, and here. There are four things that are significant about Michael we might mention here:

(1) His name is a composition of an interrogative pronoun, mi, “who,” and a preposition, ke, “as or like,” and the noun El, “God.” Mi-cha-el, means “who is like God?” It poses a rhetorical and negative question, one demanding a negative answer. Who is like God? No one! This is significant for this angel’s very name and presence stands as a rebuke and refutation to Satan’s boast in Isaiah 14:14b, “I will make myself like the most High,” i.e., “I will be like God.” It is interesting that God sends this angel to defeat Satan.

(2) His position and responsibility: (a) His General Position: He is one of the chief princes (plural) (Dan. 10:13), which suggests he has a high position among the angels of God. In Daniel 12:1 he is called the great prince and in Jude 9 he is “the archangel,” i.e., first or chief of the angels. Here, in Revelation, we read of “Michael and his angels,” those under his authority. It appears that Michael became the chief commander and leader of the holy angels after Satan’s fall, He undoubtedly possesses great power and strength. (b) His special position and responsibility: In Daniel 12:1 he is called “your prince,” i.e., Daniel’s and Israel’s prince. In Jude 9 we are told of his dispute with Satan over the body of Moses, Israel’s law giver and leader of the people out of the bondage of Egypt. Here, in Revelation 12:1, we see Michael standing up to bring about another phase of Satan’s defeat in this future time that Jeremiah called, “Jacob’s Distress” (Jer. 30:5-7). All of this indicates that as chief prince he has a special responsibility as guardian of Israel, especially during the Tribulation. Without the protection of Michael, the Jews, who have miraculously remained a distinct people throughout all their persecutions, would have ceased to exist. Behind the power and work of Michael, however, is the sovereign authority and might of God, for “who is like God?”

(3) Until this point in the Tribulation, Michael never lays a hand on Satan. In Jude, regarding the dispute over the body of Moses, we are told that Michael said, “the Lord rebuke you.” He respected Satan’s might and dignity as a beautiful creation of God and he was acting in accordance with God’s purposes with Satan.

(4) But at this point in the Tribulation, however, Michael gets to do what he undoubtedly has longed to do for millenniums; he gets to boot Satan out of heaven.

The Second Opponent (7b, 9)

The second opponent in the conflict is of course the great dragon and his angels (the fallen angels), the demonic host under his charge. In verses 9 and 10 the dragon is both identified and described. His history and his character stand in striking contrast to Michael. Ironically, his history and his titles show how devoid he is of ever coming close to becoming like God.

    Appellatives (Names) that Describe Satan

(1) “The great dragon” stresses Satan’s vicious and cruel character and emphasizes his end time activity and behavior.

(2) “The serpent of old” clearly identifies him as Satan and draws our attention to his crafty character. It reminds us of the garden of Eden, the fall of man, his usurpation of man’s rule on earth, and his constant activity of temptation and deception.

(3) “The devil” is the Greek diabolos and means “slanderer, defamer.” It reminds us of Satan’s activity to impugn the character of God (see Job 1) and to accuse believers for whom Christ died (cf. Rev. 12:10 and Rom. 8:34).

(4) “Satan” is the Greek satanas and is derived from the Hebrew satan which means “adversary.” It points to Satan as the opponent of God, of believers, and of all that is right and good. Satan may appear as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), but it is only a sham of deception to further aid him in his work as the arch adversary and opponent of God. In 1 Peter 5:8 Satan is called “your adversary, the devil.” Here the word “adversary” is not satanas, but antidikos, and though similar in meaning, antidikos is more explicit. It specifically refers to “an opponent in a lawsuit.” It was used of a court scene where accusations are made. God has indicted Satan for his sin, found him guilty, and sentenced him to the lake of fire (Matt. 12:41). By the implications of Scripture, as in the titles of Satan and in the keen interest of angels in man (cf. Eph. 3:10; 1 Pet. 1:12), it appears that Satan has appealed the sentence and called God unfair, unjust, and unloving. He has impugned the character of the supreme judge. He stands as the defamer of God’s character, the accuser of believers, and our adversary in general.

(5) “Lucifer,” “Star of the Morning,” and “Son of the Dawn” (Isa. 14:12). The term “Lucifer” of the KJV is Helel which means literally “the shining one.” Ironically, it comes from the Hebrew verb halal meaning “to shine, boast, praise.” As the shining one Satan got his eyes off of God, the source and cause of his brilliance, and became proud and boastful instead of being full of praise to God. Whenever we boast, we are occupied with ourselves, but when we are full of praise to God we are occupied with Him. This name stresses Satan’s state before the fall, and the nature and cause of his fall, the sin of arrogance.

(6) “The evil one” (1 John 5:19). Here, the word “evil” is the Greek word poneros, an active noun that points to an active and malignant kind of evil. It refers to what is not only ugly and useless, but to that which is injurious and destructive. Satan, as the poneros one, is actively engaged in destruction, in causing pain, injury and death. He is like a cancer to the human race and no time in history will reveal this like the Tribulation.

(7) “The ruler of this world” (John 12:31). This description points to Satan as the unseen head and energy behind the arrangement of world affairs as they stand in total opposition to the arrangements and divine viewpoint set forth in the Word of God. This would include such things as internationalism, materialism, humanism, religionism, spiritualism (demonism), hedonism, etc.

(8) “The god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4). This again emphasizes Satan’s rule and increased activity in the dispensation of the church which will be marked by a continual increase of apostasy and deception and by extreme moral degeneration. This title particularly associates him with blinding men to the good news of Jesus Christ.

(9) “The prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). This title is of particular importance because it points to Satan as the head of the demonic hosts (fallen angels) who operate night and day in our immediate atmosphere to fill it with satanic deception, satanic viewpoint, doubts, and temptations. The word “power” is singular and refers to the demonic forces as a corporate body that operate as one under the authority and power of Satan, their prince (Eph. 6:12). “Air” is the Greek word aer and most likely refers to the immediate atmosphere above the earth which evidently forms their base of operations and the domain of the demonic, their sphere of power, authority, activity, and influence. In other words, our atmosphere is the vehicle or medium of their evil operations and influence. This not only looks at the locality of Satan’s operations, but emblematically portrays the prevailing influence or evil atmosphere in which every individual and the world moves—a world atmosphere of demonic influence controlled by Satan.

(10) “Of the spirit that is now working” (Eph. 2:2). This is often taken as another title for Satan. When it is so understood, it is taken as an appositional phrase describing “the prince of the power,” i.e., a further description of the prince. So the prince is also the unholy spirit (1 Cor. 2:12) who apes the operations of his divine counterpart by working in the sons of disobedience in opposition to the Holy Spirit.150

Now it is true that Satan, as a fallen angel, is a spirit being, actually an unclean spirit, who works in the world to promote disobedience and unbelief in mankind, but because of the rules of Greek syntax, others believe that this is not a reference to Satan, but to an impersonal force or atmosphere Satan controls. The reason is simply this. For the phrase, “of the spirit,” to be appositional, one would expect this phrase to be in the accusative case, but it is in the genitive case. According to the principles of Greek syntax an appositional word or phrase would normally be in the same case as the noun or noun phrase it modifies, though there is the possibility for a different case by attraction to the word that precedes it. The word “prince,” arconta, is in the accusative case, but “of the spirit” is in the genitive case. So, as a genitive it describes another aspect of the prince’s (Satan’s) rule. The idea is that Satan controls unbelievers through an evil principle at work in the world. The result is a spirit of disobedience.

The last clause of verse 2, in this view, refers to the disposition, the outlook, the way of thinking and acting which one finds in the world of today. It is much like our phrase “the spirit of the age.” It is an outlook, a viewpoint, a disposition that Satan is constantly promoting. Note it is “in the sons of disobedience.” “Disobedience” is the Greek apeiqeia which means “disbelief, obstinate,” and so “disobedient.” Men are disobedient to Scripture because of a spirit of disbelief and stubbornness—they will not be persuaded by the admonitions, appeals and instructions of Scripture.

“Working” is the Greek energew, “to energize, be active, be at work.” It is in the present continuous tense. Satan is constantly at work to promote and produce his viewpoint in order to create disobedience in man. This will be at an all time high during the Tribulation. People are either being energized by the viewpoint and attitude of the world (Satan’s) which produces disobedience, or by the divine viewpoint of Scripture and the Holy Spirit which produces obedience. Notice in this regard that in Hebrews 4:12 we have energes, “active,” the noun form of the verb energhs. Then in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 Paul uses this same verb of the powerful activity of Scripture. Both of these passages emphasize the active, energizing and working power of the word of God in the lives of men.

(11) “Belial” (2 Cor. 6:15) is another name used of Satan. “Belial” is the Greek word beliar which comes from an Old Testament word meaning “worthless” or “hopeless ruin.” In 2 Corinthians 6:15 it is used as a name for Satan who is the epitome of worthlessness, hopeless ruin, and the source of all idolatry and the futile religious works of man.

(12) “Beelzebul” or “Beelzebub” or “Beelzeboul” (Mark 3:22; Matt. 12:24). There are three possible spellings of this word because of variant manuscripts and each spelling has a slightly different meaning so I have listed them all. (1) Beelzebul means “lord of the dung.” It is a name of reproach and uncleanness for Satan. (2) Beelzebub means “lord of the flies.” This has the same implication as the above. (3) Beelzeboul means the “lord of the dwelling.” This may portray Satan as the leader and head of the unclean spirits of demon possession! This best fits the context of Matthew 10:25 and 12:29 and has the best manuscript evidence behind it. Note that Matthew, Mark and Luke all define Beelzeboul as the prince of demons.

(13) “Abaddon” and “Apollyon” (Rev. 9:11). Abaddon is the Greek form and Apollyon is the Hebrew equivalent. They mean “destroyer” or “destruction.” As seen previously this name connects Satan with the demons of the Abyss (their leader) and their work of destruction on earth in the Tribulation. Primarily, however, it stresses his character and activity as the great source of destruction and ruin in the world.

    Activities of Satan (9-12)
    His Deception

In verse 9 Satan is spoken of as the one “who deceives the whole world.” The Greek text strongly stresses this as a continuous aspect of Satan’s character and activity. He is the deceiver. Then note that he deceives “the whole world,” literally, “the whole inhabited earth.” Satan, of course, is not omniscient nor omnipresent, but through his network of demonic powers and deceiving spirits he is able to operate all over the earth and at all times. Satan never takes a rest.

“Deceives” is the Greek planaw, a causative verb meaning “to lead astray, cause to wander, mislead, deceive, delude.” He causes men to miss the plan and truth of God by his many methods of deception as: (1) lying against the truth; he is the father of lies (John 8:44, Gen. 3:1-5); (2) denying the truth (cf. 1 John 4:3 with 2 Pet. 2:2); (3) counterfeiting or imitating the truth (2 Cor. 11:3-15); (4) perverting or distorting the truth (cf. 1 Tim. 4:1-5 with Gal. 3:1-3). Satan has many traps and tricks that he uses to deceive. These include the traps of occultism (things covered over, mysterious, hidden, the area of spiritism); religionism (man doing good deeds from a works mental attitude in order to get God’s blessing); the sin trap (luring people deeper and deeper into sin and rebellion with the lie that happiness comes in hedonism); the miraculous trap (i.e., if it is miraculous then God must be behind it); the emotionalism trap (seeking the experiences of emotionalism as a sign of spirituality and God’s blessing); and the materialism trap (happiness comes in the abundance of the things you possess). These are not all of Satan’s traps, but they comprise some of the major ones.

    His Accusations

Verse 9. The atmosphere of our earth has been the special domain and sphere of Satan’s operations as Job 1:7; 2:2; and Ephesians 2:2 make clear. However, throughout our history and into the middle of the Tribulation Satan also has access into God’s presence, by God’s permissive will, to accuse believers. He has had access into the ultimate regions of heaven. This is clear from Job 1:6; 2:2 and Revelation 12:7f. In the middle of the Tribulation, following this angelic conflict in heaven, Satan and his angels will be “thrown down to earth” (Rev. 12:9). “Thrown down” in verse 9 in both incidences is the verb ballw, “to cast, throw” or “to put or place.” The accusing activity of Satan at this point will be brought to a close. This means the time of his judgment is drawing near (cf. Rev. 12:12 and 20:1-3).

Verse 10. At this point a voice is heard in heaven. It is a voice of praise announcing the millennial kingdom with its salvation accompanied by the power of God and authority of Christ. Salvation in this context refers not to one’s personal salvation from sin’s penalty, though this is included, but to deliverance from the reign of Satan and the Tribulation and to the completion of that which God will do to establish the reign and rule of Christ on earth.

With the casting down of Satan one more step, and a very important one at that, has been accomplished in moving toward the reign of God on earth. This must occur before peace can be established on earth. The angelic conflict and the slandering accusations of Satan that God has allowed throughout history to demonstrate His divine essence, especially His holiness, will at this point be just about over. Note that verse 10 gives the reason this step has been taken. It says “For the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, Who accuses them before God day and night.” “Accuser” is the Greek kathgoros and “who accuses” is a present adjectival participle of habitual characteristic action of the verb kathgorew. Both the noun and verb are used of the formal accusations in a legal battle or court scene (cf. Acts 23:30, 35; 24:2, 8, 13, 16, 18, 19; 25:5, 11, 16; John 8:10). These words are also used of informal accusations (Matt. 12:10; Luke 6:7).

In Satan’s accusations against believers, he is actually, according to the illustration of Job 1 and 2, attempting to malign and impugn the character of God. When believers sin, Satan accuses us before God. Perhaps it goes something like this: “There is John Doe, and he has just done such and such, and he is one of yours, why don’t you judge him,” or “There is Jane Doe, and she regularly does such and such. You see she doesn’t love you.”

The accusations are many and varied and they go on night and day, but the Lord Jesus stands there at God’s right hand to intercede and plead our case as our Advocate and Great High Priest (Rom. 8:34; 1 John 2:1-2). Perhaps Christ’s answer to these charges goes something like this: “Yes, they have sinned, and yes they do not love me as they should, but I have loved them, and I have died and paid the penalty for their sins—all of them. All aspects of God’s character and divine essence have been propitiated or satisfied by my person and work. Be gone Satan, you have no case. Your judgment, Satan, stands and God is holy, righteous, loving and just.”

In regard to the accusations of Satan, let’s remember that he likes to promote his own dirty work. Accusing others is one of his chief activities. Let’s not help him. Let’s leave the dirty work to him.

Verse 11. Though anticipating Satan’s wrath, this verse teaches us how Tribulation saints will overcome Satan and his attacks in the Tribulation. Three reasons are given for their victory over Satan. “Overcame” is a culminative aorist looking at the conclusion of their battles with Satan, i.e., the victory.

“They overcame by the blood of the Lamb.” The blood of the Lamb, the basis of victory, refers to the person and work of Christ on the cross. This is the place, point in time, and the means of Satan’s defeat (cf. John 16:8f; Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14). At the cross Jesus answered the accusations of Satan proving that God is perfectly consistent with His divine essence. The cross demonstrated that He is perfect righteousness, justice, holiness, love, mercy, and grace. Therefore men can always resist and overcome Satan if they will turn to Jesus Christ (see 1 John 5:4-6).

“And because of the word of their testimony” draws our attention to the activity that overcomes and defeats the attacks of Satan. The word of their testimony refers to the proclamation of the Word, Bible doctrine and the truth of Jesus Christ both by life and by lip. By the word of God known, believed, and applied by faith in consistent Christian living, believers are able to put to silence the accusations of Satan and to reveal him for what he is. Jesus Christ, our Advocate, answers his accusation in heaven, but we too can answer them by proclaiming and living the Word. Satan and his world system claim that God is not what man needs; the world claims man’s need is human knowledge, science, and the material things of life. But we demonstrate the world to be wrong when we do not live as materialists, when we love not the world nor the temporal things in the world (1 John 2:15-17). When we seek to live by God’s Holy Word and live as sojourners rather than by the temporal details of life, we counter Satan’s accusations (cf. Job 1 and 2 with Matt 4:4).

“And they did not love their life even unto death.” Here we see the attitude which overcomes Satan. In this statement, we see two vital attitudes of faith that give the capacity to serve the Lord regardless of what Satan might throw at us. First, there is the perspective of eternity that sees this life as a vapor, a training ground, and a preparation for eternity (1 Pet. 1:17-2:12). But this leads to a second attitude of faith, self sacrifice even unto death, for this life is not the end, it is only the beginning. Obviously then, lying at the foundation of such attitudes of faith is more Bible doctrine—the doctrine of death or dying, the doctrine of our eternal hope and our inheritance, an inheritance that is untouched by death, unstained by evil and unimpaired by time (1 Pet. 1:3-5; Matt. 6:19-21; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; 5:10).

Verse 12. In the middle of the Tribulation all hell will literally break loose on earth and this verse gives us the reason.

“On account of this” refers to the victory of the saints along with the casting down of Satan. Two things are said. First, there is to be rejoicing by the inhabitants of heaven. Satan no more can enter into the heavens and God’s kingdom is about to be established on earth with Satan put away. Second, a woe or warning is pronounced upon those living on the earth because Satan who will then be restricted to earth knows his time is short. Knowing this fact, he becomes exceedingly wrathful, all of which he will turn against the world. The verses which follow 12:13-13:18 describe part of the activity of his wrath.

In this section Satan as the great opponent of God is pitted against the Lord Jesus in the following ways: (a) As the accuser he stands in opposition to Christ as Priest and advocate of believers (Rev. 12). (b) As the dragon and source of the beast, the world dictator, he stands opposed to Christ as King of kings (Rev. 13:1-10). (c) As the source of the second beast he stands opposed to Christ as the Prophet, the one who truly reveals God (Rev. 13:11-18).

War on Earth: Phase II
(12:13-17)

The Persecution of the Woman (13-16)

With the mention of Satan’s wrath and his very short time, the scene moves back to earth and Satan’s final activities on earth before he is cast into the abyss (20:1-3). It is important to note that the persecution of the woman who is Israel (12:13-16), the persecution of the godly remnant of believers (12:17), and the rise of the system of the beast (13:1f) all proceed as a result of Satan’s expulsion from heaven and restriction to earth for the last half of the Tribulation.

Verse 13 shows us that it is when he realizes his time is short that Satan promotes his attack against Israel. His expulsion from heaven is proof of this. This is the motivating force behind many events that occur during the Tribulation, events that are all related in some way. For instance:

(1) It is probably at this point when the King of the North (which many believe is Russia or at least countries that lie in the southern portion of what used to be the Soviet Union) will move against Israel; this is one of the ways Satan tries to persecute the woman (cf. Ezek. 38:1-11; Dan. 9:27). This occurs when Israel is in peace and safety living in unwalled villages and trusting in the treaty with the Roman prince.

(2) God destroys the King of the North while evidently still on the mountains of Israel, before she and her allies ever get to Jerusalem (Ezek. 38:16-23). Ezekiel 39:1f could refer to a second invasion at the end of the Tribulation after Russia has somewhat recovered from the first defeat.

(3) This creates a vacuum in the power struggle of the world and the Roman prince now sees his chance for world dominion. This is where he makes his move as the beast under Satan’s direction. So he will then move into Palestine, break his treaty with Israel, commit the abomination of desolation and begin to persecute the woman, Israel (cf. Dan. 9:27b; 11:36-41; Matt. 24:15-22). All of this is the beginning of the Great Tribulation.

Verse 14. In this verse we see the first provision of divine deliverance figuratively portrayed as “the two wings of a great eagle.” This is based on two Old Testament passages, Exodus 19:4 and Deuteronomy 32:11-12, where God’s protection and deliverance of Israel is likened to an eagle who carried her to safety from the clutches of Egypt. So likewise, God will work to deliver Israel from the clutches of Satan. Matthew 24:16 refers to this same flight where Christ exhorts those in Judea to flee to the mountains when they see the abomination of desolation take place in the city of Jerusalem.

Some writers try to find an historical counterpart by which many of these events may take place. Hal Lindsey is an illustration of this. He suggests that this deliverance could refer to a massive airlift out of the country to some natural fortress like the ancient city of Petra, the city of the Rock in the Jordanian wilderness south of the Dead Sea. He also suggests “since the eagle is the national symbol of the United States, it is possible that the airlift will be made available by aircraft from the U.S. sixth fleet in the Mediterranean.”151

Regardless of how God will accomplish this, the point of verse 14 is that there will be some kind of supernatural care and deliverance. However, Zechariah 13:8 reminds us of a sobering truth; two-thirds of the nation of Israel in the land will perish. Evidently many will ignore the warning of Matthew 24:16 and refuse to flee. These will be put to death.

The length of this persecution and protection in the wilderness is described as “a time, and times, and half a time.” “Time” is singular and refers to one unit or year, “times” is plural and refers to two units or two years, and “half a time” is half a unit or six months. Again we have a reference to the last three and one-half years of the Tribulation (cf. Dan. 7:25; 12:7).

Verse 15. The water poured out like a river to destroy the woman figuratively refers to Satan’s all out effort to destroy the Nation in the greatest anti-Semitism the world has ever known. Regarding the flood here as literal water, Walvoord points out, “the contour of the Holy land, and the fact that Israel would probably not all flee in the same direction combine to make a physical interpretation … improbable.152

Verse 16 declares that the earth helps the woman by swallowing the flood. This would again figuratively refer to the nature of the terrain of the wilderness and the country around Palestine. This area is unpopulated, rocky, mountainous, and would provide for many places of refuge for fleeing people as with the city of Petra. In other words, in this way the earth would protect Israel and swallow up her persecutors.

The Persecution of the Godly Remnant (17)

Some see this verse as pointing to a geographic contrast between the persecution of Israel in the land (vss. 13-16) and Israel outside the land in other portions of the world (vs. 17). However, the contrast is more likely between the nation as a whole symbolized in the term “the woman” versus the godly and believing remnant, “the rest of her offspring who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (vs. 17). The godly remnant are believers in the Lord Jesus, those who during the Tribulation will turn to Christ. The word used here for the remnant translated by the NASB as “the rest” is not the same word used in Romans 9:27 (%upoleimma) or in Romans 11:5 (leimma). Here the word is loipon, but they all come from the same verb, leipw, and the context clearly shows that the believing and godly remnant are in view.

This verse serves to emphasize that the dragon will become totally frustrated and enraged over his inability to wipe out the woman, but he will become particularly angry with the believing remnant who will turned to Jesus Christ, believe the Word, and stand ready to die for their faith in the Savior.

From the standpoint of cause and effect, the way is now prepared for the events of chapter 13, the rise of the beast and his unholy system.

In this twelfth chapter we are given a kind of panoramic view of the angelic conflict and of the supernatural forces of darkness that are ever at work in the world and have been since the fall of Satan when he drew with him a host of angels who chose to follow Satan rather than God. Here is a sure fact of human history. Though generally unseen with the physical eye, it is quite clear through the revelation of God and occasionally obvious in certain demonic activity seen in the world in the demon possessed. Even then, many reject the cause as demonic and attribute it to some other paranormal source. But the Apostle Paul makes clear reference to this conflict in Ephesians 2:2 and again in 6:11-12. In Ephesians 6:11-12 we are told: “Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

But in Revelation 12 we also see the anticipation of Satan’s doom and that of his kingdom, though the rest of the story or the prophecy of his final doom is withheld until chapter 20. The great promise of the Bible is twofold: First, believers are victors through the victory of the Lord Jesus. Our need is to put on the full armor of God and to resist the devil in the victory of the Savior by always drawing near to the Lord. The second great promise is that Satan is a defeated foe whose days of freedom to create misery and pain and deception are numbered. Truly, may we rejoice with the heavens and those who dwell therein as they are told to do in 12:12. Why? For “The God of peace (the One who alone can give peace with God [reconciliation], the peace of God [the peace that comforts hearts], and world peace [an end to the turmoil we know today in our strife torn world]) will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you” (Rom. 16:20)


148 Alan Johnson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, Frank E. Gaebelein, general editor, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1981, p. 510.

149 For historical details regarding the mother-child cult, see The Two Babylons by Alexander Hislop, Loizeaux Brothers.

150 See Rienecker/Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Regency, p. 534; Frank E. Gaebelein, General Editor, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Zondervan, p. 34; Everett F. Harrison, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, New Testament, Chicago: Moody Press, Electronic Media.

151 Hal Lindsey, There’s a New World Coming, Harvest House Publishers, p. 178.

152 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Moody Press, Chicago, 1966, p. 195.

Ad Category: 
Passage: 
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

19. The Beast and the False Prophet (Rev 13:1-18)

The Beast Out of the Sea
(13:1-10)

As one studies this section, it is helpful to keep in mind that this prophecy is closely tied to the prophecies of Daniel (cf. Daniel 2:42, 44; 7:7, 8, 20; 8:25; 11:36; 9:27). Also remember that this is still a parenthetical section describing one of the key forces, kingdoms, and personages of the Tribulation. In his first advent, the Lord Jesus said:

He who believes in Me does not believe in Me, but in Him who sent Me. 45 And he who beholds Me beholds the One who sent Me. 46 I have come as light into the world, that everyone who believes in Me may not remain in darkness. 47 And if anyone hears My sayings, and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. (John 12:44-47) (emphasis mine).

Two beasts are described in chapter 13, one from the sea (vs. 1) and one from the land (vs. 11). With the beast out of the sea, we come to that one who, regardless of his claims as the white horse rider or peace maker, comes as a great source of darkness into the world. He comes not to save the world, but to damn the world. In essence, what we have in this chapter in the rise of the beast and the false prophet is nothing short of the ‘trinity from hell’ in that both are the product of the machinations of that old serpent, the devil or Satan.

His Appearance and Identity (1-2)

Chapter 12 closed with the dragon who, knowing that his time was short, was enraged with the woman (Israel), and with him going off to make war with her children. In the first verse of chapter 13 in our English Bibles, we find him standing on the seashore with the beast rising up out of the sea, but in the Greek text this sentence is verse 18 of chapter 12. There is a logical progression here of cause and effect. The dragon standing on the sand of the seashore continues the story of the dragon of chapter 12 who, as explained in 12:9, is none other than Satan himself. Some manuscripts have “I stood,” i.e., John stood, but the older manuscripts have “he stood,” i.e., the angry dragon.

The logical progression is the angry dragon looks out over the sea, a picture of the Gentile world powers which he dominates. He is looking for two things: (a) For the best method with which to persecute Israel, and (b) for the best way he can rise to greater power in order to be worshipped. Chapter 13 describes the method he will choose, the end-time form of the old Roman empire which, by this point in the Tribulation, has developed into a ten nation confederation with a very subtle leader, one whom Satan will now use in the most hideous ways.

Who is Satan? As seen previously, he is the prince of this world and the god of this age. He is the fallen angel and the anointed cherub who fell from his place of service because he sought to be like the most high. Satan has always been desperately set on ruling men and being worshipped by them; now he sees his chance. The mystery of lawlessness has always been at work, but after the church age, the Restrainer (God indwelling His church by the Holy Spirit) has been removed (2 Thess. 2:6-7). Also, as Newell points out:

Because men by trifling with the truth and utter impenitence have opened the way, God will now send them a strong delusion that they may believe the devil’s lie (“the lie”—II Thessalonians 2:11, Greek).

The beast, therefore, set before us in Revelation 13, is the dragon’s masterpiece of delusion, leading to worship of himself (Revelation 13:4).153

The “sand of the sea” undoubtedly portrays the many people who make up the nations, the number of whom is as the sand of the sea (Rev. 20:8). Standing on “the sand of the sea,” suggests Satan’s position as the usurper of the earth and its many peoples and of his power over them. Remember that Isaiah likens the nations to a roaring and restless sea that cannot be quiet and whose waters (their humanistic way of life and political agitation) can only churn up refuse and mud; a fitting picture of the products of a world without peace with God. They have no peace because they have rejected the true Prince of Peace and will turn to their own solutions to life and to the antichrist as their means to world peace, but in reality, this will be not much more than a self-centered pursuit for comfort and personal affluence (cf. Isa. 17:12-13; 57:20-21; Rev. 17:1, 15).

Before moving into chapter 13, a brief review of probable world conditions at this point will be profitable:

(1) The white horse rider who conquers (gains control) by peace tactics, power politics, and by his charismatic personality and persuasive language, has already risen on the scene (cf. Rev. 6:1-2; Dan. 8:23-25; 1 Thess. 5:11f). This brings about the ten nation confederation of Europe, a federation of nations that were once a part of the old Roman empire (cf. Dan. 2:42-44; 7:7-8, 20-24). We have the potential for this in NATO and in the European Common Market.

(2) The leader of this confederation will make a seven-year covenant with Israel designed to give Israel protection in the land and solve the very volatile Israel-Arab dispute of the coveted land of Palestine (Dan. 9:27). This treaty begins Daniel’s 70th week or the Tribulation.

(3) Three kings of the confederacy rebel, but the rising dictator defeats them (Dan. 7:8, 20-25) and emerges as the undeniable leader.

(4) It appears that the King of the North will at this point in the middle of the Tribulation attack Israel who will then be dwelling in the land in comparative peace and safety because of the covenant or peace treaty. This king of the North comes with his Arab allies, the Pan-Arabic block and her other allies (Ezek. 38:1-9).

(5) These armies (the King of the North and his allies) are destroyed on the mountains of Israel by the direct intervention of God (Ezek. 38:21-23). Regarding Ezekiel 38:1 and this invasion, Ryrie writes:

Vs. 38:1 Chapters 38-39 describe a future attack on Israel and God’s deliverance of His people. The invading armies come out of the remote parts of the north (38:15) to invade Palestine but are destroyed by supernatural intervention (39:3). Seven months will be required to bury their corpses (39:11-15), and their weapons will supply fuel for Israel for seven years (39:9-10). The time of the battle is unclear. Israel will be living in security, whether real or imagined (38:11-12), which might indicate that the battle takes place before the middle of the Tribulation, while Israel feels secure under a treaty with Antichrist. But the consummation of the battle involves birds and beasts eating the flesh of the warriors, a scene similar to the description of Armageddon at the end of the Tribulation (39:17-20; Rev. 19:17-18). Also, at the conclusion of the conflict the nations will understand the judging hand of God, and Israel will know that the LORD (Yahweh) is their God (Ezek. 39:21-22). Perhaps the first thrust will begin just before the middle of the Tribulation, with successive waves of the invasion continuing throughout the last part of that period and building up to Armageddon. John envisioned a battle of Gog and Magog at the conclusion of the millennial kingdom (Rev. 20:7-9), but this is different in time and characteristics from the one Ezekiel describes. The common use of Gog and Magog does not equate the two battles. Here those words refer to a definite area, but in Revelation they refer to enemies of Christ worldwide.154

(6) This destruction of the King of the North will create a tremendous political vacuum in the world. Until now the head of the ten nation confederation has been a leader of the European Confederation only, but now with the dragon surveying the sea of nations, he sees the way open for world domination through this European dictator whom he has undoubtedly helped to bring to power. So now enters the system of the beast. The white horse rider who won his territory by peace tactics, now becomes the beast under the possession of Satan himself (Rev. 13:2b).

