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Revelation 12-14

 

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

UBS4 NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
The Woman and the Dragon The Woman, the Child, and the Dragon The Vision of the Woman, the Child, and the Dragon The Woman and the Dragon The Vision of the Woman and the Dragon
12:1-6 12:1-6 12:1-6 12:1-2 12:1-6
  Satan Thrown Out of Heaven   12:3-6  
12:7-12 12:7-12 12:7-9 12:7-9 12:7-12`
  The Woman Persecuted 12:10-12 12:10-12  
12:13-17 12:13-17 12:13-17 12:13-18 12:13-17
The Two Beasts The Beast From the Sea The Two Beasts The Two Beasts The Dragon Delegates His Power to the Beast
12:18 12:18 12:18   12:18-13:10
13:1-4 13:1-10 13:1-4 13:1-4  
13:5-8   13:5-8 13:5-8  
13:9-10 The Beast from the Land 13:9-10 13:9-10 The False Prophet as the Slave of the Beast
13:11-18 13:11-18 13:11-18 13:11-17 13:11-17
      13:18 13:18
The Song of the 144,000 The Lamb and the 144,000 An Interlude The Lamb and His People The Companions of the Lamb
14:1-5 14:1-5 14:1-5 14:1-5 14:1-5
The Messages of the Three Angels The Proclamation of Three Angels   The Three Angels Angels Announce the Day of Judgment
14:6-7 14:6-13 14:6-7 14:6-7 14:6-7
14:8   14:8 14:8 14:8
14:9-12   14:9-11 14:9-11 14:9-13
    14:12 14:12  
14:13   14:13 14:13  
      14:13b  
The Harvest of the Earth Reaping the Earth's Harvest   The Harvest of the Earth The Harvest and the Vintage of the Gentiles
14:14-16 14:14-16 14:14-16 14:14-16 14:14-16
  Reaping the Grapes of Wrath      
14:17-20 14:17-20 14:17-20 14:17 14:17-20
      14:18-20  

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHT TO REVELATION 12:1-17

A. Another interlude begins in 12:1 and continues through 14:20. Many have asserted that this is really another series of sevens. This literary unit describes the spiritual conflict in dualistic terms among

1. the two kingdoms

2. the two cities

3. the two slain witnesses and their murderers

 

B. Verses 1-6 describe the ultimate (cosmic) battle between good and evil in mythological terms taken from Ancient Near Eastern cultures (cf. Grant Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral p. 229).

1. Babylonian creation account—Tiamat (chaos), a seven headed monster who threw down one third of the stars of heaven, versus Marduk, the chief god of the city of Babylon, who kills her and becomes the head of the pantheon.

2. Egyptian myth—Set (Typhon), a red dragon versus Isis (Hathor), giving birth to Horus. He later kills Set.

3. Ugaritic Baal legend—Yam (waters) versus Ba'al. Ba'al kills Yam.

4. Persian myth—Azhi Dabaka (evil dragon) versus son of Ahura Mazda (the high good god).

5. Greek myth—the Python (serpent/dragon) versus pregnant Leto (she gives birth to Apollo, who kills Python).

 

C. It is very difficult to know how to interpret this chapter. Some try to interpret it in historical terms, but it seems to me that it is symbolic of the struggle between the anti-God kingdoms of this age and the new age kingdom of our Christ (cf. 11:18; Psalm 2). Therefore, this is both a historical allusion to the birth of Christ and an emphasis on the coming of the Messianic kingdom. This is a dualism of an individual (Messiah) and a group (the people of God) versus an individual (Satan) and a group (demonically inspired unbelievers). This same dualism is seen in the Servant Songs of Isaiah. The servant is Israel (cf. Isa. 41-50), yet the Messiah (cf. Isa. 52:13-53:12).

 

D. Paul discusses the cosmic lordship of Christ in Colossians 1-2 (also note Heb. 1:2-3).

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 12:1-6
 1A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; 2and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth. 3Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. 4And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child. 5And 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. 6Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God, so that there she would be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

12:1 "A great sign appeared in heaven" This may be the beginning of "the seven signs" of the Revelation. This is a special theological term (sēmeion) used often in John's Gospel (cf. 2:11,23; 3:2; 4:54; 6:2,14,30; 7:31; 9:16; 10:41; 11:47; 12:18,37; 20:30). It now appears seven times between 12:1 and 19:20—three times of signs in heaven (cf. 12:1,3; 15:1) and four times of signs on the earth (cf. 13:13,14; 16:14; 19:20).

▣ "in heaven" This probably means "in the sky" and not in heaven itself. The term heaven(s) in the OT can refer to the atmosphere above the earth (cf. Gen. 1:1,8-9,17,20; Ps. 104:2-3) or the place where God dwells (cf. Ps. 11:4; 103:19; Isa. 66:1; II Corinthians 12). This ambiguity is what caused the rabbis to speculate on the number of heavens—three or seven.

See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE HEAVENS AND THE THIRD HEAVEN at 4:1.

▣ "a woman clothed with" This woman is beautifully described, in antithesis to the great whore of 17:4 who symbolizes anti-God world empires such as Babylon, Rome, and the end-time anti-Christ world system. There have been two theories about the source of John's imagery:

1. Genesis 3, where there is a woman, a serpent and a man-child

2. other strong allusions to "birthing" in the OT (cf. Isa. 26:17-18 in the Septuagint and Isa. 66:7-13)

Israel is described as a woman giving birth (cf. Mic. 4:10), therefore, this woman represents the true people of God (cf. vv. 1-6), but in vv. 13-17 she will be the NT people of God fleeing from the wrath of the dragon. For other theories see Alan Johnson's Revelation, pp. 117-119.

 In Answers to Questions F. F. Bruce said, "The woman I should think of as the messianic community or 'Israel of God' especially as manifested locally in the Palestinian church, the mother-church par excellence; . . . The 'remnant of her seed' will be Christians in other parts of the world, the target of attack in 13:7" (p. 140).

In New Bible Commentary George R. Beasley-Murray said, "Religious people of the ancient world would have seen in the travailing woman a goddess crowned with the twelve stars of the zodiac; a Jew would have understood her as Mother Zion (see Isa. 26:16-27:1; 49:14-25; 54:1-8; 66:7-9), but for John she represented the 'Mother' of the Messianic community, the believing people of God of old and new covenants" (p. 1441).

▣ "twelve stars" Here again our presuppositions drive the interpretation.

1. if it is OT then it refers to the twelve Jewish tribes

2. if it is intertestamental apocalyptic literature it refers to the signs of the zodiac

3. if it is NT then it refers to the twelve Apostles

Twelve is the regular biblical symbolic number of organization. See Special Topic: the Number Twelve at 7:4.

However, the meaning of chapter 12 is not conditioned on a proper identification of John's symbolism, but the central truth of the context. This principle must be maintained. We must not

1. push the details

2. choose some things literally and some things symbolically

3. force our interpretations into our historical setting

 

12:2 Birth pains were used as a symbol for

1. expected, but sudden events

2. the pain or problems associated with an expected event

3. the beginning of something new with great potential

The Jews believed that the coming of the "new age" would involve persecution and problems (cf. Isa. 13:8; 21:3; 26:17; 66:7-13; Matt. 24:8; Mark 13:8; I Thess. 5:3). John uses this concept to describe the conflict between Satan and his followers and God and His followers (cf. Isa. 66:7-24).

World events are going to get worse and worse, but God is in control of history (this is the view of premillennialism and amillennialsim, while postmillennialism is much more optimistic about world history). His followers are protected amidst persecution and victorious amidst temporary defeat, even physical death (cf. John 16:20-21). The question is, "How will God protect His followers?" His seal on their foreheads protects them from "the wrath of God," but not from the persecutions of unbelievers (tribulation). God is for them, with them, and loves them, but many will still die!

12:3 "a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems" This is a description of evil and great power (cf. 13:1 and 17:3). The horns and heads symbolize perfect power (cf. Daniel 7) and the diadems represent the evil one's attempted usurpation of Christ's royal place.

