Revelation

Introduction

Introduction

Introduction 

The word which we translate “revelation” is, in the New Testament language, apokalupsis, which means to uncover, unveil, disclose, reveal.  Whereas the Gospels unveil Jesus in His birth, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension to heaven, the Revelation reveals Him in the glory of heaven, in the glory of His second coming and in His everlasting glory.  This book also provides the unveiling of truth about God’s church and to the church.  Finally, we see the unveiling of the purpose of history — God preparing a holy Bride for His Son and we see the end point of history — God presenting His Son with a Bride made ready for eternal communion with the Bridegroom Messiah.

Four times the author identifies himself as John and the early church unanimously affirmed this to be John the son of Zebedee, the beloved disciple.  However, the book begins with these words, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.”  More accurately, then, we might say that the author is Jesus communicating to John, who recorded what he heard.

The earliest church records set the date for the writing of Revelation near the end of Emperor Domitian's reign, around 95-96 A.D.  This would have been sixty years after John walked with Jesus in His earthly ministry.

Revelation is a book of astounding paradox.  In it we see a river of life flowing from the throne of God and a lake of fire removed from the presence of God.  We see a God whose gracious hand wipes every tear from our eyes but at whose command angels pour out bowls of wrath on an unbelieving, rebellious world.  We see a universe where stars have fallen from a darkened sky and a heavenly city where there will be no need for sun or moon, “For the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb” (21:23).  We see a rebuilt Jerusalem temple in which stands the abomination of desolation; and we see a heavenly city where there is no temple, “For the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (22:22).


It is as though we are sitting in a theater and as the curtain is lifted, we behold a drama in which the entire universe is the stage.  The spectacle begins in time but concludes when time is no more. 

Immediately, the primary Actor steps onto the stage.  He commands our attention for His head and hair are like white wool, His eyes are like fire, His voice like the sound of many waters. We listen as He warns and encourages His church, as He releases judgment on a rebellious world order, as He humbles false kings and reduces counterfeit kingdoms into the dust of history. 

We watch as He shepherds His church through the centuries, a church which is at various times corrupt, faithful, persecuted and finally, perfected in glory. We behold this most miraculous transformation — the redeemed become a heavenly Bride and are united with a glorious Savior.

This wonderful drama concludes with an invitation, 

“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come’” 

and a promise, “Yes, I am coming quickly.”

Revelation 1

Revelation 1

Revelation 1:1-8

1:1 “The Revelation of Jesus Christ”:

As we said in the introduction, the word revelation means unveiling. This unveiling of truth is from God, the source of all truth, as Daniel said to the king, “There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” (Daniel 2:28).  This is not Jesus saying, “Here are some things you can guess about until I come back.”  It is Jesus saying, “Here is my Word of encouragement and my perspective on the unfolding truth of history in the midst of the turmoil and tribulation, in the confusion and upheaval of your times.”  

The focus of the book is not the number 666 or the two witnesses or the incredible pictures of heavenly beings or the outpouring of God’s wrath.  The focus of the book is Jesus: Jesus in His glory at the right hand of the majesty of heaven; Jesus standing in the midst of His church, speaking truth to His church as the glorious Lord of His church; Jesus, through His witnessing saints offering grace, mercy and warning to a violent, evil, God-rejecting world, even in the final moments of history; Jesus executing judgment on the rebellious, unrepentant nations of the world; Jesus in the glory of His second coming; Jesus establishing His thousand year reign on earth; Jesus transforming the redeemed into a holy Bride made ready for eternal communion with Himself.

“Which God gave Him”: 

Jesus did not need for the Father to give Him revelation knowledge of the end of time.  During the time of His earthly ministry, Jesus had “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant” (Philippians 2:7).  This refers to Christ’s voluntary restriction of certain divine attributes such as omniscience, which is why He said, “But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Mark 13:32). However, once Jesus ascended to heaven and resumed the full exercise of His divine attributes, including  omniscience, He did not need for the Father to give Him revelation.  He shares all wisdom and knowledge with the Father and with the Holy Spirit.

So what does this mean, “Which the Father gave Him”?  Revelation is the Father's gift to Jesus in the sense that it is the unveiling of the glory of Jesus to those who love Him.  As in any love relationship, Jesus wants to reveal Himself to those who love Him, wants us to see and know Him intimately.  This gift of the unveiling of His glory was an answer to the prayer Jesus prayed on His last night with those whom He loved, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, be with me where I am, so that they may see my glory which you have given me, for you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).

Revelation, the unveiling of the glory of Jesus, was the Father’s gift through Jesus to John to the church.  The Father presents His Son with the book of His revealed glory and we are allowed to see it.  It is the Father’s love gift to His Son and Jesus’ love gift to His church.  

“To show His bond-servants the things which must soon take place”:

Revelation is written to the servants of Jesus, those who love, follow, obey and worship Him.  Unbelievers find this book completely incomprehensible because it was not written to them.  The Apostle Paul said,

“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God ... But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised ... For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him?  But we have the mind of Christ” (I Corinthians 2:12,14,16).

“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 2:3,4).

The Revelation was written to those who love the Lord and have committed their lives to serve Him.  It is foolishness to everyone else.

The purpose of the book is to show His servants “things which must soon take place.”  Soon, tachos, can mean quickly, in a brief time, and there is surely a quickness to the events described in this book.  Once these events begin to take place, they will happen quickly.  In seven years the world system is destroyed.  In the twinkling of an eye the church is raptured.   

 

However, in this context tachos is not primarily about the quickness of God’s action but the nearness of God’s action; not the speed of Jesus’ second coming but His nearness in time. Already, in John’s lifetime, indeed, as he recorded this revelation, events of which he wrote were taking place — churches were being corrupted and persecuted, heresy and apostasy were being taught within the church and truth needed to be defended. Jesus was standing in the midst of His church and addressing the leadership. Three times in chapter 22 Jesus says, “I am coming quickly.”  He is referring, not just to the end of time but to the nearness of His presence in time.

But this does also refers to the nearness of His second coming.  The apostles and writers of the New Testament always saw the end as being imminent, close at hand.  The entire New Testament is permeated with this outlook and the church of that day lived as if the second coming of Christ was close at hand.  This produced an overriding passion in their prayers, their worship and their witness.  It motivated holiness, steadfastness, obedience.

It has been 1900 years since this book was written — when is the end?  We must remember that all of time, since the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus, is the end time.  Though the ending of the end time may seem slow, God has told us that He is not slow, rather, patient and merciful.  

“But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord, one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day.  The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:8).

Also, Jesus was speaking a word of encouragement to churches of that day which were suffering for the sake of the gospel and whose trials would intensify.  Soon reminds us that whatever trials we are going through, our suffering is brief compared to what our life is ultimately about.  Ultimately, our life is not defined by our present crisis.  We have an eternal perspective from the Lord who dwells in eternity.  He is near and the years of our sojourn on earth pass quickly.  Eternity is soon for all of us. 

We see in this book that history is not random chaos or endlessly recycled ages but rather, the relentless unveiling of God’s redemptive purpose.  We see that God is the determining factor in the unfolding of history; it is God and God alone who is moving time and history to the perfecting of His sovereign purpose.

Jesus said that God would vindicate His elect without delay (Luke 18:8).  Paul wrote that God would soon crush Satan under their feet (Romans 16:20). As we have said, the events of Revelation were already in process as John wrote.  This is the account of Jesus Christ leading, sustaining, enabling His church, working through His church to overcome persecution and to proclaim the Gospel, as He, Christ, moves history toward His triumphant conclusion.

“And He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John”:

This is the only book in the New Testament in which an angel communicates God’s Word to the writer.  In fact, one out of every four references to angels in the Bible is found in this book.  They appear in all but two chapters. We are not told how this angelic revelation took place but we are reminded of the continual activity of angels on behalf of God’s saints, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebr. 1:14).

The recipient of this revelation is John, traditionally understood to be the Apostle John.

1:2 “who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.”

John had been a faithful witness with the revelation he had been given and so he was given more.  Jesus endorses the book as His testimony to His servant John.

1:3 “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.”

“Blessed is he who: reads, hears, heeds.”

It is not enough to read or hear God’s truth.  The blessings promised in this Revelation are for those who heed, do, obey, keep the truth.  When the truth motivates our actions, we are blessed.  Jesus said, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (John 13:17).  

James exhorts us, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22).

People live the truth when they delight in the truth, as the Psalmist reminds us, “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked ... But his delight is in the Law of the Lord” (Psalm 1:1,2).

This book blesses us because it lifts us to an eternal perspective, we see ourselves and time and history through the eyes of Jesus.  In the messages to the seven churches, God unveils the absolute reality of the spiritual condition of those churches.  In the unveiling of end time judgment, God shows us clearly the condition of the world at the end of history and His response.  When we are confronted with truth and we heed the truth, we will be blessed.

“For the time is near”:

There are two words for time in the New Testament.  Chronos refers to time on a clock or calendar.  Kairos refers to seasons, ages, eras.  The word used in his text is kairos.  It means that the next era or age in God's redeeming purpose is near.  That season is the outpouring of judgment and the return of Christ.  

This portion of the end time is the church age, during which the Gospel is being preached across the world.  But the next great movement or season in the history of God’s redemptive purpose, the next era of this end time is the outpouring of God's wrath on an unbelieving world along with an outpouring of grace resulting in unprecedented harvest, followed by the return of Christ and the establishing of His thousand year reign.

The word near is eggus, which is often translated, at hand.  Jesus used a related word in Gethsemane, when He said to His sleeping disciples, “Get up, let us be going; behold, the one who betrays me is at hand,”  ( Matthew 26:46 ).  But “while He was still speaking,” Judas and the mob entered the garden to arrest Him.  At hand meant that they were close enough to touch.

The events of history contained in the Revelation are near, the time is near.  Though it has been 1900 years since John wrote those words, the time is at hand, it is the next move of God when the church age, the age of grace, is complete.

The Apostle Paul, writing of the return of Jesus, said, “Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds” (I Thessalonians 4:17).  Notice he said we.  Paul thought he would be among those who would greet the returning Christ, as did the entire New Testament church, evidently.  James said, “Behold, the Judge is standing right at the door” (James 5:7-9).  

Peter said, “The end of all things is near” (I Peter 4:7).  

John said, “Children, it is the last hour” (I John 2:18).

These were not deceived, misinformed people.  They were informed as to the season, passionate in their expectation and living holy lives consistent with their expectation.

Jesus exhorted his disciples to live in a state of continual readiness and expectancy for His second coming.  He said this, not because He does not know the time but because this is how He would have us live our lives.  Our worship, our prayers, our witness, the living of each day is to be informed by the expectation of His return.

Finally, “the time is near” reminds us that it is always time to hear and obey God’s Word.

1:4 “John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne.”

John identifies himself and the recipients of the revelation — seven churches of Asia.  These churches were located in major cities, at important highway junctions in an area that today is the nation of Turkey.  The messages, though written to specific churches, are relevant to all churches everywhere.

John blesses them: “Grace and peace to you.”  Grace and peace flow from three sources:

a. From the Lord “who is and was and is to come.”  This is the timeless God who knows perfectly the past, present and future and who therefore can speak truth concerning any era of history.  This is the God who is not bound by the limits of time or space but is Lord over both, the Lord who dwells simultaneously before the beginning, beyond the end while meeting us in time.  This is the God who identified Himself as “I Am” (Exodus 3:14,15), the eternal, uncreated, Self-existent, everliving God who is not subject to death and therefore is able to minister life, grace and peace to His people.

b. Grace and peace also flow from the seven Spirits who are before His throne.  The number seven is often used in the Bible to express fullness, completion, perfection and so could represent the Holy Spirit in the perfection of His being.  This could also refer to seven angels who minister before the throne of God (8:2) or the fulness of the angelic host in heaven.  But most probably this is representative of the fulness of the Holy Spirit.

c. Grace and peace also flow from Jesus Christ. In the following verses John describes the eternal, glorified Christ.

1:5 “and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood”

Jesus is presented as the faithful witness, first born of the dead and ruler of kings, the One who loves us and releases us from sin.

a. Jesus is the faithful witness who said, “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth” (John 18:37). Jesus was the living revelation of truth and was faithful in His witness, even unto death.  The word witness here, martus, originally referred to someone who testified. But so many Christians died for their testimony that the word came to refer to someone who gives their life for their testimony — hence the English word martyr (someone who dies for their faith). Jesus, the faithful witness, is the model of faithfulness to all who experience persecution.

b. Jesus is also the first born of the dead.  First born does not refer to time sequence, as there were others who were raised from the dead before Jesus.  It refers to preeminence.  Of all who have risen or will rise from the dead, Jesus is the preeminent One.  

This is true because Jesus is the first to rise from death into resurrection life.  All who rose from the dead before Him eventually succumbed to death.  But Jesus is the One who conquered death, who rose never to die again.  He therefore has a perspective beyond death.  He wants our perspective to be that of kings and priests alive in the eternal purpose of God, not time-bound, fearful believers in a kingdom we can't see. 

c. Jesus is the Ruler of the kings of the earth.  This refers to Christ's position of sovereignty as King of kings and Lord of lords.  This also refers to His Lordship over every nation, every empire and every ruler.  He sets the boundaries of the nations (Acts 17:26) and nullifies their plans (Psalm 33:10). “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings” (Daniel 2:21). “By me kings reign, and rulers decree justice” (Prov. 8:15). All governments derive their authority from Jesus (Rom. 13:1) and He holds them accountable, “He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless” (Isaiah 40:23). “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18). Jesus is the Ruler of the kings of the earth.

The devil offered, “All the kingdoms of the world” (Matthew 4:8-10), if Christ would worship him.  Jesus refused and received the kingdoms of the world from His Father through faithful obedience and sacrifice even unto death.  He will someday be acknowledged by all the universe as King of kings and Lord of lords.

d. Jesus is also presented as the One who loves and releases us from the guilt and power of sin.  The verb tense indicates that He loves us unceasingly.  As a demonstration of His love, He is the One who released us (some translations say washed us) by or in His blood. We were slaves to sin and death and subject to the judgment of God but we have been redeemed, released.  The means for our release was the blood of Jesus, the holy Lamb of God.  “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

1:6 “and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father — to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”  

God promised to the Hebrew people in the wilderness that if they would obey Him, He would make them to be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:5,6).  They were not able to obey and so God instituted the Levitical priesthood under the Old Covenant. 

Jesus instituted a New Covenant by the shedding of His blood and under this covenant, all who confess Him as Lord are brought into the kingdom of God and invested as priests (I Peter 2:5).  Living in the kingdom of God means we live within the sphere, the dominion, of God's gracious rule over and in our lives.

As priests, we have direct access to God, we are “priests to His God and Father.”  What do priests do? We minister to God with the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, coming directly into His presence through the new and living way which Jesus opened for us and we bring our offerings of worship. We also minister to people as instruments of Christ’s grace, truth and mercy.  When Jesus sent His disciples out, He gave them authority to do His works.  They were to be priests exercising kingdom authority.  It is so for us.

What wonderful truths are revealed in verses five and six: “To Him who loves us” and has expressed His love for us by releasing us from our sins and making us to be a kingdom of priests to His God and Father.  To Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.

1:7 “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.”

Again, the immanency of the return of Christ is emphasized, He is the One who is coming again.  Notice the present tense, “is coming,” as if He is on the way.  

John combines two Old Testament prophetic images. From the prophet Daniel, John borrows the vision of one like the Son of Man who is, “Coming with the clouds of heaven” (Daniel 7:13).  Jesus Himself used those words in reference to His second coming (Matthew 24:30) and no doubt John remembered Jesus saying that. 

The prophet Zechariah said that as the Lord pours out the spirit of grace on the people of Jerusalem, they will look “On me (Christ) whom they have pierced ... and they will mourn for Him” (Zechariah 12:10).  Again, Jesus used these very words to describe His second coming and John had included them in his gospel (John 19:37).

The Lord says, “He is coming with the clouds.” Jesus ascended in a cloud and will return in the same manner, as the angels testified to the apostles, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky?  This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).  The cloud was the manifest or shekinah glory of God.  Jesus departed in glory and will return in glory.

This will not be a hidden advent.  “Every eye will see Him,” and all the earth will mourn over Him.  For some, this will be the mourning of repentance.  For many it will be grief over the revelation of God’s final judgment of sin.

“Even so, Amen” is a way of expressing approval, “Yes, let it be so.”

1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Jesus identifies Himself as the Alpha and Omega.  These are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.  You can take the letters of any alphabet and write the words that express all the truth and wisdom contained in a given society.  In calling Himself Alpha and Omega, Jesus is emphasizing His omniscience, His knowledge of all truth from the beginning to the end.

Alpha and Omega also represent the beginning and the end of time, history and creation and Jesus emphasizes this as He identifies Himself as the One “who is and who was and who is to come.”  He is the everlasting God, existing before time, beyond time and within time.  

Finally, He identifies Himself as the Almighty, possessing all power, all authority, might, strength and dominion.   

In other words, the Source of this revelation to John is the beginning and end of all life, truth, authority, and kingdoms.  He is the timeless God who exists before and beyond history and creation yet who also meets us in time and creation.  He is therefore Lord of all, the Almighty.  Since He is this timeless, omniscient, Almighty Lord, nothing can prevent or destroy the outworking of the purpose revealed in this revelation.  It will happen as Jesus says, for there is no one in the universe greater, no one who can impose his will over the will of this God.

Study Questions

1. The word revelation means unveiling. What or who is being unveiled in this book?

2. In verse three we are told that we are blessed if we read and hear the words of this prophecy and if we also do what?

Revelation 1:9-20

1:9 “I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”

John identifies himself, not as an apostle but as a brother, not as a visionary prophet but a fellow partaker with the churches in tribulation, kingdom and perseverance. He is a brother and fellow partaker in three ways.  

1. First of all, in tribulation.  He is writing to fellow believers who are enduring persecution which he himself is experiencing. He shares the common experience of suffering which defined the life of the church at that time.

2. Second, he is their brother in the kingdom of God, the community of those who have repented of sin, placed their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. As a result of this faith, they have been “rescued … from the domain of darkness and transferred … to the kingdom of His (God’s) beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). They are now experiencing Christ’s kingdom rule over and in their lives.

3. Third, he is a fellow partaker in perseverance — the patient, faithful endurance of suffering for the sake of the Gospel. He is living the truth, walking it out day by day, no matter the cost.

Notice the relationship between these three categories of tribulation, kingdom and perseverance.  Those who are faithful in tribulation learn perseverance and how to walk in kingdom authority.  Tribulation produces character that enables us to exercise priestly ministry.  The Apostle Paul, who endured more persecution than any of the other apostles, understood this relationship, which is why he was able to say, “But we also exult in our tribulations knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope” (Romans 5:3).

Paul didn't invite suffering but he rejoiced in it because he understood that through these experiences, God was building in him the character that would enable him to fulfill the purpose of God for his life.  Further, Paul understood that no amount of persecution could separate Him from the God who had redeemed him and lavished grace and mercy upon him. He testified, 

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ?  Will tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword?  Just as it is written, ‘For your sake we are being put to death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’  But in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor things present nor things to come nor powers ... will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord”  (Romans 8:35-39).

Paul was confident that the same Lord who allowed him to experience trials would be present with him in each circumstance and would, by His presence, comfort and strengthen him to endure the trial, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction / tribulation” (2 Corinthians 1:4).

Because Paul continually experienced the Lord’s comforting presence in his trials and because he knew that the Lord would use each experience to further prove, purify and strengthen Paul’s character, the apostle was able to declare, “I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction / tribulation” (2 Corinthians 7:4).

In fact, Paul understood that suffering can be a resource multiplier. He was afflicted with some unnamed “thorn in the flesh.” He asked the Lord to remove it and the Lord refused, declaring, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Paul understood that his affliction caused him to rely on the Lord more than ever so he responded, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Cor. 12:9).

Paul’s experience was that tribulation can be a resource multiplier. This is why he and Barnabas encouraged the churches “to continue in the faith and saying, ‘Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God’” (Acts 14:22).  Notice the word must.  Paul understood that trials are a necessary part of preaching the Gospel in a fallen world.  But he wasn't intimidated by persecution.  He understood that God would use these experiences to strengthen and equip believers everywhere and he was convinced of God’s present comfort in all affliction.  So it has been throughout the centuries.  In the hottest fires of persecution, God has forged the strongest, purest, mightiest Christians and churches.

Notice that John said, “The tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus.”  To be found in Jesus is to experience tribulation, as the Lord promised, “In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” Jesus said (John 16:33).  In a world that loves darkness rather than light, deception rather than truth, all who walk in the light and preach the truth will experience opposition.  But in Jesus we also will find the strength to persevere and the authority to overcome.  The qualities and resources which enable us to endure tribulation and grow in ministry are found in Jesus.  

“I ... was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”

Patmos was a tiny, barren, Roman penal colony in the Aegean Sea.  John was there because he was faithful to the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus.  Past the age of ninety, John was banished to the harsh conditions of a Roman labor camp for the crime of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  John could have changed his circumstance by corrupting the word of God and compromising his testimony but he refused. Therefore he suffered.

But God knew where John was and it is in this place that John was given the most magnificent vision of Christ, of heaven, and of the time to come.  It's as if Jesus was saying, “You can never be in a place so forsaken that my love and my revelation can't find you.”

You may think you are living on an island called rejection, depression or grief; some forgotten place in the midst of suffering and trial.  John’s testimony is this, “I was a prisoner on a tiny island and Jesus found me and spoke to me.”

1:10   “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.” 

“In the Spirit” means that John was transported by God to a dimension of spiritual perception beyond his human senses.  This was a sovereign act of God.  But we must also acknowledge John’s willingness to position himself in a spiritual attitude of humble, worshipful receptiveness to God.  Even in a prison colony, we can humble ourselves before God, open our hearts to His presence and worship Him.  In that attitude, “in the Spirit,” we can hear from God.  Under the New Covenant, the Lord says, “I will pour forth of my Spirit on all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17).

“On the Lord’s day” means on the day of worship and teaching, Sunday. Even John, the beloved apostle, needed to take a Sabbath to wait on God. But also throughout the Bible, “the Lord’s day” refers to the day of God’s judgment over evil and release of the righteous, the day of God’s visitation, when He moves to set people free.  You may not be able to leave where you are but you can encounter the liberating presence of God where you are.

This may also be intended as a contrast to the Emperor’s day, a day in which the emperor was worshipped.  This totalitarian idolatry was resisted by the church and was a primary cause of persecution.

As John waited on the Lord, he heard a loud voice “like the sound of a trumpet.”

1:11 “saying, ‘Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.’”

The voice directed John to write what he is about to see and send it to the churches.  Revelation provides direction which results in action.

Too often, we want revelation only for the purpose of discussion.  We want to sit down in a classroom with a mug of coffee, get some revelation from God and talk about it.  “Come on God, fill up my revelation cup with some fresh, hot information,” as if the mind of the Lord could be reduced to mocha, revelation almond, revelation chocolate with whipped cream.

On one occasion, the disciples looked at a blind man and asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” (John 9:2).  In other words, “Let’s have a theology discussion about this man's suffering.”  By the way, the man was probably listening. How callous to discuss his affliction in front of him. 

Jesus did not answer their question.  He said, “Neither this man sinned nor his parents but that the works of God might be displayed in him we must work the works of Him who sent me as long as it is day” (John 9:3,4). (We removed the punctuation from the text. It was not present in the original manuscript — it was added later by translators. Sometimes we can hear a text better by removing the commas, etc.).

Jesus then healed the man. His answer to the question of suffering is not a discussion but action — let us do the works of God while we still have light.  Revelation gives us direction which should result in action.  The following messages were spoken directly to seven churches which should have resulted in immediate action.

These seven churches were located in cities along a circular route in West-Central Asia Minor (modern day Turkey).  Each city was a distribution center for the postal district of that area.  God is giving revelation to churches that are strategically located.  The revelation will then be disseminated through a wide area.

Seven also is a Biblical number of completion.  The strengths and weaknesses of all the churches are typical of churches throughout history.  So we may rightly interpret these messages as sent to all followers of Christ.  These are real churches but representative of all.

1:12 “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands.”

John turns in the direction of the voice and sees seven lampstands.  We learn in 1:20 that they are the seven churches.  They are light because Jesus is light and His presence fills His church.  “I am the light of the world” Jesus said (John 8:12).  But He also said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden ... Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify you Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14,16).

The church is to be a light to the world, a city set on a hill, reflecting the glory of God to a lost, dark world.  We are light because our Lord is light.  We are golden because we are precious to God, so precious that Jesus was willing to purchase the church with His own blood.  And we are golden because we carry the immeasurably precious Good News of forgiveness and everlasting life through faith in a sacrificed Lamb who is our Risen Lord.

1:13 “and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash.

In the middle of the lampstands, John sees “one like a son of man.”  It is Jesus in the midst of His church. “For where two or three have gathered together in my name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20).  His presence is the light that illumines His church.

Beginning in verse thirteen, John sees Jesus as He is in the glory and majesty of heaven.  John knew Jesus well in His humanity.  But he is now overwhelmed by the Jesus of glory.  We may think we are familiar with Jesus but there is a Christ we have not seen.  There is more of God’s power and glory than we have dreamed and God is able to manifest both power and glory in our circumstances.  

John turned and saw the glorified Christ.  So may we turn and see the glory of God.  Every time we read the Bible, every time we worship a living, risen Savior, we are turning and seeing more of the glory of Jesus.

Notice that Jesus is “clothed in a robe reaching to His feet and girded across His chest with a golden sash.”  This is the garb of a high priest.  The writer to the Hebrews referred to Jesus as “a high priest of the good things to come” (Hebrews 9:11).  Jesus appeared as our great High Priest who presented the sacrifice of Himself as the holy Lamb of God, by whose blood we now have access into the holy presence of God.  As our risen Lord, He is a High Priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, able to intercede for us (Hebrews 4:15, 7:25).

In verse one Jesus is exercising His office of prophet, giving revelation to John.  In verse five He is the ruler of the kings of the earth.  Now in verse thirteen He is dressed in the garments of a priest.  And so we see in these first thirteen verses Jesus our Prophet, Priest and King.

1:14,15 “His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters.”

This is the glorified Jesus. He is still called by the Biblical designation “Son of Man” but seen now by John as He is in glory, with hair white like wool, eyes like fire, feet like polished brass and a voice like the sound of many waters.  

The word white, leukos, is related to the word light and has a sense of blazing brilliance and speaks of the glory and the perfectly pure holiness of Jesus. “Eyes like a flame of fire” speaks of His penetrating, piercing, discerning insight which sees the reality of our lives and our world with perfect clarity, as Jesus Himself said, “There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known” (Matthew 10:26).  The writer to the Hebrews said, “There is no creature hidden from His sight but all things are open and laid bare before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13).  There is nothing in our hearts, in His church or in this world which Jesus cannot see with perfect discernment. 

Polished brass fired in a furnace speaks of strength and blazing, shining glory.  He is the Christ of glory and power whose feet cannot be moved and whose purpose cannot be overcome.  This should provoke fear in the faithless and confidence in the faithful.  Jesus can manifest His power and glory and plant His feet in the midst of any circumstance that we may experience. He cannot be overcome, His purpose cannot be defeated and His design for His people, His church and His world will be established.

“His voice was like the sound of many waters.”  The prophet Ezekiel heard that voice and described it with the same words (Ezekiel 43:2).  This same voice, though veiled in human flesh and weeping, called forth Lazarus from the grave.  This same voice, though wrapped in humble grace and peace, whispers truth to us every time we read the Bible.  This same voice, unveiled in the fulness of divine authority, will someday conclude history and summon the dead from their graves to stand before Him in judgment. 

1:16 “In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.”

His right hand holds seven stars, which, in verse twenty, are identified as the messengers of the seven churches — the pastoral leadership.  Notice that He holds the stars in His hand, which speaks of Jesus’ authority over His church.  Jesus holds the leadership of the church in His hands.  He guides and shepherds, defends and protects, admonishes and corrects the pastoral leaders.  He is Lord over His church, Lord in the midst of His church.

In holding the leadership, Jesus is also holding us, the members of the church. The Apostle Paul said, “We appear / shine as lights / stars in the world” (Philippians 2:15).  We shine as lights in the hand of Jesus and no one can snatch us out of His hand (John 10:28).  (But Paul added that we are to hold fast the word of life; so even as Jesus holds us, we must hold to His truth).

“Out of His mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword.”  In Hebrews 4:12, we read, “For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  Notice that it is a two edged sword: it pierces and convicts but also saves and heals.  It destroys legions of demons but also breaks the chains of bondage and sets the prisoner free.  It cuts the human heart so that truth and light may enter but that same truth and light destroy the lies and deceptions which, veiled in darkness, blind the human heart.

Jesus’ truth is a sword and He stands wielding this sword in the midst of His church.  The same dynamic, powerful Word that created a universe also builds God’s church and the gates of hell will not prevent the building of this church.

Paul exhorts the church, “And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).  We are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) but we must speak.  The church that professes love and grace but will not speak truth for fear of offending sinful hearts and a fallen world, is a church that Jesus will judge with that same sword of truth which the church refuses (as we will see in 3:12).

His face was like a shining sun.  This is the One who gives light to the lampstands and holds the stars in His hand.  The glory and majesty of Jesus, standing in the midst of His church, causes the glory of God to manifest in and through His church.  The glory of the Lord is the reason that the heavenly Jerusalem “has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it for the glory of God has illumined it and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev. 21:23). Someday the entire universe will be lit by the consuming, blazing brilliance of the glory of the Lord (Rev. 22:5).

1:17 “And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.’”

The presence of the glorified Christ is so overwhelming, so awe-inspiring, John’s response is to fall down as if dead. It is a response of both worship and fear. This is always the response of people in the Bible when they encounter the God of glory.  Daniel’s companions ran and hid themselves for “a great dread fell on them” while Daniel lost all his strength and fell into a deep sleep with his face to the ground (Daniel 10:7-9).  Isaiah cried out, “Woe is me” (Isaiah 6:5).  Ezekiel fell on his face (Ezekiel 3:23) as did the Apostle Paul (Acts 9:1-4).

