Chapter 1 A Vision of Christ…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 7
Chapter 2 Letters to the Church…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 12
Revelation 2:1-7 Ephesus 12
Revelation 2:8-11 Smyrna 16
Revelation 2:12-17 Pergamos 19
Revelation 2:18 –29 Thyatira 22
Chapter 3 More Letters to the Church…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 25
Revelation 3:1-6 Sardis 25
Revelation 3:17 13 Philadelphia 28
Revelation 3:14-22 Laodicea 32
Chapter 4 A Vision of the Throne of God………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 33
Chapter 5 The Lamb and the Scroll……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 35
Chapter 6 The Seven Seals…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 38
Chapter 7 The Sealed of Israel………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 42
Revelation 7:1-8 Who Are The Sealed of Israel 42
Revelation 7:9-13 Who Comes Out of Great Tribulation 44
Chapter 8 The Seventh Seal; The Trumpet Judgments…………………………………………………………………………………………. 49
Revelation 8:1-5 Hear the Trumpet of God 49
Revelation 8:6-13 The First Four Trumpet Judgments 50
Chapter 9 More Trumpet Judgments; Demons and Armies…………………………………………………………………………………. 51
Chapter 10 The Little Scroll…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 52
Chapter 11 Prophets And Their Reward……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 54
Rev. 11:1-14 The Power of Prophetic Ministry 54
Rev. 11:15-19 Seventh Trumpet (Fulfillment); the Temple in Heaven Opened 57
Chapter 12 Satan Opposes the Church…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 61
Chapter 13 The Beast……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 64
Chapter 14 Three Angels And Those Who Keep God’s Commands………………………………………………………………………. 67
Rev 14:1-5 67
Rev. 14:6-20 68
Chapter 15 The Wrath of God in Golden Bowls…………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 70
Chapter 16 The Final Battle, The Big Quake and the End………………………………………………………………………………………. 72
Chapter 17 the Harlot…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 73
Chapter 18 Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 75
Chapter 19…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 76
Rev. 19:1-10 76
Rev. 19:11-21 78
Chapter 20 The Millennial Reign……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 82
Rev. 20:1-15 82
Chapter 21 A New Heaven and A New Earth……………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 87
Rev. 21:1-26 87
Chapter 22 Come Quickly Lord Jesus…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 91
Rev. 22:1-21 91
There are many common misconceptions about the book of Revelation. First, it is not a chronological account. Biblical prophecy is not necessarily concerned with chronology. In prophesy, the future is always viewed as imminent. The purpose of any revelation from God is to develop the character, mind and spirit of the recipient to conform to the will of God. In the case of this revelation, the purpose is to reveal the character and purposes of God and to develop an attitude of expecting Christ’s return.
Another common misconception is that Revelation is about a seven year Great Tribulation for the Jews. It is written to all mankind and the warnings apply to all. The trials depicted apply to all mankind throughout history. God dealt specifically with the Jewish race for a specific purpose during a specific time. That purpose has been fulfilled. The dispensation of the Jews is past. The New Testament is clear that Christ has abolished the division between Jew and gentile and now has one bride. He will celebrate the marriage supper with His whole bride.
The author of Revelation, as with all scripture, is the Holy Spirit. John the beloved disciple and apostle is the inspired instrument. He was the son of Zebedee, a Pharisee. He was well versed in the Old Testament, the only scriptures available to the disciples when Jesus first called them. The style, with over 400 allusions to the Old Testament, is that of a Hebrew very familiar with the scriptures. Revelation is probably the first recorded scripture writing of John. Undoubtedly, he shared his gospel message verbally many times, but did not record it until after he received the Revelation. Most scholars agree that Revelation was probably written between 81-96 AD. There is historical evidence from Irenaeus that it was written during the reign of the emperor Domitian. Domitian insisted upon being worshipped as a god. There were local persecutions going on in Ephesus and Pergammum, where Antipas was martyred, but persecution of Christians had not yet become widespread in the empire.
There are different methods of interpretation of this prophecy. The Preterist, or Fulfilled view teaches that the events portrayed in Revelation relate only to events during the time that it was written. Accordingly, it is viewed as an apocalyptic tract to encourage people during time of persecution. The beast of chapter 13 is considered to be Imperial Rome. The number of the beast, 666 can be translated “Neron Kesar”. The mark of the beast given to his followers is the mark Rome used to certify legal documents. Goddess worship was common in the empire at this time and Preterists often interpret the harlot of chapter 17 as symbolizing the Greek goddess Diana.
Those holding to the Preterist view understand the book exclusively in terms of its first century setting, believing that most of the events in Revelation have already occurred. References to a future judgment are only considered to be an expression of outrage against injustices of that day. This view is generally held by liberals with a skeptical view of the inspiration and infallibility of scripture. It does not allow for timeless relevance, which is one of the hallmarks of scripture. One of the characteristics of Divine inspiration is that all scripture is useful for edification, not just to those of the age in which it was written, but timelessly throughout the ages. Another problem for the Preterist is that all of the prophecies contained in the Revelation are obviously not completely fulfilled; Christ hasn’t returned! This is not human speculation; it is the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.
The Idealist, or Symbolic view teaches that Revelation is a symbolic portrayal of the cosmic conflict between God and Satanic evil in whatever form it might take. Prophecies are considered to be symbolic imagery used to make an ethical point, not referring to past or future historical events. This view denies the plain language. In chapter 1 verse 19, Jesus says, “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place after this.” This is obviously a prophecy of future events.
According to the Idealist interpreter, the beast of Revelation is Satanic evil oppressing the church. Symbols such as the harlot and the mark are not identified with historic events or persons. Judgment day is whenever a great moral issue is decided. The advantage to this method of interpretation is that it does focus on ethical truths.
According to the Historical view of interpretation, Revelation is a prophecy of the entire history of the church up to the end of this present age. This method lends itself to a chronological view of the book. Reformers like Luther, Calvin and Knox held this view. It has thus been called the Protestant view. As with most of the reformers, those holding to this interpretation equate the Beast of Revelation with the institution of the Papacy.
The Futurist method of interpretation considers most of the book (from chapter 4 on) to be referring to future events. Futurist interpreters can be classified into two types. There are dispensationalists (most notable among these would be Scofield) and non-dispensationalists.
According to the dispensationalist, the seven letters of the first three chapters written to the seven churches of Asia Minor are intended for the entire church during seven successive church ages. The problem with this interpretation lies in the fact that the Philipian church, which to the dispensationalist represents the faithful church that will be “raptured” out before the Great Tribulation, is not the last church in the Revelation chronology!
The dispensationalist interprets chapters 6-18 as depicting a specific seven-year period of time in the future and identifies this time with what Jesus referred to as the Great Tribulation. According to the dispensationalist, God will deal separately with Israel as opposed to the gentile church. The dispensationalist predicts a pre-tribulation rapture of the church and subsequent mass conversions of Jews during the Great Tribulation (also interpreted as the “time of Jacob’s trouble” referred to in Jeremiah 30:7). The dispensationalist predicts a rebuilt temple. This view considers the prophecy of Revelation to be generally chronological.
The descriptions of this period of tribulation in Revelation involve several different visions, which might not tell a chronological story. The language of chapter 12:1-17 seems to be an overview of the incarnation and the “great tribulation” that was suffered by the people of Jerusalem from 63-70 AD. This chapter at least, seems to best fit into the Historical method of interpretation.
The non-dispensational interpreter makes no distinction between Israel and the church. The seven letters are not a chronological forecast, but rather bona-fide letters to seven historical churches, which had gems and flaws common to the entire church throughout the age, including today. As such, Christ’s warnings and commendations are as relevant to us today as they were to believers in the first century. According to this view the primary purpose of Revelation is to describe the consummation of God’s redemptive purpose.
This view allows us to see in contemporary events many of the characteristics and signs John describes and to realize that the end could come at any time. Any student of Revelation would be wise to exercise caution and not assume that they have figured it out. Some scholars combine different methods of interpretation. For example, The Hebrew Messianic interpretation utilizes both idealist and futurist methods. The Messianic interpretation of Revelation sees it as a parallel to the Exodus. Accordingly, the Passover is the key to understanding the prophecies, which are yet future. The Antichrist is a type of Pharaoh.
The interpretation I prefer could best be described as a blending of historical, idealist and futurist methods. It is important to understand that much biblical prophecy deals with both present and future. There are often dual fulfillments. Simply because a prophecy has been fulfilled once in the past, does not negate the possibility that it might be fulfilled in a different way in the future. Thus, Jesus commented on prophecies concerning the coming of Elijah prior to the “day of the Lord.” He said that Elijah had come in the form of John the Baptist and that he (Elijah) would come again before the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. An example of dual fulfillment of prophecy is the Olivet discourse of our Lord concerning the last days chronicled in Matthew 24. This prophecy combines in one seamless dialog, the historical judgment of Jerusalem, which has since occurred in 70 AD, with the Lord’s return, which we still await.
Joel starts out referring to a real historical plague of locusts in his time and in the same dialogue progresses to the great judgment day at the end of this age. Imminent historical judgment is seen as a type or prelude to the consummation. Both are often blended together in an apparent disregard for chronology.
Another example of dual fulfillment would be Daniel, chapters 11-13, which seem to describe a single individual incarnation of evil. Yet, 11:3 could be a clear reference to the historical Antiochus Epiphanes, while 12:36-39 seem to refer to the as yet unfulfilled actions of the individual described as the Antichrist in other New Testament scriptures.
If we allow for multiple fulfillments, prophecies of tribulation could refer to both past historical events as well as future ones. A perfect example of this occurs in 1John 4:3, where John proclaims that the antichrist spirit is already at work in his day. John also vividly describes in Revelation the actions of a real individual who is to appear in the future. We should evaluate all prophecy to ascertain the symbolic meaning, without excluding the possible literal future fulfillment. Revelation portrays the dynamic tension between present and future. The purpose is not to give a chronological chart, but to let the light of the consummation fall on the present.
We can discern a definite structure to the entire book of Revelation. There are four series of sevens described. There are seven letters, seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls. This pattern shows that the Holy Spirit had a design in mind when He inspired this word. Revelation is not just a haphazard accumulation of symbols. Seven is a number symbolic of completeness or totality in biblical prophetic language. Revelation contains four major visions, each begins with the statements “in the Spirit” and “come and see”. The words “in the Spirit” indicate that this revelation to the writer came via an ecstatic experience. John records a series of seven judgments in chapter 4-17. In the midst of this, like a parenthetical thought, there is a vision of the chronological history of redemption in chapter 12-14. He sees the defeat of the harlot, Babylon [which represents false religion] and of Satan in chapter 17-21:8. He sees the glory of the New Jerusalem in chapter 21:9-22:5.
We can discern seven separate, non-chronological, visions:
- The letters to the churches (chapters 1 – 3)
- The vision of the throne room including the seven seals and the seven trumpets (chapters 4 – 11)
- The war between the bride and the beast (chapters 12 – 14)
- The bowls of wrath (chapters 15 – 17)
- The fall of Babylon (chapters 18 – 19)
- The millennial reign of Christ (chapter 20)
- The consummation or all things made new (chapter 21)
The language highlights the ending of one vision and the beginning of another. For example, chapter 14 ends with “And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even to the bridles of the horses, for the space of a thousand, six hundred stadia.” (Rev 14:20) and chapter 15 begins with “And I saw another sign in Heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels with the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God.” (Rev 15:1) Chapters 4 and 18 begin with “After these things…” Chapter 15 begins with “Then I saw another sign…”
With the introduction, conclusion and parenthetical vision of chapters 12-14, there are seven sections. There are seven beatitudes with attendant blessings. The first is recorded in 1:3, “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and keep those things which are written in it.” This is not a reference to private study but to public reading in worship. It is an admonition to be doers of the word and not just hearers as James wrote in his epistle. It reminds us of the blessing Jesus pronounced recorded in Luke 11:28: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” These admonitions confirm the Hebraic mind of God’s word encouraging us to a holistic union of knowledge and experience as opposed to a Greek dualistic separation of knowledge and experience.
A Vision of Christ
“A Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to Him to declare to His servants things which must shortly come to pass.” (Rev 1:1)
The first chapter starts with an introduction and a greeting to the seven churches which are in Asia (Asia Minor or modern Turkey). He sends greetings of “grace and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come.”[1:4] The chapter concludes with an ecstatic vision of the glorified Christ.
From the start of the book we see Christ communicating with His people. The first 20 verses are perhaps one of the most concise and thorough explanations of “the gospel” ever recorded. It contains the essence of the message of God’s word. What good news! God offers us grace, the power of God to overcome. He makes that offer because Christ has made peace through His blood. [Col. 1:20] He will not war against us if we will not wage war against Him.
This chapter answers the key questions facing all mankind. The word “revelation” means a supernatural revealing of God’s truth. The Greek grammar permits two interpretations as to the object of the word in the first sentence. It could mean “the revelation of Jesus Christ.” That is, a supernatural revealing of His nature, His character and His purposes. The language might also mean that this is a revelation of what must soon take place or the consummation of History. We can accept that it is intended to mean both.
The focus of chapter 1 is the person of Christ. It answers the central questions. Who is Jesus? What is Jesus like? What has He done? What will He do? Jesus is God. He is one of the Trinity. Twice He is described as “Him who is, and who was, and who is to come,” (1:4 and 8). There is an obvious emphasis upon His eternal nature and His return. He is the Creator. He says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, ” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (1:8)
“…. from Jesus Christ the faithful Witness, the First-born from the dead and the Ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and made us kings and priests to God and His Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, He comes with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, and those who pierced Him will see Him, and all the kindreds of the earth will wail because of Him. Even so, Amen. I am the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the Ending, says the Lord, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. I, John, who also am your brother and companion in the affliction, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the island that is called Patmos, for the Word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (Rev 1:5-9)
Who is Jesus? He “is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth.” He is the Firstborn from the dead or the first one resurrected. The term “firstborn” can also mean preeminent or sovereign one like a firstborn son, as it is used in Psalm 89:27. Jesus is completely human. Jesus took for Himself the title “Son of man”, a title from the prophecies of Daniel and Ezekiel, in order to emphasize His humanity. 1Corinthians chapter 15 calls Him the second Adam for the same reason.
He is ruler over the kings of the earth. Not of some, but of all. He is sovereign and in control of all. To Him be glory and dominion forever and ever! Amen. The reference to Christ’s sovereignty is a direct point in response to an emerging trend in John’s day toward emperor worship. Titus used the term “DIVUS” on the coins of the day to refer to his supposed divinity. This Book teaches an important lesson: there can be no compromise between a pagan state and the kingdom of God, represented by the church. The logical outcome of paganism is totalitarianism and the worship of man.
Romans chapter 13 says, “The powers that be are ordained of God.” None rule without His allowing. That does not mean that all ordained powers are necessarily submitted to His lordship. Indeed, history has recorded that most have not been so. Revelation warns us that the kings of earth will oppose Christ and mourn at His coming to judge. Rulers may be evil but He restrains them. He uses them for His purpose. Revelation foresees that the kings of earth will devour the harlot, which represents the false church.
The Pharaoh was an evil ruler, unyielding to the Lord, but God says that He, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that the Jews would leave Egypt. God used the King Assyria to execute judgment on disobedient Israel, just as He used the pagan Nebuchadnezzar to bring judgment on Judah. He used the pagan Darius to order the rebuilding of Jerusalem. He used Titus to destroy Jerusalem as Christ prophesied.
What has He done? He is called the “Faithful witness,” recalling that He was faithful to the mission His Father gave Him. The letter begins with the words “grace and peace.” Grace is the power of God available to conquer disease, discouragement, death, the devil and sin. His sacrifice bought us peace with God. He makes His grace available freely. He has washed us from our sins by his blood. [1:5] He has finished the work of salvation. Just as the blood of the lamb at Passover freed Israel from judgment in Egypt, it is the power of the blood of God’s lamb, Jesus that frees us. Because of Christ’s shed blood, God can extend His power to us without violating His justice. He has defeated death. Thus He says, “I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever!” [1:18]
He has secured a kingdom for Himself. He “has made us kings and priests to His God and Father.” [1:6] Those who are submitted to His rule will rule with Him as Adam was supposed to [Mt 19:28]. This verse unites the church and Old Testament Israel in a continuous bond. God says the same thing of Israel in Exodus chapter 19. It exposes the error of latter day Israel dispensational theology. The church is Israel! Disciples of Jesus inherit the spiritual privileges and responsibilities of the old covenant made to Israel.
We have access to God, like priests in the old covenant. As priests we are to minister to Him. We are not intermediaries between God and man. That idea comes from the spirit of antichrist. There is only one intermediary between God and man, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1Tim 2:5) He is our high priest and mediator. John sees Him dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest, just like the high priest of ancient Israel.
As priests in His kingdom, we are to minister unto Him. 1Peter 2:5 says that we are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. A priest performs sacrifices and Romans chapter 12 confirms that we are supposed to offer our lives as living sacrifices. The sacrifices that we are called to offer include obedience, prayer, praise and thanksgiving. “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise —the fruit of lips that confess his name.” [Hebrews 13:15] Part of this sacrifice is our testimony of His work of salvation in our lives.
What will Christ do in the future? He will come to judge and rule. He holds “the keys of Hades and of Death.” [1:18] “He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of Him.” [1:7] People will mourn because they will be judged for their evil deeds and for rejecting His offer of mercy. This is one of the major themes of Revelation. But here, Christ is not the object of their grief. No, they are sorry for themselves. Every eye will see Him. All will stand before Him in judgment. He says, “I hold the keys of Hades and death.” His lordship will become inescapably evident to all. Every knee will bow, including those who pierced Him. All have sinned. He will destroy His enemies with a word just like He created by speaking. “And out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword.” The word of God is the only weapon He used in His earthly ministry. It is the only weapon He will use in this book. He speaks and it is done.
“I, John, who also am your brother and companion in the affliction, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the island that is called Patmos, for the Word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. I came to be in the Spirit in the Lord’s day and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, saying, I am the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last. Also, What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, and to Smyrna, and to Pergamos, and to Thyatira, and to Sardis, and to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”(Rev 1:9-11)
John identifies himself with his readers as a “companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ,” he makes it clear that tribulation is not just some future event, but an on-going experience for all followers of Christ as he and his companions were experiencing tribulation at the time. He records the first vision with the familiar introduction that he was “in the Spirit.” He confirms that his revelation was no ordinary experience for him, but that he was in a state of spiritual ecstasy, perhaps similar to those other accounts in scripture when it is recorded that the Spirit of the Lord “came upon” someone or they were “full of the Holy Spirit.” He hears the voice of the Lord, clear and loud “as of a trumpet.” He is commanded to record his vision in a book and send it to the seven churches of Asia. Since what he recorded has been determined as scripture to be a message to the entire church through the ages, we can agree that in some sense the seven churches are representative of the entire church. This is not necessarily true in a literal chronological sense but more in an idealistic sense.
“And I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned, I saw seven golden lampstands. And in the midst of the seven lampstands I saw One like the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the feet, and tied around the breast with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And His eyes were like a flame of fire. And His feet were like burnished brass having been fired in a furnace. And His voice was like the sound of many waters. And He had seven stars in His right hand, and out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword. And His face was like the sun shining in its strength.” (Rev 1:12-16)
John has a vision of the glorified Christ. He sees the throne in heaven. He is told to write what he sees, what is and what is coming (1:19). What he sees is a vision of the glorified Christ. What is shown is the state of the church and what is to come is the Kingdom, the consummation of His purposes.
What is Jesus like? He is glorious, “His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow.” (1:14) He shares these attributes with His Father [Dan 7, where He is described as the Ancient of Days]. “His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” (1:16) He is all-powerful. He is the Almighty. Even His voice reveals His power, “His voice was like the sound of rushing waters.” He is all knowing, nothing is hidden from Him. “His eyes were like blazing fire.” He has the ultimate x-ray vision. He sees right into our hearts through all of the disguises. John falls prostrate in fear at the sight of the glorified Christ. In the midst of our greatest fears, He puts His right hand of power on us and reminds us that He has overcome death, our greatest fear. He walks amidst His church, symbolized by the seven lamp-stands. “In his right hand he held seven stars.” [1:16] “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lamp-stands are the seven churches.” [1:20] We are in His nail pierced hands. He walks in our midst; He’s with us. Any tribulation we experience, as with John, it is experienced in Christ: famines, wars, sickness, torture, rape and abuse is healed in Him. We can overcome, and be more than conquerors, through Christ. He gives us the power. We can be hearers and doers of this word. He is always present with us by His Spirit. His love is everlasting and unchanging. “Nothing can separate us from love of God.” [Romans 8:39] His love is not conditional. He loves sinners. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:8]
He does not judge sinners because He hates them, but He hates what they do and He hates that they refuse His forgiveness and refuse to repent. He hates that their sin destroys all that is good. He hates that it’s destructiveness is not confined to the perpetrators, but corrupts all creation. Therefore, because of His overpowering love, He must execute judgment and bring in everlasting justice. In times of trial and persecution we sometimes forget God’s abiding love, but it is assured by what Christ did on the cross.
Letters to the Church
“To the angel of the church of Ephesus write: He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands, says these things. I know your works and your labor and your patience, and how you cannot bear those who are evil. And you tried those pretending to be apostles, and are not, and have found them liars. And you have borne, and have patience, and for My name’s sake you have labored and have not fainted. But I have against you that you left your first love.” (Rev 2:1-4)
There is a general pattern observable in all of the letters. First, the Lord gives John a command to write followed by an identification of Jesus as the sender. In each case, Jesus reminds the readers of something about Himself that is particularly significant to the readers and to the specific message that Christ has for them. If there is anything to commend the hearers for, that is expressed first, followed by a critique for what is in need of repair in each church. After an exhortation to repent, He extends a promise for those who overcome evil and choose to obey. He ends each letter with a plea to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
The letters are to seven historical churches, but they are representative of the church throughout history. The problems pointed to have occurred throughout church history. The lessons and the warnings are as relevant to our day as they were when they were written. John was personally acquainted with the seven churches. He had served as pastor in Ephesus and as the Bishop in Asia.
The letters are addressed to the angel of each church. The Greek word interpreted angel also means messenger. In this case, the intended recipient is probably the pastor of the church, though the message is for the entire church. The Churches are represented as lamps symbolic of the light of Christ. This allegorical representation reminds us of Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins. We are to keep our lamps burning by buying oil from the Holy Spirit. We are Christ’s ambassadors. As the body of Christ we are intended to be His eyes, ears, hands and mouth here on earth.
The first letter is addressed to the church in Ephesus, originally planted by the Apostle Paul. Ephesus was probably the largest Christian church in the world at the time. It was the Capital city of Asia Minor as well as a large seaport city. It was also the center of occult worship. Hosting the temple of the goddess Diana, Ephesus was the center of pagan goddess worship. It was infamous for its practitioners of witchcraft, magic, sexual manipulation, perversion and immorality. Temple prostitution was a common practice of the sect of the Nicolaitans, a cult of Christians founded by Nicolaus. They preached a gnostic heresy, condoning sexual sin. The Nicolaitans were also prevalent in Pergammum, where their behavior is likened to the false prophet Baalam [Nu 31] who induced the Israelite men to fornicate with Moabite women.
In Acts chapter 19 we read of Paul’s confrontation with the followers of Diana in Ephesus, where it is recorded that almost all Asia [Minor] had turned to Christ. Timothy was the pastor of the church after Paul left. Paul had warned that false teachers would come in later.