From the context, the dragon looks out over the sea of nations and then implements the system of the beast to carry out his desired goals—the persecution of Israel and his own worship (cf. 13:4-6).

“Then I saw a beast.” “Beast” is the Greek qhrion (cf. 6:8; 11:7) which refers to a wild and rapacious animal or beast. It is to be contrasted with zwon, “living creature,” used for the holy angels, and with kthnos, “a beast of burden” as an ox. Qhrion points out two things. First, it portrays the brutal, bloody, uncontrolled and wild character of the dictator and his system; it is inhuman. Second, qhrion portrays this antichrist figure as the epitome and paramount outgrowth of the character of Satan who is himself called “the great red dragon.”

As John is watching this scene, he sees the beast coming up out of the sea. “Coming up” is in a descriptive present which portrays the development of this man and his system through the political and military maneuvers that gradually bring him to power within the nations of Europe.

“The sea” as suggested, is symbolical of masses of people (cf. Rev. 17:15), and especially of the Gentile nations. The system of the beast will be derived from and will be the final Gentile world power to have dominion of Israel during the times of the Gentiles (see Luke 21:24). So Israel, as the nation to whom God promised the land of Israel, is related to the land, and the nations to the sea. In support of this are following facts:

(1) In Revelation 17:1, 15 and Daniel 7:2-3, all the nations portrayed there, which are linked with the waters or the sea, are Gentile powers as Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome.

(2) In the visions of Daniel 2 and 7, Daniel sees Gentile powers who will continue to rule and dominate over Israel until the return of Jesus Christ. Jesus called this “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24). This began in 587 B.C. with the Babylonian captivity and will continue to the end of the Tribulation, until the return of Christ (Rev. 19).

(3) One should also note and compare Daniel’s description of the four Gentile powers (7:4-25), especially the fourth, with that of John in Revelation 13:2-6.

(4) Daniel 9:26-27 clearly shows that the final world ruler would be a Roman, one out of the old Roman empire, a Gentile power.

(5) Finally, some see the “sea” here as a reference to the Mediterranean Sea and believe the beast, though a Gentile, will rise up out of the Mediterranean area. The “sea” here shows us that the beast is both a Gentile and from the Mediterranean area.

“Having ten horns and seven heads.” This monstrous representation portrays the nature of the end time kingdom, the final worldwide political system. But what exactly is the point of the ten horns and the seven heads? What do they stand for?

Remember that in prophecy it is sometimes hard to determine when a passage is speaking about the king or the kingdom since the kingdom is the epitome of the king from whom it gets its character. For instance, even in the U.S., we often speak of the administration in power by the name of the President, i.e., the Clinton administration. Likewise, a passage may refer to the king in one verse and the kingdom in the next, or vice versa. This is evidently the case here. Verses 1 and 2 look more at the kingdom, the empire; verse 3 includes both, and verses 4 and following refer more to the individual, the satanically controlled or possessed dictator. So “the beast” may refer to the end time kingdom, the empire, or to the dictator or both.

    The Ten Horns

“The ten horns” is a reference to the ten nation confederation of the future which will form the nucleus of this end time kingdom. According to Daniel chapters 2 and 7, it will be a revived form of the old Roman empire since these ten nations will come out of the fourth nation which would arise after Daniel’s time, historically we know this was Rome (Dan. 7:7, 24). Revelation 17:12 also states that “the ten horns which you saw are ten kings.” These are ten kings who rule over ten nations, fragments of the old Roman empire. After the fall of the empire, Rome was divided up into many separate kingdoms which became the European nations of modern times. But in the end times, these nations, at least ten of them, will confederate together as one, forming what is in reality a revived Roman empire. Since the fall of Rome, these fragments of the old empire have continued to exist, but in the future, they will be brought together in a revived Roman empire.

Rome will undoubtedly become the headquarters of the new empire, both politically and religiously at least during the first half of the Tribulation (cf. Rev. 17:7, 18 which shows the close affiliation of the political part with the religious part in the first half). However, there is good reason to believe, as we shall see later, that this relationship will be broken by the beast who will then move his headquarters to Babylon which will be rebuilt in the last days (cf. Rev. 17:16-18; 18:16-19). We will look at the rebuilding of Babylon in a later study.

    The Seven Heads

This system of the beast also has “seven heads. This is explained for us in 17:9-10. “The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits and they are seven kings …” The seven heads are seven mountains and seven kings. Some see this as a reference first to the seven hill city of Rome, and then to seven dynasties or rulers of the old Roman empire, as kings, consuls, dictators, decemvirs, military tribunes and emperors, or as seven successive emperors of Imperial Rome, as Nero (A.D. 54-68), Galba (A.D. 68), Otho (A.D. 69), Vitellius (A.D. 69), Vespasian (A.D. 69-79), Titus (A.D. 79-81), and Domitian (A.D. 81-91) under whom great persecution of the church occurred. So it would thus refer to the city and to those who ruled in Rome. Quite clearly the beast is not only a kingdom or an empire, but also a man (cf. 2 Thess. 2:8-9; Dan. 9:27; 11:36; 7:24-25).

But another and I believe a better interpretation of the seven heads is that the seven heads represent seven phases of Gentile powers or nations which find their culmination in the beast. The ten horns look at the future history of the beast and the seven heads, the past history. The seven heads are mountains, seven successive historic Gentile kingdoms, who are represented by seven kings or rulers. This is supported by the following:

(1) Revelation 17:10 tells us the seven mountains are kings. This could indicate that the mountains are symbolical for the kingdoms these seven kings represent.

(2) Rome is known as the city of seven hills, but the hills of Rome are not mountains.

(3) The term mountain is commonly used in Scripture as an image of a kingdom (Psalm 30:7; Isaiah 2:3; Dan. 2:35, 45; Jer. 51:5).

(4) But more importantly, chapter 17 deals with the harlot system of Babylon which goes all the way back to the time of Nimrod and all these Gentile world powers have been her lovers and supporters, not Rome alone (cf. 17:1-2, 15). It is more likely that the seven mountains refer to seven successive Gentile kingdoms which go way back, far beyond Rome.

Then to which nations do these refer? It refers to the major world empires up to the time of Rome and which also were connected with the nation of Israel and her enslavements. These were:

(1) Egypt: This was the first great world empire and the cause of Israel’s enslavement before entrance into the land.

(2) Assyria: Historically this was the next great empire which took the northern kingdom of Israel into captivity in 722 B.C.

(3) Babylon or the Chaldean empire: This is where Daniel’s prophecies begin and where we have the captivity of Judah, the southern kingdom. In Daniel’s prophecies he does not list the three preceding Gentile powers because his prophecies look forward only from his time in history to the final Gentile power and the return of the Lord. But Revelation 13 and 17 both look back (the seven heads) and forward (the ten kings).

(4) Medo-Persia: This Gentile power followed Babylon and was the kingdom under which a remnant of Israel were allowed to return to the land to rebuild the city and the temple (cf. Ezra and Nehemiah).

(5) Greece: This was the kingdom of Alexander and his successors who likewise ruled over the land of Palestine.

(6) Rome: The Roman Empire of New Testament times was the empire of the emperors who reigned from before Christ: Augustus (30 B.C. - A.D. 14), to Domitian when Revelation was written (A.D. 81-96), and afterwards. During this time, Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews dispersed world wide (A.D. 70 - A.D. 135). Later the Roman empire divided into the eastern and western divisions (the two legs of the image in Daniel 2) and finally fell, becoming fragmented into many nations.

What about the seventh head? Revelation 17:10-11 explains the seventh head. It is really a future kingdom though it has historical roots in the sixth kingdom. Revelation 17:10 says “five are fallen.” These five are Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia and Greece. “One is,” which is the sixth, the Roman empire of John’s day. “And the other is not yet come,” this is the revived Roman empire, the ten nation confederation or the ten horns under the leadership of the white horse rider in the first half of the Tribulation.

Compare 17:11 with 17:8, “The beast which you saw was (refers to his past history, old Rome), and is not (does not presently exist; from John’s standpoint it would soon pass from the scene, i.e., the fall of Rome), and is about to come up (refers to the revived Roman empire).” Now in 17:11, this beast, the Roman empire represented by its king, becomes an eighth kingdom while at the same time being one of the seven, specifically, the seventh. The eighth refers to the imperial form of the revived Roman empire in the last half of the Tribulation under the power of the dictator, the man of lawlessness or the antichrist who is also called the beast.

    The Ten Diadems

The “ten diadems” refer to a form of self government and control. When the end time system first begins to rise up out of the sea of nations from the old Roman empire, it will be made up of ten independent nations each with their own king, though under the leadership of the beast. Later, in the middle of the Tribulation they give their power and authority to the beast (Rev. 17:13). However, as the system develops, three rebel and are conquered so that in the last half of the Tribulation there will only be seven crowns or nations (cf. 12:3b with Dan. 7:7-8, 20-22).

    The Names of Blasphemy

Next we read that “on his heads were blasphemous names.” This points out the blasphemous character of these Gentile powers and is one of the key characteristics of this system of the future and especially of its leader. This will be done in three primary ways: (a) by claiming that he is God, (b) by trying to usurp the place of God, (2 Thess. 2:4; Dan. 7:8), and (c) by slandering the true God (Rev. 13:6; Dan. 11:36-37; 7:25).

The composite nature of the beast is seen in the words, “the beast is like a leopard, … a bear, … and a lion (Rev. 13:2a).

Theodore Epp in his commentary on Revelation has an excellent explanation of this composite nature of the beast. He writes:

This verse gives a further description of the coming wicked kingdom and its ruler during the Tribulation. The description of this beast is a composite of the characteristics of the other beasts mentioned in Daniel 7. There the first three kingdoms are characterized by a lion (v. 4), a bear (v. 5), and a leopard (v 6). These animals represented the kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia and Greece. The characteristics of these kingdoms are combined in the last kingdom which will be the ten-kingdom Roman Empire. The Roman Empire in Daniel 7 was seen as indescribable because it was “diverse from all the beasts that were before it” (v. 7).

This empire, as seen in Revelation 13, will have all the brilliance, culture and swiftness of a leopard—a reference to the previous Grecian Empire. It will also have the tremendous strength, tenacity of purpose, and brutality of a bear—a reference to the Medo-Persian Empire. Then too it will have the autocratic and majestic power of a lion—a reference to the Babylonian Empire.155

His Affliction (3a)

Verse (3a). “And I saw one of his heads as if it had been slain … and it was healed.” As explained previously, the seven heads of Revelation 17 refer to seven mountains or seven successive world governments extending back to the time of Egypt, but reaching forward to the revived Roman empire of the first half of the Tribulation and the ten nation confederation. Here John sees one of these heads, that is, one of these world powers with a fatal wound that was healed. But Revelation 17:10 also teaches us that these seven heads are also seven kings. Now, as we look at this passage, several questions need to be asked and answered.

Question 1: To which one of the seven heads does this refer?

Revelation 17:8-11 answers this for us. It is the seventh head, i.e., the revived form. It is the head which “was, (old Rome) and is not, (the fallen Roman empire in its fragmented condition) and is about to come” (the revived Roman empire of the first half of the Tribulation, and the imperial form which becomes an eighth in the last half of the Tribulation). The words, “was, is not, and is about to come” are equivalent to the fatal wound that was healed.

Question 2: Does this refer to the empire or to the king or both?

Some believe that Revelation 13:3 refers to some resurrected being of past history as Judas or Nero or even to one of the more recent rulers like Napoleon or Hitler or, because of the fatal wound to the head, even John F. Kennedy. Others believe it refers only to the revival of Rome as a world empire.

The primary restoration here has to be that of the Roman empire, the political system of this satanically-controlled man. This seems clear from Revelation 13:1-2 and 17:8-9 which relates the beast to world kingdoms or nations. In 13:2 the beast is seen as a composite of the kingdoms of Babylon, Greece and Medo-Persia, and in 17:9 the beast is related to seven mountains, world kingdoms on which the woman sits. This is evident from 17:1 and 15 which shows us, under another figure, that of water, that these are nations upon which she sits.

Yet, other verses indicate that a person, a political leader is also in view. In 13:5-6 we see the beast as a person opening his mouth in blasphemy against God. In 13:14 an image is to be made of the beast and in 13:18 his number is the number of man. Finally, the beast’s final doom is to go to destruction, literally “and into destruction he goes” (cf. 17:8, 11, 19-20 with 2 Thess. 2:3). This clearly shows that the political leader is also in view. As pointed out earlier, it is often hard to distinguish between the king and the kingdom because the kingdom is the personification of the king.

Revelation 17:9-12 moves from the kingdom, to the king, to both, and back to the king who goes into perdition or destruction (Rev. 19:20). Therefore, it seems best to take the “deadly wound that was healed” of 13:3, as with the words, “was, is not, and is about to come” (Rev. 17:8, 11) to refer to the fall and restoration of the Roman empire in its imperial form. As mentioned, this is evident because the beast is seen as a composite of empires of past history (13:2). However, it is likely that Satan will bring off an apparent death and resurrection of this man of lawlessness, the leader of the empire, to correspond with the restoration of the imperial form of the Roman empire. This will cause the world to marvel and follow after the beast and accept his dictatorship as the emperor (cf. 13:3-4; 17:8).

Question 3: Will this be a literal and real resurrection of some historic figure either of the past like Judas or Hitler or of some future figure?

The answer is, No! It will be an apparent death and resurrection to counterfeit and create an imitation of Christ’s death and resurrection. It will involve something apparently miraculous, but it will not be the resurrection of someone who has died, decayed, and who will be resurrected to life by Satan.

Note several reasons this will not be a genuine resurrection:

(1) The concept of “the abyss” (Rev. 11:7; 17:8). This does not mean that this man himself will be raised up out of hell or gehenna or hades. This simply means that the source and power of the beast and his system is Satan himself. The abyss is the abode of demons and not of man (cf. Rev. 9:1-2, 11; Luke 8:31; 2 Pet. 2:4). The system will be demonically inspired and controlled. This is the point of Revelation 11:7 and 17:8.

(2) The translations “as if it had been slain” (NASB) or “seemed to have had a fatal wound” suggest either an apparent death (near death) but did not really die. Literally the Greek says, “as slain unto death.” There is really no “if” here. Some have argued that the “if” implies this is only an apparent death. Though I do not believe the beast will literally die and be brought back to life, we should note the exact same words are used of the Lord in Revelation 5:6 and certainly the Lord really died. If the leader is involved here, the key may be found in the word “slain” which is sfazw, “to slay, slaughter.” It was a sacrificial term used of the animals of sacrifice. The use of this word indicates that the deadly wound will be designed to be like the slaying of the Lamb; it will be designed to imitate the death of Christ, if not in method, at least in purpose or function. So the use of this word doesn’t really prove it was a real death, only an apparent death. It suggests it was part of Satan’s strategy to imitate Christ’s death and resurrection. Here is Satan’s masterpiece of deceit.

(3) No where else in Scripture is it indicated that Satan has the power of resurrection or the power to produce life. Instead of being a life giver, he is portrayed as a life taker, a murderer or a destroyer. He has “the power of death” (Heb. 2:14). Only Christ is seen as the One who gives life (cf. 1 Cor. 15:22; John 11:25; 5:24-29).

(4) The wicked or the unbelieving dead are confined in torments until the great white throne judgment and there is no suggestion from Scripture that God would allow them to be brought up from their confinement before their time of judgment.

(5) Satan is, however, the master deceiver and he could easily perform such a deception as an apparent death and resurrection (2 Thess. 2:9; Rev. 12:9; 13:14-15).

So, more than likely this is a counterfeit, a supreme deception, and an attempt to imitate the resurrection of Jesus Christ in correspondence with the revival of the imperial form of Rome in order to gain the worship of the world.

His Acclaim and Worship (3b-4)

“And the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast.” Concerning this coming world dictator, David Levy writes: “Most world dictators have proven to be persuasive speakers, able to motivate the masses to their political ideology. Like Adolf Hitler, who was able to mesmerize a whole nation by his inspiring speeches, the Antichrist will be no exception.”156

His persuasive speech and cunning is actually anticipated in Daniel 8:23. Historically, in the near view of prophecy, this passage pertained to Antiochus and his persecution of the Jews, but ultimately, it seems to look forward to the rise of the beast (see 8:19). Walvoord writes:

There is no question among expositors that Antiochus is in view in this prophecy. What was prophesied was fulfilled literally through him. However, the prophecy looks beyond Antiochus to a future person (the Antichrist) of whom Antiochus is only a foreshadowing. This coming one is said to “stand against the Prince of princes” (v. 25). This can be none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus the prophecy must go beyond Antiochus and look forward to the coming of one whose ministry will parallel that of Antiochus.157

So what can we learn from Daniel?

Daniel 8:23-25 And in the latter period of their rule, When the transgressors have run their course, A king will arise insolent and skilled in intrigue (ambiguous speech and deception). 24 And his power will be mighty, but not by his own power (he will operate by Satan’s power and by God’s permissive will), And he will destroy to an extraordinary degree And prosper and perform his will; He will destroy mighty men and the holy people. 25 And through his shrewdness (cunning and craftiness) He will cause deceit to succeed by his influence (his ability to persuade and delude); And he will magnify himself in his heart, And he will destroy many while they are at ease. He will even oppose the Prince of princes, But he will be broken without human agency.

In Revelation 13:3 the words, “the whole earth,” shows the knowledge of this deception will reach everyone. This will be an easy matter with our present media capacity, with TV satellites and world-wide TV reception. This is undoubtedly one of the factors leading to his world-wide authority described in verse 7.

“Amazed” is the Greek qaumazw meaning “to cause one to marvel, wonder, or wonder at.” It is a causative verb. The tense is culminative and looks at the effect, the culmination of this deception of Satan that leads to the amazement of the world.

“And followed after.” Literally the Greek simply says “and the whole earth marveled after the beast.” “After” is opisw, a strong preposition of place, “behind, after.” It stresses that the world marvels and is so amazed that it gawks after the beast, following along in startled amazement. This is part of “the strong delusion” and part of “the lie” that Paul speaks of in 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12.

In this worship of the dragon and his beast, two things will be acknowledged by the people of the world (except for believers): (a) his uniqueness “who is like the beast” and (b) his power “and who is able to make war with him.” This will be the final touch that brings absolute sovereignty to his reign. Also, this will be the one great goal for which Satan has been striving for centuries. This worship of the dragon shows that not only will demonism be rampant, but openly visible. The world will worship the devil through the system of the beast. Satan will openly be the god of this age.

His Aggression and Activity (5-7)

Remember that one of the purposes of the Tribulation is to show the character of Satan and his kingdom. We see it here very clearly through the beast. It includes:

    His Blasphemy (The Religious Side)

The horrible blasphemies of the beast demonstrate the anti-religious, anti-God element in the character of the beast. His blasphemies against God and God’s people, however, are ultimately aimed at promoting the worship of the beast himself. He will speak against God and His name. This includes mocking God’s holy character and essence. Perhaps he will even claim he has defeated God or that God is dead. He will speak against God’s dwelling place and those who dwell in heaven; this could include making fun of the goodness and righteousness of believers and of those who have sacrificed their lives for Jesus Christ while the beast and his followers live in the riotous pleasures of sin. Filled with disappointed rage, Satan will use the beast whom he controls to promote such words of blasphemy that it will make the worst blasphemies of history seem trifling by comparison!

    His Warfare (The Political Side)

Satan has always hated believers and done everything in his power to persecute the people of God whether Israel or the church, but he has been restrained by the hand of God. Without that restraint, God’s people would have perished from the earth. During the Tribulation, however, his persecution of the people of God will know no limits. It will be given to him by the sovereign plan of God to make war and even to overcome the saints, that is, kill them. As verse 7b shows us, this rule of the beast will end in slavery to Satan and to the flesh. Men will think they have freedom to do as they please, but find themselves with no mind of their own, dominated by the beast and by their flesh.

His Authority (2b, 5b, 7b, 10)

    The Source of his Authority (2b)

“And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority.” In verse 4 we are told that the world will marvel at this beast and wonder, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?” To the world of unbelieving and rebellious people, this beast will seem invincible and from the human standpoint, the answer to their question is simply, no one! His power will come from Satan; it is demonic and supernatural, far beyond the abilities of ordinary men, and far beyond anything the world knows today. He will be so powerful, self-sufficient, and impressed with his power, he will actually honor no one except “the god of fortresses” (Dan. 11:38) or military power and conquests.

Repeatedly, the Scriptures tell us that this last time dictator and his government will be the epitome of a Satan-inspired government. In fact the beast himself will be literally possessed by Satan from all accounts. No human being can be as cunning, as ruthless, lawless, vile and blasphemous as this man without being either demon possessed or at least under the total control of Satan. Note what Lutzer and DeVries have written in regard to this coming world ruler.

… there is a network of organizations committed to bringing about a unified world order to address our major problems with creative solutions. Leading the pack will be a world ruler with the charisma to unify all religions and to weld a political structure with the muscle to forge global subjection. He will be both priest and king, both messiah and world emperor.

Remember that this ruler will derive his strength from the same source as Adolf Hitler, who controlled Germany with such hypnotic magnetism that his leadership was practically irresistible. Several books have been written that document Hitler’s involvement with Eastern occultism. Indeed, the swastika is a Hindu symbol of divinity. Hitler’s mentor, Dietrich Eckart, predicted that Hitler would be a world leader. Hitler was manipulated by invisible forces which he called “Unknown superiors,” in reality, demons who both controlled and terrorized him. Hitler told his friend Rauschning that he was founding the Man-God order and that splendid being would be an object of worship. Rauschning said of Hitler:

One cannot help thinking of him as a medium … the medium is possessed … beyond any doubt, Hitler was possessed by forces outside himself . . of which the individual named Hitler was only the temporary vehicle.158

Hitler’s hatred of the Jews and his belief in the superiority of the Aryan nations were undoubtedly derived from Hinduism with its belief in the cast system—the idea that certain people are born inferior to others and that weeding out the undesirables is part of good leadership.

The New Messiah will be the Antichrist of Revelation 13. He will be worshipped on earth and will have awesome authority.159

In this chapter that gives us God’s revelation of this evil end time system, an interesting phrase is repeated six times (six is the number of manifested evil [cf. vs. 18]). The phrase, “was given to him,” occurs twice in verse 5, twice in verse 7, and in verses 14 and 15. Now what is the Tribulation, especially the last half? It is a time of divine judgments unleashed on the world for its continued rebellion. The repetition of “and it was given to him” indicates God’s judicial unleashing of powers of incipient evil of which this world cannot, in its wildest imagination, dream.160

But we must not forget that all of this occurs by the will of a sovereign God who uses Satan as His instrument of judgment on a stubborn, rebellious, unrepentant, and unbelieving world (see again Rev. 9:21). Throughout history God has repeatedly used Satan’s schemes and evil men as instruments of His judgment (cf. Isa. 10:5-13).

Speaking of God’s use of Assyria as “the rod of My anger And the staff in whose hands is My indignation” (vs. 5), God goes on to say, “Yet it does not so intend nor does it plan so in its heart, but rather it is its purpose to destroy, and to cut off many nations” (vs. 7). Then in verse 13 we are told, “For he (Assyria) has said, ‘By the power of my hand and by my wisdom I did this, … ’” The Assyrian king was acting from his own evil desires and will, but he was still an instrument raised up by God as a tool of discipline. This is often perplexing for man. He asks, “Why does God permit or allow it to go unpunished and why does He use the likes of the Assyrians or of the beast in judgments?” The prophet Habakkuk had similar questions.

The book presents a picture of a man who trusted God, yet was perplexed. Habakkuk’s questions were two: (1) Why did God permit the increasing evil in Judah to go unpunished (1:2-4)? (2) How could a holy God justify using the Babylonians, a people more wicked than the Jews, to punish the Jews (1:12-2:1)? The answer to the first question is recorded in 1:5-11 and to the second in 2:2-20. Thus the book is a theodicy, a defense of God’s goodness and power in view of the existence of evil.161

In Revelation 13, Satan is allowed to give the beast three things. He gives the beast:

(1) “Power.” This is the Greek dunamis, which it is often used of miraculous powers, the power to perform miraculous wonders (cf. 2 Thess. 2:9; Heb. 2:4; Acts 2:22; 6:8). Satan will perform miraculous feats through this man as a part of his deception (cf. 2 Thess. 2:9-12 and Rev. 13:3-4).

(2) “His throne.” This refers to his position as king or emperor of the revived Roman empire, ruling supremely over the rest of the nations.

(3) “Great authority.” This would refer to the extension of his rule beyond the ten nation confederation as spelled out in Revelation 13:7, “authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation.” Occurring under the sovereignty of God and as an element of His judgment, Satan will undoubtedly have the ability to raise up political rulers (Luke 4:5-8; 1 John 5:19; John 16:11; 12:31; 14:30; Eph. 6:12). During the Tribulation, as the unseen ruler of this world, Satan will have complete rule through the man of lawlessness, the beast, for a short time.

    The Time of His Authority (5b)

The beast will be given authority to act for forty-two months. In view of what we learned from chapter 12, this means from the middle of the Tribulation to the return of Jesus Christ.

The Lord Jesus said to the rabble who came to arrest him, “This is your hour, and the power (Greek exousia) of darkness.” What a scene followed in the next few hours! But God will give up the whole earth, except His elect, for three and one-half years to this direful scene of Revelation 13.162

    The Extent of His Authority (7b-8)

His authority will extend to all peoples, to all the earthdwellers or earthlings, those whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life. True believers, those who do not worship the beast nor receive his mark (vs. 16), are here excluded; they do not worship him, but rather in many cases they will die for their faith. More will be said on the book of life later in this study of Revelation. These Tribulation saints, though many will die for their faith, will overcome the beast and the next words are especially addressed to them in verses 9-10.

    The End of His Authority (9-10)

9 If anyone has an ear, let him hear. 10 If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints. (NASB)

9 He who has an ear, let him hear. 10 If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. (NIV)

As can be seen from the difference in these translations, there is a major textual problem in the last half of verse 10 which affects our understanding of the meaning of this passage. The problem involves whether the first reference to the verb “kill” is an active future (“will kill”), or a aorist passive (“be killed”). The KJV, RSV, Phillips, NASB all follow the reading of the majority of MSS and render it, “If anyone kills with the sword.” Concerning this reading, Johnson writes:

Combining this with the last phrase, the latter part of the verse yields either a warning directed toward Christians for them not to turn to violence and killing to vindicate themselves or a promise of requital to believers that their persecutors will be judged by God.

If, on the other hand, we follow the reading of A163 [MSS witness], the translation will be as in NIV … This yields the sense that Christians who are destined by God for death must submit to his will and not resist the oppressor. It is an appeal to loyalty.164

Following the reading of the KJV or the NASB, Ryrie writes regarding verses 9-10:

The phrasing of verse 9 indicates a call to serious attention. An important principle is about to be announced in verse 10. It is the principle of retribution. After all that has been said about the power of the beast, verse 10 is a word of great comfort. The captor will be taken captive; the killer will be killed. When God’s purposes are finished through the beast, God will take him captive and confine him to the lake of fire. In the knowledge of this is the patience and faith that sustains the saints who endure these persecutions.165

Note that there are three “if” clauses in verses 9-10:

“If anyone has an ear” is addressed to anyone who might have ears to hear the Word of God. The only possible means of deliverance is through faith in the Word of God.

The second two “if” clauses (regardless of the reading discussed above) warn against anyone taking matters into their own hands to oppose this Satanic system by force. This is Satan’s hour, but it will be short lived and God’s people will triumph in the end. Knowing this and resting in it by faith will give endurance. So here is the assurance that God will bring sure judgment and defeat on the beast.

Finally, we should note one more thing about those who are addressed in verse 9 in the invitation to hear. Walvoord writes:

A close parallel as well as a contrast is also observable between this invitation and the invitation to the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3 where the exhortation is to “hear what the Spirit says unto the churches.” The omission of the phrase “unto the churches” in 13:9 is most significant and tends to support the teaching that the church, the body of Christ, has previously been raptured and is not in this period. This instruction is not addressed to the churches. The exhortation in Revelation 13 is much wider. It is to anyone who will listen, and the message is not addressed to the church as such but to the entire world.166

Summary of the first beast:

(1) He will be a Gentile (Rev. 13:15; Dan. 7) out of the sea, i.e., Gentile nations (Dan. 9:27). “The Prince of the people that shall come,” specifically he will be from the old Roman Empire.

(2) Politically he will become the dictator of the revived imperial Roman empire of the last half of the Tribulation (Rev. 13; Dan. 9:27; 7:8). The beast and his system will become the final form of this Gentile world power. He begins as a political peacemaker and leader of a ten nation European confederation, but soon turns into the beast and dictator.

(3) Religiously he supports, as all other Gentile powers before him, the ecumenical religion of Babylon, the harlot system of the first half of the Tribulation (Rev. 17:7), but turns against it in the last half to become himself the object of man’s worship (2 Thess. 2:4; Rev. 13:17:16-17).

(4) He is under the direct control of Satan and is Satan possessed (2 Thess. 2:9; Rev. 13:2). Thus, he is called the beast (tJhrion) because Satan, the dragon is his master (cf. 9:11; 11:7; 17:6; 16:13).

(5) He has many names: (a) The little horn of Daniel 7:8. (b) The king of fierce countenance (Dan. 8:23). (c) The willful king of Daniel 11:36-40 (some refer this to the second beast but this doesn’t fit the circumstances of Daniel 11 or Revelation 13). (d) The prince that shall come (Dan. 9:27). (e) The man of sin or lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:3-10). (f) The rider on the white horse (Rev. 6:2). (g) The beast (Rev. 13:1). (h) The antichrist (1 John 2).

(6) His empire is called and viewed as: (a) The beast with seven heads and ten horns (Rev. 17:8-13; 13:1-2), like a leopard, a bear, and a lion. (b) The feet of the image of Daniel with ten toes made of iron and clay mingled together (see Dan. 2:31-45).