The term "dragon" may go back to the OT

1.  the serpent of Genesis 3

2.  the two evil monsters of chaos

a. Rahab (cf. Ps. 89:10; Isa. 51:9-10; Job 26:12-13)

b. Leviathan (cf. Ps. 74:13-14; 104:26; Job 3:8; 7:12; 41:1; Isa. 27:1; Amos 9:3)

There are numerous titles for the evil one found in the NT

1.  "Satan," used 33 times

2.  the "Devil," used 32 times

3.  the "Tempter," (cf. Matt. 4:3; I Thess. 3:5)

4.  the "evil one," (cf. Matt. 6:13; 13:19; I John 5:18)

5.  the "Enemy," (cf. Matt. 13:39)

6.  the "Prince of Demons," (cf. Matt. 9:34; 12:24)

7.  "the Ruler of this world," (cf. John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11)

8.  "the Prince of the Power of the air," (cf. Eph 2:2)

9. "The god of this world," (cf. II Cor. 4:4)

10.  "Belial," (cf. II Cor. 6:15)

11.  "Beelzebul," (cf. Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15,18-19)

12.  "the Dragon," (cf. Rev. 12:3,4,7,9; 20:2)

13.  "the Serpent," (cf. Rev. 12:9,15; 20:2)

14.  "the Accuser," (cf. Rev. 12:10,15)

15.  "the Adversary," (cf. I Pet. 5:8)

16.  "a roaring lion," (cf. I Pet. 5:8)

 

SPECIAL TOPIC: SATAN

12:4 "his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth" Because the term "the stars of heaven" is used quite often in the OT to refer to the saints of God (cf. Gen. 15:5; Jer. 33:22; Dan. 12:3), some have assumed that this refers to saints, but the context could refer to angels (cf. Dan. 8:10; II Pet. 2:4; Jude v. 6). Falling angels (i.e., falling stars) are a common motif in apocalyptic literature (i.e., I Enoch).

Satan is depicted with the angels in heaven before God in Job 1-2 and Zechariah 3. He was possibly a "covering cherub" (cf. Ezek. 28:12-18). This description, using metaphors from the Garden of Eden, does not fit the King of Tyre, but the king's pride and arrogance mimicked Satan's (I am becoming more and more uncomfortable with this approach because in Ezekiel 31 the king of Egypt is described as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Ezekiel regularly uses Eden terms to describe kings). In the OT Satan is not an enemy of God, but of mankind (cf. 12:10). Satan was not created evil but developed into an arch enemy of all things good and holy (cf. A. B. Davidson's An Old Testament Theology, pp. 300-306). Several times he is said to have been cast out of heaven (cf. Isa. 14:12; Ezek. 28:16; Luke 10:18; John 12:31; and Rev. 12:9,12). The problem is when. Is it:

1.  during the OT period

a. before the creation of man

b. some time after Job but before Ezekiel 28

c. during the post-exilic period, but after Zechariah

2. during the NT period

a. after Jesus' temptation (cf. Matthew 4)

b. during the mission trip of the seventy (cf. Luke 10:18)

c. at an end-time moment of rebellion (cf. Rev. 12:9). See Special Topic at 12:7.

One wonders whether the third of the stars refers to angels who rebelled against God and chose to follow Satan. If so, this may be the only Scriptural basis for the demonic of the NT related to fallen angels (cf. 12:9,12). The number, one-third, may be related to the limit of the destruction during the trumpet judgments (cf. 8:7-12; 9:15,18) and not a specific number. Or, it may represent Satan's defeat of part of the angels in battle. It is also possible it simply reflects the ancient myth of Babylon. See Contextual Insights, B. 1.

At this point it may be helpful to remember that although this issue is interesting, it probably was not the author's intent in this context to discuss (1) the origin of the demonic; (2) the fall of Satan; or (3) an angelic rebellion in heaven. In apocalyptic literature the central theme of the vision is crucial, but the literalness of the presentation, the details and the images are dramatic, symbolic, fictional. It is our curiosity and respect for the Bible that motivates our detailed, logical, doctrinal formulations. Be careful of pushing the details; apocalyptic literature is often true theology presented in an imaginative frame-work. It is true, but symbolically presented!

▣ "he might devour her child" This child refers to the promised Messiah (cf. 12:5). Satan wants to thwart God's plans at every level, both the universal plan for redemption (unconditional covenants) and the individual plan of redemption (conditional covenants, cf. Matt. 13:19; II Cor. 4:4).

12:5 "she gave birth to a son, a male child" This may be an allusion to Isa. 66:7-8. Notice how John moves from the incarnation of Jesus to the eschatological reign. All the things in between are dealt with in John's Gospel, but not in the Revelation.

▣ "who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron" This is an allusion to Ps. 2:9 and is, therefore, Messianic. In Rev. 19:15 this phrase is used of the Messiah, while in Rev. 2:26-27 it is used of the saints. There is a fluidity between the Messiah (individual) and the believing community (corporate) here, as there is in the servant songs of Isaiah (i.e., national Israel, cf. Isa. 42:1-9,19; 49:1-7; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12). As the evil one now rules the nations, a new leader has come and will ond day completely reign.

▣ "and her child was caught up to God and to His throne" Some see this as the ascension of Christ, but we miss the point of this literary unit if we make it too strong an allusion to the historical life of Christ. John, in the book of Revelation, does not discuss Jesus' earthly life or death. He moves theologically from the incarnation to the exaltation. The focus of Revelation is the glorified, exalted Christ (cf. 1:4-20). John's presentation of the gospel in Revelation focuses on repentance and giving glory to God. This is meant not to depreciate Jesus' central role (cf. 5:9,12; 7:14; 12:11), but to focus on His role of bringing the eternal kingdom (cf. I Cor. 15:25-28); the kingdom of both the Father and the Son!

12:6 "the woman fled into the wilderness" Many see here an allusion to the Exodus, which is found throughout this context. The time of wilderness wanderings was seen by the rabbis as a betrothal period between YHWH and Israel. During this time, He provided all of their needs and was intimately present with them.

"a place prepared by God" Although the general context reflects the Wilderness Wandering Period, this phrase carries other historical allusions.

1. Elijah by the brook Cherith (cf. I Kgs. 17:1-7)

2. Elijah's flight into the Sinai peninsula (cf. I Kgs. 19:1-14)

3. the seven thousand faithful (cf. I Kgs. 19:18)

4. those who fled the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70 (cf. Matt. 24:15-20; Mark 13:12-18)

 

"for one thousand two hundred and sixty days" Again, this seems to be an undetermined, but limited, period of persecution. This same period of time is referred to in several different ways which equal about three and one half years.

1. "time, times and a half time" (cf. Dan. 7:25; 12:7; Rev. 12:14)

2. "2,300 evenings and mornings" (cf. Dan. 8:14)

3. "forty-two months" (cf. Rev. 11:2; 13:5); "1,260 days" (cf. Rev. 11:3; 12:6); "1,290 days" (cf. Dan. 12:11); and "1,335 days" (cf. Dan. 12:12).

Seven is the perfect number in Hebrew numerology (cf. Gen. 1:1-2:3). One less than seven speaks of human imperfection and 666 (cf. Rev. 13:17-18) is the ultimate imperfect human, the Antichrist (cf. II Thessalonians 2). In the same vein, three and one-half is symbolic of a limited, but indefinite, period of persecution. See SPECIAL TOPIC: FORTY-TWO MONTHS at 11:2.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 12:7-10a
 7And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, 8and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. 9And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying,

12:7 "there was war in heaven"

SPECIAL TOPIC: WAR IN HEAVEN

▣ "Michael" There are only two named angels in the Bible (i.e., Michael, Gabriel). This angel is named as the angel of the nation of Israel in Dan. 10:13,21 and 12:1. He is called an archangel in Jude v. 9. His name means "who is like God." Some see this as another name for Christ, but this seems to be going too far. God is not threatened by the rebellion of the evil one. The Bible is not a dualism, like Persian Zoroastrianism. God defeats the evil one by the use of an angel (although in reality it was the redemptive work of Christ).