Jesus begins with a reminder that He is in control and that He walks with us. He knows what we are doing. He reminds us of His constant watchful presence. He knows our works [deeds], labors, patience, endurance and our adherence to what is good. As with all of the letters, Christ begins with praise for the good that He sees in the church. He praises them for having tested false apostles. They had compared their doctrine with the word of God and they were not willing to bear with evil men or doctrines. He is referring to false apostles claiming to be believers, not their pagan neighbors. He further praises them for their patient perseverance. They stuck to the work of the Kingdom under difficult circumstances in a very pagan environment. Their labor was not for their own sake but for the cause of Christ. Their motives were right. Because they did not become weary, their work must have been done in God’s strength. Jesus further commends them for their hatred of the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which He says that He hates as well. It is an important distinction that it is the deeds, not the people that He hates. God hates righteously.
Jesus criticizes them for having left their first love. Is He accusing them of having left Him? Had they strayed from faith altogether? Based upon His earlier commendation, that seems doubtful. Perhaps He is critical because in their pursuit of correct doctrine, they had ignored passionate devotion to Him. This may be why Paul was earlier inspired to pray that they would “know the love of Christ.” Passionate love for Christ comes before anything else. He must always be our first pursuit. When that is lacking it is always followed by coldness toward our fellow man. It is only by the grace of God that we are enabled to love our neighbor. That grace will only continue to flow as we make Him our first priority. Their coldness toward Christ was probably also accompanied by a lack of love for each other and their pagan neighbors. When we are cold toward Jesus we are incapable of properly loving others. He calls them to repent and go back to their first love. Worship is the first work that we are called to.
Worship begins with praise, thanks and adoration. There is a God ordained order for human ministry. First we minister to God, then God ministers to us; He teaches us, fills us with His Spirit, gives us His heart for our neighbor and empowers us. Only then are we enabled to properly and effectively minister to our neighbor. As part of our worship, God’s people should express the mercy and compassion of Jesus to a hurting world. We should do the things that He said He had come to do: visit, pray for and heal the sick, feed the hungry (both natural and spiritual food) and set the captives free (both physically and spiritually). These works should flow out of a genuine passion for Jesus. Real compassion and zeal to serve others flows naturally out of passionate love of Jesus.
To be passionate for God, one must be able to express emotion, to weep, dance, shout and raise the hands. We should do it because it comes from the heart. It must be more than just an act of the will. Jesus said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” David was passionate. He danced before God. Michal mocked him and was judged for it; she remained barren as a sign of her spiritual barrenness. The symbolism is obvious; there will be no fruit without passion. The Holy Spirit is restoring intimacy to our worship; there is a God orchestrated shift to songs like the Psalms directed to God as opposed to songs about Him as though He were not in our midst. Real passion for God should create new songs. New expressions of love and adoration are fresh bread to our spirits. We must constantly seek renewal. We glorify God by enjoying Him. We should seek Him hedonistically like a thirsty deer seeks a stream, for the joy of knowing Him. Selfish interest for this kind of pleasure is a gift from God.
Jesus warns them that if they fail to repent, then He will remove their lamp-stand. That is, they would cease to represent Him. How sad to think that today there is no Christian church in Ephesus. Repentance is the only way to recover from where they have fallen. The lamps are representative of the light that the church is intended to be in this dark world. The invisible repentance that God works in the heart never remains hidden; it produces an outward change. Thus Jesus had said to His first disciples, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Now He says to the Ephesians, “Do the things that you did at first.” We are God’s ambassadors to show the light of God’s truth to the world. He told His disciples not to hide their light. Here he teaches that we cannot be that light unless we passionately pursue Him first.
How do we get away from our first love? Have you been to a church where there is much ministry, but people are cold? One can get involved in doing the work of the Kingdom, ministry to other people and forget their first priority of ministry to Him. This can happen even when ministry is done for the right motives. It is easy to get involved in the intellectual pursuit of doctrinal purity and in the process end up ignoring the object of the doctrine, which is supposed to be our first love. Doctrinal purity is necessary, but it is not the reason we exist. It is no substitute for love. John Piper writes in Desiring God, “Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy and a church full (or half full) of artificial admirers (like people who write generic anniversary cards for a living)…. But true worship comes from people who are deeply emotional and who love deep and sound doctrine. Strong affections for God rooted in truth are the bone and marrow of biblical worship.”
Each of the letters concludes with a promise from the Lord, preceded by the statement, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” This reminder is repeated seven times. The repetition suggests a wider audience than the seven local churches of John’s day. The exhortation is to the entire church throughout the age. The promise is given to those who overcome. This begs the question, overcome who or what and how?
The phrase in the original Greek language could also be interpreted, “he who conquers,” reminding us that we are engaged in warfare. This conclusion can be drawn from other scriptures. Ephesians chapter 6 teaches that we battle “principalities and powers in the heavenly realm.” John’s epistle of 1 John suggests that we all battle in three areas: the world, the flesh and the devil. To battle against the world, is to battle against the world system, the spirit of the age that is dominated by Satan and sin. To battle the flesh is to battle against our own carnal sin nature. From a contextual reading of all seven letters, it seems that we are called to overcome in the area where we are weakest. The Ephesians would overcome by holding to their first love. It is love for Jesus that changes the will and the heart so that we can overcome.
Jesus offers them the opportunity to eat of the Tree of Life. Those who overcome get to partake of His life. The promise is for all believers, not a special class. We are all called to be more than conquerors, to lay down our lives for Christ. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” He says that the tree is in the center of Paradise, which is the dwelling place of God. The Kingdom centers upon Him. Eternal life comes by His grace and power.
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The First and the Last, who became dead and lived, says these things: I know your works and tribulation and poverty (but you are rich), and I know the blasphemy of those saying themselves to be Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Do not at all fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the Devil will cast some of you into prison, so that you may be tried. And you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful to death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.” (Rev 2:8-11)
What sort of tribulation? Smyrna had a large colony of Jews who were hostile to Christ and had influence with governing authorities. Years later, some called for Polycarp, the Bishop, to be burned at the stake. Christ repeats an earlier claim, “These things says the First and the Last, who was dead and came to life.” He reminds them that He died and rose again. This is important to remember when facing martyrdom. Our death is not final. He reassures them that He has conquered death.
The Lord says, “I know your works, tribulation and poverty yet you are rich!” They are rich toward God in eternal things, having laid up treasures in heaven. This letter is one of only two containing no word of criticism. The statement makes a deliberate sharp contrast to Laodicea that professes to be rich but is in fact poor. The poverty of Smyrna was not due to normal conditions but to confiscation of property [see Hebrews 10:34].
Jesus continues, “I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” The NIV translates “blasphemy” as slander. Though this may not be the best literal rendering of the Greek text, it most probably best translates the historical context in English. Most likely the statement refers to accusations against men or slander of the body of Christ. Both of which are blasphemy against God.
Jesus makes a distinction between outward and inward Jews. Real Jews are those who are in Christ. According to scripture, such are Abraham’s seed. “Those who are the children of the flesh are not the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.” “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Inwardly these Jews are not Jews because they have rejected their Messiah. True Jews are the people of the Messiah. “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh, but, he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter.” A gentile may be a true Jew. Dispensational theology that teaches that God will deal separately with physical Israel is unbiblical. He says that those physical Jews slandering His people are the synagogue of Satan. Religion outside the gospel serves Satan, no matter how sincere.
Persecution is the work of the devil, but God uses it for His purposes. The Bible teaches that persecution is caused by a number of things: Man’s sinful nature, people who hate God and Christ, and people who are ignorant of God. Mistaken zeal often leads to persecution. Paul’s persecution of the church before his Damascus road epiphany is a perfect example. Preaching the cross can bring persecution, as Paul and other disciples discovered. Godly living itself may bring persecution, especially as it stands in stark contrast to a pagan culture and causes conviction. The Bible says that we are the smell of death to those who are perishing. Christ calls upon them and us to overcome fear in the face of persecution. Whatever is not of faith is sin. Perfect love casts out all fear. He promises that the persecution will be of limited duration. The number of ten days may not be literal, but is an indication that the time is finite. Ten is a number that is frequently associated with trial in scripture. Jesus knows how long this tribulation will last. He is not surprised by it. In contrast to this finite time of trial, life with Christ is eternal.
He reminds them that those who reject Christ must face the second death that is also eternal. “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ and shall reign with him a thousand years.” “Then death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, the idolaters and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone which is the second death.” Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Christ promises that if we remain faithful until death, He will give us the crown of life. This is not a reference to a king’s crown, but rather the type of crown that an athlete would be awarded for running a race. Eternal life is the prize. Persecution was not new when John received this revelation. Peter’s first epistle was written to offer encouragement to persecuted Christians during persecution of Nero that started in Jerusalem around 63AD. Peter knew persecution. He was imprisoned and martyred, yet nothing could shake his confidence in his risen Lord. His letter gives answers as to why God allows the devil to persecute believers. “These have come so that your faith of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” God uses persecution to strengthen our faith.
Persecution has continued throughout the church age and today. We will face persecution as we follow Christ. Peter goes on to tell us what kind of conduct we should display in the midst of persecution. We should live holy. “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” We should not be afraid “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” We should overcome fear like Polycarp. Most Christians will not have to face a martyr’s death. God knows what trials we will face and He will provide the grace necessary to face them. The faith and courage of the martyrs should encourage us. Why are so many professing Christians afraid to open their mouths? We are intimidated by cultural norms into not speaking up when opportunities are presented. At school, at work or in front of our neighbors are we afraid to give the reason for the hope that we have? Do we express that hope?
“And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write: He who has the sharp sword with two edges says these things. I know your works, and where you live, even where Satan’s seat is . And you hold fast My name and have not denied My faith, even in those days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the teachings of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit fornication. So you also have those who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent! But if not I will come to you quickly, and will fight with them by the sword of My mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give to him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knows except he who receives it.” (Rev 2:12-17)
The Nicolaitans were a sect in the church in Sardis as well as in Pergammun who accepted a false doctrine permitting sexual immorality. This theology has its roots in Greek philosophy that taught of a dualistic distinction between the spirit realm and the physical realm. This dualistic thinking is common in the modern age. It leads to the idea that material sins don’t affect the spirit. This thinking harmonizes easily with the postmodern idea that there is no absolute truth. This scripture refers to Balaam, whose actions are recorded in Numbers chapters 22-31. Balak King of Moab during the Exodus wanted Balaam, known as a prophet, to curse Israel. God prevented him from doing so. Balaam advised Balak to seduce the Israelite men using the Moabite women. Their pagan worship festivals were orgies. Balak like all pagans would not have had a concept that free sex was immoral or brought separation from God. The Israelite men were seduced by the Moabite women and participated in their idol worship. They turned away from the one true God in order to have sex. Subsequently, the Lord brought a plague upon the Israelites and twenty-four thousand men died.
God is against free sex because it separates us from Him. Any sex outside the marriage covenant as defined by God is sexual immorality. God’s marriage covenant requires the church blessing before God and witnesses. He condones none of this “we’re married in God’s eyes” business among people who have never made a public commitment. God hates fornication, adultery, homosexuality and all sexual sin because He created us sexual beings to glorify Him, make Him known to all creation. He created us in His image to be fruitful, creative, life giving and righteous. A marriage is intended to depict His relationship with believers, the church, which is His bride.
In the physical, natural realm sex is the most intimate act we can participate in. The natural, temporal realm reflects the eternal reality of the spiritual realm. In the natural realm free sex causes disease and death. Ephesians chapter 4 describes how the flesh is being corrupted by deceitful desires and destroyed by sin. It won’t last. Scripture says that the whole world is being corrupted by evil desires. The whole creation is in bondage to decay and groans for deliverance. Our fleshly desires are deceitful; sin is pleasurable for a short time but it leads to death. Sexual sin causes the breaking of human relationship and trust along with much emotional hurt and suffering. These are the natural manifestations of the spiritual consequences.
In marriage, God created us to be one, not just physically, but spiritually. Marriage is a reflection of Christ and the church. It is not just a physical union. How can you be one with more than one person? In the spiritual dimension, free sex tears our spirit apart. Sexual immorality destroys our image or perception of who we were really created to be. Accordingly, God warns us to, “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.” This leads to separation from God because we become hardened. “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening [NKJV says, “blindness”] of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” As mankind becomes darkened in his understanding he loses focus of his purpose for being. A hard heart leads to ignorance of God and His ways. That ignorance, darkened understanding leads to loss of sensitivity to God, which in turn leads to sensuality and a continual lust for more. A vicious whirlpool drags the sinner deeper and deeper, further and further from God. They will never be satisfied. Seeking fulfillment in things other than God is idolatry. Romans chapter 1 says that because of idolatry God has given people over to their own sinful desires. God created us to only be complete in Him. No earthly, fleshly pleasure will satisfy us forever.
The desire for sexual fulfillment is a very powerful driving force. God created us thus. Consequently, Balaam’s advice worked. The church and the world have seen many spiritual leaders fall in this area. That is why the devil promotes free sex. There is a devil; he has a throne and a kingdom and desires to kill, destroy and turn people away from God. We should seek the mercy and grace of God to overcome sexual temptation. We receive His grace by becoming one with Christ. We must have passion for intimacy with Christ. Intimacy with Christ brings the seed of the Holy Spirit, the living Word into our spirit. “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” Knowledge of Him doesn’t refer to intellectual knowledge or book learning. It refers to knowledge that comes by relationship. We receive power to overcome by walking in the Spirit, being intimate with Him. Galatians promises that if we walk in the Spirit we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. Jesus is the hidden manna. We must eat of Him in a spiritual sense. We only receive in accordance with His covenant, on His terms. We don’t have to indulge the sinful nature. His power is available to us because of the shed blood of Christ and He has promised His indwelling Spirit to those who accept Him by faith. 1Corinthians refers to His indwelling presence as the deposit of the Holy Spirit, using the language of sexual intimacy to describe our relationship.
Balaam is a type of those who promote compromise with pagan immorality. Such persons and their teaching must be dealt with. Church discipline is crucial to preventing the destruction of God’s people. In 1Corinthians we read of a man, supposedly a fellow believer, who was sleeping with his stepmother and people in and out of the church knew about it. Paul said to send him out of the fellowship, to deliver him over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh that his spirit might be saved. “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.” Later on, in 2Corinthians, Paul writes and instructs the church to restore the man because he was repentant. Along with discipline there must be forgiveness and restoration when repentance is evident.
Those who overcome receive a new name, meaning that they inherit a new nature. Jesus said that the truth sets us free. Understanding your identity in Christ is part of knowing the truth. We must know who God created us to be. The truth is His word that divides soul and spirit and judges the intents of the heart. The ultimate solution is God’s judgment. His Word, the Sword of His Spirit, judges. The sexually immoral, adulterers and fornicators will end up in the lake of fire. Those who overcome will receive a white stone.
“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: The Son of God, He who has His eyes like a flame of fire and His feet like burnished metal, says these things: I know your works and love and service and faith and your patience, and your works; and the last to be more than the first. But I have a few things against you because you allow that woman Jezebel to teach, she saying herself to be a prophetess, and to cause My servants to go astray, and to commit fornication, and to eat idol-sacrifices. And I gave her time that she might repent of her fornication, and she did not repent. Behold, I am throwing her into a bed, and those who commit adultery with her into great affliction, unless they repent of their deeds.” (Rev 2:18-22)
Jezebel is referred to in both the Old and New Testament. In both cases she is an archetype of a demonic principality manifested in people throughout time. The Jezebel in Thyatira was permitted to teach pagan concepts. She advocated participation in trade union parties that often devolved into pagan orgies.
The most infamous was Queen Jezebel referred to in 1Kings chapter 16 through 2Kings chapter 9. She was a Sidonian princess betrothed to King Ahab of Israel. Thus began a compromise with idolaters. What follows is a tale of international intrigue that was a natural reflection of a spiritual battle being waged against the people of God. She established Baal worship as the dominant worship in Israel. She threatened to have Elijah’s head after God confirmed His word through Elijah, destroying the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel. She was having the prophets of God beheaded in Israel.
The ministry of the Jezebel principality is to separate the prophets from their head, which is Christ, or any God ordained authority. The head is a symbol of authority. Ahab is a type of every spiritual wimp. God’s judgment: 1Kings 21:25-26 There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols. And like the devil, he kills and steals. He takes what doesn’t belong to him. Naboth’s vineyard is a type of God’s people; we are not for sale. Elijah later foretold that dogs would eat her, which is the fate of the devil and all demons.
Israel, still under the rule of Ahab And Jezebel, and Judah [ruled by Jehoshaphat, a descendant of David, from whose line the Messiah was prophesied to come] had been at war, but they made a treaty; sealed by giving their daughter Athaliah to Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram. Jehoshaphat allowed Ahab to talk him into attacking Syria and both Ahab and Jehoshaphat died in battle. Jehoram ascended to the throne of Judah and Athaliah became queen. Jehoram tolerated the promotion of Baal worship in Judah [just as his father-in-law, Ahab had done in Israel] and died of a plague from God. His son Ahaziah ascended to the throne and God rose up a deliverer, a zealot, and a meanie in Israel named Jehu who killed Joram, Ahab’s son and successor [Israel] and Ahaziah [Judah].
In 2Kings 9:30-37, we read about Jezebel’s death. She knows that Jehu is coming to kill her, so she adorns herself and attempts to seduce him. This principality uses sexual immorality to seduce and manipulate the servants of God in an attempt to draw them away from God. The Jezebel spirit always emasculates those under its influence.
Athaliah assumed the throne in Judah. She was the only woman to rule alone in the entire history of Judah and Israel. She tried to execute all possible successors to David’s throne. The Jezebel principality was vainly trying to frustrate the coming of Israel’s Messiah. This Jezebel spirit always kills the children in a vain attempt to destroy the Messiah and God’s future deliverers. Jezebel’s name means, “Where is the prince”. God always confounds this demon and spares His anointed ones. Joash escaped and was raised in secret by the high priest. It is our high priest Jesus that protects us from this demon. This demon tried to get Moses, Jesus and today it is attempting to destroy God’s end time army; those who will rule and reign with Him.
The devil knows that his time is short and that the Word of God promises a mighty end time army of God’s people. Just as in the days of Moses and Jesus we are witnessing wholesale slaughter of children in the name of freedom and choice. The reality is that what is occurring is rebellion against God’s authority. This is how the Jezebel principality works. It attempts to kill the prophets of God and separate them from their head, Jesus. It was able to physically kill many of the Lord’s prophets in Israel during the reign of Ahab. It was able to kill Isaiah and others. It kills the children looking for the prince. It killed John the Baptist, working through a woman named Herodias, her daughter and her husband, king Herod. This principality is not always manifested through women. The account of the Baptist’s murder is recorded in Matthew 14:3-10. The Jezebel spirit uses sexual immorality to seduce the servants of God. The motive is rebellion against God and His ordained authority. It attempts to turn God intended leadership into fruitless eunuchs like Ahab. It influences people to usurp authority in the home, family, church and in government. We observed this spirit at work in the Clinton White House.
This Jezebel principality is the spiritual power behind the feminist movement and the sexual revolution. This principality was actively undermining the work of God in the church of Thyatira and the leadership was tolerating it. When God’s ordained leadership refuses to tolerate this spirit, they are always accused of being mean. The woman under the influence of this principality in Thyatira claimed to be a prophetess, to have special revelation, or deep secrets, which qualified her to teach. Those claiming to be a prophet should always be tested. In this case, her revelation was from Satan. This principality is at work in the church and in our world today.
How do we overcome this principality? Come against it with the opposite attitude. Submit to God ordained authority. Obey your leaders. “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden.” [He 13:17] What does the Word of God command us to do? Jesus said to love God with all of your heart, soul, mind and body and to love your neighbor as yourself. How does one love God? Be a Worshipper in spirit and in truth. Live a lifestyle of obedience, giving, prayer and communion with God. Make disciples. Be His witnesses. Teach your children in the ways of the Lord. Care for the sick, poor and imprisoned. Service is the manifestation of love. Be in fellowship. Be in communion [relationship] with Him and His people.
There exists a biblical pattern for fellowship that is depicted by the church in Acts chapter 2. We are called to be obedient to God as revealed in His Word and as expressed through His church. Ephesians chapter 3 teaches us that God makes Himself manifest through the church, His instrument on earth. The Roman church has that right but they have elevated the church to the same level of authority as God’s Word thus making them equal with God. This is a work of the spirit of antichrist.
We are not complete individually. We are all a part of one body, the church, the bride of Christ. Paul wrote in Corinthians that we must properly discern the body of Christ. Jesus’ prayer was that we would be one even as He and His father are one. They are still distinct persons, yet they are one in mind and purpose. The Bible teaches that we are not our own, that we have been bought with a price, the precious blood of Christ. As part of a body, we have corporate responsibilities. These include taking care of each other, discipleship, teaching the young and conducting spiritual battles. We should not attempt to fight alone lest we get killed. Our weapons are spiritual. Corporate intercession is an important weapon.
One overcomes sin, self and the devil by submitting to God as revealed in His word and expressed through His church. This must be your most important priority; perseverance is the manifestation of faith. What is promised to those who overcome this spirit of rebellion? They get to rule and reign with Christ. This illustrates a divine principle: if one learns submission, then one receives authority.
We are told that Christ’s eyes burn with anger and that He is prepared to tread His enemies under foot. Christ promises to bring sickness and judgment upon this spirit of Jezebel.
“He shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels:” Rev. 2:27
Christ’s earthly kingdom cannot be inaugurated without the displacement of the old fallen sinful age with its rebellious hosts. Compromise and accommodating pagan influence and practice inevitably leads to sin which frequently manifests as sexual immorality. When you come to Christ you must put sin to death, you must submit to the cross. One cannot compromise with evil as Ahab and Jehoshaphat did. It will kill you, eternally. Christ receives power from His Father by virtue of His sufferings, death and resurrection. Likewise, we can receive authority from Him by virtue of submitting to the work of the cross and dying to self and our old nature. Only then, will He give you the morning star. Only then, will He give Himself to you.
More Letters to the Church
“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars says these things. I know your works, that you have a name that you live, and are dead. Be watchful and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die. For I have not found your works being fulfilled before God. Remember then how you have received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments. And they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. The one who overcomes, this one will be clothed in white clothing. And I will not blot out his name out of the Book of Life, but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev. 3:1-6)
Sardis’ glory lay in its past. In the 6th century BC, it was the capital city of the kingdom of Lydia. Sometime later it ceased to exist as a separate kingdom. In John’s day it was an important industrial center, experiencing wealth, luxury and prosperity. The people were known for a luxurious, loose lifestyle, very much like modern western countries. The church in Sardis was not facing hostility or persecution. To the contrary, it fit into society quite well. It wasn’t upsetting the apple cart. They were not teaching heresy, they were living it! They were afflicted with a deep spiritual apathy resulting from a soft life. This was not necessarily obvious to the outward observer or to one caught up in it. The church was outwardly prosperous and busy with religious activity, but devoid of spiritual life and power.
The admonition to be watching was very appropriate in light of the history of the city. Its acropolis had never been seized by a frontal attack, but twice it was taken by stealth because of lack of vigilance. The church was not yet beyond hope. It was not too late to awaken from spiritual lethargy. Christ’s warning that He would come like a thief was not a reference to His second coming. This scripture is rather referring to a coming upon, a falling upon in judgment. 1Thessalonians 5:4 is clear that Christ’s second coming will not catch believers by surprise. The warning to the church in Sardis is of a specific visitation in judgment, caused by their failure to repent. For the time being, they are still held in Christ’s care, in His hand, but God wants to revive them before it is too late.