(7) His character and rise to power:

  • Because of fear of a nuclear holocaust, population explosion, environmental destruction, etc., the world will be crying for “peace and safety.” This man will come on the scene with great persuasive power, personality magnetism, craft and oratorical skill, and he will persuade the West (Europe and probably the Americas) that he has the answer for peace. (The Americas are likely to be included because they are a part of the harlot system which he controls.) He will gain his ascendancy to power as a peacemaker (Dan. 8:25; 1 Thess. 5:3; Rev. 6:2; Dan. 9:27).
  • A ten nation confederation will be formed, an alliance against the king of the North and the East (Dan. 2:7:7; Rev. 13:1; 17:12). He begins under demon influence and possession, to be lifted up with pride and to magnify himself and begins to get visions of world power (Dan. 8:25; 11:36; 2 Thess. 2:4).
  • Three kings out of the ten rebel and are destroyed (Dan. 7:8, 24).
  • The king of the North (perhaps Russia) is destroyed about the middle of the Tribulation and this leaves a vacuum (Ezek. 38).
  • Satan is also restricted to earth, totally possessing this man and produces the beast who then begins to persecute Israel, breaks the covenant and overtly magnifies himself as god (Rev. 12:13; 2 Thess. 2:3f; Dan. 8:24; 9:21). He introduces idol worship of himself.
  • His apparent death and resurrection followed by his rise to power as emperor of the revived Roman empire will astound the world. It may be that Satan will create the impression of a resurrection of this man from a mortal wound which will coincide with his swift rise as dictator in the middle of the Tribulation (Rev. 13:3, 12, 14; 17:8).
  • There will come a challenge of his authority from the East at the end of the Tribulation (Rev. 16:12-16). This is the second phase of Armageddon. All the remaining armies, those aligned with the West and those of the East will be brought together to fight at Megeddo (Rev. 16:16; 19:17-19).
  • Jesus Christ will come at this time and the rule of the beast will be terminated by the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ (Rev. 19:19-20; Dan. 7:22, 26; 8:25; 9:27; 11:45).

The Beast Out of the Earth
(13:11-18)

Now another beast is revealed to John, only this one is distinguished from the previous since he comes out of the earth or land. This completes the trinity of evil—the dragon, the beast out of the sea, and now, the beast out of the earth. The land beast operates under the authority of the sea beast and is totally committed to promoting not himself, but the first beast. The beast out of the land is also called the false prophet in other places in Revelation (16:13; 19:20; 20:10), probably because he promotes the first beast.

His Description (11)

“And I saw another beast.” “Another” is the Greek allos meaning, “another of the same kind.” He plays a different role, but in character he is another qhrion, one who is beastly, rapacious, cruel, and of course hostile to the flock of God’s people like a wolf, though dressed in sheep clothing. He is seen “coming up out of the earth.” As before, “coming up” is a present participle portraying a gradual, but continual ascendancy as a world figure and leader.

“Out of the earth” distinguishes and contrasts him with the beast out of the sea. These two beasts though similar, are diverse in origin. As the sea symbolized the mass of humanity, the nations, so “the earth, land, the ground, region, or country” (the Greek gh) may symbolize the nation Israel who is consistently related to the land in Scripture. As mentioned, some believe the sea refers to the Mediterranean and so the “earth” or land would refer to Palestine. Some think this beast will be a Jew, a false prophet among Jews who seeks to persuade men to follow the beast as the antichrist. On the other hand the contrast between the two beasts could simply be that the former arises first and at the time of terrible chaos among the nations (who are like the raging sea, Isa. 57:20) when people are fearful and crying for “peace and safety” and for a world ruler to settle world conditions. The second beast may come on the scene after world conditions have been settled somewhat, when chaos has given place to some order and a more stable government has settled in human society (the earth).

Some believe the idea that he is a Jew is supported by the things said about the second beast regarding his actions and character: (a) this beast is the false prophet who promotes the worship of the first beast by performing signs which are similar to Elijah’s, a prophet of Israel (13:12-13), and (b) he has two horns, like a lamb, the sacrificial animal of the Jews. But such a conclusion is not necessary.

However, in the light of the great anti-Semitism of the last half of the Tribulation, it seems unlikely that Satan or the first beast would allow a Jew to live much less occupy such an important position of power and authority. More than likely he is simply an important religious figure representing a rising religious and ecclesiastical movement which this second beast and Satan will use to promote the beast out of the sea (cf. 17:7, 15-16). The harlot in chapter 17 refers to religious Babylon, ecclesiastical Rome. The waters there represent the many nations she has influenced. Walvoord says, “The identification of the second beast as the head of the apostate church is indicated in many ways in the book of Revelation.”167 While this apostate religious system will be destroyed by the beast (Rev. 17:16), it appears that the false prophet will, because of his close affinity with the first beast, make it through the entire Tribulation period since Revelation 19:20 shows that both the first beast and the false prophet are cast alive into the lake of fire together.

That the false prophet and the second beast are one and the same is clear from Revelation 19:20. The false prophet is the one who “performs signs in his (the first beast) presence (13:12-13), by which he deceived those who had the mark of the beast …” (Rev. 19:20).

“And he had two horns.” The horns are symbolic of great power, but not to the degree of the first beast who had ten horns. His horns were like those of “a lamb.” As the lamb is a religious symbol, a symbol of sacrifice, so this beast is a religious figure, and, as a lamb is also symbolical of a mild, lamb-like manner, so this second beast will adopt a mild lamb-like appearance, but he will be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. So what do we read next?

“And he spoke like a dragon.” That he will speak like a dragon shows us it connects him in character with the dragon, Satan. As with the first beast this beast gets his power from Satan. And just like the sea beast who begins his career as the white horse rider, proclaiming peace, so this mild religious appearance of the land beast is only a cover up, a sham for his real nature and goals.

There is an important lesson here for it demonstrates the typical behavior and character of any of man’s religions when a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is absent because in all man-made religions, the base upon which it operates is man and Satan’s deceptions, not God. Most religions will claim to be humanitarian, loving, and concerned for society, but in reality, since Satan is always at the root of the system (cf. 1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Cor. 11:13-15), they can become vicious, cruel, and murderous as a wild beast whenever people do not toe the party line. A clear evidence of this are the many persecutions that have occurred in the name of religion like the inquisitions of Rome in 1233 and in 1542 and those of Spain in 1478 against Jews and Moslems. The New Age movement of our day is no different. This is a humanistic movement that talks about helping humanity, but in their language, they show a quick readiness to persecute Christians whom they know will stand in their way.

In New Age literature there is talk of a necessary cleansing process that will be needed to quell the opposition of those who resist the new religious/political order. Those who refuse to be initiated into Satan’s kingdom by taking the mark of the beast will be eliminated…168

Lutzer and DeVries describe some of the goals of this new religious/political order. These will consist of things like: an end of nationalism, a new credit card system, a world food supply, and an emphasis on disarmament and the “elimination of nuclear weapons.” But note what they mention next that will be a part of the deception of this whole ploy:

All of this is to be done under the banner of love and peace. “Universal brotherhood” will be the slogan that will capture the aspirations and hopes of millions who will be drawn into the centrifugal force of this movement with best of intentions. The goals of this movement will be stated in such a way that it will appear that only the most obstinate and belligerent could possibly oppose such noble ideals.169

But orthodox Jews and Christians will oppose such a satanic system and one that will actually promote the deification of man. So what will happen to these who resist such a system? Will they be ignored and allowed the freedom to believe, train up their children, and worship God according to their own convictions?

A state legislator, appearing on an Omaha talk show, said:

We have to control church schools because fundamental, Bible-believing Christians do not have the right to indoctrinate their children in their faith, because we, the state, are preparing all children for the Year 2000, when America will be part of the One World Global Society and their children won’t fit in.

New Agers are not nave enough to believe that everyone will accept the dawn of this new day. Some will oppose the emerging New Order. For these, there is another solution: intimidation, starvation, and liquidation.

This is not our theory, but the expressly stated agenda of the New Agers who candidly admit that drastic measures will have to be implemented to keep people in line… 

… Those religions that will not accept the lie that man is God will be systematically eliminated by whatever means is necessary. In the New Age, disarmament will be the guise used to get the nations of the world to surrender their sovereignty to an authoritative global political machine, which will in turn use those weapons (if necessary) to force everyone, especially the religious objectors, to get on board with the new agenda.

Understand Satan’s methodology: there is a vast difference between his advertising and the product that the purchaser receives. George Orwell called it newsspeak. Talk about disarmament but plan to use weapons on those who refuse to accept your agenda. Campaign for individual freedom but plan to eliminate the freedom of those who don’t toe the line. Affirm the value of humanity while at the same time you favor the systematic killing of the unborn and the eventual death of millions.170

And it was the same in the days of ancient Rome. The late Francis Schaeffer wrote:

Rome was cruel, and its cruelty can perhaps be best pictured by the events which took place in the arena in Rome itself. People seated above the arena floor watched gladiator contests and Christians thrown to the beasts. Let us not forget why the Christians were killed. They were not killed because they worshiped Jesus. Various religions covered the whole Roman world… Nobody cared who worshiped whom so long as the worshiper did not disrupt the unity of the state, centered in the formal worship of Caesar. The reason the Christians were killed was because they were rebels.

… their worship (speaking of worship of Jesus Christ) became a special threat to the unity of the state during the third century and during the reign of Diocletian (284-305), when people of the higher classes began to become Christians in larger numbers. If they had worshiped Jesus and Caesar, they would have gone unharmed, but they rejected all forms of syncretism.171

His Dominion (12a)

“And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence.” “In his presence” is the Greek enwpion which means in this context, “by the authority of” or “on behalf of.” The point is that he stands ready to do the bidding of the first beast and he has all the authority needed to carry out the wishes of the first beast, but it’s delegated authority and he exercises it on behalf of the beast and his worship in the world.

His Design and Determination (12b)

“And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast …” The design or purpose of this beast or false prophet is to promote the authority and worship of the first beast, just as the Holy Spirit works to bring glory to Jesus Christ (John 16:14).

“Whose fatal wound was healed” indicates that this deception is part of his propaganda program to sell people on the beast just as the Holy Spirit truthfully, by contrast, uses the resurrection to convince men of the person and work of Jesus Christ. As in the early church, the resurrection of Christ was followed by sign miracles to authenticate the message of Christ and His prophets (Heb. 2:4), so this false prophet does the same in his deception.

His Deceptions (13-15)

Verse 13. “And he performs great signs” points us to his first deception through the use of miraculous signs. “Performs” is a present tense of repeated actions which indicates he engages in a display of miraculous signs one after another, though only two are mentioned here. “Signs” is plural. The verb here is poiew which means “to make, do, accomplish, bring about, produce, or perform.” “Signs” is shmeion which refers to a wonder or miracle that is designed to show or communicate something. The signs are used of course, to persuade men to believe in, follow after, and worship the beast.

Note that the signs are described as “great,” the Greek megas meaning “large, great,” but it is used of that which is great in the sense of significant, prominent, important, outstanding. The signs the second beast performs won’t be the run of the mill miracles that one hears about with pseudo healers or the paranormal events of today.

“So that he even makes fire come down from heaven to earth in the presence of men” illustrates something of the power of his miraculous activity. Whatever this will be, it is clearly designed to counterfeit the miraculous works of God, either that of Elijah in 1 Kings 18:38 or that of the two witnesses in Revelation 11:5 (cf. also 2 Kings 1:10-15; Lev. 10:1-2). Some have suggested that this could be a reference to fire from heaven to imitate that which occurred at Pentecost (Acts 2:3) and could be a reference to pseudo-charismatic gifts to create a counterfeit religious community whose allegiance is to antichrist.

Whatever it is, it is a prominent sign and shows the kind of power Satan will display through his puppets, the beast and the false prophet.

Verse 14. “And he deceives … because of the signs which it was given to him to perform in the presence of the beast …” The next thing we see about the signs is that they are designed to deceive, they are deceptive. “Deceives” is the Greek planaw meaning “to lead astray, cause to wander, mislead, deceive.” This word is consistently used in Scripture of the work of false teachers who lead people away from God into some form of false worship (cf. 2 Thess. 2:9-12).

This should be a warning to all of us. Miraculous signs are not in themselves a proof that whatever is going on is from God. There are other issues that must be discerned with the Word of God as the final index and authority, never just our experience. However, we are living in an esoteric, mystic oriented age where reality is too often reduced to a personal experience or some kind of enlightenment. Just note the rise of the psychic “hotlines” and the emphasis in TV shows on the paranormal or on psychic phenomena. Even within the body of Christ, the emphasis has moved away from the Word of God as our authority to an emphasis on phenomena and subjective experiences, the kind promoted in many charismatic circles today.

Next, we are again told these signs are “given to him to perform in the presence of the beast.” The power to produce the signs is Satan’s (Rev. 13:2; 2 Thess. 2:9) and the false prophet performs them in the interest and by the authority of the first beast. As seen above, this is the meaning of “in the presence of,” but the repetition serves to stress the purpose brought out in the next sentence, “telling those who dwell on earth to make an image to the beast …” It is apparent from this that one of the primary purposes of the signs is to influence men on earth to follow the false prophet’s orders to make an image to the worship of the first beast.

Verse 15. “And there was given to him to give breath to the image.” The image which breathes and speaks is the second great deception of these verses. The word “image” is eikwn which is not a mere copy but in fact partakes and constitutes the very reality of the thing of which it is a likeness. The image is designed not only to portray a likeness to the beast, but the reality of his rule and worship. Whatever the image will be it will portray a likeness of the beast which becomes a symbol of his power and majesty, and of the character of his system.

We should note that the image is mentioned three times here in this chapter and in 14:9, 11; 15:2; 16:2; 19:20 and 20:4. This image becomes the center of the false worship of the beast and the focal point of the final state of apostasy and idolatry.

Finally, we are told that the false prophet is able to give breath to the image. This gives it the appearance of life. However, it isn’t real life, zwe, but only breath, pneuma. Since breath or breathing is one of the signs of life, men think the image lives, but John is careful not to say that he gives life (zwe) to the image. Only God can do that. It is something miraculous, but also deceptive and false.

Then we are told the image of the beast, through this imparted breath, speaks. This is to be a further confirmation of the miraculous nature of the beast’s image. Some might see this as the result of some product of our modern electronic robot-type of technology. But such would hardly convince people of anything spectacular. Evidently it will go far beyond that.

As in the days of Daniel, those who refuse to worship the beast are to be killed. Notice that it is the image itself which causes the non-worshippers to be killed, undoubtedly by orders it gives when it speaks. While many will be killed, thousands will escape unharmed, but their lives will be in constant jeopardy.

His Demand and Decree (16-17)

Here we see the means by which the second beast carefully and exclusively distinguishes between those who will worship the beast and those who will not so that they might be identified and killed. He forces all men of every class and category of society to receive the mark of the beast either in their right hand or in the forehead, two places that are prominent and easily seen.

Here is sheer tyranny. The word “mark” is the Greek caragma which means “an impress made by a stamp” like a brand used on slaves and cattle. Men will become the slaves of the beast and will somehow carry the identifying mark of their slavery.

To enforce the worship of the beast and to make life impossible without his worship, men cannot buy or sell without this mark. As a result of the decree to worship the beast and be branded with his mark, multitudes of believers will be killed directly because they do not have the mark and refuse to receive it or because they starve to death since they cannot buy or sell. Some will survive, however, by living off the land or because other believers who have food share with those who do not (cf. Matt. 24:15-25 and 25:31-40).

We should note that to receive the mark of the beast is tantamount to the worship of the beast, to blasphemy of God, and rejection of Jesus Christ (cf. 13:8; 17:8; 14:9-12; 15:2; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4).

What will the mark be like? Verse 17 answers this for us. It is the name of the beast or his number. This number is defined in verse 18 as 666. This is the name or number of the first beast and is one of the options for the mark, either his name or his number.

Please note, this also becomes the means of identifying the beast for who and what he is to the remnant of true believers.

This will not be just a number or identification mark on a plastic card. This will be on the person himself. It is interesting however, that within the identification numbers of various agencies, the IRS and others, the number 666 is beginning to pop up more and more.

God’s Declaration Regarding the Number of the Beast (18)

    The Problem of the Number

On the meaning of this verse and the number of the beast, 666, the views are almost as numerous as the number of commentaries written on the book of Revelation. John tells us to “calculate the meaning of the number of the beast.” Misunderstanding of John’s meaning here has led to endless speculation regarding the meaning of the number.

Some have considered the number to represent one of the Roman Emperors like Nero or Caligula or Titus. Thus, antichrist would be Nero redivivus (13:3). Others throughout the centuries have tried, using the number 666, to identify antichrist as some current historical figure of their day like Hitler, Mussolini or even Napoleon. Some have thought it stood for the word “Latin” telling us he would be a Roman. All of these simply show the endless speculations which have occupied the minds of students but are of very little worth to the student of this book and which I believe totally misses John’s point.

Why all the speculation and the problem? First, students have taken the verb “calculate” to refer to the ancient practice of gematria. Ancient languages, including Hebrew, Greek and Latin use standard letters from their alphabet as numerical signs. For example, alpha (a) in Greek stands for the number one; beta (b) the number two; iota (i) for ten; iota alpha (ia) for 11; and iota beta (ib) for 12. The Hebrew alphabet also had numerical value. Alep stands for one; bet stands for two; gimel for three and so on. Thus, a series of letters could form a word, and at the same time indicate a number.

Alan Johnson describes the practice. He says:

Gematria took many forms and consisted in trying to guess the word from the number or trying to connect one word with another that had the same numerical value. On the walls of Pompeii, there are some graffiti, dated no later than A.D. 79, that illuminate the practice. One reads: “Amerimnus thought upon his lady Harmonia for good. The number of her honorable name is 45 (me [mu epsilon]).” The key to the puzzle seems to be in the word “Harmonia,” which was probably not the girl’s actual name but refers to the nine Muses (the goddesses of song and poetry); and 45 is the sum of all the digits from 1 to 9 (E. M. Blaiklock, The Archaeology of the New Testament, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1970, p. 131). Another runs: “I love her whose number is 545 (fme [phi mu epsilon])” (Deiss LAE, p. 277). In these cases, the number conceals a name, and the mystery is perhaps known for certain only by the two lovers themselves.

Similarly, the Jews (esp. Hasidim) used Hebrew alphabetical numbers to indicate concealed names and mysterious connections with other words of the same numerical value. For example, the Hebrew word nahas (“serpent”) has the same numerical value of the Hebrew word masiah (“Messiah”) (358). From this it was argued that one of the names of the Messiah was “serpent.” Some suggest that this may relate to Moses’ lifting up the “serpent” in the wilderness (cf. Num. 21; John 3:14).172

Johnson goes on to say:

Irenaeus (second century) mentions that many names of contemporary persons and entities were being offered in his day as solutions to this number mystery. Yet he cautioned against the practice and believed that the name of the Antichrist was deliberately concealed because he did not exist in John’s day. The name would be secret till the time of his future appearance in the world. Irenaeus expressly refutes the attempt of many to identify the name with any of the Roman emperors. He feels, however, that the gematria approach is John’s intended meaning but warns the church against endless speculations (Contra Haereses 29. 30).173

Walvoord says regarding this:

A number of other suggestions are made in that the six Roman numerals, that is I, V, X, L, C, D, adds up to 666. J. B. Smith says, “This alludes to the possibility of a Roman being the antichrist.” Smith also adds “All the numerals from 1 to 36 total 666. Beast in the evil sense occurs exactly 36 times (6x6) in Revelation.” Speculation continues ad infinitum using the letter equivalents for numbers in Hebrew, Greek, or Roman numerals. The very variety of the suggestions, however, and the unlikely and unprecedented supposition that someone would rise from the dead to take active part in earthly affairs leaves serious question as to all these imaginative explanations.174

What then does John mean? The word “calculate” is the Greek pshfizw, “to count, compute, reckon” (cf. Luke 14:28 the only other place the word is used in the N.T.). This word was used of calculating the numerical value of a word or number, of voting, of a vote in the sense of resolving to do something. But it also meant to calculate in order to arrive at a value (cf. Lev. 27:23 where this word is used in the LXX translation of the OT Hebrew). In modern Greek it means “to observe.”

The best solution is the simplest one. First, nowhere else does John use gematria as a method, but he regularly uses numbers symbolically and especially the number seven (e.g. the seven spirits of God, churches, seals, trumpets, bowls; 24 elders; 144,000 sealed; six stone water pots [John 2:6]). Then in Revelation 15:2 we read, “ … and those who had come off victorious from the beast, and from his image and from the number of his name.” Not simply from his mark, but from the number. This implies a symbolical meaning.

Then what? In Scripture seven is the number of perfection, eight is the number of that which is new, three is the number of the Godhead and six is the number of man which falls short (falls short of the number seven). Man was to work six days and rest on the seventh which portrays the salvation and provision of God, a salvation which man cannot attain by his works because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).

So John says “here is wisdom.” Where? In doing that which John counsels man to do. Who? Those who have understanding, i.e., spiritual discernment or biblical understanding. Then what are we to do? Number or evaluate the spiritual meaning of the number of the beast, which is, John says, “the number of a man.”

    The Significance and Meaning of the Number 666

Though the beast claims to be God, he is not. He is only a man, indeed, an evil and demonically controlled man (cf. 13:4f; 2 Thess. 2:4f). He is far short of the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The three sixes may elude to the satanic trinity—Satan or the dragon, seeking to replace the Father, the beast seeking to replace the Lord Jesus Christ, and the false prophet, seeking to replace the Holy Spirit. But they all fall infinitely short of the triune Godhead. No matter how far we carry the number 666 mathematically as 666666666 it never becomes seven. It always falls short. The point is that this man and his system can never do that which God has promised. Man promises peace but brings war; life, but brings death; liberty, but brings slavery; happiness, but brings misery; significance, but brings the loss of true meaning and purpose in life.

As the ancient church father Irenaeus proposed, the number may indicate that the beast is the sum of all apostate power, a concentrate of 6,000 years of unrighteousness, wickedness, deception, and false prophecy.175 The three sixes look at this wickedness in the past, the present and the future culminated in this end time system of the beast.

The general character of the Tribulation is clearly portrayed in this chapter. It is a time of slavery, blasphemy, apostasy, and gross satanic activity. Let us thank God that we have the blessed hope of the rapture (Titus 2:13). But let us not, as we contemplate on all this, forget our responsibility to be involved in the propagation of the gospel of Christ, the only hope for the world.


153 William R. Newell, The Book of the Revelation, Moody Press, Chicago, 1966, p. 185.

154 Charles C. Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, Expanded Edition, NASB, Moody Press, Chicago, 1995, p. 1323.

155 Theodore H. Epp, Practical Studies in Revelation, Vol. II, Back to the Bible Broadcast, Lincoln, NE, p. 203.

156 David Levy, “The Coming World Ruler,” Israel My Glory, The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, p. 21.

157 John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Scripture Press, Wheaton, IL, 1983, 1985, electronic media.

158 Gerald Suster, Hitler: The Occult Messiah, St. Martin Press, New York, 1981, p. 120.

159 Erwin W. Lutzer and John F. DeVries, Satan’s Evangelistic Strategy for This New Age, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1989, pp. 146-147.

160 Newell, p. 190.

161 Charles C. Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, Expanded Edition, NASB, Moody Press, Chicago, 1995, p. 1442.

162 Newell, p. 191.

163 Preferred by Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary of the Greek New Testament, New York: UBS, 1971, p. 750.

164 Alan Johnson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, Frank E. Gaebelein, General Editor, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1981, p. 536.

165 Charles C. Ryrie, Revelation, Moody Press, Chicago, 1968, p. 84.

166 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Moody Press, Chicago, 1966, pp. 203-204.

167 Walvoord, p. 205.

168 Erwin W. Lutzer and John F. DeVries, Satan’s Evangelistic Strategy for This New Age, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1989, pp. 148.

169 Lutzer/DeVries, pp. 149-150.

170 Lutzer/DeVries, pp. 152-153.

171 Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? Fleming H. Revell, Old Tappan, NJ, 1976, pp. 25-26.

172 Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 533.

173 Ibid..

174 Walvoord, pp. 209-210.

175 Johnson, p. 535.

Ad Category: 
Passage: 

20. Special Announcements (Rev 14:1-20)

Introduction

This chapter forms the last section of the third interlude of the Book. Again we should note that this material is not chronological in that it does not take up the next events of the Tribulation. Rather it gives us a preview of some of the key events that lie ahead in that period of unprecedented trial. In fact, John now answers two vital questions: What will become of those who refuse to receive the mark of the beast and are killed (vss. 1-5)? And what will happen to the beast and his servants (vss. 6-20)? So chapter 14 prepares the way for the climatic events which will follow from chapter 15 on. This chapter gives us both a backward glance to the beginning of the Tribulation and a forward glance to its end and the glorious reign of the Lord Jesus Christ with His saints.

Revelation 13 revealed the darkest and most grotesque hours of human history with Satan’s conspiracy in seeming control of all humanity. But it closed with the declaration of man’s number, number 666; a number that falls short of God’s perfection. This was both a promise and a declaration that man would fail and God would prevail and so would also God’s people. In the two previous chapters we see clearly that God’s people will be severely persecuted and sacrificed like sheep. But here we see their ultimate triumph via the triumph of the Lamb of God. For instance, in chapter 7 the 144,000 who were sealed and thus promised deliverance are here seen as delivered.

The Announcement Concerning the 144,000
(14:1-5)

The Setting (1)

“And I looked, and behold” is a phrase found seven times (4:1; 6:2, 5; 7:9; 14:1, 14) and each time it turns our attention to another important element in the vision given to John. Here it is the vision of the Lamb standing on Mount Zion accompanied by the 144,000. As previously, the word “behold” is designed to arrest our attention to the remarkable things in this scene.

“The Lamb was standing on Mount Zion” is the first important fact that catches John’s eye. That the Lamb is standing on Mount Zion is in contrast to the dragon standing on the shifting sands of the seashore. Here is a contrast between stability and rest, and instability and unrest. The contrast is between the Lamb who wins by the sacrifice of Himself versus the dragon who attempts to gain control by his selfish and bloody outrage against humanity. Note that it is the Lamb portrayed here, not the Lion (5:5) because it is through His sacrifice that Christ becomes the Victor.

Students are faced with the need to answer a question about the meaning of Mount Zion. Does it refer to the heavenly city, Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22-23) or to the earthly city of Jerusalem? In Hebrews the reference to Mount Zion is connected with the church and there it symbolizes the strength and security of God’s people gathered together with God. But here, John is dealing with the nation Israel and looking forward to the Millennial reign of Christ on earth. Prophetically in Scripture, Zion came to symbolize the place where Messiah would come as the deliverer of Israel and where He would gather together His people (Psalm 48:1f; Isa. 24:23; Joel 2:32; Zeph. 14:10; Rom. 11:26).

In the seven NT references to Zion, five occur in OT quotations. The other two (here and Heb 12:22-23) imply a connection between Mount Zion and the church. Some, by connecting the reference in Hebrews to the one here, have argued for the heavenly location of the 144,000. Others view Mount Zion as the earthly seat of the messianic or millennial kingdom. Whether this Mount Zion has any connection (as to locality) with ancient and historical Zion, John does not say. At any rate, that the 144,000 are singing “before the throne” (v. 3) is not an objection to seeing them as the earthly Zion; it is not the redeemed who are singing but the angelic harpists.176

Further, the group of 144,000 is the same as that of chapter 7 where they are to be sealed and kept safe through the Tribulation, protected from death to go into the millennial reign of Messiah without going into heaven. This is the implication of chapter 7. Thus, this is prophetic of Christ’s reign in Zion, earthly Jerusalem following the Tribulation. Note in this regard that the word “stood” is in the perfect tense which emphasizes completed action with abiding results. He has taken his stand and reigns.

“And with Him 144,000, …” These are mentioned because they stand in such beautiful contrast with the worshippers of the beast who have his mark and who have sold themselves out to the idolatrous and cultic system of the beast. In chapter 7 we are told the 144,000 are: (a) sealed in their forehead (7:3), (b) that they are bondservants (7:3), and (c) that they are Jews from the twelve tribes of Israel, 12,000 from each tribe. Now additional information is given regarding these bondservants which heightens the contrast between these and the worshippers of the beast.

These are the same 144,000 Jews of chapter 7. The number is the same, they are sealed in their foreheads as in chapter 7, and there is nothing to indicate they are a different group.

“Having His name (the Lamb’s) and the name of His Father written on their foreheads.” This is God’s seal and shows (a) they belong to God and not to the beast, (b) that they have had the guarantee of God’s protection and security through the Tribulation, and (c) they are His servants. As chapter 7 by its context would indicate, they are the great evangelists of the Tribulation who proclaim the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Then note that in 14:4 we are told that these follow the Lamb. Perhaps there is an intended connection with those evangelized by the 144,000 in 7:9ff for in 7:17 we read “for the Lamb …¬†shall be their Shepherd and shall guide them …” Chapter 14 completes the drama started in chapter 7. In chapter 7 this whole company of God’s people are sealed (7:1-8), readied for the satanic onslaught, and then a company of those they undoubtedly led to Christ are seen as martyred saints in heaven serving before the throne of God (7:9ff). But here in chapter 14, the whole body of the 144,000 are with the Lamb as victors in the earthly eschatologica1 kingdom. The main emphasis is that here we see these still intact after the days of horrible Tribulation; they are preserved and standing triumphantly with the Lord on Mount Zion in the Millennium.

The Song (2-3)

As in chapter 5 the voice heard is described in majestic terms to portray heaven’s response to what John sees here. The three-fold description of the voice stresses the awesome majesty of what John hears as heaven responds in anticipation of the reign of God on earth accomplished by the Lamb. How then should we not also enthusiastically and joyously enter into singing and making melody in our hearts in majestic praise of God.

However, it is important to note that the singers are not necessarily the 144,000, but angelic hosts and perhaps Tribulation martyrs in heaven. The voice is from heaven, from around the heavenly throne (vss. 2-3). The 144,000 are on earth. It is the harpists of heaven who sing the song. Here we are only told the 144,000 can learn the song, while in chapter 15:2-3 they sing the Song of Moses with the company of the redeemed.

But we are not told just exactly what this new song is. It should, however, be related to chapter 5:9 and the new song that was sung by the heavenly choir. Thus it is a song of redemption and vindication. What was seen in chapter 5 as secured for the redeemed by Christ’s death (i.e., that they will reign on the earth [5:10]) has now been realized on Mount Zion (cf. also one further reference to a new song in 15:3).

The word “new” is the Greek kainos which refers to that which is fresh and new in quality, unused, unworn. It can mean new in time, but more than anything, it means new in quality, fresh and vital.

In what sense is this a new song? In the Old Testament there are a number of references to a “new song” (cf. Psalm 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 144:9; 149:1 and Isa. 42:10). But what is such a new song? A new song is a consequence of a deeper or clearer grasp of the person and works of God so that it results in a fresh and meaningful impulse of gratitude and joy in the soul as it is expressed in songs of praise and adoration. A new song is not necessarily a song new in time, but one fresh with a new response and understanding so that it is sung as though it were new. This new song is somehow related to the new song of 5:4 and to that in 15:3.

What about the clause “And no one could learn the song except the 144,000 …”? The verb “learn” is the Greek manqanw which may have several connotations regarding the learning process. One of these is “to learn, appropriate to oneself …¬†through experience or practice.”177 Only the 144,000 because of what they will have experienced throughout the Tribulation from beginning to end (having experienced God’s mighty deliverances and victory over the beast) can truly experience the reality and depth of the meaning of the song. Manqanw can have the idea of “to hear deeply.”178 John in particular seems to use manqanw in the sense of “a deep listening to divine revelation that results in learning”179 (cf. John 6:45).