In legal metaphor, Michael is the defense attorney, while Satan acts as the prosecution attorney and YHWH is the Judge! Michael wins the case through

1. the sacrificial death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ (cf. 12:16)

2. the faithful witness of the church (cf. 12:11b)

3. the perseverance of the church (cf. 12:11c)

 

"the dragon and his angels waged war" Exactly who Satan's angels are is hard to describe biblically. Many see them as demonic (cf. Matt. 25:41; Eph. 6:10ff). But there is always the nagging question of the angels in Tartarus (cf. II Pet. 2:4), and the angels mentioned in Rev. 9:14, who are obviously controlled by God but are apparently evil angels. Much of the conflict in the angelic world is simply unexplained (cf. Daniel 10).

There is also an ongoing discussion related to the relationship between the fallen angels of the OT and the demons of the NT. The Bible is silent on this subject. Interbiblical apocalyptic literature (specifically I Enoch) asserts that the half-angel, half- human offspring of Gen. 6:1-4 are NT demons seeking human bodies to re-inhabit. This is just speculation, but it does reveal what some of the first century Jews thought about this subject.

The aorist infinitive does not seem to fit this context. It is possibly a Semitism and might be translated "had to fight" (cf. The Expositor's Bible commentary, vol. 12, "Revelation" by Alan Johnson, p. 519, footnote #7. This is one of my favorite commentators on Revelation).

12:8 This is the first in a series of encouraging words to a persecuted Church. Verses 8, 11, and 14 give great comfort to the people of God who were undergoing persecution in the first century and in every century. Satan has already been defeated twice: once in his attempt to kill the Child (cf. v. 4) and now in his attempt to storm the throne of God (cf. vv. 7-9); he will also be defeated in his attempt to wipe out the people of God on earth.

▣ "there was no longer a place found for them in heaven" This implies that Satan has been in heaven for some time (cf. Job 1-2; Zechariah 3; and I Kgs. 22:21). Notice the plural pronoun, which implies other angels in league with Satan.

12:9 "the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan" Here and Rev. 20:2 (cf. The Wisdom of Solomon 2:24), are the only places where Satan is explicitly identified with the serpent of Genesis 3 and implicitly in II Cor. 11:3. The term "devil" is the Greek term for "slanderer," while the term "Satan" is the Hebrew word for "adversary" (cf. II Sam. 19:22; I Kgs. 11:14). They both emphasize the function of the evil one as the accuser of the brethren (cf. v. 10). The term "Satan" in the OT (see Special Topic at 12:3) is not usually a proper noun, but it is in three specific occurrences: (1) Job 1-2; (2) Zech. 3:1-3; and (3) I Chr. 21:1. For "was thrown down" see full note at 12:4 and 7.

SPECIAL TOPIC: PERSONAL EVIL

▣ "who deceives the whole world" This describes the mission of the evil one. As the gospel is universal (cf. Matt. 28:18-20; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8), so too the antigospel! The best book that I have read on the development of Satan in the Bible, from servant to enemy, is A. B. Davidson's A Theology of the Old Testament, pp. 300-306. Satan's mission is described in II Cor. 4:4; I Pet. 5:8; Rev. 13:14; 19:20; 20:3,8,10; II John 7. It is hard to conceive of Satan as a servant of God but compare II Sam. 24:1 with I Chr. 21:1.

▣ "he was thrown down to the earth" The term "thrown down" is used several times in this context: twice in v. 9; in v. 10, and v. 13. It is also used in 19:20; 20:3,10,14,15 and is possibly an allusion to Isa. 14:12 or Luke 10:18; and possibly John 12:31.

The earth becomes the realm of Satan's activities. See fuller notes on Satan's fall at 12:4 and 7.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 12:10b-12
 10"Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. 11"And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. 12"For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time."

12:10b-12 This is the message of the one with the loud voice in heaven.

12:10 "the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come" This is a literary equivalent to 11:15-18. The end is already present and God is victorious! This was very helpful to a group of believers who were suffering extreme persecution, even death.

▣ "for the accuser of our brethren" This shows that the voice of v. 10 was not an angel, but apparently believers, possibly the martyrs of 6:9-11.

The Hebrew term Satan means "accuser." We see Satan in this role in Job 1:9-11 and Zech. 3:1.

▣ "he who accuses them before our God day and night" Satan is cast out of heaven yet he still accuses the faithful before God. This is the fluidity of this genre. His power is broken, but he is still active (however, limited by God, cf. Job 1-2).

12:11 "And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony" The victory has already been won by the substitutionary atonement of God's Messiah (cf. 1:5; 7:14; I Pet. 1:18-19; I John 1:7). This atonement involves both

1. the grace of God through Christ's sacrificial death (cf. Mark 10:45; II Cor. 5:21)

2. believers' required faith response (cf. 6:9; Mark 1:15; John 1:12; 3:16; Acts 3:16,19; 20:21) and their sharing of that faith (i.e., lifestyle and verbally)

This phrase is much like 14:12. There is great similarity between vv. 11 and 17. Verse 11 seems to describe salvation, while v. 17 seems to describe Christian maturity and perseverance. Notice Christ's victory occurs at Calvary, not the millennium.

NASB"and they did not love their life even to death"
NKJV"and they did not love their lives to the death"
NRSV"for they did not cling to life even in the face of death"
TEV"they were willing to give up their lives and die"
NJB"because even in the face of death they did not cling to life"

First century believers and their families faced horrible deaths (as do many in every age). They were sealed and protected by God, but still they are subject to persecution by unbelievers. Their faith in Christ was stronger than their fear of death (cf. 2:10; Mark 8:35; 13:13; Luke 14:26; John 12:25).

12:12 "rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them" This is a present middle imperative (cf. 18:20). It may be an allusion to Ps. 96:11 or Isa. 49:13. Heaven is to rejoice because Satan has been cast out, but woe be unto the earth!

The plural "heavens" is used in the OT to denote (1) the atmosphere above the earth (cf. Gen. 1) and (2) the place where God dwells. In this context it is #2.

The term "dwell" (NASB, NKJV, NRSV) or "live there" (TEV, NJB) is from the noun "tabernacle." It implies a permanent residence with God (cf. 7:15; 12:12; 13:6; 21:3 and John 1:14 of Christ with us).

▣ "wrath" See full note at 7:14.

▣ "knowing that he has only a short time" This seems to refer to the period of time between the Ascension of Christ (cf. Acts 1:9-11) and the Second Coming which John and the first century Christians thought would be in a short period of time. It has been almost 2,000 years now; every generation has the hope of the any-moment return of the Lord. Believers were warned of this delay in II Thessalonians and Matt. 24:45-51. Be careful that the delay does not reduce faith (cf. II Pet. 3:3-4).

SPECIAL TOPIC: THE ANY-MOMENT RETURN OF JESUS VERSUS THE NOT YET (NT PARADOX)

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 12:13-17
 13And when the dragon saw that he was thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child. 14But the two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman, so that she could fly into the wilderness to her place, where she was nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent. 15And the serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, so that he might cause her to be swept away with the flood. 16But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and drank up the river which the dragon poured out of his mouth. 17So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.

12:13 "the woman" Possibly originally "the woman" referred to the OT believing community; now it refers to the NT people of God (cf. v. 17; 13:7). In Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. 6, A. T. Robertson calls her "the true Israel on earth" (p. 395).

12:14 "the two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman" These eagle wings are symbolic of God's protection and provision (cf. Exod. 19:4; Deut. 32:11; Ps. 36:7; 57:1; 63:7;90:1,4; and Isa. 40:31). This may be another allusion to the new exodus.

