There are two schools of thought with regard to dating the Revelation. The early date advocates believe it to have been written around 64 A.D. to 66 A.D. during the Neronian persecution. The late date group believe it to have been written during the time of Domitian in 94 A.D. to 96 A.D. Why is it of such importance as to when the time of its origin?
If you believe the Revelation to have been written early, then most of the prophecies probably deal with Nero’s persecution of the Christians and Jerusalem’s subsequent destruction. If, however, you adhere to a late date, then all the prophecies are to be fulfilled in the distant future.
The foundation for all late date advocates are to be found in a statement made by Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons. Irenaeus lived between A.D. 130-202. The writing of his in question was around A.D. 180-190. Specifically, Irenaeus made this controversial statement: “was seen no such long time ago, but almost in our own generation, at the end of the reign of Domitian.” The late date people say that Irenaeus was speaking of the Apocalypse when he referenced “was seen”. In other words, John wrote his vision during the period of Domitian’s reign.
The other testimonies of the Church Fathers for a late date merely reference Irenaeus’s statement. They offer no new independent authority. Eusebius and Jerome, in the fourth century, both quote Irenaeus for a Domitian date.
1. Those who maintain that the Apocalypse was written prior to 70 A.D., assert that the translational problem with Irenaeus’ statement is “very dubious”. Since it is admitted by all that Irenaeus tends to be a very obscure writer, the early date advocates insist that the phrase “was seen” did not refer to the vision, but to the Apostle John himself that was seen.
2. Although the late date advocates use Clement of Alexandria to support the Domitian date, Domitian’s name is not mentioned in the quote by Clement. Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 150-215) was the presbyter in the church of Alexandria. This is his statement: “…a true account of John the apostle that has been handed down and preserved in memory. When after the death of the tyrant he removed from the island of Patmos to Ephesus.” It is assumed by the late date group that the tyrant refers to Domitian. But the question remains as to who better fits this description, Nero or Domitian? I will give testimonies from 1st and 2nd century sources as to their thoughts on the “tyrant”. a. Pliny the Elder ( contemporary of Nero) described Nero as “the destroyer of the human race,” and “the poison of the world.” b. Apollonius of Tyana (b. 4 B.C.) said this about Nero: “but this beast, that is commonly called a Tyrant.” c. The Roman historian Tacitus (A.D. 56-117) spoke of Nero’s “cruel nature” that “put to death so many innocent men.” d. Suetonius (A.D. 70-130) speaks of Nero’s “cruelty of disposition” evidencing itself at an early age. e. Juvenal (c. A.D. 60-138) refers to “Nero’s cruel and bloody tyranny.” He speaks of Nero as a “cruel tyrant” when he tells about Nero’s sexual exploits with the handsome young men in his castle.
3. Further evidence from Clement for an early date is this statement concerning the time of the end of the inspired writings: “For the teaching of our Lord at His advent, beginning with Augustus and Tiberius, was completed in the middle of the times of Tiberius. And that of the apostles, embracing the ministry of Paul, ends with Nero.” It is plain that he holds that all revelation given through the apostles ceased under Nero. How could he have made this statement if John’s Revelation had been written about 25 years after Nero?
4. The Shepherd of Hermas was written in the A.D. 80’s. The obvious symbolism of the Apocalypse reappears in the Shepherd. The early Church did not esteem the writing as part of the canon. However, the implication is clear that the Revelation was written prior to that of the Shepherd of Hermas.
Most of the above documentation was taken from Kenneth Gentry’s excellent book, Before Jerusalem Fell. Also, much insight and material came from David Chilton’s notable book, The Days of Vengeance. The reader is encouraged to read both of these works for a more exhaustive account.
A quote from the learned Adam Clarke from his commentaries would be appropriate: “An explanation which is conformable to the present circumstances of the prophet, and of the people to whom he is sent, as well as to the nature of the things which he is called upon to say to them, is incomparably more probable than those explanations which go in quest of past or future events, which have no connection with the immediate circumstances of the prophet or to his hearers.” With this premise in mind, we will endeavor to ascertain what John has to reveal in his apocalypse.
Verses 1-3. The book starts with this introduction “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” The word “revelation” literally means to unveil. Thus, this vision given to John was meant to be understood. To its first century readers, its symbolism was understood and known. Therefore, if we today hope to learn from its words and visions, then we must put on our “first century glasses.” With that in mind, let’s see what message Jesus had to give John. John begins his book with the thought of imminence. He uses such phrases as “shortly come to pass” and “time is at hand.” If we adhere to the natural mechanics of language, then we must assume that the prophecy relates to events that were to soon take place. To demonstrate the validity of this, one but needs to see how this word is used in the following passages: Acts 25:4, 1 Cor. 4:19, Phil. 2:19, Heb. 13:23, Phil. 2:24, 1 Tim. 3:14, 2 Tim. 4:9 and 2 Pet. 1:14. It is no accident that John ends his book with this same thought. In 22:6, we find the phrase “must shortly be done.” Notice, too, Rev. 22:10: “And he saith unto me, seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand.” This is quite different to what the angel told Daniel in Dan. 8:26 and Dan. 12:4,9. The prophecies which were given to Daniel in these two contexts relate to many years from Daniel’s time, even “till the time of the end.” That is why the angel told Daniel to “shut up the words, and seal the book.”
Verses 4-6. Here, John specifically addresses his apocalypse to the “seven churches which are in Asia.” That these were real, historical churches there can be no doubt. Sir William Ramsay, in his classic work, explains that these seven cities were the seven postal districts in Asia as designated by Rome. Consequently, the letters could be sent to each in their circuitous route and, of course, be distributed to all other cities of Asia. Although, written to these churches, its words of warning, admonition and comfort were to be read and cherished by Christians throughout history.
The “seven Spirits” refers to God’s seven-fold fullness. This can further be seen in Rev. 4:5 where the vision of the throne reveals the “seven lamps” which “are the seven Spirits of God.” The number “seven” in Scripture always denotes fullness, perfection and completion. Also, in Rev. 5:6, the Lamb is said to have “seven horns” (all strength and power) and “seven eyes” which are “the seven Spirits of God.” Col. 1:19 says “For it pleased the Father that in him (Christ) should all fullness dwell.”
Because of Jesus’ resurrection (first begotten of the dead), he has redeemed us and “made us kings and priests”. This speaks of a present reigning with Christ in his kingdom. Notice Col. 1:13: “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.” Verses 7-8. I believe verse 7 is crucial to the understanding and interpretation of the entire book of Revelation. Therefore, I will quote it.
“Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him; and all kindreds (tribes) of the earth (land) shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.”
This quote ends with a double affirmation and solemnity to it. So means: verily, truly, assuredly and even so. Amen means: so it is, so be it and may it be fulfilled. What is it that John so intently is affirming? This verse is very reminiscent of Matt. 24:30.
“And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
This verse is taken from the famous Olivet Discourse where the disciples had asked the question, “when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world.” The disciples asked this in response to Jesus stating that the temple and Jerusalem would be destroyed. To the disciples, the destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem must be one and the same event as the end of the world and Jesus’ second coming. Jesus proceeds to give a detailed account of the events that would lead up to this judgment on the Jewish nation. He ends this portion of his discourse in verse 34 where he states, “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” This coincides with the passage in Luke 11:45-51. In verse 50 of this passage, Jesus proclaims
“That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation.”
There are those who try and say that “generation” means the race of Jews. However, when Jesus prefaces it with the word “this”, then language permits no other meaning but to those then living. Another solemn passage that refers to this judgment of Israel is found in Matt. 23:37-38.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathered her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.”
Matt. 26:64 gives us further insight into Jesus’ use of the phrase “cometh with clouds.” In this passage, Jesus replies to the high priest as to his Divinity.
“Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”
As a matter of history, this high priest was still living in 70 A.D. when Jesus came in judgment to Jerusalem. After Jesus gave the disciples specific signs of his coming in judgment to Jerusalem, he then addresses their question as to when was his second coming. Notice the transition verse 36: “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” He then likens his second coming with the judgment of the world during Noah’s time. The judgment to Israel came in 70 A.D.; the judgment of the rest of the world will come at his second coming.
Even Paul hints of this coming judgment upon Israel in 1 Thess. 2:16.
“Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins always: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.”
We will now return to Rev. 1:7 and consider other aspects of this passage. To the first century reader, the phrase “cometh with clouds” brought with it a connotation of judgment. In proclaiming the coming judgment upon Egypt, Isaiah writes in 19:1, “The burden of Egypt. Behold, the LORD rideth upon a swift cloud.” Notice Joel 2:1-2. “…for the day of the LORD cometh, for it is nigh at hand; A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds.” The word “kindreds” is the same word for “tribes”, obviously referring to the tribes of Israel. Although earth may mean no particular land, in this verse, it definitely speaks about only one land, i.e., Israel. P.S. Desprez in his book has this to say about this phrase, “Then they have, and can have, only one meaning; then they refer only to one land and to one people, and this land and this people must be the land and the people of Judea.”
In conclusion, I believe this verse, Rev. 1:7, sets the stage for the events that are about to unfold. It encompasses the coming of Christ in judgment with the destruction of Jerusalem and the close of the Jewish dispensation.
Verses 9-11. Here, John empathizes with the churches in Asia by saying that, he too, has suffered in this present time of persecution for the cause of Christ. Using today’s vernacular, John was telling them that, “I feel your pain.” Tertullian, early church father of the second century, records that John was boiled in oil and was not hurt, and, subsequently was exiled to Patmos. He also alludes to the fact that this happened to John during the same period of time in which both Peter and Paul were martyred, notably, during the Neronian persecution in 64-68 A.D. By saying that he was “in the Spirit”, he was affirming that what he is about to declare is inspired. John hears a “great voice” that instructs him to relate his visions that he is about to receive to the churches in Asia. Verses 12-20. In the vision before us, John sees Christ standing “in the midst” of the seven golden candlesticks representing the seven churches. Notice, that he is not far off but even in their midst. Jesus is assuring them that even in their tribulation he is with them and in control. He is shown in his priestly garments thereby expressing his role as mediator. Notice Hebrews 4:14.
“Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.”
In his hand, Jesus holds the seven stars which are the seven angels. The word “angels” merely means “messengers” or those who “bring tidings.” It could either refer to angels from God or ministers of the Gospel. In the context, the angels are the pastors of the churches. See Hag.1:13, Mal.2:7 and Rom.10:15. In verse 16, we see that Christ is in complete control with the holding of the stars “in his right hand.” The right hand denotes strength as does his countenance. Out of his mouth proceeds the Word of God (Heb.4:12).
In these two chapters, we find the actual messages to the churches of Asia.
Church of Ephesus - It is by no accident that Ephesus is named first since it was the closest city to that of Patmos. Also, it was John’s own city in which he lived. Ephesus was famous and even infamous in many ways. In it was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, notably, the Temple of Diana. The temple was 220 ft. by 425 ft. and contained 127 white marble columns that were 62 ft. in height. Read Acts 19:24-35 for a little back-ground information regarding the importance of this shrine to those living in Ephesus and even to all of Asia. To those of the first century, Ephesus was known as the “First and Greatest City of Asia.” Sadly, though, it was also known as the “Highway of the Martyrs.” It was from Ephesus that the Christians from Asia were gathered and then shipped on to Rome for martyrdom.
Since John resided there, the church in Ephesus was doctrinally sound as we can see from what is said in verses 2, 3 and 6. However, they had left their “first love.” What was this first love? In Eph.1:15 we can get a glimpse of what is meant. “Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints.” Because of their faith in Christ, they demonstrated this by their love to the saints. The importance of this “first love” can further be seen in the following passages: Eph.4:32; Eph.5:1,2; Eph.4:2 and I John 4:20. Could it be that in their zeal to be doctrinally sound they had become cynical and thus callous in their dealings with others? Of course, one’s vertical relationship becomes tarnished when his horizontal relationship is damaged. The solution: repent and “do the first works” (works of love).
The promise: “to him that overcometh” will eat of the “tree of life.”Church of Smyrna - The church in Smyrna had two major obstacles to overcome. First, the people of the city were strongly devoted to the Emperor cult; and, second, Smyrna had a large population of Jews who were hostile to the Christian faith. Unlike the church of Laodicea who thought that they were “rich…and had need of nothing,” the church of Smyrna esteemed themselves “poor.” Jesus, however, told them that they were “rich.” They were rich in faith and in those qualities that last throughout eternity. Jesus recognizes the source of much of their tribulation, that is, the reprobate Jews who, in reality, were but the “synagogue of Satan.” See Romans 2:28-29. They are told that they must endure tribulation “ten days.” Ten in Scripture denotes a finite, definite time. It also carries with it the connotation of frequency. Refer to the following passages for this point: Gen.24:55; Gen.31:7,41; Num.14:22; Neh.4:12; and Dan.1:20.
The message to this church carries with it no warning and, consequently, no solution but only a promise. He tells them to be “faithful until death” and he would give them a “crown of life.” Church of Pergamos. The city was famous for its invention of parchment and was known to have the second largest library in the ancient world.
Since Pergamos was the capital of the province, it boasted of its magnificent temples dedicated to Caesar worship. Thus, it was in Pergamos where the church would most likely clash with the imperial cult. In speaking of the Nicolaitanes, Ignatius records that they were lovers of pleasure. This laxity toward paganism had a disastrous impact upon the church. Although there were those who had not denied the faith and kept the name of Christ, there were others who were being influenced by the “doctrine of Balaam.” What was this doctrine? See Numbers 25:1. Before I explain this, I must first tell of what else Pergamos had to offer its citizens. It had one of the largest agoras (marketplaces) in Asia. It had a three-story agora. However, since the city was a center for imperial worship, in order to buy or sell in the marketplace, one must first offer incense to Caesar, an obvious act of worship. There were some in the church who undoubtedly taught that it was okay to do this since it was only a formality with no substance. In so doing, they would then be able to shop in the agora. Another pertinent aspect of Pergamos was the Acropolis, a 10,000 seat temple of Dionysus, the god of wine and orgy. Before all of the performances, someone would come out and proclaim, “Whatever we do here, we do it in the name of Dionysus and to Caesar.” This, of course, would be the perversion of what is stated in Col.3:17: “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.”
In conjunction with the Temple was the vomitorium. After the spectators had gorged with food and wine, they
here to relieve themselves in order to return and continue with their indulgences. The “performances” included
orgies in which even the spectators could participate. No wonder it was said in verse 13 that Pergamos was where
The solution: repent!
The promise: “to him that overcometh” will receive “hidden manna.” He was also promised “a new name” in which only he would know. This act speaks of the over-comer as being “special” in the eyes of God. If God even calls the stars by name, then how much more special are those who overcome.
Church of Thyatira - The city of Thyatira was famous for its purple dye (see Acts 16:14) and also being the center for the trade guilds. As with other Asian cities, Thyatira was proud of its Emperor worship. Many of the buildings had engravings that bore this epitaph, “Caesar, Son of Zeus.” Before the Roman conquest, the patron god of Thyatira was Tyrimnos, the son of Zeus. However, after the conquest, Caesar was integrated with the worship of Tyrimnos and, consequently, shared the honor as the patron god of Thyatira. In order to be a member of a guild, a person had to give honor and worship to its patron god. Again, we see how compromise had an adverse impact on the church. The “Jezebel” (I Kings 21:25; 2 Kings 9:22) of the Thyatiran church was instrumental in leading many astray with her teachings of compromise. David Chilton in his book had this to say, “Any Christian who worked in a craft or trade was thus presented with severe problems: his faithfulness to Christ, his livelihood, and his ability to feed his family.”
The solution: repent and “hold fast till I come.”
The promise: “he that overcometh” will receive the “power over the nations.” Thyatira was considered the weakest and most vulnerable of the seven cities. Yet, to the overcomer, will be given rule over the nations.
Church of Sardis - At one time, Sardis was considered impregnable. However, although it had natural, physical fortresses, it was conquered twice. This was due to it not being vigilant in the face of its enemies, relying solely on its natural defenses. In A.D. 17, Sardis was destroyed and only partially rebuilt. It had a glorious past, but now was now only a mediocre and lackluster city. This history of Sardis is alluded to when it was said, “I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.” The spiritual condition of the church reflected the city’s historical past. The church is warned to not be careless and apathetic as the city’s history illustrates, but instead, to “watch” and be diligent. In verse 4 it says that there are a few who “have not defiled their garments.” This, too, is an allusion. Sardis had a large textile industry.
The solution: “repent” and “hold fast.”
The promise: to him that “overcometh” will receive “white raiment” and his name will not be blotted out of “the book of life.” Read Eze.33:13; Ex.32:33; Eze.18:24-27.
Church of Philadelphia - Like Smyrna, Philadelphia did not receive any admonitions or warnings. They also had the same antagonists who caused them grief. These were none other than the Jews which were of the “synagogue of Satan.” Their usual tactics was to report to the Roman authorities those Christians who would not render to Caesar due worship and honor. Consequently, they suffered much tribulation and anguish.
Although the church suffered persecution from the Jews, they still tried to fulfill their missionary call. We see this from Jesus telling them that he will set before them an “open door.” That the “open door” refers to missionary efforts is seen from the following passages:
I Cor.16:9. “For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.”
II Cor.2:12. “Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord.”
Col.4:3. “Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds.”
Jesus promises the church in Philadelphia that he would keep them from “the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” How will he “keep” them? Notice I Cor.10:13.
“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
The word “world” is a compound word, and, according to Strong’s is used to refer to the Roman Empire. The “earth” is usually referencing “the land”, that is, the land of Judea. Although the Roman’s wrath was focused primarily on Jerusalem, it had reverberations throughout the Empire.
When the Christians left Jerusalem prior to 70 A.D., the Jews were furious that they would not aid in their revolt against Rome and in the defense of Jerusalem. Consequently, throughout the Empire and especially in Asia, the Jews oppressed the Christians. Through it all, the church is promised a “crown” if they would but “hold fast.” In James 1:12 we read:
“Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.”