Next we read that the 144,000 “had been purchased from the earth.” This does not mean “removed” from the earth, but “redeemed,” saved from among the people of the earth and thus sealed accordingly (cf. 5:9 and 7:3). “Purchased” is the Greek agorazw which means “to buy, purchase.” It was used of purchasing slaves in the agora or market place. Believers are those who have been purchased from the slave market of sin by the death of Christ. Note these four things regarding our redemption in Christ:

(1) The Agent of redemption is the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14; Rom. 3:24).

(2) The purchase price is the death of Christ (1 Pet. 1:18-19).

(3) The object of redemption is man’s sin (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14).

(4) The result of redemption is forgiveness and freedom but also bond service to Christ (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14; 1 Cor. 6:19; Gal. 3:13).

The Separation and Salvation of the 144,000 (4-5)

Regarding the 144,000 this verse is perhaps the most difficult because of the reference to defilement with women and the word “chaste” or “virgins.” Does this mean they are men who have never been married, celibates for the kingdom of God (cf. Matt. 19:12; 1 Cor. 7:1-7)? Or does this refer to spiritual faithfulness as opposed to apostasy or cultic prostitution (cf. 2 Cor. 11:2-3; Rev. 2:14, 20-22 with 3:4). There are a number of good arguments for both views, so just how are we to take the verse?

One might assume these are all men because “they were not defiled with women.” On the other hand, one might assume they are all women because they are literally called “virgins,” the Greek parqenoi. Neither assumption, however, is necessarily correct. John is probably using these terms in a spiritual sense to declare their spiritual chastity and devotion to Christ.

Such is not an uncommon occurrence in Scripture. In the Old Testament the people of Israel were viewed as the wife of Yahweh and unfaithfulness to Him was spoken of as spiritual prostitution and spiritual adultery (cf. Isa. 1:21; Jer. 2:20; 3:20; Hosea 9:1; Exodus 34:15; Deut. 31:16). Similarly in the New Testament the church is viewed as the bride of Christ, as an espoused virgin, and unfaithfulness is viewed as spiritual adultery (cf. Eph. 5:22-32; 2 Cor. 11:2; James 4:4; Rev. 2:20-23).

So the word “virgin” in Scripture does not always have to refer to a woman. Further, the word “defiled” is used by John in the Book of Revelation of moral or spiritual defilement or spiritual or cultic prostitution (cf. 3:4 where John also used “defiled” or the Greek word molunw, with 2:14, 20, 22 for a setting of spiritual prostitution).

During the Tribulation there will exist a great apostate church, or religious Babylon, the mother of all harlotries and the great harlot of the Tribulation. This will be followed by the apostate and idolatrous worship of the beast (cf. Rev. 17-18:24; 13:1ff). But these 144,000 escape all spiritual defilement with these religious systems of the Tribulation. They remain pure, i.e., spiritual virgins. One might compare also a similar use of virgins in the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-13. In both passages we have references to men and women. The emphasis is not on sex but on spiritual purity. It is for this reason the NASV translates the word parqenos as “chaste.”

This view fits with the following words, “these are those who follow the Lamb wherever He goes.” The whole group has remained devoted and faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ; they follow and serve Him as obedient servants in contrast to a world that as a whole goes whoring after the beast.

Then we read “these have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb.” This further explains the above and portrays their spiritual chastity and obedient discipleship as effect and cause. First we had the effect, now we see the cause, the redeeming grace of God.

“Purchased” is the verb agorazw as in verse 3. It refers to their redemption by the person of Jesus Christ. The tense is aorist and in the context of the New Testament it looks at an accomplished fact. “From” is the Greek preposition apo and represents in this context not extraction or removal physically, but spiritual separation both positionally and experientially.

“As first fruits” further defines their redemption. There are two concepts in the first fruits metaphor: (a) It first refers to the initial harvest taken in by the farmer with more to come. It indicates more is to come and is a pledge, a down payment that that is so. The 144,000 are the first converts of the Tribulation who will go into the kingdom, but others, as we saw in Revelation 7:9f, will follow. (b) However, the first fruits was that which was offered to God as an expression of being totally separated and set apart to Him as an offering and a sacrifice to God. This is the real emphasis and primary thought here in this context and by the words “to God and to the Lamb”; they were a holy and pure sacrifice.

This does not mean they will be sinless. Jesus Christ is the only human personality that is without sin. But this does emphasize their lives and testimonies will be above reproach. The Tribulation will be a time characterized by deceit, by lies and everything false. But these will be truthful; they will speak and live the truth with veracity so that their lives will be without blame before the unbelieving world. Men will not be able to look at their lives and point a finger at Jesus Christ or at the Christianity they will proclaim.

How important this is for us to recognize today. Too often the testimony of the church is negatively affected by the testimony of believers whose lives are blameable. Compare the following exhortations to the church today (1 Pet. 1:17; 2:11-12; Tit. 2:11-14; Col. 1:22; Eph. 1:4; 5:27).

The Announcement of the First Angel:
The Eternal Gospel
(14:6-7)

Matthew 24:14 says: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come” (cf. Mark 13:10 also). While this gospel in Revelation 14 is not called the “gospel of the kingdom” nor “the gospel of grace” (Acts 20:24) nor the “gospel of Christ (1 Cor. 9:12, 18; Gal. 1:7) some believe it must include these concepts for this message to be called a gospel (“good news”) and it must also help to fulfill Matthew 24:14 along with the preaching ministry of the 144,000. However, Walvoord has a different understanding of this passage. He writes:

The expression “the everlasting gospel,” actually without the article (“everlasting gospel”) is an arresting phrase. It is everlasting in the sense that it is ageless, not for any specific period. Ordinarily, one would expect this to refer to the gospel of salvation. In verse 7, however, the content of the message is quite otherwise, for it is an announcement of the hour of judgment of God and the command to worship Him.

Some expositors use the term “gospel” to include all the revelation God has given in Christ and hence conclude that there is only one gospel with various phases of truth belonging to this gospel. There are others who prefer to distinguish various messages in the Bible as gospel or “good news” even though they contain only one aspect of divine revelation, hence, the expression “gospel of grace,” referring to the goodness of grace, or to the gospel of the kingdom, dealing with the good news of the kingdom of God. The everlasting gospel seems to be neither the gospel of grace nor the gospel of the kingdom, but rather the good news that God at last is about to deal with the world in righteousness and establish His sovereignty over the world. This is an ageless gospel in the sense that God’s righteousness is ageless. Throughout eternity God will continue to manifest Himself in grace toward the saints and in punishment toward the wicked. To refer to the gospel of grace as an everlasting gospel is to ignore the context and usage of the term.180

Concerning Matthew 24:14 and Mark 13:10, remember that this prophecy is not a prophecy of what will be accomplished by the church with the end then coming. The church is commanded to go to the uttermost part of the earth, to all nations, into all the world and to preach the gospel to every creature within those nations (Acts 1:8; Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15), but the actual accomplishment of the proclamation of the good news to every tongue (language and dialect) tribe and nation with the end following (i.e., the visible return of the Lord Jesus Christ) is better seen as accomplished by the 144,000, their converts, and the two witnesses. The angel with the eternal gospel, which includes the announcement of judgment, will be a strong motive for the world to respond to the gospel of grace.

The Messenger of this Gospel

This is another angelic being but not one of the seven angels of the seven trumpets. Here we have an angelic being probably in some recognizable form preaching the gospel from the heavens. This should not surprise us. Reasons:

(1) Angelos is the Greek word for angel and means “messenger.” Angels are messengers and servants of God. Their very name signifies communication.

(2) Throughout the history of redemption God has used various methods to communicate His revelation and the gospel to man (cf. Heb. 1:1-3; 2:1-4).

(3) In the Old Testament angels were often used by God to communicate doctrine and warn men of doom. In Genesis 19:1-15 they warned Lot and rescued him. In Daniel 10:10f an angel revealed the meaning of the vision to Daniel, and the Law on Mount Sinai was ministered by angels (Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19; Heb. 2:2).

(4) During this age God has not used angels to preach the gospel, though in the first century he did use angels to reveal certain things as with Peter in Acts 10. In the Tribulation, however, God will use angelic beings, perhaps because of the wickedness and deceit of these days. In our passage there is an angelic being flying in the midst of heaven and speaking with a loud voice. Believers who know God and believe the Scriptures have no trouble believing such statements of Scripture. But in our day, this doesn’t seem so unbelievable to unbelievers because of what is going on in the realm of the occult. Satan’s angels speak in demonic apparitions and in demon possession. Such things are documented fact.

“Flying in the midst of heaven.” “Flying” is in the present tense and stresses this angel will be constantly on the move. Remember that according to Scripture, there are three heavens: (a) our atmosphere out to about 100 miles, (b) the starry heavens, and (c) the third heaven, the abode of God (2 Cor. 12:2; Deut. 10:14). The heaven referred to here is probably the first atmospheric heaven, but it is possible that it could be the second heaven, the heaven of the stars from whence this angelic messenger will be constantly orbiting the earth as a kind of satellite sending down his message to earth. The earth will probably at first claim he is an “E.T.” but not after his message is heard around the earth.

The Message

“Having an eternal gospel to preach …”

(1) It is a gospel message. It contains good news because of what it announces. This is not exactly the gospel of the New Testament, and though this could be included, it is not mentioned here.

(2) It is an eternal message. The Greek word eternal is aiwnios meaning “age long or ageless.” The point is the message is ageless and pertinent from age to age. It is a message which has been proclaimed since the beginning of creation and will continue on through history because it centers in the call of men to worship the sovereign Creator of the universe. It is a message which creation itself proclaims (Psalm 19; Romans 1:18f; 2 Pet. 3:3-7).

(3) It is universal in scope. It is to every nation, tribe, tongue and people. Though it contains the warning of God’s judgment, it is God’s last call of grace to all the world.

(4) Its content. The gospel as we normally think of it is not stated here though it may be a part of his message. In Scripture, as mentioned previously, we have: (a) the gospel of Christ, i.e., the good news of salvation through the person and work of Jesus Christ from sin’s penalty, power and presence, (b) the gospel of grace which emphasizes salvation is on the basis of grace, and (c) the gospel of the kingdom, the good news God will establish His kingdom on earth through the two advents of the Lord Jesus Christ. But the good news this angel proclaims has four key elements, three commands and two causes or reasons:

Command #1 “Fear God” refers to a holy reverence that recognizes the sovereign authority and power of God to deal with man in His holy wrath. It is to recognize the true God who can destroy the soul rather than just the body as with the beast.

Command #2 — “Give Him glory” refers to the praise and honor that should accrue to God from man due to man’s knowledge and high estimation of God as the sovereign Creator of the universe.

Command #3 — “And worship Him who made …” The word “worship” means to show reverence or respect. This word emphasizes the external display as seen in obedience, prayer, singing, and formal worship, while the word “fear” emphasizes the mental attitude behind the worship. In the Tribulation men will be forced to fear and formally acknowledge the beast and his image. In this message the angel is demanding that men reject the beast and formally turn to God to worship Him (cf. Rev. 14:11).

Reason #1 — “The hour of his judgment has come” is a reference to the final judgments of the Tribulation, the bowl judgments which are about to occur. These will conclude with the return of Christ Himself (Rev. 19) and lead to the removal of all unbelievers. The emphasis then is to not delay because the time is short.

Reason #2 — This is seen in the reference to God as the Creator in verse 7b. This calls attention to the ageless and universal message of the creation itself. Age after age creation has called man to recognize God’s existence and to seek after Him (cf. Acts 17:26-27 with Psalm 19:1-6). This means men are without excuse and that the hour of the Creator’s judgment is about to fall (Rom. 1:18f). Though this is the essential and primary element of the angel’s everlasting gospel, perhaps he will say more than this for from age to age a person’s capacity to reverence, glorify and worship God has come only through believing and knowing Christ (cf. John 14:6 with Acts 4:12; John 4:23-24).

The Announcement of the Second Angel:
The Fall of Babylon
(14:8)

This verse introduces us to another future event and one that will become a further means of endurance for Tribulation believers (vs. 12) and a comfort to believers even today as we observe the growth of religious and commercial Babylonianism in our time (Rev. 17 and 18). Revelation 14:8 also forms another striking antithesis to the apparent prosperity of the beast and the false prophet and their system as seen in chapter 13.

Today we are seeing the rise and formation of international and multinational commerce, not merely commerce between nations but international commercial ties which control the governments and political powers within those nations. This involves a mystery of lawlessness, a spiritual adultery that has existed among the nations since the times of Nimrod to some extent, but which will reach its zenith in the Tribulation. More details will be covered on this subject religiously and politically in chapters 17 and 18 where the fall of Babylonianism will be described in more detail by John.

Now we are introduced to another angelic being. This is a second announcing angel, one that is different from the angel of verse 6 or from the seven trumpet angels. Literally the Greek has “another angel, a second one.”

“Followed” is the Greek akolouqew which means “to follow in the path of or behind another.” Evidently this angel will likewise fly about the earth as a kind of satellite proclaiming the doom of Babylon.

“Saying” is a present tense form (an iterative present) which suggests the repetition of his message all over the earth as a warning to men. Here is the grace of God warning men and comforting believers. It is a warning to unbelievers not to trust in the Babylonian system, religiously, politically, or commercially because it is a doomed system. Can you imagine the comfort and encouragement this will bring to believers who will be living under the persecution of the beast?

“Fallen, fallen (is) Babylon the Great.” “Fallen” is the Greek piptw meaning “to fall, come to ruin.” This fall is highlighted and emphasized strongly in the following ways. (a) The verb is an aorist indicative and it may be what we call the prophetic or dramatic aorist. It dramatically points to a future event with the certainty of an event which has already been fulfilled. The aorist indicative generally is used of a completed historic event. Here it is used prophetically of what is certain in the sovereign plan of God. (b) Then, the word “fallen” is repeated for emphasis. It is first in the sentence, and there is no finite verb. “Is” is in italics. Literally the text reads “Fallen, fallen, Babylon the Great.”

All of this is designed to highlight the certainty and fact of the fall of the religious, political, and commercial systems of the world portrayed in the word “Babylon.” As I will suggest later, during the Tribulation this system will be centered in a rebuilt city of Babylon, the new center and symbol of Babylonianism. So as is stressed above, it becomes a warning against putting one’s trust in this system as it exists in the world of today or of tomorrow. It is under the judgment of God and is surely doomed along with this world that is passing away.

Finally, in addition to being a means of emphasis, note that the repetition of the word “fallen” may refer to the fall of Babylon in its twofold existence—its fall religiously (Rev. 17) and its fall politically and commercially (Rev. 18).

“Babylon” is from a Greek word derived from the Hebrew Bab el, the Hebrew form of the Assyrian word Bab-ili, the gate of God. This is a name given to the ancient city of Babylon started by Nimrod of Genesis 10 and 11 (cf. Gen. 10:8-10; 11:1-9). The original name given in Scripture was Babel. In Hebrew it means confusion and declares God’s judgment on this first international tyrant and his religious and political system. More on this in chapter 17.

The fact it is called “the Great” identifies Babylon as that city and political and religious system so well known throughout history, i.e., the system originating in the ancient city of Babylon.

“She who” is a relative pronoun agreeing in the Greek with Babylon the Great. This gives further identification as well as the reason for the fall of Babylon. Literally, “who from (out of) the wine of the passion (anger, wrath) of her fornication (immorality) has given all the nations to drink.”

The verb for drink is potizw, a causative verb that means, “to give to drink.” Verbs ending in zw are somewhat causative, but it doesn’t mean “to force to drink.” The nations of their own accord followed her and took from the cup she offered.

There are three key nouns here: “wine,” “passion,” and “fornication” or “immorality.” Wine is described by the nouns passion and fornication. So the wine consists of two things: passion and fornication.

“Wine” refers to that which intoxicates and disorients. Here that which intoxicates is the secret mysteries and false and idolatrous doctrines that Satan has used to turn nations further away from God. It includes, as we shall see later, international or multinational commercialism. This is a wine that intoxicates a world seeking its security and happiness in riches and pleasure rather than in God (Rev. 18:2, 3, 9-13; 16-19).

William R. Newell gives an interesting quote concerning international commerce in his commentary on Revelation 18 as he deals with the fall of Babylon. The book was copyrighted in 1935 and he actually quoted Seiss from his book on The Apocalypse which was written in 1865, over 130 years ago. Here is what Seiss wrote:

In what, indeed, does the mightiest and farthest reaching power on earth now already center? A power which looms up in all lands, far above all individual or combined powers of church, or state, or caste, or creed? What is it that today monopolizes nearly all legislation, dictates international treaties, governs the conferences of kings for the regulation of the balance of power, builds railways, cuts ship canals, sends forth steamer lines to the ends of the earth, unwinds electric wires across continents, under the seas, and around the world, employs thousands of engineers, subsidizes the press, tells the state of the markets of the world yesterday that everyone may know how to move today, and has her living organizations in every land and city, interlinked with each other, and coming daily into closer and closer combination, so that no great government under the sun can any longer move or act against her will, or without her concurrence and consent?

Think for a moment, for there is such a power; a power that is everywhere clamoring for a common code, a common currency, common weights and measures; and which is not likely to be silenced or to stop till it has secured a common center on its own independent basis, whence to dictate to all countries and to exercise its own peculiar rule on all the kings and nations of the earth. That power is COMMERCE; the power of the ephah and the talent — the power borne by the winged women of Zechariah 5; the one with her hand on the sea and the other with her hand on the land — the power which even in its present dismemberment is mightier than any pope, any throne, any government, or any other one human power on the face of the globe.

Let it go on as it has been going, and will go, in spite of everything that earth can interpose to hinder, dissolving every tie of nationality, every bond of family or kindred, every principle or right and religion which it cannot bend and render subservient to its own ends and interests; and the time must come when it will settle itself down somewhere on its own independent base, and where Judaism and heathenism, Romanism and Protestantism, Mohammedanism and Buddhism, and every distinction of nationality — English, German, French, Italian, Greek, Turk, Hindu, Arab, Chinese, Japanese, or what not — shall be sunk in one great universal fellowship and kingdom of commerce!181

If this was true and obvious in Newell’s day and even before, how much more can we not see the intoxicating powers of commerce and materialism in our world today with our satellites and the internet.

The word, “passion” is qumos, “passion, anger, wrath.” Passion here and in 18:3 is a possible meaning, but in all the other passages in Revelation where John uses qumos, the meaning is clearly “wrath” or “anger” (cf. Rev. 12:12; 14:10, 19; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19; 19:15). In 14:10 and 19 it is used of the wine of the wrath of God. This may suggest that the meaning here is not “passion,” but “anger” or “wrath” also. If so, what does this mean?

(1) It may refer to “wrath” in the sense of Romans 1:18f and God’s judgment that occurs when men love the creature more than the Creator and turn away from the knowledge of God. God gives them over to their own vain imaginations and satanic delusions as in idolatry or Babylonianism or humanism. Remember there is an emphasis in Revelation on the worship of God as the Creator (cf. Rev. 14:7). Note in this regard two Old Testament passages, Jeremiah 5:7-10 and 50:38. The madness or spiritual insanity of which Jeremiah speaks (50:38) is the Babylonian idolatry of which all nations drink and which God uses as an instrument of wrath, “a golden cup” full of wine in the hand of God intoxicating the nations of the world because they have turned away from God.

(2) It also refers to the ultimate destruction of Babylonianism and all nations who have drunk of the wine of the spiritual fornication of this harlot system. This wine then is a judgment from God and leads to the judgment of the Tribulation (Rev. 14:10; Jer. 25:12-29). So the next judgments of the Tribulation are the bowl judgments poured out in quick succession with the seventh bowl leading to the fall of Babylon (Rev. 16:17-19).

“Of her immorality” (the Greek porneia, “any kind of illicit sexual activity”) is used figuratively of spiritual prostitution and apostasy from God. It particularly refers to the various idolatries and human ideologies of man as found in the religious and politico-commercial system of the beast.

Further Explanation with Illustrations

The name Babylon is designed to take us back to the original city of Nimrod and Babel because this became the seat of Satan’s ancient counterfeit strategy to destroy and corrupt the knowledge of God as well as God’s plan of salvation as anticipated in Genesis 3:15. This was accomplished by Nimrod’s political, commercial, and international system as demonstrated in the tower of Babel and by the mother-child cult instituted by Nimrod’s wife, Semiramis. History shows us this system has never ceased to exist in one form or another and will exist in a revived form in the Tribulation as never before (Rev. 17 and 18).182 The two Babylons refer to ancient Babylon of the Old Testament and the Babylon of the future spoken of in the New Testament.

God consciousness, the fact that man can know that God is there, is a message that has been proclaimed by nature since the creation of the world and all nations at one time have believed in the fact of a supreme being, the Creator and Sustainer of all things. In fact, there is historical evidence the ancient nations believed in the doctrine of the trinity, though in a distorted form.183 For illustrations of this, see figures I and II in the material below. These concepts of the knowledge of God became totally and completely perverted and idolatrous and lost due to man’s love for the creature more than the Creator, but the vestiges of this truth were still present. Due to God’s wrath which turns man over to his own vain imaginations, man became a sitting duck for the wine of Babylon and her deceiving mysteries (Rev. 17:2, 4-5).

One of the distinguishing features of the ancient system of the Chaldean “mysteries” and that which was a part of their initiation rites into the system was the drinking of what was called a mysterious drink. The drink was made of wine, honey, water, and flowers which were all symbolical of the doctrines of the cult. The drink made the participant intoxicated, mentally dimmed, excited, and duly prepared for what they would see and hear in the licentious Babylonian rites. For an illustration see figure III.184

Obviously, through these mystery rites and symbols, the real concepts and truths of God were perverted and forgotten. The primary one worshipped was the woman and her child and the first person of the triad was ignored or forgotten.

According to the sacred books of India, the Brahm or the Brahma is the first person of the Hindu triad. The religion of the Hindustan is even called by this name, yet he is rarely worshipped, and there is scarcely a single temple in all India now in existence of those that were formerly erected in his honor.185 So also with papal Rome today and in ancient Babylon, we find that the grand objects of worship are the goddess mother and her son who are represented world-wide in pictures and images as an infant or child in his mother’s arms. It is significant that some of these pictures date back to long before the birth of Jesus Christ. See figures IV and V.

The system of Babylon, as Revelation 14:8 indicates with the words “all nations,” is world wide. This is easily demonstrated historically. From ancient Babylon and the kingdom of Nimrod, this cult spread all over the world. In Egypt its worship centered in the names of Isis and Osiris; in India in the names Isi and Iswara; in Asia in the names Cybele and Deoios; as Diana in Ephesus, and as Fortuna and Jupiter in Pagan Rome. In Greece it appeared under the names of Ceres, the Great Mother with the babe at her breast, or as Irene, the Goddess of Peace, with the boy Plutus in her arms. Even in Tibet, China, and Japan Jesuit missionaries have reported finding the signs of ancient mystery Babylon, the counterpart of the Madonna and her child as devoutly worshipped as in Papal Rome itself. She was called Shing Moo, an idol portraying a woman with a child in her arms and a glory (halo) around her head as in Rome today.186 Further, there is strong evidence this did not come to the orient from Rome or the Roman Catholic Church, but some of it was there long before, from very ancient times.

The names have changed, but certain elements are always there as the mother with the child in her arms, or the lady in heaven. Thus, Babylon has become the biblical name and symbol for this world-wide religious system which has touched all the nations of the world to some degree or another. She is indeed the “Mother of Harlots” (Rev. 17:5).

Figure I is an Assyrian figure. The center head of the old man represents the concept of the Father. The zero or circle signified “the seed” and referred to the son, the promise of a Savior. The wings and tail of the bird signified the person of the Holy Spirit.

Figure II is from a Siberian coin which portrays a three-headed god representing the concept of a triad, though in perverted form.

Figure III is a figure of a woman with the cup from Babylon offering the cup of fornication to the participants. It was from Babylon and exhibited in Greece. But it is interesting that Rome adopted this symbol on one of their medals in 1825. Pope Leo XII was on one side and the church of Rome, symbolized as “the woman with the cup” was put on the opposite side. Around the edge of the medal was the legend “the whole world is her seat.” A truly international idea.

Note figures IV and V for similar figures taken from ancient Babylon and India respectively.

The Announcement of the Third Angel:
Judgment on the beast Worshippers
(14:9-11)

This passage is a very sobering one; one which many would like to denounce or reason away. The judgments described here are terrible and awesome and often repugnant to human sensitivity, but these judgments are described elsewhere in Scripture and were specifically taught by Jesus Christ Himself. Whether man (the creature) is repelled by the judgments described here is really not the issue. The issue is that the eternal God and Creator has revealed them to be fact. The problem with man and the reason these judgments seem repugnant or wholly distasteful is man’s inability to comprehend the awesome holiness of God’s character (Isa. 6:1-7).

The specific reference in this announcement to the judgment of the beast worshippers ties this section to chapter 13 and the apparent success of the beast. The beast’s system, Babylonianism (vs. 8), is doomed and so are his worshippers (vs. 9-11).

These verses also bring out some striking comparisons and contrasts with the preceding and following verses.

(1) As the beast worshippers drink of the wine of the wrath of Babylon’s immorality, so they will drink of the wine of the wrath of God.

(2) The beast worshippers will be unable to rest day or night from their eternal doom and judgment, but the saints of God will rest from their labors forever.

(3) While the beast worshippers have rest from the tortures of the beast and the saints are tormented on earth, there is a reversal of roles after death or the Tribulation.

(4) Then there is a contrast of loyalties which form the basis for the temporary rest on earth versus the eternal rest in heaven (cf. vs. 9b with vs. 12).

As one studies and contemplates this passage of Scripture he should also keep in mind Jude 21-23 which says:

Keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.

The Messenger (9a)

“Another angel, a third one.” Following the pronouncement of the fall of Babylon by the second angel, John next sees a third angel flying in heaven pronouncing judgment on the followers of the beast.

“With a loud voice.” As with the everlasting gospel, this message is likewise proclaimed with a loud voice to arrest the attention of the world. With the gospel we have the good news, but here we have the bad news, and with both we have the words, “with a loud voice.” This is designed to emphasize that all will hear these announcements. There will be no excuse. Here is another manifestation of God’s grace seeking to get men to respond to the good news by confronting them with the bad news while there is still time. God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (1 Tim. 2:4 and 2 Pet. 3:9b).

The Message (9-11)

    The People Doomed (9b)

“If anyone worships.” The “if” is a first class condition and sets forth a reality, a fact taking place, or which will take place. Both the words “worship” and “receive” are in the present tense. They look at action or events (to us yet future) which will be occurring in present time, i.e., going on in the Tribulation. Here is a warning as well as a pronouncement of doom on all who will be falling in line with and accepting the beast and his system. It looks at men in the process of joining up with the beast. God in His grace will be warning them; do not do it, it means your doom! For those who will have already done so it becomes descriptive of the results of their choice and actions.

“Anyone” is the Greek tis, an indefinite pronoun that refers to male or female, bond or free, Jew or Gentile, religious or immoral, rich or poor, young or old. No one is excluded. As anyone who believes in and receives the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior may be saved (John 1:12, 3:16), so anyone who rejects Christ and receives the beast, the false messiah, will be lost (an evidence of unbelief and rejection of Jesus Christ) and shall suffer eternal doom.

    The Punishment Described (10-11)

“He also shall drink.” Literally the Greek text is somewhat emphatic. It reads, “and he himself shall drink.” The Greek text adds the intensive pronoun autos, “he” or “himself.” It is added to stress the point that you cannot worship the beast and drink the cup of the wine of Babylonianism without also drinking of the cup of the wine of God’s wrath. For certain, the beast worshippers (the Christ rejecters) will drink of the judgment of God in the future at the great white throne judgment according to the context as the reference to being “tormented with fire and brimstone” suggests. Man today scoffs at the coming of the Lord and acts as though there is no coming judgment. Just get all the gusto you can for you only go around once and that’s it. This verse stresses eternal judgment is coming (cf. 2 Pet. 3:3f).

“Of the wine.” This is in contrast to the wine of fornication (vs. 8).

“Of the wrath.” “Wrath” is qumos and refers to a more volatile anger, one which bursts out from God’s inexorable holiness. When used of God it refers to the expression of God’s divine justice in white hot anger. By contrast the Greek orgh, a synonym, refers to the settled attitude of anger or the wrath of God.

The rest of the verse reveals several things about God’s wrath:

(1) Its Degree is seen in the words, “mixed in full strength.”

“Mixed” is the Greek word kerannumi which was used of the preparation of wine by the addition of special spices or water. In ancient times wine was mixed with water, diluted to reduce its effect, or mixed with other ingredients to heighten its effect as in the Babylonian mystery religions. So kerannumi came to mean “properly prepared.”187 The verb is in the perfect tense which, in this context, refers to the results, the portion prepared to accomplish God’s purposes of judgment. This wrath has been prepared and stands ready (Matt. 25:41).

“In full strength” is the Greek akratos which means “unmixed, undiluted.” The emphasis of this whole clause is that God’s wrath at this point in time will in no way be diluted with His grace and mercy. At this point all of God’s mercy and grace will be withdrawn. Now the longsuffering of God in His mercy and grace holds back the divine justice and holiness of God, but a time is coming when the man who is without Jesus Christ as his Savior will face the unalterable and absolute wrath of God’s holiness.

(2) The Agent or Means of judgment is seen in the words, “And he will be tormented with fire and brimstone …” (vs. 10b)

“Fire and brimstone” refer to the ingredients or content of the lake of fire already prepared for Satan and his angels (Matt. 25.41). These are one and the same. The lake is the place and the fire and brimstone the ingredients (Rev. 20:10; Matt. 25:41,45; Rom. 2:3-9; 2 Thess. 1:6-9).

The modern view of man is that the whole idea of hell or the lake of fire is not only distasteful, but sub-Christian and contrary to the nature of a God of love. It is further argued that Christ only referred to such an idea as an accommodation to the beliefs of the day, but that He really did not believe in them. Such views are totally inconsistent with the whole tenor of Scripture. The authors of Scripture believed in eternal judgment and one which included the eternal fires of hell.

The accommodation idea is totally inconsistent also with the whole ministry and preaching of Christ. He never hesitated to correct erroneous theology or practice in other issues, but taught the Scripture and reinterpreted the Law in opposition to the religious leaders. Why then should he not do so here? The truth is He clearly believed in and taught the fact of an eternal judgment of fire (Matt. 25:41,46).

(3) The Nature or Character of this judgment is “torment.”

“And he will be tormented …” “He will be” is a first person singular verb. This individualizes the doom and emphasizes the individual and personal experience every unbeliever must face. No one can face hell for the unbeliever since he has rejected Christ. “Tormented” is the Greek basanizw and meant “to examine by torture as with a torture rack.” Then it came to refer to any kind of extreme torture or torment whether physical, mental, or emotional. Due to the fact there will be a second resurrection (a bodily resurrection) of the unjust this torment will be all three—physical, mental, and emotional. Remember, the resurrection of the unjust refers to unbelievers who are unjustified and without the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

(4) The Witnesses, the Judge, and the Executors of this judgment are described in the words, “in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb” (vs. 10c).