John fell to the ground like a dead man but Jesus stretched out His hand, touched him and spoke to him.  The same hand that holds the stars touches John.  Jesus is not just holding the church but holding you and me also and no one can remove us from His loving hands.

The glorified Christ is still the sympathetic Priest who feels our infirmities, who intercedes for us and invites us to come boldly before the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).  He is still the Christ who knows how to touch us in such a personal way that we can be confident of His presence.  He knows how to speak so that His sheep can hear His voice (John 10:27).

Jesus touched John and said, “Do not be afraid.”  This is what Jesus said when He came to His disciples on the water (Matthew 14:27).  Jesus reassured His disciples, “Fear not little flock for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

Now He says to John, “Fear not for I am the first and the last.”  Before the beginning and beyond the end, God is.  He is the great I Am, the Self-existent, uncreated God, the Lord who transcends time and universe.  He is the One by whom, for whom and through whom all things were created (Col. 1:16), in whom all things consist (Col 1:17), by whose continuing Word of power the universe is held together (Hebr. 1:3).  John’s life, our lives, are lived in the hands of this glorious, eternal God of might and power.  

 

1:18 “and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.”

He is the Living One.  Jesus said, “For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son to have life in Himself” (John 5:26).  Again, this is the self-existent, uncreated Creator of all.  Life proceeds from Him.  Jesus adds that He was dead but is alive forevermore.  He not only rose from the dead, He rose to never again die.  He is the Resurrection and the life.  Resurrection and life flow from Him.

He is the One of whom Peter testified, “But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power” (Acts 2:24).

Further, He holds the keys of death and of Hades. Hades is the New Testament equivalent to the Old Testament term Sheol, the holding place of those who die apart from the Lord. Hades is not their final abode — that is hell, the lake of fire. However, for the sake of this verse, we don’t want to make too fine a distinction between Hades and hell. Death is the condition of those who have died; Hades is the temporary abode and hell is the final destiny of those who die apart from Christ. Keys signify authority.  The truth that Jesus is declaring to John is that He has authority over the condition and the destiny of all who die.  

Also, Jesus holds authority over the present strategies and destructive powers of the demonic realm which purpose death and hell. He will someday cast the very reality of death and hell into the lake of fire, abolishing their very existence (Rev. 20:14). Only the Living One, the first and last, the everlasting God, can hold and exercise this kind of authority but he invites us to share his authority on earth — to declare on earth that which is declared in heaven.

1:19 “Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.”

John is commanded to write the things which he has seen (the vision of Jesus which was described in these last verses); the things which are (the messages to the seven churches); and the things which will take place (the end time revelation).

1:20 “As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”

Jesus now provides interpretation for the symbols that John has been shown.  The stars are the angels of the seven churches.  The word angelos means messenger and may refer either to human or angelic messengers. For instance, in Matthew 11:10, Jesus applies the prophecy of Micah 3:1 to John the Baptist, “Behold, I send my messenger / angelos ahead of you.” (See also Luke 7:24, in which Luke refers to the disciples of John as messengers; Luke 9:52, when Jesus sent messengers ahead of Him as He traveled toward Jerusalem; and James 2:25, where James refers to the Israelite men who encountered Rahab as messengers).  

Of course, angelos may also be translated angel, as in 1:1. The way that we translate a word is determined by the context in which it is used.  There are three reasons to prefer the word messenger rather than angel in Revelation 1:20.

1. Each of the messages to the seven churches begins, “To the angelos of the church.”  To two of the churches Jesus will speak a word of commendation and encouragement. Four of the churches He will commend but also point out serious sin in the church, then offer remedy and reward. To one church He offers no commendation, only correction, remedy and reward.

Jesus is communicating with the leadership of the church, the messengers who will speak His word of commendation and correction to the church. But nowhere does the New Testament teach that angels are in a position of leadership in churches.  Jesus would not ask an angel to speak to the church.  He would ask the pastors, the bishops, those who shepherd the church.  They are the messengers.

2. Second, if Jesus wanted to communicate with an angel for the purpose of communicating with the church, He wouldn't send a letter through John or any other human being to the angel.  He would speak directly to the angel.  

3. Third, the message to five of the churches is that they repent. This call to repentance includes the leadership of the church, the messengers, but nowhere in the Bible are angels called to repent.  Regarding sin, there are only two kinds of angels in the Bible.  Sinless angels who do not need to repent and fallen angels who cannot or will not repent. 

A better translation would be, “The seven stars are the messengers of the seven churches.”  Jesus then tells us that the seven lampstands are the seven churches and therefore the people who comprise the church.


Two important truths to remember from verse 20: 

1. The seven stars are the messengers, the leadership of the church and Jesus holds the leaders in His hand (v. 16).

2. The lampstands are the churches and Jesus stands in the midst of His church (v 13).

Study Questions

1. In verse 13 Jesus is standing in the midst of the lampstands. What is the significance of Jesus standing in their midst?

2. In verse 16 Jesus is holding seven stars. What is the significance of this?

3. What is the significance of Jesus holding the keys of death of Hades? (see v. 18).

Revelation 2

Revelation 2

Message to the Church at Ephesus

2:1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:”

As we have seen, the word angelos means messenger and can refer to angelic or human messengers. It is often translated angel but not always. For reasons we shared in 1:20, the word messenger is appropriate here. Jesus is addressing the pastoral leadership who, in turn, will share His words with the church.

This is the first of seven messages addressed to churches in a region of Asia Minor which today comprise modern day Turkey.  Ephesus is the first stop along the Roman postal route and the mother church out of which the other six churches were founded.  

Ephesus was considered to be the greatest city in Asia Minor at that time. Possessing the finest harbor in the region and with four major trade routes converging at the city, Ephesus was called the market of Asia and the bank of the Mediterranean.

It was also the center for the worship of Diana (Artemis in the pantheon of Roman gods). She was one of the most sacred goddesses in the Greco Roman world. The temple dedicated to her in Ephesus was considered to be one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The ritual of worship involved debauchery, drunkenness and immorality.

The church at Ephesus had an exalted past — its leaders comprise a New Testament Who's Who.  Priscilla, Aquila and Apollos established the foundations upon which the Apostle Paul labored.  Later, Timothy pastored the church and the Apostle John, through whom Jesus sent this message, was a leader before his arrest and banishment to Patmos.

The founding of the church was accompanied by a revival that shook the city and the region (see Acts 19).  Later, one of the grand epistles in the entire canon of Scripture was written to the faithful in this city. At the time of the Revelation, more than thirty years have passed since Paul ministered there. The great lions of faith who founded the church are gone and probably most of the first generation of believers have passed on. This is still an active church, valuing truth and pursuing holiness, but there has been a gradual decline into cold, ritualistic orthodoxy.  They were still saying and doing the right things but without the passion of their mothers and fathers in the faith who came to Christ in the fires of revival.  So just as Jesus sent a message to the founding generation of the church at Ephesus, so He now sends another message. 

In each of thes seven messages to the churches, Jesus identifies Himself to the church in ways that will help them overcome the challenges which they face. It’s as if the Lord is saying, “I am going to show you some problems in your church and I require that you deal with these issues but if you will take hold of these aspects of who I am, then I will bring you through.”

“The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this:”

1. To the church at Ephesus Jesus identifies Himself as, “The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand.”  In 1:20 Jesus identified the stars as angeloi. Jesus holds the messengers of the church, the pastoral leadership, in His hand. They are under His sovereign Lordship. He is committed to them and they are secure in His hands. Indeed, He holds all His people in His hand (John 10:28).  The reference to leaders as stars reveals something of Christ’s desire for them and for all of His church, that we would truly be the light of the world, reflecting His glory.

Notice that Jesus holds the leaders with His right hand. The right hand of the Lord is associated with mercy and safety, “Wondrously show Your lovingkindness, O Savior of those who take refuge at Your right hand from those who rise up against them” (Psalm 17:7).

The right hand of the Lord is associated with joy and pleasure, “You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever” (Ps. 16:11).

The right hand of the Lord is associated with protection and promotion, “You have also given me the shield of Your salvation, and Your right hand upholds me; and Your gentleness makes me great” (Ps. 18:35).

The right hand of the Lord is where we find saving strength, “Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed; He will answer him from His holy heaven with the saving strength of His right hand” (Ps. 20:6).

The right hand of the Father is where the risen, exalted Jesus sat down, a place of majesty and authority. To be held in Christ’s right hand is to abide in the majesty and authority, mercy and safety, joy and pleasure, protection and promotion and saving strength of Jesus. This is not only the Lord’s desire for the leaders of the church at Ephesus. It is His desire for all His saints, that we abide in His right hand. 

2. Jesus also reveals that He “walks among the seven golden lampstands.” In 1:20, He told us that these are the churches.  He is the Lord who walks in the midst of His church. Indeed, wherever two or more are gathered, Jesus is in our midst.  He is present as the High Priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses and intercedes for us.  He is present as Savior / Deliverer who will never fail us nor forsake us.  He is present as the Light of the world, shining through His people into the darkness.  He is present as the omnipotent, omniscient Lord of the church who examines and evaluates all that we are and all that we do, correcting, cleansing, leading, guiding, guarding and empowering.

Decades after the birth of the church, Jesus was still walking in the midst of His church at Ephesus.  He was present to commend that which is good and right, to strengthen that which is weak, to confront any infection of sin, to oppose any satanic strategies that threaten the light of His presence shining through His church and to provide a remedy for the restoring of His bride.

When we are dealing with discouragement, temptation, adversity, rejection, opposition, we must remember that Jesus walks in the midst of His church and holds us in His hand. He has called into a ministry partnership with Himself and He is committed to our security.

2:2 “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false;”

Because Jesus walks in our midst and holds us, He knows us. The word know is not the word ginosko, which refers to the acquisition of knowledge progressively.  This is oida, which refers to the complete, full and perfect knowledge of something.  Jesus knows everything that could possibly be known about His church. Before He confronts the problem at Ephesus, He affirms all the good that they are doing.

1. This was a busy church,

The Lord begins by complimenting their positive qualities, beginning with their deeds of toil and perseverance.  The word toil refers to labor to the point of exhaustion.  Perseverance refers to patient, faithful endurance of suffering and hardship. These were not lazy, compromised church members. The saints at Ephesus were committed, courageous, diligent laborers for the cause of Christ. It’s been forty years since the church was founded and the second generation is still laboring diligently. This is not a superficial commitment. They are in it for the long haul.

2. This was a morally pure church.

Jesus praised them for their abhorrence of evil, their refusal to tolerate evil men. In Matthew 18, Jesus gave the church clear direction in dealing with sin in the church.  Sin is to be confronted.  The goal is not to remove the sinner but to remove the sin and restore the sinner.  However, if the offender will not repent and forsake His sin, then the church must remove him. Again, the goal is not banishment but restoration.  However, if the sinner will not repent, then the sanctity of the church must be preserved.

The Apostle Paul reminds us that we should confront the fallen “in a spirit of gentleness” and with the goal of restoring them (Gal. 6:1). He had reminded this same Ephesian church in his epistle to them that we should always speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).  However, if we refuse to speak the truth about sin, hiding truth behind false, compromised love disguised as tolerance, the Lord of the church would say to us that we know nothing about love or truth. 

That is so prevalent in the church today — compromise disguised as loving tolerance. People cry, “Affirm me God.” The Lord replies, “No, I want to transform you.” God is interested in transformation, not affirmation. But so many churches are preaching a false Gospel, that all lifestyles are acceptable to this loving God who only wants to affirm us. The Lord’s response is that we must speak His truth with His love.

Jesus commends the church at Ephesus for their refusal to tolerate evil people. In an age warped by political correctness, where tolerance is considered by some to be the highest virtue, intolerance of evil is not considered a virtue, rather, it is called bigotry.  We need to be careful to hear the voice of Jesus above the clamor and compromise of our corrupt culture and times.

3. This was a doctrinally pure church.

The Lord also commends them for testing and exposing false apostles. In Acts 20:17-35, in Paul’s last meeting with the elders of the Ephesian church, he warned them of “savage wolves” who would someday prey upon the church, seeking to draw them away from the truth.  Jesus also had repeatedly warned of false prophets as had the Apostle John in his epistles. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, warns that false workers may wrap themselves in apostolic disguises.  

This is why John exhorted the churches to, “Test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (I John 4:1).  How do we test the spirit of those who preach?  John tells us in the following verses, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming and now it is already in the world” (I John 4:2,3). Does the preacher confess the Lordship of Jesus? This is one test.

Another test is by measuring the message against the Word of God.  If the message violates, contradicts or annuls any aspect of the revealed, inspired, authoritative Word of God, then that message is not from God.

Another test is by measuring the messenger against the standard of Christ.  Jesus said, “The tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33).  Is the life of the messenger consistent with the person and heart and truth of Jesus?

The Ephesians had measured the messengers who had come to them and found some to be false.  Again, this is a church which refused to tolerate that which offended Jesus.  They may not have been politically correct, by the standards of our day, but they were commended by Jesus.

4. This was a faithful church.

2:3 “And you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.”

Again, Jesus commends their perseverance and endurance.  He also reveals their motive: it was for the sake of His name.  Their desire to honor and glorify the name of Christ had provided the motive and strength to faithfully endure through all the years of trial and persecution. Their faithfulness was also revealed in their hatred of false teaching which we will examine more closely in verse six.

Again, compromising with evil while tolerating false doctrine and false teachers under the disguise of love is not love at all.  If we love the God of truth and if we love people to whom God desires to reveal the truth, then we will hate the lies which destroy people. True love will not tolerate lying, destructive heresies or the teachers who profess heresy.

The Problem Diagnosed

2:4 “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”

The church at Ephesus has one problem — they have left their first love.  The church had been founded in the fiery heat of revival; miracle signs and wonders had broken out across the city as multitudes repented and believed in the Lord (Acts 19:11,12); bonfires blazed into the night as multitudes burned their cultic relics and books of idolatry.  But this is a second generation church; the fire does not burn so hot now.

This is a busy, morally pure, faithful church but they have substituted the busyness of ministry and the purity of spiritual life for communion with Jesus. What they do not understand is how hurtful this is to the Bridegroom God who desires that we experience His desire for us and that we love him with all our being. And they do not understand how impossible it will be to sustain ministry, purity and faithfulness apart from communion with the source of all ministry, purity and faithfulness.

They have left their first love, neglecting the devotion that was such an important quality of the revival that birthed the church. They are still saying and doing the right things but it is a loveless orthodoxy. A church may have many commendable attributes — the worship services are correct and proper, the preaching is truthful, the ministries are functional — but if we have lost the passion of our first love for Jesus, then the life of the church is in jeopardy. 

The foundation of all discipleship is love for the Lord. It is not just the first and foremost commandment — it is our primary assignment, our primary calling, to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. It is the basis of Jesus’ evaluation of our lives. Ministry that does not flow out of this foundation of intimacy eventually dries up. But not over night. Usually the diminishing of love is a slow drift; we are often unaware that it is happening. In fact, the ministry may be increasing while love is decreasing. We’re so busy serving Jesus with our works and our words, we don’t notice that we are not serving Him with our heart.

That was the problem at Ephesus — they were completely unaware that their heart for Jesus, their devotion to the Lord, was slowly drying up. That’s why the Lord confronts the church. He loves His bride, He knows they are unaware of the problem, and He knows that unless there is correction, the result will be catastrophic.

This diminishing of love could also refer to their love for one another. In rooting out false apostles and in persevering in good works, they may have entered into a rigid, judgmental orthodoxy, a cold works-righteousness.  A cooling of our love for God can cause a church to focus on its doctrine and its works.  This will always lead to a cooling of our love for one another.

Jesus said, “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another” (John 13:35). Hatred of heresy and devotion to good works are commendable. But if they replace our love for God and for one another, then God Himself will correct us.

In fact, this is one of Satan's strategies against the church: to seduce us into substituting activities for the priority of love.  “I know your deeds” may not always be a compliment from the Lord.  Better that He would say, “I know the motive for your deeds, your love for Me and for one another.”

Sometimes in the life of a church, or in a marriage or business, people become successful and then loose touch with the priorities and passion that created their success. Then they go through the motions, coasting on the momentum of past success but cut off from their roots, their foundation.  In time, the life of that church, marriage or business will wither.

This is why Jesus said to Martha, who was so concerned with serving Jesus that her sister Mary, who only wanted to sit at the feet of Jesus, had chosen the better part. Cooling love, lukewarm love, becomes indifference. Indifference is easily seduced by false lovers. The seduced heart is a compromised heart. God will patiently call to that heart, cultivate that heart but if there is no response, God will confront that heart.

The Remedy Revealed

2:5 “Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place — unless you repent.”

Jesus doesn’t just show them their problem and then walk away, as if to say,  “Here’s what’s wrong. I’ll come back later when you get it right.” It doesn’t take a prophet to see what’s wrong in our lives. It takes a prophet to say, “This is the way, walk ye in it.” So, having diagnosed the problem, Jesus now offers the remedy when our love for Him has cooled:

 

1. Remember from where you have fallen, that is, remember where you began.  Take time to recall your beginnings, how you once poured out your heart to the Lord in worship and prayer and He lavished the riches of His saving grace into your life.  Remember the first passion of your love for Jesus and His outpouring of love into your life.

2. Repent, confess that this spiritual apathy, this cold orthodoxy is sin, compromise.  Repent, turn from it in the same way you would turn from any evil. This cooled-down love is surely evil, for if it continues, it will only grow from apathy to unbelief, from stale faith to faithlessness.  Orthodox ritual, ministry, words and deeds divorced from love for the Lord, is unacceptable to God.  God does not receive our worship or our deeds of ministry when our motive is anything less than love for Him. He counts it as sin. 

3. Do again the works of love that you did when you began.  Return to the fervency of prayer and worship that you once knew.  Return to your hunger for the Word of God, the passionate desire to know and please the Lord. Return to your original motive for ministry which was not the works themselves; it was a passionate desire to glorify the Lord. Jesus is saying, “Return to your priority of loving me first and most.”

Repentance is far more than a prayer, more than words. It is a change of priorities and values which results in changed action. Repentance results in doing, as John the Baptist exhorted his generation, “Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:8).

This is the call: remember, repent and redo.  The Lord graciously shows them their sin, calls them to repent and gives them time to act upon His revelation of truth.  Notice that the Lord’s motive is not judgment. If He wanted to judge the church, He would immediately. But His motive is restoration. He is contending for the greatness, the destiny and high calling of His covenant Bride so He reveals the truth of their sin, discloses the remedy and gives them time to act on it.

However, if they will not act, then the Lord promises to remove their lampstand.  The lampstand is the church. There are two ways of interpreting this.

1. Jesus is saying that He will close the church if they do not change their hearts. No matter that their works are commendable, that they are saying and doing the right things.  Their heart is not right and Jesus will not have a cold hearted church doing the right things for the wrong reasons.

Some might ask, “Lord, aren't you overreacting?” No. The basis of our life in Christ is Christ. He is the Author and Finisher of our faith. He is the Vine, we are the branches. Cut off from the vine, we have no life, no fruit. “Apart from me you can do nothing” Jesus said (John 15:5). If something has interrupted our life in Christ, it is threatening the root and heart of our life. Eventually, there will be no fruit, no works to commend.

We are the light of the word, a city set on a hill, only because Jesus is the Light of the world and dwells within and among us. If Jesus is removed, if His Spirit is grieved or quenched, we will have no light to shine.

Notice the enemy of the church did not threaten their works but their relationship with Christ. Satan will not try to seduce us away from our works if he can seduce us away from Jesus. They were involved in ministry but were losing their relationship with the Lord who calls us into ministry, qualifies us for ministry, equips and empowers us for ministry.

They had a form of religion but no intimacy with Christ. They had forgotten this fundamental truth, that the Lord is not calling us to religion but to relationship with Himself. Yes He is calling us to partner with Him in ministry here on earth but we are far more than Junior Partners in Corporation Jesus. We are His Bride and He will have a Bride made ready. That is the end point of history, the fulfilling of divine purpose — God the Father presenting His Son with a Bride made ready.

Why will God remove the lampstand?  Because eventually the light will go out. Apart from Jesus there will be no oil, no anointing. A lamp with no fresh inflow of oil eventually will produce no light.  A disciple or a church without anointing will eventually produce no ministry, no works, no light and God is under no obligation to maintain a darkened lamp.  

Again, Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  He said, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away” (John 15:2). The Lord is under no obligation to maintain a fruitless branch.

Jesus would rather have no church in a city than a dead church fueled by the cold, dark habit of orthodox religion. A Christless church is a counterfeit church deceiving people with false religion and a counterfeit church will only produce deceived, counterfeit Christians. Better to have no church than a false church misrepresenting salvation as nothing more than membership in a system of ritual orthodoxy and passionless works divorced from the love of Jesus.

2. However, there is a second interpretation. Jesus may be saying that He will remove the blessing, the anointing that has enabled the church to be so impactful. This is the most influential church in Asia Minor. In our day it would be a church with magnificent buildings, a large membership and budget, successful programs, dynamic preaching. But Christ is not being exalted; it is the church that is exalted. The motive for ministry is not love for the Lord but love for the church and the ministry itself.

They are enamored with their success but it is the blessing of the Lord that has created that success. Jesus threatens to remove His blessing so that other churches will not be influenced by this false narrative — that we can grow in ministry and grow as a church without growing in love for the Lord.

Saying the right words and doing the right deeds cannot compensate for a cold heart.  God wants our hearts to be aflame with love for Him and with His love for a lost world.  We may have correct doctrine and a respectable missions program but if we have lost our love for God, if we fail to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, then we are in the process of spiritual death and the church which we have formed is dying. The Lord will not bless that death with continued favor.


So really, both interpretations lead to the same result: Jesus will remove His blessing, favor and anointing from the church that has separated itself from His blessing, favor and anointing. He will remove the church in the sense that the church that is separated from Him will eventually die.To be sure, the Bridegroom God will call to the dying church, patiently offering grace and time and opportunity to change. This church is His Bride. But if the church will not return to Him, He will remove His blessing and allow the separated church to wither.

God does not need a Christless church. He will set it aside. There may still be a beautiful cathedral there, a program, a Sunday service. But there will be no presence of God. Eventually, even the building will fall into ruins.

But how ironic, in the midst of a rebuke for lovelessness, Jesus commends godly hatred.

2:6 “Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”

Jesus commends their hatred of the Nicolaitans. Passionate love of God and sincere love for the brethren does not require that we love heresy, apostasy.  The Nicolaitans are mentioned in this letter and the letter to Pergamum (2:15, in which we have a clearer glimpse of who they were and what their deeds were. The church at Pergamum is also commended for its refusal of immoral and idolatrous practices.)

According to early church writers, Nicholas was a false believer who taught a perversion of the doctrine of grace, teaching that we can live as we please, since God is a forgiving God. The Nicolaitans are present in every generation, making a pretense of worshiping Jesus while continuing in the immoral lifestyle of our culture.  Indulge the flesh, bow before dead idols while worshipping the living God — after all, we have liberty in Jesus.  But that’s not liberty.  That's compromise and God condemns it while commending the church that hates and refuses it.  

As we said earlier, tolerating unrepented sin, false doctrine and false teachers under the disguise of love is not love at all.  If we love the God who speaks truth to us and if we love people to whom God speaks the truth, then we will hate the lies which destroy people. True love for Christ will not tolerate lying, destructive heresies or the teachers who profess heresy.

2:7 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

It is the responsibility of the leadership at Ephesus to hear what the Spirit is saying and bring that message to the church. They will be held accountable by the Lord who stands in the midst of the lampstands. But it is also the responsibility of the entire church to hear what the Lord says.  We are all accountable for hearing Him.  Notice the plural, churches.  This message to the church at Ephesus is God’s Word to all the churches, in all places at all times.

The Reward Offered

“To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.”

Overcomer is one of the New Testament Words for believers (I John 5:4,5).  If we have heard the truth and believed that Jesus is the Son of God (and that includes trusting in His atoning sacrifice for sin and His resurrection from the dead), then we have been born into everlasting life and by virtue of this new life in Christ, we are overcomers. It is our overcoming, our endurance, that proves our faith.  

The overcomer is the one who remains faithful in the midst of persecution, temptation and oppression.  It is not just the world and the devil we must overcome.  In this context, it is the tendency to drift spiritually, to compromise, to allow our love for Christ to cool, to give in to our own fleshly nature and to the culture around us, that we must be overcome.

The overcomer is the one whose faith is true and whose love is passionate. To these overcomers, Jesus promises that they will eat of the tree of life. This is a symbol of eternal life. The paradise of God is heaven. The overcomer, the disciple whose faith remains focused and whose love never cooled into deadly indifference, will spend eternity in the presence of the One whom we loved to the uttermost. It is not that our perseverance earns eternal life. It is rather that our perseverance proves that our salvation is true and everlasting.

We must add a post script to this letter to the church at Ephesus. God’s church is a lampstand and every believer has been given candle-gifts so that we may illumine Christ’s resurrection presence in this dying world.  But when we throw away candles, when we hide or misuse candles, we invite darkness.

This is a principle found throughout Scripture: if a gift is neglected or used improperly it can be lost, removed.  We have been commanded to let our candles shine and will be held accountable for our faithfulness or unfaithfulness.  There are sobering examples in the Bible and in history of people and churches who misused their gifts and lost them.

It is possible for a church or an entire denomination to lose the oil of anointing, to grieve or quench the Spirit of God to such an extent that the flame can no longer be seen. There may still be a church in that place, as an empty lantern may continue to stand on a table, but there will be no light.  And eventually the Lord of the church will remove even the empty lantern, the darkened candle.

How ironic that Paul had said to this same Ephesian Church, “But to each of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift …  And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:7, 11,12)

Gifts were given, offices assigned, that the saints might be equipped, that the church might be upbuilt, that God’s light might shine into a lost generation. Were the Ephesians good stewards of the Lord’s candles, the light-bearing treasures of the Spirit?  Evidently not, for several decades after Paul wrote to them the Lord directed John to say to the Ephesian Church, “Remember...repent...or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand” (Rev. 2:5).

Today there is no candle in Ephesus, no church. Neither is there a city there. Only ruins and a dry, dusty archeological dig.

What went on, what did the committee say? Who called the meeting, who gave the report? When did hearts grow so cold that they would not again receive the flame of love? Where did the compromise begin, when did the oil cease to flow? At what point did the anointing lift and the light diminish?

Eventually, Christless hearts preached Christless sermons. Christless hearts practiced Christless holiness. Christless programs impacted no one. Eventually, the people grew weary because it is impossible to persevere apart from loving communion with Jesus.

Today there is no candle in Ephesus. Neither does any light shine in that place nor is there any sound but the whisper of wind across silent ruins.

“You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14,16).

Candle quenchers and builders of stained glass empires have both missed the point. We are not to bury our light nor illumine our religious dominions. We are that dawning city set on a holy mountain shining forth the glory of the Father of lights and of His Son, the Light of the World. 

We see in this letter our Lord’s priority — relationship, not religion; love, not works. 

The heart on fire with the love of Christ will reflect the light of God’s glory into this world. If we will not do this, God has every right to remove the candle. Consider the ruins of Ephesus.

But consider also the passion of the Bridegroom Messiah. Why did He stand in the midst of a church with a cooling passion for Him? He was contending for the destiny and high calling of His Bride. With perfect knowledge, penetrating insight and perfect love, He commended their virtues, revealed their failure, offered remedy and promised reward. 

He continues to stand in our midst calling, revealing, warning, promising. He will have His heart’s desire. He will have a Bride made ready.

Study Questions

1. What was right about the church at  Ephesus?

2. What was wrong and why was that potentially deadly?

Message to the Church at Smyrna   (Revelation 2:8-11)

2:8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this:”

Smyrna, now known as Izmir, is located in modern day Turkey.  In John's day, the city was known for its beauty, its science and medicine and its intense loyalty to Rome. This loyalty led to a passionate devotion to Emperor worship and fierce opposition to a faithful church which would worship only Jesus Christ.  Some fifty years after this letter was written, the bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp, was burned at the stake for refusing to worship the Roman emperor. 

The word Smyrna is related to the Greek word for myrrh, a sweet smelling resin used in the making of perfumes which were employed not only to anoint the living but also to prepare the dead for burial. So the name of the city spoke prophetically of a persecuted, suffering church.

The Apostle Paul said, “For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:15). Myrrh must be crushed to smell its fragrance.  A cask of anointing oil must be broken to release its perfume.  The fragrance of the church at Smyrna was released through the crushing, breaking force of suffering and persecution, trial and tribulation.  

As with Ephesus, the letter is addressed to the angelos of the church. Angelos means messenger and this is best understood as one of the pastor / elders, the leadership of the church. We do not know who founded this church or when but we may assume it was during the years of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus. (We read in Acts 19:10 “that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord” during that time).

In the introduction to each message to the churches, Jesus identifies Himself in ways that will edify the church. To the church in Smyrna, Jesus identifies Himself:

1. He is the first and last.  Jesus affirms His deity.  As God, He is self-existent, uncreated, preexisting time and history, before the beginning and beyond the end. He transcends all of time, space and creation.  We need not be troubled about the meaning or outcome of history because Jesus exists before the beginning and beyond the end of all of history.  Every possible outcome of every event within history and beyond, even our suffering, is under His sovereign control. Nothing that happens in our lives or in history will surprise Him. Nothing will be lost that He cannot restore.

2. He is the One who was dead.  It is one of the great mysteries of the universe that the Creator of all life would submit “to death in the flesh,” that He would humble Himself to die for sinners (I Peter 3:18).  We need not be overwhelmed by the reality of death because Jesus, the Lamb slain for the sins of the world, has experienced death and as our High Priest knows our infirmities and fears and continually intercedes for us. We need not fear persecution, even unto death, for Jesus walked that way before us — He knows the way through the valley of the shadow of death.

3. He is the One who has come to life.  It was impossible that Jesus, the Source and origin of all life, be held in the power of death, as Peter said, “But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power” (Acts 2:24). He is the conqueror of death, holding now “the keys of Death and Hades” (Rev. 1:18). He is “the first born from the dead” (Col. 1:18), “the first fruits of those who are asleep” (I Cor. 15:20). He is resurrection and life.  