The promise: he “that overcometh” will become a “pillar in the temple of God.” Compare Rev.21:9-12 and Heb.12:22,23. Church of Laodicea. The city of Laodicea was well known for its wealth. When many of the cities of Asia suffered an earthquake in 60 A.D., Rome offered public assistance to help rebuild. Laodicea prided itself in its wealth and self-reliance, consequently, it refused the offer from Rome for funds to rebuild. Although the church thought that they were “rich and had need of nothing,” Jesus tells them that they were “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” These are strong words that described the church’s spiritual condition. Christ admonishes them to “buy of him” true riches and “eye salve” that they may see. Laodicea was famous in the Ancient world for its medicinal eye salve. Its present condition resulted from it becoming “lukewarm.” Laodicea received its water supply from a river that was derived from two sources. Twelve miles east of Laodicea was Colosse which was known for its cold snow-melt waters from its nearby mountains. Seven miles north of Laodicea was Heirapolis famous for its hot mineral springs. Both of these water sources fed into one stream before reaching Laodicea. However, before reaching the city, the waters lost both rich qualities and became “lukewarm.”
The solution: repent.
The promise: “to him that overcometh” Christ will “grant to sit with him in his throne.”
Verses 1-5. After the vision to the Churches, John’s attention is drawn to an open door in heaven. John then hears the same voice as the one he heard in Rev.1:10 which is none other than Christ himself. Jesus invites John to “Come up hither,” that is, to heaven for the purpose of showing John “things which must be hereafter.” John is to witness future events from God’s perspective. God is going to pull back the curtain in order for John to view what is really transpiring in the spiritual world. This is reminiscent of what happened to Elisha’s servant in 2 Kings 6:17. “And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountains was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” There are those who maintain that the phrase, “come up hither,” symbolizes the rapture of the Church and all subsequent visions relate to those events between the “rapture” and the “second coming.” This is a forced interpretation and violates all known rules of hermeneutics (rules for interpreting Scripture). If we were to use this line of logic, then we must allow for another rapture since the “two witnesses” were told to “Come up hither” in Rev.11:12.
This whole vision in chapter 4 is but a glorious scene of God’s throne-room. Continuing with the thought in Rev.1:10, John states he was “in the spirit.” The words and visions which he received and experienced were not through the natural man but relegated through his spirit man. A similar thing happened to Paul as he describes it in 2 Cor.12:2-4.
“I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”
The vision that John sees here has many of the same elements that we find in Ezekiel’s vision in chapters 1 and 10 of his book:
In describing the one who sat on the throne, John uses the characteristics of two stones, a jasper and a sardius. In Exodus 28:17-20, we find that on the High Priest’s breastplate of judgment were twelve stones for each tribe of Israel. It began with the sardius and ended with the jasper. The sardius stone was a red stone and symbolized blood. The jasper was a type of quartz and symbolized purity or righteousness. The stone’s positions are reversed in John’s vision in relation to their order on the High Priest’s breastplate of judgment. In the vision before us, the one who sat upon the throne was compared to that of a “jasper.” To get insight and clarification, we need to look at Rev.21:11.
“Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.”
Here we find that the one aspect that is stressed for the one who sat on the throne was his purity and his holiness. Next, he is described as a sardius stone. Although John now sees Christ in his glory, Jesus had to first endure the Cross. John notices something else about the throne, it is surrounded by a rainbow. Just as God had promised Noah in Gen.9:12-13, his rainbow would be a “perpetual” sign of his covenant with man. Also, John notices that seated all around God’s throne were twenty-four elders who sat on their own thrones. Who are these elders? Many believe that they are angels. However, angels are never represented as wearing crowns. These can only represent both Old Testament saints and New Testament saints (the 12 tribes and the 12 apostles).
Finally, in verse 5, we view God in his omnipotence and his omnipresence. The “lightnings and thunderings” denote his being omnipotent (all-powerful). The “seven spirits” portrays God’s fullness, that is, his omnipresence.
Verses 6-9. Before God’s throne, John sees a “sea of glass.” This glass is transparent and becomes the floor of the throne-room. In Ezekiel’s vision in both chapters 1 and 10, the living creatures had four wings each and Ezekiel called them “cherubims.” However, these cherubims were below the “firmament” (sea of glass). Isaiah in Isa. 6:1-3, records something similar, yet, different.
“In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.”
In Isaiah’s vision, the faces of the seraphims are not described although they do have six wings as did the living creatures in John’s vision. Note, also, that the seraphims are seen above the throne-room floor similar to John’s vision. What can we make of these blendings of visions? Although both cherubims and seraphims seem to represent the entirety of God’s creation with regard to their faces, their functions appear to be different. In reading Ezekiel, the cherubims are used to administer God’s judgment and justice on the wicked. However, in both Isaiah and Revelation, the seraphims serve to represent God’s creation in praise to their Creator.
Verses 10-11. After the living creatures gave praise to the one sitting on the throne, the twenty-four elders did likewise by falling down and casting their crowns down in honor of the one on the throne. What they had to say sums up the purpose of the vision. “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” The cherubims, seraphims and the twenty-four elders all have but one purpose, and, that is to serve God and give him praise. In Col.1:16, we again see this thought and purpose illustrated. “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him.”
Verses 1-7. John notices that the One who sat on the throne held a book in his right hand that was “written within and on the backside.” In other words, the book was full. Again, Ezekiel shares a very similar vision in Eze.2:9-10.
“And when I looked, behold, an hand was sent unto me; and, lo, a roll of a book was therein; And he spread it before me; and it was written within and without: and there was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe.”
In the vision to Ezekiel, the book represented God’s judgments upon Israel. So it is with John’s vision. Because Israel’s sins were full (IThess.2:16), God’s “wrath” and judgments were about to be unleashed.
John weeps because no one is found worthy to open the book and to “loose the seals.” By this is meant that no one is found suitable to administer the judgments. However, John is soon comforted by one of the elders. The One found worthy is none other than Christ, the slain Lamb, who now has all power and authority (seven horns) and is omnipresent and omniscient (seven eyes-see Zech.4:10) which will loose the seals of judgment. In Acts 10:42 we read: “And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead.” Verse seven brings us back to Rev.1:1 where we see God giving the book of Revelation (judgments) to Jesus in order that he may, in turn, reveal them to John.
Verses 8-10. After the slain Lamb had taken the book from Him who sat on the throne, the twenty-four elders prostrated themselves before the Lamb. What prompted them to do this at this particular moment? Could it be that it was because now would be the time for answering the saints prayers contained in their vials? I believe that the prayers of the saints are found in Rev.6:9-10. “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” The twenty-four elders now explain to John why the Lamb was found worthy to open the book: “for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God…and made us unto our God kings and priests.”
Again, this thought has already been expressed in Rev.1:5,6:
“…Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”
Notice what Peter says in Acts 2:36 about this exalted Christ:
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
Because of what Christ had done, the elders with their harps could now sing a new song, the song of redemption. Verses 11-14. This chapter concludes in the same manner as the previous chapter, that is, in praise. However, in chapter 4 the praise was directed only to the One on the throne. Whereas, here, praise and honor is given to the “Lamb” and to “him that sitteth upon the throne.” Also, in addition to the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures, we now see an innumerable host of angels all giving praise to the Father and the Son. In agreement with this is John 5:23, “that all should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father…”
Verses 1-2. In this chapter, we find six of the seals are opened. It is also the chapter of the famous “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” After the first seal was opened, John sees a man on a white horse that “went forth conquering, and to conquer.” Some commentators view the first horseman to be the Antichrist, while others believe him to be Christ. What do we really know of this mystery rider? Obviously, the first rider is preeminent in that he is the first of the riders. I believe that with the coming demise of the Jewish dispensation at the destruction of Jerusalem, the Gospel was spread to the ends of the earth even in the face of persecution. We see this truth in Dan.2:34,35.
“Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces…and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.”
Notice that a crown was “given unto him.” This probably refers to the victor’s crown. (see 2 Tim.4:8, James 1:12, 1 Pet.5:4, and Rev.2:10). Compare this to the rider in Rev.19:11,12.
“And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.”
David was both a prophet and a king. In the Psalms you will find many Messianic prophecies. Notice what David says in Psalms 45:3-6 about the coming Christ and His kingdom.
“Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty. And in thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness; and thy right hand shall teach thee terrible things. Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; whereby the people fall under thee. Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre. Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.”
I believe the rider on the white horse to be Christ and is representative of the spread of Christianity. Even during their darkest hour, the faithful saints are given hope that they shall eventually prevail.
Verses 3-8. These verses reveal the punitive seals. The second, third and fourth seals portray a red horse, a black horse and a pale horse, respectively. They each represent God’s judgments against Israel which are the sword, famine and death. Death comes in the form of pestilences and wild beasts. In describing events that would lead up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., Jesus had these words to say in Luke 21:10,11,22,23.
“Then said he unto them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven…For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled…and wrath upon this people.”
To better understand how God uses these very judgments to bring about his Divine Will, one needs to read Eze.14:13-21.
“Son of man, when the land sinneth against me by trespassing grievously, then will I stretch out mine hand upon it, and will break the staff of the bread thereof, and will send famine upon it, and will cut off man and beast from it; Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord God. If I cause noisome beasts to pass through the land, and they spoil it, so that it be desolate, that no man may pass through because of the beasts: Though these three men were in it, as I live, saith the Lord God, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters; they only shall be delivered, but the land shall be desolate. Or if I bring a sword upon that land, and say, Sword, go through the land; so that I cut off man and beast from it: …Or if I send a pestilence into that land, and pour out my fury upon it in blood, to cut off from it man and beast: …For thus saith the Lord God; How much more when I send my four sore judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast?” In agreement with this is Eze.6:11. “…Alas for all the evil abominations of the house of Israel! For they shall fall by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence.”
Verses 9-11. When the fifth seal had opened, John witnesses a very sobering scene. He views the souls of the martyr’s “under the altar” crying out for God to avenge them. They were all given white robes and were told that they must wait “a little season.” Their souls were seen under the altar because that is where the blood flowed when the sacrifices were slain upon the altar. Even as the voice of Abel’s blood cried out to God for justice (Gen.4:10), so too does the blood of those “slain for the word of God” cry out to God.
Verses 12-14. The sixth seal is what culminates from the punitive seals (seals of judgment). In other words, it is the end result of what happens to Israel after God’s judging them for their sins. The Scripture uses very expressive language in describing the end of the Jewish dispensation. Its center of worship and the symbol for its existence, that is, the temple is on the brink of destruction. John describes this historical moment with such expressive phrases as: “sun became black as sackcloth”, “moon became as blood”, “stars of heaven fell”, and the “heaven departed as a scroll.” John merely uses imagery that we find elsewhere in Scripture. Notice the following passages that describe the fall, demise or judgment upon nations.
“Son of man, take up a lamentation for Pharaoh king of Egypt…And when I shall put thee out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee, and set darkness upon thy land, saith the Lord God.” (Eze.32:2,7,8)
“And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll; and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree… The sword of the LORD is filled with blood…and a great slaughter in the land of Idumea (Edom)… For it is the day of the LORD’s vengeance…” (Isa.34:4,6,8)
“Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate… For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine… Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the LORD of hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger… Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them… And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldee’s excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.” (Isa.13:9,10,13,17,19)
Verses 15-17. All who dwell in the land cry out to the mountains to hide them from the “wrath of the Lamb.” These same words are found in Luke 23:28-30 when Jesus told the women who were weeping for him as he was on his way to Calvary’s cross. Notice, too, that Jesus told them that the future calamity coming upon Jerusalem would come even within their lifetime and that of their children. It did come upon them in 70 A.D.
“But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Fall on us.”
Notice, too, what is said in Hos.10:8.
“The high places also of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed: the thorn and the thistle shall come up on their altars; and they shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Fall on us.”
Who are the “they” in these verses? Just as it is in Rev.6:16, it is the “wicked” that cry out for the hills and mountains to hide them from the Judge of the Earth.
Verses 1-4. Before the seventh seal is opened, something very important must be done first, that is, the sealing of the saints. John sees four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the “four winds.” These are punitive winds, that is, winds of judgment. The angels are instructed to not unleash the winds until “we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.” Also, John hears the number of those that were sealed, an hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of Israel.
There are three things we need to consider in this passage:
Sealing of the saints. During another time when God was about to administer judgment to a disobedient Israel, he “seals” his people.
“And the LORD said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof. Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark…” (Eze.9:4,6)
Notice, especially, what Paul writes in 2 Tim.2:19.
“Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are his. And, let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”
Read also Eph.1:13; Eph.4:30; and 2 Cor.1:22.
I would like to make a clarification at this point. There are many who believe that God will deliver (seal) believers from tribulation. However, one must distinguish between “tribulation” and “wrath”. The former refers to the righteous being persecuted by the unrighteous, while the latter refers to God’s judgment on the ungodly. The Scripture says this about God’s wrath. “And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess.1:10). This is quite different as to what Jesus has to say about tribulation in John 16:33.
“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
To sum it up, the “sealing of the saints”, in this passage, refers to God keeping the saints safe while he executes judgment on the wicked. This was historically fulfilled when, after Cestius had besieged Jerusalem and later pulled his army back, all Christians left the city. This was because they heeded the words of Christ in Matt.24:15,16. According to the records of the early Church fathers, there were no Christians left in Jerusalem during its destruction of 70 A.D.
The 144,000. Is this a literal, actual number of saints saved from each tribe? Obviously, it is not for several reasons. First, one of the tribes is omitted, Dan. Instead, we find the “tribe of Manasseh” listed. So, Joseph is given preferred status in that he and one of his sons (Manasseh) are listed (see Gen.49 for a list of the tribes). Consequently, the names of these “tribes” must represent something else. If the names represent something else, then the number of those sealed from each tribe must represent something else. What could that something else be? The number 144,000 can be broken down in the following manner: 12 X 12 X 10 X 10 X 10.
Let’s consider the 12 times 12 first. To understand the significance of this combination of twelves, one must view it with the background of these verses.
“And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel; And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And he measured the wall thereof, and hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel.” (Rev.21:12,14,17)
So, we see that this figure is representative of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles, which in turn, represent the Church (both believing Jew and Gentile).
Next, we must examine the 10 times 10 times 10, which is ten cubed. In 1 Kings 6:20 we find that the Holy of Holies in the temple was 20 cubits cubed. The concept of being cubed represented perfection. The number 10 in the Bible carried with it the idea of completeness. In Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6&7), we see this number in many of its sacred furnishings. The cherubims were ten cubits high; the molten sea was ten cubits in diameter; it also had ten bases of brass; there were ten lavers; and, there were ten golden candlesticks. Also, in the New Testament, we find ten virgins, ten talents, ten pieces of silver, ten cities, and many more examples could be given.
Tribes of Israel. Remember that the book of Revelation was addressed to the “seven churches in Asia.” The churches were composed of both converted Jews and Gentiles. Although they were exempt (sealed) from the “wrath” of God, they still had to endure “tribulations.” This is further expressed in the rest of this chapter. So, who are the “tribes of Israel?” They are the Church, both Jew and Gentile. In Gal.6:16, Paul refers to the Church as the “Israel of God.” This truth is found in Rom.2:28,29; Rom.9:6-8; Rom.9:22-24; and, especially in Rom.11:25,26.
Verses 5-8. We have already explained the significance of the tribes and the number of them that were sealed. However, I would like to point out that the first tribe listed is that of Judah. Judah is listed before Rueben, who was the eldest, because it was from Judah that the Messiah descended.
Verses 9-17. In this next scene, John sees the tribulation saints, “nations” (Gentiles) and “kindreds” (tribes/Jews) clothed with white robes. The chapter ends the same way as chapter 4 and chapter 5, that is, with praise. Again, there is an addition made to this company that renders praise and honor to “our God…and unto the Lamb” (the Father and the Son). Of course, that addition is the tribulation saints.
Verses 1-5. The seventh seal introduces the seven trumpets. However, immediately after he opens the seventh seal, there is a silence in heaven for about a half hour. There is a definite significance about this short period of silence. What caused all of heaven to be silent for this brief space of time? Undoubtedly, it had to do with what the trumpets were about to announce.
I believe that the sounding of the seven trumpets is used to reinforce the message of the seven seals. As a point of fact, the trumpets served to illuminate the details of the judgment message of the seven seals. With this premise in mind, then, the “silence in heaven” denoted the awesome finality of the end of the Jewish dispensation and of the Mosaic covenant with its Temple ritualism. Those were but shadows of the One who fulfilled all the Law and the symbolism of the Temple and its sacrifices. The following passages speak to this passing of the old covenant and the establishment of the new covenant.
“No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse. Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.” (Matt.9:16,17)
“In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.” (Heb.8:13)
Heaven stands in awe and reverence before the Judge of the Earth as he is about to administer judgment to an apostate Israel. Notice the words of Zephaniah as he prophesies about the coming judgment of Judah.
“Hold thy peace at the presence of the Lord GOD; for the day of the LORD is at hand… That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation… A day of the trumpet and alarm…” (Zeph.1:7,15,16)
God tells Zephaniah to be silent as he witnesses the “day of the Lord”, “the day of wrath”, and the “day of the trumpet.” As the Zephaniah text states, the sounding of the trumpet was to warn the inhabitants of imminent danger. Of course, the danger spoken of in Zephaniah was the coming of God’s judgment on Judah. In similar fashion, the sounding of the seven trumpets in Revelation warned and introduced the coming “wrath” of God.
John speaks of “the seven angels which stood before God” as if this fact were known to his hearers. In fact, in the writings of the apocrypha and in Jewish teachings, there is reference to “seven angels” which do stand before God. These are probably the same seven angels holding the vials of plagues (wrath) which we see in Rev. 15 and 16. After the introduction of these seven angels, another angel appears on the scene. Notice carefully what actions this angel takes. First, he takes a censer with incense, and, mixing it with the “prayers of the saints”, proceeds to offer it before God on the golden altar which was before the throne. In order to offer it to God, he must first fill it with “fire of the altar.” Then, he cast it upon the earth. This scene is reminiscent to the scene we find in Eze.10:2,18.