He begins by reminding them, “These are the words of him who has the seven [fold] spirit of God and the seven stars.” Chapter 1 says that they are in His hand. He continues, “Be watchful! Strengthen what remains and is about to die,” What are the signs of life? How does one check a dead body? We check the pulse to determine if there is life flowing through it. Does it respond to stimuli? Does it hear, or speak? Similarly, in checking the vital signs of a church body, we must ask, “Is there a testimony?” Are they hearing from and responding to God? Fruitfulness is the spiritual sign of life. Do we see the Fruit of the Spirit? Is there spiritual growth, or maturity? Are the members giving? Is there numerical growth? Are there new converts? Are the members of the body bringing the wheat into the barn? Didn’t Christ tell us that the harvest is ripe? Are we making disciples and doing what Jesus did? Are the sick healed? Are those in bondage set free? Are the demonized, addicts and alcoholics being delivered? Are the members growing in Christ-likeness and holiness? Perhaps that is the first necessary step to reaching the lost. One sure sign of life is that the members are walking in holiness; they are properly representing Christ who came to save us from sin. “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
This scripture ties lethargy to an absence of holiness. White garments symbolize holiness. Jesus continues, “I will not blot out his name from the book of life.” It seems like a threat. What is the book of life? Christ is using symbolic language, a metaphor that occurs in Exodus 32, Psalm 69, Luke 10:20 and other scriptures including Revelation 20:12-15. That scripture speaks of the day when God judges all people. The book of life refers to those who have trusted in Christ for salvation from sin and hell; it includes all those who are granted eternal life. It is just like a civic register containing the names of living citizens. God’s book contains the names of the saints.
Can you have your name written in the book of life and then have it blotted out? This scripture seems to imply that you can. He is ready to blot out those in Sardis who do not overcome their spiritual deadness. The Calvinist would say that they never truly believed or were never born again. But, this scripture seems to imply that their name was written in the book
John 15:1-6 is an echo of the same threat to people in Sardis: show forth fruit of the life of Christ within or be blotted out. Apparently, most in Sardis were dead. The circumstances of those in Sardis illustrate the difficulty of living in a land with so much material prosperity. It becomes easy to over indulge the pleasures of the flesh when one wants for nothing. Material prosperity can provide a false sense of satisfaction. Our carnal nature begins to rule rather than our Spirit; it is then that one is in danger of leaving your first love. Lethargy, apathy, pleasure seeking and lust sneak up unawares. Things that God created to bless us become a curse when we use them outside of God’s intended use. As with all carnal pleasures, one reaps what one sews. These letters may sound negative because of the problems being identified, but we must remember that God cares about us and is encouraging us to overcome for our own good.
How do we keep our faith alive? Watchman Nee wrote a commentary on Ephesians entitled Sit, Walk, Stand. The key words reveal that there is a divine order to walking in the Spirit. This order starts with recognizing and accepting our identity in Christ. “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:6) We must be able to sit and receive from Christ. We must sit at Jesus’ feet like Martha; we must fall in love with Him. We must constantly focus on Him, on being “in Him”. That is why worship, praise and thankfulness are so vital to our spiritual growth. Romans chapter 1 emphasizes the spiraling decline of those who refuse to glorify God and give Him thanks. The joy of the Lord is our strength; it is in God that we must delight. We must accept the love and grace He offers. Too many Christians are entirely too self absorbed. Even as believers we often focus more on Him in us rather than us in Him. In John 15:4 we are told that we must “abide in Him.” True, He promises to abide in us, but our focus should be on abiding in Him. He should be the focus of our attention.
Recognizing our identity in Christ means understanding that Christ has granted us peace by His sacrifice on the cross. We are beyond condemnation. He has given us a purpose for living: to enjoy Him and be His ambassadors; everything else is vanity. Solomon had all of the material pleasures, and yet he learned that they were all in vain without God. Christ has allowed us to share in His glory. He has adopted us and granted us all of the privileges of sons, granting us an imperishable inheritance. He has delivered us from the law of sin and the power of evil. He has granted us every spiritual blessing; not one is withheld! “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2Cor 5:21)
Once we understand who we are in Christ, we must walk with Christ. “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” [Eph 4:1] “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” [1John 2:6] We must live our life with the constant reminder before us, “What would Jesus do?” You say, “I can’t do it.” You must walk out your salvation by God’s free grace. As we respond in faith to what God has done and who He says we are we receive grace, which includes not just mercy, but power from God. Paul asks, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” [Ro 6:2] Sin is a prison. A Christian who continues to live a life of sin is like a discharged prisoner wanting to stay in prison. The power, good news, of what Christ has done is the power of a new heart. The prophet Ezekiel related this promise as part of the everlasting covenant. [36:26-27] What’s our part? To continue to believe, trust and abide in Him. If we walk in the Spirit, He promises we won’t fulfill the lusts of the flesh. We must walk with Christ.
As we walk we must stand against the attacks of our enemies, the world, the flesh and the devil by availing ourselves of His grace, His power. We are instructed to put on whole armor of God. [Eph 6:11ff] If God is for us, who can be against us? We must trust Him. He will protect us. He will provide for us. Did God save you so that you should worry? Would He die for you and then disregard your prayers? Jesus tells the church of Sardis, and all of us believers, “Remember, therefore, how you have received and heard; obey it, and repent.” Look back to your earliest experience of God’s love and mercy, return to your first love. We must find our life “in Him”. If we do He promises to confess our name before His Father.
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts; and shuts and no one opens, says these things: I know your works. Behold, I have given before you an open door, and no one can shut it. For you have a little strength and have kept My Word and have not denied My name. Behold, I give out of those of the synagogue of Satan, those saying themselves to be Jews and are not, but lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. Because you have kept the Word of My patience, I also will keep you from the hour of temptation which will come upon all the habitable world, to try those who dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly. Hold fast to that which you have, so that no one may take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will go out no more. And I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of Heaven from My God, and My new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev. 3:7-13)
What does it mean to be a pillar in the temple? The symbolism evokes images of strength, of standing tall, of great martyrs and saints like Peter and Paul. But oddly, I do not believe that Christ is referring to an earthly temple such as the Old Testament temple in Jerusalem. I believe He speaks of the dwelling place of God today and in the future, which is in and amongst His people. In chapter 21 John records his vision of the New Jerusalem. He sees a city coming down out of heaven populated by the redeemed. “I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.” [Rev 21:2-3]
Chapter 21 continues to show that the New Jerusalem is a physical city. The dimensions are given. It is huge: 12 thousand furlongs equals about 1400 miles. It is the size of a small moon. This must be interpreted this literally because the language doesn’t permit otherwise. It is also a spiritual city made up of individual people. The bride refers to the church. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit. So, do the pillars refer to certain key supporting people or do all of Christ’s disciples get to be pillars? This scripture teaches that all who overcome will be pillars. All true disciples will overcome. Otherwise, they don’t get in. “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” [1Pet. 2:5] All who trust Christ will overcome and be pillars.
Christ uses Old Testament symbols that would have evoked images in the reader’s minds. The two pillars of the old temple were on either side of the main entrance that faced east. They had names that spoke prophetically of God’s work in His people. It is recorded that Hiram, the builder of the temple, “erected the pillars at the portico of the temple. The pillar to the south he named Jakin and the one to the north Boaz.” [1Kgs. 7:21] Jakin was of the tribe of Simeon. His name means “He will establish” and is derived from the root word meaning “to stand”. Boaz was of the tribe of Judah. His mother was Rahab, the Canaanite harlot of Jericho who sheltered the Hebrew spies. “Boaz” means “strength”. As the Kinsman Redeemer, he is a type of the Messiah.
The Lord’s promise to make us a pillar is interesting in light of His saying that they have little strength. God changes us and gives us a new character. He establishes us and causes us to stand. A benefit of being a pillar in the New Jerusalem is that one never leaves the presence of the Lord. The Old Testament priests were only allowed into the Holy of Holies once each year and had to leave when their duty was done. Even in this church age we have the indwelling presence of His Spirit, though we do not yet see Him [Jesus] face to face.
Pillars also evoked images of authority and kingship. The king would stand next to the pillars of the temple when he was anointed or when he renewed Israel’s covenant with the Lord. God promises that those who overcome [those who stand] will rule with Him in His new kingdom. This is a reminder of Rev. 1:6 that Christ has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father forever. This phrase was taken from the Old Testament, where at Passover God commissioned Israel. “You will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” [Exodus 19:6]
Christ promises to write His new name on us: “I will also write on him my new name. What is His new name? “On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” This name is not new in the sense that He was never called by it. It is new in the sense that it is completely fulfilled. His faithful followers receive His name, character, nature, and His inheritance. We are adopted. “Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.” His nature and character are stamped upon our soul; we have the mind of Christ. In contrast, those who reject Christ have the number of the beast, Satan’s version of Christ, written on their foreheads.
We don’t have to wait to have authority! He has given us the keys to His Kingdom, which was promised to David: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” David was promised an everlasting kingdom. The Messiah would be his descendant David was a type or foreshadow of Christ, being both king and priest. David performed priestly sacrifices when he brought the ark up to Mt Zion. He was permitted this dual authority at a time when such was forbidden because he was a man after God’s heart, loving God with a passion. He didn’t care who mocked him. He was humble and repentant when he sinned. Publicly confessing it, he didn’t accuse God or get depressed and defeated when disciplined. Like Job, David would say, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed is the Lord!” David’s kingdom fulfilled the covenant promise of the land given to Abraham. He established Jerusalem as his throne, but he fell short of all Messianic promises. He was only a shadow. He sinned, committing adultery and plotting murder. He wasn’t allowed to build the temple. That privilege fell to one that would come after and was greater.
Christ has given us the keys to expand His kingdom. He offers an open door to evangelize the nations and bring in more living stones. “See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.” Ephesians 1:22 tells us that we, the church, are the fullness of Christ. The scripture is referring to the body of Christ, not to individuals. There is nothing stopping us from evangelizing and making disciples of the nations! He has given us the power and authority to bind things that operate in the earthly realm. That includes the principalities and powers of darkness that blind the eyes of unbelievers. We can loose things on earth in order to set the captives free.
Christ’s conquest and future rule is assured. The Psalms promise His conquest of the nations of the earth. God has a plan to restore creation to proper relationship with Himself, reconciling all creation to Him. The Father’s will is to bring everything under the rule of Christ. He did it by the sacrifice of Himself; He paid the highest redemption price. He offered the life of the creator for the redemption of the creation.
God created us to rule creation with Him. One of the devil’s big lies is that we just evolved from mud by chance and that we have no future beyond this life. The devil would have us believe that we are insignificant matter caught up in the onslaught of unstoppable processes and at the mercy of an uncaring universe. The truth is that we will rule this universe through Christ if we put our trust in Him. The universe is not endless; there are black holes and anti-matter. God didn’t make the universe so big in order to make us feel small, but to reveal how big He is. How big does it have to be? He made it bigger than you can search.
What an encouragement! How should we then live? We should live knowing who we are and what our future is. We should love Jesus passionately and love doing the things He did and told us to do. We should make disciples, be His witnesses, set the captives free, bind up the broken hearted, minister compassion and encouragement, heal the sick, visit those in prison and feed the hungry. This is what it will mean to rule and reign with Christ!
Partial spiritual dominion is available today. We can take authority over demonic spirits. We should not be ruled by anything except that which is ordained by God. This means that we should not be ruled by our natural carnal nature, by the world system under the dominion of Satan, nor by the spirit of the age, pop culture, sin, doubt, unbelief, discouragement or fear. We should be like Jesus who, knowing who He was and where He was going, was able to humble Himself to serve, to wash feet and to die.
“And to the angel of the church of the Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Head of the creation of God, says these things: I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I would that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, I am rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing, and do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I counsel you to buy from Me gold purified by fire, so that you may be rich; and white clothing, so that you may be clothed, and so that the shame of your nakedness does not appear. And anoint your eyes with eye salve, so that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame and have sat down with My Father in His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:17-22 MKJV)
It is mortifying that Jesus has no word of commendation for this last of the seven churches. From a futurist or historical perspective, that does not bode well for the last day church. Instead of a victorious church, will the church at the end of the ages be lukewarm and defeated? I hope not. Didn’t Jesus save the best wine for last (John 2)? And did He not promise that the glory of the latter temple would exceed that of the former (Haggai 2:9)?
Jesus rebukes this church for being lukewarm, saying He would prefer that they were hot or cold. It reminds us of His warnings that it would be better for those who deny Him that they were never born (Mark 14:21). We are warned of the penalty of knowing the truth and willfully disobeying and denying the One who is Truth. “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” (Hebrews 10:26-27 MKJV) He promises to forcefully expel them. Are these believers? Does not Jesus address them as part of His church? Is it possible for some to express some confession of faith in Christ and yet turn away? Is God obliged to drag them protesting into His kingdom?
In John’s day, Laodicea was a wealthy banking center, which had a prosperous textile industry and was well known for its medical school that offered a healing eye salve. Not surprisingly, even those in the church had apparently come to rely upon their material wealth. But, Jesus reveals their true spiritual condition. Though they think themselves rich, finely attired healers of the blind, they are, in fact, wretched, poor, blind and naked. This rebuke from the Lord is a stark reminder that material prosperity can blind us to the bankruptcy of our soul. This is a warning that believers in the wealthy western world should take very seriously. In the decade of the 1990’s, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association sponsored an international conference on evangelism. To the surprise and dismay of some, many of those attending from “third world’ countries expressed a desire to not be lectured by western and European believers. Perhaps those “poorer” Christians were of the opinion that our walk here in the west does not reflect our talk. At the 2004 General Conference of the United Methodist Church, it was the majority of delegates from Asia, Africa and South America that thwarted the attempts of their more “enlightened” brethren from the U.S.A. to overturn long standing prohibitions in their Book of Discipline against the ordination of homosexuals. We in the west think that we are so intelligent, but are we really spiritually bankrupt? Has our prosperity blinded us to our true condition? When Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” He was referring to those whose eyes have been opened to recognize their own spiritual poverty and need of a Savior.
Jesus counsels the Laodiceans to buy gold, white garments and eye salve from Him. He is not saying that we must pay for what He offers, for His salvation is a free gift that cannot be obtained by our work (Ephesians 2:10). He is reminding us that we must come to Him to receive the free gift of salvation. Jesus says that He stands at the door knocking. We must open to receive the gift. He is the only one who can provide what is truly valuable and eternal. Gold refined in the fire is pure, providing a clear reflection. The riches which the believer will posses are character which has been refined in the fires of God’s loving discipline to reflect the beauty of his/ her Creator and Savior. The white garments represent the pure wedding garment that Jesus, the groom, offers His bride, purchased by His own blood. He clothes us with purity to cover our shameful nakedness. Only His atonement can purchase that purity for us. His sacrifice makes possible the indwelling of His Spirit, who makes holiness an experiential reality. Only Christ can give us the balm that will heal our spiritual blindness and allow us to see the truth. That is why Paul prayed that the Father of glory would enlighten the eyes of our understanding (Eph. 1:17-18). If we answer His knock on the door of our hearts, He promises to dine with us and seat us on His throne. We will have blessed fellowship with Him.
A Vision of the Throne of God
“After these things I looked, and behold, a door was opened in Heaven. And the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me, saying, Come up here, and I will show you what must occur after these things.” (Rev 4:1)
This section is about the worship of God in heaven. The goal of our existence is to worship God. This scripture shows us the pattern. We need a revelation, a vision of God’s glory, majesty, power and authority. Such a vision is necessary in order to live the abundant, Spirit filled, holy life. So much teaching is focused on our self centered earthly lives. Our perspective is so worldly. We need an eternal perspective. We can’t have an abundant life here unless we are healed physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. That only comes with a vision of God. We need a holy reverence of God that can only come from a revelation of His glory. “The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life.” [Proverbs 14:27] This describes a fear that causes you to run to Him for shelter instead of away in rebellion; A fear that understands that there is only life and safety in the Creator. In order to have everlasting life we must abide in Him. It is growth in holiness and character that is the evidence of salvation. There is no free pass, no ticket prayer that can instantly transform you. That growth only comes through intimacy with Christ by faith. That faith grows out of a revelation of who God is and what He is like. That is why Paul prayed for the church that they might know Him completely and intimately. [Eph 1:17-20] We need a revelation of what it is to worship God in Spirit and in truth. Only in that will we be fulfilled, because that is what we were created for.
Neither man’s words, nor his hands can paint a picture or make a video to reveal the glory of God. Such a revelation can only come from the Holy Spirit and that usually occurs in the practice of scripture meditation, worship and praise. It may occur in pouring out one’s heart, not grudgingly, but giving over of all one’s self in praise and adoration. You may lose all of your dignity that pales in the light of God’s glory.
John sees four seraphim, or heavenly creatures, that surround God’s throne and constantly give praise and glory to Him. As they are so close to God and reflect His glory, they reveal something of His nature. The creatures have four different faces: that of a lion, a calf, a man and an eagle. We could refer to these as the four faces of God. As a lion, the lion of the tribe of Judah, Christ is the King over all creation. He is the sacrificial calf that purchased His creation by His own sacrifice. He became a man, that we might know Him. He was tempted as a man and suffered as a man in order to satisfy the righteous requirement of the law. By His Spirit, He soars over creation, resurrected and renewed as an eagle, seeing all and knowing all.
Ezekiel had a vision of God’s throne and saw these same creatures. Isaiah also had a vision of God’s throne. Scriptures about the revelation of God’s glory frequently refer to his brightness. We are not to be a people who live in darkness. If we have a revelation of Christ we will walk in the light. In Him there is no darkness. Darkness is only an absence of light. Jesus said that He is the light of the world. “His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” [Rev. 1:16] “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the brightness of his coming.” [2Thess 2:8]
Paul was a man who saw God. Hear his testimony: “Now it happened, as I journeyed and came near Damascus at about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ’Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ So I answered, ’Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me,’I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me. So I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ’Arise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all things which are appointed for you to do.’ And since I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of those who were with me, I came into Damascus.” [Acts 22:6-11] The brightness of His glory explains those scriptures that speak of the sun, moon and stars being darkened when He appears. They will appear to be darkened as they pale in comparison to His brightness! Nothing corruptible will survive when He appears in all of His glory; the elements will melt from the heat. We are to reflect His glory, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” [2Cor 3:18] Without a revelation of Him, we cannot reflect His glory.
The Lamb and the Scroll
“And I saw a book on the right of Him sitting on the throne, written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals.” (Rev 5:1)
The full message of the gospel is contained in this chapter. The earth is a kingdom in need of redemption, a sacrifical redeemer/deliverer, who is the coming King. The chapter concludes with all creation worshipping The King at the establishment of His total rule.
What is this scroll? In the Roman world, the usual way of attesting to a last will and testament was to have it witnessed by seven people and sealed on the outside with seven wax seals. The scroll is the promise of the consummation of God’s Kingdom, the title deed to the Kingdom of God. It has been documented and sealed; it is assured but not yet executed. Some identify the scroll as the Lamb’s book of life, the attendance roster of the redeemed. Perhaps it is both; the Book of Life lists all of the vassals of the Kingdom.
The seven seals are symbolical of the fact that the scroll is completely sealed; no one is able to open it except Christ. Why would John weep that no one could open it? He weeps because the opening of the scroll is the expectation of our hope. It represents the Messianic Kingdom fulfilled. If it were simply a prophecy of a series of God’s judgments prior to the establishment of the Kingdom, would that cause John to weep?
It is noteworthy that the scroll rests in the Father’s hand. The Kingdom is His to give. The fulfillment of history rests in His hand. However strong evil rages, He is sovereign and His Kingdom will come. What is the identity of the One who is able to open the scroll? “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” The identity references appeal to Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah. Christ is the Lion of the tribe of Judah prophesied in Genesis 49:9-10. The metaphor is meant to give some idea about some of His attributes. The natural lion is the king of beasts. Lions are powerful, wise, courageous, swift and stately. Jesus is the promised Root of David prophesied in Isaiah 11:1-4. The Gospels record that Jesus was a descendant of David of the tribe of Judah. He has yet to establish His rule in entirety and in person, but He has promised to do that. His kingdom is here and not yet; He rules now in the hearts of His willing subjects.
Because Jesus did not immediately usher in the earthly Messianic kingdom, He was a stumbling block to the Jews who rejected Him. They did not accept that He had to first pay the ransom price for His Kingdom. They refused to accept that they were in bondage to sin. They were blinded to the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah as a suffering servant.
Jesus is the only one able to open the scroll because He has suffered as a lamb. Isaiah chapter 53 pictures the Messiah as a suffering servant. “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days.” [Isaiah 53:10] He is raised from the dead. By His offering, He fulfilled the sacrificial law, the shadow depicted by the Passover Lamb. Both roles of the prophesied Messiah are pictured in this scripture and were fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus said, “You study the scriptures… they speak of me.” John the Baptist recognized that Jesus was God’s sacrificial lamb. He is pictured as both Lamb and King. The seven horns are a metaphor for authority; He has total authority. The seven eyes are symbolic of Christ’s fullness of vision; He is omniscient. Jesus was able to open the scroll because He offered Himself as the sinless sacrifice. He suffered as a lamb, earning the right to the kingdom because He redeemed it for Himself. Jesus redeemed us with His blood and redeemed a kingdom for Himself. His kingdom had to be redeemed because we sold ourselves into slavery.
What is redemption? The common meaning is to purchase something previously owned but sold. The biblical meaning includes deliverance by virtue of a sacrifice. What are we delivered from? Galatians says that we have been delivered from the curse of [or bondage of] the law; the curse of the law is the penalty for breaking it, which in the case of sin is death. We have been delivered from death, sin, destruction, and this present evil world. Do you feel like you’ve been rescued from this present evil age? Do you behave like you’ve been rescued from this present evil age?
Christ is able to open the scroll because He has triumphed over the powers of evil by His incarnation, sinless sacrifice and resurrection from the dead. Since He is both Lord and Savior, what should our response be? The response of the elders in this scripture is to fall down before the Lamb and worship. We are supposed to follow the example of the elders. Have you fallen before the Lamb in worship?
The angels in heaven offer complete and total worship. They proclaim, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” They ascribe seven blessings unto the Lord, symbolic of complete and total worship. Do you have a way of offering worship, glory, honor and blessing unto God?
“And they [elders] sang a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Rev. 5:9-10)
The elders represent us. We are to be an instrument of worship; we are all supposed to offer our body as an instrument of worship. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God this is your spiritual act of worship.” The elders sang a new song. Revelation portrays numerous new things. There is a new name for the redeemed (2:17, 3:12). There is the New Jerusalem (3:12, 21:2). There are the new heavens and new earth (21:1). All things are made new (21:5). The new song is sung to the lamb, not about Him. It is both intimate and personal. Do you have a new song to offer? Is it original, from your heart, or is it recycled from some religious ritual? The elders offer bowls of incense that are identified as the prayers of the saints. The term “saints”, as it is used in the Bible, does not refer to a special class of exalted believers picked by a church hierarchy in Rome. All those who trust in Christ as Lord and Savior are saints according to the Bible. Are you a saint or a sinner?
In the earthly temple, the incense altar stood before the inner veil and fresh incense had to be offered daily, thus showing that prayer precedes entering His presence. He wants fresh prayer daily. Is your bowl of incense full? Is it fresh every day?
“Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!’” (Rev. 5:13)
Every creature will give Him the praise He deserves. How can you give God power? Doesn’t He have all power? Yes, but God deliberately restrains His power so as not to violate man’s free will. We can give Him power by granting Him permission to exercise authority in our lives. He doesn’t need permission; He wants permission. You can give it freely now or He will take it later. We must submit to the rule or lordship of the King and thereby minister unto the King. To be a priest implies full access. How do we give God full access? We are to give Him praise, the fruit of our lips. We should bless and honor Him as the King, bowing before Him, kissing His feet, revering Him. We worship Him by offering obedience, granting authority in our lives. We glorify Him by making Him known. Let your life represent Him, you are an ambassador. Walk in the light, in holiness. Do the things He did and still does: be filled with mercy and compassion, feed the poor, visit and pray for the sick and those in bondage. Jesus said, “freely you’ve received, freely give.” Tell others about Him; make disciples.