We need not be troubled by a doubting world concerning the promise of resurrection because Jesus has already experienced resurrection.  We need not fear the lethal violence which the world inflicts on the faithful followers of Christ, for His resurrection is our promise of eternal life: “Because I live, you will live also” (John 14:19). In fact, we have already “passed out of death into life.” Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).

The church at Smyrna faced deadly persecution but Jesus presented Himself as the One who walks in the midst of His church and holds its leaders in His hand (1:12,13, 2:1). Indeed, all who believe in Him are held in the security of His hand and no one can snatch us out of that place of eternal safety (John 10:28). He is not only present with His suffering church but is also enthroned over the powers that persecute us.  In His ascension and enthronement, Jesus has been seated “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but in the age to come.  And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:21-23).

  

Through our union with Christ, the church is also seated above all powers and principalities (Col. 3:1-3).  With our transcendent Lord we transcend the persecuting empires of this world.  Because He overcame, we overcome.  Should we die at the hands of these enemies of Christ, we die in union with Him who overcame death. In the crucible of trial, the church at Smyrna might have had questions about their security but Jesus greeted them in a way that ministered grace, courage and confidence. And it’s noteworthy that the Lord has no word of criticism or condemnation for this church, only commendation and encouragement.

2:9,10 “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

Jesus says, “I know your tribulation and your poverty” (2:9). The Lord of the church universal knows the particular circumstances of each church and each member.  He knows exactly what we are going through and as our High Priest, He lives to make intercession for us.

He understands their challenges:

1. I know your tribulation (literally: weight or pressure).  The church at Smyrna did not rebel against the civil authority of the Roman Empire.  The government, from Caesar on down to the local magistrates, was God's ordained authority for the establishing of peace and order.  But the church refused to ascribe deity to any king or emperor, refused to worship the emperor. This was a capital offense resulting in their condemnation as traitors and atheists. This brought about persecution which was costly.  

The demand was simple: affirm Caesar, deny Christ. Every year every citizen was required to burn incense to Caesar and receive a certificate stating that they had done this. Without that certificate a person would be in violation of the law. They would be considered an atheist for refusing to worship the emperor and a traitor for violating the law of Rome. But Christians could not testify, “Caesar is lord.” Their testimony was, 

“Jesus is Lord.” 

This made them enemies of the state and placed their lives in jeopardy. Jesus does not say: “I will relieve the pressure, I will cause the persecution to stop.”  He does say: “I know what you are going through and I walk in the midst of my lampstands.”

Jesus wanted a faithful witness in Smyrna.  In order to be a present and truthful witness, the church had to endure tribulation.  Never in the history of the church has persecution destroyed the church.  Rather, tribulation serves a dual purpose: it strengthens the faithful and exposes the faithless. And Jesus walks in the midst of His persecuted church, empowering His saints to persevere.

2. I know your poverty.  There are two words for poverty in the Greek.  Penia describes the man whose needs are met but has nothing extra.  Ptocheia describes the man who has nothing at all; he is destitute.  Jesus uses the word ptocheia.

There are three possible causes for their extreme poverty in the church at Smyrna:

a. Many early Christians were from lower economic classes and many were slaves.  The Apostle Paul reminds us, “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong” (I Cor. 1:26,27). 

b. A second reason for their destitution was that the persecuted church was often plundered either by the state or by state-sanctioned mobs.  Their earthly goods were confiscated with the approval of the government. 

c. A third reason for their extreme poverty was civil law and social prejudice which resulted in restrictions barring them from practicing their trade, selling their products or finding jobs.  A current example of this is the People’s Republic of China, where confessing Christians can be barred from attending universities and faced a multitude of restrictions in finding housing and employment.

The Lord does not say, “I will relieve your poverty.”  He reminds them that they are, in fact, rich.  Jesus had said in Luke 6:20, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom (dominion, authority) of God.”  Though the believers in Smyrna were being denied the opportunity to make wealth in the currency of the world system, it was the “Father’s good pleasure” to give them the keys to the kingdom (Luke 12:32).  Therein lies great wealth: peace with God, forgiveness of sin, joy that cannot be stolen, the overcoming presence of Christ, the promise of everlasting life and rewards beyond our imagination in the new heavens and new earth.

One of Satan’s strategies is to convince the church that material success is synonymous with blessing.  This fallacy appeals to our human flesh, our natural me-ism.  But submitting to it will cause us to question or entirely miss the presence of God when we go through trials; will cause us to turn away from costly spiritual conflict and can lead to compromise.  In other words, acceptance of this lie can terminate the purpose and blessing of God in a church.

Yes, the Lord promises to resource His people so that we can fulfill His purpose. If we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, all necessary resources will be added to us (Matt. 6:33). Yes, “My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phlpns. 4:19). But that does not mean that all wealth is from God — some wealth is gathered through sin and oppression. And that does not mean that adversity and the loss of resources is because the judgment of God is upon us. The church at Smyrna experienced adversity because they were faithful.

To this destitute church, the Lord says, “I know your tribulation and your poverty but you are rich.”  Contrast this with the materially wealthy church at Laodicea, to whom the Lord said, “Because you say, ‘I am rich and have become wealthy and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich” (Rev. 3:17).

3. A third challenge was blasphemy, believers were being slandered.   

There were two main sources:

a. The large local population of Jews were enraged at the worship of One whom they considered to be a crucified criminal.  And they were jealous of the success of the church in evangelizing Gentile seekers and Jews.  These were Jews who thought they were serving God but Jesus calls them “a synagogue of Satan” (2:9). They were, in fact, instruments of Satan.  Jesus even denies their Jewishness, “Who say they are Jews and are not.”

The Apostle Paul said, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh.  But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and the circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men but from God” (Rom. 2:28,29).

A Jew is not simply someone who is descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has undergone circumcision and keeps the law of Moses.  A Jew is someone in covenant relationship with God.  Having rejected their Messiah and God’s purpose for their nation, choosing now to persecute those who were in covenant relationship with God, these Jews were spiritual pagans and instruments of Satan.

People can be religious, committed, zealous, faithful and instruments of Satan.  John Wesley said to religious people who were misrepresenting God: “Your God is my devil.” 

b. A second source of blasphemy was the local population and city government which were staunchly pro-Roman and deeply involved in emperor worship.  Christians who refused to worship Caesar were slandered as atheists and traitors.

Jesus does not say, “I will close their mouths” or “I will vindicate you.” He simply reminds them that their accusers are tools of the devil, the accuser of the brethren. When you are slandered, God may or may not vindicate you at that particular moment.  He will vindicate you someday (possibly in time and surely in eternity).  But don’t take their slander to heart as though they were speaking truth.  They are instruments of the one whose nature is to slander.

4. A fourth challenge was imprisonment (2:10).

Jesus does not say, “I will prevent your imprisonment.”  He does say, “Do not fear.”  Jesus had already exhorted His disciples not to fear those who can kill the body but not the soul (Matt. 10:28). He had warned His disciples of future persecution, “These things I have spoken to you so that you may be kept from stumbling. They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God … But these things I have spoken to you, so that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them” (John 16:1,2,4).

a. We should not be surprised at persecution. Paul warned that the godly will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12). Peter exhorts the church, that we should “not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing” (I Ptr. 4:12,13). We are living in a world which is in violent rebellion against Christ.  As His disciples, we speak His truth against lies, shine His light into darkness, establish His justice amidst injustice, share His love amidst hatred.  Is it surprising that this faithfulness to Christ produces opposition? 

Jesus prophesies the imprisonment of members of the church at Smyrna so they will understand that our trials never take God by surprise — He sees the trial in advance and makes provision. 

b. We should not be offended at persecution, as if God is out of control, or we are out of His will or because He has forgotten about us or has ceased to love us. God allows persecution for His own purposes but in the midst of the trial, we may be assured that God is still the sovereign Lord of history and Lord of our lives.  

c. We should not be discouraged by persecution.  Jesus said, “I will never desert you nor will I ever forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).  He said, “And I give eternal life to them and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).  John, in his first epistle, reminds us that in Christ, we are by nature overcomers (I John 5:4,5).

d. We should not be intimidated by persecution. Persecution cannot destroy a church because the true church is not a work of man but of God. Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matt. 16:18). Persecution cannot destroy a church because the same Lord who builds His church also sustains it. Peter wrote, “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (I Ptr. 5:10). The Lord who builds and sustains His church stands in the midst of His people, pouring His strength and life into that which is His.

e. We should not be embittered by persecution. Jesus reminds them that the source of their persecution is Satan.  Though it may be carried out by Roman authorities or local government or Jewish zealots, it is Satanic in its origin.  In times of trial, it is good to remember that our enemy is not people but the spiritual powers that motivate people to do evil (Eph. 6:12). Since this is true, then our prayers should be filled with grace as we pray forgiveness over our persecutors and pray for their salvation. Our prayers should also be strategic and divinely empowered for the destruction of the powers of darkness that move people to rage against Christ’s church.

We pray for grace and strength outpoured into the church. We pray for the salvation of the persecutors and we pray against the strategies and assignments which the powers of darkness bring against Christ’s church.

Jesus reminds them that this is a test.  Tribulation is not the final word, not the final chapter in our lives.  It is only a test which God sovereignly allows.  Enduring the trial proves the genuineness of our faith and proves that Satan cannot destroy true, saving faith.

Jesus promises a short duration for their imprisonment. Ten days may not be a literal number — it may be a figure of speech meaning brief. Compared to eternity, all imprisonment, all trials on earth are brief. However we interpret ten days, the point is that God is sovereign even over the length and intensity of persecution.  He prophesies their imprisonment so they will understand that our trials never take God by surprise — He sees them coming and makes provision.  Trials do not happen because God is out of control.  In the midst of the trial, the Lord of the church is also the sovereign Lord of history and Lord of our lives, moving time and nations toward the fulfilling of His preordained purpose.

Surely the church at Smyrna prayed for their brothers and sisters who were cast into prison, as we always should pray. But the outcome is in God’s hands. Peter, with all the apostles, was arrested and set free by angelic intervention on two occasions (see Acts 5:18,19 and 12:1-12). Many years later, he was arrested and executed in Rome. James the brother of John experienced miraculous release but also arrest and execution. So with the Apostle Paul.

How do we explain that? We cannot. The outcome is in the hands of God who accomplishes His purpose according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11). We can only pray with the Psalmist, “My times are in Your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and from those who persecute me” (Psalm 31:15).

Promises: 

2:10 “Be faithful” may also be translated, “Prove yourself faithful.” They will, because they have been reborn as new creatures in Christ and it is their nature to be faithful to the One who is faithful to them.  They will be faithful because greater is He who is in them than He who is in the world (I John 4:4).  They will be faithful, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world, our faith” (I John 5:4).

When Satan attempted to destroy Peter’s faith, Jesus said, “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).  Jesus foretold Peter's testing, as He foretold the testing of the church at Smyrna.  But Jesus also foretold Peter's victory, “When once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”  Jesus was faithful to pray for Peter in his testing, that His faith would not fail. Though Peter fell, his faith did not fail because Jesus prayed for Him and His prayers are always answered by the Father.

Jesus no doubt prayed for the church at Smyrna and He exhorts them, “Prove yourself faithful.” No doubt they did, for the Lord of the church was standing in their midst, interceding for them. He also stands in the midst of your church, your family, interceding for your victory.

“Be faithful unto death,” Jesus exhorts them “and I will give you the crown of life.” Their faithfulness, even though it may cost them their lives, will be rewarded with the crown of life (or the crown which is life).  This is not the word for royal crown (diadem).  It is the word for the wreath (stephanos) awarded to the victorious athlete at the Olympic Games.

Diadem (which is promised to believers in other passages) has to do with the exercise of kingdom authority.  Stephanos has to do with those who are victorious, who overcome, who finish the race, who complete what they started out to do.  They will be wreathed with the crown of life, the crown which is life.  This refers to God’s gift of eternal life to all who through faithful endurance prove the genuineness of their faith.  They will not fall away and cannot, for God will keep them.

The stephanos wreath also represents the rewards which Jesus will share with each disciple based on our works. The essential work which leads to reward is faithfulness motivated by our willingness to love Christ with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. When we demonstrate our love for the Lord with faithful stewardship over the time, resources and opportunities He gives us, He will lavish reward upon us in eternity with an extravagance which far exceeds our giving.

2:11 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.”

Again, as with Ephesus, the message concludes with this exhortation to listen to what the Lord says to His church.  We are responsible to hear what God says.  We have Bibles, we have pastors and teachers.  We have the indwelling witness of the Holy Spirit. We therefore cannot plead ignorance.  God is speaking; we are able to hear.  We will be held accountable for every word which God speaks to His church.

One final promise is made to the faithful, that they shall not in any way (double negative for strong emphasis) be hurt by the second death.  Second death was a common rabbinic term for the state of the wicked in the next life.  In Revelation 20:14 it is identified with the lake of fire and in 21:8 it is the fate of the unbelieving, the abominable, etc.  This second death is not annihilation of the soul but rather, everlasting torment in hell, apart from the presence of God.

The second death has no power over the faithful because they are crowned with life. Those who are willing to die once, in Christ, will not die a second time.

We noted that the city of Ephesus no longer exists; it is only an archeological ruin and there is no church among the rubble of Ephesus. Jesus did what He warned He would do — removed the lampstand. The church with such a glorious beginning — founded by Priscilla, Aquilla, Apollos and Paul, pastored by John and Timothy — that glorious church no longer exists. However, the church at Smyrna, the myrrh church, crushed into a fragrance of Christ, crushed and triumphant — that church still stands as a testimony of the keeping power of Jesus. 

The Lord is still writing this letter today. He stands in the midst of His church and says, “I know your struggle and your suffering and I stand beside you, in the midst of My church. Be assured of My reward.”

Study Questions

1. Why does God allow persecution against His  church?

2. What is the promised reward to the church at Smyrna? (see v. 10,11).

Message to the Church at Pergamum  (Revelation 2:12-17)

2:12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this:”

As always, the letter is addressed to the messenger, the pastoral leadership, of the church in Pergamum. They are accountable to deliver the word of the Lord to the church.

Pergamum was located in what is now Turkey. Today the city is called Bergama. In John's day, the city was famous for its culture and its learning. One of the great libraries of the ancient world was located there, containing 250,000 hand written volumes. It was also the capital city of the Roman province of Asia Minor.

Pergamum was a center of idol worship, hosting a massive altar to Zeus and many temples to a variety of false gods. The religious cults of Pergamum were based on superstition and fear, as are all man made religions. They pandered to the immoral and cruel aspects of human nature, featuring drunkenness, immorality and sacrificial offerings with which the worshippers hoped to appease their false gods. The gods of these religions were nothing more than lustful, sadistic devils. The symbol of one of the cults based in Pergamum was a serpent. The god of that cult was known as Sootier — Savior — a truly demonic caricature of Christ.

Pergamum was also the center for emperor worship in that region, placing the church in certain danger of persecution by the Roman authorities. The governor had the authority to execute anyone who disobeyed the laws of Rome, including laws requiring worship of the emperor. This authority was known as ius gladii — the right of the sword.  

In contrast to the sword of the emperor, Jesus introduces Himself as the One who has the sharp two edged sword. Concerning that sword, we read, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joint and marrow and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:12,13).

Concerning the power of God’s truth, Paul reminds us that when the Antichrist appears, the Lord will destroy Him “with the breath of His mouth” (2 Thes. 2:8).

Isaiah reveals, “But with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; and He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked” (Isaiah 11:4).

Again in Revelation we read, “And from His mouth proceeds a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with an iron scepter. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God, the Almighty” (Rev. 19:15).

The word of the Lord is living, powerful, dynamic, creative. By the power of that word the Lord creates galaxies of blazing stars. He releases redemption, healing, deliverance. He judges kings and kingdoms, establishes thrones and pulls down empires.

Jesus speaks truth, a truth that penetrates into the deepest regions of soul and spirit. It is Christ's word of truth, and His alone, that has the power to create life and overcome death. It is His word, and His alone, that upholds the universe and every authority in it. It is His word and His alone that pulls down the thrones of the unrighteous and establishes the kingdom of God on earth.

It is also Christ’s word of truth that speaks a word of warning and rebuke to His church. Remember that He introduces Himself to each church in a manner that relates to His message to that church. The Lord who has the sharp two edged sword has a penetrating word for the church at Pergamum. To those in the church who were practicing immorality and compromise, the sword of the Spirit will bring conviction, correction and the freedom of purity. To the leadership who tolerated sin, the sword will bring conviction, grace and strength to stand and lead.

To those who object to a Savior with a sword, who misinterpret the God of the Old Testament as a judgmental tyrant and misunderstand the God of the New Testament as nothing more than a kind, cosmic uncle — to these who do not understand God, the Bible presents the clear portrait of a God who judges sin in righteousness and in mercy, saves sinners. God’s judgment is not in opposition to His love. It is an expressions of His love. He judges sin so that He can remove that which would hinder our experience of His love and harm the objects of His love. 

Some of the members of the church in Pergamum were deceived that grace, the expression of God’s love for them, allowed them to sin flagrantly without needing to repent. Some of the leaders did not want to confront sin, misunderstanding confrontation as a denial of love. Both groups were wrong and the Savior with the sword desires to correct them, as an expression of His love for them.

2:13 “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is.”

“I know where you dwell” speaks not only of Christ’s omniscience but also of His presence in the midst of His church. He is “the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands” (Rev. 2:1). Jesus reassures His church that even in tribulation He knows their circumstances because He is present with them.  He is aware that they dwell in a center of satanic activity and authority. God does not see Pergamum as a center of wisdom, religion and sophistication, as the world regarded it, but as a stronghold of demonic presence.  As Rome had become the throne of satanic authority in the West, Pergamum had become that throne in the East.  

It is exactly in that place that God planted His church. “I know where you dwell” speaks of God's intentionality in placing His witnessing church according to His sovereign purpose.

2:13 “And you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.”

Jesus commends the church: “You hold fast my name and did not deny my faith” — Jesus knows that they have loved Him and remained faithful to sound doctrine, though it has been costly. Antipas, a faithful witness, had been martyred.  The Greek word for witness is martus, from which we derive the English word martyr.  Martus means “one who testifies” but so many Christians testified at the cost of their lives that the word came to mean one who pours out testimony, life and truth even unto death. In Revelation. 1:5, Jesus is referred to as the “faithful witness.” Here He shares with Antipas one of His own names.

Notice Jesus’ use of the word my: my name, my faith, my witness, my faithful one. This church — the people who comprise the church, the faith they proclaim and the work they do — is His personal possession. They are His people, it is His doctrine, His work.

The Christians at Pergamum could have preserved their lives.  All they had to do was burn incense to the emperor and declare, “Caesar is Lord.”  Instead, their profession was, “Christ is Lord.”  They chose to be faithful even unto death. 

It would have been easy to relocate the church in a safer area, as some churches today choose to do, pulling out of dangerous neighborhoods, depressed economies and rebuild in a more prosperous, growth-friendly environment. But God wanted a witness where Satan’s throne is.  Such witness will always be costly but a guiding principle of the Christian life is not escape but witness.  We are not commissioned to abandon but to redeem.

We are sojourners passing through this lost world but as we journey through, we are entrusted with the  proclamation of the Good News of the inbreaking kingdom of God.  We are called to be overcomers, not fast runners. We are called to bear witness of the light of the glory of Jesus.  Where better to bear this witness than in the darkness of the secular city? 

However, if we shine, then we also will be revealed.  If there is sin in the church, it will hinder our witness.  Therefore the Lord deals with sin in His people and His church so that our witness will not be discredited.  Even as the Lord commends the church at Pergamum, He also deals with sin in His church.

2:14  “But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality.”

“I have a few things against you” — why is God concerned about a few things?

1. In order for the church to fulfill its calling, it needs to overcome sin.  Sin in the church grieves the Holy Spirit, resists the gifts and power of the Lord, prevents the full release of God’s creative purpose and discredits our witness to a lost world.  Ultimately, sin unchecked in a church will destroy the church.

2. Sin does not diminish the Lord’s love for His people but it restricts our experience of His love and this grieves the Lord. He wants us to experience His love in all its fulness — He delights in us, His desire is for us. He is the Bridegroom God who entered history to call forth a Bride on whom He many lavish His love forever. He takes pleasure in our love for Him and so He makes war on any area of compromise in our lives that would interrupt or diminish our capacity to experience His love or the release of our expressions of love to Him.

3. In eternity God the Father wants a church which He can present to His Son as a Bride, without spot or blemish.  God will not wait until heaven to begin creating that holy church.

What was the problem in the church at Pergamum?  The city was seeping into the church.  God planted the church in the city so that the church would change the city.  Instead, the values of the city were impacting the church. 

The church at Pergamum was engulfed in a corrupt sea of idolatry and immorality; temptations were all around them. The members of the church had been rescued out of that culture but there were powerful forces drawing them back in. There was little separation of social and religious life for the citizens. All feasts, festivals and holidays were connected with the worship of the false gods and many of the celebrations were held in the temples of those gods. The worship of those gods involved not only idolatry itself but also drunkenness and ritual prostitution. To join in the festival would join the man or woman to the debauchery and darkness which surrounded that idol.

If you were a member of a trade guild, there would be many celebrations to which you would be invited and to refuse to attend could seriously harm your business. If you did attend, you would be engulfed in the rituals of darkness. It was not easy to resist the allurements of familiar sins from which the people had been delivered. In addition, there was the constant threat of persecution. All of this exerted pressure on the believer to compromise.

A generation earlier, Paul had warned the church at Corinth, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers ... what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14).

He had exhorted the church at Rome, “And do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).

James had reminded the church that “friendship with the world is hostility toward God” (James 4:4).

John had directed the church to, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.  If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 2:15). 

Gradually, Pergamum had become a very worldly church and to this church Jesus identified Himself as “the One who has the sharp two-edged sword.”  That sword is the sharp Word of God’s truth, able to pierce through our religious pretense, cutting down to the core reality of our souls, exposing the truth of our lives.

A worldly church is a church that has married the world and is no longer becoming the Bride of Christ.  God is jealous over His people and will expose and judge the failures and sins of that church.

As we have said, humanistic culture exerts continuous, formative influence on believers and churches. The threat of persecution also exerts pressure. This pressure can cause the compromise of foundational truths, core beliefs, holy intimacy with Christ. Churches may be tempted to accommodate themselves to the world in order to be more attractive, less persecuted. Churches fall into compromise because of an unwillingness to confront sin in its members. “We don’t want to offend anyone. We don’t want to lose anyone.” So sin quietly grows, festers and slowly infects the whole body.

Compromise with the world leads to confrontation with the Lord. This is a letter of warning from the Lord to a church that was not separating from the world out of which it had been redeemed. But why is the Lord confronting the church? Because they are His Bride — He is contending for the greatness, the destiny and high calling of His Bride.

2:14 “But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality.”

The problems at Pergamum centered on false teaching. Jesus will not tolerate false doctrine in His church because it always leads to deception and corruption. In particular, they held to the teaching of Balaam.

Balaam was a false prophet, a sorcerer introduced in Numbers 22. Israel was traveling from slavery in Egypt to the freedom and blessing of the Promised Land and had arrived at the border of Moab. The Moabite king, Balak, hired Balaam to curse the Israelites but each time Balaam tried to curse Israel, he instead blessed them (Numbers 23,24). 

Realizing that he was unable to curse the people of God, Balaam advised Balak to seduce Israel into immorality and idolatry (Numbers 31:16). He knew that God would judge the nation if they sinned against God and Balaam understood that judgment would be especially severe if Israel was spiritually unfaithful, which God calls adultery.  So he counseled seduction.

So it was that the Israelite men began to intermarry with the Midianite women, which led to Israelite participation in pagan feasts which connected them to idol worship and immorality (Numbers 25). Eventually, this led to the most terrible abomination of child sacrifice. 

The result of this seduction involved more than gluttony, drunkenness and sexual immorality.  It involved spiritual idolatry, joining the hearts of the worshippers to the demonic presence incarnated in the idols. The idols represent gods that do not exist but they are infused with the power and presence of demons and are based on a system of thought that is demonically oriented. When anyone participates in a cultic form of worship, they are partaking of the demonic reality that abides in the shadow of that false religion.

Let’s restate this truth — the idols are dead but there is a belief system connected to each false god and these beliefs and practices are infused with demonic presence and power. To participate is to share in the substance, the reality of the demon behind the idol. This draws the worshipper into the realm of darkness and that is terribly destructive.

Once the Israelites were involved with the Moabite women, they found it impossible to resist their gods. It is impossible to buy into the world system morally without also buying in spiritually. This blasphemous union with darkness removed Israel from the blessing and protection of God and joined them in intimate communion with demonic powers. 

God considered this to be spiritual adultery because Israel had entered into covenant relationship with the Lord. Therefore God judged unfaithful Israel, killing 24,000 Israelites, in order to pull the nation back from the abyss of destruction.

We see in that historical incident the principle that unfaithfulness to God in one area of life will lead to unfaithfulness in the deepest area of the spirit. Balaam then is a prototype of all corrupt leaders who betray the church into compromise with the world system. Bishops and pastors who today are leading churches into compromise with the values of our fallen culture are spiritual descendants of the Balaam.

This is one of Satan’s strategies against the church.  If persecution does not destroy the church, then seduce the church into worldliness and thereby rob it of its holiness, its power, its integrity and worst of all, its intimate, faithful, covenant relationship with God. Draw the people out from the covenant covering of the Lord and into the realm of darkness where they will be devastated — emotionally, spiritually and physically.

The doctrine of Balaam is the deception that the church may rebel against God while presuming on His grace: live any way you want, God will forgive you. Yes, God is a God of grace, slow to judge and quick to forgive when we sincerely repent. But if we hold onto our sin, practice sin, abide in sin, we cannot then obtain forgiveness because our repentance is not sincere. Repentance is far more than a prayer. It is a changed lifestyle  — a different way of thinking and living.

Evidently, there were some at Pergamum who were attending the pagan feasts with all its debauchery and immorality, going back into the worldly culture from which they had been delivered, then returning to worship the Lord on the holy day, frivolously presuming on God’s grace. And the church leadership was not taking action to confront and correct this error.

God judged Israel for their sin at the borders of Moab and Jesus stood in the midst of the church at Pergamum and warned of impending judgment. Jesus had introduced Himself to the church as “the One who has the sharp two-edged sword.” The sword was not poised against the idol worshipping people of Pergamum but against the church, the redeemed saints. The greatest threat to that church was not persecution from the Roman government but indwelling sin which the holy Lord of the church promised to judge.

2:15 “So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.”

Jesus also reprimands the church for tolerating people who held to the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. Their error was probably similar to the teaching of Balaam, that it is acceptable to compromise with the standards, morals and lifestyle of this fallen world because God is a God of grace and will forgive.  As we have said, the Lord forgives us when we sincerely repent of our sin and cast ourselves on His mercy. But the problem in Pergamum was not believers stumbling into sin and crying out to God for deliverance. Rather, they were intentionally sinning, practicing a lifestyle of sin and then presuming on God’s grace.

Members of the church were being drawn back into the pagan idolatry and immorality of the world from which Jesus had delivered them, becoming comfortable with the ways of the world and then worshipping the Lord on Sunday and assuming they would enjoy His grace. They were no longer separated from the corruption of the world, instead, they were bringing the corruption of the world into the church.

The most common New Testament word for Christian is hagios which is translated saint or holy one.  Hagios literally means separated one.  The Old Testament temple was hagios because it was the place where God placed His glory and there people met and worshipped God.  The Sabbath was hagios because it was the day that people worshipped God and renewed communion with Him.

God is supremely hagios because He is perfectly holy.  The church is called to be the community of the hagios, the holy ones, the ones who are separated spiritually in such a way that they can live physically where Satan's throne is and not be infected by the rule of Satan.  

“‘Therefore come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord” (2 Cor. 6:17).  Such was Paul's counsel to the church at Corinth, at Rome and in every city. The church was positioned as a light to the city but was to live in the midst of the culture while being separate, hagios, from its corruption and idolatry. Peter reminds us that we have been called “out of darkness into His marvelous light” (I Ptr. 2:9) so that we may be a royal priesthood, a holy witness of God in an unholy time and place.

The intrusion of compromise was nothing less than an act of war against the church, which, if successful, would have destroyed the church.  A culture-bound church is a church that has lost the presence, power, gifts and anointing of the Holy Spirit.  That church will eventually die. Therefore Jesus, with the sword of truth, makes war on our compromise, not because He is against us but because He is for us.

Paul said, “I am made all things to all men that I might by all means save some” (I Cor. 9:22).  That does not mean that we must become idol worshippers to reach idol worshippers.  Rather, we come to the sinner and love the sinner, bearing the gift of Jesus. Some at Pergamum may have been pretending to relate to the culture.  Really, they were compromising the truth of Christ so they could escape persecution.  No doubt some were saying, “These few matters of impurity are irrelevant to the greater mission of the church.  God's grace will provide forgiveness.”

In every century, every generation, this is a satanic strategy against the church: to convince the people of God that moral purity is irrelevant to the mission of the church.  The reality is that when we indulge ourselves in any unscriptural way, we open ourselves to the powers of hell which enslave us, invalidate our ministry and prevent the blessing of God while inviting His judgment.  

2:16 “Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.”

Jesus warns the church to repent quickly or He will come and make war against them, against the compromised members of the church and against the church that tolerates compromise, in particular the leadership which had refused to confront false teaching. The greatest threat to the church at Pergamum was not from the Romans. It was corruption within the church. 

Poised over the church now is not the sword of the emperor but the sword of Christ. Remember though, that it is a sword of truth which issues from the mouth of Christ. Its purpose is not to destroy us but to set us free from that which would destroy. Its purpose is to sever any entanglement with the chords of darkness. Its purpose is to awaken us to the presence and passion of the Bridegroom God for us.