“And he spake unto the man clothed with linen, and said, Go in between the wheels, even under the cherub, and fill thine hand with coals of fire from between the cherubims, and scatter them over the city… Then the glory of the LORD departed from off the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubims.” The symbolic gesture of taking the coals of fire and casting them down in both Revelation and Ezekiel is the same, that is, judgment upon Jerusalem. However, it is important to note that the judgment corresponds with the “prayers of the saints.”
This point is what we tried to stress earlier in our comments on Rev.6:10, that is, God avenging the innocent blood shed by the ungodly and apostate Jews. In the vision of Ezekiel, he watches as the “glory of the LORD” departs from the temple. Jesus, in Matt.23:32-38, echoes these same sentiments but with a solemn finality in his words.
“Fill ye up then the measure of your father. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city. That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathered her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.”
Truly, within that generation the words of this prophecy was fulfilled. Jesus was crucified in 30 A.D. Just
years later in 70 A.D., their house (temple) was destroyed and became desolate. A generation is generally
to be forty years in duration.
The writer of Hebrews also alludes to this judgment.
“For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.” (Heb.6:7,8)
Lastly, John sees and hears “voices, and thundering, and lightnings, and an earthquake.” It is significant that John heard this after the seventh angel opened the seventh seal. He also saw and heard the very same thing when the seventh angel in Rev.16:18 poured out the seventh vial. The repetition of the sevens denotes completeness and finality.
Verses 6-13. Beginning in verse 6, the angels prepare to sound their trumpets of judgment. Before we examine the vision of the seven trumpets, I would like to again remind the reader that almost all the visions of Revelation describe but one historic and momentous event that occurred in the first century, namely, the judgment and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Each vision simply represents a different perspective and gives further insight into both the spiritual and the natural aspects of that judgment.
With this in mind, let’s see what message is contained in the sounding of the first trumpet. It is important to notice what begins the judgments: “fire mingled with blood.” Just as we studied in verses 4-6 of this chapter, the fire is from the altar of God and the blood is from those who had been “slain for the word of God” (Rev.6:10). It is the “prayers of the saints” that initiated these judgments.
John says that a “third part” of the trees and grass were burned. This idea of one third is also found in the second, third, fourth, and sixth trumpets. We see this same idea of one third in Eze.5:8,12,13.
“Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, am against thee, and will execute judgments in the midst of thee in the sight of the nations… A third part of thee shall die with the pestilence, and with famine shall they be consumed in the midst of thee: and a third part shall fall by the sword round about thee; and I scatter a third part into all the winds, and I will draw out a sword after them. Thus shall mine anger be accomplished, and I will cause my fury to rest upon them, and I will be comforted…”
The “one third” merely represents a large portion. In Josephus’ history of The Wars of the Jews, he has this interesting comment regarding Cestius, the Roman general, who tried to quell the Jewish rebellion. “But when Cestius was come into the city, he set it on fire; as he did also to the timber market…” The burning of the olive trees and the fruit trees was his usual methodology as he attacked cities throughout Israel. Also, later, Josephus records this:
“And, truly, the very view itself of the country was a melancholy thing; for those places which were before adorned with trees and pleasant gardens were now become a desolate country every way, and its trees were all cut down.”
When the second trumpet sounded, John saw a burning mountain that was cast into the sea. As a result of this, a “third part” of the sea became blood. In Jewish rabbinic writings, the temple mount was referred to as “this mountain.” Jesus might have had Jerusalem in mind when he had cursed the barren fig tree. Remember that this was the passion week when Jesus was daily traveling from Bethany to Jerusalem.
“And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple…he went out unto Bethany with the twelve. And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find anything thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it… And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea…” (Mark11:11-14; 20-23)
Of course, Jesus knew that the time of bearing figs was not yet, but I believe he used this as an opportunity to not only teach the apostles about faith, but also, about what was to happen to Jerusalem and its temple. As he was coming to Jerusalem from Bethany, he saw the outward forms worship, that is, the temple (leaves), but alas, when he arrived he found it to be barren and destitute of God. In apocalyptic literature, not every word has a corresponding meaning. Instead, it is the overall thought and theme which is being portrayed. However, the idea that blood was the consequence of the “burning mountain” is historically accurate. Notice, again, the words of Josephus as he describes just one of the cities that was destroyed during the Jewish rebellion. This happened in approximately 66 A.D. “…then set on fire by the Romans…till all the place was overflowed with blood, and fifty thousand of them lay dead upon heaps.”
Truly, these were the “days of vengeance.” The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple were the end result of Israel’s sins, but God’s judgments were a progression that led up to that end. This is what we see in the visions of the seals, the trumpets, and the vials.
When John heard the third trumpet sound, he witnessed a great star fall from heaven. The star appeared to be
as it fell into the rivers. John records the name of the star as Wormwood.
Wormwood is one of the most bitter of all the herbs. Among the ancients, a common proverb was, “as bitter as Wormwood.” In Scripture, wormwood is associated with sin and sorrow. Note the following passages.
“Ye who turn judgment (justice) to wormwood, and leave off righteousness in the earth.” (Amos 5:7) “…whose heart turneth away this day from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood. The LORD will not spare him, but then the anger of the LORD and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the LORD shall blot out his name from under heaven.” (Deut.29:18,20)
Because of sin, God executes judgment and that judgment is bitter. Jeremiah describes this judgment in prophesying of Judah’s sins.
“Therefore, thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will feed them, even this people, with wormwood, and give them water of gall to drink.” (Jer.9:15)
Since Satan is the originator or cause of sin, this great star that fell to the earth probably alludes to him as
does the star that falls in the fifth trumpet vision. We will discuss this more when we come to the fifth
As the fourth angel sounds the fourth trumpet, a third part of the heavens is darkened. This is very similar to
of the sixth seal, except that only one third is impacted. Thus, it would have essentially the same meaning and
significance. Perhaps, because it is only one third, this denotes the beginning of the fall, judgment and demise
Jerusalem and of the temple and its sacrificial system.
Next, John sees an angel flying in the midst of heaven warning of three more woes that are to come upon the land.
Verses 1-12. When the fifth trumpet sounded, John again sees a star “fall” from heaven onto earth. The word “fall” is past tense. So, John describes a star that had already fallen. This is also true of the star that fell in the third trumpet vision. Let’s see what we can learn about this “star”.
Some say that this star was an angel like the one we see in Rev.20:1 who came down from heaven and had the key to the bottomless pit. However, this “star” did not merely “come down”, but rather, fell down or possibly was thrown down. Let’s look at a few passages of Scripture that might identify this “star”.
“And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.
And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.
Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and
shall by any means hurt you.” (Luke 10:17-19)
“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!” (Isa.14:12)
“And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” (Rev.12:9)
In the passage in Luke, the Greek word for “lightning” has the same root word as “star”. There is a passage in Matthew that, I believe, really describes what is happening in the vision of the fifth trumpet.
“The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walkest through dry places, seeking rest, and findest none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findest it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.” (Matt.12:41-45)
Jesus came to Israel to “preach the gospel to the poor…to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives”, and yet, that generation denied and refused their only Savior. Therefore, within that generation came a flood of demonic activity. Let Josephus, that first century eyewitness, give his account.
“I shall therefore speak my mind here at once briefly: That neither did any other city ever suffer such miseries, nor did any age ever breed a generation more fruitful in wickedness than this was, from the beginning of the world.”
With these thoughts in mind, let’s consider the rest of the vision. This “star” was “given” the key to the bottomless pit. Since Jesus rose from the dead, he now possessed the “keys of hell and of death” (Rev.1:18). Therefore, the keys no longer belonged to Satan. However, in the execution of God’s judgment upon Israel, he “allowed” Satan to “unleash” the powers of darkness.
The locusts that John sees are supernatural locusts. They do not feed on what is normal or natural for them. Instead, they “feed” or torment men for five months. Five months is the usual span for locusts to devour crops. It is brief but severe. It just so happens that the siege of Jerusalem lasted approximately five months. Demons always operate through men. This is what is meant in verse 7 when it describes the locusts as having “faces of men.” Notice what God tells Ezekiel in Eze.2:3,6.
“And he said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me: they and their fathers have transgressed against me, even unto this very day. And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns be with thee, and thou dost dwell among scorpions: be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house.”
Here, the scorpions are the wicked men of Israel. So it is in Rev.9. Again, we see that those that had “the seal of God in their foreheads” were protected. If this vision depicted the events during the siege of Jerusalem, as I believe it does, then there were no Christians there to be harmed by the locusts.
As usual Josephus can give us much insight as to the circumstances within Jerusalem during these five months. Remember, too, that what is about to be described is what the Jews did to each other!
“And now there were three treacherous factions in the city, the one parted from the other. John set on fire those houses that were full of corn, and of all other provisions. The same thing was done by Simon, when, upon the other’s retreats, he attacked the city also. Accordingly, it so came to pass, that all the places that were about the temple were burnt down…and that almost all the corn was burnt, which would have been sufficient for a siege of many years. The aged men and the women were in such distress by their internal calamities, that they wished for the Romans, and earnestly hoped for an external war, in order to their delivery from their domestic miseries. Nor was any regard paid to those that were still alive, by their relations; nor was there any care taken of burial for those that were dead. For the seditious themselves, they fought against each other, while they trod upon the dead bodies as they lay heaped one upon another, and taking up a mad rage from those dead bodies that were under their feet, became the fiercer thereupon.”
Here, we get a close look at what torment can be bestowed by wicked, demonic men upon their fellow men. There were many who “wished for the Romans”, that is, for a speedy death, but alas, it did not happen. Truly, this fulfills the words found in verse 6: “in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it.” Behind all this torment, we find the one responsible, namely, the king or angel of the bottomless pit. This ends one woe, but John says that there are still two more woes to come.
Verses 13-19. Portions of the vision of the sixth trumpet are similar to that of the fifth seal. John says he heard “a voice” coming from the horns of the altar. Actually, the Greek says that he heard “as one voice”. The “one voice” tells the sixth angel to “loose the four angels” bound in the Euphrates. These are probably the same four angels in Rev.7:1 that were “holding the four winds” of judgment. The “one voice” represent the souls of them that were slain for the word of God. In Rev.6:10, these souls cried out with one voice for God to avenge their blood. The Euphrates was the ancient river that flowed through Babylon.
Just as Jerusalem was referred to as Sodom and Egypt in Rev.11:8, I believe that the reference to the Euphrates is in reference to spiritual Babylon, that is, Jerusalem. Since Peter, along with several of the apostles, stayed in Jerusalem, many commentators believe that Peter was referring to Jerusalem when he referred to the “church that is at Babylon” in 1 Pet.5:13.
When John described the army that the four angels released, his focus was on the horses. The description of the horses of the sixth trumpet and the locusts of the fifth trumpet contained many similarities. The only difference in function and purpose was that the horses were given authority to kill, whereas, the locusts were only given authority to torment. In the siege, we witness both.
Verses 20-21. After all this, the men still would not repent! When Jesus was told in Luke 13:1-5 about those who had been killed by Pilate, he had this to say:
“Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”
These are not just idle words made by Jesus, but were words of prophecy that would literally be fulfilled within their lifetimes. Neither the famine, the pestilence, the death, nor anything could cause the wicked to repent. Again, let’s hear the words of Josephus.
“Moreover, their hunger was so intolerable, that it obliged them to chew everything…nor did they at length abstain from girdles and shoes; and the very leather which belonged to their shields they pulled off and gnawed. Some persons were driven to that terrible distress as to search the common sewers and old dung-hills of cattle, and to eat the dung which they got there. While the seditious, who saw it also, did not repent, but suffered the same distress to come upon themselves; for they were blinded by that fate which was already coming upon the city, and upon themselves also.”
Verses 1-7. John now sees a marvelous sight, a “mighty angel” coming down from heaven and this angel was “clothed with a cloud” and a “rainbow was upon his head.” John says that his “face was as it were the sun.” Who was this angel? First of all, the word “angel” means messenger. What was his message?
To the Hebrew, the Messiah was frequently referred to as bar nivli or Son of the clouds. The “rainbow” has an obvious reference to Deity. Remember, too, the description given of Christ in Rev.1:16. “…and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.” Additionally, his voice was as a “lion roareth.” Here, again, a reference to Christ being the Lion of Judah. So, this mighty angel was most likely Jesus himself and the message that he had to give John was obviously the book of Revelation.
As this mighty angel “cried with a loud voice”, seven thunders uttered their voices. However, John was told to not write down what the seven thunders uttered. If he was to not write them down, then what was their purpose? We can only conjecture on this point. I am reminded of the passage in Matt.21:19-23.
“This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me. Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayed thee? Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die…”
In other words, what God has planned for one does not make him privy to God’s plan for someone else. Perhaps, the thunders was a private message just for John and not for the churches. It may have something to do with what he was told in verse 11. Maybe the thunders had to deal with the messages that he is to personally deliver to “peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings” in later years.
Let’s now look at what the angel declares. He states that there should be “delay no longer.” Also, he says that when the seventh angel sounds his trumpet, then, the “mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets.” We need to examine several other Scriptures in order to grasp what this “mystery” that is “finished” really means.
“For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:” (Rom.11:25,26) “Now to him that is of power to establish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began. But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith.” (Rom.16:25,26) “Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ. Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.” (Eph.3:4-6)
When the angel said that there would be “delay no longer”, he meant that the final judgment upon Jerusalem and its temple was imminent. With the destruction of the temple, the symbol of the old covenant became null and void. The early church would not be able to cling to its rituals any longer. This would be the death knell for those that still adhered to the rituals of the Mosaic law instead of the law of faith. The mystery that both Jew and Gentile comprised the New Covenant church is now complete (finished).
Lastly, John is told to go and get the book from the angel and “eat it”. He was told that it would be sweet like honey, yet, become “bitter” once he had digested it. John did as he was told. To receive God’s word or message is always a sweet and blessed experience. However, sometimes the message may contain something that is “bitter”. John was Jewish and probably had some relatives who were priests in the temple. The temple to the Jew was their pride and heritage. To declare its destruction was definitely a bitter experience for John. Ezekiel shared the same experience.
“Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, eat that thou findest; eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and he caused me to eat that roll. And he said unto me, Son of man, cause they belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this roll that I give thee. Then did I eat it: and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness. So the spirit lifted me up, and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the LORD was strong upon me.”
Verses 1-2. These two verses are very important for several reasons. Before we consider them further, let’s find out what they say. John was given a reed in which to “measure the temple.” He was told not to measure the court, but only the altar and those that “worship therein.” The reason for this was given to John. He was told that the court and the holy city would be “tread under foot” by the Gentiles for “forty and two months.” The reason for measuring was to separate the holy from the profane and to give protection to that which was holy. Notice the following passages found in Ezekiel and Zechariah.
“He measured it by the four sides: it had a wall round about, five hundred reeds long, and five hundred broad, to make a separation between the sanctuary and the profane place.” (Eze.42:20) “I lifted up mine eyes again, and looked, and behold a man with a measuring line in his hand. Then said I, Whither goest thou? And he said unto me, To measure Jerusalem, to see what is the breadth thereof, and what is the length thereof… For I, saith the LORD, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her.” (Zech.2:1,2,5)
Between the sixth and seventh seal, the saints were “sealed”, that is, protected. Now, we find the very same thing happening. Between the sixth and seventh trumpet, those that “worship” in the temple were “measured” or protected. In the book of Revelation, we see a lot of parallelism, that is, a synchronous portrayal of events. This idea of protecting the saints is the first point that I wanted to stress.
The second important aspect of these verses deal with the meaning of “forty and two months.” In Scripture the
concept of “forty-two” is commonly used. In the first chapter of Matthew, we find that in the chronology from
Abraham to Jesus, it is broken into three sets of fourteen, thus, forty-two. We see these forty-two months
represented as three and one half years and also as 1260 days (using the Jewish 30 day reckoning of a month).
From the onset of the Jewish rebellion to its destruction in 70 A.D., the time period was approximately 42
3 ½ years.
This period of time corresponds to what Jesus said in Luke 21:24.
“And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.”
This passage in Luke obviously refers to this same event described in Rev.11:2. Notice the similarity of terms used in both passages. This brings us to the third important aspect of these verses. Notice that reference is made to the temple. The fact that the temple is still standing confirms the premise that the Book of Revelation was written before 70 A.D. This internal evidence brings consternation to the late date advocates. However, they have come up with an answer to this obvious problem. They have proposed that the first two verses of this chapter was written earlier than the rest of the book. This is known as the “composite fragment theory.” It is a theory with no supporting evidence. Thus, again, we find evidence that the theme and purpose of the entire Book of Revelation points to the most climactic event in the first century, namely, the judgment and destruction of Jerusalem.
Verses 3-13. John now introduces God’s “two witnesses.” They are described as being clothed in sackcloth and shall prophesy for 1260 days. Since this directly follows the “forty-two months”, obviously, they overlap and refer to the same time reference. The sackcloth denotes their mission. This apparel was worn by Old Testament prophets when they had to bring messages of judgment to Israel. It was a sign of mourning. They are referred to as the “two olive trees” and the “two candlesticks”. This is a clear reference to Zachariah’s vision.
“And said unto me, What seest thou? And I said, I have looked, and behold a candlestick…And two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof. Then he answered and spake unto me… saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.” “Then said he, These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the LORD of the whole earth.” (Zech.4:2,3,6,14)
In the Zechariah passage, the “two anointed ones” referred to Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel the
They, both, were used in the restoration of Jerusalem after their return from captivity. The verse in Zechariah
said, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit”, meant that it would be God’s spirit working through these
anointed vessels to accomplish his goal.