The word “presence” used in the phrase, “in the presence of,” is the Greek enwpion which may have two meanings both of which are applicable here. First, it may mean “in the sight of” in the sense of a witness or as a judge (Rom. 14:23; 1 Cor. 1:24; 1 Tim. 2:3). The angels will personally witness the judgment of the unbelievers at the great white throne judgment. Second, it may mean “perform by the authority of” (Rev. 13:12, 14; 19:20). It appears the angels will be agents God uses to boot the Christ-rejecting world into the lake of fire. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Judge and the angels the executors of His judgment.

The concept is this: (a) The beast worshippers and all unbelievers will be resurrected and brought before the great white throne on which the Lamb sits. They are before Him as Judge (Rev. 20:11-l5). (b) The good angels will also be gathered as witnesses of this judgment which will demonstrate the holiness and love of God since God has provided a solution to man’s sin even though these have rejected it (1 Pet. 1:12). Angels are intimately interested in our salvation because it demonstrates God’s perfect character and love and His just decision in sending Satan to the lake of fire.

The basis of the judgment and thus the basis of the sentence to the torture of fire and brimstone is reception of Christ or rejection of Christ. That which shows rejection of Jesus Christ is the worship of the beast. This shows rejection (ultimate and final) so that person’s name is blotted out of the Lamb’s book of life even before death (Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:11-15). When one worships the beast by receiving his mark, it indicates that he has reached a place which precludes repentance. The execution of this sentence to be tormented by the fire and brimstone of the lake of fire may very well be carried out by the angels. They will cast the unbelievers into the lake of fire (20:15). “Was cast” is an aorist passive of ballw.

(5) The Duration of the Torment (vs. 11a) is forever, unceasing, and without rest.

“The smoke” evidently stands for their cries and pain which consume their purpose and meaning for existence. “Goes up” is a progressive present and means the smoke “keeps on ascending.” The torment never lets up. “For ever and ever” is literally “unto ages of ages.” This is without the article and stresses the qualitative idea of infinite duration. This is the strongest Greek expression for eternity. The word order is literally “unto ages of ages ascends up.” This passage shows the error of the view or belief that God will annihilate the unsaved.

“And they have no rest day or night.” “No rest” is anapausis which signifies rest that comes from a temporary cessation from something. They won’t know even a moment’s rest from this torment. Remember it is “undiluted.” “Day or night” further emphasizes the concept of no rest.

Verse 11b again identifies the people involved, those who have received the mark of the beast and worship him (i.e., the Christ rejecters).

This may sound to some like an old-time message of hell, fire and brimstone which may surprise some who think that modern man has been able to escape these old fashioned ideas. But modern man has only escaped these ideas by the blindness of his own mind and ignorance of the truth of God. This is what the Bible emphatically teaches and the Bible has the seal and approval of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whom God raised from the dead as proof not only of the truth of Scripture, but of the fact that every unbeliever must face Jesus Christ at the great white throne judgment (Acts 17:30-31).

The Announcement
Concerning the Blessing of the Saints
(14:12-13)

In contrast to the preceding judgment, and the following judgment of the harvest of the earth, here is word of comfort to Tribulation saints.

The Perseverance (12a)

“Here is the perseverance of the saints.” “Here” is the Greek word %ode, an adverb that means, “in this circumstance” or “in this event.” The awesome warnings of doom in the preceding two announcements (verses 8-10) was by contrast to be a means of encouragement and hope to the saints of the Tribulation who would be undergoing persecution by the beast.

“Perseverance” is the Greek %upomonh which refers to the capacity to endure regardless of the intensity or the duration. Literally it means “to remain under.” The ability to remain under the horrible conditions of persecution will be aided by the knowledge of the doom of the beast as reemphasized and promised by the announcing angels.

By way of application it reminds us that being consistent in personal Bible study and gathering with others where one can hear the Word proclaimed and taught is a strong aid to personal endurance and stability in the trials of life.

The People (12b)

“Saints who keep the commandments of God, and their faith in Jesus.”

First, they are described as “saints.” This is the Greek word %agios and literally means, “set apart ones.” This is a term for believers of either the Old or New Testament. Here it is used of Tribulation believers. Saints are those who, as believers in the Lord, are set apart for God’s blessing and care. They should also be those who are set apart to Him for Christ-like living in the power of the Spirit. It does not in itself mean they are saintly or refer to some special holy person. All believers are saints, as were the Corinthian believers who were anything but saintly. Paul called them carnal (cf. 1 Cor. 1:2 with 3:1-5).

Second, they are described as those “who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” Keeping the commandments or obedience to the Word is the result of faith in Jesus Christ, but in this context it is the product of the encouragement taken from the truth of the preceding announcements. Perhaps the particular obedience in mind is refusal to worship the beast, receive his mark, or become a part of the idolatry of the beast.

Because of the clause, “the perseverance of the saints,” some take this passage as teaching the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Some confuse the Reformed doctrine called the perseverance of the saints with the doctrine of eternal security, but they are not exactly the same. Eternal security says that once a person is saved he cannot lose his salvation because he is kept by the power of God through the finished and sufficient work of the Savior. The Reformed doctrine of perseverance says much more than this. It says that all who are truly saved will persevere in a life of godliness and holiness; that there may be temporary times of sin and carnality, but no true believer will persist in such a state for very long and will eventually come back to the Lord.

Wilkin has an excellent discussion on this issue as it relates to this passage:

We might paraphrase v 12 in this way: This [knowing the fate of those who take the mark] is a motivation for believers to endure the persecutions and to persist in obeying God’s commands and in keeping the faith.

Nowhere does v 12 say that all Tribulation saints will persevere in obeying God’s commands and in keeping the faith. Rather, it says that one of the reasons those who persevere will do so is because they know that the unsaved have a devastating destiny.

It goes without saying that as Tribulation saints reflect on the fearful future of the lost, they will be moved to contemplate their own futures as well. They will be reminded that if they endure they will reign with Christ (2 Tim 2:12; Rev 2:26; 3:21) and will have other eternal rewards as well (Matt 5:11-12; 6:19-21; Rev 22:12).

E. D. Hirsch, an expert on biblical interpretation, reminds us that a given set of words can have several different meanings depending on what he calls the illocutionary force of the statement in context (Aims in Interpretation, pp. 26, 52-53, 67). The illocutionary force of Rev 14:9-12 is clearly hortatory. Of the approximately thirty commentaries I consulted on this passage, nearly all attest that the aim of these verses is to motivate Tribulation believers to persevere. The view which suggests instead that these verses are promising that all believers will persevere wholly misses the point.

Matt 24:12 confirms the fact that some, actually many, Tribulation saints will fail to endure. The love of many believers will grow cold during that terrible time.

Third, one is left with only one viable alternative. Implicit in these verses is a guarantee that God will not allow any Tribulation saint to take the mark. As He does now, so then He will give special grace in times of testing. He will not allow any believer to be tempted beyond his ability to withstand the test (1 Cor 10:13).

Of course, it is indeed conceivable that a believer might fail to utilize the special grace which God will give him. In such cases we can be sure that God will remove him from the tempting situation—quite possibly by taking him home.

I believe that the rapture will precede the Tribulation, and so I don’t expect any of us to be around facing the trials spoken of. Even so, Rev 14:9-12 challenges us to persevere in the faith (there are still plenty of trials and difficulties for us in this age) that we might realize the fantastic future of the overcomer.188

The Pronouncement From Heaven (13)

A fourth voice now comes from heaven (either Christ’s or an angel’s) pronouncing a beatitude and evoking a response from the Spirit of God. Another possibility here is that the voice is that of the Spirit Himself. The last half of the verse would then identify who speaks from heaven. (For the four previous records of a voice from heaven compare 10:4, 8; 11:12 and 14:2).

The principle is that here is a direct communication from God from heaven rather than through angelic messengers. Why? Because of the importance of the message, but more so because God is interested in personally bringing comfort to His own.

This shows God’s personal care and interest in His own. By way of application it shows how God is personally interested in revealing Himself and speaking to our hearts according to our need (exhortation, rebuke, comfort, instruction, etc.). The issue is do we have ears to hear. If only we would diligently seek Him and His counsel in His Word by which He speaks to us today, as a voice from heaven (Jer. 29:13; Psalm 119:2, 10-18, 49-50; James 1:19-21).

What John is told to write is a beatitude, a pronouncement of blessing or divine happiness upon those individuals who comply with certain truths or principles of Scripture, but always on the basis of grace. In Scripture a beatitude is always seen as a reversal of man’s viewpoint by setting forth God’s viewpoint, values, priorities and ideas. To the earthling, obeying the beast and worshipping him is more blessed than death; even slavery is better than death. To many unbelievers death is feared, viewed as an unknown, or the end. But to believers, God’s viewpoint and the promises of His Word teach the direct opposite. To accept the beast is to forfeit trusting in Jesus Christ and so to forfeit eternal life. But death is never the end, it is only the beginning. This life is a place of preparation because our choices and works follow us into eternity.

The phrase “the dead who die in the Lord” refers to martyred believers (those who put their trust in Christ and share in His eternal life), those martyred for their stand in Christ. But they are blessed. The beast can kill their physical bodies, but their souls and spirits go immediately to be with the Lord. They will be given resurrected, immortal bodies, and will live in the eternal kingdom of God (Luke 12:4-5).

The words “from now on” are interpreted variously: (a) from the time of John’s writing onward, and so it would be a reference to all saints who die; (b) from the time of this period of intensified persecution by the beast to the end of the Tribulation. The context fits the latter view. This is spoken for the comfort and encouragement of those who will be facing martyrdom in the Tribulation. However, while it is written to them by interpretation, it is nevertheless true for all believers from the time of Christ. Many were martyred in the days of the early church for their faith in Jesus Christ. It even applies to Old Testament saints.

The key point is simply that it is better to be dead at the hands of the beast than to follow him and reject Christ. Why? Because of what awaits the believer in heaven and the eternal future.

The reasons are now given by a direct statement from the Spirit of God. Here and in Revelation 22:17 are the only places where the Spirit of God speaks directly Himself (cf. Acts 13:2; 16:7; Heb. 3:7; 10:15; Rom. 8:16; 1 John 2:27; 1 Tim. 4:1).

The words the Spirit speaks:

“Yes” is a particle of verification or affirmation. Here it affirms the assertion regarding the blessedness of martyrdom. This is followed by some specific reasons.

The clause, “that they may rest from their labors” points us to God’s purpose in death, i.e., the cessation of the saint’s labor, toil, and weariness, but also the blessed experience and rest of God’s presence and the paradise of heaven. But that is not all; God promises to reward believers for their labors. Their works will not be forgotten (1 Cor. 15:58).

“They may rest” is the Greek anapauw. It means to “have relief, cease from labor.” But in the original text the verb is in the middle voice which may stress the subject as somehow participating in the results of the action. It thus means “to enjoy rest” or “really experience the blessings of the rest.”

By way of application, how many times do people cease from labor but are unable to actually rest, enjoy it and relax? In God’s presence and out of this old world, rest will truly be rest. Part of the reason for this is in what follows in the final clause.

“Labors” is the Greek kopos. It refers to hard work, toil producing a weariness which exhausts. Here it particularly refers to labors endured in persecution from the beast (cf. James 1:12 where God offers a special crown or reward for enduring trials).

“For their deeds follow them.” This is both an explanation and a promise. It is an explanation in that it points out one of the reasons these martyrs will be able to truly enjoy their rest. Their labors will not be in vain. Rewards will follow which will more than compensate for their losses on earth. Heaven’s joys and those of the eternal state will blot out the memory of earth’s painful labors and trials (Rev. 21:4; Isa. 65:17-18).

“Deeds” is the plural of the Greek ergon, “work, deed, action,” or “employment, task.” The plural points to all the specific service or works of the believer that are done as unto the Lord and in the power of the Holy Spirit. These the Lord will reward. God will remember and reward them all.

The verb “follow them” is a present tense of continuous action and means “to accompany.” The emphasis is that the works of the believer, if accomplished through the filling of the Holy Spirit, will accompany the believer into heaven and into the eternal state. They will bring special joy because of the glory they bring to God, and the privileges they bring to the believer such as service, and responsibility (Matt. 25:19-23).

The Announcement
of the Harvesting of the Earth
(14:14-20)

After the brief pause to comfort the saints, John returns to the subject of God’s divine wrath poured out upon the earth. This is done by way of the picture of a harvest by which God reaps the earth (14:14-20) and by way of the seven last plagues, the seven bowl judgments which are poured out on the earth (chapters 15 and 16). The vision of chapter 14 symbolically portrays the final acts of God’s judgments in the last days of the Tribulation consisting of the seven last plagues which conclude with the final phase of Armageddon when all the nations are gathered together in the Valley of Megiddo (cf. Joel 13:9-17; Rev. 16:12-16; 19:17-21).

In these verses we have the final declaration of the defeat of the beast and his system which had appeared to be so successful in chapter 13. Such was not really the case. God was only allowing the iniquity of man to ripen to its zenith to show the full extent of where man’s humanism and religionism will go without God and His salvation for man in Jesus Christ. These verses will emphasize this truth.

One may note four key elements in these verses: (a) The Reapers—The Son of Man (the Lord Jesus Christ) with His holy angels (vss. 14-15, 17-19). This stresses the source. It is an act of God carried out by His angelic agents. (b) The Reaping or harvesting of the earth in two figures—a harvesting of the earth as dry grain, and a harvesting of earth as clusters of the vine (vss. 15-16, 18-20). (c) The Reason for the Reaping—because the earth is ripe, withered, or dry (vs. 15) and because her grapes are ripe, full, bursting with juice (vs. 18). And (d) The Results of the Reaping, a world-wide harvest on earth with a bloody carnage occurring particularly in Palestine where the armies of the nations are gathered together to do battle with Christ (cf. vss. 19-20 with Rev. 16:12-16, 19:17-21; Isa. 63:1-4).

The Harvesting of the Earth (14-16)

    The First Reaper (14) “One Like the Son of Man”

“And I looked and behold, a white cloud.” The first thing called to our attention is the white cloud. “White” is a symbol of righteousness or holiness and the “cloud” symbolizes the presence, majesty and glory of God.

“And One sitting on the cloud was one like the Son of Man.” The sitter sits on the cloud like a throne, and he appears as a Son of Man. This is clearly a title of the Lord Jesus Christ and emphasizes the humanity of Christ as the One who came to die for man, but who, as the God-Man and King would one day come to judge men as Man. The issue is when men reject Christ and His Word, they will face Him as Judge. Compare the words of Christ in John 5:22, 27 with 12:46-48 and Acts 17:31. The harvest of the earth proceeds from the holiness of God who in His perfect righteousness must judge a Christ rejecting world. The world will be reaped according to its own sowing.

“Having a golden crown on His head.” The word “having” is the present tense of a continuous condition and emphasizes the permanence of the crown because of that which Christ accomplished by His first advent. “Gold” in Scripture is a symbol of deity, of value, of what is imperishable, and of righteousness. “Crown” is the Greek stefanos which refers to the victor’s crown rather than diadem, the crown of royalty. Christ is coming to conquer, having the right and power to do so as the victorious Savior.

“And a sharp sickle in His hand.” The word “having” also goes with these words. It emphasizes that no one can stop this judgment until the work is done. That the sickle is sharp teaches us this harvesting will be complete, thorough, and effective. Newell has some interesting comments here. He says:

Not the glory of His person, or the process of His coming, but the fact that He is ready with a reaping instrument, is here emphasized. Rights over the harvest, (whatever the harvest is to be) are manifest. “Thou shalt not move a sickle unto thy neighbor’s standing grain,” said the law. Therefore, He is to reap a field over which He has authority. Now, it is striking to discover that the “sickle” is mentioned just twelve times in the Bible, and seven of these are in our verses here! Also that the Greek word translated “sharp” (oxus) occurs seven times in The Revelation: four times describing the sickle here, and three times, that two-edged sword which proceeds from the Lord’s mouth for searching judgment.189

    The Second Reaper (15) “Another angel”

This does not suggest that the person of verse 15 is an angel. “Another” simply relates this agent to the other angels mentioned earlier in the chapter. Angels are messengers whom God uses to carry out His purposes, even with the Son of Man.

“Came out of the temple” calls our attention to the fact this angel comes from the heavenly temple, from the very presence of the Father (cf. vs. 17).

“Crying out with a loud voice …” Here an angelic being gives orders to the Son of Man, but Christ Himself said that the Father had set within His own limits “the times and epochs” (Matt. 24:36; Acts 1:7). This is therefore, the Father giving directions to the Son of Man to execute the final judgments through this angelic messenger. Please note the words, “because the hour to reap has come” (cf. Heb. 10:12-13; Psalm 2:7-9).

Reaping is symbolic of death and destruction which will be wrought upon the earth. Does this reaping include both saints and sinners? From the parable of Matthew 13 we learn that “the harvest is the end of the age and the reapers are the angels” and that “the Son of Man will send forth His angels and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness and will cast them into the furnace of fire” (Matt. 13:39-41a). But in the parable as Christ told it before giving the meaning, he said of the tares (the enemy or unbelievers) and of the wheat (the people of God, believers), “allow both to grow together until the harvest; and I will say to the reapers, ‘first gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up, but gather the wheat into My barns’” (13:30).

Note that while the angels gather the tares for judgment, the righteous are left on earth where the kingdom will be established. It seems evident from this and the context of Revelation 14 that the sickle of Revelation 14 is for the judgment of unbelievers only. Believers are not here in view.

“Because the harvest of the earth is ripe.” The phrase “is ripe” is the Greek verb xhrainw which means “to dry” or “be dry, be parched, withered” (cf. Mark 11:20 where this verb is used, also James 1:11). It refers to a dry or withered harvest. Ryrie says, “The inhabitants of the earth are withered, lifeless and fully ready for judgment.”190 Mankind was to be a productive vine for God’s glory but the nations turned from God. Then God chose and called out the nation Israel who was to be a choice vine, but she too turned away (Isa. 5). So God brought forth the True Vine, the Lord Jesus Christ who alone brings fruit and glory to God and only those who believe in Him and abide in Him can be productive. Everyone else must wither and be gathered for judgment (cf. John 15).

    The Reaping (16) “… and the earth was reaped”

The final judgments of the Tribulation which culminate in Christ’s return are referred to in one quick and sweeping statement. Here we have the ultimate source of reaping, the Lord, the act, and the result. The verb “was reaped” is a culminative aorist looking at the final victory of Jesus Christ. This promises and states the fact of victory before the details are given later in Revelation. The details will come in the following chapters.

The Vine of the Earth and the
Wine Press of God’s Wrath (17-20)

In the pictures portrayed in these verses we have an anticipation of the coming of Jesus Christ at the final battle of Armageddon in the Valley of Megiddo. The metaphor changes slightly from the harvest of the dried grain or tares to that of the gathering of grapes and the winepress of God’s anger.

The church of Jesus Christ is gone. Christ (the true Vine) has been rejected by the nations and Israel. With the exception of the remnant of believers from every tribe, tongue, and nation, all the earth has given themselves over to Satan and the kingdom of the beast. Thus, the earth has become like a great vine full of clusters of grapes ripe for harvest and the winepress or judgment. Perhaps Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 32:32-35 will help us see the picture of how God views the nations.

For their vine is from the vine of Sodom, and from the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of poison, their clusters, bitter. Their wine is the venom of serpents, and the deadly poison of cobras. Is it not laid up in store with Me, sealed up in My treasuries? Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, in due time their foot will slip; for the day of their calamity is near, and the impending things are hastening upon them.

In the scene of 14:17-18 we have two angels. The first (vs. 17) comes from the heavenly temple, from the presence of God to execute the harvest. He too had a sharp sickle. Then another angel comes on the scene. This angel is first described as “the one who had power (or authority) over fire.” Fire is the element which consumes and may stand for (a) God’s presence (Ex. 3:2); (b) God’s glory (Ex. 24:17); and (c) God’s judgment (Gen. 19:24; Rev. 20:15). This angel proceeds from God’s presence and acts on behalf of God’s glory to authorize judgment on earth. The connection with fire may also have something to do with the altar. This altar is the altar of incense full of coals from the burnt offering of sacrifice. As we saw earlier in Revelation 6:9-11 and 8:3-6 this represented the prayers of the saints asking God to act, to judge the enemies of God in righteousness. Here God is acting to vindicate His saints persecuted and martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ.

This angel thus speaks to the angel with the sharp sickle (literally for emphasis “the sickle, the sharp one”), and commands him to put in his sickle and to harvest the ripe grape clusters from the poisonous vine of the earth. The words “are ripe” represent the Greek akmazw which means “to be in its prime, be at its peak of ripeness.” Then to add to this, the word “grapes” here in the last part of the verse is the Greek stafulh which refers to a “a bunch of grapes, a ripe grape cluster,” one ready for picking. Concerning this picture Ryrie says, “The picture here is that all the false religion of man is fully ripe and ready for harvest. Thus the harvest is ready because man in his own efforts apart from the life of God has fully developed an apostate religious system.”191 The iniquity of man has become full or reached its zenith. Can the world be far from that now?

Verses 19 and 20 take us to the result of this condition, the winepress of God. The grapes harvested are to be thrown into the winepress to be trampled.

The winepress trodden outside the city with the blood coming out from the press refers to the gathering of the armies of the nations to Megiddo in the north of Jerusalem for the great battle with the Lord Jesus Christ as described in Revelation 19:17-19 and Joel 3. This will result in the bloodiest battle and carnage of human flesh the world has ever known. From this battle blood will flow, like grape juice from a winepress, from the north of Palestine at Megiddo some 175 miles south down the Jordan Valley through the whole land of Palestine. Blood up to the horse’s bridle is a hyperbole for the enormous carnage that will occur (cf. Isa. 63:3-6).

A similar apocalyptic image for the final judgment on idolaters occurs in the pre-Christian book of Enoch, where the righteous will slay the wicked. Here in Revelation the judgment is not the task of human vengeance but belongs exclusively to the Son of Man and his angelic reapers (cf. Rom. 12:19-21)192

Please note this blood bath will be executed by the Lord Jesus Himself. In His first advent He came as the meek Jesus, giving His life for the ransom of men, like a Lamb silent before His shearers. But here He comes as the mighty conqueror in the full wrath of the Holy God of the universe.


176 NIV Bible Commentary, Electronic Version.

177 William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Electronic Version.

178 Theological Dictionary of N.T. Words, Vol. IV, p. 407.

179 Alan Johnson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, Frank E. Gaebelein, general editor, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1981, p. 539.

180 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Moody Press, Chicago, 1966, p. 217.

181 William R. Newell, The Book of Revelation, Moody Press, Chicago, 1966, p. 283 quoting Seiss from his book “On the Apocalypse” written in 1865.

182 The history and spread of this system is described and documented in The Two Babylons or The Papal Worship Proved to Be The Worship of Nimrod and His Wife, Alexander Hislop, Loizeaux Brothers, Second American Edition, 1959.

183 Hislop, p. 14.

184 All the figures shown here were taken from Hislop’s The Two Babylons, pp. 5-19.

185 Hislop, pp. 19-20.

186 Hislop, p. 20.

187 Fritz Rienecker, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Vol. II, edited by Cleon L. Rogers, Jr., Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1980, pp. 499.

188 Bob Wilkin, Grace Evangelical News, June, 1991, pp. 2-3.

189 William H. Newell, The Book of The Revelation, Moody Press, Chicago, 1966, p. 228.

190 Charles C. Ryrie, Revelation, Moody Press, Chicago, 1968, p. 92.

191 Ryrie, Revelation, p. 92.

192 NIV Bible Commentary, electronic version.

Ad Category: 
Passage: 
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

21. Prelude to the Seven Last Plagues (Rev 15:1-8)

Introduction

Chapter 15 is introductory and prepares the reader for the execution of the judgments described in chapter 16. They are first described as the seven last plagues and then as seven bowls full of the wrath of God (vs. 7; 16:1). These seven plagues will chronologically bring to an end the ordered events of the Tribulation judgments in a dramatic crescendo. The plagues described here are extremely severe and occur in rapid succession, which adds greatly to their severity. The plagues are culminated by the return of the Lord Jesus Christ and the final phase of Armageddon. The purpose of chapter 15 is a vindication of God’s holiness. It shows these judgments stem from the holiness of God and the perfection of His plan. Under the three figures of God’s final judgment—the cup of wine (14:10), the harvesting of the earth (14:14-16), and the vintage (14:17-20), chapter 14 has anticipated what is now more thoroughly developed under the symbolism of the seven bowls.

Remember, the seven plagues and seven bowls used in this chapter refer to the same judgments. The use of different terms is designed to display the different aspects and character of these last judgments. They are plague-like calamities, and each is poured out suddenly, all at once as the contents of a bowl when it is turned over.

Review

Chronologically speaking, remember that we are first given a graphic description of six seals (6:1-17), but the seventh (8:1) is never described. We are only told that when it is broken, there is silence in heaven (8:1). The implication is that the seven trumpets come out of the seventh seal and actually express the content of the seventh seal (8:1-9:21; 11:15-19). This seventh trumpet takes us up to the return of Christ and includes within its judgments the events of the seven last plagues or bowls of chapters 15 and 16, which occur rapidly at the end. The final great event is the return of the Lord Jesus Christ in glory (19:11-21).

Again, let’s not forget that chapters 10:1-11:4; 13-14; and 17:1-19:10 are interludes and do not advance the Tribulation events chronologically. They simply fill in the picture of the Tribulation giving important details about key personages, events and concepts. Alan writes:

The inclusive series of bowl judgments constitute the “third woe” announced in 11:14 as “coming soon” [see comment on 11:14]. Since the first two woes occur under the fifth and sixth trumpets, it is reasonable to see the third woe, which involved seven plagues, as unfolding during the sounding of the seventh trumpet, when the mystery of God will be finished (10:7) … These last plagues take place “immediately after the distress of those days” referred to by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse and may well be the fulfillment of his apocalyptic words in Mt 24:29. Significantly, the next event that follows this judgment, the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds (Mt 24:30-31), is the same event John describes following the bowl judgments (19:11).193

The Prelude to the Bowl Judgments
(15:1-8)

The Sign in Heaven (1)

John sees another sign in heaven, which he described as great and marvelous. “Another” (allos) means another of the same kind. It is a different sign, but with the same purpose. As seen previously, the term “sign” refers to something that is used as a symbol to signify and teach an important truth. Here in this scenario, the seven angels with the seven last plagues point to God’s judgment on the beast, his system, and his worshipers. The other signs previously mentioned are those in 12:1 and 3 (Israel, the woman, and the red dragon who is the head and source of the empire of the beast).

The sign is called “great” because of the awesome implication of these judgments in both extent and degree. “Marvelous” means “wonderful, awe inspiring,” and shows the effect this sign had on the heart and soul of John. It should have the same effect on us the same way as we think on the results these plagues will have. Not only will they result in the return of the Lord, but they also will lead to the establishment of His righteous rule on earth when God’s will will be done on earth just as it is in heaven.

In the “seven angels with seven last plagues” we again see the number seven, the number of perfection and completion. That there are seven plagues again reminds us these judgments will accomplish a perfect and complete work on earth to prepare its inhabitants for the return of Jesus Christ. These plagues will demonstrate as never before the rebellious heart of man and the character of Satan and His kingdom. In so doing, they will vindicate the glory and holiness of God. These judgments are not vindictive, but they are vindicative.

“The seven last plagues” is literally “seven plagues, the last ones.” This construction draws our attention to the fact these are the last of God’s judgments of this period and suggests the preceding judgments (seven seals and trumpets) were also plagues. “Plague” is plhgh, “a blow, stripe, wound,” then a “calamity, plague,” is metaphorical of divine judgment. These plagues constitute God’s wrath poured out on man in his rebellious and sinful state. “Last” shows these are the climactic judgments, those that occur in rapid sequence and with greater intensity. As the last judgments, they will be concluded by the personal return of the Lord Jesus and His personal defeat of the enemies of God and His people.

“For in them is filled up the wrath of God.” This clause, introduced with “for” (the Greek %oti, a causal conjunction pointing us the reason these are the last plagues), explains and points us to the reason for these plagues as the last ones.

“Is filled up.” The combined force of the tense and the verb used here stress the concept of culmination, completion. The verb is telew and means “to complete, bring to an end” in amount, number, degree, effect or purpose. It is in these last plagues that God’s wrath finds its culmination and accomplishes His purposes.

“The wrath of God.” In the Greek language there are two words used for God’s “anger.” There is orgh, “anger,” which emphasizes the divine attitude toward sin as it proceeds from the holiness of God. But then there is qumos, “wrath,” which points to the expression of God’s anger or God’s holiness in action or His wrath overflowing in righteous indignation. Here we have the last and final judgments of the Tribulation, but they will also perfectly accomplish God’s righteous purposes through this seven-year period.

(1) As the time of Jacob’s trouble. The Tribulation is first of all God’s discipline on the Jews for their willful rejection of Christ as their Messiah and for their stubbornness. It will purge out the rebels and cause the rest to turn to Christ (cf. Ezek. 20:33-44; Zech. 14:9-10).

(2) The Tribulation will bring God’s judgment on the Gentiles for anti-Semitism. It will be a strong source of motivation for men to repent and turn to faith in Christ, and judge the rest for their unbelief and rebellion.

(3) As to Satan the Tribulation is to demonstrate the true character and program of Satan as the source of sin, misery, war and murder.

(4) It will demonstrate to mankind as a whole (Jew and Gentile) the true rebellion and spiritually corrupt nature of man and the depths to which he will go when given the chance. Remember, at this time the restraint of the Holy Spirit who is at work today through the church, the body of Christ, will have been completely removed. The Tribulation, without this special restraint, will be a time of unprecedented lawlessness and unrighteousness, which will demonstrate the failure of man and how desperately he needs the Lord Jesus Christ.

(5) As to God and Christ it will demonstrate their absolute holiness, grace, faithfulness to their promises, and that God is still on the throne and He is just in his decisions against Satan and unbelieving man.

So these last seven plagues will complete these purposes as well as bring an end to the judgments (16:9-11, 13-14, 21).

The Sea of Glass (2a)

The phrase “as it were” in the NASB qualifies this statement. John didn’t see a real sea, but a broad expanse like a sea of white transparent glass or stone that has a glassy appearance and reflects an image. But why this picture? What does this teach us? (a) The glassy expanse like a sea is designed to communicate the concept of the reflection of God’s glory. Perhaps also it stands as a symbol for the Word of God and its many promises and truths that reflect God’s character or person, plan, principles, and purposes. (b) In 4:6 it was likened to crystal and stood for the perfect righteousness of God (Hab. 1:13; Isa. 59:2). (c) Here in 15:2 it is seen mingled with fire, which, as a symbol of judgment, stands for the perfect justice of God and his actions with men. (d) It is also seen upholding the saints who stand firmly upon it. This reflects the immutable faithfulness of God in His grace and love to His people through His perfect plan of salvation in Christ. This plan, like a rock, upholds man and brings sinful man into God’s presence if he will come to God through Jesus Christ (John 14:6).