Notice that it’s not just the fallen members and false members whom Jesus is warning. He had previously said, “I have a few things against you,” against the entire church.  The Lord is not just calling to repentance those who have held to the false teaching and fallen into sin.  He is calling the entire church to repent.  Though the majority of believers at Pergamum may not have joined in the heresy and apostasy, they tolerated corruption and Jesus held them accountable, called them to repent, because tolerance of sin in the church is sin.

It is as if Jesus is saying, “I want to bless you with forgiving, restoring grace but I can only do this as you repent and turn from your sin. I will not bless corruption and compromise. I want to release my light through you but I cannot when you embrace darkness.”

They wanted to see how close they could live with the world and still be in the church. Jesus wanted them to see how close they could live with Him and still be His church in the world.

 

God makes war against sin because sin destroys, limits, restricts the release of the life, power and creative purpose of God in our lives.  It interrupts fellowship with the Bridegroom Messiah. A compromised church cannot fulfill the purpose for which God established and planted it. 

With what will Jesus make war against them?  With the sword of His mouth. The sword of the Spirit is the word of God (Eph. 6:17). God’s word is truth, truth that strips away all religious pretense and exposes all that is false, truth that awakens our desire for the Bridegroom God whose desire is for us.

The sword of the Spirit produces true repentance, a change of mind that leads to a change in behavior.  Of what must they repent?  Those compromised members of the church need to repent of their worldly lifestyle. The church must repent of its failure to lovingly and truthfully correct compromised sinners, instead tolerating that which could corrupt and destroy the entire church.

Remember who this is, this Christ who stands over the church with the sword of truth, who makes war on our sin. He is the Bridegroom God who entered history to redeem a people on whom He could lavish His love forevermore. He delights in us. His desire is to pour out grace into our lives. His desire is for us and He takes great pleasure in our expressions of love for Him. He calls to His church, warns His church, goes to war for and with His church, so that we may become a Bride made ready for an eternity with the Bridegroom God.

This is the Good News that we proclaim to the world. We call to the lost, the guilty, the broken and the bound with the good news that in Christ there is forgiveness and cleansing and freedom and the restoring of His purpose in us and through us. We call with mercy and with truth, certain that whatever the sin, whoever the sinner, when we confess our sin, turn from it and place our faith in the holy Lamb of God who with His blood atoned for our sins, there is full pardon. 

We proclaim this gospel with confidence for it is what we have experienced, we who once were slaves of sin, captured by the world but now are forgiven, redeemed saints of God. We understand that salvation is not just forgiveness of sin. It is the beginning of the separated life, holy life lived in union with a holy Savior who progressively transforms us from the inside out. It is the beginning of life lived in union with the Bridegroom God who entered history seeking a holy Bride.

To be sure, we continually sin but our weakness, our failure, our compromise does not diminish Christ’s love for us. He is moved by our willingness to call on Him, to seek Him, to turn again from our failure and cast ourselves again on His grace. His response is to pour out grace upon us.

However, if instead we continue to willfully sin, refuse to turn from our sin, tolerate sin in ourselves and those around us in the church, then He will bring the sword of His truth. He will make war on that which would destroy. This is an expression of love by the Bridegroom Messiah.

2:17 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.”

He who has an ear, let him hear. This lifts the message beyond Pergamum to our church. If our ears have been opened by the Lord, we are accountable to hear His word. So many voices in the world demanding compromise, requiring that we be politically and socially correct. We need to be people who hear what the Spirit says to the church.    

To the overcomers, Jesus makes these promises:

1. He will give them some of the hidden manna.  

This speaks of God’s provision to the faithful.  The Lord has promised to resource the fulfilling of His purpose in our lives and in His church.  God desires our fulfillment more than we do.  We don't need to compromise with the world to be resourced, to live purposeful lives.  God can supply our need, bring us in to the abundance of his storehouse and fulfill His purpose in us even in persecution.

The hidden manna also speaks of the gift of eternal life through Christ, who said, “I am the living bread which came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (John 6:51).  No one can see this bread, it is hidden to those who are perishing.  But to those alive in Christ, it is the bread we feed upon every day of our journey toward eternity.

The hidden manna also speaks of the word of God which nourishes us. The Apostle Paul spoke of, “The word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (I Thes. 2:13).  Peter exhorts us, “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (I Peter 2:2). This manna is hidden to the world, it makes no sense to those whose eyes are veiled. But to the covenant bride of the Bridegroom God, it is a dynamic, creative word that works in us and sustains us as we feed on it.

2. He will give them a white stone.  This may be a reference to the ancient practice of jurors casting a vote for acquittal with a white stone.  In the same way, we have been acquitted of our sins by Christ.  It could refer to a stone in the breastplate of the High Priest, as we have been redeemed to be a kingdom of priests.  It could refer to the white stone which was given to victorious competitors at athletic games, enabling them to enter the victory celebration. So will we have access to the marriage feast of the Lamb.  The stone is white, symbolizing the triumph and purity of the faithful holy ones.

3. On the stone will be written a new name. 

This new name speaks of the journey that began when we became new creations in Christ. It speaks of the journey of our commitment, our giving, our choice to love Him with all of our heart, soul mind and strength in the midst of storms and failures. It speaks of our desire for this Bridegroom God who set His desire on us, of our willingness to receive His love and love Him in return.

It is a name which no one knows but the one who receives it.  Who else can know the personal journey of transformation from sinner to saint, the struggles and trials and tribulations, the joy of overcoming and entering into the Bridal feast of the Lamb?  Who can know that journey but the one who makes it and the One who walks beside us along the way?

Who gives us the new name? The One who wrote our names in the Lamb’s book of life before the foundation of the world.

Who receives the hidden manna and white stone? The overcomer. Who is the overcomer? “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world, our faith” (I John 5:4).

It’s interesting that the Lord spoke to the church at Pergamum using the example of Israel moving through the wilderness toward the Promised land, encountering curse and seduction. For the Hebrew people who left Egypt, wilderness was not intended to be a place of compromise but of overcoming.  Awaiting the ex-slaves was a new land and a new life but they could not gain new land and new life while compromised. 

For all who overcome in Christ, awaiting us is a new life in a new land, the kingdom of God. But we must enter the kingdom as hagios, separated ones, through the grace and power of the Bridegroom God, overcoming the world out of which we have been redeemed.

Study Questions:

1. What was the problem which concerned the Lord at Pergamum? (see v. 14).

2. What does Jesus direct the church to do about their problem? (see v. 16).

Notes On The Transforming Impact of Worship

 

Before we leave this message to the church at Pergamum, we want to underscore again the seriousness of compromise in the church and in our personal lives, especially when compromise brings us into contact with the powers of darkness.  One of the spiritual laws of the universe is that we are transformed into the image of whatever we worship.

The process works like this: 

1. Worship involves spiritual intimacy.  We are joined to what we worship.

2. In the intimacy of that union, the object of our worship speaks into our lives.  Worship initiates revelation, be it truth or lies.

3. Revelation produces transformation.  The object of our worship implants its own spiritual substance in us, be it life or death and that brings about transformation.

Let’s review again this example from the history of Israel after Balaam’s strategy of seduction had begun to impact the covenant people of God:

“But they came to Baal-peor and devoted (consecrated) themselves to shame, and they became as detestable as that which they loved” (Hosea 9:10).  

Peor was a mountain east of the Jordan and refers to a Moabite deity, Baal, who was worshipped there.  The Israelites came to a place devoted to the worship of a false god and devoted / consecrated themselves to loving / adoring / worshipping that god.  Notice what happened:

1. “They became as detestable as that which they loved.” We become as that which we love and worship.

2. We are joined to that which we worship (there is spiritual intimacy, union).  Baal-peor is mentioned in Psalm 106:28, “They joined themselves also to Baal-peor and ate sacrifices offered to the dead.”

3. Having been joined to something, we share in its substance / being.  Even a dead idol can connect us to something.  Paul exhorted the church at Corinth, “What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons” (I Cor. 10:19,20).

The word sharers is the common New Testament word for fellowship, koinonos, and can also be translated partner, partake.  It is related to the word communion.  Idol worship joins people to the demonic powers which hide in the shadow of the idol.  It is communion, a sharing in the substance or being of those demons.

Paul went on to say to the church, "Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ?  Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?" (I Corinthians 10:16). 

Through the elements of the Lord's Supper, the bread and wine, we are having holy communion with Jesus, sharing in the reality of His life.  In the same way, idol worshipers are having unholy communion with the substance, the life of the demon behind the idol.  And just as Jesus progressively transmits His life to us and transforms us in His likeness as we worship and serve Him, so the demonic reality behind the idol transforms and shapes its worshippers.

We have been purchased by Christ but our captivity results in our everlasting freedom and transformation into His likeness.  Not so for those who worship idols and are enslaved by the demon who hides in the shadow of the idol.

“The idols of the nations are but silver and gold, the work of man's hands.  They have mouths but they do not speak ... eyes but they do not see ... ears but they do not hear, nor is there any breath at all in their mouths.  Those who make them will be like them” (Psalm 135:15-18) 

What will the makers of these idols be like?  They will be like their idols, spiritually unperceptive, undiscerning, breathless, lifeless.  We become in the image of whatever we worship.  This is true in a destructive sense. This is also true in a wonderful, blessed, creative sense.

“But we all with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed (changed) into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

God has not yet taken His church out of this world.  Rather, He plants us in this world and transforms us in His likeness so that we may shine His light and proclaim His redeeming grace through us.  The Lord of the church judges unfaithfulness because He knows its full and final corrupting impact in our lives.  He calls us to repent of our sin, calls the church to truly be the community of the hagios, the holy.  

Message to the Church at Thyatira  (Revelation 2:18-29)

2:18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write.”

Thyatira was a center for the dyeing industry and the trade of woolen goods.  (Lydia, a seller of purple goods mentioned in Acts 16:14, was from Thyatira.)  A large number of trade guilds (unions) were located there.  To refuse to join a union would severely limit the commercial success of a craftsman. In fact, one might not even be able to work apart from membership in a guild. 

But if you were a member of a trade guild, you would be invited to attend feasts which were held in temples dedicated to false gods, beginning and ending with a sacrifice to the various gods.  For a Christian to participate in such a meal would be to participate in the worship of that idol, which also brought them into contact with demons, as the Apostle Paul reminds us: 

“The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (1 Cor. 10:20-21).

Further, the meals often ended in drunkenness and sexual immorality involving temple prostitutes.  A follower of Christ should not even be present at such an occasion.  But too many members of the church at Thyatira had bought in to the culture of their city, had ceased to be a separated people. In fact, a false prophet in the church was excusing and encouraging conformity to the culture.

The church was being corrupted by the world, was becoming conformed to the world. The problem at Thyatira was not persecution from the outside but the idea that we must compromise with the world in order to maintain our lives and our church.  The typical church member might have been saying, “I need to be at the feasts and festivals so I can carry on my business. Surely God will forgive me; after all, He is a God of grace.”

The church was not simply infiltrated by sin. They were absorbing the sin, learning to live with sin while carrying on the outward works of a church.

2:18 “The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this.”

Remember, Jesus always identifies Himself to each church in a way that underscores His message to that church. Here He identifies Himself as the Son of God, emphasizing His deity, His shared essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  As Son of God, He is able to empower the church to overcome the false teaching of the false prophet in their church and He is able to sustain them in a society in which economic, moral and religious pressures are exerted against believers.

Because He is God, He has eyes “like a flame of fire.” This speaks of His holiness and the penetrating, all-seeing, all-knowing gaze of the Holy One from Whom nothing is hidden. His omniscience pierces every mask, searches every heart, sees the hidden things of every soul and every church. He sees us, understands us. He sees what is true about us and what is not true in our lives and in His church. He sees not only our sin and failure but our sincere desire to change, to repent, to stand and try again. He sees our desire to be who He created us to be. He sees and values the reality of our love for Him even when our love is weak and immature.

Fire also speaks of cleansing, purifying, the work of transforming grace in our lives. 

Fire speaks of revelation. The two men who met Christ on the road to Emmaus, who listened as Jesus opened the Scriptures to them, afterward said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).

Fire also speaks of judgment, the holy flame that burns away the chaff. If there is something in our life or in our church that resists the fire of grace, then the Lord will send the holy fire of discipline to destroy that which would bring us harm. 

He is also the One whose feet are like polished or burnished bronze. This is not a Christ of clay, rather, He stands immovable as the Lord of history. Polished bronze also speaks of holiness and a readiness to judge and trample upon sin. When we cry out to Him with a sincere desire for holiness, He will trample upon the sin that is so deeply entangled in our being or in our church. He will also trample in judgment that which we will not release.

In Revelation 19:11-15, Jesus is presented as the One who “judges and wages war ... (whose) eyes are a flame of fire ... (who) treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.”  This is the Christ who executes judgment with devastating fierceness.

This portrait of the Christ of glory was not intended to soothe or pacify the believers at Thyatira. Rather, it is intended to produce awe, gratitude and reverent fear. Jesus presents Himself to the church in a way that fits His message to the church:  He is the Son of God who stands in the midst of His people, sees the truth of their lives with perfect clarity, sympathizes with their weaknesses, understands the pressures His people face and is ready to deliver those who call on Him. He is Lord and Judge of His church.

2:19 “I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first.” 

Jesus reminds the church that He knows them. Because He is omniscient, perfect in knowledge and wisdom, He knows their works, their love and faith, their service and perseverance. He knows that their faith expresses itself in love and results in service and proves itself in steadfast endurance.  He knows these things because He is all knowing and because He is present with them.

The Lord recognizes that their “works of late are greater than at first.” There was a maturing faith resulting in greater deeds. There was life in this church. The members were growing in faith, love and service.  

It is of crucial importance, though, that the Lord did not commend them for sound doctrine. In fact, their doctrine was being corrupted by a false prophet whom they were tolerating.

2:20 “But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.”

The Lord holds the church accountable, and especially the leadership, for tolerating a false teacher, Jezebel, who taught the believers to compromise their faith.  Jezebel was probably not her real name.  Rather, she represents the spirit of the Old Testament Jezebel, wife of Ahab, King of Israel. She ordered the prophets of the Lord to be killed while introducing and spreading the worship of Baal, a local fertility god. She constantly led her husband astray with wicked advice while drawing the covenant people, Israel, into idolatry, combining Baal worship with the worship of God, Baal being the dominant partner.  

A modern day Jezebel was active in the church at Thyatira and although the entire church was not sinning, some of the people were being led astray and the leadership was giving place to her ministry. What was she teaching? The Lord said, “She teaches and leads my bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols” (2:20).

She may have been teaching that our physical being does not matter, all that matters is our spirit so we can live any way we desire. She may have been saying, “We are all sinners, we can’t change that, this is who we are. Besides, God is a God of grace and He will forgive.” She may have misinterpreted the Scripture, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20).

Most probably Jezebel was saying, “It’s not wrong to go the temples of the idols and share in the festivities. Surely it’s not God’s will that you lose your business. There’s no need to abstain from all the ways of the world, don’t be so rigid in your walk with Christ.  God will forgive. You have to go along to get along.” The result of her distorted message of grace was not simply that some people in the church were worshipping idols and committing immorality. Far more dangerous, they were interacting with the demonic powers which infused the temple rituals and celebrations with enslaving, corrupting power. 

As we have said, this was a city where economic prosperity was tied to membership in the trade unions. In teaching the people that it’s acceptable to compromise with culture in order to make a living, Jezebel was denying the willingness of the Lord Jesus to resource and bless His people who seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.

She was contradicting the warning of Jesus, “No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matt. 6:24). God is not opposed to wealth — He resources our lives so we may serve Him and advance His kingdom. But we must not serve our resources nor serve powers of darkness in order to obtain resources. Some of the church members at Thyatira evidently did not believe that the Lord could provide for them. So they bowed to their culture.

Another result of Jezebel’s teaching was that some of the people were eating meat offered to idols.  Many years before at the Jerusalem Council, the Apostles had said, “Abstain from things sacrificed to idols” (Acts 15:29). Jezebel was urging church members to stay in the guilds, attend the feasts at the temples, participate in the rituals. Why commit commercial suicide, lose friends and customers?  In other words: if the standards of the church clash with the standards of your culture then abandon the standards of the church.

Notice the linkage between idol worship and economic prosperity. The Apostle Paul warned us, “For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Eph. 5:5). A covetous person is an idolater, someone who is putting more confidence in the currency of their society than in the Christ who is Lord over that society, who see their world as their source rather than their Lord. Their desire for money leads them to bow before whatever cultural idol is necessary, rather than bowing before the Lord. 

It’s not that everyone who was attending the feasts believed in the idols. But they were using the process of idol worship, the temple festivities, to gain economic advantage, seeking financial prosperity outside the leadership and Lordship of Jesus. And if there was some immorality in the process, they will just presume on the grace of God.

Jezebel was someone who loved prosperity more than Jesus, someone for whom the claims of success called more loudly than the claims of Jesus. In her deceived state of mind she may have thought she was helping to preserve the church in teaching the church to accommodate itself to a hostile city.  The fact that she may have been recognized as a prophet and may have been a prominent person in the church would have lent greater credibility to her teaching.  

The reality was that her ministry was teaching the church to tolerate sin, to become comfortable with sin. She was deceiving people with the lie that they could live any way they choose and still enjoy eternal life with God. She was damning people to hell while promising heaven.

Her ministry would have eventually destroyed the church. She is one of those who wish to alter God’s purpose for His church to fit their own social / economic / moral agenda, who twist the word of God to fit whatever is culturally acceptable, who accommodate the church to the world, who exalt tolerance as a supreme virtue while trampling holiness, who love Lord Prosperity more than Lord Jesus. There are today Bishop Jezebels, pastor and priest Jezebels who teach the church to bow before its culture, approving whatever is socially or politically correct in order to maintain customer and cash flow. Their church is an idol worshipping church and is only discipling idol worshippers.

Jesus holds the church accountable for tolerating Jezebel. There are three important truths to remember in this:

1. Tolerance of sin leads to corruption, destruction and judgment.  Thyatira was a church with commendable qualities but they were tolerating a potentially fatal infection and Jesus held the entire church accountable for their tolerance of sin.

2. Not all teaching or prophetic ministry is truthful. How do we know if teaching is Godly and true?  We measure it against the standard of the inspired, authoritative word of God.  If it is not consistent with that standard, then we must reject it. To fail to do so will cause many people to compromise with an ungodly world.

3. The result of ungodly teaching is compromise and sin which will destroy lives and destroy churches. Jesus will confront that church. Accountability to God’s standard of truth will require us to be intolerant of worldly attitudes, beliefs and customs which violate God’s standard.

In our corrupt society today, tolerance is a high virtue. They are said to be virtuous who tolerate any philosophy, any belief system, any popular cultural custom.  Jesus called the church at Thyatira to accountability for the sin of tolerance.

The purpose of this confrontation is to recall sinning believers to the true faith and expose false believers. The outcome of this confrontation is that the church will become a Bride made ready for the marriage of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-9). This is the Bridegroom Messiah contending for a holy Bride. This is the Bridegroom God who delights in His people, whose desire is for us, who will confront and make war on anything in us that would harm us or separate us from His love for us.

Paul reminds us, “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her by washing of the water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25-27). That’s the church which the Lord have someday and He is not waiting for someday to prepare that church.

The church at Thyatira tolerated Jezebel. Jesus confronts her and the church. Yes, we do want to lead people to Christ and we are exhorted to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) but if we say we love people too much to confront them with truth, then we know nothing of either love or truth.

If a person insists on clinging to and justifying their sin, if a person of prominence, even a Bishop, teaches that which contradicts the word of God, the church must confront this. Instead, some compromised churches confront a fallen world with pancake breakfasts, lifeless ritual, Bible-denying sermons and tolerance for sin while the sinner goes to hell and leads others hellward, deceived that they are going to heaven. The Bridegroom Judge will confront that church.

2:21 “I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality.”

What an incredibly kind Lord we serve, who always offers grace before judgment.  He offers not only to forgive our sin but to stand with us, enabling us to see through the false teaching we may have absorbed, the corrupt habits we maintained, empowers us to throw off the sin and take hold of liberty. God in His great mercy always gives a season for repentance and so he did for this false prophet but Jezebel did not want to repent.  This was the intentional act of a heart hardened by sin and deception.

When God pours out grace, hearts are revealed.  Those whose hearts are broken by sin are drawn to the Christ who lavishes mercy upon us.  Grace also reveals those who love darkness more than light, who prefer deception to truth, whose hearts will never be broken by conviction of sin, who will not repent and turn to the One who is able to save to the uttermost.

Jezebel is not someone who has stumbled a few times and keeps getting back up, calling on the Lord for forgiveness. She is in darkness and is content there, has no intention of coming out.

2:22 “Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds.”

If we will not turn from our sin and accept the forgiving grace so richly offered in Christ, then judgment is certain with a holy God. This judgment in Thyatira would involve not just Jezebel but all who participate in her deeds. Jesus adds, “Unless they repent.”  

However, there is still time to turn, still an opportunity to take hold of grace. The Lord does not say that He will kill her outright nor those who follow her. Rather, He will cast her on a bed of sickness and her followers into tribulation. The word tribulation refers to pressure.

This affliction and tribulation is more than a warning — she has been warned before and surely the people have been warned previously — the Lord has given her (and them) time to repent. This is grace expressed through an increase in pressure, given as a means of producing repentance, but this pressure of grace will not last forever. Therefore the Apostle Paul exhorts us, “Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).  And the writer to the Hebrews urges us, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Heb. 3:7,8).

There is still time for Jezebel and her followers to turn to the gracious Bridegroom God who calls but if they will not confess sin and embrace grace, then they will experience final, irreversible judgment.

2:23 “And I will kill her children.”  

The word children (teknon) is used in both the natural and figurative sense at various times.  Figuratively, it is used to speak of children of God, children of wrath, children of the devil, children of promise.  Here it refers to Jezebel’s spiritual progeny: those who have bought into her teaching and shared in her sin. They are her spiritual children and they will share in the judgment of their spiritual mother.

Does Jesus act like this in His church? Yes. The Apostle Paul warned the church at Corinth, that because of the sin that was proliferating in the lives of believers there, “For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep” (I Cor. 11:30). The word sleep does not refer to folks snoozing in the pews. It refers to death. We recall also Ananias and Saphira, who lied to the church and died that day (Acts 5:1-10).

Why does the Lord confront His church with such severe judgment? Because He loves us and has designed purpose for our lives — when we are offending his love and destroying His purpose, He will discipline us. Pastor Mike Bickle calls this, “redemptive discipline.” It is for the purpose of waking us up, bringing us to the reality of our sin and its destructive impact in our lives.  The goal is repentance and restoration which we may or may not experience — it depends on our response.

2:23 “And all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts.”

Judgment reveals the omniscience of the Lord, that He knows the deepest secrets of the darkest heart. Judgment also strengthens the faith of those who are wavering in faith, whose faith is being tested by open sin in the church, who might have been thinking, “Look at what they're getting away with.  Maybe they’re right.  Maybe it’s not so bad to compromise with the world.”  Be certain of this — they will see the outcome of that compromise when the Lord brings accountability to Jezebel and her followers.

2:23 “And I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.” 

The open display of grace will convince the church that our God is the Bridegroom Messiah whose desire is for His Bride. The open display of judgment will convince the church that Jesus is still Lord of His church, that He is truly the God who searches our inner being, knows us and gives to each according to our deeds.  

The sinner who refuses to trust in the blood of the unblemished Lamb of God will then be judged on the basis of their works, their sin, and they will be condemned. The sinner who trusts in the blood of Christ as an atoning sacrifice on our behalf, who hears and responds to His call to repentance and faith, “Does not come into judgment but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).

The person who professes faith in Christ but continues to live a life of covetousness and immorality, bowing before the idols of culture, demonstrates that either their profession of faith is hollow and they are still dead in their sins; or, they have been seduced into old patterns of sin and need to hear the voice of the Lord calling them to repent and turn back to the true living of the true faith.

When Jesus returns, He will “repay every man according to his deeds” (Matthew 16:27).  Paul reminds the church that, “Each man's work will become evident ... If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward” (I Corinthians 3:13, 14).  We are not saved by our works but our works reveal saving faith and Jesus will assess our ministries and reward us for those works done in His name, for His glory and motivated by His love.

2:24,25  “But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them — I place no other burden on you. Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come.”

Jesus now exhorts those who have not embraced “the deep things of Satan.” That is a revealing phrase, “The deep things of Satan.” If anyone teaches or believes that God is indifferent to sin, that God tolerates paganism in His church, that person is engaged in the deep things of Satan.

Jezebel and her followers thought they could plumb the depths of darkness and emerge unscathed; thought they could become engaged in a corrupt world without being corrupted. In their arrogance, they were unaware of their fallen state and deaf to the voice of Christ calling them to turn from darkness to light.

Jesus places no further burdens on those who have not embraced the darkness. He commands them to hold fast what they have “until I come.” In other words, continue to resist false teaching, don’t buy in, hold on to the truth until Jesus returns. 

Paul exhorts us to, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith” (I Cor. 16:13). Saving faith is God’s gift to those who come to Him in humble repentance but we must stand for that which we have been given. Jude exhorts us to, “Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3).  The faith was handed to us but we must contend for it.  It is a precious faith, a treasure, the pearl of great price and we must be vigilant to stand against all that would threaten our faith or threaten the church which nurtures our faith.  

How do we hold fast? How do we contend for the faith? 

1. First of all by knowing it. We read the word, study the word, listen to it as it is taught and opened to us, store it in our mind. The truth then becomes part of the way we think.

2. Second, we speak the word, it becomes part of the conversation of our lives.

3. We live it, walk it out. The truth forms our lifestyle.

Whether the threat is persecution pushing against the church from the outside or darkness seeping into the heart of the church through false teachers and false prophets, we must persevere and “contend earnestly” as those who will someday give an account to the Lord of the church.

Jesus now promises reward to the faithful.

2:26,27 “He who overcomes and He who keeps my deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations and He shall rule them with a rod or iron, as the vessels of the potter ar broken in pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father.”

Who are the overcomers? John reminds us, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world and this is the victory that has overcome the word — our faith” (I Jn 5:4). Believers in Christ are overcomers (I John 5:5).  It is our new nature to overcome, for greater is He who is in us than He who is in the world.  

Keeping the deeds of the Lord speaks of endurance, perseverance, steadfastness. It is our perseverance which proves the genuineness of our faith, proves that we are who we say we are but we may ask the Lord to strengthen us so that we can remain steadfast. This was Paul’s prayer for the church, “May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ” (2 Thes. 3:5). He prayed, “That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man” (Eph. 3:16).

We are able to persevere because it is the Lord who keeps us. We are “protected by the power of God through faith” (I Ptr. 1:5). 

To those who overcome and to those who keep His deeds — the faithful — Jesus promises authority over the nations in His thousand year kingdom on earth.  To overcome is to learn to rule over our own life and the circumstances of our life.  It is preparation for ruling in the kingdom of God.  But if we cannot overcome our own temptations and weaknesses, if we cannot rule in our own life, how can we rule with Jesus?

John quotes from Psalm 2:9, “He shall rule them with a rod of iron.”  The word “rule" means “to shepherd.”  Those who follow Jesus the Good Shepherd and have submitted to His rod and staff will share in His shepherding of the nations when He returns.

2:28 “And I will give him the morning star.”

To the overcomer Jesus will give the morning star. This is the promise of a resurrection morning, when the light of eternity will encompass the darkness of death.  It is also Jesus’ promise to give Himself to us, for He is the “bright and morning star” (Rev. 22:16).  In eternity, the overcomer will enter into a new depth of communion with Jesus. He not only gives us His kingdom; He gives us Himself.

2:29 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  

If our ears have been opened to hear the truth of God then we are accountable to hear and to act accordingly.  The wise man listens and acts on the Word of God (Matthew 7:24,25). In context, what message are we exhorted to hear?


The message to the church at Thyatira and beyond is that false doctrine and sin in the church will not be tolerated by the Lord who stands in the midst of His church. Even if a church has love, faith, service and perseverance, even if that church is growing in its ministry, if we allow the world to come in, if we accommodate ourselves to false teachers and pagan cultural practices, if we do not resist and eliminate the corruption that will result from this accommodation, then Jesus will confront that church. 

It is a confrontation of grace — the Bridegroom Messiah contending for the purity and destiny and high calling of His Bride. But it is also a confrontation of judgment. The Bridegroom Judge will confront and destroy that which would harm or corrupt His Bride. 

The message is that Jesus stands in the midst of His church with penetrating insight. Grace, judgment and reward are in His hands. Those who are compromised and falling away will be given clarity concerning their sin, divine enablement and time to turn. Those who return to the faith and those who remain faithful will share in the reign of Christ on earth and will know Him in deeper fulness. The kingdom and the King will be theirs.

Study Questions

1. What was Jezebel teaching and why was this so tempting to the church? (see v. 20)

2. How do we “hold fast”? (see v. 25)

Revelation 3

Revelation 3

Message to the Church at Sardis (3:1-6)

Sardis, known today as Sart, is located in present day Turkey. It had once been one of the great, wealthy cities of the ancient world, nearly impregnable because of its position on a high plateau. But over the years, its leaders had become complacent and during a time of war with the Persians, no guard was posted on the walls and the city was captured in one night. Since that time, the city had been conquered by the Greeks and the Romans, devastated by earthquakes and rebuilt. In John's day, Sardis was a center for the dyeing of wool, was still rich in gold and silver but declining, growing soft, corrupt, degenerate.

The church in Sardis was founded about forty years prior to this message, as revival had swept through Asia Minor (see Acts 19). But as we will see, the decline of the church reflected the decline of the city. 

3:1 “To the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars.”

As always, the message is for the angelos, the messenger of the church in Sardis. We understand that messenger to be the pastoral leadership of the church.

In every letter, Jesus identifies Himself in ways that apply to the particular challenges facing each church, as if He is saying, “If you will apply these aspects of My being to your situation, it will bring you through this.” Here, Jesus identifies Himself as the One who has the seven spirits and the seven stars. 