The Seven Seals
“And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures like a sound of thunder, saying, Come and see.” (Rev 6:1)
The seals are judgments or events that precede Christ’s return. The symbolism of the four horsemen is explained in the text. The white horse stands for a time of conquering, captivity, bondage, and slavery. The red horse points to bloodshed and wars. Christ promised that there would be wars before His return. There will be no peace until the Prince of Peace comes to rule. The black horse is a symbol of scarcity. The scarcity prophesied may not necessarily refer to famine, but deliberate attempts to disrupt the distribution of necessary resources. Oil and wine were common staples in John’s day. Oil and wine are also symbols for the Holy Spirit. There will be protection for God’s people in the midst of divine judgments and tribulation. We won’t experience His wrath as the unbelieving world will. Scarcity may mean that one must work all day just to eat. A quart of grain was the average daily consumption. So there will be a lack of abundance. But, if the heart is focused on Jesus we will be content in all circumstances.
Darkness relates to a scarcity of God’s word being heard. Today, there is a lack of solid biblical teaching. This lack of spiritual food leads to a physical manifestation. The pale horse is symbolic of sickness, death, and disease; meaning killing and violence of all forms as opposed to war. Hades or hell follows claiming the souls of the unredeemed. Even these judgments are limited in scope, only affecting one-quarter of the earth.
God’s judgments are meant to draw people to repentance. He is not willing that anyone perish. He will go to the most extreme measures to get our attention. The judgments of God are simply His “answering us after our own idols.” They occur as a result of man’s rejection of Him; of man’s disobedience. It is odd that people want the benefits of His kingdom without submitting to the King. Man wants power without accountability or responsibility; we want to be in control of our own lives and others as well. We want peace on our terms without submitting to God’s order. Christ characterizes man in the parable of the kingdom in Luke 19: “we won’t have this man to rule over us.” We seek prosperity, but reject the wisdom of the Word of God regarding what to do with our earthly treasures. We desire health without the healer.
People who reject Christ and His authority will be answered after their own idols. Those who covet power will reap oppression. The pride of the self-seeking will be answered with bloodshed and wars. Greed will be met with scarcity. Those whose hope lies in human wisdom and ability will reap that which is beyond man’s control: disease, floods, earthquakes, droughts, and pestilence.
Judgments come by Christ’s authority. He allows them. He opens the seals. God may unleash the devil and demons but, as with Job, they can only touch what God allows. If the devil controlled the forces of nature and had unrestrained authority, he would have killed everyone long ago. Judgment is avoided by turning to God and away from sin; this is called repentance.
As believers and followers of Christ, we are His ambassadors, ministers of reconciliation as 2Cor 5 says, and we are to warn the wicked of impending judgment. Such warnings are not always received joyfully or with kindness.
As the 5th seal is opened we hear the cry of the martyrs. The seals are not all judgments. Some are precursors; they are events that precede His coming. There have been martyrs throughout history church. The martyrs are pictured as being under the altar, which is not only a place of sacrifice, but also a place of protection. The Law allowed protection to the guilty as long as the clung to the horns of the altar. There is a spiritual principle here. There is protection for us guilty sinners as long as we cling to the altar of sacrifice, which is the cross of Christ. We are protected from God’s judgments by Christ’s sacrifice.
In a sense we are sacrificed unto God. [Ro 12:1] “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered’.” [Ro 8:35-36] But neither death nor life, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The martyrs are slain because they had a testimony; they were willing to open their mouths. They held on to their testimony; they didn’t deny Him in the face of death. I am reminded of Rachel Scott, who admitted her allegiance to Christ before she was gunned down at Columbine. There is persecution coming upon the church. The slaughter of Christian students as they gathered at the flagpole to pray in Paducah is not the first or the last of the persecutions we shall face. Persecution has been the lot of the elect since Adam. We are deceived if we think America is an exception.
The martyrs are given a white robe symbolic of Christ’s righteousness. The Lord knows the exact number of our brethren and martyrs; our martyrdom doesn’t come as a surprise to Him. We can rest in Him, knowing that He is in charge; the Kingdom will come; righteousness, peace and joy will follow, every tear will be wiped away. God will avenge the blood of the martyrs on people belonging to the god of this world, the devil; and upon mankind in rebellion and hostility to God.
Beginning in verse 12, the sixth seal is opened and what John sees is a series of cosmic disturbances. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red. This reminds us of what Jesus promised about His return in the Olivet discourse [sermon re. destruction of Jerusalem and His return]. “Immediately after the distress of those days ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” [Mt 24:29]
The “distress of those days” which Jesus was referring to was the destruction of Jerusalem that occurred in 70 A.D. Tribulation of all sorts has gone on since then; all of these judgments have occurred at various times. They will become more common and more severe as time grows short because God, not wanting anyone to perish, in His great mercy, will take drastic measures to get people to repent. Is America ready to repent? How many more school shooting’s do we need before we repent of teaching our kids humanism and evolution?
Earthquakes are a natural reminder that everything that can will be shaken. John sees the sun and moon become darkened by the brightness of Christ’s presence. Isaiah 13:10 promises that the stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light when Christ appears again. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. In John’s vision, people call for the rocks to fall on them and hide them because of the brightness of His appearing.
Stars falling to earth may be a reference to loosing of demonic hordes upon the earth. Jesus said He saw Satan fall from heaven and associated that with our authority over demons. In Isaiah 14, stars are symbols for angels and a metaphor for Satan. Revelation 9 identifies Satan as a star. Jesus cast out demons on numerous occasions. The demons didn’t ascend to heaven with Jesus and they have not yet been cast into the lake of fire. The heightened spiritual warfare of the last days includes a release of demonic activity. We’re seeing it even now.
In Revelation 9 beasts resembling locusts, symbolic of demons, are released from the pit to torment those who are not sealed by God by faith in Christ. They instigate deceit. The most potent weapon of our spiritual enemy is the lies. It is what he began with in Eden and he hasn’t changed his tactics since the beginning. “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” [1Tim 4:1]
John uses the analogy of fig leaves falling off a ripe tree to describe the “stars of haven” falling to earth. It is quite interesting that he uses this analogy when one considers the Old Testament symbolism. The vine and fig tree were symbols for peace safety, and prosperity in ancient times. Revelation promises that such blessings are removed by God’s judgments coming in the form of the four horsemen and harassing demons. He sees the sky rolled up as a scroll. A scroll is a testament. At this point in time, mankind’s destiny is sealed. A time will come when every person’s destiny will be sealed. It is given man once to die and then comes the judgment.
John sees the mountains and islands moved. These barriers that isolate and separate will be removed. The ministry of John the Baptist, in preparation for Christ was to remove the barriers that kept people from repenting and coming back to God; to make straight the way to the Lord. At Christ’s first coming, the door to God was opened through the ministry of repentance. The time for repentance will be too late at the “great and terrible day of the Lord.” Then, God will remove all barriers to His rule by force. He will not be separated from His chosen by physical barriers or by spiritual ones. Even the wicked will not separate Him from His children. Everyone, great and small, outside His covenant will hide from the wrath of the Lamb. “They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’” 6:16-17
Most people don’t usually picture a lamb as showing wrath. We think of a lamb as meek and vulnerable. But, Christ is different. This verse illuminates that He will not strive with man forever. His wrath will be great! Malachi foretold it, answering the question of who can stand. [Mal. 3:2-3] God’s discipline refines those who fear and love Him so that they can stand. Who can stand? Only those in Christ, who have depended in faith on Christ’s sacrifice for their sin will stand. Only those who fear, reverence and love the Lord will stand in His presence. Only those refined by Him, who have obediently submitted to His washing will stand. If you want to be able to stand before Him, then submit to His refining now. Be willing to open your mouth and testify. We are not destroyed because His mercy endures forever; His mercy triumphs over judgment. Be protected from judgment before it’s too late!
The Sealed of Israel
“And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, Do not hurt the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousands, having been sealed out of every tribe of the sons of Israel.” (Rev 7:2-4)
Who Are The Sealed of Israel
For the first time, we are introduced to the 144,000 faithful witnesses. They will be discussed again in Revelation chapter 14. There have been various interpretations as to the identity of these “servants of God.” Some commentators interpret this scripture literally. Most notably, the Jehovah’s Witnesses cult has identified this group with themselves. Such an approach can lead one astray when considering apocalyptic and prophetic literature such as what we are dealing with here in Revelation.
Literal Israel dispensationalists interpret this scripture literally. Believing the “great tribulation” to be a seven year period, the last of Daniel’s seventy weeks, reserved for the culmination of God’s dealings with natural born Israelites, they interpret these 144,000 to be a select group of Jews or Israelites. One problem with this interpretation is that those listed here are not just Jews, but include the other ten tribes of Israel which have been lost since they went into captivity when the northern kingdom was conquered by Assyria in 722 B.C. Primarily Judahites and Benjamites as well as some Levites populated the southern kingdom of Judah, whose people came to be called “Jews”. In fact, identifying modern day Jews as descendants of natural Israel is difficult since many of these people are ancestors of proselytes to Judaism since the dispersion, which occurred in the first century A.D. and are descended from areas of Eastern Europe having no natural lineage to Israel.
In contrast, myself, and others interpret 144,000 as a symbolic number of fullness, being derived from the multiplication of twelve [the number of the tribes of Israel and also the number of the Apostles] times twelve times 1000 [It is interesting to note that the oft repeated phrase used in the Old Testament to describe the entire physical extent of Israel from north to south, “from Dan to Beersheba”, measures exactly 144 miles]. The meaning of the name Israel is “governed of God” and is the name given to Jacob [meaning “usurper”] after he wrestled with God and decided to submit to His lordship. It can be argued that Israel, especially when referred to in the New Testament, is a reference to all those submitted to Christ’s lordship, since such are truly the only “people of God.” Natural Israel was chosen by God to represent Him under the Old Covenant, to be a shadow of the kingdom to come and to bring forth the incarnate Son of God. But the majority of them rejected Christ. Some will be saved, being grafted back into the vine, which is Christ, but not all. “And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.” [Ro 11:11-27]
The listing of the twelve tribes here is a different listing from the one that is in Genesis chapter 49, where Jacob delivers his blessing to his children. The listing here in Revelation excludes Dan and in its place, Joseph is granted a double inheritance along with Mannaseh. Chronicles also omits Dan in the listing of the posterity of the patriarchs. A natural question to ask is why the tribe of Dan is omitted from the listing in Revelation and Chronicles. In order to understand these different listings and their various meanings, one must go back and review the history of Jacob’s sons.
The Danites were the first to worship idols [carved images] after entering the Promised Land [Judges 17-18]. Like Lot, they succumbed to the evil influences around them and became degenerate. In Deborah’s song, she asks why Dan “remained at ease”, refusing to help their brothers when Israel came under attack [Judges 5:17]. Jeroboam, the first King of the secessionist Northern Kingdom of Israel, set up the golden calves to worship in the city of Dan [1Kings 12]. Dan may be excluded from the list in Revelation because of idolatry. The Lord swore to Amos referring to the pagan worship of the Danites, that those who say, “As your god lives, O Dan” shall never rise again [Amos 8:14]. This exclusion raises the whole question of “eternal security.” One might ask if God is showing by illustration here that we might forfeit our inheritance should we choose to.
This exclusion raises the question of election. Who is chosen or predestined to be a part of God’s kingdom? The Calvinist would argue that some are predestined simply by God’s choice. They offer no explanation for His choice. But, as an Arminian/Wesleyan, I believe that the New Testament seems to teach that election is based upon faith foreseen, but certainly not by natural inheritance or race. [Even faith is a gift of God.] Romans 8:29 says that, “whom God foreknew, He predestined.” In other words, God’s choice was based upon something He foreknew of the elect. Since Ephesians 2 teaches that we are saved by grace through faith, I believe that what God foreknew and what He bases His choice upon is our free will choice to open and exercise the gift of faith that He offers us. Romans chapter 4 teaches that Abraham was justified by faith, evidenced by obedience in being willing to sacrifice his son. John the Baptist taught that entry into the Kingdom is not based upon natural descent from Abraham. “And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” [Mt 3:9-10]
I believe that the point of this omission of Dan in the listing of tribes in Revelation is to illustrate to us that no one is chosen by virtue of birth, nationality, religion, or any work of man. Those who suppose they are chosen by virtue of these things may find themselves excluded. The number 144,000 is symbolic of all who trust Christ for salvation, all spiritual Israel, all who are governed of God. The multitude saved out of great tribulation is from all nations.
Who Comes Out of Great Tribulation
“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language.” (Rev. 7:9)
These saints from every nation come out of the great tribulation. This is not a seven-year time of trouble for just the Jews and the heathen. In fact, all of God’s people will be saved and sealed by Him. As a young Christian, I was raised on “dispensationalism”, a term which comes from the Bible referring to God’s timing and how He works differently at different times. We had it all figured out, just like the Jews of Jesus’ day. (But wait, they missed it! Are we?) According to what is known in theological circles as “pre-tribulational, post-Apostolic, literal Israel dispensationalism”, evil will increase until the end of the age when a seven year “great tribulation” will occur where a man possessed by Satan and known as the anti-Christ will come to power. According to this view, before this time, Christians will be secretly raptured up to heaven and escape this time of tribulation. The “Left Behind” series is based upon this scenario. Scripture easily refutes the notion of a pre-tribulation rapture. 1Thessalonians 4:15 makes it clear that the dead in Christ will be raised or caught up before those who remain alive at Christ’s return. Rev 20:4-5 refers to the “first resurrection” [rapture] as including those who had been martyred during the “great tribulation”.
As a young Christian, I was raised on “dispensationalism”, a term which comes from the Bible referring to God’s timing and how He works differently at different times. We had it all figured out, just like the Jews of Jesus’ day. (But wait, they missed it! Are we?) According to what is known in theological circles as “pre-tribulational, post-Apostolic, literal Israel dispensationalism”, evil will increase until the end of the age when a seven year “great tribulation” will occur where a man possessed by Satan and known as the anti-Christ will come to power. According to this view, before this time, Christians will be secretly raptured up to heaven and escape this time of tribulation. The “Left Behind” series is based upon this scenario. Scripture easily refutes the notion of a pre-tribulation rapture. 1Thessalonians 4:15 makes it clear that the dead in Christ will be raised or caught up before those who remain alive at Christ’s return. Rev 20:4-5 refers to the “first resurrection” [rapture] as including those who had been martyred during the “great tribulation”.
According to the “literal Israel dispensation” view, the Jews in Israel will re-establish temple worship and sacrifices in a rebuilt temple in accordance with a pact with the anti-Christ who will break that pact after three and one-half years. In the “Left Behind” scenario, many people, including many Jews, will turn to Christ during this great tribulation and suffer great persecution including martyrdom.
Theologians who subscribe to this view interpret the Book of Revelation as a chronological account of the great tribulation. They see the Church age, since Calvary, as the times of the Gentiles. They believe that the Old Testament is the account of God’s dealings with the Jews, but that this dispensation is yet unfinished, and that a seven year tribulation remains for the Jews. This dispensational view is a relatively new doctrine. Its earliest roots can be traced to post reformation Roman Catholic theologians who developed this theology in order to oppose the teaching of the reformers, including Luther, Calvin and Knox, who associated the institution of the papacy with the anti-Christ of scripture. Dispensational doctrine did not gain acceptance among Protestants until after 1830 as a result of a prophecy by a woman named Margaret McDonald who spoke of a secret coming of Christ for His church before the tribulation. The doctrine was spread by Charles Darby [Plymouth Brethren] and popularized by Scofield.
Scofield and the dispensationalists see the tribulation as a fulfillment of Dan 9:24-27 with a 2,000 year gap between the 69th and 70th week. According to them, Jesus has a bride, which is the church and then a separate relationship with the Jews. But the Bible says that Jesus has removed the dividing wall, that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, but rather one new man (Colossians 3:10-11).
Jesus spoke of the “Great Tribulation” in the Olivet discourse and He referenced Daniel the prophet. Many have correctly interpreted this tribulation to be a fulfillment of another prophecy by Jeremiah of a time known as “Jacob’s trouble” in which the people of Jacob (Jews?) would experience great tribulation [Jere. 30:7-9]. In Daniel chapter 9 we have the record of an interpretation of a vision that Daniel received. He is told that the vision applies to “his people.” Obviously, that would be the Jews. But, if this time of great tribulation that Jesus was speaking of is for Jews, when did it or will it occur? That is the key question. Is the Great Tribulation for the future, or is it fulfilled or is it continually unfolding even now?
Jesus spoke of His return in the Olivet discourse recorded in Mt. 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21. Jesus begins by issuing a warning: “don’t be deceived.” His disciples, along with most everyone of the time, were. They had assumed that the destruction of the temple that Jesus had just prophesied would occur in conjunction with the end of the age and the commencement of His earthly rule. They could not have been more deceived! The temple would be destroyed along with Jerusalem in 70 AD. We still await the end of the age and Christ’s return. Jesus gave a specific sign that the destruction of Jerusalem was about to take place. He called it the “abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel” (Mt. 24:14). In Luke 21:20, Jesus makes clear what He refers to, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.” He was referring to a prophecy in Daniel 9 that is frequently misinterpreted by dispensationalists. “Seventy ‘sevens’  are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy. ‘Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations* shall be one who makes desolate. he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.” (Daniel 9:24-27) *NIV: “wing [of the temple]” NIV translators bracket this term because it is not in the original manuscript!
We must understand that one of the major rules of biblical interpretation is that the New Testament interprets the Old. So if the New Testament explains what Jesus meant when He used the term “abomination of desolation,” then that has to be the meaning of the term in Daniel. In Luke 21:20 Jesus makes it clear that the abomination is pagan armies surrounding Jerusalem. Jesus was answering questions about the destruction of Jerusalem. It is clear that what was to become desolate was Jerusalem.
The dispensational, futurist interpretation is that the term “abomination of desolation” refers to an idol being erected in a rebuilt Jewish temple by the anti-Christ. The word “temple” is not in the original language of Daniel 9:27!! In the original language the term “wing” in verse 27 refers to the wing of a bird or an army and is never used to refer to a wing of a building or temple. The NIV translation in this case is a severe and dishonest capitulation to Scofield theology by the translators. Jesus made it clear that the abomination was to be seen. It wouldn’t be seen in the temple, only the high priest would see it there. Jesus never mentions a future temple in this scripture. Be assured that if the Jews rebuild the temple prior to the return of Christ, it won’t be God’s temple. Believers in Christ are God’s temple today and forever. A rebuilt temple and animal sacrifices will be an abomination to God. Christ said, “It is finished.” The book of Hebrews makes it clear that “there no longer remains any sacrifice for sin.” (He 10:18)
All Christian theologians/historians agree that the first 69 weeks of Daniel’s prophecy were fulfilled up to the time of Christ. Dispensationalists put a 2000-year gap between the 69th and the 70th week. But, grammatically, the passage refers to a single unified period of time. Daniel 9:24-27 is a prophecy about Christ, not the anti-Christ. Jerusalem was restored. The streets were rebuilt in troubled times, the resistance mentioned by Ezra and Nehemiah. The Most Holy was anointed. The Most Holy is Jesus. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18) Dispensationalists say this refers to anointing of a future temple. Only God can anoint something as holy. God will not anoint a new temple for carnal sacrifice in conflict with the finished work of Christ.
An end of transgressions was made. Jesus cried, “It is finished.” It was finished at Calvary. Jesus came to save from sin. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He made an end of sins. He made reconciliation for iniquity. He brought in everlasting righteousness. The canon of scripture has been closed and Christ has fulfilled prophecy. The sealing up of vision and prophecy refers to Jesus fulfilling scripture.
Daniel 9:26 records that Messiah would be cut off after 69 weeks. That means He had to be killed in the 70th week. In fact, He was crucified after a three and one-half year ministry, or in the middle of a seven-year period. Daniel says, “He shall confirm the covenant with many for one week.” Dispensationalists say that “he” refers to the anti-Christ. The prophecy never mentions or refers to the anti-Christ. Grammatically, the pronoun “he” in verse 27 must refer to Messiah. The scripture doesn’t say he made a covenant of seven-year duration, but that He would confirm it with Israel for 7 years. It doesn’t say that he would make a new covenant, as dispensationalists argue, but that He would “confirm the covenant”, referring to the everlasting covenant. Jesus confirmed the covenant through His sacrifice. He even said that His ministry was first directed to Daniel’s people. The word “confirm” could also be interpreted “prevailed with”; Jesus prevailed with Daniel’s people for three and one-half years. The Apostles, as Christ’s representatives, continued to preach to the Jews for the remaining three and one-half years. Luke 21 makes it clear that the “abomination that causes desolation” is Roman armies surrounding Jerusalem. The Lord’s prophecy of Jerusalem’s destruction is fulfilled! The tribulation of those days was indeed great. Over two million Jews were killed. The “great tribulation” of those days was cut short as the Lord promised that it would be.
The classical, most prevalent, teaching of the church has been that believers will endure a time of tribulation when the anti-Christ persecutes the church. Nowhere in scripture is there given a seven year time period for this persecution. At the end of this time, Christ will return to rule on earth. As He returns, the dead in Christ will be raised first and then those of us who remain will be transformed and we shall all meet Him in the air. We shall immediately descend to earth with Him to conquer His enemies and rule for a thousand years.
Jesus promised that we would have tribulation in this life (John 16:33). In that sense, this entire age can be considered a time of tribulation. Tribulation, trials and persecution have always been the experience of God’s people. History proves that early Christians experienced persecution and martyrdom in the 2nd and 3rd c. AD. Today, Christians are dying for their faith in Indonesia, Sudan, N. Korea, Vietnam, and China. Jesus’ prayer was not that we would be taken out of the world but that we would be kept from evil (John 17:15).
The promise of God that Jacob must endure trouble could apply to any believer. Jacob is Israel, not Jews. Every Jacob has to endure testing and trial before he becomes an Israel. Israel is all believers. Perhaps, the “Great Tribulation” is this age of trial and testing. John told us that he was a companion in the tribulation (Rev. 1:9).
Joseph was one who feared and obeyed God. He remained faithful through trials. He had two sons by Egyptian wives, those being Ephraim and Manasseh. Since their mothers were gentiles, they would also be considered gentiles. So it is instructive that even the Old Covenant kingdom included a mixture of Jews and gentiles. The Old Covenant kingdom was a shadow of the Kingdom of God to come.
The seal of the living God is the deposit of the Holy Spirit. It is placed on the forehead as an indication that the Lord’s disciples have the mind of Christ. This mark is similar to the mark that Ezekiel was told to put on the servants of God before the destruction of Jerusalem. [Ezek. 9:4] The mark that he was to use was the letter Taw, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which is an “x.” The angel is instructed to put a cross on the foreheads of the faithful in order to mark them for salvation. This mark will protect them from the wrath of God upon the unbelieving wicked world? It does not guarantee protection from the world and the spirit of anti-Christ. Being sheltered from God’s wrath doesn’t mean that the disciples experience no suffering or trials. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble, but be encouraged, I’ve overcome the world.” [John 16:33]
How is the wrath of God to be manifest? It will be the work of the four angels seen in the first three trumpet judgments of Revelation 8. They will strike the vegetation, seas and water with a plague. The infliction is not universal. Demons will be released from the pit to torment unbelieving men. “They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads.” [Rev 9:4]
“And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” [Rev. 7:10]
It is God that saves; salvation belongs to Him. It is His to give. The believers before the throne are dressed in white robes, which symbolize Christ’s righteousness and purity. They wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb. His blood is available. It is the power of God unto salvation. We must choose to wash in it. We are saved by grace through faith. The evidence of faith is obedience which is a choice made by the power of God out of a heart of love for God.