▣ "so that she could fly into the wilderness to her place" The wilderness is seen as a place of divine protection, alluding to the Wilderness Wandering Period of Israel's history (cf. v. 6). This would be great encouragement to a hurting church.

▣ "a time and times and half a time" This is an allusion to Dan. 7:25; 12:7. For a full note on this phrase see 11:2 and 12:6.

12:15 "the serpent poured water" There is no exact OT parallel to this. It may be a metaphor connected to God's wrath in Hosea 5:10 or metaphors of times of pressure and sorrow like Ps. 18:4; 124:4-5. But because chapter 12 has drawn so much of its imagery from Ancient Near Eastern creation myths, it possibly refers to watery chaos, the primeval struggle of good versus evil, order versus chaos.

Nature fought for Barak and Deborah against the Canaanite city of Hazor and her military general, Sisera: (1) the rain stopped their chariots (cf. Jdgs. 5:4) and (2) even the stars (thought of as angelic powers) fought against Sisera (cf. Jdgs. 5:20).

12:17 ". . .and went off to make war with the rest of her offspring" The evil one tried to destroy the Messianic community by

 1.destroying the Messiah

2. destroying the mother church

3. by destroying all Messianic followers.

The phrase "to make war" is metaphorical of spiritual, political, and economic oppositions. This is an allusion to Dan. 7:21 (cf. 11:7; 13:7). This persecution is the very evidence of the church's victory through Christ (cf. Phil. 1:28).

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Describe the content of the seventh trumpet.

2. Why is the vision of the Ark of the Covenant so encouraging to these first century Christians?

3. Who is the woman of Revelation 12?

4. When did this battle in heaven occur?

5. How are the devil's angels related to the demonic?

6. What does the phrase "a time, times and a half-time" mean in Daniel and Revelation?

7. How would this passage encourage first century, persecuted Christians?

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS TO REVELATION 13:1-18

A. Chapter 13 is a further development of the imagery of 12:13-17.

 

B. The OT background of this chapter is Daniel 7. The four predicted Near Eastern empires of Daniel are combined in this one ultimate, universal, anti-God, end-time kingdom.

 

C. The emperor worship of the first century (esp. in Asia Minor) is one historical fulfillment of the worship of the beast, as will be the end-time man of sin (cf. II Thessalonians 2), and the little horn of Dan. 7 (cf. vv. 8,11,20,25), which is out of the fourth kingdom, Rome.

 

D. The beast has been identified in two ways

1. As an ongoing, false teaching/teacher(s) (cf. I John 2:18,22; 4:3; II John 7). It is both plural and singular, both present and future.

2. As an actual person, possibly foreshadowed in evil persons throughout history (Antiochus, Roman Emperors, Hitler, etc., but ultimately personified in an end-time figure, cf. II Thess. 2:1-10).

 

E. See Special Topic below.

 

SPECIAL TOPIC: HUMAN GOVERNMENT

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 13:1-6
 12:18And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore. 13: 1Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names. 2And the beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet were like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority. 3I saw one of his heads as if it had been slain, and his fatal wound was healed. And the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast; 4they worshiped the dragon because he gave his authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, "Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?" 5There was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies, and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him. 6And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, that is, those who dwell in heaven.

13:1 "the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore" NASB, NKJV and NJB begin chapter 13 with this phrase (i.e.,12:18), while TEV concludes chapter 12 with it.

There is a manuscript variant related to the verb in 12:18/13:1, "stood"

1. "he stood," referring to the beast/dragon which relates to chapter 12 – MSS P47, א, A, C, (NASB, NRSV, TEV, REB, NET, NIV)

2. "I stood," referring to John which relates forward to chapter 13 – MSS P, 046, 051 (NKJV, NJB)

The UBS4 gives option #1 a "B" rating (almost certain).

The "sea" may be an allusion to Dan. 7:2-3. It was a symbol of

1. the whole of humanity (cf. Isa. 17:12-13; 57:20; Rev. 17:15)

2. the forces of chaos (cf. Gen. 1; Isa. 51:9-10)

 

▣ "Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea" The wild beast (cf. 13:14,15; 15:2; 16:13; 15:8) is first mentioned without fanfare in 11:7 as coming out of the abyss (cf. 17:8). It seems to refer to "the Antichrist" of I John 2:18a,22; 4:3; II John v. 7, also known as "the man of lawlessness" in II Thess. 2:3. The same description of this beast is found in 12:3 and 17:3,8.

The phrase "coming out of the sea" has been interpreted in several ways.

1. literally, as in intertestamental Jewish apocalyptic literature as Leviathan and in v. 11 as Behemoth

2. an allusion to Daniel 7, where the beast comes up out of the sea in v. 3 and out of the earth in v. 17, which in Daniel 7 are synonymous, but John has separated the last beasts into two separate end-time evil personalities: the sea beast, v. 1 and the land beast, v. 11

3. a symbol of fallen humanity (cf. particularly Rev. 17:15, but also Dan. 7:2-3; Isa. 17:12-13; 57:20)

The reason that the two beasts of chapter 13 are mentioned as coming out of the sea and the land is (1) because this chapter follows Daniel 7 so closely or (2) because they combine to represent the whole earth. It is also possible that these two beasts plus Satan form an evil parody of the Trinity.

▣ "Ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems" This is not exactly like the dragon (cf. 12:3) but it is very similar (cf. 17:3,7-12). The ten horns speak of complete power; the seven heads represent a perfect manifestation of evil, and the ten diadems are a claim to royalty. Evil is often a counterfeit of good. This is the first of several parodies of Christ.

▣ "blasphemous names" The Greek manuscripts are equally divided between the plural (MS A) "names" (NRSV, NJB) and singular (MSS P47, א, C, P) "name" (NKJV, TEV). UBS4 cannot decide which is original. Whichever is true, this is obviously an allusion to Dan. 7:8,11,20,25 or 11:36. These blasphemous titles are connected with the (1) claim of deity or (2) evil titles (cf. 17:3).

13:2 "the beast which I saw was like a leopard. . .a bear. . .a lion" This combination of several beasts is another allusion to Dan. 7:4,5,6, where it refers to a series of kings, but here the symbolism has been changed into a composite of all the anti-God world systems personified in one leader (cf. Dan. 7:24).

▣ "And the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority" This is parallel to II Thess. 2:9, which speaks of a Satanically-inspired power. The beast is not Satan, but a supernaturally empowered human manifestation or incarnation of him (cf. vv.4,12). This is another parody of Christ (cf. 5:6).

13:3 "I saw one of his heads as if it had been slain" This is a perfect passive participle, which is syntactically parallel to the Lamb of 5:6. This is another parody of Jesus' death and resurrection.

▣ "and his fatal wound was healed" Does Satan have the ability to resurrect this person, or is this trickery, deception, and mimicking (cf. 13:15)? Satan is parodying the power of God in raising Christ.

This may be a historical allusion to the "Nero redivivus" myth, which asserted that Nero would come back to life, and return with a large eastern army (Parthians), and attack Rome (cf. Sibylline Oracles, books III-V).

▣ "And the whole world was amazed and followed after the beast" Satan will use miracles to convince the unbelieving world to follow him (cf. Matt. 24:24; Mark 13:22; II Thess. 2:9; Rev. 13:5; 17:8), which is another parody of Christ. The world was impressed by the power of the two witnesses in Rev. 11:13; now their fickleness is seen in their worshiping the beast.

13:4 "they worshiped the dragon. . .and they worshiped the beast" Evil desires not only political power, but religious worship (cf. v. 8). Satan wants worship (cf. 13:12; 14:9,11; 16:2; 19:20; Matt. 4:8-9). He wants to be like God (cf. possibly Isa. 14:12-15). Implicitly, this is related to the Serpent's lie in Gen. 3:5 and in Matt. 4:9; Luke 4:5-7.