The seven spirits probably refer to the perfect fullness and presence of the Holy Spirit and the completeness and diversity of His gifts to the church.  When Jesus says that He “has the seven Spirits,” He is referring to His authority to release the fulness of the Spirit into the lives of the members of this church, enabling them to overcome their challenges and complete Christ’s assignment in that city. What a marvelous revelation of the Self-giving of God! He pours out the fulness of Himself into our lives, pours out as much of Himself as we are able to receive so that we can pour out the fulness of our life to Him and for His glory.

In return, the Lord asks us to give ourselves to Him as completely as He gives Himself to us. The question is not, “How much of the Holy Spirit do I have?” The proper question is, “How much of me does the Holy Spirit have access to?”

The seven stars were identified in 1:20 as the seven angels or messengers of the seven churches, that is, the pastoral leadership.  In 1:16 we read that Jesus holds the seven stars in His hand. He holds the leadership of the church securely, is deeply involved in the lives of His leaders. His desire is to cause them to shine, to fulfill their ministries.

In chapter one we also read that Jesus stands in the midst of the lampstands, the churches (1:13,20). This means that He lives in the center of His church as Lord of the church — Provider, Protector, Shepherd and Judge. He is working sovereignly to accomplish His purpose in the church through the agency of the Holy Spirit and through Godly leaders.

3:1 “I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.”

Notice that Jesus does not mention the threat of persecution nor does He find any great heresy in the church at Sardis. Yet they receive the greatest condemnation of any church in Revelation, having an outward appearance of life but in fact, were dead within.

Some have compared this church to the fig tree of Matthew 21:19 — plenty of leaves but no fruit. Others have called the church at Sardis a model of inoffensive Christianity. But of course, this is not true, for the Lord of the church is greatly offended by this congregation. How ironic that the church at Smyrna was being persecuted unto death but lived on, whereas the church at Sardis was said to be alive but was dead.

In the preceding four letters, Jesus commended each church but there is no commendation for the church at Sardis (though at the end of the letter He does recognize those few in the church “who have not soiled their garments”). Jesus reminds the church that He knows their deeds and their name  — they have a reputation for being alive but not according to God’s standard. This is a church that looks good outwardly — in today’s language we would say they have beautiful buildings, wonderful programs— they have a reputation, a popular brand. But Jesus looks through all of that. He sees a prosperous, comfortable church that has fallen asleep.

This is the all-knowing Christ who sees all that is true in each church and every member. It is sobering that He understands every aspect of this church. “I know your deeds,” He says. Our works reveal living faith or dead orthodoxy.  Jesus sees through their outward appearance into the spiritual reality of this church. They are lifeless.

If a star thirty light years from earth died, we would see its light long after its death. So with some churches — their light is only the reflection of a bright past. Yesterday’s light creates the illusion of a living church. The text does not reveal specific sins of the church at Sardis. There is no mention of the heresy, immorality, lovelessness or faithlessness which characterized some of the other churches. In what way are they dead?

It may be that some in the church had never been made alive in Christ. The living, faithful saints of the past generation had gone home to be with the Lord and may have been replaced by unredeemed religious folk who had never known Jesus in a personal way. The Apostle Paul reminds us that we were all once dead in trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1). Our sin separated us from God and in that state of separation we were dead spiritually. By the grace of God through faith, we were made alive in Christ but the unredeemed sinner is still living in a state of death. So it sounds as though there were some, maybe many, in the church who were “holding to a form of religion,” going through the motions, carrying on the programs and ministries of the church without ever having entered into a life-giving, redeemed relationship with Jesus. 

There may have been others in the church who were alive in Christ but were falling into spiritual apathy. The result is a lifeless church, dead to the purposes of Christ in their generation. 

What is most troubling is that the leadership of the church is not aware of the decline of their church for if they were aware, Jesus would not be warning them. Consider again Jesus’ introduction of Himself: He holds in His hand the fullness of the Holy Spirit and leaders of the church. But He is writing to a church that is lacking in both the fullness of the Spirit and Spirit-filled leaders. They are a church that is empty of life, devoid of the light and power of the Holy Spirit, a church that has received people as members without leading them to Christ or discipling them in Christ. They have promoted some people into leadership without leading them into the fulness of life with the Bridegroom Messiah.

Death had fastened its grip on the church at Sardis but death is not final, otherwise the Lord would not be contending with the church— there is still something alive, still a possibility of full resurrection and reclaiming the possibilities of a Bride made ready for the Bridegroom God. So Jesus exhorts them:

3:2 “Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.”

Jesus now issues several commands to the church.

1. The church is commanded to wake up (greagoreuo: to be vigilant, watchful). We are reminded that Sardis was located in a geographical setting that was almost impossible to conquer. Yet more than once the city had been conquered because the people slept while the enemy opened the gates. What is true historically and physically can also be true spiritually. The church was dying because some of its members had never been awakened out of spiritual death.  Others were alive in Christ but asleep in faith and ministry.

The Apostle Paul exhorted unbelievers with these words, “Awake, sleeper, and rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you” (Eph. 5:14). This is Jesus’ message to the unbelievers in the church at Sardis— wake up, rise from death to life through repentance and faith.

Those who are alive in Christ but asleep are exhorted to wake up to their calling, wake up to their ministry and watch, be discerning and aware. 

What are the dangers against which a church should be vigilant, watchful?

Watch out for the compromise of our commission to make disciples of Christ, the temptation to recruit people into the church without leading them to salvation through faith in Christ or discipling them in Christ. Watch out for the temptation to reduce people to customers who bring cash flow to our religion business, instead of seeing them as lost, hurting men and women who need the forgiving, restoring grace which is found only in Jesus. Watch out for the blindness that prevents us from seeing the gifted ministers these men and women could become, anointed priests who bring glory to God and advance His kingdom.

Watch out for the temptation to accommodate our ministry to the customs and values of the prosperous, pagan culture around us, seeking the approval of that culture so as to avoid persecution and rejection. Be vigilant that we not adopt an outward appearance of vitality while falling into spiritual and moral compromise.

Watch out for a loss of hunger for the word, a loss of passion in worship, a loss of intimacy in prayer. Watch out for feelings of shame and condemnation which block our experience of the delight of the Bridegroom God for us. Watch out for feelings of spiritual inadequacy which cause ministry callings and gifts to be neglected.

Watch against the temptation to pour our passion and energy into our vocation or our appetites or our pleasure, with little left over for Jesus. Be vigilant that the world doesn’t grow in its attraction, allowing compromise to creep in: “Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation” (Mark 14:38). Thus Jesus warned His drowsy disciples in the garden and so He warns the sleeping church. There will be temptations and we will not meet them with resolve if we have slept through the times of prayer.

Watch out for preaching that is so sweet and inoffensive, so devoid of Holy Spirit anointing, that it never awakens the dead soul while sedating the living soul? Could it be worship that is pleasing to the ear but fails to engage the human spirit or the Spirit of the Lord? Could it be leaders and members who cannot even remember a time when they engaged with the Spirit of the living God and are now only going through the motions?

Watch out for an unbalanced view of grace, through which a church can drift into lawlessness and immorality? Watch out for an unbalanced view of holiness, substituting rigid obedience to laws in place of a living, transforming relationship with Jesus.Watch out for an unbalanced view of Christ, a Christ who is unable to save us, transform and restore us, judge or chasten us?

Watch against all schemes of the devil: “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Ptr. 5:8).

Watch for the coming and the presence of the Lord: “Therefore be on the alert for you do not know which day your Lord is coming” (Matt. 24:42). This is not just an end time warning — it is also an exhortation to those who are still alive — Jesus is present in His church, looking for people who will yield their lives as servants of His purpose today, who watch for opportunities to partner with Him in the work of His kingdom in this present generation.  

Watch out for the signs of the times — be discerning observers of the world around you and measure what you see against the inspired word of God. It’s easy to be carried away by the swift, popular currents of the times, especially when religious denominations and large, seemingly successful ministries and media corporations and movies and music and the power brokers and the rich and the famous are flowing with the current. When the world is loudly applauding the cultural norms, we need to be watchful, discerning, measuring what we see through the lens of God’s truth, the word of God.

We do not know what was lulling the church at Sardis into sleep. As we have noted, there is no mention of heresy or any particular sin. They were merely dead and if they were dead to Christ, they may have been dangerously alive to the world. They are like the people mentioned in 2 Timothy 3:5, “Holding to a form of godliness although they have denied its power.”

The unbelievers at Sardis needed to wake up from the sleep of spiritual death. The believers needed to wake up from their spiritual indifference and dullness, wake up to the reality of their spiritual condition and respond quickly.

2. Jesus gives a second command: “Strengthen the things that remain which were about to die; for I have not found your works perfect before God.” 

Though in the sight of man their ministry may have appeared impressive, in God’s sight their discipleship was grievously incomplete. The word perfect (pleroo), refers to something that is filled up, fulfilled. Jesus has a design, a purpose, assignments for every church and every disciple. The church at Sardis was in danger of failing to fulfill the purpose of Jesus.

They needed to strengthen what little life remained, rescue what was left. If there was any remnant of truth, beauty, holiness or virtue, anything still worthy of the name of Christ in that church, they must rescue that. The church was in danger of sleeping through the Lord’s uniquely designed assignment for them in their generation. They were poor stewards of the light they had received from the saints of the past. They needed to wake up to the reality of their spiritual condition and respond quickly and strengthen what little life remained.

How do we gain strength in a time of spiritual dullness? 

We begin by asking the Lord to give us strength. The Apostle Paul prayed to the Lord on behalf of the church at Ephesus, “That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man” (Eph. 3:16). 

Paul prayed for the believers at Colossae that they would be, “Strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience” (Col. 1:11).

He reminded the church at Phillipi, “It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phlp. 2:13).

When we ask, the Lord will enable us to will what He wills, to work as He works and will strengthen us with His might for the accomplishing of His purpose.

“Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain.” Those who are spiritually dead need to wake up to their need to repent of sin and place their faith in Jesus as the holy Lamb and risen Lord. Those who are alive but apathetic need to shake off their spiritual slumber.

3:3 “So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent.”

Jesus issues three more commands to the church:

a. “Remember what you have received and heard.” This is a word for those few in the church who are still alive: remember the treasure of the Gospel which was once imparted into this church and into your heart.  Remember the living faith of the past generation of saints which is also your faith.  Remember the commission, the gifts, the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the high calling of the Christian life.  Remember the Bridegroom Messiah who entered history to redeem a Bride, who has set His love and desire upon you, who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light so that you might behold His glory and bring Him glory. 

It’s hard to conquer people who remember who they are and where they have been, who remember what great things God has done in the past and in their lives. Paul said to Timothy, “Kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you” (2 Tim. 1:6).  Again he exhorted, “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me” (2 Tim. 1:13).  To Archippus, Paul said, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it” (Col. 4:17). Every generation needs this exhortation, “Remember what you have received and heard.”

b. “Keep it,” keep what you have received. The word keep means to guard by keeping your eye upon something, from the root word to discern, perceive. Remember and guard what you have received from God, your spiritual inheritance and calling, by keeping your discerning focus upon it. We hold onto our spiritual legacy because we discern that it is more precious than any other possession. We watch over it because it is invaluable, irreplaceable.  

Again, Paul exhorted Timothy, “Guard what has been entrusted to you” (I Tim. 6:20). Though we carry our treasure in earthen vessels, it is treasure nonetheless.  The spiritual man or woman discerns what is treasure, what is precious and what is not.  Discernment is a measure of spirituality.  The worldly mind does not discern the things of God. The spiritual mind does.

We keep what we have been given by obeying the Lord. Obedience to the commands of Christ is a measure of discipleship. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” Jesus said (John 14:15). Discipleship involves a daily walk with the Lord, keeping the word of the Lord for today.

Keeping what we have received is a daily commitment to persevere, to refuse compromise, to resist conformity to the prevailing values of the culture around us. This commitment is energized by close communion with the Bridegroom God who keeps us. He says of His Bride, “They will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28).

We keep what has been entrusted to us because we are kept. We are faithful because the God who entered history seeking us, who awakened us to His desire for us, who redeemed us so we could experience His delight for us and delight in Him — He keeps us. Peter reminds us that we are “protected (kept) by the power of God through faith” ( I Peter 1:5).

c. A third command: repent.  

Jesus does not command the church to improve or reform but to repent. This command is to unbelievers in the church who have never repented of the sin of unbelief and have never turned to Jesus in faith. This command is also to believers who have tolerated spiritual death in the church and compromise in their own lives, who have fallen into dullness and sleep, who did not even evangelize their fellow church members.

Repentance is a turning away from that which is offensive to God and turning to, opening our mind and spirit to that which is pleasing to God.  Repentance is far more than a prayer. It is change in the way we think and live. It is reflected in a changed attitude toward the way we spend our time and money and talents; in the way we relate to other people, the way we relate to the world around us and especially, in the way we relate to the Lord Jesus.

The Warning

3:3 “Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.”

Jesus now issues a warning.  If they will not awaken and repent, He will come like a thief. This is not a reference to the second coming but to the imminent, unexpected manifestation of His presence among us.  What do thieves do?  They remove what we have.  The promise is that Jesus will suddenly visit the church with judgment and remove what little remains of their spiritual treasure if they do not turn to Him in sincere repentance.

We saw in the message to Ephesus that Jesus does not need a church whose love has cooled. He threatened to remove the church. We saw in the message to the church at Pergamum that He does not need a compromised church and at Thyatira, He does not need a corrupt church. How much less does he need a dead church, a church that is asleep to the calling and commission of God to be a light to their generation. He warns the church at Sardis, “I will come like a thief.”

But there is another aspect to this warning. In unexpected moments and seasons, Jesus comes to us, evaluating our lives and requiring accountability. There will be a final accounting when we stand before Him at the end of our life on earth but there are times even now when He visits and evaluates. We may not even be aware of the divine appointment but we suddenly find new doors opening, increased anointing, promotion to greater responsibility. 

The divine visitation may result in a pruning back of unnecessary or compromised aspects of our life that we weren’t aware of or didn’t possess the strength to throw off so the Lord removes it. This is usually not comfortable but the Lord wants us to trust Him that the result will be greater fruit. This includes a deeper responsiveness to the Lord, greater purity, deeper willingness to encounter Him and greater capacity to walk in obedience.

The analogy to a thief implies the unexpectedness of this encounter. But Jesus wants us to develop a lifestyle of staying close to Him, delighting in Him, knowing His heart and mind so that when He suddenly calls us to accountability, we are ready. Whether He is pruning so we can be more fruitful or opening doors so that our service can expand, we are ready.

3:4 “But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.”

Though many in the church were asleep, unredeemed, secularized and compromised, there were a faithful few who had not soiled their garments.  Their reward will be that they will walk with the Lord in white.  White speaks of purity, the life that has been washed by Christ of worldly pollution.  Without this washing, none will walk with the Lord.

 

Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8).

“Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?  And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:3,4).

These faithful few, dressed in the white garment of the righteous, will walk with the Lord. This is not just a promise of heaven but of present fellowship. It is Jesus’ promise to preserve living saints while judging the dead religionists. God preserves the faithful, even when they are only a remnant.

An interesting note: Sardis was famous for its wool and dyeing industry. Those who have not stained their robes will walk with the Lord in the white robe of righteousness. This was a promise easily understood by the people of that city.

3:5 “He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”

A three fold promise is made to the overcomer.  Overcomer is one of the New Testament words for a believer, as John reminds us in his earlier epistle: “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (I Jn. 5:4,5).

We overcome because we are new creations in Christ, filled with His Spirit.  Our overcoming or perseverance is the proof of God’s saving work in our lives. These promises are to the believing saints who are alive in Christ. But these promises are also for those unbelieving sleepers who, if they will wake up and repent and turn to Christ, will be, by the grace of God, overcomers.

1. These overcomers will be clothed in white.  Those who walk in holiness now will walk in perfect, everlasting holiness later. Without that garment, there is no access to the wedding feast of the Lamb. In the parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14), a man tried to enter who was not dressed in wedding clothes. He was cast out.

Later, John will hear a multitude praising God and saying, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.  Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory unto Him, for the marriage feast of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Revelation 19:6-8).

In the ancient world, a white robe was a festival garment, the garment worn in victory processions and weddings.  We will be dressed in white linen at the banquet of the Lord.  It is continually mentioned as the garment of the saints in heaven (Rev. 3:18, 4:4  6:11), including the multitude who stand before the Lord in white who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb (7:9,13). It is the garment worn by the armies of heaven who appear with the warrior Messiah (19:14). As mentioned above, it is the wedding garment of the bride of Christ.

Some commentators suggest that there is a particular design to these robes, that they reflect the unique calling and ministry of each saint, as we read a moment ago, “For the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:8). It is possible that each robe is designed to express the particular commitment, the journey, the love motive, the desire to press in to the heart of Jesus and glorify Him on earth, that is unique to each believer.

2. Their names will not be erased from the Book of Life.  This does not imply that names can be erased or that salvation can be lost.  Just the opposite: it is the promise that names will not be erased, that God’s work of salvation in His overcoming saints is irreversible, everlasting. This is not about our faithfulness but God's faithfulness to perfect what He has begun in each of us.    

Paul celebrates this wonderful truth, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phlpns. 1:6).

Peter reminds us that we “are protected (kept, guarded, shielded) by the power of God through faith” (I Ptr. 1:5).  Our salvation is secure through God’s keeping power working through the faith that He plants in our hearts.

Jude rejoices in the victorious outcome of God’s grace at work in us, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” (Jude 24).

Jesus said, “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39).

In ancient cities, rulers recorded the names of the citizens in the city records. Names would be erased when someone died or if they committed a crime against the state. But our names were written in the record of the New Jerusalem before the earth was formed. John says in chapter Revelation chapter 13 that the people who worship the beast are those “whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (13:8). The implication is that those who do not worship the beast were recorded in the book of the heavenly city before the world began.

The same God who wrote our names in the book of life also qualifies us to enter the New Jerusalem. Regarding our sins and offenses against the King and His kingdom, we, criminals and sinners all, have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. Whatever we did that would have caused our names to be erased has been washed away — not our names but our sins were washed away. When we die, we will enter the presence of the One who is faithful to preserve us unto that day.

3. Jesus will also confess the overcomer before His Father and the angels of heaven.  During His earthly ministry Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who confesses me before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32). Now in His glorified ministry, He repeats this promise. But confession is more than merely repeating our names to the Father. Jesus will tell our story, the story of how we overcame by the blood of the Lamb and our word of testimony, the story of how we chose to celebrate Him and serve Him, love and proclaim Him and tell His story to our generation. Now He will tell our story to the Father and it does not say that Jesus will only do this once. Your journey of discipleship may be a continuing conversation between the Father and the Son.

3:6 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

As always, Jesus closes with the admonition to hear what the Spirit is saying to the church: hear what the Spirit says to churches.  There were many voices speaking to the church at Sardis, secular voices of accommodation and compromise were especially loud. There were the voices of those who had never awakened from spiritual death, yet may have been exercising leadership in the church.

Many in the church had an ear tuned to those voices but the Spirit of God was also speaking.  Those who have an ear for the things of the Spirit are called to listen.  All will be held accountable, for God is not silent.

Study Questions

1. “Wake up, be vigilant.” What are some things we need to watch out for? (see v 2).

2. What does it mean to you that Jesus will confess your name before the Father? (see v 5)

Message to the Church at Philadelphia (3:7-13)

Philadelphia lay in Asia Minor, in what is modern day Turkey.  Its location on the trade routes made it a prosperous city and earned it the title, "Gateway to the East."  The land around the city was very fertile and was known for its grapes and wine. This region was also highly susceptible to earthquakes, experiencing constant tremors. Little is known about the church but it is assumed that it was founded during the time of Paul’s ministry at Ephesus, as part of the revival movement that swept across Asia Minor during the 50s AD.

3:7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this.”

Again, the message is for the angelos, the messenger of the church in Philadelphia. We understand that messenger to be the pastoral leadership of the church. As with each message to the churches, Jesus identifies specific attributes of His being that will assist the church in overcoming the challenges before them.   

1. He who is holy:

  

Only God is holy and in identifying Himself as holy, Jesus declares that He shares the sinless nature of God. When Isaiah stood among the worshipping seraphim of heaven, he heard them crying out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isa. 6:3). Holiness speaks of God’s otherness from all of creation, His transcendence over all He created.

When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she would conceive, he said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you and for that reason the holy child shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).  Because Jesus is the Son of God, He is of the same essence as God the Father. Therefore He is holy.  Even the demons recognized this. One cried out, “I know who you are — the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24).

The New Testament word for holy — hagios — carries the idea of being set apart, dedicated or devoted for some holy purpose. Thus it was that Jesus was set apart to be the Messiah, the Savior of those separated from God by sin.

What does it mean that Jesus is holy? It means that all He is and does is absolutely pure and separate from all that is sinful, evil or unjust, untainted by any impurity of thought or motive.  When a holy God loves, He loves with perfect purity.  When He leads, it is with perfect motive and wisdom.  When He judges or reproves, it is with perfect mercy and justice. 

How is the holiness of Jesus an encouragement to the church at Philadelphia? It is simply this — whatever pressure or threat they face from without or within, whether the power behind that threat is heavenly or earthly, spiritual or political / military, whatever philosophy or demonic strategy — the holy Christ transcends that power. He is therefore able to invest His church with overcoming grace, wisdom, discernment, purity and strength.

2. The One who is true: 

Jesus is true, not merely in the sense that He knows and speaks the truth but in the essence of His being He is true. He speaks the truth because He is truth. He knows truth because He is the Source of all truth. There are several Greek words for truth. This word, alethinos, means real, genuine. Jesus is saying, “ I am the reality of truth.”  He is not an imitation of truth but truth incarnate. He used a related word when He said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). He meant that He is truth expressed in human form.

How is the truthfulness or genuineness of Jesus an encouragement to the church? John tells us in his first epistle, “We may know Him who is true (alethinos); and we are in Him who is true (alethinos), in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true (alethinos) God and eternal life” (I Jn. 5:20). In the midst of counterfeit gods and false philosophies, arrogant emperors and secular societies launching violent persecution and applying economic and social pressure against the church and as heretical teachers spread corruption within churches, we can know the true God and as we abide in Him, we also know His truth and are alive in His truth.

It is also an encouragement to know that Jesus not only inspired every promise in the Bible — He also is the embodiment of every promise. Because He is true, we can trust that not only are the promises true but they will be fulfilled in God’s perfect timing, by His power, for our good and for His glory. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). His truth is more dependable than the continuation of the universe.

Empires rise and fall, tyrants shake their fists at God and then die and are buried as their glory corrupts to dust. Lying philosophies come and go, their professors falling into the silence of the grave and their deceptions follow them. But with the Psalmist we proclaim, “Forever, O. Lord, Your word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89).

3. The One who has the key of David, “Who opens and no one will shut, and Who shuts and no one opens”:

In Isaiah chapter 22 we read of the Lord deposing the royal steward, Shebna, and promoting Eliakim. In verse 22 the Lord said, “Then I will set the key of the house of David on his shoulder; when he opens no one will shut; when he shuts, no one will open” (Isa. 22:22). In other words, Eliakim would be exercising authority in the name of the king.

The house of David is often used as a symbolic representation of the kingdom of God and Jesus now applies these words to Himself. A key represents authority. Jesus is the One with the key, the One who opens and shuts the door, who has authority to give or deny access into the kingdom of God. 

Jesus, Lord of the church and Lord of the kingdom, said, “No one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6).  This authority is from the Father, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).  This authority was established on the cross, where Jesus opened a new and living way into the presence of the Father. Speaking of that cross, Jesus said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (John 12:32).

It is Jesus, the crucified Lamb and risen Lord, who has opened the door of the kingdom of God. Indeed, Jesus says that He is the door itself, “I am the door; if anyone enters through me, he will be saved” (John 10:9). There is no entrance to the kingdom of God or to Christ's true church through human ritual or philosophy. He alone opens doors and gates of access and shuts doors in such a way that none can enter.  

Jesus also holds the key to the resources of the kingdom which He gladly lavishes upon His church according to His sovereign purpose to bless. He holds the key of authority which He delegates to the church in the earthly and heavenly realm. He unlocks doors of opportunity, access and possibility which no earthly or demonic power can overcome. 

Jesus opens doors of revelation, wisdom and understanding to His church. He imparts His plans and strategies for the advancing of His kingdom. Therefore the Apostle Paul prayed for the church at Ephesus, “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe” (Eph. 1:17-19a).

Jesus also opens doors within our hearts wherein we were bound in condemnation, bitterness, fear or grief, addiction or confusion. He opens doors wherein we were enslaved or deceived. He holds the royal key of David and is able to open and no one can close.

Jesus also closes doors of demonic strategies to oppose, discourage, persecute or corrupt the church. He closes doors when we try to enter apart from His timing or His will. The closing of doors is just as much an expression of His love as the opening of doors.

Jesus holds the key of David — the royal key of heaven’s authority. He opens and He closes. Only the Lord of the church, He who holds the key, can guard, guide and bless His church.

We should remember, though, that through fervent prayer we can partner with the Lord in opening doors which He purposes to open. The Apostle Paul exhorted the church at Colossae, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned” (Col. 4:2,3).

It is not that our prayers persuade Christ to open doors that violate His purpose or timing. But true intercession moves into union with the timing and purpose of God. There are seasons and aspects of His will in which He voluntarily limits the expression of His purpose until we pray. He invites us to place our hands on His hand which holds the key. What a high calling.

We must also remember that there are two doors in the universe which Jesus will never open apart from our invitation to Him. That is the door of our heart snd the door to our church. He said to the church at Laodicea, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20). 

Contextually, He was calling to a church which had excluded Him from their life. But we may also apply this to each human soul. He calls to us, pursues us, awakens us to the marvelous possibilities of His grace. But we must choose to open the door.

Pastor Mike Bickle would remind us that though there is no power on earth, no false teacher and no demon in the heavenlies that can close a door which Jesus has opened, we can miss the open door by quitting. There is a tendency to become discouraged, frustrated, embittered because life is hard and people are unfair. But we cannot let life in this fallen world or the sins of others against us shape the narrative of our life and cause us to miss the open door. Let this be our narrative — that Jesus holds the royal keys of heaven and opens doors before us that no one can close.

3:8 “I know your deeds”:  

This is not a threat. It’s a revelation that nothing can happen to the church apart from the knowledge of the Lord. The omniscient Lord sees His church and every individual member, watches over our lives, is aware of every circumstance and event. His eye is on the sparrow and how much more valuable are we than a sparrow. This can be a great source of confidence in our lives.

The church at Philadelphia and the church at Smyrna are the only churches which received no rebuke or warning from the Lord.  Jesus knows His church in perfect, intimate detail and had only commendation and encouragement for those two congregations.

3:8 “Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut”:

Jesus repeats the truth that as Lord of the church, He is able to make a way for His people which no power in this world can prevent.  It is a way of everlasting salvation, resurrection entrance into the kingdom of the Messiah. It is also an open door for service — it is the Lord who gives opportunity, time and resource for witness, who gives access to a region, who opens the hearts of people.  He opens up doorways in the Spirit realm, bringing us into greater revelation and anointing, sharing with us the mind of the Spirit and the Father’s heart.

3:8 “Because you have a little power”:

Their power was small because they were a small church but their lack of reputation or wealth or strength calls forth the abundant kindness of the Lord. He will open doors for them, doors which human wealth or power or strength could never have opened and which cannot be closed by any power on earth.  Jesus, Lord of the church, is our strength, our wisdom, the Source of every good and perfect gift. He will provide what we lack. Better then to boast in our weakness, as did the Apostle Paul (2 Cor. 12:7-10), for our weakness casts us on the Lord and the grace and power of Jesus can be magnified and perfected.

3:8 “And have kept My word and have not denied My name”:

Jesus does not rebuke them for heresy or tolerating any form of sin or compromise. He commends their obedience to His word and their faithfulness to His name.  The word kept — tereo — means to guard by keeping your eye upon something. They have stayed focused on the word of the Lord and therefore have been faithful to the name, the person and priority of Jesus.

They do not have a great name, as the church at Sardis.  They do not have great wealth or reputation in the sight of the power brokers of their city.  They are, as Paul described the church as a whole, not mighty or noble or wise or strong (I Cor. 1:26-29).  But God has chosen the foolish things to shame the wise, weak things to shame the strong.  Though small and weak and poor in the eyes of the world, they have been faithful.  They will be given charge over much. The reward for their faithfulness, as the Lord has said, is an open door which no one can shut.

3:9 “Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie — I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you.”

We are again introduced to the conflict between church and synagogue. Although a multitude of Jews had become members of the New Testament church, the official policy of many Jewish leaders was to instigate persecution against the church. This made them instruments of Satan.

“Who say that they are Jews and are not”: 

God had revealed through Paul that not all are Jews who are born into a Jewish family: “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly ... But he is a Jew who is one inwardly” (Rom. 2:28,29). 

“For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” (Rom. 9:6,7). We are covenant people not because we are descended racially from Abraham, or keep the Mosaic Law, or because we were baptized when we were babies or attended Holy Communion last week. We enter into covenant with God through faith in Jesus, the holy Lamb and Risen Lord.

“I will make them come and bow down at your feet”:  

Jesus will cause some of the persecuting synagogue to come and bow down. This is not permission for bigotry or anti-Semitic policies.  It is a promise: Jesus is able to give the church victory over opposition.  But it is Jesus who gives the victory, not the violent inquisitions of an unspiritual, unredeemed, anti-Christ church that persecutes people.

This is a reference to the salvation of Jews. It is quite possible that in Philadelphia, as in many other cities, Jews who once persecuted the church eventually knelt before the Lord Jesus Christ in true repentance and sincere faith, embracing the gospel they once had rejected. What better example than the Apostle Paul, who on the road to Damascus fell at the feet of the Christ He once had persecuted.

This may also refer to the future turning of multitudes of Jews to their Messiah. There are numerous prophetic references, in the Old and New Testaments, of that coming day, when “the inhabitants of Jerusalem ... will look on Me whom they have pierced and they will mourn for Him” (Zech. 12:10).

Paul looked prophetically to that day when his countrymen would turn to their true Messiah, “And so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob’” (Romans 11:26). (“All” refers to all Jews who turn in faith to Jesus during that end time revival).