In order to confirm anything, it took at least two witnesses. Listen to what Jesus said in Matthew.
“But if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. Again, I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask… For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt.18:16,19,20)
The angel that spoke with John said that “fire proceeded out of their mouth” and would devour their enemies. In trying to warn the Jews in Jerusalem of its coming judgment, God told Jeremiah this:
“Wherefore thus saith the LORD God of hosts, Because ye speak this word, behold, I will make my words in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them.” (Jer.5:14)
Next, in verse six, the angel describes the “two witnesses” as having power that is likened to Elijah and Moses
(read 1 Kings 17 & 18; also Exodus 7).
So, just who were these two witnesses? Some feel that they are only representative of the Law and the Prophets. They come to this conclusion partly because in Malachi both are mentioned together in a prophecy of Christ’s first advent.
“Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him, in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.” (Mal.4:4,5)
Milton Terry, in his book Biblical Apocalyptics, makes a strong case for the two witnesses to represent the apostles and the prophets. He says that they portray the “apocalyptic picture of the work, sufferings, and triumph of the apostles and prophets of Jesus, who laid the foundations of the Christian Church.”
However, I believe that they are actual witnesses that proclaimed God’s word and his coming judgments upon Israel, since the comparison is made to Zechariah’s vision about Joshua and Zerubbabel. Even though real historic figures, they can still be representative of all those who gave testimony of Christ. When we consider the two most prominent witnesses (martyrs) of the early church, the names of Peter and Paul comes to the forefront. We will continue with this thought a little later.
In verse 7 John records that the beast will ascend out of the pit and kill the two witnesses. Their dead bodies will then lie in the street in the “great city”, “Sodom and Egypt”, “where also our Lord was crucified”, namely, Jerusalem. Even though both Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome during the Neronian persecution, the city where their death warrant, so to speak, was signed was in Jerusalem.
“And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there. Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying bonds and afflictions abide me.” (Acts 20:22,23) “And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.” (Acts 21:11)
In verses 9 and 10 the people (the Jews) rejoiced because two of Christianity’s most prominent apostles were
Their rejoicing was short-lived, though. After just 3 ½ days, they were resurrected and were received up into
heaven. Actually, their martyrdom precipitated just the opposite response to what the Jews had in mind. It gave
Christian believers a renewed fervor to further the gospel of Christ. Thus, “great fear fell upon them” that had
rejoiced earlier over their deaths.
This is exactly what was recorded in Acts 8:1-4. “And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.”
Verses 14-19. Back in Rev.8:13, the angel warned of three woes which were yet to come upon the land (Judah). Of course, we saw that two of the woes were the fifth and sixth trumpet judgments. Now, the third woe is the sounding of the seventh angel.
Instead of more judgments, the seventh trumpet was actually an announcement. The announcement was that “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ.” This should be no surprise, however, since in Rev.10:7, we already discovered that “in the days of the voice of the seventh angel…the mystery of God should be finished.”
Before we look at verse 18, let’s consider what is meant in verse 19 when John sees the “ark of his testament” after the temple was opened in heaven. What has happened is that now, since the symbol for the old covenant (the temple) has been taken away, the early Church can now more clearly see the “ark of his testament”, that is, the new covenant made by Christ. Notice the inspired words that we find in the book of Hebrews.
“Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Heb.10:8-10) In order to get a better grasp of this important passage in verse 18, I will quote it here and emphasize those phrases which are the key points to consider. “And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth.”
Nations were angry. God had put it in the heart of the Romans to be “angry” and to come and execute judgment upon Jerusalem and the Jewish nation. Here are some quotes made by Josephus that emphasize this point:
“It is God therefore, it is God himself who is bringing on this fire, to purge that city and temple by means of the Romans, and is going to pluck up this city, which if full of your pollutions.” “So the soldiers out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest; when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies.”
Thy wrath is come. Although we have referred to these passages before, their significance cannot be overly stressed. Read carefully these words of judgment and prophecy.
“For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe unto them…for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people.” (Luke 21:22,23) “Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins always: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.” (1 Thess.2:16)
“But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.” (Heb.6:8)
Dead…should be judged. Many expositors interpret this to mean that those martyrs who had been “slain for the word of God” were now to be “vindicated”. Their argument for this, and they present a good case, is found in the following passages (1 Sam.24:15; 2Sam.18:19; Psa.10:18; Isa.1:17; and Heb.10:30-39). Although the word judged may be “stretched” to mean vindicated, the usual and more natural sense is the translation given, namely, “judged”. However, I don’t believe it is the dead martyrs who are to be judged, but rather, it is the spiritually dead Jews who are to be judged. Notice the words of Jesus in Matt.8:22.
“But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury the dead.”
Obviously, Jesus is referring to the spiritual dead to take care of burying the physical dead. Notice, too, how Jesus again refers to those who are spiritually dead in the following verse.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live.” (John 5:25)
Give reward unto thy servants. As the new kingdom is ushered in, he “hath made us kings and priests” (Rev.1:6). Even as the writer of Hebrews states, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood…” (Heb.2:9). The Scripture teaches us that we are presently reigning with Christ. Finally, the phrase about “small and great” is a quote from the Psalms.
“He will bless them that fear the LORD, both small and great.” (Psa.115:13)
Destroy them which destroy the earth. This is a clear reference to the Jews of that generation.
“Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you: And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomited out her inhabitants… For all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled.” (Lev.18:24,25,27)
So, because of Israel’s sin, the land had been destroyed (defiled). Therefore, God was now going to destroy them.
Verses 1-6. This vision that John now witnesses is unique in that it gives us insight into what is happening in the spiritual world. As Paul Harvey so characteristically use to say, “you’ve heard the news, now you’ll hear the rest of the story.” So it is with this chapter. Up to this point, John was shown things that were about to happen in the very near future. All these events were important to the Christians who were being persecuted for their faith in Christ. Now, he is being shown the real cause that was responsible for the tribulation that they were enduring. God is going to unmasked the real enemy of the Church.
John’s attention was drawn toward heaven where he saw “a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” It becomes obvious that this is a definite allusion to the dream that Joseph had in Gen.37:9.
“And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.”
Of course, Jacob (Joseph’s father) was also named Israel and he had twelve sons who would become the twelve tribes of Israel. Consequently, this woman represented the nation of Israel or the Jewish people. The time reference was the birth of Jesus as is evident from verse 2.
Next, John sees a “great red dragon” that is described as having seven heads, ten horns, and seven crowns. We will continue to see this dragon almost to the end of the book. The dragon is named later in verse 9. While John watches, he notices that the dragon casts a “third” of the stars of heaven to the earth with his tail. Again, as we discovered previously, a “third” represents a considerable portion. In the text, the stars portray the fallen angels of heaven.
We find that the objective of the dragon was to destroy the baby which was soon to be delivered by the woman. We can find this historical event recorded in Matt.2:16-18.
“Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.”
Fortunately, because of God’s providence, the baby boy that was born of the woman was delivered from harm and John witnessed him being “caught up” to God in heaven. John did, indeed, witness this ascension along with the other apostles as is recorded in Acts 1:9-11.
“And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.”
After the birth of the baby, the woman “fled into the wilderness” and was divinely cared for by God for a period of 1260 days. We’ll withhold further comments at this point since the rest of the chapter retells the events just described from a different perspective and in greater detail.
Verses 7-9. In these verses, a great spiritual battle is revealed to us in which Satan and his demons is thrust from heaven and cast to the earth. This event was previously alluded to in Luke 10:17,18.
“And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name. And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven."
In verse 9 we find that Satan had, up to this point, deceived the whole world. It was the Jews, only, that held the knowledge of the one true God. Later, in chapter 20, we will discuss this more.
Verses 10-12. John then hears a loud voice in heaven saying, “Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ”. They rejoiced that the “accuser of the brethren” had been cast down. Although many may have died (“loved not their lives unto the death”), they were still victorious by the “blood of the Lamb” and the “word of their testimony”. This was the message of comfort to the Churches. John records that the devil had begun his assault on the Church with “great wrath” because he knew that he had but a short time.
Verses 13-17. The rest of this chapter explains why the world hates the Jews. They are merely acting as “tools” of Satan and serve as an outlet for his wrath against those who “brought forth the man child”. From the very beginning Satan has tried to thwart God’s plan of a redeemer for mankind. The Jewish nation receives help from God to remain as a nation and a people. The Scripture says that Satan was “wroth with the woman”, but, he makes war with the remnant of her seed. From this, we see that Satan’s primary efforts now are aimed at those who “have the testimony of Jesus Christ”. We’ll further elaborate on this point in the comments on chapter 20.
Verses 1-2. John finds himself standing on the seashore. As he is standing there, he watches a beast rise up from the sea. The beast has “seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns.” Also, on the heads, John sees the name of “blasphemy” written on them. According to Webster’s dictionary, blasphemy refers to the act of claiming the attributes of deity. In describing the appearance of the beast, John states that the beast was like a leopard, a bear, and a lion. John continues by saying that the beast receives his power from the dragon. Who or what then is this beast? In the seventeenth chapter of Revelation, the beast is further identified.
“And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sitteth. And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space. And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition. And the ten horns which thou saweth are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast.” (Rev.17:9-12)
To the first century Christian, the only kingdom who had its seat of power, that is, its capital, resting on seven mountains was none other than Rome. Rome’s seven famous hills are listed as follows: Palatine, Capitoline, Quirinal, Viminal, Esquiline, Caelian, and Aventine. Not only is the beast associated with a kingdom but also with the kings who rule the kingdom. This will be further illustrated in our comments on Revelation 17. Notice the similarity of the seven heads and the ten horns of both the beast and the dragon. That is because the beast receives its power from the dragon (Satan). As we mentioned previously, the numbers and symbols in apocalyptic writings may, but not always, be literal and not just symbolic representations. We know that the numbers, seven and ten, represent fullness and completeness. However, if the context reveals and demands a real, literal interpretation, then we must follow that rendering. So it is in this passage.
Lastly, let us consider the name of “blasphemy” which was on the heads of the beast. I’ve already given the definition of this term. We will now see how it fits into the historical context of the first century. All the emperors, beginning with Julius Caesar, claimed divinity for themselves. However, the Emperor Cult reached its zenith with Nero. In fact, one writer stated that Nero “abandoned all reserve” in promoting emperor worship. This is especially evident in many of the Asian cities. At Ephesus, many inscriptions on buildings refer to Nero as “Almighty God” and “Savior”. It also does not go unnoticed how John uses Daniel 7 as a reference in his description of the beast.
“And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another. The first was like a lion…And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear…After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard…After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly…and it had ten horns.” (Daniel 7:3-7)
Verses 3-10. In verse 3, one of the beast’s heads was “wounded to death”. In other words, it was a fatal wound. However, this fatal wound was “healed”. This sounds like a contradiction. This caused “all the world” to wonder after or worship the beast. Can we find a historical fulfillment to this event? Yes, we can. Again, we must jump ahead to Revelation 17:10,11 to help in explaining this phenomenon.
“And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space. And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.” (Rev.17:10,11)
The beast in the thirteenth chapter is the same as the beast in the seventeenth chapter. It represents a world power, that being Rome. The angel reveals that there are “seven kings”. Of course, the first century reader would be able to easily count these first six: Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius (the five that are fallen or dead), and Nero (the one that is). Looking back into history, we have the advantage to know the seventh, the Emperor Galba. We also know that he only continued “a short space”, that is, seven months. We will discuss the eighth king when we come to chapter 17.
Since Nero was killed in 68 A.D., how then was the “deadly wound” healed? Well, Nero was the last of the Julio-Claudian dynasty of Caesars, the founding family. When he died, Rome was plunged into a great civil war. Many riots broke out and many of Rome’s finest buildings were burned. In less than a year, three emperors had claimed that honor but were soon dethroned. In fact, 69 A.D. became known as the “year of the four Caesars”. The unrest and political disturbance was not isolated to just Rome. It reverberated throughout the Empire. However, peace and calm returned when Vespasian became Emperor in 69 A.D. Thus, “the deadly wound was healed”. For a brief time, the Roman empire was on the brink of collapse.
In verse 5, the focus is brought back to the king that is presently reigning, that is, Nero. The Scripture tells us that “power was given unto him to continue forty and two months”. The Neronian persecution lasted from November, 64 A.D. to June, 68 A.D. (42 months).
To those persecuted Christians, John gives comfort in verse 10 by saying that “he that killeth with the sword, must be killed with the sword”. Their nemesis Nero, who killed thousands by the sword, was himself killed by a sword.
Verse 11-17. John’s attention is now turned toward another beast which comes out of the earth (land) instead of the sea as the first beast. The sea represents peoples or nations. We have previously mentioned that the earth or land represented the land of Judea. What, then, is this beast which looked liked a lamb with two horns but spoke as a dragon coming out of the land of Judea? Obviously, the lamb would represent something that would be innocent or harmless, but since it spoke as a dragon, we know that this lamb was really sinister. Hopefully, we will show that this lamb-beast was none other than the apostate Israel. The purpose and goal of this second beast was to cause the people to worship and give homage to the first beast, Rome. Historically, did Israel fulfill this role? We believe they did. Please consider the following.
To begin with, Israel enjoyed freedoms and liberties that were not given to other nations which were conquered by Rome. For instance, all other nations living in a polytheistic world, had to add to its pantheon Rome’s Imperial Divinity. Israel was exempt from this edict and was allowed to maintain its practice of monotheism. The Roman legions while in Jerusalem respected the Jewish sensitivity to graven images by not displaying their standards which had graven eagles on them. Also, there were several more concessions which the Romans gave to Israel. For example, if a Roman were to try and enter the Holy Place in the Temple, then the Jews were permitted to kill him. What did the Jews have to concede? Josephus, the Jewish historian of the first century, records that sacrifices were made “twice every day for Caesar, and for the Roman people”. The Romans accepted this gesture as a form of worship to the Emperor, consequently, they considered it a “fair equivalent”. Since the Jews enjoyed this position of honor and privilege, they did not want anyone to “upset the apple-cart”. That’s why the religious leaders wanted to try and kill Jesus. They were afraid that the Romans might think that this new King would try and lead a revolt against them. Thus, the Jewish religious leaders (the Lamb) would lose their prestige and power. Notice what the chief priests and Pharisees said in John 11:48.
“If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.”
Notice to what lengths they would go in order to not jeopardize their position. In John 19:15, they cried out, “We have no king but Caesar.” By rejecting Christ, they were giving power to the beast and, subsequently, to the dragon. Ultimately, the apostate Israel accomplished the same goals of the dragon who operated through the first beast. That goal was to destroy Christianity. In verse 15, John wrote that the second beast would try and kill all who would not worship the first beast. Although the apostate Jews had “no king but Caesar”, the Christians served only one King and His name was Jesus. Therefore, the Jews set about trying to kill as many Christians as they could. To see how Satan used the apostate Jews to thwart the growth of Christianity, read the following passages: Acts 12:1-3; Acts 14:5; Acts 17:5-8; Acts 18:12,13; Acts 21:11; and Acts 25.
Lastly, to prove that apostate Israel was the second beast which John saw coming out of the land and who spoke like a dragon (Satan), we will see what Jesus had to say about them in this very same prophetic book. “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.” (Rev.2:9)
“Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews and are not but do lie…” (Rev.3:9)
Before we comment on the last verse in this chapter, I would like to briefly consider the phrase, “And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” We learned in chapter 2 that before anyone could buy or sell in the marketplace in Pergamos, they must have first offered incense to Caesar. Also, in Thyatira, before anyone could join a trade guild, they would have to worship and give honor to Caesar. Again, the offering of incense would constitute as an act of worship. In Asia, many of the Jews were merchants. Since the priests offered incense in the Temple at Jerusalem to Caesar and to the Roman people, according to Josephus, then these Asian Jews saw no harm in doing the same in order to join the trade guilds and to earn a living as merchants.
Verse 18. We now come to the verse which contains the most infamous number of all history, “666”. John writes that it is the number of the beast and the number of a man. In Oriental thought, the number six was evil, sinister. Also, in the ancient languages such as Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, the alphabet served a dual purpose. Each letter also represented a number. The numerical value of Nero Caesar was 666. Kenneth Gentry in his book, The Beast of Revelation, commented about an inscription in the ruins of Pompeii that read, “I love her whose number is 545” (written in Greek, of course). This type of cryptogram was very common in the first century. John’s readers would undoubtedly know of whom John was referring.
While most interpret this personage to be the Antichrist, I do not believe he fulfills the description given by the apostles Paul and John. Let’s look what they have to say about the Antichrist. First of all, the only place in Scripture where the word “antichrist” is used in found in I & II John. There it is recorded five times.
“Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many
antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.” (I John 2:18)
“Who is a liar, but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.” (I John 2:22)
“And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.” (I John 4:3)
“For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.” (2 John 7)
“Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” (2Thess.2:3,4)
Read also I Tim.4:1-3.
Both Paul and John describe this person as one who is a “deceiver” and one who perverts the Gospel. Essentially, it is someone who teaches error, false doctrine, tradition, or otherwise, would cause apostasy within the Church. In fact, John states that there are those who are in the Church who have this “spirit of the antichrist”. It is someone who is within and not someone who is outside of the Church who is trying to destroy its teachings. Paul goes into a little more detail about this infamous personage. He warns that this person will try and usurp God’s authority and will sit in the temple of God, that is, in the place of God.
The prefix “anti”, in the Greek, can mean either (1) over; against, or (2) instead of, in place of. The context must determine which is correct. Here, this man of sin sits in the temple of God, as if he were God. Whenever Paul uses the term temple of God, he is referring to the Church and not the Jewish temple (see I Cor.3:9,16,17). Thus, the antichrist is someone inside the Church who attempts to destroy it by leading it into apostasy, while the person with the identification of 666 is someone outside the Church.
As one writer puts it, “as all roads lead to Rome, so do they all terminate at Nero Caesar’s palace”. To John’s readers of the first century, Nero was the only contemporary historical figure who could possibly fulfill all of the requirements for the beast whose number was 666.