The Saints Who Were Martyred (2b)

Because of the reference to the beast and his work which sets the context, these are clearly the martyred dead of the Tribulation. They are described as “those who had been victorious over the beast …” The word for victorious is nikaw and means “to be a victor, conquer, to prevail.” Biblically, the means of conquering is faith in Jesus Christ and the Word, but this is always a victory based on the victory accomplished by the Savior’s death for us through the cross and His resurrection (John 16:33).

Nikaw, however, is used here with the preposition ek three times, one for each of the areas of victory—the beast, his image, and his mark. Ek means “out of, from, away from.” It is used to introduce the person, place, or thing from which a separation takes place. Here, nikaw carries the idea of deliverance. Because of their victory in Christ, they were delivered from the beast, from his image, and from his mark. The three-fold repetition emphasizes the element of victory and deliverance. These believers will find themselves living in the sphere of the beast’s power and under great pressure to worship him, his image, and to wear his mark even to the point of death for refusing to do so. By faith they will refuse and will come out victorious from it all. Death is not a defeat but a glorious victory (1 Cor. 15:54-57). This is to be contrasted with church age believers in which Tribulation saints come out victorious from the Tribulation pressure, church age saints are kept out and never enter (tereo ek) (see the study in chapter 3:10).

These martyrs are seen standing on the glassy expanse. As mentioned, this reminds us their victory and position is a result of who and what God is to the believer as revealed in the Word. He alone can uphold us. All victory comes from faith in the Lord and His immutable and faithful promises. “Standing” is an intensive perfect, which emphasizes the permanence of this position in contrast to the temporary victory that would have been theirs had they rejected Christ and worshipped the beast.

John sees these saints holding harps of gold. This is part of their reward as mentioned in 14:13 (a position before God, abiding in worship and praise to God’s glory). “Holding” is a descriptive present pointing to the continuance of their worship of God. “Harps” are lyres, stringed instruments plucked or played with a plectrum or with the fingers. It is somewhat a combination of a mandolin, banjo and guitar. This certainly gives precedence for the use of musical instruments in worship.

The Songs of Moses and the Lamb (3-4)

These are two distinct songs. Note that “song” is mentioned two times and in both cases it has the article which specifies two distinct songs. However, they do seem to be harmonized into one. The Song of Moses emphasizes the power and faithfulness of God both in Exodus 15 and Deuteronomy 32. The Song of the Little Lamb emphasizes the redemptive work and plan of God in Christ. It lays stress on Christ’s submission to the plan of the Father. “Lamb” is arnion, the diminutive form which is also a term of endearment. It means, “a little lamb.”

In verse 4, the question is asked, “who will not fear?” Of course, the answer is no one! The Tribulation will not only vindicate God’s holiness and character, but it will clearly demonstrate that He is the almighty and brings every man to his knees even though it will be too late for some to turn to Christ.

The Sanctuary Opened in Heaven (5-6)

“And after these things I looked.” “After these things” refers to the sign, the seas of glass, etc. This implies an interval of time between these two sections. John distinguished these two sections, for though their theme is much the same (vindicating God’s holiness as the cause of the Tribulation judgments), their emphasis is different.

In the first section we saw the saints in glory praising God and fully understanding the cause of wrath, but here the emphasis is on the divine side which emphatically and impressively stresses the source and cause of what is about to happen. So literally John says, “After these things I saw and understood.”

“I looked” occurs for the third time (vss. 1, 2, 5). The verb is @oraw, “to see and understand.” John not only saw this with his eyes, but he spiritually grasped the meaning of this vision (as should we).

God is a holy God and one of the great purposes of the Tribulation will be to demonstrate this and to prove Satan’s age-old lies are just exactly that, lies. God is a God of love and of holiness and He must condemn the sinner who rejects His plan of salvation in Christ. Furthermore, He is perfectly just and righteous in rejecting the sinner who rejects His love and grace. The complete lawlessness of the Tribulation era will demonstrate this. The two age-old lies of Satan are: (a) If God is truly love, He would not send His creatures to hell, and (b) God would be unjust to do so.

“The temple.” “Temple” is naos, which refers to the Holy of Holies. The design was given to Israel in Exodus. The earthy tabernacle with the naos was a picture and type of the heavenly place (Isa. 6:2f). Today the believer’s body is called the naos (1 Cor. 6:19) because God the Holy Spirit Himself dwells within every believer. Within the earthly counterpart of the Holy of Holies was the ark over which the shekinah glory, representing God’s presence, hovered. Naos stands for the very abode of God and His personal presence.

“Of the tabernacle of the testimony.” Literally, “the tabernacle, the one of witness.” The whole tabernacle was a testimony and witness to the grace plan of God in Jesus Christ. However, of special importance here is the witness of the Ark of the Covenant, which was within the naos (Rev. 11:19). Note the following points regarding the Ark of the Covenant.

(1) The ark stood for the divine presence of God. It is here the glory of God’s presence hovered over the mercy seat of the ark and from whence God would commune with Israel (Ex. 25:17-22; 30:6; Lev. 16:2; Num. 7:89; 2 Kgs. 19:15; Ps. 80:1).

(2) By its contents, the ark stood for God’s faithfulness. It contained: (a) the law or the tables of stone, which represented the whole law and guided the people as a way of life and pointed them to Messiah; (b) Aaron’s rod that budded, which portrayed resurrection and God’s choice of leaders; (c) the pot of manna, which portrayed the person of Christ and God’s daily provision, but it also taught them happiness comes only from the Lord and not the details of life (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4).

(3) The ark stood for God’s holiness, grace, and love through the tables of stone within, the cherubim above and on either side of the top of the ark, and by the mercy seat, which formed a lid for the ark. But how? The tables of stone declared the perfect holiness of God and demonstrated the sinfulness of man since no man is able to keep the law. The law declared man a sinner and cut off from God. The sprinkling of blood by the high priest on the mercy seat (under or in front of the cherubim) showed that God’s holiness could only be satisfied by the shedding of blood. This foreshadowed the person and work of Christ on the cross as did the whole ritual of the tabernacle, priesthood, and the sacrifices (cf. Acts 7:44; Ex. 32:15; 38:21; Numb. 1:50, 53; 17:7-10; Ex. 16:33; Heb. 9:1-5).

John saw that the temple in heaven “was opened.” In front of the Holy of Holies was a large curtain, a veil, which separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. The high priest could only go into the Holy of Holies only once a year and then only after proper sacrifices. He went in with blood to sprinkle over the mercy seat signifying the way into God’s presence was not yet open (Heb. 9:7-8). When Christ died on the cross one of the things accomplished was the tearing of that veil in the temple from top to bottom, signifying the way had been opened and the work complete (Mark 15:38). It signified the barrier, those things that separate man from God, had been removed—sin, the penalty of sin or death, and man’s absence of spiritual life and righteousness.

Today man can have access into the very presence of God through the person and work of Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:4-6, 11-18; 3:12). However, today and also in the Tribulation, Jesus Christ now forms a new barrier, a new veil, one that excludes from God’s presence all who reject Christ (John 14:6; 3:3, 16). Upon these, the judgment of God must fall because of their failure to trust in Christ (John 3:13, 36).

This opening of the naos in Revelation 15 symbolizes the parting of the veil, but in reverse order. Here, rather than access to God, it symbolizes the outpouring of God’s perfect justice and wrath for rejection of Christ. Here the veil is pulled back, not to let man in, but to pour out God’s justice.

“And the seven angels … came out of the temple.” As the ministers and agents of God’s holy justice, these angels proceed from the presence of God acting on behalf of God’s holiness, righteousness, and justice. That they are “clothed in pure white linen” refers to the nature of their commission as representatives of God’s holiness. Pure white portrays righteousness and reminds us of the truth of 1 John 1:5b, “God is light and in Him is not darkness at all.” “Linen,” as in the garment of the wife of the Lamb (19:8), symbolizes righteousness in action. They have been clothed with this linen as a symbol of their commission and work in the outpouring of the righteous acts of judgment.

“And having their breasts girded with golden girdles” is also symbolical. Gold stands for the glory of God and girding was an act of preparation. What they are seen doing here is preparatory for bringing maximum glory to God and will cause all creatures to fall on their knees and acknowledge the sovereignty and perfect holiness of God.

The Seven Golden Bowls Given to the Angels (7-8)

The “four living creatures” are undoubtedly cherubim who manifest and protect certain aspects of God’s glory and essence, especially His holiness. They are seen here engaged in this role by distributing the bowls to the seven angels. Previously these seven angels were given the responsibility for these last plagues. The giving of the seven bowls sets forth their authorization to use the plagues and describes the overall nature of what the plagues would be like, i.e., like a bowl which is overturned causing the contents to be poured out all at once or suddenly.

“Full of the wrath of God.” The word “full” is a descriptive participle from the Greek verb gemw, which means “be full to the brim.” Verse 1 teaches us the seven last plagues complete the judgments of the Tribulation. There we have telew, “to complete, fulfill.” Here in verse 7 the verb gemw, “be full,” adds to this emphasis and stresses the full devastating character of each bowl.

“Wrath” is again tJumos which refers to God’s divine justice and anger in action.

“Who lives for ever and ever.” Literally the Greek reads, “of the wrath, the one of God, the One who lives unto the ages of ages (eternally).” This is a solemn reminder that God, as the eternal One, is first a long-suffering God. For centuries God has withheld his judgment in grace (2 Pet. 3:8-9). At this point, not only will God’s period of grace be over, but once God pours out His justice in divine wrath it will have eternal ramifications. Through the Lord Jesus Christ man has the opportunity and the means to come to God and be with Him eternally, but if he rejects God’s grace in Jesus Christ, he must eternally face God’s wrath (14:11).

“And the temple was filled with smoke.” The “temple” of course is the heavenly temple, the very abode of God, the Holy of Holies of God’s presence.

“Was filled” is a causative verb which means to “cause to be full.” It is the perfect holiness of God’s divine essence that causes the temple to be filled with smoke. As the setting in Isaiah 6:3-4 shows us, the smoke represents the holiness of God; here it is acting in divine justice against sin. Our passage in Revelation tells us this smoke proceeds from two sources: (a) “From the glory of God.” “Glory” stands for God’s divine essence and particularly God’s righteousness and justice. Together they form the holiness of God. (b) “And from his power.” This refers to God’s sovereign omnipotence, His inherent and sovereign power to execute and carry out the demands of His holy character.

“And no one was able to enter the temple until the seven plagues … were finished …” The smoke, which points to the awesome holiness of God, will make access into the presence of God impossible. This strongly stresses the principle of Habakkuk 1:13a, “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil and You cannot not look on wickedness with favor …” It also reminds us of Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” The smoke illustrates the truth of God’s righteousness; He is unable and unwilling to have fellowship with sin. Further, the seven golden bowls proceeding from God illustrate the concept of God’s justice acting to judge sin in the world.

Note that this smoke continues until the plagues are finished, until God’s holy character is satisfied and God deals with sin. This teaches us that God will so completely turn to anger and justice in these final moments that all else seems to cease. Absolute and undiluted wrath will be the business of these final days. It will be as the Psalmist says in Psalm 76:7, “You, even You are to be feared; and who may stand in Your presence when once You are angry.”

This chapter has prepared the way for the judgments to follow as cause and effect or root to fruit. The judgments of chapter 16 stem from the ineffable holiness of God. “It is an ominous sign of impending doom for those who persist in their blasphemous disregard of the sovereignty and holiness of God.”194


193 Alan Johnson, Zondervan Bible Commentary, electronic version.

194 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Moody Press, Chicago, 1966, p. 230.

Ad Category: 
Passage: 
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

22. The Bowl Judgments (Rev 16:1-21)

Introduction

In order to keep the chronological sequence and order of the Tribulation events in mind, let’s review several points about the seven seals, trumpets, and the seven bowls, which together make up the Tribulation judgments:

(1) Since there are no judgments described with the opening of the seventh seal as with the previous six, and since the seven trumpets judgment follow immediately (8:1-6), it seems evident that the seventh seal consists of the seven trumpets.

(2) The seventh and final trumpet judgment (11:15-19) does not describe one specific judgment as with the other six trumpets, but signifies that whole part of the Tribulation program of God’s wrath that will, at the end, bring in the kingdom through the return of Christ. However, it will also cause great anger and rebellion on the part of the unbelieving world. Only the results of the seventh trumpet are described in Revelation 11:15-19. The judgments themselves, which make up the seventh trumpet and which accomplish the victory described in 11:15-19 are the seven bowl judgments called the seven plagues, the last ones (15:1-16:21). The seven bowls are the seventh trumpet and spell out what the seventh trumpet consists of by way of its judgments.

(3) Chapters 12-14 were parenthetic with chapter 15 being introductory to chapter 16 which now takes us to the specific judgments of the seventh trumpet.

(4) There is a great deal of similarity in the judgments of the trumpets and bowls. In both, the first series deals with the earth (cf. 8:7 with 16:2), the second series deals with the sea (cf. 8:8-9 with 16:3), the third series deals with the rivers and fountains of water (cf. 8:10-11 with 16:4), the fourth series deals with the sun (cf. 8:12 with 16:8), the fifth series deals with darkness (cf. 8:12 with 16:10), the sixth series deals with the Euphrates (cf. 9:13-14 with 16:12), and the seventh series deals with lightnings, thunders, and earthquakes (cf. 11:19b with 16:17-21)

(5) However, a careful study of these two sections will reveal some striking differences: (a) The first four trumpets deal with only one-third of the earth while the bowl judgments are universal in scope. (b) The bowls are also much greater in intensity as well as in degree of coverage and effect. (c) They fall quickly as a liquid poured out of a bowl and in rapid succession—like trip hammer blows. It is best, therefore, to see the bowls as different from the trumpets judgments.

(6) These last seven judgments cause the further hardening of the hearts of men. Remember they are called plagues and have much the same result on the world as the plagues of Egypt had on Pharaoh. These plagues will show: (a) The total rebellion and independence of the creature to his Creator. Because of the callousness and hardening built up in the hearts of men, these judgments will result in anger and blasphemy from the heart and mouths of men rather than fear and reverence and trust. They are hardening plagues which God uses to His own glory (cf. vss. 9, 11, 21). (b) But these plagues (bowl judgments) will crush man’s rebellion and remove the rebellious from the earth. The completion of this will be accomplished by the return of Christ with His armies (Ezek. 20:38; Joel 3:2-17; Matt. 13:40-43; Rev. 19:11-21).

The First Bowl: Painful Sores
(16:1-2)

Verse 1: The seven angels are now commanded to pour out their bowl of judgment upon the earth. John heard what is described as a loud or great voice, probably the voice of God, coming out of the temple. Our English translations somewhat obscure an important emphasis of this chapter because of the various ways they have translated the Greek word megas. Megas means “large, great, huge, or loud,” depending on what it modifies. The NASB, for instance, translates megas with “loud,” “fierce,” “great,” and “huge,” all good translations, but the English reader might not notice the repetition whereas the Greek reader will more readily notice the repetition of this adjective. This emphasizes the intensity or unprecedented nature of what will begin to take place on earth at this point in the Tribulation. Megas is used eleven times in this chapter in connection with its events: a great voice (vss. 1 and 17), a great heat (vs. 9), the great river Euphrates (vs. 12), the great day of God Almighty (vs. 14), “a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake …” (vs. 18), the great city, Babylon (vs. 19), and great hailstones (vs. 21).

Verse 2: Immediately, in obedience to the voice from the temple, the first angel “poured out his bowl on the earth; and it became a loathsome and malignant sore on the men who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image.”

“Loathsome” is kakos which means “evil, injurious” and refers to what brings about a crippling effect. “Malignant” is ponhros which means “active, malignant” and looks at what is painful, destructive, and even vicious. This stresses the effect, degree, and intensity.

From Revelation 13:8 it is quite apparent that only a small fraction of the world will resist the beast, refuse to take his image, and believe in Jesus Christ. But those who do are now the only ones who escape this judgment and the judgments which follow. The warning of 14:9-11 against worshipping the beast and which anticipates his ultimate doom and that of his system is here confirmed in this preliminary judgment. Note that the beast is unable to help or heal the sore. “Sore” is %elkos and refers to an ulcer-like sore. This is the word used in the Greek Septuagint to translate the Hebrew word for boils inflicted on the Egyptians in Exodus 9:9-11.

The Second Bowl: Seas Smitten
(16:3)

The Greek text here is very graphic. Literally it reads, “And it (sea) became blood as of a dead man,” i.e., like a dead man wallowing in his own blood. Every living thing (sea creature) in the sea will die. Some would try to limit this to the Mediterranean Sea. However, these judgments are global and the same word qalassa would be used whether it was one sea or all the water masses.

Here the judgment is universal. This is global catastrophe. Under the second trumpet one-third was affected, but now, in keeping with the nature of this judgment, the rest of the sea and marine life is struck. It will wreck fishing and it is bound to affect ocean navigation, transportation and shipping.

The Third Bowl: Rivers Smitten
(16:4-7)

This judgment, as with the third trumpet, involves the fresh water supply. Again, there is no limit; it is global with great devastating effects. Though the results are not mentioned, they can be imagined. There will be no pure water except perhaps what will already be stored; none in the rivers and lakes.

“The angel of the waters” is literally, “the angel, the one of the waters.” This apparently refers to an angel who has jurisdiction over the waters of the earth as one of the varied ministries of angels. As the one in charge of this area he makes an important statement vindicating the holiness of God and setting forth the reason in this judgment (vss. 5-6).

These apostate and rebellious people have slain and shed the blood of believers, thus, just as the saints receive rest and reward for their faith, so these will receive punishment fitting the nature of their crimes. They have only blood to drink. They have been blood thirsty—now they get their fill. This gives us another indication that during the Tribulation the shedding of the blood of believers will be without parallel in history.

The reference in verse 5, “who are and who were” refers to the eternal essence of God. As the Eternal One, one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. God is long-suffering but eventually God’s holiness must act and His judgment against sin will be delayed no longer.

Verse 7 deals with another voice adding to the vindication of God’s acts. So again we see an important emphasis: Throughout history Satan has maligned the character of God who sentenced Satan and his angels to the lake of fire (Matt. 25:41). This has been displayed in the rebellious hearts of men of all ages who persistently operate under the delusions of Satan. But the Tribulation will show God is a God of holiness who is acting justly in His judgment against sin.

The Fourth Bowl: Scorching Heat
(16:8-9)

Like the fourth trumpet, the heavens are again affected, especially the sun. In the fourth trumpet one-third of the sun, moon, and stars are affected diminishing their light by one-third (night and day). The earth will have been living under these conditions all these months between these judgments as a constant appeal to men to repent. Now, by contrast, only the sun is affected and its condition is here reversed. Rather than being diminished it is now increased in its intensity. All unbelievers get a suntan they won’t be bargaining for and all the sunscreen in the world will have no effect.

Whether this is caused by the earth and sun moving closer together or simply that God increases the heat of the sun we do not know. The point is, God will increase the intensity of the sun’s heat and light rays to such a degree that it will scorch and burn the skin of men. Some scientists claim we are not experiencing global warming while others maintain the earth is cooling off. Both are in for a surprise (1 Cor. 1:25).

“And it was given to it (the sun) to burn men with fire” i.e., extreme heat rays from the sun as the next verse will show us.

In describing the grace of God, Psalm 19:6 reads, “… there is nothing hid from the heat of the sun.” Such will surely be the case here in an intensified way, only then it will be judgment. There will be no escape from this judgment for unbelievers. The sun’s rays will penetrate everything. Some relief will come at night, but even then the heat will be unbearable.

Literally the Greek has “to scorch the men with fire.” The use of the article specifies a particular group of people, those mentioned in connection with the first bowl, unbelievers, worshipers of the beast. Evidently, believers will somehow be protected from this.

“And men were scorched with fierce heat and they blasphemed the name of God.” This again demonstrates two things: (a) men clearly recognize the source of the plagues, but (b) they will have become so hardened in their souls they refuse to repent. They will have reached the point of no return. This was clear when they took the mark of the beast.

This hardening of the soul (or heart) poses a warning for all of us. Anyone who becomes negative toward the Lord, grows indifferent to His Word, and ignores the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit, can begin to harden his heart and become more and more callused (cf. Heb. 3:7f; Eph. 4:17-19). One way we can see such a condition developing in our lives is by the way we murmur and complain or look for “pity parties” among our friends. This is a sure indication that the heart has become somewhat hardened (cf. Heb. 3:7-19; with 1 Cor. 10:5-10. Note particularly verse 10.).

The Fifth Bowl: Darkness
(16:10-11)

As with the fifth trumpet, this bowl judgment results in darkness, as also in the ninth plague of Egypt (Ex. 10:21-23).

The Object of the Fifth Bowl—the throne of the Beast (10b)

First, we are told the bowl is poured out “upon the throne of the beast.” The Greek construction of this phrase (the preposition epi with the accusative case) refers to motion in a direction which completely attains its goal.195 Regardless of his apparent power, he will not be able to escape God’s judgment.

Second, the beast refers to a person as well as to a political system, therefore, his throne is a definite place. I believe it will be rebuilt Babylon on the Euphrates River, the ancient capitol of Satan’s wickedness in the land of Shinar (Zech. 5:5-10). This is the land beast of Revelation 13 who will receive his power from Satan and who will become the object of man’s worship. Men will marvel at the beast and proclaim “who is like the beast, and who is able to make war with him” (Rev. 13:4). Remember, he will be seen as the solution to the world, the answer to mankind, the hope of the world.

Due to world conditions on every front and in every area of the globe, things will look hopeless. People will be in despair or certainly very fearful prior to the Tribulation. For the varied problems of the world, man will have turned to a variety of sources looking for hope. These will come in many forms and sizes. There will be the false prophets of modern science, scholarship and research, false religions, the occult, the cults, false prophets like Mr. Moon, the new world views, social ideologies and finally, the world will look for answers in some new and great world leader whether political, religious, or both. Such a man will come, but he will be “the man of lawlessness” and “the son of perdition who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god … displaying himself as God” (2 Thess. 3 and 4). He will also be “the one whose coming (his historical ascendancy to power) is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders” (2 Thess. 2:9).

Now suddenly at this point in the Tribulation, like a bowl poured out, a judgment of darkness is poured out on the beast’s throne, the very place of his rule, and neither Satan nor this man can alleviate this judgment. This will clearly illustrate that there is only one hope, the Eternal God and Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ whom the world has by-in-large rejected; the One who alone is the Light of the world. What irony strikes here (John 1:3-5, 9-11)!

This judgment also anticipates the doom and eternal prospects of the beast and his subjects; they will be cast into outer darkness because they have turned away from the true Light of the world.

The Effects of the Fifth Bowl (10-11)

The first effect is seen in “his kingdom became darkened.” The verb “became” in the Greek text suggests suddenly. It looks at the sudden envelopment of the throne of the beast in total darkness. Of course, we are reminded of the “thick darkness” in Egypt which was so thick it could be felt (Exodus 10:21). “Darkened” is an intensive perfect which stresses the existing results of the blackout over the earth. Since the beast rules practically the entire world, and since these are the last plagues of the Tribulation which complete the wrath of God to establish God’s rule on earth, this darkness is undoubtedly world-wide.

As you read this, do not lose sight of the fact that this is a brief forecast of the outer darkness, pain, and torment that men will face in the lake of fire (Matt. 5:30; 22:13; 8:12). It is a literal taste of hell. But it is also designed to symbolize the nature of the beast and his kingdom, his power, and Satan who gives him his power. It is a kingdom of great darkness (Col. 1:13a; 2 Cor. 4:4; 11:13-15).

The second effect: “And they gnawed their tongues because of the pain.” We have in this an accumulated effect of the preceding bowls, the sores, the seas smitten, the fresh water turned into blood, the scorching of the sun, and now total darkness. Men are shut up in their quarters with their sores and pain and there is no alleviation, no hope—only constant torment. Literally the Greek says “they kept on gnawing their tongues out of agony.” Here is a graphic picture of the most intense and excruciating agony and pain, and a pain that cannot be alleviated.

In 9:21 the word “sorceries” is the Greek farmakeia from farmakeuw “to administer drugs.” In connection with the witchcraft of that day there will be widespread use of drugs. Nearly everyone will have access to drugs to deaden their pain. But even this will have no effect to relieve their pain.

The third and final effect: “And they blasphemed the God of heaven … and they did not repent of their deeds” (vs. 11). In these words we are clearly told that the world will be conscious that the “God of heaven” is the source of these judgments. There will, at this time, be no more atheists or agnostics. All men will know, like the demons, that God exists, but they remain stubborn in their rebellion. Oh, the hardness and stubbornness of the human heart! These verses clearly refute the idea of a final universal salvation of all men who will finally repent when faced with God’s judgment.

The Sixth Bowl: The Euphrates Dried
(16:12-16)

In verse 12 the bowl is poured and we are told of its purpose; it prepares the way for the kings of the east. Then in verses 13-16 we are given a commentary on this judgment. First, there is divine activity followed up by increased demonic activity (vss. 12-14a). Then there is the effect of this on human activity (vs. 14); and finally again, divine activity (vss. 15-16).

The Object of the Bowl (12a)

“The great river, the River Euphrates.” Literally the Greek says “the river, the great one, Euphrates.” This word order and the word “great” stresses the prominence of this river. This is the largest river in western Asia and has figured largely in history and prophecy. The following are a number of important facts about this great river.

(1) It formed the Eastern boundary of ancient Rome and its conquests.

(2) It forms the Eastern boundary of the land as promised to Abraham (cf. Gen. 15:18; Deut. 1:7; 11:24; Josh. 1:4).

(3) For a brief season David and Solomon extended their authority to the Euphrates (1 Kings 4:21; 1 Chron. 18:3; 2 Chron. 9:26).

(4) The river is 1,800 miles long and has always stood as a natural barrier separating the east from the west.

(5) The river forms in Armenia and 1,800 miles later empties into the Persian Gulf. About 90 miles from the Persian Gulf it is joined by the Tigris.

The Purpose of This Bowl (12b)

“And its water was dried up that the way might be prepared for the kings of the east.” Isaiah 11:15b and Zechariah 10:11 are similar prophecies of the drying up of this river. The purpose? To facilitate the movements of the troops of the oriental kings or the eastern confederacy for the final Battle of Armageddon.

“The kings from the east” is literally “the kings from the rising sun.” This is a poetical expression signifying the kings from where the sun rises, as China, Japan, India, Persia, and Afghanistan. So here we see God’s divine activity; God acting in His sovereignty using the wrath and rebellion of Satan and man to carry out his own purposes. Knowing the mind of Satan and man, the Lord will dry up this natural barrier to an invasion of the land of Palestine.

The Divine Commentary of This Judgment (13-16)

    The Demonic Activity (13-14a).

It is God’s purpose to deal with the nations in judgment in the land of Palestine. Knowing Satan’s purpose and objectives, God will use him and his demonic activity to inspire the nations to move into Palestine.

The immediate source of this activity, acting on their own objectives, is the trinity from hell—the Dragon or Satan, the beast (the dictator of the revived Roman Empire in its final form), and the false prophet who works miracles on behalf of the first beast (Rev. 12:3, 9, 13).

The means of accomplishing this are three demonic spirits who proceed from the trinity to go out into the nations working miraculous signs. This will somehow be used to act on the minds of the kings and people of the nations to move against Palestine. Exactly what these signs are we are not told. But undoubtedly they somehow stir up old desires and hostilities:

(1) Strong anti-Semitism (Zech 14:1-3; Rev. 12:17). The Arabs have long hated the Jews and of course in our time this has taken on increased proportions. There appears even now growing sentiment against Israel among much of the world. The actions of these demons will somehow bring this to a climax at this time.

(2) Then there is the lust of the nations for control of Palestine and its warm water seaports which would enable the one controlling Palestine to control the oil of this part of the world (Ezek. 38:12).

    The Divine Activity (14b-16)

The kings of the world will be gathered together for war with one another, but it is a war in which man is ultimately brought against God. The armies do not know this, they think they are coming to gain control of Palestine, but God uses this to accomplish this confluence of nations for his own divine purposes (Joel 3:1-3; Zech. 14:1-3). The war is called “the war of the great day of God, the Almighty”(vs. 14) and the place it is fought is called “Har-Magedon” (vs. 16). Modern man often refers to this conflict as Armageddon, the final conflict that will be fought in the Valley of Megiddo.

    An explanation of the Day, Time, and Place

The Greek literally says, “unto the campaign (or war) of the day, the great one, the one of God, the Almighty One.”

The phrase “of God, the Almighty” is designed to emphasize that this day or period (it covers more than one day) will fully demonstrate the omnipotence and sovereignty of God.

The word “war” is the Greek word polemos which signifies a war, an entire campaign and not merely one isolated conflict or battle. What is in view here is a major war as in World War II. Here we have World War III—assuming it is the next world war. So here is World War III which extends over the entire last half of the Tribulation involving several phases or invasions of Palestine and conflicts. This will finally culminate in the gathering of all nations at the very end of the Tribulation at Har-Magedon. Ezekiel 38; Daniel 11:40-45; Zechariah 14:1-3 and Joel 3:1-17 all describe these military events that will culminate in the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The location of the war (vs. 16) is “Har-Magedon.” Concerning this place Walvoord says:

Geographically, it relates to the Mount of Megiddo located adjacent to the plain of Megiddo to the west and the large plain of Esdraelon to the northeast. Megiddo is the Hebrew word corresponding to the Greek word Armageddon. This area was the scene of many of the great battles of the Old Testament such as that of Barak and the Canaanites in Judges 4 and the victory of Gideon over the Midianites in Judges 7. Here also occurred the deaths of Saul and Josiah. The area, though it is a large one, is not sufficient for the armies of all the world, though the valley of Esdraelon is fourteen miles wide and twenty miles long. What this Scripture seems to indicate is that this area is the central point for the military conflict which ensues. Actually the armies are deployed over a 200-mile area up and down from this central location (cf. 14:20). At the time of the second coming, some of the armies are in Jerusalem itself (Zech. 14:1-3).196

Napoleon marched across this area and remarked that all the armies of the world could do battle here because of the broad expanse of this territory. Of course, it isn’t actually that big, but it is a very broad expanse perfect for a very large congregation of armies.

Other areas involved are: (a) Joel 3:2, 13 the Valley of Jehoshaphat. This refers to an area further south and east of Jerusalem (cf. Ezek. 39:11, the Valley of Passengers mentioned here is the same area). (b) Isaiah 34 and 63 picture the Lord coming from Edom and Idumea south of Jerusalem with blood on His garments which shows part of the conflict occurs here as well. (c) Then as Walvoord mentions, Jerusalem is itself invaded by the armies of the world in the final phase of this campaign. Zechariah 12:2-11; 14:2; Daniel 11:40-45; Ezekiel 38:9-16; and Revelation 14:20 all show us this campaign covers the entire land of Palestine.