To the phrase, “I will make them come and bow down at your feet,” Jesus also adds, “and make them know that I have loved you.”

Jesus will cause the persecutors of the church to know that the people whom they slandered and assaulted are His beloved. Jesus is the Bridegroom Messiah and He will vindicate His Bride. Those persecutors who turn to Christ will know His love for the church because they will experience it personally. Those who refuse to turn, who die in their sins, will also realize Christ’s love for His church when, on that last day, they fall before the Lord “and every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and … every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phlpns 2:10,11).

3:10 “Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.”

The NIV says, “You have kept my command to endure patiently.”  Perseverance, steadfastness, patient endurance is a command of Jesus. Obedience to this command proves the genuineness of our faith.  To those saints whose faith is proven through patient endurance, the Lord makes this promise: “I also will keep you from the hour of testing.”

The promise of the Lord is to keep the faithful, to keep those who endure.  Jesus uses the same word here — tereo — as He used in verse 8 when He commended their faithfulness to His word. They have been faithful to keep the word of the Lord because the Lord is faithful to keep them.

Peter reminds us that we are “protected (phroureo, kept) by the power of God through faith” (I Ptr. 1:5). The word phroureo is a military word; it refers to soldiers guarding something or someone. The Lord will watch over, guard His church. From what?  He says from the hour of testing or temptation.  

There are times in every generation where life is perilous, circumstances test and tempt us.  Jesus says that in those times, He will keep those who endure.  It is Christ who gives us grace to endure and it is grace-empowered endurance that proves our faith.

This does not necessarily mean that we will not go through the same struggles of persecution, trials and temptations which many churches and believers have endured through the ages.  When the emperors were slaughtering Christians, the only way to avoid death was to deny Christ.  Faithfulness to Christ resulted in suffering for the faith.  But Jesus promises to keep us in our trial, as He prayed in His High Priestly prayer, “I do not ask you to take them out of the world but to keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).  

Being kept, guarded by Christ means that Christ will stand beside us in our ministry and in our suffering, will strengthen, comfort and preserve us and bring us to our eternal reward victorious in faith. We are kept from the wrath of God by the blood of the Lamb and the victorious Lamb keeps us even as we experience the wrath of the persecutor.

In Acts 5:17-19 we read that the apostles were arrested but set from prison through the supernatural deliverance of an angel. Later, the Apostle James was arrested and put to death (Acts 12:2), though we can be sure that the Lord kept him strong in his faith. Soon after that, Peter was arrested but set free by an angel (Acts 12). Many years later, Peter was arrested and put to death. Paul also experienced supernatural deliverance from prison but was also beaten, stoned, unjustly accused and finally, arrested and executed.

However, this phrase, “I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world” may extend beyond this local congregation to a time and a testing yet to come. That season of trial will encompass the whole world, not just the church at Philadelphia.  

Some commentators believe this refers to the Great Tribulation at the end of history and may represent God's promise to preserve His church in or from that time. Some insist that the phrase “keep from” (tereo ek) must be translated “keep away from,” meaning existence outside of something. Tereo ek may speak of a church which is lifted out of the world before the tribulation.

If the church is raptured before or during the Great Tribulation, how will people here the Gospel? As we will see later in Revelation, it appears that there will be a great army of evangelists on earth during that time, drawn mainly from the many Jews who will come to Christ and through their preaching, multitudes will be saved.  These tribulation believers will be martyred in great numbers but they will be kept, guarded by the Lord all the way to the heavenly Jerusalem. 

Other commentators believe that the phrase “keep from” simply refers to the Lord’s promise to preserve believers and enable their victorious confession in the midst of tribulation.

Spiritual protection, then, takes different forms in Revelation. In 6:9-11, martyrs are kept under the heavenly altar until the time of their vindication. They are kept, though they were martyred.   In 7:2,3 believers are sealed in the midst of God's outpouring of wrath, kept from judgment in the midst of judgment. In 12:6 the church flees to the wilderness and is kept there. In 12:11, believers are able to overcome Satan “because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” Even in the face of death, believers are kept, preserved, enabled to stand victorious.

In describing that day when God’s wrath is poured out on the world and demonic wrath is loosed on the church, Jesus said, “And you will be hated by all because of my name. Yet not a hair of your head will perish” (Luke 21:17,18).  His promise to all believers in all places at all times is this, “And I give eternal life to them and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).

Believers are persecuted, slandered, imprisoned and put to death in every generation. In the midst of the fire, we are kept, guarded, by the power of God.

3:11 “I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown”:   

The New Testament church was constantly reminded of the coming of the Lord.  This was a warning to the complacent: the Lord is coming back, awake from sleep, be sober, be vigilant, fulfill your ministry.  It was inspiration to the weary: keep working, history will someday be over and there will be no more opportunity to work.  It was comfort to the persecuted: the Lord is coming, persevere.  To the faithful, this was reassurance: the Lord who promises to stand beside you will come without delay. In God’s measure of time, two thousand years is quickly. For everyone, life is over quickly and we do meet Jesus.

There is also a present tense reality to the coming of the Lord. In 1:20 we read that the lampstands are the seven churches and in 1:12,13 we see Jesus standing in the midst of the lampstands. He is present in the midst of His church. To some of the churches of Revelation, Jesus promises to manifest His presence in judgment if the church does not repent. To the church at Philadelphia, and to all the faithful, this is a reminder of the nearness, of the presence of our Lord to protect and keep His own.

“Hold fast what you have”:

The word hold fast — krateo — is from a root which has to do with dominion, to be mighty, to prevail. Jesus is exhorting the church to take dominion, to prevail over that which they have been given. Don’t let any power on earth or in the heavenlies take from you the treasure of the Gospel, the promises of the Lord, the life which you have in Him, the high calling and destiny for which you were designed. 

Our ability to hold fast, to persevere, is God’s gift to the faithful.  Just as He chose us and saved us by bringing us to repentance and gifting us with faith, He also secures us by providing an enduring faith. It is by the power of God that we are kept. 

There is a human side of this — we are exhorted to hold fast to the God who has taken hold of us.  We are exhorted to guard what has been entrusted to us by the God who guards us. The Psalmist said, “My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me” (Ps. 63:8). We cling to the God who upholds us.

We hold fast as we choose to obey God’s will and word, as we exercise spiritual discipline in prayer and study of God’s word, as we yield to and cooperate with the grace of God, as we experience and enjoy the Lord’s delight in us and as we respond by loving Him with all heart, soul, mind and strength.  

The Apostle Paul said, “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus … Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phlp. 3:12-14). We lay hold of the calling and promise of Christ as we let go of anything in the past that would hinder our ability to press on toward the goal.

The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebr. 10:23). We hold fast to the God who is faithful to hold us.

Paul exhorted Timothy, “Guard what has been entrusted to you” (I Tim. 6:20). Guard your spiritual inheritance even as the Lord sets a guard over you.

Again Paul exhorts us, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phlp. 2:12,13). The Lord of our salvation is at work in us to perfect what He has begun. Yield to Him, work with Him.

In holding fast, we prove the reality of God’s saving act in our lives. Those who do not hold fast, who fall away from the faith, prove that theirs was never true, saving faith, as the Apostle John said, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (I John 2:19).

“So that no one will take your crown”:

As in 2:10, this crown is the stephanos which was a wreath awarded to champions in the Olympic games. In 2:10 it is “the crown of life” or “the crown which is life.”  Eternal life, sharing the life of God, is Christ’s gift to all who are victorious, who overcome, who finish the race, who complete what God began in us. Our perseverance in running the race, a life time of holding fast to faith, proves that our salvation is real. That crown cannot be lost.

Jesus is not saying, “Watch out, don’t lose the gift of eternal life, don’t let anyone snatch that crown off your head.” He is saying, “The reality of your crown is proven by the reality of your persevering faith.” He is saying, “No one will take your crown because you are holding fast to the God who holds you.”


However, we can lose some of the rewards that would have been ours when we finish the race and enter eternity. Paul exhorts us to remember that we will be held accountable before Christ at the end of the age and our works will be tested by fire, “If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (I Cor. 3:14,15).

How can we lose rewards? By listening to false teaching and buying in to it, by allowing the values of the culture around us to seep into our soul. False teaching, ungodly values can exert conforming pressure on our life and diminish faith and zeal and purity and eventually diminish the effectiveness of our ministry. Assignments go undone or they are done with impure motives. We give up, walk away and miss the reward that would have been ours.

But if we will take hold of the God who has taken hold of us, He will preserve us until that day when we receive the crown, as Jude prays in his most beautiful benediction, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” (Jude 24).

3:12 “He who overcomes”:

Overcomers are those who have been reborn spiritually by the power of God: “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world and this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (I John 5:4,5). Believers in Christ are by nature overcomers. We are the faithful who hold fast and endure. To us, this promise is given: 

“I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God.”

We are living stones, “Being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood” (I Peter 2:5).  The faithful become pillars in this temple of living stones. Pillars speak of permanence, stability. Pillars support weight. A pillar in the temple of God is someone who is able to bear responsibility  and fulfill assignments in the kingdom of God. Those believers in Philadelphia who prove themselves to be persevering overcomers will be given more opportunity in ministry.

There is also a future aspect to this promise. We will be given assignments in the coming kingdom because, in our life on earth, we proved we were willing to fulfill assignments. In fact, our work in eternity may be based on our faithfulness to fulfill responsibilities in time. Jesus gives a hint of this in the parable of the talents. The returning master says to the faithful servant, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21).

“And he will not go out from it anymore”:

The presence of the Lord is a place of perfect, everlasting security. He spreads His tabernacle in us and among us, “For we are the temple of the living God, just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them’” (2 Cor. 6:16). We will never depart from the presence of this God who will never depart from us.

“And I will write on him the name of My God”:

In the days of Moses, God used His own finger to write the commandments on tablets of stone. But the Lord promised through the prophet Jeremiah that a day would come when He would write on human hearts, “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jere. 31:33).

We who are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, we are those in whom the Lord is writing. Paul says that we “are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Cor. 3:3).

Even as a servant in ancient days bore the mark of his or her owner, so the mark of God will be on those who have surrendered to His Lordship. This speaks of identity. We are His, bought with a price — the blood of the holy Lamb. This speaks of permanence — He purchased us for Himself and marks us with Himself for all eternity.

God writes in us the story of the Bridegroom’s desire for the Bride. He inscribes in us His holiness, His beauty and His truth. He leaves a mark upon our character: we are changed into the image of Jesus, given holy desires that did not originate within ourselves. He leaves a mark upon our mind and memory: we are forgiven, renewed, transformed, given revelation of the heart and mind of God. He leaves a mark upon our spirit, our soul: the resurrection life of Jesus is at work in us, the promise and presence of eternal life.

“And I will write on him … the name of the city of my God which comes down out of heaven from My God”:

The mark of the New Jerusalem will be upon us. It is the gift of everlasting citizenship in the heavenly city and the kingdom of God.

“And my new name”: 

Philadelphia changed names several times in honor of Roman emperors.  We too have a new name: children of God, saints, overcomers, Christians.  Christ shares His name with us. His name represents the fulness of His being but He has infinitely more of Himself to share with us.  His new name represents the unfolding and ultimate revelation of His essence which is not now known or seen but will be revealed in glory.  As we bear His name now, so we shall bear this fuller expression of His name, His being, in eternity as we behold Him and are changed to be like Him. In that day when Christ has conquered all, we will stand with Him in the new Jerusalem as new people, wearing a new crown and bearing a new name.

3:13 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Again, the church is exhorted to hear what the Spirit says to the church. We are accountable to God to tune out the noise of this world, the heresy of false teachers, the corruption of fallen culture, the blasphemy of antichrist spirits and hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.

Study Questions

1. In verse 10 the Lord commends the church for keeping His command to persevere. He also promises to keep them. What is the relationship between our keeping and His keeping?

2. What does it mean to be a pillar in the house of God? (see v. 12)

Message to the Church at Laodicea (3:14-22)

Laodicea, known today as Eski-hisar, was located in what is today Turkey, at the intersection of two major highways. Due to fertile soil and a thriving wool and garment trade, the city became a wealthy, strategic banking and commercial center during the Roman era. So wealthy was the city that in AD 61, when a major earthquake devastated it, the city was rebuilt without any outside aid. There was also a famous medical center there, known for ear and eye salve.  

Laodicea was infamous for its foul tasting water, supplied through an underground aqueduct. Whereas the nearby city of Hierapolis was famous for its hot springs and Colossae for its cool, refreshing water flowing from nearby mountains, Laodicea’s water was dirty, smelly, lukewarm and so vile that visitors were known to spit it out the first time they tasted it. 

We will see that this was also the problem with the church at Laodicea — lukewarmness — the people had cooled in their passion to know, love and serve Jesus. Many in the church had prospered greatly but in their success they had become spiritually lethargic, just going through the motions of discipleship. As such, the living water which should have flowed through the church had become putrid and was a source of refreshment to no one. This was a potentially fatal condition but the Lord had not rejected them. Motivated by love, Jesus came to them, called to them, showed them their problem, offered His remedy and made promises to bless them. This is the Bridegroom Messiah calling to His Bride.

3:14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:”

As usual, the letter is addressed “to the angelos,” that is, to the messenger who will present it to the church. That would be the pastoral leadership.

As He does with each church, Jesus identifies Himself in ways that apply to the specific challenges facing the church. To Laodicea Jesus presents Himself as, “The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God.”

1. “The Amen”

Amen is the transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning truth or certainty. Amen, at the beginning or end of a solemn statement, is a way of emphasizing the established truth of that statement. The old King James translates the word amen with verily, as in John 5:24 when Jesus said, “Verily, verily I say to you.”

Jesus identifies Himself to the church as the Amen, not merely because He speaks the truth but because He is truth incarnate.  All the promises of God are fulfilled in Him, as the Apostle Paul said, “For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen” (2 Cor. 1:20).

When Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6), He meant that His Word can be utterly relied on, is always true, because He is the truth, the Amen. He said that the entire universe would pass away someday but His words would remain (Matt. 24:35).

How is this revelation of Jesus as “the Amen” an encouragement to the church? One way to shake off spiritual lethargy, lukewarmness is to remember the promises the Lord has made to us and speak them, pray them back to God, act on them — engage with His truth. The truth is that He has purposed our lives, has set His love upon us, delights in us. He pursued us, awakened us to His love, reconciled us to Himself at great cost so that He can lavish His grace upon us and through us. He comes to us and relentlessly contends for us. 

As we remember these things — His promises and His love motive behind the promises, as we engage with the truth, step into the truth, the Lord activates His truth in our lives and we shake off our lukewarmness.

2. “The Faithful and True Witness”

In contrast to the unfaithfulness of the Laodicean church is the absolute faithfulness of Christ. 

Jesus was preparing to reveal truth to the church regarding their spiritual condition — this would be painful. He would reveal the remedy for their condition — this would require commitment. He would give them promises of reward — this would require faith. They could trust this revelation no matter how painful or costly because He is the faithful and true Witness.

We can trust that when Jesus speaks to us, it is absolute truth. His rebuke is never unjust, His compliments are never exaggerated. We can trust His words and engage with His truth.

3. “The beginning of the creation of God”  

Beginning has to do with origin or source, not time. Jesus is not the first part of creation as if He is a created being. Rather, He is Co-Creator of all things with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit: “He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:2,3).

As the Son of Mary, Jesus had a point of conception and birth.  But as the Son of God, He has no beginning and no end, uncreated, Self-Existent, Co-Creator of the universe, in whom all the universe is held together.

Whatever sin or compromise or weakness the Lord show us in our lives or church, whatever trials or persecution or challenges come against us, the Christ who is speaking to us is well able to bring us through victoriously. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all. He has the creative power and authority to bring into being His purpose for our lives if we will engage with His truth.

This is the Christ who is communicating with the church at Laodicea: the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of creation. 

3:15 “I know your deeds that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.” 

Jesus saw the church at Laodicea with perfect discernment and it is the only church about which He has nothing good to say. He says that their deeds are neither hot nor cold, comparing the church to the city’s putrid water supply. Lukewarm water neither heals nor refreshes. The spiritual equivalent would be indifference, apathy, complacency. Lukewarmness is a denial of the first commandment, which is to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Lukewarmness is sin.

This is a prosperous church in a prosperous city and they thought their prosperity was a measure of their relationship with Jesus but that is never the measurement of the success of a church or ministry or life. Worst of all, they did not realize how far their relationship had drifted.

This was a potentially fatal condition but the Lord had not rejected them — He stands at the door of the church. Motivated by love, He comes to them, diagnoses their problem, offers a solution and promises reward if they will accept the diagnosis and engage with the solution.

3:16 “So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.”

Indifference is the hardest barrier to break down. The indifferent person is one to whom Christ does not matter. Such a person is neither hostile to the cause of Christ nor sympathetic. They neither hate nor love Jesus. There is no intensity or passion in either direction. They are uncaring, neutral, apathetic.

Laodicea might have been a church that in previous years had gained a large membership through faithful preaching, passionate worship — the blessing of the Lord had once been on the church. But that faithful generation had passed away and as time went on, the church grew complacent, was no longer responsive to the Lord. Their love for Jesus began to cool. The church had not entirely rejected the Lord but was no longer sensitive to His presence or purpose, no longer passionate in their engagement with Him, cooling in their love for Him. They were doing church without the leading, anointing and blessing of the Lord, going through the motions of discipleship but unaware that they had marginalized the Lord. The living water which should have flowed through the church had become putrid and was a source of refreshment to no one.

3:16 “So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.”

Jesus’ response to their indifference is to spew them out of His mouth.  The word spew is the word from which we get the English word emetic, which is a medicine or other substance which causes vomiting. What does Jesus mean when He says that He will spew them put of His mouth? Could it mean that He is sickened by their indifference to One who loves them so deeply?

As we said, lukewarm love is a violation of the first commandment, which is to love the Lord with all our being. This is the only way God knows how to love — with all the purity and intensity of His being. This is the Bridegroom God who delights in His Bride. It is not our ministry that most delights Him, not the size of the church or the conference or the budget or the mailing list. His delight is in us and it grieves Him when we become indifferent to His unrestrained, unfathomable love for us.

This is the Lord of whom Isaiah testified, “In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His mercy He redeemed them, and He lifted them and carried them all the days of old” (Isa. 63:9).

“In all their affliction He was afflicted.” This is the Lord who sympathizes with our weakness, who stands with us in our trials, comes to us in our crises. This is the Lord who pleaded with Jerusalem and wept over the city when He was rejected. This is the Savior who bore the wounds of humanity’s rejection, who carried our sin and died our death, who desires that we experience His overwhelming flood of love for us and abound in love for Him. When we become indifferent to Him, it grieves Him. He spews out of His mouth that which sickens His heart of love.

3:17 “Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.”

Their apathy was compounded by their self-deception. They believed they were rich, in need of nothing. They were secure in their affluence, comfortable in their prosperity but completely ignorant of the reality that they were wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked. What is more miserable than apathy, indifference, spiritual boredom? They had just enough world to be miserable with God and just enough God to be miserable with the world.

Lukewarmness produces misery because we cannot fulfill our God-given purpose with half-hearted commitment. True meaning and fulfillment are compromised by apathy.

Jesus says they are poor, lacking true spiritual wealth. Rich in things, they were poor in spirit, poor in their experience of Christ’s love for them; poor in pouring that love back upon Him. They were missing the joy of intimate communion with the Bridegroom God. Missing the revealing of His heart and mind, missing the outpouring of His passion. Worse, they were blinded to the reality of their poverty by success, affluence, wealth. 

Is God prejudiced against success, wealth? No, but Scripture does say, “He has filled the hungry with good things and sent away the rich empty handed” (Luke 1:53). Why does God send the rich away empty? Because they often are not asking anything of Him. Those who are deceived into believing they are filled will never call upon the God who can truly fill them. This is what Jesus calls the deceitfulness of richness (Mark 4:19).

Jesus said, “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:24). Why is that so? Because the wealthy can become so secure in their own kingdom, they never seek God’s kingdom.

In comparison to the self sufficient, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6).  All who are convinced of their spiritual poverty, who passionately desire a righteous relationship with the living God will be satisfied.  God will meet them, awaken them to His gospel and give them the gifts of repentance and faith.

Jesus says the Laodiceans are blind and surely they are lacking spiritual discernment. Some are blind to their separation from Christ. Those who know the Lord are blind to their indifference, the cooling of their love.

Jesus says they are naked. Those in the church who did not know the Lord were lacking the true robe of righteousness, which is the only entrance into heaven. Jesus told a parable about a king who gave a wedding feast for His Son (Matt. 22:1-14). One guest attempted to enter without the proper wedding garment. He was cast out into the outer darkness.

Isaiah celebrated the bridal robe that Jesus bestows on all who come to Him in faith, “For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, as a 

bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isa. 61:10).

John saw that day when the Bride of Christ enters the wedding feast and heard the great shout, “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:7,8).

But we cannot say that everyone in the church was lacking the robe of righteousness (that is, was unredeemed, unsaved). Many in the church did know the Lord; they were redeemed. Then in what way were they naked? They were naked in the sense that Jesus saw through their flimsy religious facade. Underneath the ritual and the program, Jesus saw the reality of their loveless hearts. It may also be that He saw their robes as stained, torn, inadequate for the great wedding celebration of the Bridegroom God and His church. They might as well have been naked as to wear robes soiled by their indifference to the Lord who had betrothed them to Himself, who had paid so much to redeem them as His Bride.

To the human eye, Laodicea appeared to be the most prosperous church in Asia. To the eye of Jesus there was not a more poverty-stricken church in the land. The problem was that they could not see with the eyes of Jesus. They were unaware of their need, self satisfied, indifferent to truth.  Only God can show us our true spiritual condition but we must be willing to see.

Somewhere in the past they had reached a high point of success but had stopped there, as if that was the peak of ministry success. But there was so much more the Lord wanted to give them and accomplish through them. He could not for they had become complacent, lukewarm.

3:18 “I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.”

Jesus loves them enough to come to them and diagnosis their problem. Now He shows His love as He offers the remedy. In spite of their apathy and indifference to Him, notice the wisdom and generosity of Jesus’ counsel to them. The Lord shows us our faults, convicts us of sin, not so we will be depressed but so we can confess our sins, hear His remedy and act on it; not so that we will be crushed beneath the weight of conviction but so we can ask Him to lift the weight from us. The result will be freedom, growth.

Jesus says to the church, “I advise you to buy from me.” This was a wealthy city and evidently, a wealthy church but in fact its members were too poor to purchase the remedy they truly needed, apart from Jesus. Those who were unredeemed could not purchase their own redemption. We cannot buy, earn or merit salvation with our money, our rituals or our good works. Those who did know the Lord but were trapped in complacency, lukewarmness, apathy, could not purchase the remedy of restoration which they needed.

The currency of Laodicea could not provide for the spiritual need of sinners.  A church married to the moral currency or the intellectual or economic currency of its culture will always ultimately be a failed church.  Only Jesus, the Lamb slain for the sins of the world, can provide the remedy for a lost soul or a complacent, compromised church. But He loves the church of Laodicea so much that He comes to them, reveals their need and offers His remedy.“Buy from me,” He says. This is Jesus contending for His Bride.

1. Buy gold refined by fire.  

Laodicea was a strategic banking center. The people of the city were well acquainted with currency in all its various forms and it is probable that more than a few of the church members had prospered financially. Surely the church considered itself to be rich. But Jesus called them poor. He was not referring to their financial status but their relationship with Him. Some were poor because they were trusting in religious rituals or church membership as the source of their salvation, trusting in everything but Christ Himself. Others knew the Lord but had become poor in their love for Christ, seduced into complacency by their wealth or trusting in their religious respectability. 

For the unredeemed in the church, gold refers to the spiritual wealth of true salvation. The Apostle Peter spoke of our faith as “being more precious than gold” (I Peter 1:7). James spoke of those who are poor in this world but “rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom” (James 2:5). 

Jesus is calling those members of the church to move beyond a vain trust in religion and take hold of the true salvation which God freely provides when we repent of our sin and place our faith in Jesus, the holy Lamb who was slain for our sins. This treasure, the forgiveness of sin and the gift of everlasting life, is surely a gift of grace but we may say that it is purchased by the surrender of lives through repentance and faith in Christ.

For the redeemed members who had become compromised, lukewarm, gold refined by fire refers to a renewed experience of Jesus’ love for them and a renewed love for Him. It refers to the treasure of renewed fellowship with Him. It refers to the riches of revelation, truth, empowerment, peace and joy, the manifold riches of grace that Jesus shares with us when we seek Him, “In whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).

When Jesus counsels the church to “buy gold refined by fire,” He doesn’t mean that we purchase our salvation or earn the riches of His grace. But just as the free gift of salvation requires the cost of full surrender, there also is a price to the blessings of grace and that price is the cost of commitment. We purchase gold as we engage with Jesus in worship and prayer, as we read His promises, speak His promises and pray His promises. We purchase as we engage.

We purchase the gold of reward in the kingdom of God as we commit ourselves to fulfill the ministry assignments Jesus gives us. Paul compared his ministry to a master builder laying a foundation and reminds us that we can build “with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw” (I Cor. 3:12). The difference in building materials — gold as opposed to straw — may refer to a difference in motive. Is our motive for ministry a desire to love Jesus with all our heart, soul, mind and strength? If so, then we are building with gold.

The gold is refined in the fire of trials, temptations, weariness, mistreatment, diligent labor. As we overcome and persevere, our gold is refined and the Lord will reward us in His kingdom.

2. Buy white garments.  

Laodicea was famous for its wool and dying industry and the members of this church may have been well dressed, according to their society. But the unredeemed Laodiceans did not know that 

they were spiritually unclothed, lacking the robe of righteousness which is God’s gift to us when we repent of sin and place our faith in Christ.

Others were redeemed and had been given the robe of righteousness. But here they are being exhorted to do the righteous deeds which always accompany salvation and prove that we are saved. They had been violating the foremost commandment, which is to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Jesus is saying, “Show that you really are saved, that you really have been given the robe of righteousness by doing those works which give evidence of salvation.”

3. Buy eye-salve.  

Laodicea was famous for its eye salve but the problem in the church was that the members could not see their true spiritual condition. Some in the church were blind to spiritual reality because they were still unredeemed. The Apostle Paul describes the process, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:3,4). Satan blinds people to the reality of their true spiritual condition, their separation from God by sin and their inability to be reconciled to God through their own religious means.

Others in the church were redeemed but completely undiscerning of the cooling of their love for Jesus, their compromise, their complacency. But Jesus is “the Light of world,” the One who shows us the truth about ourselves and shows us the truth of God’s gracious offer to forgive and cleanse and reconcile to Himself all who humble themselves before Him. 

Jesus reveals truth through His word, which is “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebr. 4:12). He spoke His word of truth to the Laodiceans and is still speaking today. “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). 

Only Christ can enable us to see and He does if we are willing. This is why the Apostle Paul prayed for the Ephesian church, “That the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” (Eph. 1:18). The Lord greatly desires to give us revelation about ourselves, our church and our world, revelation about His heart and mind and purpose. When we confess our lack of sight and turn to Him, when we allow His word of truth to penetrate not only our eyes but our hearts, when we engage with truth, we begin to see. 

3:19 “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.”

Because the Lord loves us, He disciplines, reproves, corrects. As we have said, the church was comprised of unredeemed religious people and compromised, lukewarm believers. But the fact is that Jesus loves the lost and the saved. Loves us in our weakness. Loves us in our struggles and our sin. Loves us enough to come to us and tell us the truth. We rejoice with the Apostle Paul, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (I Tim. 1:15). 

Because Christ loves us, He comes to us, seeks us, awakens us to His salvation purpose. When people refuse His grace, spurn His gospel of salvation, He warns, calls, disciplines and chastises. The goal of both warning and discipline is repentance, turning from our sin and opening our hearts and minds to new possibilities in Jesus.

Again, note the phrase, “Those whom I love.” This is the Bridegroom Messiah confronting that which would harm His Bride. He is jealous over her and relentless in confronting anything that would mar her experience of His love or her expression of love for Him.

God’s love for us encompasses His hatred of sin. Put another way, God’s hatred of our sin is an expression of His love for us. Because He loves us, He confronts any and all sin, for sin separates us from Him, destroys His blessing and purpose for our lives and for His church. 

Having confronted those whom He loves, Jesus gives a command: repent. Repentance is a turning, a change of mind that creates a change in life. Jesus is calling the church to turn from their indifference, their spiritual apathy and sin and turn to Him, the Savior who, in spite of their lukewarmness, is still seeking them and calling to them.

3:20 “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”

To the church at Philadelphia, Jesus reveled Himself as the One who opens and closes doors and He said, “Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut” (Rev. 3:8). But there is one door He will never open without our permission and that is the door of our heart. His desire is for us, to engage with us be we must desire Him and engage with Him. When we close the door through sin, compromise or indifference, we miss so much that He desires to share.

But He will not give up on us. Notice the persistence of this Bridegroom Messiah. The church has become indifferent to Him, has excluded Him but He is still present and patiently calling to them, knocking on the door of their hearts and their church.  It is love’s response that refuses to abandon the beloved, even when rejected.

This verse is often used evangelistically and it surely does reveal the God who came, “To seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). But taken in context, Jesus is seeking to enter into the lives of those members of the Laodicean church who had excluded Him. Jesus had been put out of His church.  He is calling to believers who have compromised their love for Him and unbelievers who joined a church without joining their lives to the Lord of the church.

Christ’s response is not to abandon them but to knock, to faithfully seek entrance into their lives.  It is love’s response that refuses to abandon the beloved, even when rejected. Jesus stands at the door, patiently calling for repentance and offering to enter into relationship with whoever will respond and open the door. But only we can open the door. God will not violate us with His love. We must respond, we must invite Him in.

“If anyone hears my voice and opens the door.”

He who “hears my voice and opens the door” is a call for repentance. We open the door as we take accountability for who we are, for the sinful choices and compromises we have made.  This is not merely a personal call. Jesus is calling to the entire church.