Verses 1-5. The 144,000 were first introduced in chapter 7. There we learned that they represented the Church. And, within this context, they represent the 1st century Church. Remember that in chapter 7, they were “sealed” from harm during God’s wrath and judgment on apostate Israel. Here, in chapter 14, we find that these 144,000 have come through victorious and are thus able to sing the “song of the redeemed”.
Notice that they are referred to as “virgins” and that they “follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth”. These terms merely emphasize the fact that true believers are faithful to Christ and his commandments. This is in accord with other Scripture as found in the following passages.
“For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” (2 Cor.11:2) “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) “If ye love me, keep my commandments…He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me…” (John 14:15,21)
John described these 144,000 which “stood on the mount Sion” with the Lamb as “firstfruits”. Is John describing the Church on earth or the Church in heaven? I believe it encompasses both. In James 1:18, we read, “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” An even more revealing passage of Scripture is found in Heb.12:22,23.
“But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels. To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.”
Both John and the writer of Hebrews use very similar language in describing the first century Church, who were the “firstfruits.”
Verses 6-7. Next, John sees an angel flying “in the midst of heaven”. John writes that this angel had the “everlasting gospel”. The angel’s message was to, “Fear God, and give glory to him”. This message is reminiscent of the “Preacher’s” message as found in Eccl.12:13.
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”
Verses 8 - “And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”
Initially, this verse, and the verses following, seem to have no connection to the previous seven verses of this chapter. Actually, though, the first seven sets the stage for what is about to happen. The scene begins with God’s true Church; those “firstfruits” who had been redeemed from among men. One must be cognizant of the fact that the apostles and the early church at Jerusalem continued in many of the Temple activities and Jewish traditions. This can be clearly seen in reading the book of Acts. However, that which was about to happen would forever wean them from their Jewish roots and Temple observances. That is when they would then be more able to preach the “everlasting gospel” to all them that dwell in the earth (land/Judea). This gospel is the new covenant, since the last vestiges of the old covenant would soon be destroyed. In verse 7, John says that the “hour of his judgment is come”, that is, Jerusalem.
As we have tried to prove thus far in this commentary, the main thrust and theme of the book of Revelation is the judgment of the apostate Jewish nation. Beginning with verse 8 through chapter 18, we now come to the grand finale of this historic event.
We first need to find out how and why John uses the term of “Babylon”. Since it does not historically fit the literal Babylon, then John must be using it as a description for some other city. Let’s see if we can follow John’s rationale of his usage of the name of Babylon. To begin with, let’s look at the Old Testament passages in which John is obviously referencing.
“And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is
is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground.” (Isa.21:9)
“Babylon hath been a golden cup in the LORD’s hand, that made all the earth drunken: the nations have drunken of her wine; therefore the nations are mad. Babylon is suddenly fallen and destroyed…” (Jer.51:7,8)
The historical setting for these verses was just prior to Israel’s 70 years of Babylonian captivity. Just as God would used Babylon to bring judgment to Israel, God will use the Medes and the Persians to judge Babylon. So, why then did John use Babylon as a reference for another city? It was because Babylon was renown for its idolatry and that is the stigma now being placed on none other than apostate Israel. But some may say that the Jews didn’t practice idolatry, but only believed in Jehovah. Supposedly, then, only God was their King. If they gave allegiance to another king other than God, then they would be practicing idolatry. What do the Scriptures tell us?
“Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures. But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus. And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things.” (Acts 17:1,2,5,7,8)
Here, they accused Paul of violating the decree of Caesar. What was the decree of Caesar? In all of the Roman
empire, people were required to worship Caesar as god and king. This was the decree of Caesar. Instead, they
Paul of worshipping Jesus as God and King. Since the Jews were well populated throughout the Empire and
in Asia, they brought this same accusation to all Christians. The Jews were suppose to be the nation that
light to the Gentiles, instead, they encouraged them to practice Emperor worship.
Next, John refers to this Babylon as “that great city”. Previously, he used this same term to refer to Jerusalem in Rev.11:8.
“And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.”
So, in describing apostate Jerusalem, John uses names of other cities who have had an infamous and sinful past. He uses these names in describing Israel’s present spiritual condition.
Finally, in ascertaining the city in which John is calling Babylon, I would like to consider the closing of the first epistle of Peter. Peter’s first epistle was most probably written from Jerusalem in which Peter lived. Evidence of this is found in its salutation and in its closing words. Jerusalem, even at this time, had acquired the infamous name of Babylon.
“The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son.” (I Pet.5:13)
Verses 9-13. When reading these verses, the reader must remember the comments regarding the beast from the sea and the lamb-beast from chapter 13. Both deal with the worship of the beast from the sea having seven heads and ten horns. Of course, we learned that this beast was none other but Nero Caesar, the man whose number was 666. John here describes the consequences of all those who compromise their allegiance to God and succumb to Emperor worship regardless of their degree of complicity. Their resistance may even require their lives. By inspiration of the Spirit, John calls these martyrs “blessed”. He further assures them that they would experience “rest” and their “works” would be rewarded.
Verses 14-19. As I’ve mentioned previously, the book of Revelation depicts the judgment of apostate Israel from several perspectives. Some scenes describe the judgment starting with the Jewish revolt from Rome, and consequently, Rome’s military action against such a revolt. Other visions, however, are concentrated more on the siege of Jerusalem and its subsequent destruction. While other visions focus more on the Neronian persecution against the Christians. This entire period covered approximately five years from 65 A.D. to 70 A.D. In the vision before us, John sees Jesus sitting upon a cloud with a sickle in his hands. From the heavenly temple, an angel with a sharp sickle also appears. Both Jesus and the angel are instructed to thrust in their sickles for the “harvest of the earth (land/Judea) is ripe”. Thus begins God’s judgment upon an un-Godly Jewish nation. Also, we should point out that these angels came directly from the “temple”, that is, from the presence of God. John draws attention to the angel who had “power over fire”. Actually, in the Greek, it is “power over the fire”. This is the fire from the altar. Here, John reminds us of the significance of this fire. It is the same fire which was offered with the “prayers of the saints”. We saw this in our comments of 6:9-10 and 8:3-5. Thus, God responds to the prayers of the saints to avenge their blood.
Verse 20. In considering this last verse of this chapter, I will quote it here in order to make it more readily available as we comment upon it.
“And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.”
I believe this vision refers to the Romans’ campaign against many of the cities of Judea in their attempt to quell the Jewish revolt. Historically, the Roman armies waged war against the major cities of Judea. Jerusalem was the last city and, of course, the most important city for them to conquer. By using the phrase “without the city”, John is referring to the campaign against the cities of Judea and not to the siege of Jerusalem itself. Josephus gives us a detailed account of this Judean campaign.
By using the imagery of the blood reaching the horses’ bridles, John is describing how brutal and bloody this war against the Jewish rebellion would be. This is in perfect agreement with the account that Josephus records for us. In fact, Josephus wrote that, “Galilee was all over filled with fire and blood.” There are some commentators who take the vision of blood reaching to the horses’ bridles for a space of 1600 furlongs in a literal sense. This amount of blood would require trillions of people! Obviously, the number 1600 must be taken as a symbolic figure. The number can be broken down to four squared and ten squared. In Scripture, four symbolizes the land and ten refers to completeness. Sixteen hundred furlongs is approximately 200 miles which is a little more than the length of the land of Israel. Thus, the symbol represents the devastation of the judgment wreaked upon apostate Israel.
Verse 1.- “And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God.”
In chapter 8, we saw the seven angels with the seven trumpets of judgment . Now, we have seven angels with the seven last plagues. As we shall see later, these seven last plagues are contained in seven vials or bowls. So then, God’s judgment of apostate Israel was revealed to John in the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven vials. Throughout the book of Revelation, we find this kind of parallelism. The last phrase of this verse is what the book of the Apocalypse is all about. It is what several of the apostles alluded to in their writings. In referring to the apostate Jews, this is what Paul had to say in I Thess.2:16.
“Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins always: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost”.
Verses 2-4. John saw a “sea of glass mingled with fire”. Also, he saw all those who had “gotten the victory over the beast” standing on this sea of glass. Remember that John had just had a vision of the land covered with blood. This, of course, was the judgment of God’s wrath on the apostate Jewish nation. Now, he sees a sea of “red” (fire/blood). This represents the same judgment. The difference, however, is that the ungodly are covered in this sea, whereas, the righteous are standing on top of this sea totally untouched by its judgments. During the same period of time in which God is administering His judgment of wrath upon Israel, the Christians are going through tribulation and many become martyrs for Christ. Thus, they are able to sing the song of Moses. The Israelites sang this song after God had destroyed the Egyptian army in the Red Sea, but had delivered them safely through on the other side of the sea. The song of Moses is found in Exodus 15:1,4.
“Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea. Pharaoh’s chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea: his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red Sea.”
Verses 5-8. After showing the scene of the victorious Christians, John now returns to the judgment theme of the Revelation. He sees seven angels coming from the presence of God, that is, the Holy of Holies of the heavenly temple. John continues to watch as he sees one of the four beasts (these were first introduced in chapter 4) give to the seven angels the vials of the wrath of God. John says that the temple became “filled with the glory of God, and from his power”. Because of this glory, no man could enter into the temple. This is exactly what happened at the dedication of Solomon’s temple as recorded in 2 Chron.7:1,2.
“Now when Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices: and glory of the LORD filled the house. And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD had filled the LORD’s house.”
As a righteous Judge, God must execute judgment on the ungodly. However, he demonstrates his glory by his mercy and graciousness to those who obey him. God showed Moses this glory in Exodus 34:5-7.
“And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.”
Verses 1-7. In chapter 14, we taught that the harvest of the earth (land) by the Son of man and the angel with the sharp sickle symbolized God’s judgment on the land of Israel. Of course, we know that this judgment was divinely executed by the Roman armies. In the chapter before us, however, I believe that the focus of the judgment now is on the city of Jerusalem itself. It describes in much detail what actually transpired during the siege of Jerusalem of 69 A.D. to 70 A.D.
In these verses, John reveals to us the judgments contained in the vials of the first three angels. After the first angel poured his vial, it caused a “grievous sore” upon the men who had worshipped the beast and had his mark. Because of the multiplied thousands of corpses that lay everywhere inside the walls of Jerusalem, pestilence and disease were inevitable outcomes. Josephus records that the rebellious factions within the city actually walked upon the bodies that lay bloated within its gates.
The second angel poured his vial upon the sea and it became as blood. The third angel poured his vial upon the rivers and the fountains and they became blood. John gives us the reason for this in verse 6: “For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy.” Jesus tells us what city was guilty of killing the saints and the prophets in Luke 13:33,34.
“Nevertheless I must walk to day, and to morrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!”
Because it was Jerusalem which killed the saints and the prophets, God would render to her the same judgment which she had rendered to the prophets, namely her own blood would be required. This is what was meant by God “given them blood to drink”. Notice what Josephus had to say about the apostate rulers within Jerusalem:
“For God had blinded their minds for the transgressions they had been guilty of…no more than they could discern how a famine was creeping upon them; for hitherto they had fed themselves out of the public miseries, and drank the blood of the city”.
Finally, with reference to the blood in the sea and the rivers, Josephus makes this interesting and very apropos comment.
“Now this destruction that fell upon the Jews, as it was not inferior to any of the rest in itself, so did it still appear greater than it really was; and this, because not only the whole of the country through which they had fled was filled with slaughter, and Jordan [river] could not be passed over, by reason of the dead bodies that were in it, but because the lake Asphaltitis [sea] was also full of dead bodies, that were carried down into it by the river.”
Verses 8-11. The fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun. John says that power was given unto him, that is, the sun to scorch men with fire. Again, I cannot overly emphasize the fact, that in order to understand this book of prophecy, then the reader must view its visions from a first century perspective. This is necessary since the apocalypse was addressed to Christians of John’s own era. With that in mind, let’s find out what those first century readers knew. As we have already discussed in the letters to the seven churches, the imperial cult (the worship of the Caesars as gods) was at its heightened status during this period. There were two temples dedicated to Caesar as the sun-god. Both of these were located in Asia, one in Pergamos and the other in Smyrna.
It is no coincidence that John, in writing to the church in Pergamos, stated that was “where Satan’s seat is” and he also said that it was “where Satan dwelleth”. Remember in our comments of chapter 13 that the beast (Nero/Rome) received his power from Satan. Also, because of this emphasis of emperor worship, John wrote to the church of Smyrna that he knew of their tribulation. In fact, he told them that the “devil” would cast some of them into prison and some would even suffer martyrdom. Lastly, Nero maintained that he was of a miraculous and divine birth. Therefore, he built the largest palace of any of the emperors and then erected a colossal gilded statue (120 ft.) of the sun-god. Of course, he had the artisans carve this Colossus of Sol with his own facial features, since he claimed that honor as the sun-god for himself.
With these facts in mind, we can see how God did in fact give Nero “power”, that is, authority to accomplish God’s righteous judgment against an apostate Israel. Furthermore, we know that Jerusalem was burned with fire by the Roman armies in 70 A.D. In verse 11, John writes that the ungodly men still refused to repent of their evil deeds. Let’s now look at Josephus’ first-hand account of the siege of Jerusalem with these verses in mind.
“But when the Romans went in numbers into the lanes of the city, with their swords drawn, they slew those whom they overtook, without mercy, and set fire to the houses whither the Jews were fled, and burnt every soul in them, and laid waste a great many of the rest; and when they were come to the houses to plunder them, they found in them entire families of dead men, and the upper rooms full of dead corpses, that is of such as died by the famine… And made the whole city run down with blood, to such degree indeed that the fire of many of the houses was quenched with these men’s blood…yet did the fire greatly prevail in the night; and as all was burning, came that eighth day of the month upon Jerusalem. But these men, and these only, were incapable of repenting of the wickedness they had been guilty of.”
Verses 12-16. John now records that the sixth angel poured out his vial on the river Euphrates and made the
dry up. This allowed the kings of the east to advance without difficulty. Next, John sees three unclean spirits
the form of frogs come out of the mouths of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet (the lamb-beast). The
purpose of these “spirits of devils” was to cause all to come together for the “great day of God Almighty”, in
words, in preparation of God’s judgment on the ungodly. The place of this historic battle was called Armageddon
Let’s see if we can put all this into perspective.
Since Jerusalem had taken on the nature and attributes of the idolatrous Babylon, John makes reference of how historic Babylon was conquered by the Medes and the Persians. He states that the waters of the Euphrates which flowed through Babylon dried up. 170 years before it happened, Isaiah prophesied how the Persians (he even spoke Cyrus by name) would be able to enter Babylon and conquer it.
“Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut.” (Isa.45:1,2)
Babylon was surrounded by a huge wall wide enough for chariots to ride upon on. Since the Euphrates flowed through it, the city was additionally protected by having, in the river, large brass gates preventing entrance via the river.
On the fateful night of its downfall, king Belshazzar was having a feast. During this time of revelry, fingers of a man’s hand appeared and began writing on the wall. Daniel was called in to interpret its meaning. In essence, the message said that Babylon would be judged and given to the Medes and the Persians. That same night, Belshazzar was killed. Just as the prophecy of Isaiah had said, someone had failed to shut the gates of the river. During the night, the armies of the Medes and the Persians had diverted the flow of the Euphrates, and they were able to march in through the river bed. By the way, the countries of Media and Persia were east of Babylon.
In summary, John was saying that in the same way that He aided the Medes and the Persians to conquer Babylon, He would also aid the Romans to conquer an apostate Israel and Jerusalem. Throughout history, God has used nations to carry out His judgment on other nations. He would even allow unclean spirits to work miracles in order to accomplish His will. We will again draw upon the writings of Josephus to hopefully shed light on these verses. Before the siege of Jerusalem, the waters of Siloam and other springs outside of the city were on the verge of drying up. With regard to God helping the Romans, I will first give a quote from Josephus speaking to his fellow Jews, and then give a quote from Titus.
“Accordingly, you know that Siloam, as well as all the other springs that were without the city, did so far fail, that water was sold by distinct measures; whereas they now have such a great quantity of water for your enemies (the Romans), as is sufficient not only for drink both for themselves and their cattle.”
“We have certainly had God for our assistant in this war, and it was no other than God who ejected the Jews out of these fortifications; for what could the hands of men, or any machines, do towards overthrowing these towers.”
Josephus even addresses the fact of miracles happening, and false prophets who helped enable Jerusalem’s own destruction.
“A false prophet was the occasion of these people’s destruction, who had made a public proclamation in the city
very day, that God commanded them to get up upon the temple, and that there they should receive miraculous signs
their deliverance. Now, there was then a great number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants to impose upon
people, who denounced this to them, that they should wait for deliverance from God…
Thus were the miserable people persuaded by these deceivers, and such as belied God himself; while they did not attend, nor give credit, to the signs that were so evident and did so plainly foretell their future desolation; and they did not regard the denunciations that God made to them. Thus there was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year.”
Finally, in our discussion of this passage, we will consider the reference made about the battle that was to take place at Armageddon. To begin with, Armageddon is a combination of two words: Har and Megiddo. Har means mount or mountain. So, the combined word means mount Megiddo. Of course, there is no such geographical location as this. Megiddo is a town located just west of the plain or valley of Jezreel. The closest mountain would be mount Carmel. The valley of Jezreel was situated between mount Tabor to the northeast and mount Gilboa to the southeast and mount Carmel to the northwest. This valley was also known as the valley of Megiddo. It was in the valley of Megiddo where king Josiah met his death as he went against king Necho of Egypt. Immediately after the death of Josiah, Judah slipped back into apostasy, upon which, caused her destruction. The valley of Jezreel or Megiddo was the scene of many of Israel’s ancient battles. Since mount Carmel was the closest mountain to Megiddo, John was probably drawing from historical events that included both. Remember, it was at Carmel where Elijah had the “show-down” with the prophets of Baal. It was where God executed His righteous judgment on these ungodly prophets. Therefore, John uses both as a reference to God’s judgment upon an apostate Jerusalem.