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” (Rev 7:12)
This multitude that has come out of great tribulation is seen before the throne of God in worship. They ascribe seven blessings to God. Seven being the number of fullness, what is offered is complete blessing of God or perfected praise. The palm branches that they wave remind us of the lulav and the etrog that are used to celebrate the feast of tabernacles. That feast is a celebration looking forward to the time when the people of God will dwell with God face to face. This celebration rightfully occurs at the culmination of the harvest in the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar.
“They will not hunger any more, nor thirst any more, nor will the sun light on them, nor any heat.” (Rev 7:16)
These saints serve God in His temple [inner sanctuary] as priests. The Lord promises that there will be no more hunger or thirst. The promise does not just apply to natural hunger and thirst. Our craving is fulfilled in every way, including our spiritual, emotional, mental and psychological cravings, which will be purified by God’s sanctifying grace. Jesus said, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled.” [Mt. 5:6] God shelters them from the afflictions of the fallen natural order. The Good Shepherd leads us to shelter from the scorching sun. He leads us to the fountain of life, the source of eternal life, Himself. He will wipe away every tear, comforting us from the tribulations of this life.
God’s people will be sealed by Him and protected from His wrath that is coming on a wicked unbelieving world that rejects Him as King and is unwilling to accept His free gift of salvation. We may suffer persecution from the anti-Christ or world but that is nothing compared to God’s wrath. This age is a time of great testing and trial before the establishment of the Kingdom. We must choose to exercise faith, to wash ourselves in His blood. His blood does the cleansing, but we have to submit to it. If we do, He will grant us His righteousness.
God’s church will be a great multitude from every nation. The way into the Kingdom is narrow, but God’s power to draw and save is greater. We will worship Him in His presence. We will never hunger, thirst or lack anything. He will protect us. He will wipe away every tear; heal every believing heart of every imaginable hurt. He will lead us to springs of living water, eternal refreshing and life in Him.
The Seventh Seal; The Trumpet Judgments
“And when He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in Heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stood before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer. And many incenses were given to him, so that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints on the golden altar before the throne. And the smoke of the incense which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God from the angel’s hand. And the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar, and cast it into the earth. And voices and thunderings and lightnings and an earthquake occurred.” (Rev 8:1-5)
The seventh seal marks the fullness or end of something. Here, it is the fullness of God’s judgment on an unbelieving world and the end of this age. We must remember that Revelation is not chronological. The seven seals could be parallel to the seven trumpets. The first four trumpets, recorded in chapter 8, herald natural catastrophes. They are partial judgments designed to bring men to repentance, but they will not (see Rev. 9:20). They are similar to the plagues upon Egypt that are recorded in Exodus.
There is silence in heaven, in dreadful anticipation, trembling suspense in view of judgment about to be poured out. The prayers of the saints are offered as a sacrifice on the altar. The altar pictured here is the altar of sacrifice situated before entry to the inner sanctuary. In response, the angel casts fire from heaven.
The context is fires of judgment. The earth will undergo a baptism of fire. “By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.” [2Peter 3:7] Fire has a purifying effect. It burns up anything impure. The fires of judgment fall on those who reject God’s offer of mercy and refuse to repent. There is a seal or mark on all people. They either bear the mark of God or the mark of the beast. In the last days, there will be seen a clear delineation. Every man must decide which mark to take. God’s merciful wrath is meant to drive men to their knees before it is too late.
There is also fire of purification and empowerment that comes upon those who do believe and repent. It is like the coal put to Isaiah’s lips. It is fire from the same altar. This reminds us of the tongues of fire that fell on the disciples at Pentecost when they were baptized with the Holy Spirit and power. Pentecost symbolizes more power, more grace. The empowering fire of His Spirit doesn’t come without the purifying fire. It’s the same fire! It has different results on different people. For people of faith who repent, the fire of God purifies and empowers. It brings life rather than death. For unbelievers who are stiff necked and refuse to repent, the fire of God consumes them.
The fire is a response to the prayers of the saints. We pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” The prayers referred to here are the prayers of all the saints, not just tribulation saints or martyrs. This book of Revelation concerns the entire church. It applies to us, here and now. If we want fire to fall from heaven, then all saints must pray. Our incense must reach the altar. Why do we intercede? It’s foundational! It is necessary to accomplish the commission and vision God has given us.
The First Four Trumpet Judgments
The first four judgments fall upon vegetation, the sea, rivers (drinking water) and the heavens. The first trumpet announces hail mixed with blood being cast on the earth, causing a third of the earth’s vegetation to be burned up. This is a repeat of the seventh plague that fell upon Egypt recorded in Exodus 9:25.
More Trumpet Judgments; Demons and Armies
The fifth and sixth trumpet judgments, recorded in chapter 9, are inflicted directly upon mankind. These include demonic torment and a 200 million-man army that kills one-third of mankind. Despite these judgments, rebellious man will refuse to repent.
“And the rest of the men who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and golden, and silver, and bronze, and stone, and wooden idols (which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk). And they did not repent of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.” (Rev 9:20-21)
Their defiance is reflected not only in idolatry but also in sexual immorality. This is not surprising as Romans chapter 1 instructs us that mankind’s refusal to worship God leads to his being “given over” depravity. They had an opportunity to change, to repent, but they refused. They are deserving of God’s judgment.
God’s heart breaks for the lost. He is not willing that any should perish. Jesus wept over Jerusalem. God would use His church to reach the lost before it is too late. I believe that in these last days, God is restoring His church to the purity and power of the Acts church. That purity and power will come as we join together in intercession for the lost. The purifying fire of heaven falls in response to the prayers of the saints. The Acts church was unified and prayerful. “They all joined together constantly in prayer.” (Acts 1:14) “When the day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.” (Acts 2:1) “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42) “When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. All the believers were one in heart and mind.” (Acts 4:24, 31-32)
The Little Scroll
This section concerns the message of the seven thunders. All other passages in Revelation where thunder occurs it is a premonition of coming judgment. That would fit the context here as well. Why is John prohibited from communicating this message? We don’t know. We are not told. Perhaps God knows that the reader couldn’t handle it. He doesn’t tell us more than we can handle. He doesn’t always let us know what lies ahead. We might faint. We would be astonished.
At the sounding of the seventh trumpet, the consummation of the age will no longer be delayed. Verse 7 records: “But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he will begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as He has declared to His servants the prophets.” (Rev 10:7) What is the mystery of God? In biblical context, a mystery is something previously hidden but revealed by God. “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him” (Romans 16:25-26) Here mystery means God’s redemptive plan previously hidden but now revealed. The revealed mysteries of God are in His Word. The mystery referred to in Revelation 10 is the establishment of God’s Kingdom.
Ephesians 1:9-10 speaks of “the mystery of His will,” or His overruling purpose in creation, which is to bring all creation under subjection to Christ. God’s complete redemptive purpose includes the judgment of evil, putting down all opposition, and the salvation of His people. God’s people can never enjoy the blessings of salvation and of fellowship with God in their fullness until all that disrupts that fellowship and brings pain, oppression, suffering and death is purged from creation.
Next, John has to eat the little book, which becomes both bitter and sweet in his mouth. This reveals the burden of the prophetic message from God for man. God offers the hand of peace through His Son, but rejection of His Son will bring judgment. The message of the angel is directed to John but intended for the whole world. Thus he is seen having his feet on land and sea. Eating the scroll symbolizes assimilation of the prophetic message. The word of God, the whole counsel of both salvation and judgment, must be ingested and personally assimilated by the prophet. It must be by every servant of God who proclaims his word. The prophet is not a robot, or an unfeeling herald of events that don’t involve him.
What John experiences is similar to that which Ezekiel had. [Ezek. 2-3:15] He was “astonished”. He did not deliver the message immediately. Sometimes we are astonished at the things, which God does and says. We see through a glass darkly now. We don’t understand all He does. His ways are not our ways.
Ezekiel was among the first group of captives taken to Babylon. God gave him a message of warning for Judah and Jerusalem of impending judgment. Later, God gave him a message of restoration. God warned him to be faithful to speak the word God gave him. Even though it would be rejected, God would hold him accountable. In the following chapter, God calls him to be a watchman. God says we are our brother’s keeper. We must warn them of judgment or their blood is on our hands. The justice of God demands that we share the warning of judgment to people who refuse to submit to His Lordship.
It was a bitter pill to swallow. He was overwhelmed and astonished. The sweetness and bitterness are not referring to different parts of the scroll, or message. They refer to the twofold reaction. It is sweet to be close to God and be a recipient of His word. But as John ponders the implications, it becomes bitter. Jesus wept bitterly over Jerusalem; He does over the whole earth, because mankind brings judgment upon himself by rejecting God’s offer of mercy and grace.
This is an important truth for all who proclaim the Word of God. The full counsel of God contains a word of judgment as well as of mercy. The messenger must be faithful to the whole counsel. One who knows God’s mercy and compassion can never take delight in preaching the wrath of God or find satisfaction in proclaiming judgment. We must proclaim it with a broken heart and a bitter spirit following the Lord’s example.
Revelation is an astonishing message. It is a bitter pill; judgment is depressing. It should be. Nevertheless, the whole counsel of God must be preached. There comes attendant spiritual warfare in obediently preaching the whole counsel of God. The whole message is encouraging to those who trust Christ. He is in control. He will overcome His enemies: sin, the devil, and death. His kingdom will come and then there will be righteousness, peace and joy. Every tear will be wiped away. There will be no more death, but only eternal life. His redeemed will rule and reign with Christ on this earth. We are training for reigning. In the mean time, in this age, we will face tribulation and persecution. We may even be martyred. But, even those things can’t separate us from God’s love. He will give us the power to overcome if we seek Him; Those things will work godly character in us; We’ll be like Jesus, being full of faith, patience, love and compassion.
While we are here we must proclaim the whole counsel of God. We are watchmen sent to warn mankind. We are ministers of reconciliation, His ambassadors to lead men to salvation. We must live as one body. We must do spiritual battle, offering up prayers of intercession. If we trust and obey Christ, He will shelter us from God’s wrath. We will be raised and will reign with Him forever in a new creation.
Prophets And Their Reward
The Power of Prophetic Ministry
Here we are introduced to the two witnesses who perform signs and wonders affirming their testimony of Jesus. “This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (Hebrews 2:3-4) Signs and wonders follow the testimony of Jesus with the result being that people get saved and God gets glorified. Consider the power of this prophetic ministry.
The angel is told to measure the temple of God. What is the identity of the temple referred to in this scripture? The earthly temple of God in Jerusalem had already been destroyed by the time John received this revelation. I do not believe this scripture refers to a rebuilt, earthly, latter day temple where priests are offering sacrifices to God. There may come a day when some (probably religious Jews) rebuild a temple, but it won’t be God’s temple. The New Testament is clear that the earthly temple of God in this age, since Calvary, is the church collectively and God’s people individually. The Greek word translated “temple” is the word “naos” which is derived from “naio”, which means, “to dwell”. When this word is used it refers to the dwelling place of God. In fact, it is the same word translated temple in 1Corinthians chapter 3 and 6 referring to believers as the temple of the Holy Spirit. “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1Cor 3:16)
Why does the angel instruct John to measure the temple? To see how big it is? Certainly not! To “measure” something is an often used biblical metaphor for judging something in order to either for set it aside for God’s use or for His destruction. I believe that the temple here refers to a place of preservation and protection from the judgment and wrath of God to come.
John is instructed to leave out the courtyard because it has been given over to the Gentiles, or unbelievers. The two witnesses pronounce the judgments of God described herein as the trumpet judgments. Verse 14 connects the ministry of the two witnesses to the second woe or sixth trumpet.
Jerusalem has literally been captured or trodden down by the Gentiles to this day and will probably remain that way until Jesus returns. Since Rome conquered Jerusalem in 70AD, pagans have controlled it. Whether they are called Crusaders, Muslims, Turks, Arabs, Palestinians or Jews, they are pagans! Believers in Christ, true Israelites have never ruled Jerusalem. Indeed, most so-called Jews in the physical nation known as Israel today are proselytes to Judaism from Eastern Europe and are not even natural born Jews!
Pagan armies figuratively surround God’s church during the last days of the end of this age. Gentiles, or pagans will tread upon Jerusalem for 42 months [3.5 years] while the two witnesses are prophesying. This is a time when evil will dominate before the end of the age. We will see that the church is hidden in the wilderness in chapter 12. This is a time when the beast of chapter 13 exercises authority.
Thus God’s people are protected from the wrath of God in the midst of the climactic period at the end of this age when evil seems to dominate, surround and persecute them. We can see now that world events are leading to this time soon. During this time we will see a tremendous outpouring of God’s Spirit and power along with a restoration of the prophetic ministry. There will be mass repentance and turning to God.
There is general celebration when the witnesses are killed, but they rise again after three and one-half days. A great earthquake accompanies their resurrection and assumption into heaven in the sight of their enemies. These miraculous signs, which accompany their testimony, lead to a massive revival. In verse 13 we see that the survivors of the earthquake give glory to God.
Who are the two witnesses? They are a symbolic representation of the prophetic witness of the church. They are also literal prophets, perhaps Moses and Elijah raised from the dead and returned to earth respectively (Elijah having been raptured). Jesus said that the law and the prophets testified to Him. Moses represents the law. Elijah represents the prophets. Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. The signs and wonders performed by these two witnesses are comparable to what Moses and Elijah did. Elijah prophesied that there would be no rain for three and one-half years. He called down fire from heaven. Moses turned water to blood and struck the earth with plagues.
Malachi prophesies the return of Elijah before the Lord’s return. “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel. See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.” (Malachi 4:4-6) These concluding verses of the Old Testament refer to both Moses, who received the law, and Elijah the archetypical prophet. So, the message of the last 3 verses is essentially, “turn or burn.”
The Lord refers to the two witnesses of Revelation as the two olive trees. This is a clear allusion to a vision that Zechariah, the prophet of the restoration, had. As recorded in Zech. 4:1-14, the high priest and Zerubbabel, the governor and descendant of David, were anointed by God to rebuild the temple after the exiles returned from Babylon. The allusion to this is made in order to affirm the divine authorization of the two witnesses and the source of their prophetic power, which is the Holy Spirit. Olive oil was symbolic of the power of the Holy Spirit. The oil used for anointing priests and kings was the same type of oil used to fuel the lamps in the temple. That was olive oil. The two cherubs covering the ark and the two doors to the temple were made of olive wood overlaid with gold. The olive tree has significance in the spiritual history of Israel. In Romans chapter 11, Paul refers to natural born Israelites as a wild olive tree. The garden of Gethsemane is filled with olive trees and the word “Gethsemane” itself means “olive press.” It is interesting that Jesus’ anguish should take place here. It was as if the olive press was crushing Him as He sweat great drops of blood.
In Zechariah’s vision, the olive trees were the source of oil for the lamps in the temple. The oil is the power of the Holy Spirit that keeps the light burning. The lampstands speak of light; Jesus said that we are to be light. Recall that in chapter 1 God tells John that the seven branched lampstand in the heavenly temple represents the churches. The Church is to be a light. We must remain cognizant that it is the oil of the Holy Spirit that keeps the light burning.
God gives His two witnesses the power to witness. The oil for the lamps comes out of the prophets; they minister the power of the Holy Spirit to the churches. They are two literal prophets, but also all the prophets that testify of Christ and minister the power of the Holy Spirit to the church. The law and prophets testify of Jesus. The law is a teacher to lead us to Christ. The law of God is the whole counsel of God; which includes both the message of salvation and of judgment. It includes both law and grace. We must not only believe, but we must obey as well. Moses prophesied of the blessings of following the law and curses of disobedience. God’s last day’s witnesses minister the power of the Holy Spirit to the rest of the church so that we can shine the light of Christ in the last hour of darkness. They are clothed in sackcloth, which is the usual prophetic garb; it represents an attitude of humility and repentance.
Their message will not be popular; people will be tormented with conviction, so that they rejoice at their death at the hands of the antichrist. After three and one-half days the pneuma of God enters them and they come to life. Great fear falls upon people as they ascend into heaven; their enemies see it. In the same hour a great earthquake occurs and 7000 people die. These are God’s enemies who refuse to repent. The two witnesses probably prophesied the earthquake and the resurrection before hand. The rest of the people were afraid; the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It leads to salvation. Jesus said, “Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell.” (Luke 12:5)
So those who survived the earthquake in Jerusalem repented and gave glory to God; that means that 63,000+ people will be saved!! Many of those will be natural born Jews. In these last days God will restore the prophetic ministry to the church. The church will move in the power of the Holy Spirit with signs and wonders following the testimony of Jesus, through the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit. These include the sign gifts: supernatural faith, miracles, healing, tongues, and interpretation of tongues, as well as the gifts of revelation: supernatural knowledge, wisdom, prophesy, discerning of spirits. “But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’” (1Cor 14:24-25)
God will protect His church and His prophets in a hostile world. The beast may kill us, but we’ll be resurrected in glory. This powerful prophetic ministry will reap a great harvest of souls for God’s Kingdom and God will be glorified.
The sounding of the 7th trumpet means God’s glory is about to manifest. The earthly temple was opened, the curtain torn in two when Christ said, ” It is finished” on the cross. The temple being opened is a metaphor for free access to God through the sacrifice of Christ. Earlier in Revelation there have been other descriptions of the temple in heaven. John sees the Ark of Covenant. This was a gold covered box with a lid and images of two cherubs attached to the lid. It was the only item in the inner sanctuary. It was a reminder that God makes covenant promises. This vision in Revelation reminds us that all of His promises from Adam to the end of Revelation will be kept. A biblical covenant has certain significant aspects. It is given in writing. It is made in public, with symbols that remind us of God’s promise. It is sealed in blood.
The ark was filled with reminders. It carries His testimony. Inside are stored the tablets of stone, which is the law of God or His standard of justice. Also inside the ark is Aaron’s staff that budded; this is a reminder of God’s creative, resurrection power. Some manna, the bread from heaven, is stored in the ark as a reminder that God is our provider and the bread of life.
The Ark has been missing since the destruction of the first temple. When the exiles returned from Babylon and rebuilt the temple, they were allowed to replace all of the furnishings but the ark. Perhaps this might explain why the people mourned after finishing the second temple, crying that the glory was not like the first temple. But God encouraged them that He would build a temple even more glorious than the first, where He would dwell with them. In saying so He was referring to the church and the indwelling of His Spirit since Christ’s resurrection and ascension. Perhaps He was referring to the new heaven and new earth or the New Jerusalem prophesied in the end of revelation.
There are old and new legends about what happened to the Ark of the Covenant. One such old Jewish legend says that Jeremiah hid it before the temple was destroyed. There is a new legend that it is buried beneath Golgotha. All of these are but speculation, lacking the testimony of God’s Word. But here, in Revelation 11, we see that the Ark is in heaven! We know from Ezekiel chapter 10 that the Ark was raptured before the first temple was destroyed. The ark left with the glory of the Lord before the temple was destroyed. God would not allow the ark of His Testimony to be destroyed. The Ark was usually associated with the glory of the Lord.
The pre-incarnate Christ sat upon the Mercy seat, or atonement cover, of the ark in the temple where the blood of the sacrifice was applied by the high priest. The mercy seat is where the justice of God is reconciled by His mercy. That is the meaning of James 2:13, “mercy triumphs over judgment.” But that triumph of mercy only takes place if you apply the blood of the sacrifice over the Ark of the Covenant, the justice of God. Verse 18 proclaims that, “the time for judging the dead” has come. That judgment is for those who have not applied the blood of Christ’s sacrifice to the mercy seat. In the Lord exercising judgment we are told that His wrath has come. Indeed, we will see that wrathful judgment in the seven bowl judgments to follow.
This judgment occurs in conjunction with the coming of the Lord’s Kingdom to this earth. The statement of verse 15, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ.” Clearly proclaims the central theme of Revelation. This involves our Lord Jesus wresting authority from all evil powers. Satan is referred to as the “god of this world” in 2Cor. 4:4. He is the ruler over the present evil world system. He has been allowed temporary limited authority since the fall, where Adam ceded the title deed to earth by sin. Adam yielded the earth to Satan by his disobedience; Eve was deceived. God allows Satan’s temporary rule to serve His purposes. God uses Satan for the testing and purifying of His creation just as He permitted Satan to test and purify Job.
Verse 18 reveals that the nations were angry. Who are they angry at? Obviously, they are angry with each other, but also at God. Thus, Psalm 2:1 says, “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. ‘Let us break their chains,’ they say, and throw off their fetters.’” The nations reject God’s rule. They want to rule themselves. They have bought the original lie of the devil that they can be their own god, being accountable to no one. In worshipful response to the assertion of the Lord’s authority over the earth, the twenty-four elders proclaim that it is, “time for the dead to be judged.” This proclamation can be tied to Revelation chapter 20, which is really the only part of the Revelation that provides the reader with a concrete chronology. According to chapter 20 verses 5 and 12, the un-redeemed dead are not judged until the end of Christ’s thousand-year reign when Satan’s final rebellion is put down. Also, here in verse 7 of chapter 11, we see that “the beast that ascends from the bottomless pit” cuts off the ministry of the prophets. This provides us with another clue to the timing of the events here. For we know that Satan is not bound to the bottomless pit until Christ returns to earth to reign. At this time, Satan has fallen from heaven, but is not yet bound. He roams the earth as a roaring lion. Such an understanding alerts us to the danger of attempting to assign a chronology to the Revelation. Popular eschatology assigns the ministry of the Revelation 11 prophets, often considered to be Moses and Elijah, to the seven-year “Great Tribulation” period preceding Christ’s return. I believe that this interpretation owes its beginnings to Hebrew tradition, which teaches that Elijah must precede the Christ. They base this upon the prophecy of Malachi 4:5, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.” The implication of that prophecy is judgment, and indeed the Jews believe that the final judgment will occur when Messiah comes. But, we know they missed it the first time, so why do we base our eschatology upon their traditions? Many Christians may expect to see Elijah before Christ’s second coming. They may be disappointed. Perhaps Elijah will return in the resurrection of the just and his ministry will be during Christ’s millennial reign. Whatever the case, we should be careful not to “put God in a box” and be disappointed as the Jews were at Christ’s first coming
Nebuchadnezzar had a dream regarding the kingdoms of this world being destroyed by a rock from God. Daniel chapter two tells how he saw a fabulous image. “This image’s head was of fine gold; his breast and his arms were of silver; his belly and his thighs were of bronze; his legs were of iron; his feet were part of iron and part of clay.” (Dan 2:32-33) Daniel’s interpretation of this dream is very interesting in the light of Revelation, especially with respect to the last kingdom in the series (Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom was the first): “And as the toes of the feet were part of iron and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly brittle. And as you saw iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mix themselves with the seed of men. But they shall not cling to one another, even as iron is not mixed with clay.” (Dan 2:42-43) This last of the great worldly kingdoms would have the appearance of strength but would be really weak. Later in the dream Nebuchadnezzar sees the great image crushed by a rock that was cut out without hands, by God. The Rock became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth with its glory. The kingdoms of this world may appear glorious and strong from a human perspective, but they are clay-footed idols that will be crushed by the Rock Jesus. Jesus identified Himself as that rock. He said, “He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.” (Mt 21:44) We must all fall on the Rock that is Christ, pleading for mercy, lest that Rock fall on us and crush us.