Notice the passion of this gracious Lord, this Bridegroom God. The church has excluded Him but He is still patiently knocking on the door of their hearts and their church, wants to come in, to re-engage His church in intimate communion. The greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all our being. How can we? As we open the door and experience His desire for us.

Now the Lord makes a marvelous promise: “I will come in to him and dine with him and he with me.” The promise is that Christ will come in and fellowship with all who respond — He wants to re-engage His church in intimate communion. Though the word fellowship is not used, it is fellowship which the risen, living Christ desires and offers. The Apostle John said, “Our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (I John 1:3). The word fellowship is the same word Paul used in 1 Corinthians 10:16, “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing (fellowship) in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing (fellowship) in the body of Christ?” 

Jesus is not calling us to religion but to relationship. It is fellowship, communion which He desires with us and He offers Himself to us. The body and blood of Jesus is the focal point of holy communion and represent the Self-giving of this God who desires communion with us.

The word dine, deipneo, is the word for the evening meal over which people lingered and talked.  What a lovely picture of our Lord’s desire to have deep, rich, intimate communion with His church. We recall from the Song of Solomon, how the Bridegroom came seeking the Bride and brought her to His banqueting table where He nourished her and spread His banner over her (2:4).

But there is also a more ominous sense to the word deipneo. This was the last meal of the day, as night began to fall. It is as if Jesus is saying, “It will be dark soon. Will you open the door while there is still time?”

3:21 “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”

Notice the generosity of the Lord’s promises to the people in the church who overcome this spirit of indifference and apathy. He addresses the overcomer, which is a New Testament word for the follower of Christ (see I John 5:4,5). Those in the church at Laodicea who would repent and turn to Christ would find that by virtue of their new birth and the indwelling presence of Jesus, they are overcomers.   

Jesus promises that the overcomer will sit with Him on His throne, will share in His authority. There is a present aspect to this promise: God wants to release kingdom authority through our lives for ministry today. 

There is also an eschatological (end time) aspect to this verse. “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him” Paul reminds us (2 Tim. 2:12). When history and time are ended, we will share in the universal rule of Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords.

3:22 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

So many voices were calling to the members of the church.  They had listened to the voice of prosperity, of cultural compromise.  Jesus calls them to hear a different voice.  

The Lord is still writing this letter today. He stands in the midst of His church and asks, “Have you grown lukewarm in your love for me, indifferent in your desire to know, serve and celebrate Me? The remedy is the same as before and so is My reward.” We, as did the Laodiceans, need to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Study Questions

1. How would you describe spiritual lukewarmness? (see v. 15,16)

2. What does Jesus recommend as the remedy? (see v. 18)

Revelation 4

Revelation 4

In 1:19, John is told to “write the things which you have seen (the vision of Jesus which begins the book), and the things which are (the messages to the seven churches), and the things which will take place after these things" (the final events of history).”  The church is not directly mentioned again, leading some Bible commentators to believe that the promise made in 3:10 to deliver the church at Smyrna from testing is also a reference to the deliverance of the last days  church from the world wide testing that is coming.  

That may or may not be so. But what we do see clearly in Revelation is a portrait of the world during the final days of history. Chapters 4 and 5 are a prologue to the unveiling of historical events which follow.  In these two chapters, John is lifted into the throne room of heaven where he witnesses the indescribable holiness and omnipotence and omniscience of God.  The visions of chapters 4 and 5 serve to remind believers that the sovereign God is always in control of history, is always moving salvation history and world history toward the fulfilling of His preordained purpose.

4:1 “After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.’”

John is given visual access into heaven, the realm of God’s dwelling.  When we are surrounded by trials we look for a door out.  God opens a door into His presence in the midst of the storm. The open door is a call to see beyond the crisis of the moment, to see the presence of God now and the final triumph of God someday.

John hears a voice “like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me.” The voice of God is the voice of complete authority, omnipotence.  John can hear this trumpet-like voice over the tumult and noise of his times.

“Come up here,” the voice commands. John is invited into the presence of God. In the challenging circumstances of our trials, the living God wants us to realize His encompassing presence.

“I will show you what must take place.” 

God wants to share His perspective with us, wants us to see with His eyes.  The events of human history have their origin in heavenly places, that is, in the mind of God.  He sees the end from the beginning, declares those things which shall be as though they are.  Though Satan infects human minds and institutions with his evil strategies, nothing happens outside the providential oversight and purpose of Almighty God.  Therefore, true insight into history can only be gained from a spiritual vantage point.  God is willing to grant us this revelation, as Amos said, “Surely the Lord does nothing unless He reveals His secret counsel to His servants the prophets” (3:7).

4:2 “Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne.”

John sees a throne “and One sitting on the throne.” God is Spirit so this could not be the physical body of God the Father or God the Holy Spirit seated on the throne. Furthermore, God is infinite — how could He fit into a chair? This might be the glorified Christ seated on His throne or this may be God’s way of symbolically representing to John His sovereign power, the reality of  His rule, His enthronement over the universe and over the events of history.  

The One seated upon the throne will be revealed as “the Almighty” (4:8), before whom the elders fall down and worship (4:10), unto whom all creation gives praise (5:13).  This is the One whom Isaiah saw “high and lifted up” (Isaiah 6:1), the One who “reigns over the nations ... on His holy throne” (Psalm 47:8).


Again, the point of emphasis here is not a literal or non-literal throne. The point is the reality of God’s sovereignty over the universe — He is ruling. Remember the context here — John is in a Roman labor camp on the prison island of Patmos. The first century church is undergoing deadly persecution. And God is sitting on His throne, ruling over the events of history.

4:3 “And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.”

John does not describe the One seated on the throne in physical terms but in terms of light reflected from precious stones, “like a jasper stone and a sardius.”  The Psalmist described God as One who covered Himself “with light as with a garment” (Psalm 104:2), who, in the words of Paul, “Dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see” (I Timothy 6:16).  

In Revelation 21:11, John describes the jasper stone as being crystal clear, something like a diamond in its ability to reflect all the colors of the spectrum.  A sardius is a blood red ruby.  Interesting that the ruby and the jasper were the first and last stones on the high priest's breastplate (Exodus 28:17-20).  However, it is not necessary to interpret the stones for symbolic meaning.  Together, they are a reflection of the glory and majesty of God which fill all of heaven.  John is trying to describe that which is indescribable, the brilliant, glorious, all-encompassing presence of God.

John also sees a rainbow around the throne, “like an emerald in appearance.”  This green hued rainbow speaks of the covenant faithfulness of God.  The first rainbow, after the flood, had to do with the promise that the sin and judgment of the past would not limit or determine the outpouring of grace in the future.  God's holiness is expressed in the gracious outpouring of mercy and in the wrathful outpouring of judgment but at no time is God unfaithful to His covenant promises.

4:4 “Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads.”

Around the throne of God are the thrones of twenty-four elders clothed in white, with golden crowns on their heads.  Throughout the Revelation, they are presented as worshippers of God.  In 5:8, they present the prayers of the saints to God and twice they serve as spokesmen or interpreters to John (5:5, 7:13).

There may be a hint as to the identity of the elders in their song of praise in 5:9,10.  The elders refer to those purchased by the blood of the Lamb (the church) as them:  “Thou hast made them to be priests.”  Because of this, some commentators would say that the elders must not be human, but rather, an order of angels, created to serve God in heavenly worship.

However, nowhere in Revelation are angels represented as sitting on thrones ruling with Christ, whereas the church is often represented as sharing in the reign and authority of Christ (Rev. 2:26,27,  Matthew 19:28 among numerous other references). Further, the word elders, presbuteroi, is never used as a reference to angels but always to those in Israel and in the church who exercise leadership and authority.  Also, angels are never spoken off as old or young, in a sense of having eldership. They appear to exist outside of the dimension of time.

The white garments which the elders wear sounds like the white robes of the saints promised by Jesus to those who overcome (Rev. 3:5).  It is the garment worn by the Bride at the marriage feast of the Lamb (Rev. 19:8) and represents the righteousness of Jesus imputed to believers and represents also the righteous deeds of the saints (19:8).

The elders have golden crowns on their heads.  Angels are never promised crowns nor pictured with crowns.  The word for crown here is stephanos, the victor's crown, worn by those who have overcome, endured and won the victory.  Most likely then, these elders are human, representing the redeemed saints, the glorified church in heaven which will rule and reign with Jesus.

4:5 “Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.”

The lightnings and thunders around the throne speak of the majesty and power of God.  When God descended upon Mt. Sinai, it was in the midst of lightning and thunder, smoke and earthquake (Exodus 19:16-18).  God’s self disclosure, God’s revelation of Himself and His works, always cracks the very fabric of time and nature.  But this also represents the storm of divine judgment which will soon break upon the earth.

“And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne.” The seven lamps are “the seven Spirits of God.”  The number seven is often used in the Bible to express fullness, completion, perfection and so could represent the Holy Spirit in the perfection of His being.  This could also refer to seven angels who minister before the throne of God (8:2) or the fulness of the angelic host in heaven.  But most probably this is representative of the fulness or completeness of the Holy Spirit. (Remember that John is straining to describe the reality of God which exceeds all human imagination and language.)

4:6 “And before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind.”

John attempts to describe what appears to be a transparent sea in front of the throne.  Its perfect clarity reflects the dazzling brightness of the glory of God, the purity, transcendence and majesty of God and the flashing lightnings of holy wrath, all of which are reflecting off the sea of glass.

“And in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind.”

The word creatures is literally: living ones or living beings.  They are angelic beings who guard the presence of God and lead in the worship of God (4:9,10, 5:14).  These creatures may be the same as those described in Ezekiel 1:4-25 and 10:10-14 and Isaiah 6:2,3 (Ezekiel calls them cherubim and Isaiah calls them seraphim).

They are full of eyes in front and behind  — this speaks of their insight, their perception.  Nothing escapes their vision.  They are not all-knowing, only God is.  But they understand everything pertaining to their responsibilities in heaven.

4:7 “The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle.”

Ezekiel's creatures each had four faces (Ezekiel 1:4-25).  Each of John's creatures depicts one aspect or representation of those whom Ezekiel saw, as if Ezekiel saw them in the full expression of their being, whereas John witnessed one aspect of their being.  The description of the creatures can be interpreted symbolically.  One appeared as a lion, symbolizing nobility and power.  One appeared as a calf, which speaks of humble service.  One had the face of a man, indicating that it is a rational being, capable of wisdom and passion.  One was like a flying eagle, symbolizing grace and swiftness of service. 

As angelic servants, they serve God with these qualities. And again, they may each possess all of these qualities.

4:8 “And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God the Almighty, Who was and Who is and Who is to come.’”

Like the seraphim of Isaiah 6, each of these creatures has six wings.  In Isaiah, they use their wings to cover themselves, suggesting humility, as if the highest created angels in the universe cannot look directly into the glory of God without being consumed.  Wings also suggest swiftness in serving God.

Night and day they do not cease worshipping God, saying, “Holy, holy, holy.”  Holiness is the summation of all God’s attributes — His love and wisdom and mercy and justice. They also praise God as Almighty, the God who alone possesses all power and authority, who by His spoken Word called all the universe into being.

They praise the eternity of God, “Who was and Who is and Who is to come.”  This is the God who exists before time, beyond time and within time, who meets us in our present moment and yet transcends all that was and is and shall be.

To a church enduring deadly persecution and about to enter two thousand years of hostility, opposition, heresy and apostasy, it was encouraging to be reminded of the purity and sovereign power of Almighty God.  God in His holiness is distinct from all creation.  In His power He is Lord over all creation.  In His eternity He is Lord of history and Lord before and beyond history.

Jesus could therefore say, “In the world you have tribulation but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16: 33).  His holiness and power stretch from eternity to eternity, from before time to beyond time.  God cannot be threatened by His creation.  He is the Great I Am, before and beyond time and universe.  He is the God who works all things according to the counsel of His will, who will ultimately and inevitably establish His good purpose.

4:9-11 “And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.’”

In casting their crowns (stephanos) before the Lord, the elders acknowledge that their reward, their blessing, their authority and their everlasting life is delegated, derived from the goodness of God. The praise of the elders focuses on God’s creative work, rather than His attributes of holiness, power or eternity.  He is worthy to be praised because He created all things.

The words of this hymn are a rebuke to the idolatrous emperor worship of John’s day.  “Worthy art thou” was a common greeting to the emperor in triumphal processions.  “Our Lord and God” was introduced by the emperor Domitian into the cult of emperor worship.  But for the choirs of heaven and the church on earth, there is only One who is worthy, only One who can be proclaimed as Lord and God.  All other claims are blasphemy.

God is worshipped not only as the One who created but also as the One in whose will all things were created.  All things that exist, existed first in the eternal will of God and came into being through the exercise of His creative power at the appointed time.  Soon John will witness the outpouring of God’s judgmental wrath on earth.  God has the right to judge creation, for He is both its Creator and Redeemer.

In closing, let’s remember again the context of this chapter. John is a prisoner on a tiny, insignificant island which served as a Roman penal colony.  The church which he loved was undergoing terrible persecution and would soon and someday undergo far more suffering.  To this imprisoned saint, God gave messages to seven churches (and through them to all churches), summoning the saints of every century to be overcomers.

Now in chapter 4 (and in chapter 5) God also gives to John a vision of an open door into the throne room of heaven where John witnesses the dazzling, all encompassing glory of God and hears the ceaseless worship around the throne of God.  The incredible panoramic visions of chapters 4 and 5 serve to encourage believers that though the history of the church will be written in the blood of sacrificial service, though in the final years of history the devil will be cast down to the earth and will pour out his wrath upon God’s people, nevertheless, our God is always in control of history, is always moving salvation history and world history toward the fulfilling of His eternal purpose.

Study Questions

1. The centerpiece of this chapter is the throne. What does that throne represent to you in terms of your life and ministry?

2. What would this throne mean to a persecuted church?

Revelation 5

Revelation 5

5:1 “I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals.”

John has been lifted into heavenly places and has seen a throne, “And One sitting on the throne” (4:2).  As we said, the throne is a symbolic way of representing the sovereign authority of God, God ruling over the events of history. 

Now John sees in the right hand of God a scroll.  The scroll is “written inside and on the back,” typical of contracts and deeds in the ancient world.  As the following chapters unfold, we will see that this scroll is the title deed for planet earth.  It contains the revelation of what God in His sovereign will has destined for this world, the fulfilling of His purpose for this planet and the consummation of history.  

The scroll is the title deed for the inheritance of Christ and describes the way that this inheritance will be reclaimed by its rightful owner.  As the scroll is unsealed and unrolled, the judgment of God is released upon fallen angels and rebellious humanity, breaking the power of counterfeit kings and false rulers.  But it is not only a book of judgment.  It is also a book of redemption, detailing the greatest harvest of souls in history and the liberation of this planet from Satan’s power. 

We see in this scroll the marvelous truth that history is not out of control, not cycling from age to age in endless spirals of violence and suffering. We see that God has a purpose for this world and for each of our lives — we are a part of this history. This scroll reveals that the God who has purposed history will complete and fulfill what He has begun in this universe and in each of us.

The scroll is sealed, for three reasons.

1. It is sealed because of the sin of humanity.  The Bible reveals, “The heavens are the heavens of the Lord, but the earth He has given to the sons of men” (Psalm 115:16).  God created this planet for humanity to dwell on while exercising dominion and experiencing fulfillment.  There was no sickness, no death in God's original creation.  The technological advance of humanity would have gone much faster without sin and the destruction and death which sin brings.  But humanity sinned against God and through this sin, became separated from God, submitted to the rule of Satan and authority on earth was given over to Satan.

2. It is sealed because of Satanic resistance to the purpose of God. Satan is called, “The ruler (prince) of this world” (John 12:31, 14:30,  16:11). He incarnates his evil purposes in fallen  human personalities and institutions. Then, through fallen humanity, the powers of darkness resist God and advance the plans and strategies of darkness.  

The result is a cursed creation and this book, containing the purpose of God for the world, is sealed.  Only God can open His will and purpose to us.  Only God can reveal what God intends to do.  Only God can bring about the fulfilling of His purpose.  

Contained in God’s Word is the power to fulfill that Word.  So when God reveals something, He is not just revealing information about what He intends to do.  He is releasing the power necessary to fulfill His intention.

This brings us to a third reason why the scroll is sealed:

3. It is sealed awaiting the timing of God.  God not only knows what He intends to do.  God also knows when He intends to do it.  There is a timing and season to each purpose of God.

Ezekiel also saw this scroll and described it, “Then I looked, and behold, a hand was extended to me; and lo, a scroll was in it.  When He spread it out before me, it was written on the front and back, and written on it were lamentations, mourning and woe” (Ezekiel 2:9,10).

The scrolls are sealed but as the seals are broken, judgement is released on the world system established and ruled by Satan.  This is not retaliation.  It is retribution.  Retaliation is about revenge, getting even.  Retribution is, “Something has happened and this is my response and these are the consequences.”

The law of God is not arbitrary or random.  His will and way and Word are sown into the grain of the universe.  It is a just and moral universe reflecting the justice and moral goodness of its Creator. Therefore, when anyone violates God’s moral order, there are consequences. We really do reap what we sow.  

When an entire planet is out of alignment with the moral law of God and violating the will and Word of God, there are consequences. Judgment is God’s expression of holy wrath against sin and judgment is also God’s release of the consequences of evil which sinners have chosen in violation of God's revealed laws. Judgment is when God breaks the government of evil by destroying the throne of the Evil One. 

Notice that the scroll is held in the hand of God because God holds in sovereign Lordship the ultimate destiny of human kind.  That does not mean God interferes with human free will.  We make choices for good or for evil that determine consequences for good or for evil.  But ultimately, it is God alone who providentially controls the outworking of history.  We may rebel against God’s Lordship or we may invite God's presence into each decision and circumstance but in the end, God’s wisdom and power will bring every decision and every consequence to the fulfilling of His purpose and the praise of His glory.

The scroll in the hand of God also represents the restraining hand of God on the world.  Only the hand of God keeps the full reign of evil from breaking out.  If Satan could release his full agenda, all hell would break out across the world in every life.  But God presently restrains this.  There will come a final release of evil unrestrained, as if the Lord is draining a cup of every drop of its poison.  In that season God will finally break the power of evil, establish the throne of Jesus on the earth and restore creation to the beauty which God intended.  

The breaking of the seals is the beginning of the release and reinstatement of God's will.

5:2 “And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?’”

The angel is asking, “Who is able to overcome the grievous offense of human sin which separates humanity from God?  Who is able to overcome Satanic resistance to God’s purpose? Who is able to break the power of false kings and counterfeit kingdoms which incarnate Satan’s presence and comprise this present world order? Who is able to open the revelation of God's purpose for each man and woman and child? Who is able to release the divine power necessary to bring about history's conclusion and the fulfilling of God’s purpose?”

5:3 “And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it.”

No creature in heaven or on earth or under the earth is found who is able to open the book or even look into it.  No one is worthy or able to open or see into God’s purpose or carry out the redemptive purpose described in it.  

5:4 “Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it”

Because no one is worthy to understand or release God’s purpose, John began to weep. This is an echo of the tears which Adam and Eve must have shed when they were expelled from Eden and cast into a cursed creation.  This is an echo of the tears which Israel shed while slaves in Egypt and the high purpose of God for their nation was imprisoned in the iron grasp of Pharaoh.  We can almost hear the weeping of Jesus outside the tomb of Lazarus.  Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus but He felt compassion and grief for all the grieving sons and daughters of Adam and the destruction of God’s good purpose.  He wept because He knew many would die while rejecting grace.

Have you ever wept or despaired over this?  You know God has a plan for your life but it's not working out, you can't quite see your way through.  You know God has a plan for your family, your church, this world but it seems like the plan of God is closed, bound and sealed and the problems in this world and in our lives just cycle on and on and our own wisdom and power are not able to bring about the fulfilling of our destiny.

We despair when we think there is no remedy for the famines and plagues and wars that cycle on and on.  Human governments, wisdom and power are not able to bring about the fulfilling of our destiny and so we weep.

John weeps because, though he cannot see into the book, he senses its significance — the casting out of the seducing destroyer, the overthrow of the original thief, liar, and murderer; the release of God’s good purpose on earth, the purging of evil and darkness as light is released. It appears to John that the decisive events leading to the fulfilling of God’s purpose for the world and for the lives of God’s people are postponed, resisted, frustrated, bound and sealed.  

During John’s lifetime he had seen Messiah executed, Jerusalem destroyed, the temple laid waste, Israel extinguished as a nation and the church persecuted unto death.  He knows that Jesus has risen from the dead,  knows that God has a redemptive purpose for this world.  But is there no one worthy or able to unbind and release that purpose in history?

John does not understand what he had already noted: that the scroll is in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.  The fulfillment of history is within the grasp, the realm of the throne, the right hand, the authority of Almighty God.

God holds the future of the universe in His hand and unknown to John, there is a Mediator standing close to the throne.  God is able to place in the hands of that Mediator the future, the destiny of the world and the unbinding and unfolding of God’s redemptive purpose.  

We must note two truths about the purpose of God:

1. Only God can open His purpose to us.  Only God can reveal what God intends to do.  Fortunately, God is more than willing to reveal His purposes to those who listen.  

2. Only the power of God can accomplish the purpose of God.  Contained in God’s Word is the power to fulfill that Word.  So when God reveals something, He is not just revealing information about what He intends to do.  He is releasing the power necessary to fulfill His intention.

This is what the angel meant, after informing Mary that she would conceive and give birth to the Messiah and she said, “How can this be?”  The angel replied, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).  That verse can be translated, “For no word from God shall be without power.”

When God speaks a Word, that Word contains the power needed to fulfill that Word.  When God said, “Let there be light,” He didn't do anything else.  “Let there be light” contained the power needed to create light.  The scroll contains the revelation of what God intends to do in our lives and in this world and the power needed to fulfill that Word.

5:5 “And one of the elders said to me, ‘Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.’”

“The Lion of the tribe of Judah” is a Messianic title derived from Jacob’s blessing over the tribe of Judah, recorded in Genesis 49:8-10.  The Jews were expecting a lion of a Messiah, mighty to deliver. Though Jesus was their Deliverer, He did not come, in His first advent, as a Lion but as a Lamb.  His means of deliverance was the cross, where He gave Himself as the sacrificed Lamb.  In His second advent, He is the Lion.  But the fierce judgment of the Lion of Judah awaits the coming Day of the Lord.  

The elder also refers to this Overcomer as “the Root of David.”  Jesus is the root of David in the sense that as Creator, He is the One from which David sprang. Jesus also, in His humanity, is a branch of David, of the house and ancestry of David, descended from David. This Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome.  Where did He do this?  On the cross.

5:6 “And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth.”

Suddenly John sees not a Lion but a Lamb.  The Lion who opens the book of God’s purpose, the Lion who releases the power needed to establish that purpose, the Lion who brings history to its fulfillment and ushers in the everlasting kingdom of God, is the Lamb who was slain, the Lamb who overcame.  

 

The word for lamb is arnion, a little lamb or pet lamb.  We are reminded in this of the Israelite tradition that the Passover lamb was to be taken into the household for four days before it could be sacrificed.  No doubt the family would grow to love and care for it before sacrificing it, enabling them to feel something of the heartbreak of God who someday would give His only begotten, beloved Son as the Lamb slain for the sins of the world.

John looked to see the Lion but saw a Lamb as if it had been slain, that is, bearing the fresh marks of slaughter.  Where did Jesus overcome?  On the cross.  The greatest of all exercises of power —  reconciling humanity to God and setting in motion the events which conclude history was carried out through what appears to be the weakest of all acts — Jesus surrendering to death on a Roman cross.

The cornerstone upon which all of history and eternity is built is this: the Creator of all life took all death upon Himself, the Just One bore our injustice, the Holy One took our sin, the Glorious One carried our shame, the Prince of Peace took our violence, the God of all blessing bore all curses, the Almighty lay down in all weakness, the Resurrection and the Life who spoke all life into being surrendered to death. 

In this mighty act, Jesus conquered death, satisfied the violated justice of God, reconciled lost sinners to God and is thereby worthy to bring history to God’s pre-ordained conclusion.

The Lamb has seven horns, signifying perfect power: He is Omnipotent, Almighty.  He has seven eyes — perfect wisdom, seeing all things, perceiving all truth, Omniscient.

He bears the fresh marks of slaughter but lives with perfect power and wisdom to discern our wounds and heal us. The Lamb of Revelation is Lord of lords and King of kings, standing beside the throne of all power, ready to wage victorious war on the Beast and destined for victory. Jesus, the Lamb of God, is worthy to take the scroll:

Worthy because He alone paid the redemption price for a lost, cursed world.  Worthy because the Lamb is also the Son of man, Son of Mary.  God had decreed that what happens on earth takes place through the authority of people.  Jesus is the One who became fully human yet fully overcame sin.  He met the requirement — He took dominion over sin.

The Lamb is worthy to open the book.  Opening the book speaks not just of revelation but also of readiness to carry out the final acts whereby the enemies of God are defeated and history draws to glorious conclusion.

The Lion is revealed as a Lamb — victory through sacrifice, life through death.  If the enemies of God had understood this, that in putting to death the Lamb of God they were releasing the Lion of Judah who brings history to God’s victorious conclusion, they would never have sacrificed Jesus.  The victory of God was released through the sacrifice of the Lamb.

John, more than any other New Testament writer, refers to Jesus as the Lamb of God (four times in his Gospel, thirty-one times in the Revelation; only two other times in the entire New Testament).   But the Lamb of Revelation is the Risen Lord and triumphant King who wages victorious warfare against the Beast and all the enemies of God.

God had held that scroll as a trust for many centuries.  He didn’t throw it away when humanity fell, when Israel was conquered by Babylon or when His Son was murdered on a cross. Though it contains the history of the curse, God still held it for there is no curse the cross cannot undo.  If God can undo the death grip of Satan on this planet, He can surely break the grip of Satan on your life.

5:7 “And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.”

This is a picture of Jesus receiving authority from His Father.

1. First of all, He has received authority to forgive, “The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Matthew 9:6).  If this was true in His earthly ministry, how much more so now that He has “made purification of sins (and) sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3).

Wherever the sins and failures of the past are holding you in bondage, the Lamb has authority to release you through His forgiveness.  He doesn't just forgive the sin, He breaks the power of canceled sin.  

2. Second, He has authority to give eternal life, “And I give eternal life to them” (John 10:28).  “Even as you gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom you have given Him, He may give eternal life” (John 17:2). 

Wherever death has pushed in and encroached upon your life, seeking to devour the purposes of God for you, the resources of God, the promises of God, the Lamb has authority to give life, to restore life, to resurrect life, to unbind resources and release the promises of God.

Just as all things were created through and for and by the Son as the Father spoke His Word through the Son, so all things are consummated and fulfilled through the Son.  He is the Author and Finisher of our faith.  He who began a good work in us and in this universe will be faithful to complete it.  

The Father began creation through the Son, now He concludes His creative purpose through the Son.  God the Father, seated upon the throne of glory, power and majesty, hands to His Son authority to complete the works of God in our lives and in this world.  

5:8 “When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”

The response of Heaven is worship and adoration mixed with the prayers of the saints. How wonderful to know that our prayers are mingling with the worship of heaven as Jesus moves history toward God’s destined conclusion.  Our prayers are joining to the power and majesty and authority of heaven.

The Apostle Peter asks, “What sort of people ought you to be, looking for and hastening the coming day of God?” (2 Peter 3:12).  We are hastening the day of the Lord as our prayers ascend to the Father and to the Lamb.  We struggle to pay the rent or the mortgage, to get to work and put food on the table.  But our lives are so much more than that.  We are helping to hasten the conclusion of history, the consummation of the ages.  Our prayers are rising into the throne room of heaven, mingling with the worship of angels and elders and somehow mixing even with the release of the power and purpose of God.

God has not only purposed the end of history.  He has also purposed the means to arrive at that end and your life, your prayers, your gifts, your witness, are part of the means which God is using to move history to the fulfilling of His purpose.

No, we are not worthy nor able to hold the scroll or to break its seals or bring to fulfillment the purpose of God for our lives or to bring history to its conclusion.  Only the Lamb is worthy.  But He is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters and to invite us into relationship with Himself and partnership with His purpose whereby we hasten the fulfilling of the works of the Lamb.

We pray with the Psalmist in Psalm 141:2, “Let my prayer be counted as incense before thee.”  And God says, “Yes, I will.”  We pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  God says, “Yes.”  We pray, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).   God graciously conforms our prayer to His purpose, joins our prayer to His purpose and causes our prayers to rise, like incense, with the worship of heaven.

These same saints who are despised on earth and counted as rubbish, who are slandered and slaughtered — their prayers are placed in golden bowls and brought before the throne of God.  There are precious saints praying today in slums around the world, dressed in rags, considered by the world to be nothing more than wretched, insignificant poor folk.  But their prayers ascend to the throne of God and are stored in golden bowls.

The prosperity and anointing enjoyed by many Pentecostal churches today is based on the prayers of Pentecostal saints from previous generations who were considered to be fools and fanatics.  Their pastors were not invited to the Ministerial Association and couldn't have gone if they had been invited because they were working two jobs to support their family and their church.  The well trained, prosperous clergy would have been embarrassed by the patched clothing and poor grammar of their Pentecostal brethren.  But the prayers of those passionate saints were rising like incense before the throne of God,  joined with the praise of angels and choirs of elders and redeemed saints.

Our blessing today is by the mercy of God.  But it's the prayers of saints who went before us that hastens the release of the mercy of God.  God has chosen foolish things to humble the wise, weak things to humble the strong, things of no account, no reputation to demonstrate the vanity of the proud.  The prayers of these humble, weak, no account saints are stored in golden bowls before the throne of God.

5:9,10 “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.’”

They sing a new song, a song which only the redeemed can sing.  They sing of the worthiness of the Lamb, worthy is He to break the seals binding history and open up the fulfillment of history, worthy because He died a redeeming death and purchased people who were held captive, people who now are set free to be a kingdom of priests.