Verses 17-21. Lastly, the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air. In this last vial, the city is divided into three parts. As we’ve mentioned previously, Jerusalem was divided into three rebellious factions led by Eleazar, Simon, and John. They contributed greatly to Jerusalem’s demise. Notice that in verse 19, John makes a distinction between the “cities of the nations (Gentiles)” and “great Babylon”. This is further evidence that Babylon is none other than Jerusalem.
Also, John records that “great hail” about the weight of a “talent” fell from heaven. The weight of a talent was approximately 100 pounds. Josephus describes for us the most probable meaning of this “hail”.
“The engines, that all the legions had ready prepared for them, were admirably contrived; but still more extraordinary ones belonged to the tenth legion; those that threw darts and those that threw stones, were more forcible and larger than the rest. Now, the stones that were cast were of the weight of a talent, and were carried two furlongs and farther. As for the Jews, they at first watched the coming of the stone, for it was of a white color, and could therefore not only be perceived by the great noise it made, but could be seen also before it came by its brightness.”
Verses 1-5. One of the seven angels with the vials came to John and told him that he would show John the judgment of the whore. Although this is the first time that the term “whore” was used in the Revelation, it appears that John knew of whom the angel was speaking. John says that the angel carried him away “in the spirit” into the “wilderness”. Therefore, John is being given the ability to see the spiritual condition of this woman who sat upon a beast full of blasphemy. The “wilderness” was a place of desolation and barrenness. John uses the terms “whore” and “woman” interchangeably. In the Greek text, the word translated “woman” is the same as the word for “wife”. Who was this wife who had committed whoredom? Of course, the reference would be to Jerusalem (Israel) who had been the wife of God.
We have already discussed Jerusalem’s association with the name of Babylon. So now, we will just consider the phrase “THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH”. This was not the first time that Israel had played the harlot. Also, the word “abomination” always carries with it the connotation of idolatry. Although there are many passages of Scripture that speak to this idea, we will just quote a few.
“How is the faithful city become an harlot; it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.” Isaiah 1:21
“The beginning of the word of the LORD by Hosea. And the LORD said to Hosea, go take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms: for the land hath committed great whoredoms, departing from the LORD.” Hosea 1:2
“Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations, and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto Jerusalem… I clothed thee also with broidered work, and shod thee with badgers’ skin, and I girded thee about with fine linen, and I covered thee with silk. I decked thee also with ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thy hands, and a chain on thy neck. And I put a jewel on thy forehead, and earrings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thine head. Thus wast thou decked with gold and silver; and thy raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and broidered work; thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil: and thou wast exceeding beautiful, and thou didst prosper into a kingdom. And thy renown went forth among the heathen for thy beauty: for it was perfect through my comeliness, which I had put upon thee, saith the Lord GOD. But thou didst trust in thine own beauty, and played the harlot because of thy renown, and poured out thy fornications on every one that passed by… And of thy garments thou didst take, and deckedst thy high places with divers colours, and played the harlot… Thou hast also taken thy fair jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given thee, and madest to thyself images of men, and didst commit whoredom with them. And in all thine abominations and thy wholesome thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth… But as a wife that committeth adultery, which taketh strangers instead of her husband.” Ezekiel 16:2,3,10-17,22,32
I want to quote verse 4 at this point, so the reader can see the similarity between John’s description of this Mystery Babylon and Ezekiel’s description of the unfaithful city of Jerusalem.
“And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:”
Verses 6-11. Next, John notices that the woman is “drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus”. John then makes this unusual comment: “I wondered with great admiration”. This, of course, is from the KJV. The word “admiration” really is just another form of the word “wonder”. Both are from the primary verb meaning to “look closely at”. The angel even asks John why he marvels at this vision. We, of course, can only imagine what prompted John to marvel at the sight of this woman riding upon a beast with seven heads and ten horns. Please permit me to give you my thoughts of why John was amazed at this vision.
I will begin with a passage taken from another of John’s writings, the gospel of John.
“Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people. And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple: that disciple was known unto the high priest, and went in with Jesus into the palace of the high priest. But Peter stood at the door without. Then went out that other disciple, which was known unto the high priest, and spake unto her that kept the door, and brought in Peter.” (John 18:14-16)
Undoubtedly, John was that other disciple. We do not know to what extent or on what basis the high priest knew John; we only know that he did. The apostles and especially John were very Jewish. Remember, in the first chapter of Acts probably the day of Jesus’ ascension, the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord , wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel”. They, at this point, still were carnal and did not understand that Jesus’ kingdom was a spiritual kingdom. They believed what every Jew was taught, that is, that the Messiah would deliver them from their enemies and would set up an earthly kingdom.
I’ve said all this to put the thoughts of John into perspective. Even though John knew that Jerusalem and Israel must be judged for their sins and unbelief, I don’t believe that he knew to what depth Israel’s sins had taken her. Just as he had known the high priest and possibly many other religious leaders of his day, he could not fathom the implications of their wickedness. It is only human nature to believe and see the “best” qualities of your friends and especially those of your loved ones.
However, John was given the rare privilege to be taken “in the spirit” to view the utter depravity of Jerusalem, the harlot. The drinking of blood was anathema to a Godly Jew. So, when John was able to “spiritually see” this woman (Jerusalem) drunken with the blood of the saints and martyrs, then he was aghast and was in total awe of this unthinkable scene. John probably even recalled that even as Pilate had tried to release Jesus, the crowd cried out prophetically, “His blood be on us, and on our children”.
The angel now tells John that he would explain this “scarlet colored beast”. I believe David Chilton is correct in his book, The Days of Vengeance, when he states that the “scarlet colored” beast is a composite of both the dragon of chapter 12 and the sea beast of chapter 13. Let me explain the reasons for taking this position.
First, in chapter 13, the seven heads of the beast represented seven emperors. Also, the dragon was separate and distinct from the beast as is seen in 13:2. However, in verses 9 and 10 of this chapter, we see that the seven heads represent both the seven hills of Rome and the seven kings (emperors). So, this is our first composite found in this vision.
Second, the angel describes the beast separately from the seven kings as seen is verses 10 and 11. The beast here is said to go into perdition. This is a definite reference to Satan, the dragon. Who else but Satan ascends “out of the bottomless pit” (verse 8). So, the “heads” of the beast and the beast who “was, and is not, and yet is” makes the second composite.
Third, this vision clearly emphasizes the close interrelationship of the dragon (Satan), heads of the beast (Rome/Emperors), and the woman (apostate Israel/Jerusalem). Please read again the comments on chapter 13 to see this intimacy of Satan, Rome, and Israel/Jerusalem (the lamb-beast). This is the third composite.
If the reader will recall, I’ve maintained that the visions of the Apocalypse reveal the judgment of apostate Israel from many different perspectives. This vision is in reality a synopsis of the visions of chapter 12 and chapter 13. Again, I would like to remind the reader that Satan works through human agencies in order to accomplish his goals. Also, as we saw in chapter 12, Satan’s ultimate goal is to destroy Christianity.
Finally, before we proceed to the next passage of Scripture, I would like to hopefully clarify verse 11.
“And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.”
Although the KJV has the definite article before “eighth”, it is absent in the Greek text. In verse 10, the definite article “the” is before the list of the kings in the Greek text: (1) the five are fallen, (2) the one is, and (3) the other is not yet come. What is the significance of this? Well, as we’ve discussed previously, the first five Caesars are: Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, and Claudius. These are all dead (fallen). The Caesar contemporary with the writing of the Revelation is Nero (the one is). The seventh king/Caesar was Galba (the other not yet come). However, in verse 11, John writes about the beast and not the kings as in verse 10. John states that “he is eighth”, not the eighth as in the KJV. Yet, he is said to be “of the seven”. The reader should not be surprised at this wording since this is exactly what was revealed to us in chapter 13. The sea beast of chapter 13 does the bidding of the dragon and the lamb-beast causes those of the earth to worship the sea beast. Both beasts receive their power from the dragon and ultimately perform the goals of the dragon (Satan). This is why/how the beast, the “eighth” is “of the seven”.
It is the alliance of the unholy trinity of the first century: Satan, Rome (Nero), and apostate Israel/Jerusalem. Verses 12-18. The angel now proceeds to explain the “ten horns” of the beast. Since the ten horns come from the seven heads of the beast, and these heads represent Rome and its emperors, then the ten horns most probably stand for the governors/kings of the ten provinces in which the Roman Empire was divided in ancient Rome. As of the time of the writing of the Apocalypse, these horns (kings) have yet to receive their kingdom, that is, their power as kings. John writes that the ten kings will receive their power for “one hour” with the beast. The key to understanding this phrase can be found in Rev.18:10, “for in one hour is thy judgment come”. Thus, the ten kings receive their power as kings when they execute judgment on Babylon, the harlot city of Jerusalem. Remember, too, that the beast and, consequently, the ten kings ultimately receive their “power” from the dragon (Rev.13:2). The angel tells John that these armies of these kings/provinces “shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire”.
Again, we will resort to quote from Josephus, since he was an eyewitness of these accounts.
“Now the people of Caesarea had slain the Jews that were among them; insomuch that in one hour’s time above twenty thousand Jews were killed, and all Caesarea was emptied of its Jewish inhabitants.” “The people of Scythopolis…cut all the Jews throats. The number that was slain was above thirteen thousand, and then they plundered them of all that they had.” “The soldiers of Libya were also permitted not only to kill the Jews, but to plunder them of what they had, and set fire to their houses.” “The populace of Alexandria bare so very great hatred to the Jews, that it was difficult to recall them.” “There were also great numbers of auxiliaries gathered together from the free cities, who indeed had not the same skill in martial affairs as the Romans, but made up in their alacrity, and in their hatred to the Jews what they wanted in skill.” “In the mean time, the people of Damascus, when they were informed of the destruction of the Romans, set about the slaughter of those Jews that were among them; yet did they distrust their own wives, which were almost all of them addicted to the Jewish religion; so they came upon the Jews, and cut their throats, as being in a narrow place, in number ten thousand, and all of them unarmed, and this in one hour’s time.” “There came also five other troops of horsemen from Syria. There were also a considerable number of auxiliaries got together, that came from the kings Antiochus, and Agrippa, and Sohemus, each of them contributing one thousand footmen that were archers. Malchus also, the king of Arabia, sent a thousand horsemen.” “Now Vespasian came to Caesarea, which lay by the sea-side. This was a very great city of Judea, and for the greatest part inhabited by Greeks; the citizens here received the Roman army with great acclamations partly out of the hatred they bore to the Jews.”
All of these quotes were to emphasize the fact that the Roman army received help from its “horns”, that is, kings and armies from its provinces. The passages from Josephus were also to demonstrate that these “horns” hated the “whore” (apostate Jews/Jerusalem). History records that the Jew’s influence extended throughout the Roman Empire. The Book of Acts gives us a list of all the nations where the Jews dwelt.
“And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation other heaven. Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia. Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.” (Acts 2:5,9-11)
It was peoples from these very nations who “hated the whore”; this was because God had “put in their hearts to fulfill his will” to destroy that “great city”, the apostate Jerusalem.
Verses 1-8. Here, John witnesses an angel having “great power”, in so much, that “the earth was lightened with his glory”. What angel (messenger) was so majestic as this? Also, verse 2 stated that he cried “mightily with a strong voice”. Let’s see if we can find in Scripture someone who fits this description.
“And, behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east: and his voice was like a noise of
waters: and the earth shined with his glory.” (Eze.43:2)
“In him was life; and the life was the light of men.” “That was the true Light, which lightest every man that cometh into the world.” (John 1:4,9)
“And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man…and his voice as the sound of many waters…and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.” (Rev.1:13,15,16)
From these verses, I believe we can confidently say that this majestic angel was none other than the Lord Jesus. In John’s gospel (John 5:27), we find that God gave him “authority to execute judgment”. That is why, Christ is the one who announces the fall (judgment) of Jerusalem: “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen”. In this same verse, John gives us the reason for her fall and subsequent judgment. It was because she had “become the habitation of devils” and to all that were “unclean”.
In Luke 8, we find a demoniac from the region of Gadara. Notice that this demoniac favored living in the tombs. Could it be that when a person who is possessed with a demon dies, that the demon then seeks another living person to reside in? This is possibly why this man had a legion of demons living within him. Notice the words of Jesus concerning this wicked generation of Jews.
“Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.” (Matt.12:45)
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” (Matt.23:27)
In verse 5, the sins of apostate Israel are “full”, that is, have “reached unto heaven”. Again, this is a reference to the prophecy found in 1 Thess.2:16, “…to fill up their sins always: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.” John even describes the measures in which God will execute judgment upon this ungodly nation: by death, famine, and fire. As we have seen, this was historically fulfilled in 70 A.D.
Verses 9-19. In this passage, we find three groups of people who bewail the fall of Jerusalem: (1) the kings of the earth, vs.9, (2) the merchants of the earth, vs.11, and (3) the shipmasters, vs.17. Jerusalem was a cosmopolitan city which was rich in its commerce. History records that goods were traded here which came from all parts of the earth. The three groups mentioned above all benefited from this commerce. It is significant to note their response to Jerusalem’s demise: “alas, alas” or “woe, woe”.
Both words come from the same Greek word. Josephus records for us a very interesting account of a lone prophet curiously named Jesus who spoke these very same lamentations over Jerusalem prior to, and even during, Jerusalem’s destruction.
“But, what is still more terrible there was one Jesus, the son of Ananus, a plebeian and a husbandman, who, four years before the war began, and at a time when the city was in very great peace and prosperity, came to that feast whereon it is our custom for every one to make tabernacles to God in the temple, began on a sudden to cry aloud, ‘A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice against this whole people!’ This was his cry, as he went about by day and by night, in all the lanes of the city. However, certain of the most eminent among the populace had great indignation at this dire cry of his, and took up the man, and gave him a great number of severe stripes; yet did not he either say anything for himself, or anything peculiar to those that chastised him, but still he went on with the same words which he cried before. Hereupon our rulers supposing, as the case proved to be, that this was a sort of divine fury in the man, brought him to the Roman procurator; where he was whipped till his bones were laid bare: yet did he not make any supplication for himself, nor shed any tears, but turning his voice to the most lamentable tone possible, at every stroke of the whip his answer was, ‘Woe, woe, to Jerusalem!’ This cry of his was the loudest at the festivals; and he continued this ditty for seven years and five months, without growing hoarse, or being tired therewith, until the very time that he saw his presage in earnest fulfilled in our siege, when it ceased; for as he was going round upon the wall, he cried out with his utmost force, ‘Woe, woe, to the city again, and to the people, and to the holy house!’ And just as he added at the last,---‘Woe, woe, to myself also!’, there came a stone out of one of the engines, and smote him, and killed him immediately.”
Verses 20-24. This chapter ends with the proclamation that now God has avenged the innocent blood of all the
prophets, saints, and apostles that had been slain by the ungodly men of this apostate nation. We first saw this
prayer of retribution in chapter 6 when the fifth seal was opened. Also, the three woes of chapter 18 are
reminiscent of the three woes, or trumpets, found in chapters 9-11.
So, finally, we see the end of a nation and a city who rejected their one and only Savior. Truly, “he came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11).
Verses 1-6. John hears great rejoicing in heaven and even discovers what all the excitement is about. He finds out that the rejoicing is due to God having “judged the great whore” and having “avenged the blood of his servants”. The reader must remember the true intent and purpose of this book of prophecy. It was to give its readers hope and a sure consolation that their prayers had not gone unheard. Even John told them in the very first chapter that he, too, was a “companion in tribulation”, in other words, they were not alone. Therefore, in their darkest hour of need, Jesus gives them a message of hope. By reading the words of this prophecy, Jesus said that they would be “blessed”, that is, happy. They would find joy in knowing that God was in complete control and would bring them forth victorious.
Verses 7-10. These next few verses describe an event that prophecy teachers call the marriage supper of the Lamb. In the popular and sensational teaching of the dispensational view, this event occurs within the seven year period between the rapture and the second advent. In other words, while the “great tribulation” is happening on planet earth, Christ and his Church are having the marriage supper. I would like to introduce to the reader another view to consider. In order for you follow Paul’s advice to Timothy in “rightly dividing the word of truth”, you should consider all views of a teaching or doctrine. Therefore, please weigh the evidence of the following exegesis. After proclaiming that apostate Jerusalem has finally been judged, the announcement comes that “the marriage of the Lamb is come”. It logically follows that this great news must come after the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. Jerusalem and, especially, the temple represented the fabric of the old covenant. This fabric had become old, worn, and tattered. Jesus purchased a new and everlasting covenant by his death and resurrection. The old covenant or testament was but a type and shadow of that which was to come. The wife, that is the Church, who “keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ”, has made herself ready. The “voice from the throne” commands John to write: “Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb”. This “marriage supper” was spoken of by Jesus in one of his parables. The parable thinly veils the meaning of the ones called but who did not come, namely, the Jews.
“And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come… And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then saith he to his servants, the wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.” (Matt.22:1-9)
Notice that the king’s servants were first sent to those “that were bidden”. When Jesus sent the disciples out to proclaim that the “kingdom of heaven is at hand”, he told them to “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt.10:5,6). God’s call to the lost was always “to the Jew first”. But, since “his own received him not”, then the king’s servants went to those in the highways, that is, the Gentiles. And, as a result of rejecting the call to the marriage supper and, especially, for killing his servants, the king was “wroth” and destroyed the murderers and burned up their city. Just as the wife of verse 7 and they which are called in verse 9 both represent the Church, so too, does the wife and those that were bidden in Jesus’ parable also represent the Church. The call is still for “whosoever will”. Notice, that the “call” in the parable continued until the “wedding was furnished with guests”. As a believer, we are “married” to Christ and, consequently, may feast at Jesus’ table even now. Just as John wrote in verse 7, “the marriage of the Lamb is come”, I believe that as the bride of Christ, we are now feasting at the marriage supper. It is as the great old gospel song says, “Come and Dine”.