On what grounds does God judge? He judges rejection of His Son. There is specific reference made to judging destroyers of the earth. They will reap their own destruction. Sin destroys the earth. Those things that destroy the earth are clearly delineated in Galatians 5:19: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” God’s judgment is just and not arbitrary. It is suited to their deeds.
In contrast, there are to be rewards for His servants. “The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great.” (Revelation 11:18) The rewards go to both small and great. God is not a respecter of persons. No one is too great to fear God. The rewards are not related to earthly position.
The judgment of believers referred to in 2Cor 5:10 is called the Bema seat judgment and is named for the place where athletes were judged in ancient Greek competition. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” What describes those who are rewarded here in Revelation 11:18? They are servants. They serve God by ministering to Him and to others for Him. In verse 16, the twenty-four elders fall on their faces to worship God in an act of reverence. They are grateful for His rule in their lives and for His judging of evil, without which, we could not enjoy the blessings of fellowship with Him. Rev. 21:4 makes clear that, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” They are thankful to God for rewarding His servants, the prophets, the saints, and God fearers. Those who fear His name have a proper understanding of who He is and of His holy nature. The Bible teaches that the fear of the Lord is foundational to knowing Him and obeying/ trusting in Him. Solomon said, “Here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” [Eccl 12:13]
Verse 18 refers to God’s servants as the prophets. Prophets are those who speak the word of God. They declare the testimony of Jesus’ work of salvation and the cost of rejecting it. This second aspect of prophetic ministry is distasteful to many and is therefore rejected, but 2Cor 5:11 reminds us that, “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.” This verse further describes those being rewarded as saints. Saints are those who are set apart for a holy purpose. They have been purified by fire, having fallen on the Rock and being broken.
What are the rewards given for? They are given for our works! 1Corinthians 3, speaking to believers, says, “Every man’s work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” [1Cor 3:13-15] Will your works survive the test of fire? Or will you enter in singed and naked? Are your priorities based upon what will matter in eternity? The servants of God will be rewarded for genuine faith evidenced by obedience. Jesus said, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ ‘Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” [Mt 7:22-24]
What is their reward? They rule and reign with Christ. They inherit the covenant promises of Revelation 7: they are forever before the throne of God, never again will they hunger or thirst, the Lamb will be their shepherd, He will lead them to springs of living water and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. [Rev 7:15-17] They receive the covenant promises of 2Corinthians 6: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people. I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters.” [2Cor 6:16-18] Do you want to receive that reward? Have you asked God to apply the blood of Christ’s sacrifice to the mercy seat? Do you believe His covenant promises and His testimony? If you believe, then you should trust. If you trust, then you should obey and do the things He says to do. Then your reward will be great because your works will stand the test of fire.
Will you rule and reign with Christ? Are you preparing for that now? Are you going to be a member of His Kingdom or of one of the kingdoms of world? Have you fallen on the Rock and pleaded for mercy? Or will the Rock fall on you and crush you? “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and He will reign for ever and ever.” JESUS will rule forever! Are you ready?
Satan Opposes the Church
Revelation chapter 12 is an excursus or parenthetical vision inserted between others. This is a completely separate vision than the previous chapter. The purpose of this vision is to review the history of the church from the old covenant and to portray God’s miraculous protection of His bride, the woman of Revelation 12. We are reminded of Israel’s role in bringing forth the Messiah. We are told how the woman and her seed, those who hold to the testimony of Jesus Christ, overcome their adversary, the devil. Christ redeems his people from “him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14).
Satan is our adversary. The name is a transliteration of two Hebrew words, which mean accuser or adversary. In the New Testament it is used as interchangeable with the devil, and is so used more than thirty times. He is also called “the dragon,” “the old serpent” (Rev. 12:9; Rev. 20:2); “the prince of this world” (John 12:31; John 14:30); “the god of this world” (2Cor. 4:4).
We must understand our enemy. We are to be self-controlled and alert, for “Your enemy (adversary) the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” [1Peter 5:8] Men are “taken captive by him” (2Tim. 2:26). Christians are warned against his “devices” (2Co_2:11), and called on to “resist” him (James 4:7). He is fierce and merciless. Consider how he treated the Gadarene. [Luke 8:29] He and his demons can cause infirmity. [Luke 13:10] His work here has and will become more intense as time progresses because he knows his time is finite. [Rev. 12:12] He is the ruler over the demonic realm. In Ephesians 2:2 he is called, “The ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”
Scripture makes it abundantly clear that in this age, we are in a spiritual battle. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
What are his tactics? He accuses believers (verse 10) both to God and to our fellow man. He slanders. In fact, the Greek, “diablos”, translated “devil” literally means “slanderer.” He slandered Job: “’Does Job fear God for nothing?’ Satan replied. ‘Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.’” [Job 1:9-11] He harasses. The name, “Beelzebub” used in Mt 12:24 means “Lord of flies.” When flies harass sheep, a good shepherd rubs oil on their heads to keep the flies away. Our Lord anoints our head with oil, which is the Holy Spirit.
He tempts people to sin. He tempted Eve in the garden. He tempted our Lord in the wilderness (Mat_4:1-11). He deceived Judas [Jn 13:27] and Annanias [Acts 5:3]. In his attempts to deceive, he twists and misquotes scripture as he did with Christ in the wilderness [Mt 4:6]. He is cunning. He may imitate the works of God, as Pharoah’s magicians imitated God’s signs [Exodus 7]. Cults imitate good works. They may appear to be good works to worldly people, but because they are not done by the power of Christ, they are evil and a deception intended to lure away the undiscerning.
There are certain miracles they can’t imitate, like raising the dead. Satan hinders the work of the gospel. “For we wanted to come to you certainly I, Paul, did, again and again but Satan stopped us.” [1Thess 2:18] We must understand Satan, but we must not give him too much credit. He is a dog on a leash held by God. He is an instrument in God’s hand to sift us. He was used to test and sift Job and Peter. Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” [Luke 22:31-34] The fear and unbelief in Peter’s heart needed to be sifted out, but he came through it because he belonged to Jesus and Jesus was praying for him.
Because Satan is not omnipotent, nor omniscient, nor omnipresent there are things that he cannot do. He is a fallen creature. We read of his fall from grace in Isaiah 14. He fell as a result of pride, saying, “I will make myself like the Most High.” Reading on in that chapter we see how people in hell will be surprised when they see him, “all those who were kings over the nations. They will all respond, they will say to you, You also have become weak, as we are…Those who see you stare at you, they ponder your fate: Is this the man who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble.” [Is. 14:9-10, 16]
Satan is a created being, which is limited in power. He is weaker than God’s angels, being defeated by Michael through the power of Christ’s blood sacrifice. Michael was able to defeat Satan because he is submitted to God. Michael is the guardian of the church (Israel). In Daniel chapter 10, he is seen fighting against the prince of Persia. This scripture could lead us to believe that demonic princes are assigned based on geopolitical boundaries.
Satan cannot read our minds. Jesus said, “I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming.” [John 14:30] Sometimes we expose ourselves to attack because we speak too much. Our confessions don’t control God, but God responds to faith. Negative confessions expose our fears and weaknesses. Satan’s only power lies in his ability to deceive and lie to us. God has given us sovereignty over our own actions, Satan cannot make us do anything.
So, what are we to do in our battle against him? We can overcome him! Rev 12:11 teaches us that we can overcome him by the blood of Jesus and by our testimony. What does our testimony have to do with it? It implies faith in God’s finished work. We must have faith to open our mouths and speak of God’s work of salvation in our lives. We must have faith to verbally command the enemy to desist and depart.
He is already defeated. His defeat was foretold in Genesis chapter 3:15, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” The head is a metaphor for authority. Jesus destroyed his authority over us by removing the guilt of sin [Col 2:13]. God will crush him under our feet [Ro 16:20]. We have been granted authority over him in this earthly realm. “The seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’ He replied, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” [Luke 10:17-19]
The Devil was cast out and defeated by Christ at the cross. Jesus said, “Now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” [John 12:31-32] Jesus triumphed over him and disarmed him at the cross. “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” [Col 2:15] Jesus disarmed Satan and his minions; He took away their power, which is the power of sin.
Habbakuk spoke prophetically of Satan’s defeat “You came out to deliver your people, to save your anointed one. You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness, you stripped him from head to foot. With his own spear you pierced his head…” [Hab 3:13-14] Satan’s spear was the cross. Again, the head is symbolic of authority and his authority was pierced at the cross. Christ’s work has totally defeated his authority over those submitted to Christ, but, just as the kingdom is not yet fulfilled here on earth, so Satan continues to exercise authority over those who willingly allow him by refusing to submit to Christ. His authority is wounded now because the power of sin is broken for those in Christ. The light of God’s revealed word exposes his deceptions. Spiritual strongholds have no power when the truth is known.
Satan’s power in this world can be bound by worship. The church must first be evangelized. Judgment begins in the house of God. We must expose our own sin and deceptions. Our rebellion and our selfishness must be brought to the light. We must repent! Once we are submitted to God the principalities of this area will flee as we resist them by exposing deeds of darkness.
This chapter can be understood as another separate vision, but it relates to the previous one. Here, we are introduced to the beast, often identified as the Antichrist or the man of sin prophesied in 2Thessalonians chapter 2.
The key to the character and purpose of the beast is not just the exercise of political power but he has the objective of diverting man’s worship from God. The Antichrist causes a great apostasy, or falling away, from the revealed truth of God’s word. Let us consider the prophecy of the Antichrist in 2Thessalonians. A great falling away must happen before the man of sin is revealed [2:3]. Some, pre-tribulation dispensationalists, interpret this falling away as the departure of the Holy Spirit from the world as the church is “raptured”. The Greek word used is “apostasia” not “parousia”. It is evident that this is a departure from faith that will happen within the institutional church. The Antichrist sets up his power in the recognized church. “Who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, setting himself forth, that he is God.” (2Th 2:4) The temple of God is the church [Eph 2:20]. Paul never used this expression of a literal building. This cannot occur without there first being a departure from the faith once given, that is, a departure from true biblical doctrine. The predicted apostasy will continue until the individual Antichrist proclaims himself to be God. The Bible teaches that the spirit of Antichrist is that spirit which denies that Jesus is the Christ [1Jn 2:22] and denies the incarnation [1Jn 4:3]. Believing that Jesus is the Christ means believing that salvation comes only through faith in Him.
Roman Catholicism teaches that salvation can only be obtained by keeping the sacraments of the church, especially the mass. Roman Catholic doctrine considers the mass a sacrifice. The doctrine of trans-substantiation (where the elements of the Eucharist miraculously transform into the literal body and blood of Christ) and the mass involve a re-crucifying of Christ. This stands in opposition to scripture which teaches us that, “Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” [Heb. 7:27]
The main doctrine of the Reformation was justification by faith alone [Ro 3:22]. Luther was converted by Romans 5:18. “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.” The Reformation restored the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Accordingly, all believers have the Holy Spirit and are all individually responsible to God and empowered by the Holy Spirit to understand God’s word. The Pope is not the final authority. God is.
The devil and the beast foment apostasy in order to draw people away from the true God. The Antichrist comes out of the church. The word, which is translated “sit” in 2 Thess. 2:4, is from the Greek, “kathizo” which implies a seat (“kathedra”), such as a bishop’s seat. When the pope speaks “ex cathedra” he is speaking officially from his seat. Such pronouncements are considered infallible. That is to claim deity. In fact, Pope Leo XIII said, “We hold the place of Almighty God on earth.” And Pope Pius XI claimed, “I am God on the earth.”
Here is a clue to the identity of the Antichrist: he causes people to look to a man [or man’s government] to have complete authority over them and be their savior. Today, many of the world’s leaders are intent on giving authority to a one-world government. Many of these believe that it is fundamentalist Christians who stand in the way of the perfect society. Today, the Pope is one of the most popular men on earth. Certainly, the institution of the Papacy could be identified as a possible source from which the Antichrist will arise. Most of the reformers believed so.
What else does he do? The “little horn” of Daniel’s prophecy was to make war with and wear out the saints [Dan 7:21, 25, Rev 13:7]. This is further proof that the Antichrist is revealed before the saints are gathered up. The persecution of the saints by the Roman Popes is a matter of historical record. Even before the reformation, the Papacy murdered the Waldensians and the Hussites for their biblical beliefs. The Roman inquisition was the Pope’s response to the reformation. The Pope ordered the torture and murder of thousands of Protestant Hugenots.“He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer [NKJ: overcome] them.” [Rev. 13:7]. Conquering or overcoming doesn’t mean that he succeeds in perverting their loyalty from Christ but in persecuting and even killing them [Dan 7:21]. Martyrs for Christ win the final victory. “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” [Rev. 12:11]. They refused to worship the beast or the dragon.
The Antichrist will seek complete world control for the purpose of promoting false worship. By worshiping the beast people are worshiping Satan since the beast gets his authority from Satan. That does not mean God cannot miraculously provide for and protect His people in the wilderness as portrayed in the previous chapter. He fed Elijah in the wilderness. There will be saints still alive when Christ returns!
Why does God tell us these things ahead of time? He wants us to be aware of Satan’s plot so that we don’t fall into the trap of false worship. False worship is worship of anything in place of God, whether it is a man or any other created being or thing. It is false worship to put our hope in man or the government of man to save us.
The second beast, often called the false prophet, is a parody of Christ. He has horns like a lamb but will speak like a dragon, or like the devil. He supports the authority of the first beast. So, we have an unholy trinity. Thus, 666, the number of man, 3 times represents the beast. He uses Satan’s power to deceive the gullible.
The mark is the name of the beast. It may or may not be literal. In Hebrew culture, a name is a representation of one’s character. Those who receive the mark receive it on their forehead (representing the mind) or on their hand (representative of power, authority or deeds). It can be argued that receiving the mark of the beast is to have the character (or mind) of the beast or to receive authority or power from the beast in doing the deeds of the beast. In similar fashion, the servants of God are marked and thus separated for preservation with the seal of God [Rev. 9:4]. People take the mark when they worship a creature and look to him for salvation.
Three Angels And Those Who Keep God’s Commands
This is a vision before God’s throne, looking forward prophetically to the New Jerusalem [Mt Zion]. We are re-introduced to the 144,000, representing the fullness of all God’s redeemed people. Verse 4 calls these a “firstfruit” unto God. The New Testament is clear that all believers are a firstfruit unto God [Rom. 8:23, James 1:18]. This section, or vision, is a direct comparison following the revelation of the beast and those caught up in idolatrous worship of Satan where he was allowed to make war against the saints and even kill some. But, this shows the ending. We saw earlier in chapter 7 that these 144 thousand souls represent the totality of the redeemed or the Israel of God who had a seal or mark on their forehead. As the last chapter revealed that the worshipers of the beast received a mark on their foreheads, so these sealed of God have His name written on their foreheads. Now we see that the seal is the name of God. A name represented more than a label in eastern cultures. God’s character and nature are written onto the souls of His children. The head is the seat of the mind, the emotions and the will and therefore represents the soul. God has recreated these believers and molded them in His own image. They sing a new song that comes out of that new nature.
God’s recreation process in us should elicit a response, which reflects that new nature. The new song referred to here can only come from a new creature. If you are born again and in Christ, you are a new creature. Old things have passed away [2Cor 5:17]. Galatians chapter 2, verse 20 describes the redeemed soul in saying, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” 2Corinthians chapter 3 similarly describes the transformation processes which takes place in the soul of the born again believer, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” [2Cor. 3:18] We have been chosen to reflect His glorious nature and to proclaim His praises. We have been redeemed. We sold ourselves into slavery to sin and the devil. He purchased us back with His own blood. As a new creation we are dead to sin’s power and alive to God.
Many believers are confused regarding the difference between grace and mercy, and also between religion and faith. Some people equate religion with rules and believe that grace means we are free from rules. Yes, we are free from man’s religious traditions, but not from God’s law! Jesus said that not one jot or tittle of God’s law would pass away until all things were fulfilled. By His grace, we are free from trying to earn our own salvation by keeping the law in our own strength. That will lead to legalism and religiosity, which focuses on man’s rules and outward behavior, such as traditions like hand washing. We are free from the power of sin by the grace or power of God’s indwelling Spirit. By grace, we are placed in Him. Our position in Him is the key to overcoming sin. The grace of God is the power of God that brings salvation. It is not turning a blind eye to sin and disobedience!
The mercy of God does not give us a license to sin. By faith, we can avail ourselves of God’s grace dwelling in us as we abide in Him. By faith in Him, He will make us like Himself. Those before the Lamb are pure. They are not literal virgins, but spiritual virgins. We know that because God ordained sex within the bounds of marriage. Sex, of itself does not make one defiled. It is sex outside of marriage that makes one defiled. They are free from idolatry and spiritual adultery. God equates idolatry with adultery. This scripture makes an analogy of our relationship to God as a marriage. The ones in this vision follow the Lamb like a faithful bride. They didn’t worship the beast, or look to a created being to be their husband, or their god.
The vision proceeds to record the proclamations of three angels. That there are three giving testimony is significant and consistent with scripture which, teaches that something is confirmed in the mouth of two or three witnesses [Mt. 18:16, 2 Cor.13:1]. The first angel proclaims the gospel to those about to be judged. The gospel he proclaims is the good news of reconciliation with God by faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Unfortunately, for those who have previously rejected this gospel preached from human lips, by time the angels proclaim the gospel from heaven it is too late. Mercy is no longer available to these on the earth. The phrase “those dwelling on the earth” is an idiomatic expression, which we will hear frequently referring to the lost. In contrast, for those who have accepted the gospel and received Christ as Savior by faith, our citizenship is in heaven. We are before the throne of God. We are seated with Christ. The Bible speaks of this position as an accomplished fact.
It is too late for others. There is no purgatory, or reincarnation, or second chance after this life here on earth. They are facing judgment. They will bow and worship God. Every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, but for some it will be too late to enjoy God’s presence for eternity. The angel calls upon those on the earth to fear God, but the fear of God that they will have is not like the fear (reverence) of the Lord that believers are blessed to have. Our fear is a fear of being apart from our creator that causes us to draw near to Him. Their fear is a terror of knowing eternal damnation, not rest, soul sleep, or ceasing to exist, but everlasting burning.
The second angel announces the fall of Babylon, again looking forward prophetically [see in chapter 18]. Before the new city of God, the New Jerusalem, Zion, emerges from heaven, Babylon, the idolatrous bride/church, the city of Satan, symbolic of idolatry and spiritual fornication, will fall. This city is called the mother of harlots because of her spiritual fornication/adultery. Verse 8 says that she made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her fornication. This false religious system deceived and enticed people into sin with a cup of sensual delight. The cup will turn into the cup of God’s wrath.
The third angel announces judgment on those who worship the beast and Satan, having the mark of the beast or his nature written on their souls. They will be tormented with fire and brimstone forever, having no rest. The cup of God’s wrath is poured out full strength. This verse uses two different Greek words, “thumos” and “orge”, variously translated wrath, indignation or anger. The first implies a settled disposition. The other implies passionate anger that rises up suddenly. GOD’S wrath is not a human emotion. It is a settled reaction of His holiness to man’s sinful rebellion. It is right and just! Unless evil is purged, God’s kingdom cannot come.
In verse 12 our focus shifts back to “who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” The full number of those with God’s nature written on their souls will keep God’s commands by His grace and will remain faithful. They will abide in His grace /power and His mercy/forgiveness. We must endure. We must continue to trust the indwelling Christ to deliver us from the power of sin. Don’t be deceived by the lure of sin’s maddening attractions; it kills. Don’t think that any created thing/person is more important than God. We need to submit to the work of His Spirit in us to stamp His nature on our soul. Submit to His discipline. Are you going through hardship? Ask God what He is teaching you. Don’t look to another person to be your savior.
Become a passionate worshiper; keep worshiping. Ask for a thankful heart that fears separation from Him. Be in the word; ask for a teachable spirit. Be in fellowship. Be transparent with other believers. Walk in the light; expose the darkness to the truth. As you seek God in these ways, He will bring forth the fruit of the Spirit in your life. You will display His love. You will become giving, patient, and joyful. God is faithful to finish what He has begun in us. He does the work; don’t be deceived into thinking that you can save yourself. He is the author and finisher of our faith. We must keep coming back to Him. It is a free will marriage. You are a bride not a slave! We must be faithful to not give up.
The Wrath of God in Golden Bowls
The prophet sees a sea of glass [people] mixed with fire [refining]. They stand before the Lord in worship, singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb.
Those victorious over the beast conquered by remaining true to Jesus even at the cost of their flesh. What they lost was not their real lives. There is a divine principle that in ultimately dying to their flesh, they gain eternal life. The beast thought he had conquered them in their death, but it was their ultimate victory. This clearly shows the difference in perspective of the two kingdoms. The kingdom of the beast is earthly and perishable, versus the Kingdom of God, which is spiritual and eternal. Humans can sew to the flesh or to the spirit.
Living in the Spirit is not just for the resurrection. We can have a spiritual perspective even while inhabiting corruptible flesh. That’s how they overcame. They were given instruments to praise God. The song of the bondservant is the song of the Lamb. All the nations, all peoples, will worship; He deserves it. The song proclaims, “Who will not fear you, O Lord, and glorify your name?” Only those who fear the Lord will glorify Him.
Our life is a song; when we become conformed we will sing His song. It is a privilege for the victorious to sing His praises. Their harps are instruments of praise and worship unto God. All overcomers get them, not just the worship team. Our victory necessitates the fruit of praise, thanks and adoration to the One who enables the victory. These martyrs don’t sing of themselves or their own glory; they give all glory to God. They are enamored with His sovereignty, justice, rightness and glory. His ways are righteous; He gives freely. They are true, not false or phony; He is real and authentic, not hype. His loving, righteous acts are revealed, not hidden; open your eyes to see them! His ways/laws bring blessing; He is smart. Those who worship God alone and obey His laws [sew to the spirit] are fulfilled, content, and joyful.
Those who honor parents receive blessing. Those who remember God and rest in Him are refreshed. What’s your source of renewal? Those who don’t, lie, covet, commit adultery, murder, and steal will have peace and God will miraculously provide for them. People who don’t look to idols aren’t disappointed.
God is gracious to give signs, revealing who He is. His signs are great and marvelous. Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection were great and marvelous! He healed the sick, raised the dead, and set the captives free, and He still does!
This is a vision of the seven angels with the seven last plagues. Again, seven being a number representing fulfillment or finality, this is a vision of the final judgment. The angels are given bowls full of the wrath of God. In an earlier vision we saw the prayers of the saints symbolized by bowls of incense. Here, we have a deliberate allusion to those bowls. It is the prayers of the saints that move God to send fire from heaven, which brings the Kingdom.
His messengers are clothed in gold. Gold is pure, representing that which is refined. The messengers of God’s wrath are just in their judgments. The plagues are only poured out upon those with the mark of the beast and who had worshipped his image [16:2]. These final judgments are for the purpose of bringing people to repentance [16:8]. Reconciliation is always the purpose of God’s wrath on the living. It is an act of love; it is the last resort of a merciful God who desires to redeem lost humanity.
In verse 5 we are told that John sees the temple, containing the ark of God’s covenant, opened again. We saw the temple opened in chapter 11, where we saw the ark [symbol of the covenant] as a reminder that God is faithful to keep His covenant promises. That faithfulness demands the judgment of evil. Without the destruction of evil the promised Kingdom cannot come. The Kingdom will not be consummated until all is refined. His wrath upon the earth in this age will be finished. He will not strive with man forever; there will be a day when it will be too late to repent. This is true both in a corporate sense and true individually in each life. The end often comes by surprise like a flood.
John sees the temple filled with smoke from the glory of God, so that no one could enter until the plagues were completed, because of His power. This is reminiscent of how neither Moses nor the priests could enter the tabernancle when the glory cloud of the Lord filled it. Where there’s smoke there’s fire! The refining fire of God is His power. The power of God refines and changes. His servants wear clean shining linen and golden sashes.