▣ "Who is like the beast" There have been three suggested origins for this phrase. Some see it as

1. a parody for the title of YHWH found in Exod. 15:11; Ps. 35:10; 113:4

2. a parody of YHWH in Isa. 40:18-22;43:11; 44:6,8,9-20 45:6

3. a reference to Leviathan and Behemoth in Jewish apocalyptic literature (one example in the OT is Job 41, especially vv. 33-34)

 

13:5 In verses 5-7 and 14-15 there are several passive verbs which imply that permission was given by Satan and ultimately by God (cf. Job). God is using Satan for His own purposes! Evil reveals its own motives by its words and actions.

▣ "a mouth speaking arrogant words" This is an allusion to:

1. "the beast" in Dan. 7:8,11,20,25; 11:36

2. Antiochus IV Epiphanes in Dan. 8; I Macc. 1:24

3. "the man of sin" in II Thess. 2:4

4. the abomination of desolation of Matt. 24:15, which refers to the invasion and destruction of Jerusalem under the Roman general, and later Emperor, Titus, in A.D. 70

This is a good example of how the historical focus of these symbols changes. In Daniel 8 it refers to Antiochus IV Epiphanes of the interbiblical period; in Matthew 24 it refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70 and in Daniel 7 (and possibly 11:36-39) it refers to the activity of the end-time Antichrist.

▣ "to act for forty-two months" This is a direct allusion to Dan. 7:25. It was first mentioned in 11:2-3. It is a metaphor which denotes a period of persecution. See Special Topic at 11:2 and notes at 12:6.

13:6 "he opened his mouth in blasphemies" There is either a two or three-fold blasphemy in this verse against God's name, God's tabernacle, and God's people. It depends on how one translates this Greek phrase.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 13:7-10
 7It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. 8All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. 9If anyone has an ear, let him hear. 10If 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.

13:7 "It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them" This is an aorist passive indicative and an aorist active infinitive. The implication of the passive voice is that God allowed this to occur. We do not understand all that is behind this but it is obvious from the book of the Revelation that God is in control of all history. This war on His saints is mentioned in Dan. 7:21,25. It refers to the physical death of God's people. There is a time when the enemy seems to be the victor (like Calvary), but Revelation and Daniel teach that this victory is short-lived! Notice that God's people are protected from the wrath of God, but not from the wrath of the beast and his followers. God allows evil an apparent victory in order to reveal its true intentions and nature.

"saints" See Special Topic at 5:8.

▣ "and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him" This phrase indicates (1) that Revelation needs to be interpreted in a wider sense than the Roman Empire only, because of this universal, inclusive phrase or (2) that this refers to an Empire-wide event.

13:8 "All who dwell on the earth" This is a recurrent phrase referring to unbelievers in Revelation (cf. 3:10; 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8,12,14; 17:8).

▣ "whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain" It is uncertain syntactically whether the phrase "from the foundation of the earth" is to be taken with (1) "our name written" (cf. RSV, NRSV, TEV, NJB and 17:8; Eph. 1:4) or (2) "the Lamb being slaughtered" (cf. KJV, NKJV and I Pet. 1:19-20). The word order of this text and 17:8 implies that the phrase probably describes believers' names written in the book of life even before creation!

The phrase "the foundation of the earth" is used several times in the NT (cf. Matt. 25:34; John 17:24; Eph. 1:4; I Pet. 1:19-20). There is also a very similar phrase in Matt. 13:35; Luke 11:50; Heb. 4:3; 9:26 and Rev. 17:8. The combination of these phrases shows God's redemptive activity before the creation of the world. Believers are secure in Christ (cf. 7:4; 11:1; 13:8). Evil is limited by a sovereign God (number of passive verbs in this chapter and the time limit). It looks bad in the short run, but look at the big picture!

▣ "the book of life" From Dan. 7:10 and Rev. 20:11-15 we understand that there were two metaphorical books mentioned in connection with human destiny:

1. the Book of Life, which contains the names of those who have personally known God (OT) and have received Christ (NT) [cf. Exod. 32:32-33; Ps. 69:28; Dan. 12:1; Isa. 4:3; 34:16; Luke 10:20; Phil. 4:3; Heb. 12:23; Rev. 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; 21:27]

2. the Book of the Deeds of Mankind, which record human activity, both positive and negative (cf. Ps. 56:8; 139:16; Isa. 65:6; Mal. 3:16)

These are obviously metaphors, but they do accurately describe God's ability to know those who are His and to hold those who have rejected Him accountable (cf. Gal. 6:7).

▣ "who has been slain" See note at 5:12.

13:9 "If anyone has an ear, let him hear" This is a recurrent theme in the letters to the seven churches (cf. 2:7,17; 3:6,13,22). It, like the other phrases in vv. 9-10, is a first class conditional sentence, which is assumed to be true for the author's literary purposes. The fact that these phrases relate to the churches seems to imply that the next phrase (v. 10) is also directed to the people of God.

13:10 This verse may be an allusion to Jer. 15:2 or 43:11, which speaks of God's judgment. There are several Greek manuscript variants related to the verb "kill." This has caused the different English translations of this verse.

1. The KJV and NKJV relate both of these phrases to the persecutors of God's people.

2. The RSV and NRSV make the first clause relate to the persecuted Christians and the second clause to the anti-God persecutors.

3. A third possible interpretation (TEV and NJB) is that both clauses refer to persecuted Christians.

The very fact that there is so much variance in the translations shows the uncertainty. It is obviously a spiritual truth that God is in control of history. The only question is to whom the phrase was directed.

1. to Christians to encourage them to remain faithful (cf. Matt. 26:52; Phil. 1:28)

2. to persecutors to assure them that they will one day be accountable before God for their choices and actions?

 

NASB"Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints"
NKJV"Here is the patience and the faith of the saints"
NRSV"Here is the call for endurance and faith of the saints"
TEV"This calls for endurance and faith on the part of God's people"
NJB"This is why the saints must have perseverance and faith"

Verse 9 and the end of v. 10 show that this phrase must refer to the people of God (cf. Matt. 26:52). This verse also describes the true believers (cf. 14:12; 12:11,17). They are encouraged to hold out until the end (cf. 2:3,7,11,17,26; 3:5,12,21; 21:7). Perseverance is evidence of true salvation (cf. I John 2:19). See note and Special Topic at 2:2.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 13:11-18
 11Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon. 12He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. 13He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. 14And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life. 15And it was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed. 16And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, 17and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name. 18Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.

13:11 "Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth" This is an allusion to Dan. 7:17. Many have assumed that these two beasts are a parody of the two witnesses of God in 11:13-14, while others have assumed that the dragon and the two beasts are a parody of the Trinity.

As the beast from the sea is an allusion to Leviathan (cf. Job 41:1-34), the ancient master of watery chaos, so the beast from the land is an allusion to Behemoth (cf. Job 40:15-24), the corresponding land monster (this in no way refers to dinosaurs, but to ancient eastern mythology).

These beasts are symbols of evil (chaos) and rebellion in God's created order (cf. Ps. 74:12-14; Job. 3:8; Isa. 51:9-11; Amos 9:3). Sometimes Leviathan is called Rahab ("the twisted one," i.e., the serpent, cf Isa. 51:9). In other places Rahab is a name for Egypt (the Nile, i.e., twisting river, cf. Ps. 87:4; Isa. 30:7 and possibly Ezekiel 32, especially vv. 2-3).

▣ "he had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon" The reference to a lamb is an obvious parody of Christ (cf. 5:6). His voice and/or message reveals his true character. Later in Revelation the second beast is always referred to as the false prophet (cf. 16:13; 19:20; 20:10). He does not seek glory for himself, but recruits the world to worship the beast (cf. v. 12). This is a parody of the work of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 14-16) in promoting Christ. So we have an unholy trinity:

1. Satan as a parody of God the Father

2. the sea beast as a parody of God the Son

3. the land beast as a parody of God the Spirit

 

13:13 "He performs great signs" This is a present tense verb which means he continues to perform wonders. It was expected that the end-time false teachers would be able to do the miraculous and lead even the elect astray, if that were possible (cf. Matt. 24:24; Mark 13:22; II Thess. 2:9-11; the Didache 16:3,4). Miracles are not automatically signs of God (cf. Exod. 7:8-13). This is another parody of Christ's ministry.