The participants in this war are: the king of the north and his allies (Ezek. 38). While there is some disagreement here, many believe this will include Russia, Persia (modern Iraq), Ethiopia (northern Sudan or maybe Arabia), Put (Libya and the African block), Gomer (Germany), Beth-togarmah (Turkey), and the king of the south consisting of Egypt and the Arab states. Then there will be the king of the west, the ten nation confederation of the Mediterranean states of Europe. Finally, it will include the kings of the east, the oriental block or nations east of the Euphrates.

    The Warning to Believers (15)

This verse is a parenthesis written to the faithful remnant of the Tribulation to give them comfort, hope, as well as a warning lest they become discouraged and lose their testimony. These plagues are but a proof that the Lord’s return is near. So in this verse the Lord Himself now speaks.

He says, “Behold.” This means, “stop, and think, take note”! “I am coming” is what we call a prophetic present which views a future event as certain, as though already in the process of occurring. Here the Lord is assuring the Tribulation saints that His coming is certain.

“As a thief” stresses the fact that while the general time of Christ’s return in the Tribulation can be known because of the signs and specific events of the Tribulation (like the drying up of the Euphrates), the exact moment cannot be known (Matt. 24:36; Acts 1:7). Therefore, Tribulation believers are warned to stay awake, producing righteousness for the Lord. They are to live with a view to His return. Some would try to apply this to the church, but though there is some similarity to 1 Thessalonians 4:13f in the fact that Christ will come silently for believers, take what is His, and leave the world in disarray, the primary picture of Christ’s coming for the church is that of a Bridegroom. The thief concept primarily deals with the Tribulation or the day of wrath (cf. 1 Thess 5:2-3).

Thus, special blessing or happiness is promised to the believer, even in these horrible times of the Tribulation if he follows the warnings and exhortations of this verse. They are told to do two things:

(1) “To stay awake.” The Greek word here is grhgorew and is used of alertness and fellowship with the Lord (cf. its use in 1 Thess. 5:6f). It refers to one who has the right priorities and is living for the Lord and His return. To stay awake is to stay in fellowship. This is the root aspect.

(2) “He keeps his garments.” Here is the fruit, the results. Keeping his garments refers to righteous behavior or good works which the believer wears like a garment; it is practical living from fellowship with Christ (Rev. 14:13; 19:8; 11:18).

“Lest he walk about naked and men see their shame.” Men cannot see the imputed righteousness which God imputes to the account of believers which gives them a righteous standing and access to God. But they can see the practical results of this in Christian behavior, or the fruit of the Spirit and the Word, Christ-likeness. Otherwise what they see is empty profession or spiritual nakedness (i.e., carnality).

Romans 13:11-14 makes a similar application to believers for our day and in this sense the passage in Revelation 16:15 has application for us today. We can see events which are unfolding today that could very well be preparatory to the Tribulation—politically, spiritually, morally and in other ways. Since the Lord returns for the church before the Tribulation, this means His coming for us, though always imminent, must be drawing nearer every day. This along with the nature of our future with Him should likewise motivate us to putting on the Lord Jesus Christ that we might be fully clothed with His life and glorious character.

The Seventh Bowl: Widespread Destruction
(16:17-21)

The seventh bowl, the final judgment of the Tribulation is actually a series of judgments that will be poured out upon the whole earth. As the Tribulation is a time of unprecedented trial or judgment, so the seventh bowl is the most severe and totally devastating judgment of the whole Tribulation, ending with the personal return of the Lord Jesus Christ to earth. His personal return is not mentioned in these verses or this chapter, but from the circumstances and the sixth plague, the return of Christ has to be a part of this judgment.

The Greek word megas is repeated seven times in these verses. This emphasizes the unprecedented nature and finality of this series of judgments. It also stresses how this series of judgments perfectly (the emphasis of the number seven) accomplishes and brings to an end God’s program of judgment. Of the eleven times the Greek word megas is used in this chapter, seven are in relation to this last bowl.

The Great Voice (l7)

First, note that this bowl is aimed or poured out upon the air. “Air” is the Greek aer which refers to our atmosphere, the air we breathe. Remember, Satan and his demon hosts have been (since chapter 12, the middle of the Tribulation) restricted to the earth which, however, would include our atmosphere. Also remember that according to Ephesians 2:2 Satan is called “the prince of the power of the air” (aer). This is the domain and the base of operation for Satan and his spirit hosts and their strategies. Further, in modern day our atmosphere has become vitally important in military matters over which Satan will have control. This points to a principle: this series of judgments, though its final effect is upon the earth, is a final judgment upon Satan and his domain or rule.

Second, as John saw this bowl poured out, a voice is heard. It is describe as “loud” or “great.” It is the voice of God, perhaps that of the Son Himself to whom all judgment has been given (John 5:27). The voice comes “out of the temple (naos) from the throne.” This is the smoke-filled temple into which no one was able to enter because of the absolute and undiluted wrath of God being poured out in these seven bowls. So with the pouring of the seventh, John hears “it is done.” This is a Greek word gegonen, a consummative perfect (from ginomai, “to come into being, come to pass, take place, done) that refers to action as not merely ended, but which was brought to its appropriate end and with results that continue. At this point, God’s purposes of judgment in the Tribulation will be perfectly accomplished by this final series of divine wrath.

If you recall, there was another moment in history when our Lord made a similar statement. When on the cross, in those final hours of darkness, he cried out tetelesqai “it is done” or “it is finished.” At this point, Christ had borne our iniquities and His substitionary work was complete. He had been judged for man’s sin. This too was a consummative perfect emphasizing that God’s work of reconciliation was accomplished with nothing more to be done other than for men and women to personally believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:14-21, 36; 6:28-29).

But, as the above verses also show, if one rejects the work of God in Christ and his judgment for our sin, then he is under the wrath of God which must also be accomplished; first in the Tribulation and then in eternal perdition in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15). As the author of Hebrews asks us, “how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Heb. 2:3)

The Great Earthquake (18, 20)

Before the mention of the great earthquake, John sees “flashes of lightning” and hears “sounds and peals of thunder” (vs. 18a). As it has been throughout the Book, this is preparatory and a warning of the extreme judgment that is about to fall.

Then we read “and there was a great earthquake.” Several things are important here: First, this earthquake is likewise unprecedented in history. The rhetorical device of redundancy is employed to emphasize this. “Such as” is the Greek %oios, a special qualitative relative pronoun meaning “of such a nature or kind.” “So great” is the Greek thlikoutos, a special demonstrative or quantitative pronoun meaning “so great, so mighty.” “Mighty” is again the Greek megas mentioned before.

Verses 19-20 then give the extent and effect of this earthquake with its worldwide devastation. In verse 20 we are shown two results that are not only astounding, but mind boggling. (a) “Every island fled away,” i.e., they disappeared into the ocean. Imagine the tidal waves this will cause. (b) “And the mountains were not found” is literally, “and mountains were not found.” The word “mountains” does not have the article which implies not all the mountains will be removed. Perhaps as a result of the great faults in the earth breaking open and shifting about, the mountains will break up and fall into the cracks of the earth. Zechariah 14:4 tells us that at Christ’s return to earth the Mount of Olives will split or crack open and form a great valley. Perhaps it is at this point, at Christ’s return to earth, that this great earthquake occurs.

This mind stretching phenomena points to three important facts:

(1) The world will be left in shambles. All man’s monuments and his great buildings will literally crumble before his very eyes. A few years back while we were living in East Texas, in the early nineties, I remember construction was nearing completion of a skyscraper in Houston that we were told would be one of the tallest buildings in the world. It had only plate glass for its outer walls from top to bottom. Can you imagine what such an earthquake will do to such structures, assuming they are still standing at this time?

(2) This judgment will drastically change the topography of the earth.

(3) Finally, these events will cause a tremendous loss of life on a worldwide scale that is impossible to calculate.

The Great Cities (19)

“And the great city was split into three parts.” Some see this as a reference to Jerusalem because Jerusalem is called “the great city” in 11:8. Also, the following two statements seem to indicate three different areas are in view: “the great city,” “the cities of the nations,” and “Babylon, the great.”

But John could just as easily have had something else in mind, i.e., the great city Babylon and those cities that come under Babylon’s yoke. The fall of these cities will break the yoke of Gentile world dominion referred to by the Lord as “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24). This is “the period of Gentile domination of Jerusalem, which probably began under Nebuchadnezzar (587 B.C.), was certainly in effect in A.D. 70 and continues into the Tribulation (cf. Rev. 11:2).”197 This should not be confused with what Paul spoke of as “the fullness of the Gentiles” in Romans 11:25. The fullness of the Gentiles refers to the completion of God’s purpose in the church age during which time God is calling out from among the Gentiles a people for His name, namely the church (Acts 15:14; Eph. 1:22-23; Rom. 11:7-32). The fall of these cities mentioned in Revelation 16 will bring to an end the Gentile domination as it now exists over the nation Israel.

I am personally convinced that Babylon will be rebuilt in the future and will become a great city and the center and headquarters for the Babylonian system of the last days, at least politically and commercially. In ancient times Babylon was the chief center of Gentile dominion, the seat of Babylonianism, and so it will be again in the future. Here she will be judged and her dominion ended including the times of the Gentiles. The details and evidence for this will come in chapters 17-18.

The Great Plague of Hail (21)

We are told these hail stones are about 100 pounds each. The Greek word for this weight is talantiaios, which referred to a weight of from 108-130 pounds. That’s big hail and it will cause an awesome amount of damage on earth. This judgment that might be compared to that of Sodom and Gomorrah or to that on the king of the north or Magog mentioned in Ezekiel 38, only this will extend to the whole earth.

This judgment is so severe that it is called a plague, extremely severe (another use of megas). The amazing thing is that at this point, all of man’s dreams will crumble—houses, fortunes, kingdoms, mountains—everything, but man’s stony heart. What irony! His heart will have become so hard and rebellious from continued rejection of God’s grace that he can only blaspheme God. His heart will be harder than stone.

Chronologically, the next event will be the return of the Lord to earth as King of kings (chapter 19). The next two chapters, however, halt the sequence and give us a parenthetical look at Babylon because of her prominence historically and in the future kingdom of the system of the beast.

Though from the contemporary point of view all the details of these dramatic judgments are not immediately understood, the unmistakable impression of the Scriptures is that the whole world is being brought to the bar of justice before Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords. There is no escape from divine judgment except for those who avail themselves of the grace of God in that day by faith in Jesus Christ. The utter perversity of human nature, which will reject the sovereignty of God in the face of such overwhelming evidence, confirms that even the lake of fire will not produce repentance on the part of those who have hardened their hearts against the grace of God.198


195 Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Translated by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, University of Chicago Press, electronic version.

196 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Moody Press, Chicago, 1966, p. 238.

197 Charles C. Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, Expanded Edition, Moody Press, Chicago, 1995, p. 1665.

198 Walvoord, p. 242.

Ad Category: 
Passage: 
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

23. Babylon as Seen in Scripture: An Introduction to Rev 17-18

Introduction

Revelation 17 and 18 are two of the most intriguing chapters of the Bible, yet two of the most difficult and disputed. Both of these chapters deal with the subject of Babylon and form a unit of prophetic doctrine, namely, the destruction of Babylon. However, these are two of the most difficult chapters of Revelation to interpret and expositors vary widely in their understanding of this section of the book. Walvoord writes:

Any interpretation of Revelation 17 and 18 is difficult because expositors have not agreed as to the detail of their interpretations. In general, however, it is helpful to consider chapter 17 as dealing with Babylon as an ecclesiastical or spiritual entity and chapter 18 as dealing with Babylon as a political entity.199

While reasons will be given later to support this, two different aspects of Babylon are contemplated in these chapters, two separate aspects of Babylon and her fall (perhaps suggested by the repetition of the phrase “is fallen” in 18:2 and 14:8). Chapter 17 describes Babylon in its mystery form, as a religious system or spirit of false worship; chapter 18 describes Babylon as a political and commercial system embodied in a city, the city of Babylon of the future. So we have two Babylons: religious Babylon and political Babylon. As mentioned at the conclusion of chapter 16, these two chapters do not continue the chronological sequence of events (they do not follow the seven bowls). In fact, nothing does except the return of the Lord Jesus Christ and the judgments associated with His return.

Instead, chapters 17 and 18 are an amplification of one of the main features of the Tribulation, the place, function, and final judgment of Babylon. Chapter 17, which deals with the destruction of religious Babylon, would have to occur somewhere around the middle of the Tribulation when the beast is finished using her as a means to his rise to power. Chapter 18 describes the destruction of political (economic or commercial) Babylon as it is embodied in the city of Babylon, the headquarters of the beast. The destruction undoubtedly occurs at the seventh bowl when the great city of 16:19, along with other cities, fall in the great earthquake.

Seeing and understanding this concept of the two Babylon— the religious and politico-economic—is the key to understanding chapters 17 and 18.

Some believe there are two prominent cities representing two prominent systems and both are called Babylon. The first is Rome, the head of the religious system in the first half, which is also entrenched in the political realm as she has always been ( 17:18). The other city is the capitol of the great political and commercial system of the last half of the Tribulation after the woman is destroyed (the religious system), and when the beast assumes his great power. This will be his primary headquarters, though a secondary headquarters will be Jerusalem, when he carries out the abomination of desolation. However, since the religious aspect, even as seen in Rome today, had its beginnings in ancient Babylon or Babylonianism, the great city mentioned in 17:18 most likely refers to the rebuilt city of Babylon because this city and this name personifies the whole system religiously, politically, and commercially.

Chapter 17 is in part an amplification of chapter 13 in that it shows us one of the ways the beast and his political system rise to power. He uses the religious influence and power of the woman, the religious system of mystery Babylon. This system will have its tentacles in every part of the world where there is any kind of religion at all, apostate Christendom (the Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, Protestant unbelieving churches), the Jewish religion, and the cults. These will all come together in one great ecumenical movement, a super world religion, and the beast will use this to extend his authority and power throughout Europe, parts of Africa and perhaps the Americas. Chapter 18 is an amplification of the last bowl described in 16:17-21.

Babylon is mentioned 260 times in Scripture, and is second in importance only to Jerusalem. Biblically it is viewed as the Devil’s city while Jerusalem is viewed as God’s city. They are always seen in opposition to each other. Babylon is the result of apostasy against God’s plan of salvation, the first international, political and religious ecumenical movement in the history of man, and one which has never ceased to exist in one form or another. Jerusalem is the result of God’s call of a man and a nation to perpetuate His plan of salvation and nationalism for the world.

As mentioned, there seems to be two aspects or faces of Babylon, one is religious and is in existence today, and one is political and commercial. Babylon embodies one great Satanic system. Certain questions naturally arise. Will this last day Babylon encompass different geographical locations or cities like Rome as well as a rebuilt Babylon on the Euphrates? In other words, will there be two literal cities? Or will it be the same city viewed in different ways under different circumstances?

The Origin and
Explanation of Mystery Babylon

Its Location

As you undoubtedly know, the city of ancient Babylon is in Iraq, about 50 miles south of Baghdad on the Euphrates river. What you may not know is that prior to Desert Storm and the conflict in Iraq, Saddam Hussein had for several years been working to uncover the ancient ruins of Babylon with a view to rebuilding the city and establishing himself as practically the incarnation of Nebuchadnezzar, the great Babylonian king who took Judah captive from 606 to 586 B.C. This captivity by Nebuchadnezzar began the times of the Gentiles (Luke 21:24), the period of gentile domination over Jerusalem and Israel which has and will continue to keep all descendants of David from sitting on the throne of Israel until the return of the Lord Himself.

Babylon’s Biblical Beginnings

Babylon comes from the Hebrew Bab-el which some say is a Hebrew form of the Assyrian Bab-ili, which meant “Gate of God,” and is used of the ancient city on the banks of the Euphrates River. However, in Hebrew Bab-el means “confusion.”

    Genesis 10-11

Babylon is first found in Genesis 10 in the table of nations. Here Moses traces the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. We have here the Japhethites, those least connected with Israel, then he traces the Hammites, those responsible for a great deal of sin and trouble in the world, and then the line of Shem, those who became Israelites.

But when Moses traces the descendants of Ham, those responsible for a great deal of trouble for Israel throughout her history, Moses wrote the following:

Now Cush became the father of Nimrod; he became a mighty one on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord” And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel and Erech and Accad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar (Gen. 10:8-10).

Babel is the first reference to Babylon and its beginnings. Nimrod is recorded as the founder of Babel, later called Babylon (Gen. 10:10; 11:2-3, 5, 9). Nimrod’s nature and character are seen in both his name and in his actions as described in Genesis 10:8-10 and in his origin in Babylon.

His name means “Let us revolt or rebel.” It didn’t have this meaning to the Babylonians, but this is the biblical meaning by context and by the form of the word. In Genesis 10:8 he is called “a mighty one,” and in 10:9 “a mighty hunter before (against) Yahweh.” Genesis 10:10 gives us the result. A kingdom is formed as a result of his tyranny or the exercise of absolute force (10:9-10). God’s ideal of a king is a shepherd who leads his people under God and in God’s plan. Nimrod was against God and His plan and formed his own kingdom by force. This kingdom originally consisted of Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh in the land of Shinar, southern Babylon above the Persian Gulf and along the Euphrates River.

He was the son of Cush, the son of Ham (Gen. 10:6, 8). He was a Hamite upon which no blessing was pronounced in contrast to Shem and Japheth, the other two sons of Noah. This shows us that God recognized in the Hamites a greater proneness toward godlessness and rebellion. Note, however, Canaan was the descendant who was cursed because of even more vile tendencies (Gen. 9:25-27).

Nimrod was a rebel from beginning to end. As the first king of Babylon, he had within him the nature and character that would exist in the Gentile nations throughout history and especially in the final form in the Tribulation—tyranny and apostasy.

Genesis 11:3-4 records the out-and-out rebellion of the people of Shinar against the plan of God, undoubtedly under the leadership of Nimrod (cf. 10:10). Their rebellion is seen in their attempt at building a city and tower that would reach to heaven, i.e., high in the sky. The purpose of this was to make a name in defiance against God’s plan of nationalism (11:4f). Under God’s direct orders, man was to scatter and replenish which meant the establishment of nations divided by geographical boundaries and family ties or races (9:1). Concerning the table of nations described in Genesis 10, Ross writes:

It all appears to be a witness to the fulfillment of the divine commission to fill the earth (9:1); but the present to?l?t section includes also the account of the dispersion at Babel. When we also consider that account, we learn the reason that the nations spread out and filled the earth, separating into different areas with different languages—it was divine judgment on a rebellious people.200

Ancient history reveals that it was common practice to build huge mounds or towers called ziggurats made of sun dried brick. One such ziggurat was discovered at Erech, a place in Nimrod’s kingdom going back to about 3,000 B.C. These were sacred temple towers dedicated to heathen deities often in connection with astrology, the zodiac, and the mother-child cult. “Ziggurat” means “pinnacle, mountain top.”

It seems quite clear then, that this tower stood for rebellion against God, rejection of Him, His plan of salvation in the coming Redeemer (Gen. 3:15), and a rebellion against nationalism. It was the first attempt at world unity apart from dependence upon God. Here was an attempt at a man-made world unity by means of force. As Stigers says, “it is the will of God, so long as sin is present in the world, to employ nationalism in the reduction of sin (Commentary on Genesis, p. 129).”201

God judged this act with the confusion of tongues which automatically created nationalism by the linguistic differences. So where nationalism was to be perpetuated by obedience to God’s command (Gen. 9:1), by geography through scattering, and by differences in races or families, now linguistic differences were added to force nationalism on the heathen world to enforce God’s original plan (Gen. 11:8).

Because of God’s judgment, the descendants of Noah stopped building the city (11:8) and its name was called Babel, a short form for Balbel from Balal “to confuse.” Babel really means confusion and again, let me stress, it expresses God’s judgment on internationalism. The Assyrian counterpart Bab-eli meant “Gate of God” but as given by God in the Hebrew Scriptures it meant “confusion.”

This became the central city of Babylonia even beyond the time of Alexander the Great. The Apostle Peter may have written from here (1 Pet. 5:13). However, its greatest glory was during the time of Nebuchadnezzar 600 years before Christ. Cyrus the Mede captured the city from the Chaldeans, Alexander the Great in turn captured it from Medo-Persia, and both made it their capitol. From this you can see its importance to the Gentile world powers and how it stands in opposition to Jerusalem and the purposes of God. Important to the study of Babylon and its origin is the origin of its religion and idolatry which spread from Babylon to surrounding nations and beyond. This will be discussed below.

    Genesis 14

After we are introduced to Babylon in Genesis 10 and 11, Babylon disappears briefly from Scripture, but appears again in Genesis 14. Here is one of those accounts we have generally missed, but it is a very important account in the overall teaching of the Bible about Babylon and it becomes the beginning of what can be considered as “The Tale of Two Cities.”

Sodom and Gomorra were attacked and defeated by a confederation of kings and taken captive. This included Lot, the nephew of Abraham. Two things are particularly significant here:

First, Sodom and Gomorra were located in the land of Canaan or Palestine probably at a spot that is now under the southern end of the Dead Sea. But where is this? It is a part of the land God had promised to Abraham in the Abrahamic covenant which had its beginnings in Genesis 12:1, recorded for us, significantly so, right after the account of the tower of Babel.

Second, in the beginning of the chapter the kings are described for us. Dr. Charles Dyer points out that historically, the leader of these kings that came in against the land, a land that God had promised to Abraham, was a man by the name of Chedorlaomer, king of Elam. But note who Moses lists first. Amraphel king of Shinar which is the land Babylon.202 The NIV has a notation in the margin regarding the name “Shinar,” “that is Babylonia.”

It seems that by mentioning this king first, we see who Moses viewed as the real leader of this confederacy. Here is God’s perspective on this invasion.

What’s interesting after Abram defeats these kings is what happened when coming back into the land. He stopped at a place called Salem which later came to be known as Jerusalem. There Abram received a blessing from Melchizedek, King of Salem. Melchizedek means “king of righteousness” and in the Bible, he is a type of Christ (Heb. 7:1f). So, beginning in Genesis 14, we see in seed form what Dr. Charles Dyer called, “The Tale of Two Cities.”203

Historically, we can summarize Babylon’s early history in Genesis with the following:

First, we have the rise of the city of the ungodly, Shinar or Babylon which had its beginnings not only in rebellion against God, but in an attempt to be like God.

Second, we see this city intruding on the land which God had promised to Abraham through whom the Messiah would come.

And third, suddenly brought into this narrative is the city of Salem, later to become Jerusalem, with a king who is a type of Christ, whose name means king of righteousness, and who meets Abraham and gives him a blessing.

Fourth, right after this, we have God Himself appearing to Abraham to reinforce His covenant with Abraham with specific boundaries given in connection with the land of promise and victory over the inhabitants of the land (cf. 15:1, 18-21).

    Isaiah 36-37

Babylon then disappears from the book of Genesis and the next place we find her mentioned in an historic way is in Isaiah 36-37. Here Hezekiah King of Judah is faced with invasion and is threatened by Sennacherib King of Assyria. In this passage we find Hezekiah reading the terms of surrender from Sennacherib, but Hezekiah turned the matter over to the Lord and was delivered.

However, in chapters 38-39 we have a lapse of faith by Hezekiah. Because of this, Isaiah the prophet predicted that all he had stored would be taken to Babylon where some of the King’s sons would become officials of the palace of the King of Babylon. This was a prophecy of the Babylonian captivity which took place about 100 years later.

Hezekiah’s descendants represented the Davidic kingdom and the line of Messiah. Their city, Jerusalem, was the place of the temple with the Shekinah glory. This represented the presence of God and was the place of God’s worship. All of this represented God’s reign and kingdom on earth. What does this mean?

(1) Through the Babylonian captivity, Nebuchadnezzar invaded the land, destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the temple, and deported Judah’s king.

(2) This was a product of God’s judgment against Israel for her continued disobedience as He had predicted through the prophets, but nevertheless, the first kingdom that man had started, Babylon, literally attacked and destroyed the kingdom of God on earth. From this point in history, there has not been a king from the line of David sitting on the throne of David in Jerusalem.

In a sense, though temporary, this is the triumph of mankind over God’s kingdom. The book of Daniel pictures this in the statue with King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon as the head of gold. This statue as described for us in Daniel 2 represents what our Lord referred to as “the times of the Gentiles” spoken of earlier.

So historically we see three things about Babylon:

(1) It begins as the place of man’s rebellion through tyranny and a united world effort which God judged by the confusion of languages.

(2) It’s also the instrument that seeks to take away the land promised by God to His people, the Israelites,

(3) and it is the kingdom that destroys or at least disrupts God’s kingdom here on earth and starts the times of the Gentiles, the time of Gentile domination.

The Origin of Babylon’s Religion

Ancient records indicate that Nimrod had a wife named Semiramis who was the founder and first high priestess of the Babylonian mystery religion. She gave birth to a son named Tammuz, whom she claimed was conceived miraculously. This son was considered savior of his people and in effect was the first false Messiah—a counterfeit of Genesis 3:15 and God’s promise of a Savior. The son was to have been killed by a wild beast, but brought back to life.

The religious system of Semiramis had many secret rites in the worship of its idols. These were called mysteries (secrets) into which new members had to be initiated. When the initiates were initiated they were given a cup containing a mysterious drink made of wine, honey, water and flour. This represented the doctrines of the cult, but these also made the participant intoxicated and prepared for what the participant was about to see, hear and do. These rites involved consecrated male and female prostitution and the most sordid sexual immorality carried out in connection with its idolatrous worship. The fornication is both physical and spiritual (Rev. 17:2-5).

The rites incorporated the worship of the mother (who was called “the queen of heaven”) and the child. While the rites varied, and the idol images often varied from country to country as the cult spread from one location to another, they all contained one central feature, the worship of the goddess mother and her child. Often the names changed, but no matter where you went, pictures and images of a mother with a child in her arms were found. (See the study on Rev. 14.)

The religious system which began in Babel (or Babylon), became the mother, the source of all pagan religions of the world. This is the reason she is called “Mother of Harlots” (Rev. 17:5). This system spread to Greece, Egypt, Italy, Phoenicia, Israel, India, Asia Minor and Europe. Canaan was full of this iniquity and is one of the reasons God commanded Israel to destroy its inhabitants. Their failure to do so led to Israel’s own downfall and involvement with the Babylonian system.

Babylonianism Today

But what about the present? Now we come to information which will link the past with the present and help us to identify Babylonianism today. This will also help us to identify the religious city of 17:18 which, because of its Babylonianism, is symbolically called Babylon.

Linked with the central mystery of Babylon—the worship of the mother and child—were many other lesser mysteries which will have many familiar sounds. These include:

The Doctrine of Purgatory

The doctrine of purgatorial purification after death was seen first in pagan Babylonianism. It involved the same extortion and theft of the poor to get the dead cleansed and into a higher state. Prayers and supplications were offered by the priest but only after great fees were collected.204

The Doctrine of Extreme Unction

In the pagan Babylonian system the dying were anointed for their last journey. This was done in the name of Bee?l-samen, “lord of heaven” and “lord of oil,” the anointed one.205 In James 5 anointing, by contrast, is to be done medicinally, with a view to health, not death.

The Doctrine of Festivals of Ancient Babylonianism

    Yule Day

Yule means “infant,” thus, the day of birth. In Egypt the son of Isis, the Egyptian title for the queen of heaven, was to have been born at the end of December. Long before they were introduced to Christianity, Anglo Saxons celebrated a “Yule Day” and this was preceded by “A Mother’s Night.” The Sabaeans of Arabia likewise celebrated a birth festival on the 24th of December. This was the birth of their moon god, “Lord Moon” which in the East was called “Meni” (Isa. 65:11). A special tree and a yule log were both involved with this festival. The yule log represented Nimrod, the dead stock of Nimrod, cut down by his enemies, and the tree represented Nimrod come to life.

    March 25

Long before the birth of Christ pagan Rome honored Cybele, the mother of the Babylonian Messiah, with a special day, March 25th, nine months before December 25th. Today in Rome this is called “the Annunciation of Mary.”

    Easter

Easter was another name for Astarte or Istar, which were other names for the queen of heaven. This festival in ancient Babylonianism was a 40-day weeping period for Tammuz just prior to the festival of Astarte (or Istar or Easter), who was said to have received her son back from the dead; for it was taught that he was slain by a wild beast (boar). To him the egg was sacred, depicting the mystery of resurrection.

Fifteen hundred years before Christ the hot cross buns of Good Friday were used in the worship of the queen of heaven, the goddess of Easter. They were even called “the boun,” i.e., “bun” (Jer. 7:18). They were first offered, then later eaten.

The egg can be traced back to the fable of the mystic egg of the Babylonians. “An egg of wondrous size” is said to have fallen from heaven into the River Euphrates. The fishes rolled it to the bank where the doves having settled upon it, hatched it. Out came Venus who afterwards was called the Assyrian goddess or Astarte, the queen of heaven. So the egg first was a symbol of Astarte or Easter, the queen of heaven.

Thus you can see the background for lent, the 40-day period prior to Easter, and the Easter festival. Some simply adopted the egg and applied it to the resurrection of Christ. In the very early church there was the celebration of the Passover on Friday before the resurrection, but it was not called Easter.

    The Nativity of John the Baptist

One of the grand and original festivals of Tammuz, the child of Semiramis, was observed in June. In fact, June was called by his name in some places. Other periods had been devoted to the commemoration of the death and reviving of the Babylonian god for various reasons in different countries, but the month of Tammuz appears to have been the primitive date of this festival. As a result, this date and festival still had a firm hold on the people in various parts of the Roman world, so the papacy came up with a solution. John the Baptist was born six months before Christ, which according to their festival for Christ’s birth was December 25, so June would be John’s birth month. One of their many sacred names for Tammuz was Oannes. This was just perfect because in Latin, the sacred language of the church, John was Joannes. Thus, this festival was continued and suited both Christians and pagans alike.

    The Feast of Assumption

This is the teaching that Mary saw no corruption, but was in body and soul carried up to heaven and is now invested with all power of heaven and earth. This too, goes back to Babylonian mystery.

The Doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration

This doctrine of Rome did not come out of mistaken use of Scriptures such as Acts 2:38, but from Babylon itself. The baptism was by immersion and was a part of the initiation rites of Babylonianism. It was a rather rough process along with the other parts of the initiation and if one survived, then he was admitted to the knowledge of the mysteries. It took real courage to submit to these rites. The motivation, please note, was regeneration and pardon of all sins! Babylonianism spread all over the world and it touched all nations. Thus, as you would expect, baptismal regeneration was even found in Mexico before Roman Catholic missionaries ever arrived, as well as in India and among our Anglo ancestors.

The Sign of the Cross

The sign of the cross as used in Rome, did not originate with Christianity as many assume, but came right out of mystery Babylon. It represented the mystic Tau, the letter “T” and the initial for the name Tammuz. It was seen as follows:

These symbols were used on the official garments of the priests of Babylonia and worn around their necks on chains, just as in Rome today.