We are reminded that He is the God who lives forever and ever. He is eternal. He always was. He always has been. He always will be! He is King of the ages; even in times of tribulation/ dark times, He is still King and still in control. He is unchanging. He doesn’t change like pop culture.
The Final Battle, The Big Quake and the End
As the sixth bowl is poured out, the Euphrates is dried up and then demonic deception is unleashed upon the earth. The Euphrates was the boundary of the Promised Land. The prophets saw this event as a prelude to the gathering of God’s people into the Promised Land [Isaiah 11:15]. It clears the way for the kings of the east, not for a civil conflict among the kings of this world, but for the great conflict between the kings of this world and the Messiah [in chapter 17 we will see ten kings join the beast in making war on the Lamb]. The demons deceive the rulers of this world into believing that they can oppose Jesus. They are deceived by false miracles. They gather for the final battle; being unwitting pawns in God’s plan, they are drawn into the winepress. The kings look at it as an opportunity.
This is the battle of the last day of this age before the Kingdom of God is established on the earth. Following this, the redemptive purpose of God will be consummated. The day of salvation or Day of Judgment will come. This will usher in the day of resurrection [John 6:39].
“Proclaim this among the nations: Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up. Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears. Let the weak say, I am strong. Gather yourselves and come, all you nations, and gather yourselves together all around; cause Your mighty ones to come down there, O Jehovah. Let the nations be awakened and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the nations all around. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, come down; for the press is full; the vats overflow, for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision; for the day of Jehovah is near in the valley of decision! The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall gather in their light. Jehovah shall also roar out of Zion and utter His voice from Jerusalem. And the heavens and the earth shall shake. But Jehovah will be the hope of His people and the strength of the sons of Israel.” (Joel 3:9-16 MKJV)
The seventh bowl is the end; it is done! The voice from the temple is the voice of God. Christ is returning; at the end there will be deliverance for the people of God. True deliverance comes in the fire. This reminds us that the ultimate reality is the fact of the Lord’s return; that should be our focus and expectation. When the world starts to shake, that’s when He will appear. In the meantime, run with endurance the path marked out for you; He will appear. You may have obstacles and trials, but when your world starts to shake He will show His power. Sometimes, He waits until our back is up against the Red Sea and then He parts the waters. Life’s trials for the believer are training for the final quake. He warns us to be watchful and waiting. Jesus likened His coming as a thief to the unprepared, “for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 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. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.” [1Thess 5:2]
Those who are not watching and waiting for our Lord say “peace.” They assume that human effort can bring peace, but there will never be peace without the Prince of Peace. To fail to watch for the coming of the Lord is to lose sight of the ultimate issues of life. To be watchful requires that we keep our garments clean, which is to walk in the Spirit and remain holy. This admonishment is similar to the warning given to the Laodiceans to guard against spiritual nakedness. We are to keep short accounts with God. He is coming for a pure and spotless bride; the holiness He expects is experiential as well as positional or judicial. The word translated as “watches” is also the same word for “remain awake”. In light of the spiritual war that we are engaged in, to say “peace” is to be asleep. In this age, to assume that we are not involved in a spiritual struggle is to lose sight of the ultimate issue of life. To assume that human effort can bring “world peace” is to be asleep, unaware of the true reality.
When the seventh bowl is poured out, being the number of fulfillment, the angel announces, “It is done!” A great earthquake marks the last bowl judgment. Revelation describes a global cataclysm not seen since man has been on earth. We shall see islands and mountains disappear. Before the flood earth had a different configuration and it will have a new form after this end time earthquake. Jesus warned that His return would be “as the days of Noah.” The earthquake of the seventh bowl in Revelation 16 may be the same quake as the one referred to in chapter 11:13 when the two witnesses are resurrected prior to the sounding of the seventh trumpet, “At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.” (Rev. 11:13) Recall that this quake resulted in a great number of persons repenting and giving glory to God. In chapter 16 we learn that some will continue to blaspheme God. But verse 19 tells us that God remembered Babylon. These are poignant words; God doesn’t forget! During antichrist’s rule it may seem to some that God has forgotten His people, but He will remember His people and deliver them. He will remember to give the beast his just due; what he has sown.
The end of this present evil age is marked by a great earthquake. It will be a global cataclysm not seen since the flood. The earth had a different configuration before the flood and it will be reconfigured after this great earthquake. We are warned in Hebrews and in 2Peter of this great shaking. Jesus prophesied that His return would be “as the days of Noah.”
We remember that a great earthquake is recorded in chapter 11:13, “At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.” We do not know if this is a description of the same quake in Jerusalem as the two witnesses are resurrected. The one recorded in chapter 11 is marked by great number repenting, but later on we are told that men continued to blaspheme God. Some will refuse to repent in the face of such a great calamity, but will shake their fists at God in defiance. So in verse 19 we are told that, “God remembered Babylon the Great.” Those are poignant words. God doesn’t forget our rebellion. If we refuse to repent and be placed in Christ, He will remember our sin.
During the anti-Christ’s rule it may seem to some that God has forgotten His people as well as forgetting rebellion. But, He will remember His people and deliver them. God will remember to give the beast his just due for what he has sown. I do not believe that this reference to Babylon is to a single literal city, but rather to a world system that elevates man as supreme. Babylon represents human achievements characterized by destructive things: disobedience to God, sexual rebellion, political corruption, greed, oppression, etc.
So, how should we live as watchful believers and followers of Christ? 2Peter 3:9-12 tells us, “The Lord is not slow concerning His promise, as some count slowness, but is long-suffering toward us, not purposing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a rushing noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat. And the earth and the works in it will be burned up. Then, all these things being about to be dissolved, what sort ought you to be in holy behavior and godliness, looking for and rushing the coming of the Day of God, on account of which the heavens, being on fire, will melt away, and the elements will melt, burning with heat?” (2 Peter 3:9-12 MKJV)
Should we just draw into a corner and think godly thoughts? That would be running scared! Should we not enjoy life? We should be joyful in our intimacy with our Lord and enjoy His blessings and creation. We should give praise to God in every circumstance, whether it be tribulation or peace. We should be sure our values and priorities are correct. We must have God first; love Him with all of our being; be a worshiper. Be thankful. Be humble. Be obedient to His laws. His laws are good, they bring blessing. Jesus is smart!
“One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits on many waters.” (Rev. 17:1)
Babylon represents the false religious system of this world. The woman is considered by some to be the institutionalized “Christian” church. Most probably this woman represents the Roman Catholic Church in particular. That this harlot sits upon many waters represents her power and authority over large numbers of people (see v. 15). Historically, no church has had more widespread power over such a vast area as the Roman church. The kings of the earth have fornicated with this false religious system by partaking in its idolatry to gain power and by influencing this church to abandon God’s will and righteousness in exchange for power. The accounts of corruption within the priesthood and papacy and of collusion with kings are numerous. The angel shows John that the harlot is sitting upon the seven headed, ten-horned beast of chapter 13 whom we have identified as the antichrist. This false church is supported by the antichrist spirit, its system and eventually by the possessed man of sin. As this spirit and person exalts itself in opposition to Christ, it uses and supports a false religious system in its attempt to draw mankind to itself and away from Jesus. She is “arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls. No other religious system has the extravagantly portrayed wealth of the Roman church. She carries a golden cup, which represents the Eucharistic cup offered in the mass (refused to the laity). The Eucharist is intended to represent the body and blood of Christ, but through the pagan “miracle” of transubstantiation, they repeatedly re-sacrifice Christ to their damnation. (See Hebrews 6:6 and 9:28) So the cup she holds out offers no hope of redemption, is not full of the blood of Christ, but rather of her own abominations and sin.
This false church really promotes the worship of a woman, the Virgin Mary and salvation by man’s works. We see the name that God gives this false church in verse 5. This title was written on her forehead: “MYSTERY BABYLON THE GREAT THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” (Rev. 17:5) This religious system is “drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” (Rev. 17:6) Historically, the Roman church is guilty of horrendous persecution against the reformers and Protestants. The St. Valentines day massacre of French Huguenot Protestants is but one example. The martyrs come from the real church, persecuted by the beast, the world system and the false church.
In verses 7-18 the angel explains the meaning of the vision. The mystery is revealed. The seat of power where the harlot resides is a city with seven hills. The antichrist supporting the harlot has resurrected out of hell from something previously considered dead. The ten horns are identified as ten kings who will receive authority with the antichrist for a short time and make war with Christ. The angel tells John, “And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.” (Rev. 17:18) In John’s day, that could only be Rome.
Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!
And after these things I saw another angel come down from Heaven, having great authority. And the earth was lighted up from his glory. And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great has fallen, has fallen! (Revelation 18:1-2 MKJV)
The false religious system and harlot of the previous chapter is identified as Babylon. She has a pagan title: the Queen of Heaven. That title owes its origin to Mesopotamian religion and was assigned to Ishtar, the goddess of love and fertility. God has a bride, not a queen; a queen can reign without a king. God has no equal. The angel rejoices over her sudden destruction. John hears another voice from heaven, probably the voice of the Lord, calling for his people to come out of her. Apparently God has some people who are deceived by the harlot to be a part of this false church. I have encountered believers who claim Christ as Lord and Savior, in the Roman church and in other cults. They are usually quite unfamiliar with the doctrine of their church and claim a peculiar allegiance to a man-made institution. God wants to rescue people caught up in this false system.
God’s retribution, or justice executed upon this harlot is a result of reaping what has been sewn. She is to be repaid in proportion to how she has exalted herself. In her pride the harlot boasts, “I sit as queen; I am not a widow, and I will never mourn.” (Rev. 18: 7) She thinks she is beyond danger, but the Lord is the strong one. Her destruction will be accomplished in a single day.
And the kings of the earth who have committed fornication and lived in luxury with her will weep for her, and will wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning; standing afar off for fear of her torment, saying, Woe! Woe to the great city, Babylon, that strong city! For in one hour your judgment came. (Revelation 18:9-10 MKJV)
The world mourns over the destruction of Babylon. The reason they mourn is that they are selfish; they can no longer enjoy her luxuries. They will throw dust on their heads, and with weeping and mourning cry out: “Woe! Woe, O great city, where all who had ships on the sea became rich through her wealth! In one hour she has been brought to ruin!” (Rev. 18:19) But unlike the world God’s people will rejoice at the fall of this evil system that persecutes the saints and deceives the nations, leading them to hell. (Rev. 18:20) Vengeance is the Lord’s, not ours. The finality of Babylon’s destruction is recorded, “With such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again.” (Rev. 18:21)
Babylon is associated with the harlot of chapter 17, the false church, which deceives the people of the world by witchcraft and kills the prophets of God. (Rev. 18:23-24). The Word of God attributes manipulation [by whatever means] for selfish gain as witchcraft. God says that rebellion (specifically, rebellion against God) is as the sin of witchcraft.  Jezebel is the archetypical witch who manipulated Israel to satisfy her own lust for power and control. She used sex, money, threats and violence to accomplish her goals. This prophesy in Revelation affirms that the false church deceives all the nations of the earth by sorcery or witchcraft.
The Wedding Feast of the Lamb
“And after these things I heard a great sound of a numerous crowd in Heaven, saying, Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and honor and the power to the Lord our God! For true and righteous are His judgments. For He has judged the great harlot who defiled the earth with her fornication, and He has avenged the blood of His servants out of her hand” (Revelation 19:1-2 MKJV)
This is the account of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb or the Marriage Supper of Christ and the Church, His bride. This is the 4th blessing in Revelation. It is granted to those who are called, not to those invited [all are invited]. 4 is the number representing trial; thus it is fitting that God grants 4 blessings for those who persevere in the tribulation of this life that Jesus promised. Jesus promised in the beatitudes that those persecuted for righteousness sake will receive the kingdom. Those that are called to the wedding feast receive the kingdom. They get to rule and reign with Christ as His bride.
Recall that the first blessing granted in 1:3 was given to those who hear this word. The second, recorded in 14:13 is for those who die in the Lord from now on, who persevere through persecution and trial. The third, in 16:15 is granted to those who keep their garments pure [abide in Christ] in an atmosphere of widespread demonic deception.
The wedding banquet is punctuated by worship. Believers fall prostrate before the throne. They praise and serve God. They fear Him. This section of scripture describes true worship of the true and righteous God. He is not fake or phony, nor deceptive like the harlot. This is an affirmation that truth does matter. That is a value that has been lost upon present western society. Tolerance is the most cherished value of modern secular culture; they worship it. True prophecy speaks truth and testifies of Christ and His salvation. He is righteous, exhibits true, real love, and doesn’t manipulate for selfish purposes like a witch.
Weddings and marriage were important in Hebrew culture. They were always considered as a reflection of the spiritual union between God and His chosen people. There was much traditional ceremony attached to marriage and wedding ceremonies. It all began with engagement where covenant promises were entered into in writing with witnesses. There was an engagement meal. The groom would offer the wine and proclaim that the wine represented his blood, which sealed the covenant, just as at the Passover. Then there was the bridal procession; she came to Him wearing a white dress, a symbol of purity and devotion. Jesus told the parable about a wedding banquet recorded in Matthew 22:1-14. It is sad that all were invited but few were chosen. The parable reveals God’s graciousness and the indifference and arrogance of mankind. It is reminiscent of people who refuse to repent in the face of God’s righteous judgments. The refusal of the invitation was an insult and dishonoring to the king, the son and His servants. It was not that they couldn’t come, but they wouldn’t come. Luke expands on the excuses and exposes them as trifling. One deferred because he wanted to check out some land or cattle; those things could wait.
The parable of the wedding banquet related in the gospels reminds us that we don’t have to murder a prophet to forfeit the kingdom of God; we only need to fritter away our time on things that are temporary. It is the dispossessed who answer the call; God chooses the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God will have loyal subjects at His Son’s wedding feast. It is impossible that God would be defeated, that Jesus would die in vain; Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” (John 6:37) Those who answer the call will be more grateful, and more joyful; so, the event becomes more miraculous, and glorious.
The prophecy in Revelation shows a future time when the Bride, the church, has made herself ready; Jesus provides the wedding garment, which is the righteousness of Christ provided freely to all who will repent of sin and trust in Him. He offers it freely, but we have to put it on; we must choose to abide in Him. We are saved by grace [His power, His garment] through faith. The evidence of saving faith is that we abide in Him.
There were rites of purification or washing at Hebrew wedding banquets. They had large stone jars full of water for this purpose. And, there was always wine served. The fruit of the vine is one central element in all God’s feasts; it is symbolic of Christ’s sacrifice. Jesus identified Himself as the vine. It is not surprising that Jesus initiated His ministry by attending a wedding banquet and performing the miracle of providing enough wine, because the efforts of man had fallen short, showing that it is the miracle of His death, burial and resurrection that provides the wine of purification, which is the wedding garment that gains entry into the kingdom. The jars of clay filled with water represent God’s people, filled with the Holy Spirit. The jars were vessels for the water of cleansing. Christ’s turning of the water to wine points to the greater miracle: He takes the water [His life in us] and turns it into the fruit of the Spirit by His power. The wine represents the fruit of His life in us or as Revelation 19:8 refers to it, the righteous acts of the saints or the wedding garment of praise.
Note that in performing the miracle of turning water to wine at the wedding feast in Cana, Jesus saves the best wine for last. By this he reminds us of the prophecy of Haggai that the glory of the latter house will exceed that of the former. The greatest glory of the bride will be seen at the end of this age, especially at the wedding banquet of the Lamb.
Rev. 19:11 21
“And I saw Heaven opened. And behold, a white horse! And He sitting on him was called Faithful and True. And in righteousness He judges and makes war. And His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head many crowns. And He had a name written, one that no one knew except Himself. And He had been clothed in a garment dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in Heaven followed Him on white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, so that with it He should strike the nations. And He will shepherd them with a rod of iron. And He treads the winepress of the wine of the anger and of the wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His garment, and on His thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” Rev. 19:11-21
Jesus is the Word of God. He is the incarnate, living flesh fulfillment of the written and spoken word of God; He is the physical, human manifestation of the written revelation “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” (. John 1:1-2) “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14) The Greek translation for “Word” here is “Logos”, a term that the Greeks used for the unifying principle of the universe. John used that term as a title for Jesus [as in Rev. 19:13] thus equating Jesus with the unifying principle of all creation. The Word of God is compared in scripture to a lamp, a fire, a hammer, seed and a sword.
It is necessary to understand how the scripture has come to us in order to appreciate its value. The standard definition in literature for the word “Canon” is “a list of works correctly attributed to a given author.” Since there are nine known New Testament human authors, we know that the church fathers ascribed the word “canon” in recognition that the Holy Spirit was the true author of the scripture. There are 66 books which make up the canon of scripture [39 NT+27 OT] which exclude the apocrypha. The Old Testament canon was recognized by Jews before the birth of Christ. The Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures known as the Septuagint was recognized by Jewish rabbis as early as 250 BC. The main criterion of canonicity is inspiration. The Scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit. 2Timothy 3:16 records that, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,….” Inspiration is not the same as automatic writing. The unique perspective and style of the individual human authors is discernable. In fact, it can be argued that the Holy Spirit chose the individuals partly because of their perspective.
The existing canon made its way in the church from a body of first oral, then written tradition that was used in the church because of its inherent authenticity and power. The canon was formally adopted first at the Synod of Rome in 382AD. Church councils simply recognized what had become the scripture. What was first recognized excluded the apocrypha. The authenticity of the Bible is without question. The Bible is the most trustworthy writing surviving from antiquity. An in depth study of its authenticity can be found in Josh Mc Dowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict.
The church fathers agreed on the selection of canonical books over a period of discussion. There was not always agreement, but eventually differences were resolved by a vast majority of prelates and scholars alike. There were several criteria that they considered. First was the internal testimony of inspiration by the Holy Spirit. Paul asserted his own inspiration: “I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” (Gal 1:11-12) Note that Paul didn’t profess to have originated message; he received it. Peter recognized Paul’s writings as scripture. Speaking of Paul, he writes, “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2Pt 3:16)
Inspiration is demonstrated by various qualities. It is first demonstrated by the intrinsic content such that all of the writings have as the central subject the person and work of Jesus Christ. Inspiration of the Holy Spirit differentiates itself by a discernible difference in the precision of the narrative, the depth of teaching and the concentration on Christ. Holy Spirit inspired scripture has a moral effect on the hearer; it has demonstrated power among believers to transform. When the message is proclaimed and believed it brings a moral transformation of man and society.
When evaluating the canonicity of a book, the early church bishops looked for an apostolic source or approval from an apostle. They would determine if the writer had a first person acquaintance of Jesus. So, for example, it was recognized that Mark had the approval of Peter. Mark recorded the oral tradition that came from Peter as Luke did from Paul.
The Word of God is an instrument in God’s mouth to accomplish His purpose. It is an active force behind creation, redemption and renewal, including the destruction of remaining corrupted elements as we see here in Rev 19:21. The Sword out of His mouth destroys His enemies. How can Jesus defeat His enemies simply by the words out of His mouth? In the same way He spoke the universe into creation. God created by His word; “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command [r], so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” (He 11:3) The Greek word “rhema” refers to the spoken word. The most used Greek translated “word” is “logos”. The difference in meaning is the whole revelation versus the specific revelation appropriate for the moment. “By that same word [logos] the creation is held together and will be destroyed.” [2Pt 3:5-7] He creates by His word, which is the general revelation of Him.
He uses His Word in our redemption. In purchasing us back, He draws us by His Word and we come to Him. The Word proclaims the good news of reconciliation with God by faith in Christ. Christ makes Himself known through His word. Jesus used the scriptures to reveal Himself to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Their hearts were heavy on the day of resurrection. They were giving up; in their mind, the movement was dead. They lament, “…but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21) At this point, they had a limited understanding, as did all disciples of Israel. Jesus had just redeemed His people from bondage to sin and death and they’re complaining about Rome. He came to conquer sin and death and they’re concerned about Caesar and soldiers. He came to set us free from hell and they want to be set free from taxes. Rather than consult the scriptures they listened to their fears. But, Jesus doesn’t let His followers go astray. He appears and does a Bible study! There is no miraculous intervention. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)
In the Lord’s work of renewing creation, He uses the Word to sanctify and perfect us into a reflection of His image. As Jesus is praying for His followers, He says, “I have given them your word [Logos]…Sanctify them by the truth; your word [L] is truth.” [John 17:14 + 17] The Word sets us free from the power of sin and death. The words of scripture have life and power in them. “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word [Logos] of God.” [1Peter 1:23] “For the word [l] of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart”. [He 4:12]
To the believer, the scripture is the final authority for both faith and practice. We consider that the Bible is infallible in the original texts and in proper context. “Every word of God is flawless.” [Proverbs 30:5] The foundational truths of the Bible are clear. Obscure passages are interpreted by more clear ones. You don’t have to be a scholar to understand the message of the Bible. Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” [Mt 11:25]
If we come to the scriptures with childlike faith, the Holy Spirit is faithful to illuminate the Word. Thus the priesthood of the individual believer is confirmed. But we are in dangerous territory if we ignore church tradition and the teaching of the elders. Our private interpretation is questionable when it flies in the face of church tradition. An example of such an error would be the widespread modern doctrine of cessation of the charismatic gifts.
The Holy Spirit illuminates the scripture and is thus referred to as the Teacher. “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (Jn. 14:26) In the believer’s life the scripture is a guide. It is important to test all things by the scripture. “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11) Jesus criticized the Saducees, who rejected portions of scripture. “Jesus replied, ‘Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?’” [Mark 12:24]
As believers we must understand that general revelation, the logos, supersedes and guides specific revelation. That is why we say that the Word is the final authority in practice. The Lord won’t grant specific revelation if we are not obeying the general revelation. The Quaker movement fell into a practice of “waiting on the Lord” for specific guidance in practice. This “stillness” became excessive. There are many practices that the Lord commands in general which do not necessitate waiting:
- be baptized
- go make disciples
- feed the hungry
- “preach the Word, be instant in season and out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.” [2 Tim 4:2]
For the believer, the Word of God is a source of restraint and protection. In this earthly existence we are in a spiritual war. Ephesians 6 teaches us that in order to stand we must consciously put on the whole armor of God. A part of that armor is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word [rhema] of God. That is a specific word that God speaks for the situation at hand.
Scriptures are a source of joy; they give us hope; “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” [Ro 15:4] The Word of God reveals the standard of conduct. It is the final authority not only in faith [doctrine] but in practice as well. Our attitude toward God’s Word should be willing and joyful obedience; “don’t be just hearers but do what it says.” [James 1:22] We must delight in it, receive it with humility and teach it to our children.
Revelation 19 reminds us that the renewal of creation requires the destruction of the remaining corrupted elements. Jesus is called Faithful and True, but His faithfulness is a double-edged sword; “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. 10 But those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction.” [ Dt 7:9] Jesus said that He is a sword that divides “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” [Mt 10:34]
Christ’s teachings and Revelation fly in face of the current culture of tolerance that looks upon the universal brotherhood of man. The Word of God is a sword that divides those who believe the Word and those who reject it. It divides those who look to Word as final authority and those who look to the philosophers of this world. Paul warned that false teachers would come and distort the Word of God leading people to hell and destruction. [2Tim 4:2-4]
“And I saw an angel come down from Heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him a thousand years. And he cast him into the abyss and shut him up and set a seal on him, that he should deceive the nations no more until the thousand years should be fulfilled. And after that he must be loosed a little time. And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the witness of Jesus and for the Word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast nor his image, nor had received his mark on their foreheads, nor in their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. The second death has no authority over these, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and will reign with Him a thousand years. And when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be loosed out of his prison. And he will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle. The number of them is as the sand of the sea. And they went up over the breadth of the earth and circled around the camp of the saints, and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of Heaven and devoured them. And the Devil who deceived them was cast into the Lake of Fire and Brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet were . And he will be tormented day and night forever and ever. And I saw a great white throne, and Him sitting on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And a place was not found for them. And I saw the dead, the small and the great, stand before God. And books were opened, and another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead in it. And death and hell delivered up the dead in them. And each one of them was judged according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the Lake of Fire. This is the second death. And if anyone was not found having been written in the Book of Life, he was cast into the Lake of Fire.”