▣ "he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men" This is similar to Elijah in I Kgs. 18:38, which may be the source of the description of the two witnesses found in 11:5. It may refer to fire that fell as a judgment of God in Ezek. 38:22 or 39:6. This may be another parody

1. of the two witnesses

2. of God's OT acts

3. of Pentecost in Acts 2

 

13:14 "who had the wound of the sword and has come to life" The word "wound" (plēge, cf. 13:3,12,14) is usually translated "plague" in Revelation (cf. 9:18,20; 11:6; 15:1,6,8; 16:9,21; 18:4,8; 21:9; 22:18). The footnotes of the NRSV have

1. for v. 3 "the plague of its death"

2. for v. 12 "whose plague of its death"

3. for v. 14 "that had received the plague of the sword"

The theological intent of these translations is to show that the antichrist is not a person, but a world system. The term can be used metaphorically of a "blow of fate" or a plague (cf. BAGD, p. 674), but its basic meaning is a stroke, or a wound.

The accompanying phrase "and has come back to life" shows that "plague" is not the best translation in these verses related to the beast. The idea of an end-time, anti-God Antichrist leading the nations in rebellion is predicted in the OT in Ezekiel 38-39; Zechariah 14; Daniel 7:21-27; 9:24-27; 11:36-39 and in the intertestamental apocalyptic literature, Sibylline Oracles, book III; IV Esdras 5.4,6 and Apocalypse of Baruch XL, and in the NT, II Thess. 2:3,8-9.

13:15 "it was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast" Elsewhere this beast from the land is called the false prophet (cf. 16:13; 19:20; 20:10). Perhaps this is the metaphor of injecting life (i.e.,Hebrew ruah = breath) into the movement (cf. Ezekiel 37).

13:16 "to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead" As the saints were sealed unto God in 7:3 (cf. 13:16; 14:9), here the evil one mimics God's action by marking his own. The Greek word implies an animal brand or a seal on a governmental document. Because of the location of the sign, some have thought that it was

1. a perversion of a Jewish phylactery (cf. Deut. 6:8)

2. relating to the first century Roman culture, in which slaves were branded with their owner's name

3. soldiers tattooed in honor of their general

 

13:17 The mark of the beast relates to the purchase of food, and possibly employment. God's people are not protected from this economic privation.

13:17-18 "the number of his name" Ancient languages used the letters of their alphabets to also stand for numbers. As the Hebrew consonants of Jesus' name adds up to 888 (cf. Sibylline Oracles, 1.324), so the name of the beast, the end-time incarnation of Satan, adds up to 666. Six is one less than the perfect number 7 (cf. Gen. 1:1-2:3, seven days of creation); repeated three times it forms a Hebrew superlative (cf. Isa. 6:3; Jer. 7:4).

It is also possible that since six is the human number, it may refer to a personification of each person of the unholy trinity—the dragon (Satan), the sea beast (Antichrist) and the land beast (false prophet). It seems to me that the first beast is a personification of an anti-God political system and the second beast is a personification of an anti-God religious system. We are moving toward the great whore of chapter 17, the epitome of an anti-God world system from Daniel 7. Whether it is ancient Babylon, first century Rome, or an end-time composite world kingdom, it shows that human history is moving toward the ultimate conflict between "the god of this world" (cf. II Cor. 4:4) and his minions versus the God of creation and His Messiah (cf. Psalm 2).

13:18 "his number is six hundred and sixty six" There is no consensus on who this number refers to. There have been countless conjectures, but none have been conclusive. Here are the three best theories in my opinion.

1. Since there is a manuscript variant between 666 an 616, it is possible to use Nero Caesar. The Greek letters translated into Hebrew equal 666 and the Greek letters translated into Latin equal 616.

2. Since a threefold repetition counts for a Hebrew superlative, 666 may mean the most evil person.

3. Since the context denotes a parody on the Trinity, the three Divine Persons are reflected in 777, while the three counterfeit ones 666.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS TO REVELATION 14:1-20

A. It is possible that chapter 14 is a response to the presentation of the overwhelming evil of chapters 12 and 13. I am sure that the readers wondered what would be happening to the saints during this terrible end-time persecution.

 

B. Some have seen another literary structure of "seven" in vv. 6-20. There is a series of seven angels, but this structure does not seem to be theologically significant.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 14:1-5
 1Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. 2And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. 3And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth. 4These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. 5And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless.

14:1 "the Lamb" This is a reference to the Messiah (cf. 5:6,8,12-13; 13:8; Isa. 53:7; John 1:29,36; I Pet. 1:18-19).

▣ "standing on Mount Zion" There have been numerous theories identifying this phrase.

1. that it stands for Mt. Moriah and the Temple area in Jerusalem (cf. Isa. 24:23; Joel 2:32)

2. that it stands for heavenly Jerusalem (cf. Heb. 11:10,16; 12:22-23; 13:14; Gal. 4:26)

3. that it is an apocalyptic symbol found in the non-canonical book of II Esdras 2:42-47; 13:35,39-40

4. that it refers to the OT passages which speak of the end-time gathering of the people of God (cf. Psalm 48; Isa. 24:23; Joel 2:32; Micah 4:1,7; Obadiah vv. 17,21)

5. that the background, like several other passages in this section, is Psalm 2, particularly v. 6.

Remember that commentators relate each of these visions to either

1. the OT passages or Palestinian places

2. intertestamental apocalyptic literature

3. first century Greco-Roman history

For me these visions of OT things beginning with chapter 6, relate to the NT people of God (believing Jews and Gentiles), the saints, the church. In this particular case, it is an allusion to the heavenly temple (cf. Heb. 8:2; 9:11,24).

▣ "with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand" This is the same group of the redeemed as in 5:9; of the sealed in 7:4-8 (see full note at 7:4); of those washed in the Lamb's blood in 7:14-17. Therefore, in my opinion, this stands for the NT people of God, the saints, the church. For the full note on the identity of the 144,000, see 7:4. In the earlier references they were sealed but still persecuted, but here they are victorious!

▣ "having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads" Does this refer to one name or to two? It may refer to the titles of Isa. 9:6, which relate to both the Father and the Son. These are those who have been sealed and belong to God (cf. Revelation 7). See note at 7:2.

14:2 "I heard a voice from heaven, like" These descriptive phrases were used of God's voice in Ezek. 43:2, of Jesus' voice in 1:15, and of the heavenly multitudes' voices in 19:6. Often it is used to denote that the speaker is in heaven (cf. 4:5; 11:19; 16:8).

14:3 "they sang a new song before the throne" This is an allusion to Rev. 5:9. The "they" could refer to (1) the angelic creatures who sing the song in Rev. 5:9 or (2) the song of the one hundred and forty-four thousand in the concluding part of v. 3 and 15:2. This new song is an allusion to Isa. 42:10 and possibly Ps. 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1. The promised new age of the Spirit has come!

"elders" See Special Topic at 4:4.

"who had been purchased from the earth" This is the OT concept of a near relative purchasing a family member's release (go'el, i.e., Ruth and Boaz). It is used of those for whom Christ died (cf. 5:9; 7:14). See Special Topic: Ransom/Redeem at 5:9.

14:4 "These are the ones who have not been defiled with women" There has been much discussion over this verse because it seems to imply that this is a select, celibate group of males out of the 144,000 of chapter 7. However, I think that these phrases can be explained in symbolic, or at least, in OT terms, and were never meant to be taken literally. The phrase "had not been defiled with women" can be understood in several ways.