Bacchus, another name for Tammuz, was represented with a headband covered with crosses.

This is not all. Much of what one finds in Rome can be traced back to the Babylonian mysteries; the holy water, the keys of the Pope, the fables of Mary, the clothing and images, the statues which shed tears or winked, the rosary, the sacred heart, the lamps and candles, the wafer changed into God, the priests and nuns, and the Pontifex-Maximus.

Charles Chiniquy, a man who was 50 years in the Roman Church and 25 years a Roman priest said: “It was certainly our desire, as well as our interest, to believe them (the dogmas, precepts and practices of Rome). But how our faith was shaken, and how we felt troubled when Livy, Tacitus, Cicero, Virgil, Homer, etc., gave us evidence that the greater part of these things had their root and origin in paganism.” Of course he meant by this, mystery Babylon.

He then went on to give an illustration and told how they had been told to trust in the scapulars (the sleeveless outer garment of a priest or monk), medals, holy water, etc., because they would keep them safe and aid in battling the temptations of life. But, how again their faith was shaken when in reading the Greek and Latin historians, they found the same things involved with the worship of Jupiter, Minerva, Diana and Venus (the mother-child cult). He said they asked each other (fellow students) the question, “what is the difference between the religion of heathen Rome and that of Rome today?” More than one student would answer, “the only difference is in the name.” The idolatrous temples are the same, the idols have not left their places, the incense still burns in their honor. Instead of calling this statue Jupiter, we call it Peter, and instead of calling another Minerva or Venus, we call it St. Mary. It is the old idolatry coming to us under Christian names.

What brought about the transference of mystery Babylon over into Christianity and the rise of what we know as Romanism or Roman Catholicism? Remember, we are identifying present day religious Babylonianism. We have already seen the similarities and origin, but what made the transfers.

In A.D. 312, Constantine, Emperor of Rome was marching against Maxentius from France into Italy. The story goes that he had a vision in which he saw a cross, or perhaps the letter, “X” the initial of Christ. With this was the inscription “conquer by this.” He determined that if he was victorious he would make Christianity the legal and official religion of the Roman world. So, taking this as the sign of God, he did as he was told. On his banner and on the soldiers’ shields he put the letters “X” and “R for the initials of Christ. He was victorious and he issued the Edict of Milam which made Christianity the official religion. All persecution of Christians stopped and being a Christian became the vogue of the day.

What actually happened was the name “Christianity” was given to the pagan Babylonian mystery religion with but a few necessary changes. The temples became the churches, the priests and nuns became the leaders of Christianity. The statues and festivals were given new names, but it was the same system with a new name. Only the names were changed to deceive the innocent. Astarte or Cybele became Mary, and Tammuz, Baal or Bacchus became Jesus, etc.

In the days of Julius Caesar the emperor became the high priest of the Babylonian cult and wore on his crown the name “Pontifex Maximus.” “Pontifex” means “the bridge maker,” i.e., between God and man. “Maximus” means the “greatest.” So this became the title of the high priest of mystery Babylon. Today the Pope wears the same title and calls himself the sovereign pontiff of the College of Pontiffs and the successor of Peter. However, the truth is he is the successor of Babylonian high priests. He is not the successor of the Apostle Peter, but the direct successor of the high priests of the Babylonian mystery cult, the servant of the fish god, Dagon, whose ring (the fish ring) he wears just as did his successors. Even the keys he wears which he claims came from Peter, came instead from the heathen Babylonian gods of Janus and Cybele who bore keys in ancient Babylonianism. Not until 431 A.D. did Roman Catholicism publicly lay claim to the possession of Peter’s keys (Matt. 16:19).

Ancient religious Babylonianism (the mother of harlots) which began in Babel (Babylon), today resides in Romanism which is headquartered in the ancient city of Rome and is spread practically all over the world. This is undoubtedly the religious Babylon of Revelation 17:18.

The Destruction of Religious Babylon

As we study about Babylon, it is important to remember that Babylon refers to more than a city in Revelation 17 and 18. It stands for a system of evil, religiously and politically. Americans speak of “Wall Street” and “Madison Avenue.” These are actually streets, but they also stand for the center of the financial and advertising enterprises of this country.

Revelation 17 describes the apostate religious system as it will come to its zenith in the first half of the Tribulation, but it will be destroyed by the Ten Nation Confederation in the middle of the Tribulation. The true church will have been raptured, but the apostate and false religious systems continue on and become united under the one world system of Babylon, which will may well be headed up by Rome.

As some of the parables of Matthew 13 suggest, and Paul and Peter explicitly warn us, the church age will be characterized by growing apostasy (see 1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 3:13; 2 Pet. 2:1-3:4). This apostasy will take the form of ecumenicity—the movement of uniting all religions together into a one-world church governed and controlled by Rome. To accomplish its goals, this apostate ecumenical system will of necessity employ a number of practices to bring off its goals of a world-wide, universal church.

(1) Eclecticism: This is that philosophy of religion which refuses to accept any one system of doctrine, but seeks to take the so-called best from all systems of belief. Eclectics, at least outwardly, seek to be fair to all and therefore yield to all.

(2) Latitudinarianism: This is that system of religion which cares little about creeds or doctrine. In this system sincerity is more important than what is believed. But as above, it opens the door for anything.

(3) Syncretism: This system seeks to unite all opposing theological and philosophical positions by arriving at a common denominator or by coming to a new synthesis.

In all of these there will be persecution and rejection of the truth on behalf of establishing a world church. True Christianity is exclusive. It sees that there may be some truth in other religions but only Christianity has The Truth in the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Scripture (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). The world hates this commitment to absolute truth, especially as it is promoted in Scripture (the Written Word) and in the person and work of Jesus Christ (the Living Word). After all, the world is the child of the Antichrist, and as mentioned in previous lessons, while claiming to be eclectic, latitudinarian, and syncretistic, the one-world system of the last days will have no tolerance for true Bible-based Christianity and will seek to persecute and annihilate believers in Christ unmercifully.

Political Babylon to be Rebuilt
on the Euphrates in the Tribulation

The announcement of the fall of Babylon in chapter 18 which comes immediately after the destruction of the harlot in chapter 17, causes many to think that these are one and the same event. However, there are several things which show they are two different events, though described in similar terms. We have here the fall of religious Babylon followed later by the fall of political and commercial Babylon.

(1) The woman of chapter 17 is made desolate, naked, and burned with fire by the beast with the ten horns, whereas the fall of chapter 18 is accomplished directly by God at the end of the Tribulation (cf. 16:19-21). The fall of religious Babylon (chapter 17) occurs when the beast assumes his religious role in the middle of the Tribulation and assumes world political power. The world apostate ecumenical system is destroyed in favor of the new world religion which worships the political dictator of chapter 13 whose capitol city will be in rebuilt Babylon.

The destruction of Babylon in chapter 18 should be compared with the preceding announcement in 16:19 where the great city is divided and the cities of the Gentiles fall. This event comes late in the great Tribulation, just prior to the second coming of Christ, in contrast to the destruction of the harlot of chapter 17 which seems to precede the great Tribulation and paves the way for the worship of the beast (13:8).206

(2) The context of chapter 18 with its many references to the kings and merchants and commerce shows that, in this setting, Babylon is viewed in her political, economic, and commercial character, rather than in her religious role (vss. 11-19).

(3) As Walvoord suggests,

The term “Babylon” in Scripture is more than a reference to the false religious system which stemmed from ancient Babylon. Out of ancient Babylon came the political power represented first in Nimrod and later in Nebuchadnezzar in his great world empire. In some sense this is continued in the commercial system which came from both the religious and political Babylons. It seems that chapter 17 deals with the religious aspect and chapter 18 with the political and economic aspects of Babylon.207

Both aspects have continued down through the centuries. For an Old Testament reference to the commercial aspect, see the vision of the woman with the ephah (a sign of commerce) in Zechariah 5:5-11).

(4) Walvoord points out another significant difference which suggests we have two different aspect of Babylon in chapters 17 and 18.

According to verse 9 the kings of the earth as well as the merchants will all mourn the passing of the Babylon of chapter 18. There is apparently no mourning connected with the destruction of the woman in chapter 17.208

The ten horns and the beast hate the woman (17:16). This would strongly suggest we have two distinct destructions. All of this indicates that the Babylon of chapter 18 is a city that will be rebuilt as the capitol of the world empire in the great Tribulation period and that Babylon in this chapter refers to ancient Babylon which is to be rebuilt rather than to Rome.

Some argue against the rebuilding of Babylon and claim that we must not take the references to Babylon in Revelation too literally. They say this chapter refers to a spiritual Babylon, a city which will become the incarnation of ancient Babylon, but will not be a literal Babylon. They maintain Babylon has already been destroyed and Old Testament prophecy teaches us it will never be rebuilt. But let’s consider some prophetic facts about Babylon.

(1) The Bible predicts the destruction of Babylon will be final and complete (Jer. 50:35, 39-40; Isa. 13:1, 19-22). These verses show that it will no more be inhabited and that its destruction will be as Sodom and Gomorrah with absolutely nothing left (Jer. 51:24-26).

(2) Scripture also predicts that the destruction would be sudden, quick (Jer. 51:8).

(3) The Old Testament predicts this destruction will come in the “Day of the Lord” (Isa. 13:6-11; 13:1; 14:1-3; Jer. 50:1-6).

(4) At the time of her destruction there will be a disturbance in the sun and moon (Isa. 13:10).

(5) Universal peace will result from the overthrow of Babylon (Isa. 14:7-8).

(6) A literal interpretation of Zechariah 5:5-11 demands a restored and rebuilt Babylon. These verses involve the vision of the ephah. A woman called “wickedness” is seen sitting in an ephah measure, covered with a round piece of lead. An ephah to a Jew was a perfect symbol of commerce and was the largest dry measure of the Jews. The ephah is then borne away by two women with wings of a stork “to build for it an house in the land of Shinar” (the land of Babylon). This vision anticipates a final concentration of wickedness and commercialism in a great center in the land of Shinar (Babylon) which would reach out over the whole earth. This is the exact portrayal of Babylon as seen in Revelation 18.

(7) The historical situation concerning Babylon shows much of the prophecies mentioned above have not been fulfilled and must await a final and complete fulfillment. The prophecies regarding Babylon are an illustration of dual reference with a partial (near) fulfillment versus a complete (far) fulfillment.

When the Medes and Persians conquered the city they came suddenly and gained immediate control, but they did not destroy the city. Instead Cyrus the Mede beautified the city in 540 B.C. Hundreds of years later many Jews still lived at Babylon and a Jewish Talmud actually originated from there. In the twelfth century A.D. Babylon had grown and several mosques had been erected. Later a city by the name of Hillah was built there and in 1900 it had a population of ten thousand. The land around Babylon is fertile today and dates are grown in abundance (Isa. 13:21f).

Other cities around the area of Babylon were built from the ruins of ancient Babylon; in fact the city of Hillah was built entirely from the ruins of Babylon. Bricks with the word “Babylon” stamped on them have been found as far away as Bagdad.

It is obvious from this historical information that the city was not destroyed suddenly nor completely. Instead, it continued to be inhabited after it was conquered and the land around her did not become desolate, but continued to be populated and fertile. This is a fact of history. Her ruins were used in building other cities and there was no disturbance in the sun or moon, nor did universal peace follow.

The Word of God is true and these prophecies still await a future fulfillment.

The description of Babylon’s destruction in Revelation 18 declares it will be destroyed suddenly (“in one day her plagues will come” [vs. 8]; “for in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste” [vs. 17]). The destruction will be complete and final, “it shall be found no more at all” (Jer. 51:63-64); “So will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer” (Rev. 18:21). Babylon will be destroyed with fire from heaven as God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (Rev. 18:18; 16:17-21). Universal peace will follow the destruction.

All of this coincides exactly with the prophecies of the Old Testament and shows that Babylon must be rebuilt in the Tribulation in order to be destroyed as prophesied in “the Day of the Lord.”

Rome may well be the religious Babylon of the world in the first half of the Tribulation, but I am convinced that Babylon on the Euphrates will be rebuilt and will be the political and commercial capitol in the last half of the Tribulation.


199 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Moody Press, Chicago, 1966, p. 243.

200 Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1988, p. 221.

201 Ross, p. 234.

202 Taken from a tape by Dr. Charles Dyer, professor at Dallas Theological Seminary.

203 Dyer.

204 Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons, Loizeaux Brothers, Second Edition 1959, p. 167f.

205 Hislop, p. 166

206 Walvoord, p. 259.

207 Walvoord.

208 Walvoord.

Ad Category: 
Passage: 
Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

24. The Judgment of Religious Babylon (Rev 17:1-18)

The Description of Religious Babylon
(17:1-6a)

Verse 1. John is called to come and see the judgment of Babylon, but in the process he also gets a description of the woman (Babylon). The subject of this section is the judgment of religious Babylon. The judgment describes her condemnation, sentence, and penalty passed. The emphasis is the particular character and nature of the penalty that God has in store for Babylon.

In keeping with the laws of the harvest, Scripture teaches that whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap. The harlot system has seduced men and nations and tried to rule them politically. Nations have bowed and scraped to her for centuries, but a time will come when they will revolt and destroy her.

Babylon’s description as “the great harlot” refers to the spiritual prostitution and fornication that categorizes the apostate church of the Tribulation which is unfaithful and rejects the Lord Jesus Christ as her husband (2 Pet. 2:1-2). “Great” refers to the harlot system which will reach its zenith after the removal of the true church (genuine believers) by way of the rapture. The prostitute exists today in many forms (Roman Catholicism, liberal Protestantism, the cults, etc.), but after the church is gone, or perhaps even before it is gone, they will unite and become one great ecumenical religious system.

“That sits on many waters” refers to world-wide unification and control. “Waters” refers to the “nations” and the many people of those nations. “Sits on” suggests the concept of control as well as unification. The nations are religiously united and politically affiliated with each other through the power and control of this religious system and its head. When the church is raptured, the apostate system which will already have spread its tentacles all over the world, will quickly unite and become the one-world church.

One of the things we should be watching for are tendencies and movements among the religious groups of the world toward a united world church, and we have been seeing this for years. One of the recent “uniting factors” is the present day tongues movement. It seems the tongues experience becomes a uniting force that unites Roman Catholics, Charismatics, liberal Protestants, and even the cults, and this regardless of the divergent doctrinal views, many of which are clearly contrary to Scripture.

Verse 2. “With whom (the harlot) the kings of the earth have committed fornication” is a reference to the leaders of the non-communist block of nations in which the religious system has her tentacles. This is an alliance of church and state which is an unfaithful act for both. This causes both to prostitute (compromise) their responsibility before God. Both state and church were established by God, but must remain separate if they are to carry out their purpose. They are to support one another, but the moment they merge, both liberty and spiritual freedom are lost (at least eventually). By separate, I am not talking about the separation of church and state that is being promoted today where prayer and dependence on God has been removed from the classroom while godless ideologies are being promoted.209

Below is an extended portion quoted from the chapter entitled, “The Myth the Church Should Have No Voice in Government” in the book, Exploding The Myths That Could Destroy America, by Erwin W. Lutzer:

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17).

This statement of Christ’s was revolutionary. To those believers who were under the Roman yoke He said that we can, under certain conditions, have loyalty both to God and to the state. But Christ also knew that conflict between the two spheres would become inevitable when the secular authority would demand for himself honors that belong only to God. Yet, as far as possible, believers should live with loyalty to both authorities.

Church-state conflict goes back to the early days when Christianity was outlawed and was set in opposition to Roman rule. Early Christians died not because the Romans were intolerant (they would accept whatever god anyone wished to worship). What they abhorred was the exclusivism of Christianity. The belief that Jesus Christ was the only Lord galled the Romans and led many Christians to the lions.

Early Christianity was a minority religion in a secular state. But all of that changed under Constantine, who wanted to make Christianity coextensive with the state. In other words, everyone who would be born within the boundaries of the Roman Empire would be a Christian.

As a result of this development, the church and state were united. In the eleventh century, Pope Gregory VII struggled with the mightiest king in Western Europe, Henry IV of Germany The question was, Who would have the authority to appoint bishops? The king insisted that that was his prerogative, but the pope maintained that such a conclusion would place the church subordinate to the state and hence corrupt the faith. When King Henry visited the pope’s castle in Italy, he was required to stand barefoot for three days and ask for mercy before receiving the pope’s pardon. It made sense to the pontiff that the church should have authority over the state so that heretics could be punished and doctrinal purity maintained.

Later when the Anabaptists revolted against the unity of church and state, they were put to death and persecuted with the full approval of the Reformers. Men such as Luther believed that if the church were considered to be a segment of society rather than coextensive with society, the social order would be broken up. The Anabaptists who held the strict separation of church and state were therefore persecuted for their belief.

When the Pilgrims came to what today is called the United States it was to escape the tyranny of a state church. They understood that when church and state were united there was not only a loss of individual freedom but the abuse of using civil power to enforce the whim of the religious elite.

In our Constitution these familiar words appear: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Clearly the intention was (1) to limit the power of the federal government by ensuring that it would not establish a state church, then (2) it was not to prohibit the free exercise of religion.

Today this amendment is being deliberately misinterpreted to try to separate God from government. Whenever any religious influence is exerted in government agencies, the secularists cry “Foul!” And if a citizen raises his voice against secularism he is told to be silent because of the supposed “wall of separation” between church and state.

The phrase “wall of separation” does not appear in the Constitution, but had its origin in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 to a group of Baptists and Congregationalists in Danbury, Connecticut who had called him an infidel. He then said there should be a “wall of separation between church and state.” Interestingly, the USSR Constitution does use the expression “wall of separation between church and state.” This basic tenet is found in most Communist countries. Churches are permitted to operate in all those areas where the political authorities do not have power, but because the state has supreme authority over all matters, religion is literally squeezed out of existence.

The fathers of this nation never dreamed that separation of church and state meant that God should be separated from government. The government buildings in Washington bear ample testimony to the belief that faith in God is the basis for establishing laws and running the affairs of a nation.

For example, the Ten Commandments hang over the head of the chief justice of the Supreme Court (would that they had been read before the infamous Roe v. Wade decision of 1973). In the rotunda the words “In God we trust” are engraved, and on the Library of Congress we have “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth His handiwork.” The Washington monument and other government buildings contain phrases of Scripture.

The Bible has much to say about the Christian’s responsibility in government.

SUPPLICATION

Most letters that congressmen receive are complaints from their constituents. Seldom are they ever affirmed and told that they are doing a good job. Even more rarely do politicians learn that individual believers have been praying for them. And yet, this is precisely Paul’s command. “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

Paul uses four words to stress our intercession for government leaders. We must have entreaties (praying for specific needs); prayers (a more general word referring to the need for wisdom in daily decisions); petitions (a reference to our ability as believers to come before God in behalf of others) and finally thankfulness (gratitude to God for what leadership has been provided).

Because our political leaders are often non-Christians it is easy to think there is no use praying for them. But Paul makes it clear the Christian has a duty to pray that the state will protect its citizens and encourage an atmosphere where man can be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. If we are not constantly in prayer for our leaders we really cannot complain when our freedoms are taken away from us.

Think of what it would mean to a politician to receive letters from Christians without complaints, just to say that they are praying. With such power at our disposal we might be surprised at what God would bring about simply because His people are obedient to this command.

SUBMISSION

When Paul wrote the book of Romans, Christianity was not viewed with favor in the Roman Empire. Yet he exalts the role of government in the economy of God, and says, “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves” (Romans 13:1-2).

Why does Paul urge submission? First, because government is ordained of God. This is difficult to believe, particularly when we see the evil governments in existence today. What about China? The Soviet Union? Iran or Libya?

The Scriptures teach an interesting paradox: On the one hand Satan is actively involved in the political process. In fact, he said to Christ, “I will give you all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomsoever I wish. Therefore if you worship before me it shall all be yours” (Luke 4:6-7). The book of Daniel teaches that there are wicked spirits who are assigned to various leaders. There is no question that some world leaders are but tools of the devil.

Yet at the same time the Bible clearly teaches that God rules in the affairs of men. “For not from the east, nor from the west, nor from the desert comes exaltation; but God is the judge; He puts down one, and exalts another” (Psalm 75:6-7).

Even more vividly, Nebuchadnezzar was driven to insanity and ate grass like the cattle until he learned that “The Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whomever He wishes” (Daniel 4:25b).

How shall we understand this apparent contradiction? Satan’s authority is derived, it is not inherent in his own person. God has given him the rulership of the world, but he exercises his authority within the limitations prescribed by God. God controls the ultimate outcome of whatever decisions Satan may be allowed to make. And, of course, God rules everything according to His own will and to accomplish His own ultimate purpose. Yes, Nero along with Hitler and Stalin were “ordained of God.”

Furthermore, government represents God. Paul wrote, “Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” To resist governmental authority is to resist God. Whether we think a law is fair or not, we have no right to disobey simply because of our own preferences. Government is God-ordained.

But should we always obey the government? No, not always. As we shall see in the final chapter of this book, there is a place for civil disobedience. The history of the Christian church is filled with names of those who believed that they must obey God and not the rules of men.210

Verse 2 continued: “They have been made drunk with the wine of her immorality.” The wine refers to the demonic doctrines, ideologies and concepts produced by this religious/political alliance. In ancient Babylon it involved the mysteries of the mother-child cult and the one-world order of Nimrod and later Nebuchadnezzar. In our day the worship of the queen of heaven is still present (a new face for an old concept) namely, one-world order through social reform and the mysticism of the New Age movement. One idea that has been promoted by liberal Protestantism is we are all God’s children and can come to God in various ways; another is the delusion Satan has promoted from the beginning that we can be like God (Gen. 3:5). This has nothing to do with becoming like the children of God through Christ, but becoming like gods through New Age mysticism. So all racial distinctions, religious distinctions, and social distinctions must be removed. Everyone must learn to get along. Social reform and unification will be promoted as the greatest need of man thereby setting aside the real spiritual needs of men as they are found only in Christ who alone provides the basis for true unity and capacity to love one another.

“Drunkenness” in any form is an escape mechanism and the result of negative volition, indifference, apathy, and rejection of God’s revelation to man in Christ and the Bible. Because of the great negative volition that will exist at the time of the Tribulation, the world will be ripe for the wine of the harlot’s system. Lutzer and DeVries give us an excellent overview of the nature of this intoxicating wine of Babylon. In a section entitled, “Where New Meets Old” they write:

Read the Old Testament and you will be impressed with the number of times the name Babylon appears. The city began when men rebelled against God and attempted to build a tower—called Babel in Genesis 11:9—that would reach to the heavens (Here man was undoubtedly attempting to be like God under Satan’s delusion [parenthesis mine]). From those occult beginnings, Babylon eventually rose to become a dominant power with its sorcery permeating the ancient world. The prophets of God condemned it because it represented all that was most evil in man’s attempts to dethrone God.

What did the Babylonians believe that was so perverse? Isaiah 47:8-11 summarizes their religion:

8 Now, then, hear this, you sensual one, Who dwells securely, Who says in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me. I shall not sit as a widow, Nor shall I know loss of children.’ 9 But these two things shall come on you suddenly in one day: Loss of children and widowhood. They shall come on you in full measure In spite of your many sorceries, In spite of the great power of your spells. 10 And you felt secure in your wickedness and said, ‘No one sees me,’ Your wisdom and your knowledge, they have deluded you; For you have said in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me.’ 11 But evil will come on you Which you will not know how to charm away; And disaster will fall on you For which you cannot atone, And destruction about which you do not know Will come on you suddenly.

Take a close look at the text. Ancient Babylon had a spiritual religion built upon blasphemous premises:

(1) The deity of man—“I am. And there is no one besides me.”

(2) A false belief in triumph over death—“I shall not sit as a widow, nor shall I know the loss of children.”

(3) Moral relativism—“Hear this, you sensual one.”

(4) Esotericism, or private enlightenment through mystical spiritual experiences—“Your many sorceries . . the great power of your spells.”

Texe Marrs in his book Dark Secrets of the New Age lists nearly 30 rituals and beliefs found in ancient Babylon that are practiced today in the New Age Movement! Everything from reincarnation to occult meditation was commonplace 3,000 years ago.

The New Testament predicts that at the end of this age the religion of ancient Babylon will again stand in opposition to God. A woman clothed in purple and scarlet is described by the Apostle John as having the mystery name on her forehead, “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (Revelation 17:5).

We may not be certain that the New Age Movement of today is indeed the final Babylon of Revelation. What we do know is that the final Babylon will practice the same occult religion as that of ancient Babylon. That is the religion which is now sweeping the Western world and gaining widespread acceptance among all levels of our society.

The New Age thus is a revival of the Old Age. And the New Age may well turn out to be the Final Age. For as modern Babylon gains in momentum, it will once again assault the heavens and shake its fist in the face of God …211

Verse 3. “The scarlet beast” refers to the Antichrist. He is scarlet because he is blood-thirsty and will at the right time kill the woman (the religious system). As seen earlier (Rev. 13) he is “filled with names of blasphemy,” which refers to his anti-god character and to the blasphemous claims he will later make (2 Thess. 2:4).

In verse 3 we are told John was taken to a “wilderness.” Obviously, this refers to a desolate, desert-kind of place, but it is designed to picture the world which the woman and beast will rule. It will be full of cities and peoples, but it will be a spiritual desert. There will be no true spiritual food or water from this empty religious system. The world will be starving and dying. This is what religion does for man, it leaves him in the desert.

However, in the desert, God has provided an “oasis,” a place where food and water can be found for those who are seeking. This of course is a picture of Jesus Christ and His plan for feeding the hungry. Today it involves local churches where the Word is taught, but in the Tribulation it will involve the ministry of the 144,000 evangelists of chapters 7 and 14, as well as the two witnesses and others who are saved.

This is our responsibility today, to be an oasis holding forth the Word of life. If we are faithful to do this, individually and corporately, the Lord will give us an open door to those who are thirsty. He will lead us to the hungry and them to us (Rev. 3:7-8).

The woman is described as “clothed in purple and scarlet and adorned with gold, precious stones and pearls.” Purple and scarlet have for centuries been the colors of royalty and of the wealthy. In part they stand for her political power, and in part they point to her religious pomp and trappings. The “gold, precious stones and pearls” refer to her immense wealth. These colors have for centuries been the colors of the Roman Catholic Church, and the wealth of this church is immense. Many believe that Papal Rome will somehow be involved in this last time system, at least in the first half of the Tribulation.

“Having a golden cup” refers to her enticing manner of alluring men and nations. She invites men to drink of her deadly and stupefying wine by offering it in a golden cup, while arrayed in all her splendor.

All of this—the gold and religious trappings—appeals to the sensual, material and religious bent of man’s sinful nature. He admires this, he is awed by it, and it blinds him.

“Abominations and unclean things” may refer to the various forms of idolatry involved in the worship of God through images, statues, and medals, etc. “Unclean things” refers not only to the nature of the doctrines taught, but what they lead to in the life, immorality and impurity. Man’s religion offers no solution to the flesh. It’s the flesh seeking to overcome the flesh and it profits nothing (John 6:63; Col. 2:20-23).

First Timothy 4:1-5 emphasizes that not only are such doctrines demonic and satanic, but gives us one of the primary doctrines of latter day Babylonianism, celibacy among the priests. This has led to horrible atrocities in the Roman Catholic Church. In Chiniquy’s book, Fifty Years in the Roman Catholic Church, he says that a young student priest was questioning a superior about this doctrine of Rome and received the following reply: “You have spoken as a true heretic … you speak of the Holy Scriptures just as a Protestant would, do you appeal to them as the only source of Christian truth and knowledge. Have you forgotten that we have the holy traditions to guide us, the authority of which is equal to the Scriptures?” Later he said: “You are not required to understand all the reasons for the vow of celibacy; but you are bound to believe in its necessity and holiness.”

This nullified Scripture on the basis of human tradition (Mark 7:13). Such a position refuses to allow people to carry out their responsibility to function as Berean believers (Acts 17:11). The idea of celibacy as a means to holiness is absolutely contrary to Scripture. As is always the case, false doctrine produces false practice. The Scriptures teach celibacy (remaining single) should not be embarked upon unless one has the gift of celibacy (Matt. 19:10-12; 1 Cor. 7:7-8). It teaches that marriage is good, a blessing and one of God’s means to avoid fornication; that it is an aid to happiness and a means of avoiding temptation (1 Cor. 7:2, 5, 8). Marriage is a blessing in those without the gift, and even allowable in those who do not have the gift (1 Cor. 7:2, 8, 28). Spiritual leaders such as Peter were married (2 Cor. 9:5).

“And on her forehead was written …” The practice of harlots in ancient times was to write their names on their foreheads for easy recognition, which showed the shamelessness of their character. It revealed a seared conscience from continual rejection of God’s truth.

“Mystery” here is not a part of the name but a description of the name, a secret. Initiation into the mysteries of the cult was always a part of Babylonianism and links this harlot with the ancient system. This connects the new and final system with the ancient system.

“Babylon the Great” is the secret name. It is telling us that Babylon the Great refers not only to the city of chapter 18, but to a religious system, the Babylonianism of ancient time, which will reach its peak in the Tribulation.

“The mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth.” First, this points to the source. Besides the concept of origin or source of all spiritual idolatry and false religions, the word “mother” indicates the position the harlot will play in the final days. She will gather all the forms of false religions under her wings for the one great world-wide harlot system.

“And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints …” is a reference to the rampant martyrdom of believers during this time. One good way to promote the one-world church will simply be the annihilation of all opposition.

The Description of the Beast
(17:6b-14)

John’s Wonderment and Interest

“And when I saw her (the woman sitting on the beast) I wondered greatly.” “Wondered” is the Greek qaumazw, “to be amazed, surprised,” or “to wonder at something with attentive interest.” Should we not see in this the effect that all doctrine or Bible study should have on our hearts? As we open the Word and study and reflect on its marvelous truth, should it not lead to a spirit of wonder, amazement? We should be keenly interested in the details of God’s revelation, its explanation, and application.

When this is true, something always happens. God sees to it that we have an opportunity to learn and to know (John 7:17; Jer. 29:13). He sends along a Philip or one of His servants as here in Revelation 17 (Acts. 8:26f).

The Answer and Promise of the Angel (7)

“And the angel said to me ‘Why do you wonder?’” In other words, why do you stand there gawking! Perhaps he was reminding John (and us) of the principle of prayer, “ask and you shall receive …” or “if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God …” Nothing thrills the heart of God more than the hungry, searching heart of a believer seeking to know God’s Word.

So the angel promises to tell John about the mystery, the secret concerning the woman and the beast. I suppose from the world’s twisted perspective, this is the story of beauty (man’s viewpoint) and the beast. But there is more. By the angel’s question and description of the woman, however, he shows we should not marvel at the woman which appears in such pompous and religious attire because she is so satanic and thereby destructive and deceptive. We should never be deceived by outward form or religiosity no matter how outwardly attractive or influential or powerful as is the case with this ecumenical and godless system.

The Description (8-14)

This is the same beast as describe