This is a controversial chapter dealing with eschatology, the study of last things, and the resurrection of the dead. Differences of understanding shouldn’t divide the body. There are three major views on the millennium, or the thousand year reign of Christ on earth. Ephesians 1:10 refers to “the dispensation of the fullness of the times.”God dispenses grace and revelation in different ways at different stages of history. His manner of dispensing grace doesn’t change His character, standards or criteria for justifying man.
The amillenial view sees the thousand year reign as symbolic of the church age, so that the church is now ruling and reigning with Christ and the power of Satan is bound. To the amillenialist, the resurrection of Revelation 20 is symbolic of those who have been redeemed.
The classical premillenial view is that the “first resurrection” is a literal resurrection of the bodies of those who died with faith in Christ. The term in verse 5 refers back to those in v 4. The NIV writers, having a pre-tribulational bias, put verse 5 as parenthetical expression, not made in the original text. 1Thess 4 is clear that the dead in Christ rise first, before those who remain alive at the time of the Lord’s return. In the classical view this resurrection includes all of the dead in Christ. Interestingly, the oldest or classical interpretation of Christ’s second coming teaches that the resurrection of the dead in Christ and the catching up of all believers to meet Him in the air will be immediately followed by His return to earth to rule for a millenium. (see W. Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 1111)
The pre-tribulation dispensational view (also often associated with cessationism which promotes a separate Apostolic dispensation and the cessation of the charismatic gifts) teaches the idea of a rapture of the church before the Great Tribulation. This view practically makes Jesus into a polygamist, having two brides, the church and Israel. Accordingly, the Great Tribulation is considered a fulfillment of the “seventy weeks” prophesied in Daniel 9 and occurring after the rapture. The pre-tribulation theologian interprets the resurrection of Revelation 20 (where Tribulation saints are resurrected) as the “second stage” of the rapture. This pre-tribulation theology is relatively new in church history not being promoted until the 19th century. Dispensational doctrine did not gain acceptance among Protestants until after 1830 as a result of a prophecy by a woman named Margaret McDonald who spoke of a secret coming of Christ for His church before the tribulation. The doctrine was spread by Charles Darby [Plymouth Brethren] and popularized by Scofield.
Jesus spoke of His return in the Olivet discourse recorded in Mt. 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21. Jesus begins by issuing a warning: “don’t be deceived.” His disciples, along with most everyone of the time, were. They had assumed that the destruction of the temple that Jesus had just prophesied would occur in conjunction with the end of the age and the commencement of His earthly rule. They could not have been more deceived! The temple would be destroyed along with Jerusalem in 70 AD. We still await the end of the age and Christ’s return. Jesus gave a specific sign that the destruction of Jerusalem was about to take place. He called it the “abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel” (Mt. 24:14). In Luke 21:20, Jesus makes clear what He refers to, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.” He was referring to a prophecy in Daniel 9 that is frequently misinterpreted by dispensationalists. “Seventy ‘sevens’  are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy. ‘Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate. (NIV: “wing [of the temple]” NIV translators bracket this term because it is not in the original manuscript!”) he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.“ (Daniel 9:24-27, NIV)
We must understand that one of the major rules of biblical interpretation is that the New Testament interprets the Old. So if the New Testament explains what Jesus meant when He used the term “abomination of desolation,” then that has to be the meaning of the term in Daniel. In Luke 21:20 Jesus makes it clear that the abomination is pagan armies surrounding Jerusalem. Jesus was answering questions about the destruction of Jerusalem. It is clear that what was to become a desolation was Jerusalem.
The dispensational, futurist interpretation is that the term “abomination of desolation” refers to an idol being erected in a rebuilt Jewish temple by the anti-Christ. The word “temple” is not in the original language of Daniel 9:27!! In the original language the term “wing” in verse 27 refers to the wing of a bird or an army and is never used to refer to a wing of a building or temple. The NIV translation in this case is a severe and dishonest capitulation to Scofield theology by the translators. Jesus made it clear that the abomination was to be seen. It wouldn’t be seen in the temple, only the high priest would see it there. Jesus never mentions a future temple in this scripture. Be assured that if the Jews rebuild the temple prior to the return of Christ, it won’t be God’s temple. Believers in Christ are God’s temple today and forever. A rebuilt temple and animal sacrifices will be an abomination to God. Christ said, “it is finished.” The book of Hebrews makes it clear that “there no longer remains any sacrifice for sin.” (He 10:18)
All Christian theologians/historians agree that the first 69 weeks of Daniel’s prophecy were fulfilled up to the time of Christ. Dispensationalists put a 2000-year gap between the 69th and the 70th week. But, grammatically, the passage refers to a single unified period of time. Daniel 9:24-27 is a prophecy about Christ, not the anti-Christ. Jerusalem was restored. The streets were rebuilt in troubled times, the resistance mentioned by Ezra and Nehemiah. The Most Holy was anointed. The Most Holy is Jesus. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18) Dispensationalists say this refers to anointing of a future temple. Only God can anoint something as holy. God will not anoint a new temple for carnal sacrifice in conflict with the finished work of Christ.
An end of transgressions was made. Jesus cried, “it is finished.” It was finished at Calvary. Jesus came to save from sin. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He made an end of sins. He made reconciliation for iniquity. He brought in everlasting righteousness. The canon of scripture has been closed and Christ has fulfilled prophecy. The sealing up of vision and prophecy refers to Jesus fulfilling scripture.
Daniel 9:26 records that Messiah would be cut off after 69 weeks. That means He had to be killed in the 70th week. In fact, He was crucified after a three and one-half year ministry, or in the middle of a seven-year period. Daniel says, “He shall confirm the covenant with many for one week.” Dispensationalists say that “he” refers to the anti-Christ. The prophecy never mentions or refers to the anti-Christ. Grammatically, the pronoun “he” in v 27 must refer to Messiah. The scripture doesn’t say he made a covenant of seven-year duration, but that He would confirm it with Israel for 7 years. It doesn’t say that he would make a new covenant, as dispensationalists argue, but that He would “confirm the covenant”, referring to the everlasting covenant. Jesus confirmed the covenant through His sacrifice. He even said that His ministry was first directed to Daniel’s people. The word “confirm” could also be interpreted “prevailed with”; Jesus prevailed with Daniel’s people for three and one-half years. The Apostles, as Christ’s representatives, continued to preach to the Jews for the remaining three and one-half years. Luke 21 makes it clear that the “abomination that causes desolation” is Roman armies surrounding Jerusalem. The Lord’s prophecy of Jerusalem’s destruction is fulfilled! The tribulation of those days was indeed great. Over two million Jews killed. The “great tribulation” of those days was cut short as the Lord promised that it would be.
The classical, most prevalent, teaching of the church has been that believers will endure a time of tribulation when the anti-Christ persecutes the church. Nowhere in scripture is there given a seven year time period for this persecution. At the end of this time, Christ will return to rule on earth. As He returns, the dead in Christ will be raised first and then those of us who remain will be transformed and we shall all meet Him in the air. We shall immediately descend to earth with Him to conquer His enemies and rule for a thousand years.
One method for understanding the different dispensations of grace is to consider four different ways that God dealt with mankind, four being the biblical number of trial:
Face to face: Adam – Moses
Law without grace: Moses – Christ [national Israel as a fore shadow of the earthly rule of God] God at one stage in history of redemption re-conquered a portion of the earth from the powers of this world who claimed it for themselves, defending their claims by force. He gave notice of the outcome of history. He also showed that man with the revelation of the law, but without the Spirit of God is incapable of fulfilling God’s righteous rule.
Law and grace: Calvary – Millennium.
Our outlook and expectations have application for our present ministry. We should live as though we expect His immediate return. We should approach ministry and calling with faith. Faith is positive. We shouldn’t have a defeatist attitude, but must have a realistic understanding of the future so as not to be disappointed. Faith must be based on truth. So if we understand that last days will be dark times, we won’t lose heart. We should know that we are not going to usher in the complete rule of the kingdom without the coming of the King. We will reign with Him, not without Him. The Bible is clear that rebellion and the man of lawlessness will be revealed before Christ’s return [2Thess 2:3-4]. Our kingdom rule in this age is not of this world. We will not now rule with the rod. Nowhere does the Bible speak of believers ruling before His second coming. To the contrary, the Bible teaches us to be subject to rulers and authorities. The mistake of the Roman Church in the dark ages was to believe that they could rule without Christ’s bodily presence. The Roman Catholic Church was the most powerful political power, assuming earthly rule with the rod without the King on the throne. Their rule was presumptuous and a usurpation of His authority. The result was the rod fell into the hands of imperfect men and great injustice was done in the name of Christ. In history we see that God restrained this evil system until the Reformation. God even used the perversion of Islam to contain it. The Reformation was ordained of God to cleanse the church, not just someone rebelling and starting their own church.
Millennium: The ruling bodily presence of the risen Lord with His redeemed bride. Satan is bound and Christ is ruling and physically present. This binding of Satan is total, not to be confused with the spiritual disarming of this present evil age. The New Testament is still full of warnings to believers not to be deceived by the devil. In the millennium his binding will be temporarily full. This binding is like the coming of the kingdom, which comes in degrees. It is here but not yet in its fullness. Why will there be a literal millennium? It is a time for our rule and reign with Christ. Resurrected believers will rule over non resurrected unbelievers. Only 10 nations will come against the Lord at Armageddon. Not all unbelievers will die at Christ’s return to earth; they will continue to die through the millenial reign. With Satan bound, mankind will be able to fully live out the principles of faith promised in God’s law. All of God’s principles and promises will be fully effective on the earth. This is the fulfillment of the earthly kingdom described by Old Testament prophets. “The LORD will be king over the whole earth….Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. If any of the peoples of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, they will have no rain. [Zech 14:9 + 16-17] This Old Testament prophecy clearly reveals an earthly rule. We see that the Lord will be King over the whole earth, but disobedience and rebellion will still be present. Christ will rule with a rod of iron, which implies a rule of force over rebellious people. Christ does not rule by force now. Neither should the church.
We could say that the purpose of the millennial reign is to show the outworking of God’s grace and purposes in the structures of human society [family/ civil government]; that is, to prove His word is true. The vindication of God’s just judgment will be seen in the final rebellion of sinful man against the present Lord. They won’t be able to blame the devil, government or society. None will be able to blame bad parents, lack of good education or lack of good role models. All excuses will be eliminated. The final Satanic rebellion will be crushed.
I cannot fathom how mankind could rebel having a face to face, flesh and blood relationship with such a perfect, merciful, loving, all powerful, all knowing ruler. God’s mechanisms of dispensing grace reveal the justice and truthfulness of God. Men have sinned and rebelled under every dispensation or circumstance.
And so we are shown a picture of the great white throne judgment. There is symbolism displayed here. White signifies the holiness of the one on the throne and the perfect justice He is about to dispense. Earth and sky represent all of the powers of the natural world. All face judgment, both the living and the dead. The dead are those who are spiritually dead; never made alive in Christ. The living are those who trusted Christ and overcame sin, the world, the devil.
What is the basis for judgment? It is faith alone. “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” [Ro 1:17] The dead are judged by their works; works or deeds are evil. The living are judged by Christ’s work; what good we do we do through His power and presence in our lives.
What is the sentence? Literal heaven and hell await all. Jesus warned of being thrown bodily into hell. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” [Mt 10:28] Heaven is a literal place. Jesus rose bodily and sits at the right hand of the Father. He said, “I go to prepare a place.”
He will rule on this literal earth. At the end of these four dispensations of grace God will create a literal new heaven and earth.
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. And the sea no longer is. And I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of Heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her Husband. And I heard a great voice out of Heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away all tears from their eyes. And there will be no more death, nor mourning, nor crying out, nor will there be any more pain; for the first things passed away. And He sitting on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And He said to me, Write, for these words are true and faithful. And He said to me, It is done. I am the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who thirsts I will give of the fountain of the Water of Life freely. He who overcomes will inherit all things, and I will be his God, and he will be My son. But the fearful, and the unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, will have their part in the Lake burning with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. And one of the seven angels who had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, Come here, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of Heaven from God, having the glory of God. And its light was like a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. And it had a great and high wall, with twelve gates. And on the gates were twelve angels, and having names inscribed, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel: From the east three gates, from the north three gates, from the south three gates, and from the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And he who talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city and its gates and its wall. And the city lies four-square, and the length is as large as the breadth. And he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand stadia. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal. And he measured its wall, a hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel. And the foundation of its wall was jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. And the foundations of the wall of the city had been adorned with every precious stone. The first foundation, jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprasus; the eleventh, hyacinth; the twelfth, amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls. Respectively, each one of the gates was one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, as transparent glass. And I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty is its temple, even the Lamb. And the city had no need of the sun, nor of the moon, that they might shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it, and its lamp is the Lamb. And the nations of those who are saved will walk in the light of it; and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. And its gates may not be shut at all by day, for there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it.”
Here we see a future recreation. The old order won’t survive. Whatever can be shaken will be. Throughout the Bible the ultimate destiny of God’s people is an earthly destiny. Unlike the dualism of the Greek philosophers which sees all material things as evil, the Bible places man on a redeemed earth. The former things have passed away; there is no more fear, no more tears. There is a radical difference between the redeemed order and the old fallen order. Death the most fearful cause of tears is removed; the curse is lifted. The new creation is described “and there was no longer any sea.” Seas separated people and nations. He makes all things new. He is faithful to fulfill His promises. Contrary to external appearances, existence is not static. There will be salvation not just of spirit and soul but of the physical as well. The restoration of the material, physical realm is the culmination of the process of redemption that begins in the spirit. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” [2Cor 5:17]
In the new creation, God physically dwells with man. In this present evil age God dwells in His people by His Spirit. He cannot be seen, but must be apprehended by faith. Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see. The future is not uncertain to those who trust God. In the new order we will see Him face to face, direct fellowship as with Adam is restored.
Here we see the ending of what began in Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1. In Genesis 2 there are two trees in garden: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What is the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil? It is not losing innocence by gaining understanding. Adam and Eve knew what was right and what was wrong. This evil tree is the way of trying to find life, pleasure and fulfillment in things, either good or evil, apart from God. Adam and Eve believed the lie that they could be as God; all knowing, all sufficient. This tree is human pride and self reliance or self sufficiency. They are only forbidden to eat from the tree of self reliance which includes good and evil. God wanted them to live but they could only live by eating of the tree of life which is God. They were cursed because of their rebellion and forced to labor and be self reliant.God’s mercy made it possible for them to be born again and live. He made a covering for them. I believe He slew a lamb to point to Christ’s sacrifice for sin. He banished them from the garden in order that they might thirst for the tree of Life.
“The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil. And now lest he put forth his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’— therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the Garden of Eden He placed the cherubim and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.” [Gen 3:21-24]
The sword is the Word of God. It is not meant to keep the man from the tree of Life, but to point and guard his way to it. In verse 22 the word “lest” could be interpreted “that” “And now that he would put forth his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’—“
Those who have refused to partake of the tree of life have not the power to overcome the world, the flesh and the devil. They are evil by nature and cannot enter the new city but are forever tormented in the lake of fire.
God gives freely [to give freely is the definition of the Hebrew that we interpret “righteous”] to whoever thirsts. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled.” “but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” [Jn 4:14]
The gospel of John records a startling statement made by Jesus on the last day of the Feast of Booths. It was a customary ritual with all feasts to cleanse the altar with water drawn from the pool of Siloam. The water of cleansing and the wine of the drink offering were simultaneously poured out on the altar after a joyous procession waving palm branches. Then the people would rejoice and break out in instruments and sing the Hallel. “On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” [Jn 7:37-38] They would become like the waters in the pool of Siloam; a fresh healing spring. “This He spoke of the Holy Spirit which they that believe on Him should receive” [Jn 7;39] Jesus explained the significance of their biblical ritual and the mode of fulfillment was revealed.
The New Jerusalem is the Bride of Christ. The New City of God is symbolic as well as literal. In one sense it is transformed people who reflect the glory of God. In another, it is a literal place with real dimensions [1500 mi square]. We will have resurrected bodies; we will always be material as well as spiritual creatures therefore, we will need a material place to dwell. The foundations of the city are adorned with precious stones. These correspond to the twelve stones on the high priests breastplate that had the names of the twelve tribes written on them. Jesus is our high priest. We are precious to God. He carries us upon His heart. He intercedes for us. We each in different ways reflect His nature and beauty, but only as a whole. The High Priests breastplate is called the breastplate of judgment. He bore the judgment that we deserved.
There is no temple with restricted access in the New Jerusalem. Access to God is open. The foursquare dimensions are a reminder of the Holy of Holies. The city doesn’t need created light; His light is sufficient. We will walk in His light; walking in the truth. The city, the bride is holy and pure, set apart for God’s pleasure and use. “You [Christians] also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” [1Pt 2:5]
The new city of God, the Bride of Christ, reflects the glory of God; but how? We are to offer spiritual sacrifices[1Pt 2:5], but what are those? It is the fruit of lips that praise Him.“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” [1Pt 2:9] The psalmist calls us to delight ourselves in the Lord. In his great work, Desiring God, John Piper reminds us that delight is incomplete until it is expressed and that we delight to praise what we enjoy. The names of God speak of His praiseworthy attributes. He is Jehovah Jireh, our provider, Jehovah Rapha, our healer. Reflecting back to Him His glory and greatness gives Him pleasure and us fulfillment and life.
There is nothing impure in the Holy City. It is as clear as crystal. The word for jasper in John’s day could be used for any transparent precious jewel. The New Jerusalem is transparent like pure gold. Only what is totally pure and transparent can adequately reflect the beauty of God. We must learn to be pure and transparent here; we are being prepared now. This includes being in community with each other and with Christ and being self disclosing to each other. Christ reveals Himself to us, so why do we hold back from disclosing ourselves to Him and His body, His bride? Self disclosing transparency leads to purity and holiness. God calls us to confess our sins one to another that we might be healed. In the new order we shall be known even as we are. “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” [2Cor 3:16-18] The bride is prepared. We must be prepared; this is preparation time. We are adorned for Christ; it’s all about Him.
The cowardly are those who don’t have the courage to suffer tribulation, even death for Christ. We can only overcome by partaking of the fountain of the water of Life. This is an allusion to the Holy Spirit. We overcome and glorify Him, make Him known by letting His life proceed out of us. That happens as we become intimate with Him and delight in Him.
THE CRY OF GOD’S HEART; SHOULD BE THE CRY OF OUR HEARTS.
One word stands out: “come.” It is Christ’s call to all: “come to me.” The Spirit and the Bride say to Christ, “Come.” Jesus says, “I am coming soon” Many doubt that Christ is coming again. He knew that such unbelief would be prevalent in the last days. “First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, ‘Where is this Ôcoming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’…8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” [2 Pt 3:3-9]
In summary of Revelation and for that matter all of God’s Word there are four realities that we must acknowledge.
- God is first and last. He is before all things and beyond all things. “In the beginning God created….” “In the beginning was the Word.” People ask, “Is there a God?” His existence is commonly denied in our culture, but because of His love He reveals Himself. He says, “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony…” He goes to extreme lengths in His constant outreach. “For God so loved the world…”
- The judgment of God will come. “These words are trustworthy and true.” He will not break His promises. We have the assurance of the absolute authority and reliability of His word in a relativistic society. As a free gift of grace He has revealed Himself through His word and gives a warning in v 18-19 not to add to or subtract from His word. In spite of this clear warning, Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses and all cults claim to have extra biblical revelation from supposedly the same God. He is coming to judge us for our works/deeds. “I will give to everyone according to what he has done.” That’s bad news for many. Those who have faith in Him will inherit life in the eternal city. “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” They are separated from God in the lake of fire. They are there because they didn’t answer the invitation to come. In the parable of the wedding banquet, Jesus said that many were invited but few were chosen. Those who come are freely provided with His wedding garment/ His righteousness. We can’t come with any other garb. Judgment falls on those exposed by their rejection of His protection.
- The salvation of God has come. We are offered a free drink at heaven’s well. But, only the thirsty come. We are counseled by Jesus to seek first the kingdom of God. Those who have trusted in Him are those who are intimate with Him and yearn to see Him. “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” The cry of our hearts must be for Him to come; if not we’re loving the world. We must be as the deer panting for the refreshing, life giving water. And He responds: Come to me, “Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” The power to live, to obey is a free gift of grace that comes by faith which is itself a gift from God. John ends by praying that we would receive His grace. That is the only way that we can enter in and rule and reign with Him. Mankind only has two possible destinies. First, there is the destiny of this world and the system ruled by the devil. Babylon (false religion) is destroyed. The beast’s system is destroyed. The world’s value system says, “me first.” It exalts self and pride. “Might makes right, party until you’re obliterated, have free sex, there’s no absolute right and wrong, don’t judge, be tolerant [where tolerance means that all views are equally true].” The mark of the beast is his character and values inscribed on your soul. It engraves itself in you every time you concede to the world’s value system. The other destiny is the eternal city where the redeemed dwell with God in a pure environment absent the curse of death and the river of life proceeding from the throne [Lord] is the source of eternal life. Water symbolizes the Holy Spirit. It reminds us of Christ’s promise to the woman at the well in John chapter 4. The Tree of life [Christ] is in the midst of the river. Let’s not be slack in extending His invitation to come.
- That His coming is imminent He says, “Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book.” In the beginning of this Revelation Jesus promised a blessing to those who hear the words of this prophecy. Now a blessing is promised to those who hear and obey. James warns us not to be like one looking in a mirror and forgetting but to do what God’s word says. In verse 9 the angel tells John, “Worship God!’ David wrote that the Lord desires obedience rather than sacrifice. To worship is to love. To love is to obey. Obedience leads to life, as verse 14 continues, “that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.” Jesus ends His Revelation by emphasizing that He is coming soon. Our response should be “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” Is that the cry of your heart? What is your destiny?
 Acts 20:29
 Ephesians 3:18
 Mt 15:8
 Mt. 3:8
 Piper, John, Desiring God,
 Rom. 9:8
 Gal. 3:29
 Ro 2:28-29
 Phil 3:3
 Rev. 20:6
 Rev. 20:14-15
 Rev. 21:8
 Mt 10:28
 1Peter 1:7
 1Peter 3:10-12 quotes Ps 34:12-16
 1Peter 3:14
 Numbers 25:9
 Eph 5
 2Peter 1:4
 Romans 8:21-22
 1Cor. 6:18
 Eph 4:17-19
 2Peter 1:3-4
 1Cor 5:5
 1Cor 5:9-11
 1Kings 18:4
 Phil 2:9-11
 Matthew 1:21
 Rev. 19:16
 Rev. 14:1
 Matt. 16:19
 Ps. 2:1-12
 Gen. 1:26-28
 Mt. 5:3, NKJV.
 Ezek. 1:1-28
 Isaiah 6:1-5
 Rev. 6:15-17
 Rom. 12:1
 Woodrow, Ralph, Great Prophecies of the Bible, p. 145.
 Ibid., p.145
 mt. 24:37, NKJV.
 1Samuel 15:23, KJV
 John 2:1-11
 Haggai 2:9