Verses 11-16. Next, John witnesses heaven being opened and he beholds one sitting on a white horse. In the passage before us, the rider is given three different titles or names: (1) Faithful and True, (2) The Word of God, and (3) KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. John wants us to know, without a doubt, that this rider is Jesus. Curiously, though, John mentions that the rider had another name “that no man knew, but he himself”. What does this mean? To begin with, as with our comments on the over-comer in Rev.2:17, I believe this phrase speaks of being special and unique. But what other insights can we glean for the meaning of this mysterious phrase. I am drawn to the immortal prayer of Jesus found in John 17. Within this prayer, we find these words:
“O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
Throughout Scripture, God has progressively revealed his nature, character, and essence to man via his revelatory names. In the minds of the ancients, the name of the person represented that person. I will give to the reader a partial list of these names with their most probable meanings. For purposes of clarification, let me mention how the King James Version translates certain words for God. The KJV translates any Hebrew word for God as God. However, when the Hebrew word is YHVH (Jehovah), then it is translated as GOD or LORD.
“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matt.1:21) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
The name of Jesus in Hebrew is Yeshua which means Jehovah is salvation. That is why Peter, while under the
of the Spirit, spoke with such urgency the words that we find here in Acts 4.
I felt that I needed to lay this foundation about God’s name before I attempted to explain the meaning of the name which “no man knew, but he himself”. The wording of this verse reminds me of the words of Jesus in Matt.11:27.
“All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.” (See also John 10:15)
Remember, that one’s name was the same as the person himself. In this verse, we see that Jesus revealed to man the Father’s nature and attributes. That is why when Philip asked Jesus to show them the Father he said,
“Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Phillip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?” (John 14:9).
He goes on to explain that the mighty works and teachings that he did was all for the purpose of revealing the Father to them. If they had been sensitive to spiritual things, they would have seen that the Father was loving, merciful, longsuffering, forgiving, righteous, omnipotent, and omniscient. That is why Jesus stated in John 17, “the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me.”
Could it be that the unknown “name” in Rev.19:12 was a name that expressed or revealed that most deep and intimate relationship that the Father and Son shared together? Or, since God used names to progressively reveal himself to man, could it be that the name represented Christ in his new role after his mediatorial role in reconciling the world back to God was finished? This thought comes from the passage in I Cor.15:28. “And when all things shall be subdued unto him (Christ), then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him (Father) that put all things under him (Christ), that God may be all in all. Therefore, whether the name was another revelatory name that revealed the intimacy of the Godhead or, a name that revealed Christ’s new role, it was a name that was incomprehensible to the minds of men.
Verses 17-21. Notice the obvious contrast that we find in verse 17 as compared to that in verse 9: “supper of the Lamb” versus “supper of the great God”. One speaks of a joyous feasting in the presence of the Lamb (Christ), while the other refers to the feasting of the birds of carrion upon those who have been judged by the Judge of the Earth. John continues to look as he sees a great army led by the beast and the false prophet as they make war against the rider on the white horse and his armies. The calling of the birds of prey was in anticipation of the inevitable result of the conflict between the KING OF KINGS/LORD OF LORDS and the beast and the false prophet. To John’s readers who were enduring much tribulation, this word of prophecy brought much comfort and hope. Their enemies: the beast (Nero/Rome) and the false prophet (apostate Jews/Jerusalem) were judged according to their deeds. They were both cast “alive” into the lake of fire. This denotes that their judgment was quick and contemporary with the historical events and not postponed for the “Last Judgment”. We spoke of this conquering rider on a white horse back in chapter 6 when the first seal was opened. It was the first seal to be opened because God wanted to relieve all fears and anticipations of John’s readers. From the beginning of the book until the end, God confirms that he is in control and that Christ will be victorious. Just as the prophet Daniel prophesied in the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, in the days of the fourth world kingdom (Roman Empire), a stone “cut out without hands” (Christ) would “set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed” (Dan.2).
Before we continue to chapter 20, let the reader note that only the beast and the false prophet were cast into the lake of fire and not the dragon. As we shall soon see, the dragon will also meet that same destiny, but there is a vast time lapse before that happens. The first two enemies of the early Christians met their judgment nearly 2000 years ago, whereas, the real enemy of the Church (Satan) will come to his fate at the final judgment.
Verses 1-3. We’ve finally come to probably the most controversial chapter of the entire Bible. For it is only in this chapter do we have reference to a 1000 year reign of Christ. From this one chapter, we have students of prophecy divided into one of three main groups: amillennial, premillennial, and postmillennial. Each group bases the second coming of Christ in relative time to the millennium or the thousand year period as mentioned in this text. The present writer will not attempt to define the doctrines of each of these positions, but rather, only try and put this disputed time period in its proper biblical context. Hopefully, by so doing, the reader will be able to judge for himself what the term really means. With that said, let’s see if we can understand the next vision which John witnesses. Since there is such importance relegated to this chapter, I will quote each passage in order to enhance the ease of reading.
“And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years. And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.” (Verses 1-3).
There are two questions concerning this passage that I want to consider. First, what does it actually mean with regard to the binding of Satan? To those who adhere to an earthly, literal 1000 year reign of Christ on earth, then this “binding” occurs during this period of utopia. It begins immediately after the Second Coming of Christ with his saints and ends 1000 years later. According to those who hold this view, it is the time period in which “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock” (Isa.65:25).
Let’s see if the Scriptures allow for another interpretation. However, before we start our quest through the Bible, we need to look again at the text before us. John specifically states in what way that Satan was “bound”, that is, “that he should deceive the nations no more”. Prior to Jesus’ first advent, all nations were ignorant of the one true God, except one, Israel - the covenant nation. Notice the words of Jesus in the calling of Saul (Paul) to the ministry.
“And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.” (Acts 26:15-18).
Here, Jesus plainly reveals that the whole world (Gentiles) were blinded by the “power of Satan” in preventing them from coming to a saving knowledge of God. Since this is obviously the condition of the world at the time of Christ’s first coming, does the Word of God tell us when the binding of Satan took place? Yes, it does! When the Pharisees accused Jesus of being Beelzebub in Matt.12, Jesus makes this interesting analogy.
“And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils by whom do your children cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you. Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? And then he will spoil his house.” (Matt.12:25-29).
Jesus is very forthright is saying that he has bound Satan and that is why he and his disciples are able to cast out demons. Satan’s kingdom is in the process of being destroyed, and Jesus is beginning to set up his everlasting kingdom.
In John 12:31, Jesus declares when the “casting out” of Satan would take place: “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.” So, from the above comments, we find that Satan was bound at Jesus’ first advent in a very specific way, that is, that he should deceive the nations no more. With the proclamation of the Gospel, all nations are now able to come to a saving knowledge of God. Of course, Satan is still alive and well on planet earth, but he no longer has the ability to deceive the world in preventing them to come to God. His power has been temporarily restrained and limited. Let’s us now turn our attention to the second question about these first three verses. Are these one thousand years literal or symbolical? We need to now “search the Scriptures” in order to ascertain the correct intent of the word, “thousand”.
“Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations;” (Deut.7:9).
“Be ye mindful always of his covenant; the word which he commanded to a thousand generations;” (I Chron.16:15). In reading these verses, both Moses and David is assuring the people of God’s faithfulness. They both do this by stressing the fact that God keeps his covenant for a thousand generations. Does this mean that after a thousand generations is over, God’s covenant becomes null and void? Of course not! “For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.” (Psa.50:10).
Here, God is declaring his omnipotence and the extent of his reign and authority. Again, does this verse teach that the cattle on the thousand and one hill does not belong to God? Obviously not.
“For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” (Psa.84:10).
From this reading, one might deduce that David thinks that a day in God’s courts is better than a thousand, but anything more than a thousand is not worth the trade. This kind of thinking of course verges on the ridiculous.
“For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.” (Psa.90:4). “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (2 Pet.3:8)
Are these verses actually teaching us the equivalency of God’s time to that of man’s time? Are two days of God’s time really equal to two thousand years of man’s time?
“One thousand shall flee at the rebuke of one; at the rebuke of five shall ye flee: till ye be left as a beacon upon the top of a mountain, and as an ensign on an hill.” (Isa.30:17)
In this passage of Isaiah, God is reprimanding Israel for putting their trust in Egypt instead of trusting in God. Consequently, God said that because of that misplaced trust, just one of your enemies will frighten and scatter one thousand Israelites. To spare the reader any more of this redundancy, I will omit further comments. In their zeal to uphold the literalness of the Bible, many expositors do so at the expense of overlooking idioms and figures of speeches that were common to the people of that day. Thus, the so-called “literal” interpretation completely misses the true “intent” of the writer. So it is with the term of a “thousand” presently under consideration. Just as the number ten represented “completeness” or “fullness”, the number “thousand” denotes the same but drawn to its ultimate or maximum limit. Just as the holy of holies was a perfect cube representing God’s fullness of holiness, so too, does a thousand (10 X 10 X 10) represent the perfect and complete time that God had ordained for the Church to spread the Gospel to all the nations of the world. This was to be accomplished while Satan was being temporarily “bound”.
I would like to provide to the reader one additional illustration contrasting the “literal” approach to the interpretation of Scripture versus the “symbolical” approach. We will do this by examining a familiar text from Deuteronomy.
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets beween thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.” (Deut.6:4-9)
For nearly 800 years from the time of Moses, the Jews interpreted these verses in a spiritual or symbolical sense. They believed that God was telling them to always remember and be mindful of his commandments, especially as it pertains to honoring him as the one true God. However, after the Babylonian captivity, the Pharisees began to interpret these verses in a literal sense. It was then that the wearing of the phylacteries of all male Jews, thirteen years and older at the morning prayers, became a strict observance. The phylactery was a small, black leather box attached to a leather strap that was worn on the left arm and on the forehead. Within the box was parchment that contained the portions of the Torah that had the verses quoted above. The Pharisees were “literally” binding these verses between their eyes. I want the reader to decide for himself which of these interpretations was actually fulfilling the true intent of Scripture. Which pleased God?
Finally, to answer the question I posed on whether the thousand years were literal or symbolical, I answer without equivocation that the term “thousand” is symbolical to represent the Church Age.
Verses 4-6. In this next vision, John sees thrones and “they” sat upon them. He also sees those martyrs who had been beheaded for the word of God. But, let’s allow the scriptures to speak for themselves. “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.” In this chapter, John brings all the principal players together into one encompassing vision: (1) the twenty-four elders of chapter 4, (2) the martyrs under the altar in chapters 6 and 7, (3) the dragon of chapter 12, (4) the One who sat on the throne in chapter 4, (5) the beast from the sea in chapter 13, and (6) the false prophet or lamb-beast of chapter 13. He begins with those who were seated upon thrones who were given judgment or authority. I draw the reader’s attention back to Rev.4:4. There we saw the 24 elders clothed in white raiment wearing golden crowns and sitting upon thrones. These elders are the “they” of verse 4. As we learned in our study of chapter 4, the elders represented all of the redeemed, both Old Testament and New Testament saints, both Jew and Gentile. Next, John sees “the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus”. He further states that “they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years”. To the dispensationalist (literalist), these martyrs represent the “tribulation saints”, primarily Jews, that would not worship the Antichrist. As we have already noted, the thousand years is that time determined by God that encompasses the Church Age. It began with Jesus’ first advent and will end at his second coming. I conclude that taking the “spiritual” or “symbolical” meaning of a text is sometimes more real and true to the intent of the scriptures than taking the “literal” view. One must consider the type of writing that is being used by the writer in order to “rightly divide the word of truth”. Some portions of Scripture are written in a narrative or historical style. Others employ an apocalyptic or imagery style. Some writers use both in their writings. Also, some books of the Bible, and even segments of books, express the truth of God in a poetical style. Regardless of the style of writing employed by the authors of the Bible, we can state authoritatively that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim.3:16).
Another controversial text is the phrase “first resurrection”. To the dispensationalist, the term applies to the martyred saints during the tribulation period. I admit that just reading this passage of scripture by itself makes the term somewhat “fuzzy”. Fortunately, a doctrine as important as the resurrection has ample other scripture that further and more clearly documents its authenticity.
The term “first resurrection” naturally implies a “second resurrection”. Within this same vein of thought, the “second death” implies that there first be a “first death”. Let’s see if we can identify each of these terms in the Bible. To begin our study, I believe it apropos that we start in the “book of beginnings”, that is, the book of Genesis.
“And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Gen.2:15-17)
“Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die.” (Gen.3:1-4)
God told them that they would “die” if they ate of the forbidden tree; the serpent (Satan) told them that they would not die. Now we know that Adam lived to be 930 years of age before he died. Does that mean Satan was right and God was wrong? Of course not! What it does mean is that spiritual death occurred for both Adam and Eve the very day in which they disobeyed God. The natural death merely was a latent consequence of that “first death”. In Rev. 20:14, the Bible unmistakably reveals that the “second death” is none other than the “lake of fire”. Therefore, since we have these two terms clearly defined, we will now consider the “first resurrection” phrase. Before I go further, I need to emphasize the fact that the word “resurrection” means “life from the dead”.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live… Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice. And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” (John 5:24,25,28,29).
To the unbiased reader, Jesus is teaching in this passage that there are two resurrections: (1) a spiritual resurrection, and (2) a bodily resurrection. Jesus emphatically declares that all are “dead” until they “hear and believe” his words of life. Therefore, this is the “first resurrection”. He also says that this act of believing in him would keep them from “condemnation”. This is the same thing John is declaring in Rev.20. In verse 28 and 29 of John’s gospel, Jesus states that the “hour is coming”, but notice that he does not say “and now is”, when all that are “in the graves” shall hear his voice. This, of course, refers to the general resurrection in the last day. Obviously, then, this must be the “second resurrection”. Now that we have clarified our terms, let’s look again at the passage in Rev.20:5,6 with regard to the first resurrection.
As we’ve said before, according to dispensational thinking, the first resurrection refers to the tribulation saints only. John says that those that have experienced the “first resurrection” will not experience the “second death”. Of course, the second death is the “condemnation” that Jesus was referring to in John 5:24. Truly, anyone that, according to Jesus in John’ gospel, has passed “from death unto life” will not come into “condemnation” or the “second death”. This “first resurrection” began during the ministry of Jesus (“now is”) and will continue to the time of Jesus’ second coming to those who “hear and believe” his words.
Verses 7-10. “And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall 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 whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”
According to the dispensational view, this battle of Gog and Magog occurs at the end of the millennial reign of Christ. Satan and his armies will be defeated for the final time. Remember, though, that this is after the world has experienced 1000 years of peace. Also, it is a time when the “immortals” (resurrected saints) will be reigning over the “mortals”, those that were “left behind” after the rapture. Of course, it also includes all who lived and died during this thousand year period. It only takes Satan “a little season” to cause the whole world to rebel against Christ’s millennial kingdom.
Let’s look at another interpretation of this passage that I believe to be more rational and Biblical. To begin with, I want us to consider the idea of this one thousand year kingdom of Christ. The reader should be aware that this is the only place in the entire Bible which speaks of a one thousand year reign. All other Scriptures declare that Jesus’ kingdom would be an everlasting kingdom. Even the most ardent dispensationalist would not dispute this point. Of course, they maintain that this 1000 years is just the first part or segment of Christ’s eternal reign. Still, nowhere else in the Bible does it ever allude to this one thousand year “segment”. If it is as I’ve maintained previously, that the one thousand years represents the entire Church Age, then the loosing of Satan from his prison must be toward the end of God’s timeline for man. Let’s see if we find any evidence of this in history. Again, I want to remind the reader that Satan was “bound” only in the sense that he could not “deceive the nations” anymore.
We must ask ourselves, In what ways did/does Satan “deceive” the nations? One way he can do it is by sowing the seeds of untruth in the guise of “new revelation” within the Christian religion itself. From this methodology, new denominations (cults) were established in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These cults denied many of the fundamental tenets of the Church. Even though these cults are destructive in their lies and deception by perverting the truth of the gospel, their impact was limited. Satan needed a plan that would be more pervasive and rebellious in its nature. I believe it is found in what I call the trinity of the isms: evolutionism, communism, and humanism. What is removed from each one of these isms is God. Therefore, they all share the basic tenet of atheism. Evolutionism. Although the concept of evolution was developed before the time of Charles Darwin, it was his book, Origin of the Species, that catapulted this erroneous teaching worldwide. It was received enthusiastically because men would no longer have the specter of judgment or accountability facing them. Since it removed God from creation and made everything just a product of blind chance, man would then be free to pursue their own lusts with impunity. At least one Harvard scientist, Professor George Wald, was honest enough to admit his reason for accepting evolution, “I chose not to believe in God, therefore, I believe that which I know to be scientifically impossible (chemical evolution).” Paul has these insightful and prophetic words that describe this insidious philosophy.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools… And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient.” (Romans 1:18-22,28)
As we shall soon see, evolution became the foundation for the other godless isms. Communism. Communism and socialism both were developed from the writings of Karl Marx in his pamphlet, The Communist Manifesto. He had a high regard for Charles Darwin and adopted his view that man controls his own destiny. This belief was due to the idea that man had evolved by naturalistic means without Divine intervention. One of Karl Marx’s stated goals was to “dethrone God”. As a result of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, communism began to spread like a cancer throughout the world.