1. it refers literally to celibacy

2. it refers to spiritual adultery with the beast or the great whore (cf. 14:8; 17:2; 18:9)

3. it refers to specific comments made to the seven churches (cf. 2:14,20,22; 3:4)

4. it refers to OT ritual purification for worship or battle (cf. Exod. 19:14-15; Deut. 23:9-10; I Sam. 21:4-5; II Sam. 11:6-13

5. it is simply an allusion to an OT title for the people of God, "the virgin daughter of Zion" (cf. II Kgs. 19:21; Jer. 18:13; Lam. 2:13; Amos 5:2; II Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:27).

It must be asserted that sexual intercourse between married partners is not an unspiritual activity. Sexuality (marriage) is God's idea, His way of filling the earth, His command (cf. Gen. 1:28; 9:1). Celibacy is surely a spiritual gift for ministry (cf. I Corinthians 7), but it is not a holier state. Greek asceticism is not biblical (neither is pre-marital or extra-marital sexual activity)!

"These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes" This speaks of discipleship and service (cf. John 7:17; 10:4).

▣ "from among men as first fruits to God" This term was used in the OT to show God's ownership of the entire crop (cf. Exod. 23:19; 34:76). In the NT it refers to the church (cf. Heb. 12:23; James1:18), the people of Jesus, who are the first fruits of the resurrection (cf. I Cor. 15:20,23; Rev. 1:5).

14:5 "no lie was found in their mouth" There are several possible origins for this metaphor:

1. it is related to a similar phrase in Rev. 21:27 and 22:15

2. it is related to Emperor worship where Christians never yielded to the command of the persecutors to say, "Caesar is Lord"

3. it is symbolic of OT defilement (cf. Ps. 32:2; Zeph. 3:13)

4. it may be a reference to unbelief as in Rom. 1:25; I John 2:22

 

▣ "they are blameless" This is literally "without defect" (cf. Phil. 3:6). Originally it referred to sacrificial animals, but came to be used metaphorically of humans (cf. Noah, Gen. 6:9,17 and Job, Job 1:1). It is applied to Jesus in Heb. 9:14 and I Pet. 1:19. This is another way of referring to a Christlike life. Christlikeness is God's will for His people (cf. Lev. 19:2; Deut. 18:13; Matt. 5:48; I Pet. 1:16).

SPECIAL TOPIC: BLAMELESS, INNOCENT, GUILTLESS, WITHOUT REPROACH

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 14:6-7
 6And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; 7and he said with a loud voice, "Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters."

14:6 "I saw another angel flying in midheaven" In 8:13 there is an eagle flying in midheaven, which implies something well visible and able to proclaim to the whole earth.

▣ "having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth" This phrase, "an eternal gospel" is found only here. It is significant that the "gospel" here is for those who live (dwell) on earth and this is used often in Revelation of unbelievers. Some see this as a fulfillment of Matt. 28:18-20 or more specifically, Matt. 24:14 and Mark 13:10. The content of this gospel is much like the message of John the Baptist (cf. Luke 3:3-14) or Jesus' statement to the evil one in Matt. 4:10. The message of judgment is a significant element in this gospel. Verses 6-7 are significant, for they show us that all of these God-sent judgments on lost mankind are for the purpose of redemption (cf. 9:20-21; 16:9,11).

In v. 12 true believers are characterized as those who (1) keep (i.e., present participle) the commandments of God and (2) keep (i.e., the same present participle) faith in Jesus.

"to every nation and tribe and tongue and people" See note at 10:11.

14:7 "Fear God, and give Him glory" This is an aorist passive (deponent) imperative and an Aorist active imperative. There are three aorist imperatives in v. 7. Mankind is commanded to respond to God in decisive acts of faith (cf. John 1:12; Rom. 10:9-13). In 11:13 fallen mankind seems to give God glory, but is quickly drawn away by the miracles of the beast in chapter 13 (a similar theology to the Parable of the Soils in Matthew 13; Mark 4; Luke 8).

▣ "because the hour of His judgment has come" The term "hour" is significant in the Gospel of John (cf. 2:4; 4:21,23; 5:25,28; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23,27; 13:1; 16:21,32; 17:1). It speaks of the divine timing of a preset event (the Day of the Lord, cf. 14:15 and 9:15).

SPECIAL TOPIC: THE HOUR

▣ "worship Him" This is another aorist active imperative which is a decisive command.

▣ "who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters" This is similar to the affirmation found in Acts 14:15, which quotes Gen. 14:19; Exod. 20:11 or Ps. 146:6. God is described as creator as in Job 38-41. The only unusual phrase is "the springs of water," which some see as

1. being connected to the earlier plagues of the angels (cf. 8:10)

2. in contrast to the undrinkable sea water

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 14:8
 8And another angel, a second one, followed, saying, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality."

14:8 "'Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great" The verb is not only repeated, but occurs first in the Greek sentence, emphasizing these aorist active indicatives. It is very difficult to interpret the book of the Revelation because concepts are expanded at different places (the beast is briefly mentioned in 11:7 but not fully discussed until chapter 13). The full discussion of Babylon's fall is found in 16:19 and 17:1-18:24. It stands for Rome (cf. I Pet. 5:13; II Baruch 11:1; 67:7; Sibylline Oracles 5:143, 159, 424), but ultimately it stands for all human societies organized and functioning apart from God (see Special Topic at chapter 13, E). This human self-sufficiency is a direct result of the fall (cf. Genesis 3) and was first expressed in the Tower of Babel (cf. Genesis 10-11). The world empires are becoming more anti-God, which will issue in the ultimate world kingdom of the Antichrist at the end-time (cf. Dan. 2:7-8). This may be an allusion to Isa. 21:9; Jer. 51:8.

▣ "has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality" The allusion is to Jer. 51:7-8 (cf. 17:2,4; 18:3). The term "passion" is the Greek term "thumos," which relates to an outburst of emotion (see full note at 7:14, cf. 17:2,3; 18:3). Those who drink Babylon's wine will drink YHWH's wine (cf. v. 9)!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 14:9-12
 9Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, "If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11"And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name." 12Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.

14:9 "If. . ." This is a first class conditional sentence with two verbs, "worships" and "receives." Some humans, many humans, will commit these idolatrous acts. This is the exact opposite of receiving God's Messiah in vv. 7 and 12. Those who do will experience the wrath of God (cf. v. 10).

14:10 "he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God" Humans have only two spiritual options, God or evil. The Greek term wrath orgē refers to "a settled opposition." See full note at 7:14. The allusion is to Isa. 51:17 or Jer. 25:15-16 (cf. Rev. 16:19; 19:15). Believers must face the wrath of Babylon (cf. v. 8), but unbelievers will face the wrath of God (cf. v. 10).

This strange combination of terms (literally "mixed unmixed") means that the wine of God's wrath has been mixed with other elements in order to make it extremely intoxicating, but unmixed as far as being watered down. The term "cup" was often used in the OT for God's judgment (cf. Isa. 51:17,22; Jer. 25:15-17,27-29; Ps. 75:8). Jesus drank the cup of God's wrath for all mankind (cf. Mark 14:36). The unbelieving world will not respond to Him by faith, and therefore, they face the cup themselves!

SPECIAL TOPIC: BIBLICAL ATTITUDES TOWARD ALCOHOL AND ALCOHOLISM

▣ "and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone" This is an allusion to God's judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. Gen. 19:24,28; Luke 17:29; or judgment in general, cf. Ps. 11:6; Isa. 34:8-11; Ezek. 38:22). Torment is the ultimate fate of the two beasts (cf. 19:20), of the evil one (cf. 20:10), and of unrepentant mankind (cf. 20:15; 21:8).

Fire (see Special Topic at 16:8) was an OT metaphor of God's holiness (cf. Num. 9:15-16, etc.) It was used as a means of cleansing (cf. Lev. 8:17,32; 9:11,24; 13:32,55,57, etc.) and judgment (cf. Lev. 10:1-2; Num. 11:1-3, etc.). This association with judgment was expanded to describe a place of judgment. Jesus used the garbage dump south of Jerusalem in the valley of the sons of Hinnom (Gehenna) as a symbol of eternal punishment (cf. Rev. 20:10, 14-15).