Humanism. In the year 1933, another one of evolution’s “sons” was born. That year marked the birth of humanism. With the signing of the Humanist Manifesto, man became his own “god”, in that he would develop his own value system. Humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created. They, too, just as evolution and communism, have eliminated God as a real, personal being. To them, God was merely a manifestation of man’s own foibles and fears. Just as communism was founded on the premise of freeing man, humanism also used that very same guise, except it began the process at a much younger age. They would do this through the public school system. Horace Mann, who is the considered the “Father of Public Education”, made this startling quote, “deliver children from the Christian Religion.” Echoing the same sentiments was John Dewey, the Father of Progressive Education, when he said, “solve the Christian problem via the public school system.” It is no coincidence that both of these men were humanists. So, the binding thread of these three isms is atheism. Consequently, in this “little season” in which Satan was “loosed”, he has virtually eroded the foundations of the Christian faith. From this perspective, I am persuaded that we are presently living in this “little season”.
But one might wonder, what about Gog and Magog? Obviously, this is an allusion to the prophecy found in Ezekiel 38. This Old Testament prophecy is fulfilled in the book of Esther. Please read my study, "The Battle of Gog and Magog". The reference is to a time when evil forces tried to wipe out the entire Jewish race. So it is in this prophecy in Revelation 20. Toward the end of the Church age, Satan will utilize various ideologies and tactics (as previously mentioned) to try and wipe out the true Christian church. The oppression will continue to intensify and will seem almost successful, but at this moment of time, Jesus will return and defeat and judge all evil.
Verses 11-15. “And I saw a great white throne, and him than sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the 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 which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”
This passage is in complete agreement with what Jesus said in John 5:28,29. According to both of these scriptures, there will be a general resurrection in the which all would then be judged. Throughout the Bible, references are made about the resurrection and the last judgment day. Jesus even spoke of these in a few of his parables. I will provide a list of just some of these passages for the reader to study for himself.
Verse 1. “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.”
This verse really ends the theme found in chapter 20. Regrettably, I believe this verse got misplaced when they did the chapter divisions in the 13th century. The vision of a new heaven and a new earth logically follows the final judgment. This is in perfect accord with the words of Peter in 2 Pet.3:10-13.
“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness. Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.”
Since Peter wrote these words a few years before the writing of the book of Revelation, the “promise” he references comes from the Old Testament. In Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22, we find “promises” of God creating “new heavens and a new earth”. John further declares that there would be “no more sea”. Daniel helps us with the meaning of sea in Dan.7:2,3,17.
“Daniel spake and said, I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea. And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another. These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth.”
Here, Daniel gives the meaning of “sea” as denoting world kingdoms. The prophet Isaiah gives a very appropriate analogy of worldly kingdoms when he states that “the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest..” (Isa.57:20). Additionally, to understand the kind of “sea” John is referring to, we must use the term in the same context in which he uses it. In chapter 13, we saw the beast that arose from the “sea”. Here, John uses the sea as referring to world kingdoms or nations in the very same way as that used by Daniel. As we have already noted, the inference is that the sea referred to the ungodly. There will not be any ungodly world kingdoms in the new heaven and the new God creates. The kingdom will belong to God and him alone. Thus, no more sea.
Verses 2-8. Notice that John makes his message to his readers personal by using the phrase, “I John”. He only does this twice more: once in 1:9 and the other in 22:8. It is to remind those who were going through tribulation, that he was an eyewitness to those visions of judgment and victory of which he is writing. Remember that John had lived in Ephesus before he was exiled to Patmos. Therefore, he knew only too well the hardships that the churches of Asia were experiencing. Of all the visions that John shared with his readers in Asia, I believe this one to be the most important, since it was a vision of sublime hope and a revelation from God of his infinite love for his Church. As we shall see, John has two visions of the holy city, new Jerusalem. For now, our consideration is just on his first vision. He depicts the city as “a bride adorned for her husband”. In this passage, John describes the new Jerusalem with regard to its benefits and blessings for its citizens. First, he says God “will dwell with them”, that is, the inhabitants of the city. Secondly, he states that God would “wipe away all tears from their eyes”. Thirdly, John writes that “the former things are passed away…Behold, I make all things new”. Fourthly, the One who “sat upon the throne” told John that “It is done”. Fifthly, God tells John that whoever is “athirst” that he would give of “the fountain of the water of life freely”. Lastly, God says that “he that overcometh” shall inherit all things.
Let’s put all these descriptive phrases in their proper context. As always, we must allow scripture to interpret scripture. In order to do this, we will address each of the six phrases in light of other scriptures.
“But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.” (Gal.4:26)
“In whom all the building fitly framed together growth unto an holy temple in the Lord. In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” (Eph.2:21,22)
“For we are laborers together with God: ye are God’s building. Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Cor.3:9,16)
“And many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and shall by my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the LORD of hosts hath sent me unto thee.” (Zech.2:11)
“And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (2 Cor.6:16)
“Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” (John 14:23)
“But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels. To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.” (Heb.12:22,23)
“He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke
his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the LORD hath spoken it.” (Isa.25:8)
“For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” (Rev.7:17)
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Cor.5:17)
“When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.” (John 19:30)
“Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to
drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.
But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give
shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:10,14).
“In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37,38).
“For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our
Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4,5)
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” (Rev.2:7)
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.” (Rev.2:11)
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what he Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” (Rev.2:17)
“And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations.” (Rev.2:26). “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; 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.” (Rev.3:5)
“Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.” (Rev.3:12)
“To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” (Rev.3:21)
Let the reader note that the promises of God are only to him who “overcometh”. Jesus gave this admonition to all seven churches.
In reviewing all the passages dealing with the vision of new Jerusalem, it becomes apparent that some of the blessings and promises that John lists are present realities while others await us upon our departure from this old world. The Church is a vibrant, living organism consisting of both living saints and departed saints.
Verses 9-11. We will now examine the second vision John describes for us of the new Jerusalem.
“And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.”
In contrast to the first vision where John views the holy city independently, here, John is shown the second vision by one of the seven angels who had the seven last plagues. What is so important about this second vision that required an angel to delineate all the details of the city to John? What was the overriding message? Before we begin to answer these questions, let’s first take notice of what the angel said to John at the very start. He told John that he would show him “the bride, the Lamb’s wife”. The angel then immediately takes John “in the spirit” and shows him “the holy Jerusalem”. Notice, that the angel did not say that he would show John where the bride/wife would live, but instead, stated by demonstration that the bride/wife was the holy Jerusalem. Remember, this is the message that John was to take back to the churches of Asia that were going through much suffering and tribulation. Remember, too, how that in speaking to the church of Smyrna, Jesus said “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, but thou art rich”. The churches in Asia felt beat down and defeated, but in this vision, the angel is showing to John what the Church looks like in God’s eyes.
Therefore, in this second vision, it is revealed to John that God views the Church as something glorious and beautiful. Before giving a detailed description of the holy city, John records that the holy city (the Church/Lamb’s wife) had “the glory of God”. Jesus spoke of the glory of the Church in John 17.
“And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:22).
There are three main aspects of the vision that John uses to describe the holy Jerusalem:
Gates John saw twelve gates with each having the names of the twelve tribes of Israel on them. He also saw twelve angels standing by each gate. John further states that each gate was made from a single pearl. The gates were used as a point of entry. Just as the apostle Paul stated in Romans 3, the Jews were a privileged people in that they had the “oracles of God” delivered or entrusted to them. The Old Testament scriptures, represented by the twelve tribes of Israel, served as the introduction or the gate leading to Christ. The angels stand for our defense and protection. The writer of Hebrews gives us one of the duties of the angels.
“Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” (Heb.1:14)
Finally, John states that each of the gates were made of a solid, solitary pearl. Pearls are formed within oysters and other mollusks. They begin as an “irritation” and then a calcareous concretion forms around it. In studying the lives of the tribes of Israel and later of the prophets who followed, we find that many suffered hardships (irritations). But from all this, God had a plan for them. I remember the words of Jesus in John 14:33, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world”.
City In giving the dimensions of the city, John records that it was “twelve thousand furlongs”. A furlong is approximately 1/8 of a mile, therefore, it was 1500 miles. The city was described as being “foursquare” and that the “length and the breadth and the height of it are equal”. Consequently, the city was a cube which had sides that were each 1500 miles long. Additionally, the streets and all the structures within the city were constructed of pure gold.
With regard to its dimensions, they are significant. Twelve thousand is: 12 times 10 times 10 times 10. Of course, twelve has reference to both the twelve patriarchs and the twelve apostles. Ten is a number of fulness and completeness with ten cubed being the ultimate in fulness. The Holy of Holies in the temple was also a perfect cube: twenty cubits cubed. John tells us the construction material of which the city was built, namely, gold. From ancient times, gold has always been the most precious and valued metal.
Wall The wall was 144 cubits tall, again, twelve times twelve. This wall had twelve foundations which were garnished with all manner of precious stones. Also, John stated that each foundational stone had the name of one of the twelve apostles. Notice how Paul describes this foundation in Eph.2:20-22.
“And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord. In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.”
Since antiquity, walls have been constructed to protect the city and its inhabitants. The teachings of the apostles formed that protection for the early Church. In First Corinthians 3, Paul gives a warning for all others who would later build upon their foundation.
To those of a more literal interpretation, this new Jerusalem is thought to be an actual city where the New Testament Church, not the Old Testament saints, would reside during the Millennial period. If that be the case, let's consider the purpose of the wall. To begin with, this wall is a mere 216 feet high. This, of course, surrounded a city which was 1500 miles high. To put it in a different perspective, it would be like a one foot wall protecting a city which was seven miles high. Again, I believe a “spiritual” interpretation is much more real and true than a “literal” interpretation.
Verses 22-27. John took particular notice that there was no temple in the city. The word used here was the Greek word naos which stood for the holy of holies. The most holy place of the temple was where the presense of God dwelt above the ark of the covenant between the two cherubims. Of course, in the Old Testament, everything about the temple was symbolic. John is now viewing the “real deal”, therefore, there is no need for symbolism, no need for a temple. John records that the Father and the Son are the temple of it.
In the next several verses, we find descriptive phrases about the city. These are in reality prophetic utterances from the Old Testament that have their fulfillment in the Church. The reader should read this passage in Revelation and then compare them with the Old Testament verses which I shall list below.
“The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the
shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory.” (Isa.60:19)
“And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.” (Isa.60:3)
“Therefore thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night; that men may bring unto thee the forces of the Gentiles, and that their kings may be brought.” (Isa.60:11)
“So shall ye know that I am the LORD your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more.” (Joel 3:17).
By comparing the Old Testament prophecies with these verses in Revelation, we find that they have their fulfillment in the Church. Whether it better describes that portion of the Church which is with Christ in heaven or that portion of the Church which is still on earth, it is still prophetic utterances describing the Church nonetheless.
Verses 1-5. This next vision is in reality a continuation of the vision of the holy city, new Jerusalem. John sees a beautiful river of life proceeding from the throne of the Father and the Son. In this vision of John, several allusions are made of some Old Testament passages. I will quote a few of these in hopes of getting a better understanding of what John is trying to relate to us.
“And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.” (Gen.2:10)
“So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which
turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.” (Gen.3:24)
“Afterward he brought me again unto the door of the house; and, behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward: for the forefront of the house stood toward the east, and the waters came down from under from the right side of the house, at the south side of the altar... Then said he unto me, These waters issue out toward the east country, and go down into the desert, and go into the sea: which being brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed. And it shall come to pass, that every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live: and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither: for they shall be healed; and every thing shall live whither the river cometh.” (Eze.47:1,8,9)
“In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleaness.” (Zech.13:1)
“And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: in summer and in winter shall it be.” (Zech.14:8)
“Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou kneweth the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:10,14)
To begin with, John takes us back to the Garden of Eden. It was here that God provided a river to water the garden which, in turn, sustained Adam and Eve. Because of disobedience, the garden was cursed and man's “heaven on earth” was forever gone. However, God promised that one day a redeemer would come that would remove the curse of sin and would restore man to that place which God had originally intended. He would, again, be able to commune with God and to walk with him “in the garden in the cool of the day”. Both Ezekiel and Zechariah prophesied of this glorious day. In the passage in John, Jesus proclaims that “day” had come with his words of life.
Verses 6-21. Since verse five essentially ended the prophecies of the book of Revelation, the angel reminds John that all the visions that John received “must shortly be done”. I believe that this reminder should again be said to many of the prophecy teachers of today. Just in case John didn't fully realize the imminence of these prophetic visions, the angel tells John to “seal not” these prophecies for “the time is at hand”. Whereas, the visions given to Daniel in chapter 8 and 12 of his book would not be fulfilled until many years from Daniel's time. Consequently, Daniel was told to “shut up” and to “seal” the visions of the book.
“Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.” (vss.14,15)
Just as Adam forfeited his right to the tree of life because of disobedience, John reminds us that we, too, must keep his commandments in order that we may have the “right” to the tree of life. John penned these same sentiments in 1 John 2:4.
“He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him”.
Notice, too, that when John was writing these very words, the “bride” is still offering the “water of life” to “whosoever will”. Obviously, this city with its river of life was a present reality to the readers of the Apocalypse in the first century.
“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book”. verses 18, 19
Again, we find some very strong language which cannot be toned down. The words are very similar to Moses' admonition found in Deut.4:2.
“Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you”.
Lastly, John records these last words of Jesus, “Surely I come quickly”. This “coming” of Jesus was his coming in judgment to Jerusalem in 70 A.D., which did happen “quickly” (just a few years from the writing of this book). This agrees what Jesus said in Mark 8:38 and Mark 9:1.
“Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power”.
Although separated by a chapter division, these verses naturally follow each other. As we have tried to show in this commentary, the kingdom of God came with the dissolution of the symbols of the old covenant (temple and its sacrificial system). Historically, this happened in 70 A.D. Although many of the apostles had been martyred by this time, there were “some” who were still alive.
It was the goal of this writer to present the Book of Revelation from the perspective of John's first century
readers. Since the book was addressed to them, then the natural mechanics of language demands that we interpret
visions from their experiences and circumstances. We must understand the history, language, and customs of their
in order to better interpret this difficult book. The fact of a two thousand year hiatus compounds the problem.
I realize that this approach is contrarian and not as sensational as the more popular views on prophecy.
is my sincere conviction that this interpretation is more in agreement as to how John's readers would have
these visions. It is hard for us to envision the stress and turmoil that the early Church was experiencing
the period known as the Neronian Persecution. Fortunately, their tears, prayers, and shed blood did not go
by the Judge of the Earth.
God answered them with this beautiful book filled with visions of righteous judgment and hopes of a glorious victory for the overcomers.
As with all other Scripture, Christians from all ages can receive hope and consolation in the fact that God is always in control. We may not be as fortunate as John, since he was given the unique experience and privilege to view what was happening in both the natural and the spiritual worlds. Rather, God desires us to walk by faith secure in the knowledge that he will be with us “even unto the end of the world”.
The documentation and quotes below are taken from Kenneth Gentry's excellent book, Before Jerusalem Fell. Also, much insight and material came from David Chilton's notable book, The Days of Vengeance. The reader is encouraged to read both of these works for a more exhaustive and scholarly account. There are two schools of thought with regard to dating the Revelation. The early date advocates believe it to have been written around 64 A.D. to 66 A.D. during the Neronian persecution. The late date group believe it to have been written during the time of Domitian in 94 A.D. to 96 A.D. Why is it of such importance as to when the time of its origin? If you believe the Revelation to have been written early, then most of the prophecies probably deal with Nero’s persecution of the Christians and Jerusalem’s subsequent destruction. If, however, you adhere to a late date, then all the prophecies are to be fulfilled in the distant future.I. Arguments for a late date
The foundation for all late date advocates are to be found in a statement made by Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons. Irenaeus lived between A.D. 130-202. The writing of his in question was around A.D. 180-190. Specifically, Irenaeus made this controversial statement: “was seen no such long time ago, but almost in our own generation, at the end of the reign of Domitian.” The late date people say that Irenaeus was speaking of the Apocalypse when he referenced “was seen”. In other words, John wrote his vision during the period of Domitian’s reign. The other testimonies of the Church Fathers for a late date merely reference Irenaeus’s statement. They offer no new independent authority. Eusebius and Jerome, in the fourth century, both quote Irenaeus for a Domitian date.II. Arguments for an early date
Those who maintain that the Apocalypse was written prior to 70 A.D., assert that the translational problem with Irenaeus’ statement is “very dubious”. Since it is admitted by all that Irenaeus tends to be a very obscure writer, the early date advocates insist that the phrase “was seen” did not refer to the vision, but to the Apostle John himself that was seen.
Although the late date advocates use Clement of Alexandria to support the Domitian date, Domitian’s name is not mentioned in the quote by Clement. Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 150-215) was the presbyter in the church of Alexandria. This is his statement:
“…a true account of John the apostle that has been handed down and preserved in memory. When after the death of
tyrant he removed from the island of Patmos to Ephesus.” It is assumed by the late date group that the tyrant
to Domitian. But the question remains as to who better fits this description, Nero or Domitian? I will give
testimonies from 1st and 2nd century sources as to their thoughts on the “tyrant”.
a. Pliny the Elder ( contemporary of Nero) described Nero as “the destroyer of the human race,” and “the poison of the world.”
b. Apollonius of Tyana (b. 4 B.C.) said this about Nero: “but this beast, that is commonly called a Tyrant.”
c. The Roman historian Tacitus (A.D. 56-117) spoke of Nero’s “cruel nature” that “put to death so many innocent men.”
d. Suetonius (A.D. 70-130) speaks of Nero’s “cruelty of disposition” evidencing itself at an early age.
e. Juvenal (c. A.D. 60-138) refers to “Nero’s cruel and bloody tyranny.” He speaks of Nero as a “cruel tyrant” when he tells about Nero’s sexual exploits with the handsome young men in his castle.
Further evidence from Clement for an early date is this statement concerning the time of the end of the inspired
“For the teaching of our Lord at His advent, beginning with Augustus and Tiberius, was completed in the middle of the times of Tiberius. And that of the apostles, embracing the ministry of Paul, ends with Nero.” It is plain that he holds that all revelation given through the apostles ceased under Nero. How could he have made this statement if John’s Revelation had been written about 25 years after Nero?