14:11 "the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever" I wish that I could believe in universalism or at least in a second opportunity to respond to the gospel, but according to the Scriptures humans must respond to God's offer in faith (cf. Mark 1:15; Acts 3:16,19; 20:21) while they live (cf. Heb. 9:27); if they refuse to respond, the consequences are ultimate and eternal (cf. Mark 9:47-48; Matt. 25:46; John 5:29; Acts 24:15; II Thess. 1:6-9). The permanent punishment of the wicked is compared to the transitory suffering of the saints. This is supported in the phrase "they will have no rest day and night," while in v. 13 the saints do have rest.

This is not an easy subject to discuss. The love of God and His heart for redemption are in contrast to His verdict of eternal punishment. Most of God's judgments in Revelation are for redemption, like the plagues on Egypt and the covenant curses of Deuteronomy 27-29. Yet, God's ultimate rejection is permanent. It is not disciplinary, it is punitive! This is so hard to understand, to emotionally handle. It does accentuate the need for evangelism!

Before I leave this subject let me share with you a thought I have had in this area. As bad as hell is for humankind, it is worse for God. God created humans in His image for fellowship. All of creation is a stage for God to meet and know mankind. God loves all the sons and daughters of Adam (cf. Ezek. 18:32; I Tim. 2:4; II Pet. 3:9). He loves them so much He was willing to send His own Son to die in their place (cf. John 3:16; II Cor. 5:21). But He has chosen that sinners must respond to Him in trust, faith, repentance, obedience, service, worship, and perseverance. God does not send anyone to Hell, but unbelievers send themselves (cf. John 3:17-21). Hell is an open, bleeding sore in the heart of God that will never be healed! I am not sure God ever has "a good day." Oh, the pain of willful rebellion in the face of sacrificial love!

14:12 Perseverance is a major theme throughout the book (cf. 1:9; 2:7,11,17,19,26; 3:5,10,12,21; 13:10; 21:7). God's people have been shown to be faithful even in the midst of persecution. See full note and Special Topic at 2:2.

"saints" See Special Topic at 5:8.

▣ "who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus" A similar description of believers is found in 12:17. Notice that the emphasis is on a personal faith relationship with Jesus, followed by a lifestyle of obedience (cf. 12:17; Luke 6:46).

Mature Christianity consists of

1. a person to welcome (a personal relationship with Christ)

2. truths about that person to believe (doctrinal truths of the NT)

3. a life to live like that person (daily Christlikeness)

All three are required for a mature, healthy, growing faith.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 14:13
 13And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, "Write, 'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!'" "Yes," says the Spirit, "so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them."

14:13 "Blessed" This is the second of seven blessings found in the book of the Revelation (cf. 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7,14).

▣ "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord" This refers to the martyrs (as did the 144,000), but the exact time of this death is uncertain. Some commentators relate it to John's day and some relate it to the end-time. Though the time element is uncertain, it is important to know that the death of God's saints is precious in His sight (cf. Ps. 116:15).

Although this group is made up of Christian martyrs, it is best to interpret this as "witnesses" in a more general sense of believers. Not all believers were killed in the first century, not all will be killed in the tribulation of the end-time, but all believers must remain faithful to Christ. This metaphor is inclusive, not exclusive.

"for their deeds follow with them" It is a paradox of Christianity that as believers we are gifted by the Spirit at salvation for effective ministry to and for the body of Christ (cf. I Cor. 12:7,11). God calls, equips, and produces eternal fruit through imperfect believers. It is His gift, His Spirit that empowers, but saints receive a reward for their faithfulness, availability, and perseverance (see Special Topic at 2:10). Believers are not saved by works (self-effort), but they are saved unto good works (cf. Eph. 2:8-9,10). God's will for every believer is Christlike service (cf. Rom. 8:29; Gal. 4:19; Eph. 1:4)!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 14:14-16
 14Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and sitting on the cloud was one like a son of man, having a golden crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand. 15And another angel came out of the temple, crying out with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, "Put in your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is ripe." 16Then He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.

14:14-16 There are two different harvests (cf. IV Ezra 13:10-11) described in vv. 14-16 and 17-19. The first is a grain harvest and the second a grape harvest. If this distinction can be maintained (in Joel 3:13 the two crops are viewed as one judgment), the first refers to the harvest of the righteous (cf. Matt. 9:37-38; 13:30,38; Mark 4:26-29; Luke 10:2; John 4:35-38), while the second grape harvest mentioned in Isa. 63:2-6; Jer. 51:33; Lam. 1:15; Joel 3:13 and Rev. 19:15 refers to the wicked.

14:14 "a white cloud, and sitting on the cloud was one like a son of man, having a golden crown on His head" The same identity problems in chapters 6 and 10 apply to these verses. Is this a description of the divine Messiah (cf. Dan. 7:13) or just another angel serving on His behalf? I think it is another powerful angel, because

1. this is in a series of angels (cf. vv. 15,17,18)

2. Matt. 13:39, 41-42, 49-50 says that angels will gather and separate people at the end-time (some for blessing and some for judgment)

3. an angel commands him (cf. v. 15)

 

14:15 This is an allusion to Joel 3:13.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 14:17-20
 17And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, and he also had a sharp sickle. 18Then another angel, the one who has power over fire, came out from the altar; and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, "Put in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, because her grapes are ripe." 19So the angel swung his sickle to the earth and gathered the clusters from the vine of the earth, and threw them into the great wine press of the wrath of God. 20And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood came out from the wine press, up to the horses' bridles, for a distance of two hundred miles.

14:17 "another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven" This refers to the spiritual tabernacle in heaven (cf. Heb. 8:2; 9:11,23-24).

14:18 "who has power over fire" Angels have power over the wind (cf. 7:1), over fire (cf. 14:18), and over the water (cf. 16:5). This reflects rabbinical Judaism's concept of angelic involvement in the natural world. Although the NT does not emphasize this, that does not mean that it is inaccurate (cf. Heb. 1:7,14).

14:20 "outside the city" Some see this as an allusion to Christ being crucified outside the city (cf. Heb. 13:12). Others see it as simply an allusion to OT purification laws where the unclean were taken outside the camp (cf. Lev. 8:17; 9:11). However, it may refer to the end-time gathering of the enemies of God around the city of Jerusalem (cf. Ps. 2:2,6; Dan. 11:45; Joel 3:12-14; Zech. 14:1-4; and the intertestamental apocalyptic book of I Enoch 53:1). Here again, the problem of what is literal and what is figurative becomes a major interpretive issue!

▣ "the blood came out from the wine press, up to the horses' bridles, for a distance of two hundred miles" This will be the result of a huge battle which is described in later chapters, or simply a metaphor coming from the color of grape juice. The real question is whether it is literal or symbolic. Does this describe a battle in time/space or a symbolic cosmic battle of good and evil? The genre leans toward the latter, but Jesus' words of Matthew 24: Mark 13 and Luke 21 lean toward the former.

The exact distance is uncertain. Some say (1) 165 miles; (2) 184 miles; or (3) 200 miles. The exact words are 6,600 furlongs. This is an unusual symbolic number. Some say that it refers to the distance from Dan to Beersheba, which means judgment symbolically covering the entire Holy Land.

The "wine press" is an OT metaphor for judgment (cf. Isa. 63:3; Lam. 1:15). This is probably because of the similarity between red grape juice and blood. It is also mentioned in 19:15.

▣ "the wrath of God" See full note at 7:14.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. What is the relationship between the 144,000 found in chapters 7 and 14?

2. To what does Mt. Zion refer?

3. Are the qualifications found in 14:4 a description of a select celibate group or the whole people of God?

4. What is the significance of 14:6 and 7?

5. Who or what is Babylon?

6. Is hell eternal?

7. Who is the person sitting on the cloud in 14:14-16 and why?