Notice we are a purchased people. The Apostle Paul reminds us that we are not our own, “For you have been bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body” (I Corinthians 6:20).  We were purchased by the life blood of Jesus, the holy Lamb of God, “For even the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Notice that we are purchased out of one realm of authority into another.  As Paul said, “For He rescued us from the domain (rule, kingdom) of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13).  We have been purchased out of a life of enslavement to the powers of this world and redeemed to be kingly priests who will share in the reign of Christ.  

Jesus gives authority to His church — we are kings and priests, a kingdom of priests.  We reign on earth, we exercise authority on earth, first of all, by governing our own lives in holiness.  But also, through our prayers and witness and testimony and works of mercy, God is releasing the outworking of His kingdom purpose on earth.

5:11,12 “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.’”

The worship of the four living beings and the elders (the redeemed saints) is now joined by innumerable voices of angels, all gathered around the throne and praising the Lamb.

Their worship is directed to “the Lamb that was slain,” focusing on the redemptive work of Christ.  Because He died, and by His blood purchased a kingdom of priests from the slave markets of earth, He is worthy “to receive power,” worthy to be recognized and worshipped as the omnipotent, Almighty Messiah.  He is worthy to be worshipped for His riches, for He owns all things.  He is worthy to receive “wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” for these are truly His.  They are His because He created all things and because He redeemed all of creation.

5:13 “And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.’”

Now the worship of heaven is joined by the worship of all creatures.  The fulness of that vision still waits in the future.  History and all creation groan for the completion of God’s redemptive purpose.  But someday that groaning will turn to praise unto the Lamb and in that day, “The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12).  

What a wondrous song of praise will be loosed in that day of the Lord’s return.  John heard it in heaven and the Psalmist anticipated this great hymn, hundreds of years before the time, “Let the sea roar and all it contains, the world and those who dwell in it.  Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy before the Lord, for He is coming to judge the earth; He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity” (Psalm 98:7-9).

5:14 “And the four living creatures kept saying, ‘Amen.’ And the elders fell down and worshiped.

As this hymn resounds through heaven and all creation joins, the four living creatures can only say, “Amen” as the elders fall down and worship. When you worship God, remember:

1. You are joined to the worship in heaven, joined to the timeless worship in the skies above Bethlehem, around the empty tomb and at the end of history when all creation will join this mighty swelling chorus.

2. As you worship, you are anticipating the end, the fulfilling of history as if it has already been accomplished.  Your praise is a testimony to the powers and principalities in the heavenly places (Ephesians 3:10) of their defeat and God’s eventual triumph.

3. As you worship, your praise lifts you into the presence of God and joins you to the power of God.  The prayers of the saints have authority because all authority is given to Jesus and shared with His church.  

Notice in 5:12, the wisdom to know how to conclude history and the power to do so are joined in the Lord Jesus Christ.  God has a plan for your life, for your church and for this universe and Christ alone is worthy and able to break the seals which bind the outworking of that plan.

We should walk away from this reading of the Word with a great sense of gratitude to God, for:

1. There is One who is able to reveal the purpose of God for us and for the universe.  And He is able to release the necessary power to bring about the outworking, the fulfilling of that purpose.

2. Our prayers are not forgotten.  They are brought before God in golden bowls and in fact, your prayers, your witness and your worship are hastening the outworking of the purpose of God on earth.

3. You have been purchased out of enslavement to the rulers of this world to be a kingly priest unto the Most High God.  We exercise kingly rule first in our own lives as we gain self control, then in the lives and circumstances of those to whom God sends us.  How do we exercise kingship?  As priests, serving the world with gifts of truth expressed in holy love.

Study Questions:

1. What does the book / scroll represent and why is it sealed? (see v. 1)

2. Why is Jesus, the Lamb, the Lion, worthy to take the book and break its seals? (see v 5,6)

Revelation 6

Revelation 6

6:1 “Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, ‘Come.’”

The scroll in the hand of the Lamb represents the title deed to planet earth.  It does not describe the inheritance of Christ.  Rather, it describes the way His inheritance will be reclaimed.  It is held by the Lamb because only Jesus the Lamb of God is worthy and able to break the seals that bind His inheritance.  As Jesus breaks the seals, what is written on the scroll is enacted on earth, setting in motion the events leading to the climax of human history, the reclaiming of the universe by its rightful King and the establishing of the kingdom of God on earth. 

  

The seals are broken sequentially, with the first four broken during the first half of the Tribulation, the fifth seal bridges between the first and second halves of the Tribulation, the sixth and seventh occurring during the second half.  The seventh seal releases the seven trumpets and the seventh trumpet releases the seven bowl judgments.

The woes recorded in Luke 21 and Matthew 24 correspond to the judgments released through the breaking of these seals.  The breaking of this first seal marks the beginning of the judgment of God on planet earth known as the Tribulation.  Jesus called this time, “The beginning of sufferings” (Mark 13:7,8) and “the beginning of birth pangs” (Matthew 24:8).  

The Lamb breaks the first seal and one of the four living creatures before the throne calls out “as with a voice of thunder, ‘Come.’”

6:2 “I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.”

The breaking of this first seal releases a rider on a white horse who goes forth conquering.  Some have interpreted this person as Jesus going forth to conquer.  But this does not appear to be the victorious Christ of Revelation 19:11.  Comparison of the two reveals little in common but a white horse.  Whereas the rider of 19:11-16 wears many crowns (diadema, sometimes translated diadem, worn by a king), the rider of 6:2 wears a wreath (stephanos, the victor's wreath worn as a token of public honor or by a military hero or triumphant athlete. However, we must note that in 14:14, Jesus is also represented as wearing a stephanos.) 

The rider of 19:11-16 has a sword proceeding from His mouth, representing the truth of God. Jesus has previously identified Himself as the One who possesses this sword of truth (see 1:16, 2:12,16). However, the rider of  6:1 carries a bow.  We must also note that Jesus is not pictured in Revelation going forth to conquer at the onset of the tribulation but at its climax. The riders of 6:2 and 19:11 are probably not the same rider.  


A more likely interpretation is that the rider represents redeemed saints, the true church. The saints are often pictured wearing the stephanos, the wreath of victory. Paul says that we hope to obtain an imperishable wreath (I Cor. 9:25) and a wreath of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:8). James reminds us that all who persevere in love for Jesus will receive the wreath of life (James 1:12). Jesus promises the church at Smyrna that the faithful will receive the wreath of life (Rev. 2:10) and he exhorts the church at Philadelphia to hold fast, be faithful, so that no one will take their wreath (Rev. 3:11).

As we noted, the rider carries a bow but there is no mention of arrows. This suggests a church which conquers without weapons of violence or force. Paul reminds us that “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses” (2 Cor. 10:4).

These weapons are truth and mercy, anointed prayer and praise, deeds of kindness and justice.  

So this rider may represent the progress of the gospel through the nations, across the ages.

Some commentators suggest that the rider of 6:2 represents the spirit of war, the lust to conquer that so characterizes human history.  The fact that the rider is mounted on a white horse, a symbol of righteousness, is not unusual, as most conquerors presume that they and their cause are righteous. The bow without arrows represents victory through means other than war.  It may be that this is a symbol of the false peace that Antichrist will establish at the outset of his reign.  It is peace through deception, covenant and alliance, not through war.

The prophet Jeremiah warned his nation against false peace (Jeremiah 6:14).  The Apostle Paul also warns the church, in his teaching on the last days, “For you yourselves know that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, 'Peace and safety!' then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child and they will not escape” (I Thessalonians 5:2,3).

In the last days, as social institutions and economies collapse, as nature itself collapses, people will be longing for peace while running from the God who alone brings peace to our lives.  They will gladly embrace the false peace promised by the false messiah. Considering that this rider goes forth at the beginning of the tribulation, it seems more likely that he represents the Antichrist and his deceptive campaign of false peace.

6:3,4 “When He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, ‘Come.’ And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him.”

The Lamb breaks the second seal, releasing a rider on a red horse and it is granted to him to take peace from the earth, as sinners around the world turn their destructive malice on one another.  False peace is followed by a rampage of unrestrained violence across the earth.  Jesus warned that the last days will feature “wars and rumors of wars,” nation rising against nation, kingdom against kingdom, a time of lawlessness unprecedented in human history (Matthew 24:6-12).

In one year of John's life, AD 68-69, four different emperors had ruled the Roman empire.  Violence, chaos and anarchy were the order of the day.  So the history of fallen humanity has always been.  No sooner was Eden's peace broken by sin, than Cain, the first child of the first sinners, murdered their second child, his brother Abel.

In the past century, Hitler promised peace at Munich, followed by the most devastating war in human history; false peace followed by unimagined violence.  Stalin promised a worker’s paradise in Russia but slaughtered millions of his countrymen.

However, this end time will be a time of war unlike any before it because God, in His sovereign purpose, is judging the earth by removing His restraining hand.  It is “granted” to the rider to break the peace and it is God who grants this.  God will be in sovereign control of the last days, as He has always been exercising Lordship over all of history.  It is sinful humanity making war but they are exercising the judgment of God, unwitting instruments of God's purpose.

Is God unjust in removing His restraint?  No!  Humanity rejected the Prince of Peace. Therefore God is entirely just in giving humanity over to the unrestrained violence of the human heart.

A sword is given to this rider.  It is the machaira, the short, stabbing sword carried into battle by Roman soldiers, also favored by assassins.  It is not the sword which symbolically projects from the mouth of Christ in 19:15.  That is a romphaia, a large broad sword.  Notice that this machaira is given to him.  All that the rider does is within the sovereign purpose of Almighty God.

These verses may indicate that the Antichrist will use the false peace to consolidate his power.  Then he will launch attacks on all his unsuspecting rivals.  What he will seek is the unrivaled exercise of dominion, complete domination of the political, economic and military systems of the world. 

 

6:5,6 “When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, ‘Come and see.’ So I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.’”

The third seal is broken as a rider on a black horse comes forth with a scale in his hand and a voice from heaven announces hyper inflation prices for food.  World war, unrestrained chaos and violence are followed by world wide famine.  A quart of wheat is scarcely enough to sustain one person for a day; a denarius represents one day's wages.  So it will take a full day of labor for one person to earn food for that day; but not enough for the entire family.

Three quarts of barley will feed a family but barley is lower in nutritional value than wheat.  Barley is the bread of the poor.  Again, it will take a full day's labor to earn enough barley to feed a family of three for that one day.

The voice also warns not to harm the necessities of oil and wine.  Oil, used to prepare food, and wine, used to purify water, will need to be carefully protected.  It is possible that the elite, the powerbrokers, will guard the oil and the wine for their own use. This is a time of world wide scarcity, hardship and famine.

6:7,8 “When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, ‘Come.’ I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.”

The fourth seal is broken and a rider on a pale horse is released.  The word which we translate pale or ashen is the word from which we derive the word chlorophyll and describes the gray / green pallor of the dead.  Following world wide war and famine, destruction multiplies, now encompassing a fourth part of the earth.  Death rides the horse and Hades (the dwelling of the dead) follows, as a gravedigger following the hearse.  It is fitting that they are together, for death is the condition of those who die apart from Christ and Hades is the place of their abode.

Death comes not only by war and famine but also by pestilence.  The word pestilence (thanatos), is actually the same word translated earlier in the verse as death.  It can encompass the many deadly disasters that follow in the succeeding judgments, but pestilence would surely follow war and famine.  Wild beasts may proliferate because of the breakdown of society.  It is not hard to imagine the multiplying of rats or packs of wild dogs in cities piled high with the unburied dead.

6:9 “When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained.”

The breaking of the fifth seal marks the transition from the beginning of birth pangs to the release of the full fury of God’s wrath.  John sees “underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God” and because of the faithfulness of their testimony.  

Many commentators contend that these believers were killed by the forces of the Antichrist during the years of the Tribulation.  This will be a time of unprecedented world wide persecution of believers.  Jesus warned of this time, “Then they will deliver you to tribulation and will kill you and you will be hated by all nations because of my name” (Matthew 24:9).

This will also be a time of sifting in the church.  Jesus said, “At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.  Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.  Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold” (Matthew 24:10-12).  This does not mean that believers will fall away from their faith and lose their salvation.  Rather, unbelievers who profess faith in Christ will be revealed as false believers who were never saved, tares among the wheat, unredeemed religious folk (I John 2:19).

In that day, as in this day, many will be deceived by false prophets and false messiahs.  But not God's redeemed.  The Spirit of truth indwells our hearts and saves us from damning deception.  The deceived are those who have rejected saving truth, who love darkness more than light.

They will be drawn away by false prophets because their faith was never grounded in truth. The fire of persecution, the cost of identifying with Christ, will cause them to deny a profession of faith which was never genuine.

However, the deception and persecution of this time will not prevent the preaching of the Gospel and the greatest harvest of souls in the history of the church.  The preaching of the 144,000 evangelists (7:1-8,  14:1-5), the two powerfully anointed witnesses (11:3-6) and even an angel from heaven (14:6,7) proclaiming good news will result in the salvation of “a great multitude which no one could count from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues” (7:9).  One of the elders before the throne explains to John that this great multitude “are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14).

These martyrs seen by John are safe in the refuge of the altar of God.  No harm can come to them for now they rest in the presence of their Savior.  John sees them as souls because bodily resurrection has not yet taken place.

6:10 “And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’”

John hears them crying out to God with a loud voice.  Krazo, cried out, is a word depicting great passion. It is used in Mark 9:24 of a father pleading with Jesus to deliver his demon possessed son, “Immediately the boy's father cried out and said, ‘I do believe, help my unbelief.’” It is used to describe two blind men outside Jericho who, “Hearing that Jesus was passing by, cried out, ‘Lord have mercy upon us, Son of David’” (Matthew 20:30).  We read that the crowd tried to silence them, “But they cried out all the more.”  

It is this passion which energizes the prayer of the martyrs.  Their prayer is directed toward the Lord, but interestingly, they do not use the usual New Testament word for Lord, Kurios, but the word Despotes, Master or Ruler.  They are praying to Almighty God, the sovereign God who alone is able to bring all rulers and kings and nations and governments before His bar of justice.

“How long, O Lord, holy and true, will you refrain from judging and avenging our blood” is not a cry for revenge but for vindication.  The word avenging, ekdikeo, means to vindicate or punish, from ekdikos, to carry out justice.  We would not say that a human judge is being cruel or vengeful when he passes a just and fair sentence on a convicted criminal.  Neither is God unjust, unfair, cruel or vengeful.  He is righteous, merciful and kind, holy in all His ways.  God’s judgment on wicked, unrepentant sinners and cruel, idolatrous, sinful leaders is the expression of the perfect unity of God’s holy being.  

The saints under the altar have been condemned and executed by the unholy government of the Antichrist whose injustice is an expression of counterfeit truth.   They call out to God because He is holy and true and therefore His justice is an expression of holy truth.  They died because they were witnesses of the holy truth of Christ.  Only the holy God of truth can declare and vindicate their righteousness over against the condemnation of the unjust human courts.

6:11 “And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.”

It is might be better to interpret these white robes as symbolic or prophetic representations of their reward, since they do not yet have actual resurrection bodies.

The are told “to rest for a little while longer until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been would be completed also.”  This will be a time of unprecedented slaughter of the saints, the greatest genocide in history. But note that even martyrdom is under the sovereign control of God.  God has sovereignly determined the number of the martyrs and though evil runs rampant, God is still Lord of history and Lord over His church.

6:12 “I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood.”

The breaking of the first five seals pointed ahead to the sixth seal which launches the climax of God’s outpoured wrath.  When the sixth seal is broken, a great earthquake takes place which is unprecedented in human history.  This in turn may cause the eruption of volcanoes which would then fill the sky with ash and dust so that the sun is darkened and the moon turns the color of blood.  Isaiah prophesied of this (13:10) as did Joel, “The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes” (Joel 2:31, also 2:10).

It is difficult to imagine the cataclysm unleashed by the breaking of the sixth seal.  The fault lines of the earth fracture and the earth is plunged into darkness.

6:13 “And the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind.”

At the same time, stars (asteres, heavenly bodies) fall from the sky to the earth.  This may refer to a massive meteor shower which would not only add to the destruction but also, given the darkened sky, would surely intensify the terror.  Jesus taught that the end times would be characterized by signs in the heavenlies (Matthew 24:29,  Luke 21:11,25,26).  The Old Testament prophets also spoke of this (Joel 2:1,2, 10, 31, Zephaniah 1:15).

6:14 “The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.”

It is difficult to interpret the splitting of the sky.  This is not the final dissolving of the heavens referred to in 2 Peter 3:10, when God dissolves a universe tainted by sin and recreates a new heaven and earth in which only righteousness dwells.  Isaiah prophesied of an event when “the sky will be rolled up like a scroll” (Isaiah 34:4).  Whatever this is, it is surely a tearing apart of the fabric of the atmosphere as we know it today.

Further, the shifting of earth’s fault lines causes the mountains and islands to move out of their places.  This is not the complete flattening of the earth which happens during the final bowl judgment.  But it surely expresses a radical realignment of the earth’s topography.

6:15-17 “Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’”

The unredeemed of the earth — the great and the small, heads of state, military commanders, the rich and the poor — cry out for the rocks and mountains to fall on them and hide them “from the presence of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come.” They know what time it is, “The great day of their wrath.” And they recognize the source of this judgment.  It is not merely nature out of control. Far more lethal, it is Almighty God personally judging them, it is “the wrath of the Lamb.”

How sad, how grievously sad! They try to hide from the only One who can save them. Only God can deliver us from His wrath. And He has by pouring out His wrath on the sacrificed Lamb who on the cross made a perfect, atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world. Jesus, the holy Lamb, bore our sin and God’s judgment against sin.  Now all who turn from their sin in true repentance and turn to the Lamb in sincere faith are forgiven, washed, cleansed and delivered from the wrath to come.

Yet incredibly, their response is not repentance but terror.  They know there is a God.  They know He is holy and judges sin.  They know that this outpouring of wrath is God’s response to their sin. But their knowledge of God does not produce repentance.  Rather, they harden their hearts even more and run from God.  When people harden their hearts, God will also harden their hearts.  When people know the truth but refuse to surrender to the truth, God will allow them to be deceived, will send a deluding influence, “For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth but took pleasure in wickedness” (2 Thessalonians 2:11,12).  

They understand and acknowledge that God is the source of their calamity.  They understand that this is the day of God’s judgment but they refuse to repent.  Rather, they run and they hide.  But where will they run?  Where will they hide?  Hell will not hide them and death cannot save them.

They ask, “Who is able to stand?”  That question is answered in 7:9, when John sees a great multitude standing before the throne praising the Lamb.  Who is able to stand?  Only those who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb of God. Who is washed in the blood of the Lamb? Those who kneel before the crucified and risen Savior. And they will stand in the day of wrath.

Study Questions:

1. Who are the martyrs under the altar in verse 10 and why are they crying out so passionately?

2. Who will be able to stand in the day of God’s wrath and why? (see v. 15-17).

  

Revelation 7

Revelation 7

Chapter 7 is a quiet interlude between the breaking of the sixth and seventh seals.  It answers the question posed by the unrepentant, “Who is able to stand?”  Even in the midst of the most savage persecution in history, the eternal salvation of God’s people is preserved and martyrdom only serves to usher saints into the presence of God.  The security of believers stands in stark contrast to the terrors of the ungodly fleeing the wrath of God.

7:1 “After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, so that no wind would blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree.”

Four angels are given power to restrain the winds of the earth.  Wind is to be understood symbolically and literally.  Symbolically, this represents the restraining of divine wrath while the servants of God are sealed for the completion of their evangelistic ministry.  However, the text is clear that this is also a literal restraint of the elements of nature.  Wind, created by the heat of the sun and by the earth's rotation, is one of the engines that drives our climate cycles.  For a moment in history, the earth is still.

7:2,3 “And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, ‘Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.’”

The winds are to be held in check until the servants of God are sealed.  The word seal often refers to a signet ring worn by kings or appointed officials which was used as a stamp on official documents.  The seal guaranteed authenticity, ownership and security.

This is the seal of the living God, as opposed to dead idols and lifeless religious systems.  When Israel crossed the Jordan, Joshua reminded them that “the living God” was among them (Joshua 3:10).  When the Assyrian messengers mock Israel's God, Hezekiah says it is “the living God” they have mocked (2 Kings 19:4,16).

Just as the Antichrist will seal his followers (Revelation 13:16,17), so will the living God seal His followers.  From 14:1 we learn that the seal is a mark on the forehead bearing the name of the Lamb and of His Father.  God preserves the saints, even in tribulation.  “The Lord knows those that are His” (2 Timothy 2:19).

Those who are sealed are the bond-servants of God.  They are referred to in 14:4 as those “who follow the Lamb wherever He goes ... purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb.”  They are redeemed and serving God in the midst of tribulation but as the outpouring of judgment intensifies, they will continue to experience the preserving grace of God.  

Preserving grace does not mean that they will not be martyred for their faith. It means they are preserved from God’s wrath and sealed unto everlasting salvation.

It is evident that they will proclaim the Gospel in the midst of the outpouring of God’s wrath because in the verses immediately following their introduction, we read of a great multitude of the redeemed who have come out of the tribulation, washed in the blood of the Lamb and praising God.  How will anyone be redeemed unless someone preaches to them?  So these bond-servants are fearless witnesses, overcomers who refuse to be silent even in the face of death (see Rev. 12:11). The result of their labor will be, as the world crumbles beneath the weight of sin and unprecedented disaster, the greatest harvest of souls in the history of the church.  

The Apostle Paul reminds us that we too have been “sealed in Him (in Christ) with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:13). The word sealed refers to the identifying mark placed on a contract or letter in Paul’s day.  It identified and authenticated the sender.  The emperor’s seal on a document attached the authority of the emperor to that document.  So with us, the seal of the Holy Spirit identifies and authenticates the Lordship of Jesus Christ in and over our lives.  We are declared to be His and His authority is invested in our lives. In the midst of the turbulent storms and crises of our times, Jesus has sealed us with the declaration of His Lordship over us.

7:4-8 “And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: from the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand, from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand, of the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Levi twelve thousand were sealed; of the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand were sealed; from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.”

The number of these servants of God is 144,000, comprised of 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel.  Some scholars suggest that the number is not to be taken literally but that it represents the completeness of the end time church. No one will be lost, as Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out … This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:37,39).

Some commentators insist that this group cannot be restricted to redeemed Jews, as this brings a distinction between Jew and Gentile which no longer exists in the New Testament.  Paul writes that those who believe in Jesus are the true Jews (Romans 2:29) and that the church is “the Israel of God”, comprised of Jew and Gentile (Galatians 6:16) and that we are now “neither Jew nor Greek … for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Peter refers to the saints as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation”  (1 Peter 2:9), words borrowed directly from Exodus 19:6, originally applied to Israel but now to the church.  Some commentators also remind us that the tribes of racial Israel lost their distinction after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 so how would we know the genealogical record of any of these evangelists? 

So this 144,000 may refer symbolically to the entire generation of saints who are alive and faithful to Christ during these years of tribulation. As we have said, God seals them as a declaration of His preserving grace toward His servants. 

However, we interpret this text literally, given God’s promise to redeem Israel prior to the return of Christ, as the Apostle Paul said, “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery ... that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:25,26). 

God chose Israel to be His instrument for the release of salvation to the world.  The Psalmist said, “God be gracious to us and bless us and cause His face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on the earth, your salvation among all nations” (Psalm 67:2).  Election was for the purpose of service. Israel was chosen to be blessed but also to be a vessel for the outpouring of blessing into the world.  God directed Moses to tell the nation that He brought them out of slavery in Egypt so that they could be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).

Israel was called by God to prepare the way for the Messiah but they failed in their national calling, were disqualified as a nation of priests so God raised up the church, the new Israel.  But Israel's failure does not negate God's intention to again use Israel as a servant of His salvation purpose.  At the end of time, Israel will be God’s instrument for world evangelism. Called by God to prepare the world for the advent of the Messiah, they will accomplish in Jesus’ second advent that which they failed to do in His first.

Therefore, many Bible scholars propose that this sealed multitude is a literal fulfilling of God’s promise of redemption to Israel in the last days and a literal army of Jewish evangelists. While it is true that genealogical records have been long lost, God knows the ancestry of every Jew in the world and can easily call 12,000 out of each tribe. He is the omniscient God, possessing all truth and all fact from all of time and eternity.  

Whether we interpret the 144,000 as Jewish evangelists or as representative of the church of the redeemed, what is most important in this text is that through the preaching of these evangelists will come the greatest harvest of Gentile and Jewish believers in history.  And none will be lost.

7:9 “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands;”

Now John sees a great multitude which no one could count standing before the throne and before the Lamb, praising God.  As God pours out wrath, as Satan and his demons ravage the world with unparalleled fury, there will also be a harvest of souls for the kingdom of God that will exceed any soul saving move of God in the history of the church.

We must remember that the mercy and holiness of God do not contradict or nullify each other.  He judges and He saves.  He is the God, “Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:4).  In the midst of unprecedented evil, as God pours out His righteous wrath on an unbelieving world, as the godless, rebellious empire of Antichrist crumbles, God will lavish His saving grace on the earth.  

This is the reason that history continues, so that God may reveal His saving grace to more people.  Peter reminds us that, “The Lord is not slow about His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).  In the midst of judgment, there is grace.

The great multitude standing before the throne have been gathered “from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues.” It is a world wide harvest of souls — called out of every ethnic group, out of every demonically inspired false religion and humanist, God-denying philosophy.  They are dressed in white robes which speak of the righteousness of Christ, the purity which God has imparted into them, lives washed and cleansed in the blood of the Lamb.  White robes speak of ultimate victory over the fouling, perverting, demonically destructive world system which sought in vain to separate humanity from God. They hold palm branches, which speak of celebration and deliverance.  

7:10 “And they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’”

They are no longer under the altar praying for God’s vindication.  Now they are standing before the throne, glorifying God with shouts of praise.

7:11,12 “And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, ‘Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.’”

The angels, the twenty-four elders (who represent the church through out the ages) and the four living creatures join their praise with these saints for the redemption of humanity.  This was the ultimate purpose of God in history and it has now been realized.  If there is joy in heaven among the angels over one sinner who repents, what will their rejoicing be when they see the countless multitude of the redeemed standing before the throne?

Note that this praise is forever and ever.  Everlasting praise is the liturgy of eternity.

7:13,14 “Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, ‘These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?’ I said to him, ‘My lord, you know.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’”

One of the elders asks John the identity of this white robed choir.  John replies that he does not know.  He had heard Jesus say that few would be saved, had seen the decimating impact on the church due to violent persecution and false teaching. John himself received this vision while stranded in a lonely, barren, wind swept Roman prison colony. This great multitude must have astounded him.

The elder replies that they are those who have come out of the great tribulation.   Though many believers have endured persecution and tribulation for following the Lamb (John 16:33, 2 Tim. 3:12), this last conflict is called the Great Tribulation, such is the intensity of this final battle between righteousness and evil.  Whereas these saints were shielded from the wrath of God, they do experience the violence of God’s enemies.

Their robes are white because they have washed them in the blood of the Lamb.  The blood sacrifices of the Old Testament did not cleanse from sin but revealed the need for cleansing and pointed toward the only Sacrifice that would cleanse.  The blood of the Lamb of God cleanses tribulation sinners as truly as sinners from any other age.  In the midst of wrath, the Gospel of grace was proclaimed, men and women repented and believed, and though they were martyred, they now stand before the throne giving thanks to God.  

This multitude lived into the tribulation, were redeemed in it and now “come out” of it.  The verb tense indicates a continual coming out, a multitude that is continuing to grow. Many will be saved during the tribulation, though there will come a point at which those who reject the Gospel will be confirmed in their unbelief.  Unregenerate, hard hearted, seared in their conscience, they will be lost forever. But the emphasis here is not on the lost but on the saved.

7:15 “For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them.”

The King James translates the last phrase, “And He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.”  That’s what the word tabernacle means — to dwell among. It’s the same word used in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The redeemed have come out of the violence of Antichrist’s persecution and into the covering of the Lord’s presence.  Because they are clothed in the righteousness of Christ, they are qualified to stand before the throne of God, in the midst of the very glory of God, serving Him in the temple. But the temple is not a building — it is the sanctuary of God Himself.  God spreads His tabernacle, His presence over them, shelters them with Himself, spreads the tent of His Shekinah glory over them.  In eternity there will be no physical temple for God will occupy all space in a sinless universe, “For the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev. 21:22).

We also know the sheltering presence of the Lord, for He is our “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at its swelling pride … The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold … ‘Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold” (Psalm 46:1-3,7,10,11).

Notice that the redeemed serve the Lord day and night. All the redeemed are priests.  The sacrifice of the priests is spiritual worship and praise.  Day and night does not mean literal day and night for there is no night, nor time, in heaven.  They serve with endless praise, without need to pause for refreshment.  The categories of time and weariness no longer exist.

7:16,17 “They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

These tribulation saints are assured that they will neither hunger nor thirst again, powerful words spoken to those who had endured horrific suffering for their faith.  But the reference is to more than physical thirst; their deepest emotional and spiritual needs are met and perfectly satisfied in the presence of God, as Jesus promised, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).  “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37).  

Jesus the Lamb is also Jesus the Shepherd who leads His flock to waters of life and wipes every tear from their eyes.  As the Psalmist said, “They drink their fill of the abundance of Your house; and You give them to drink of the river of Your delights. For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light” (Ps. 36:8,9).  

The church of John’s day faced intense persecution, as have many believers since.  These were words of comfort and encouragement to them and are to all in every century who love the Lord.

Study Questions

1. What does it mean to you that you have been sealed by God? see v. 2,3)

2. What does it mean that the Lord “spread His tabernacle over “the redeemed saints in heaven” and may we know the covering of His presence even now? (see v. 15).

Revelation 8

Revelation 8

When the Lamb took the scroll from the hand of Him who sat on the throne (5:7), He was taking the title deed to planet earth.  Opening the book speaks not just of revelation, not just the revealing of future events, but also of readiness to carry out these final acts whereby the enemies of God are defeated and history draws to glorious conclusion.  As the Lamb breaks the seals, what is written on the scroll is enacted on earth, setting in motion the events leading to the climax of human history, the reclaiming of the universe by its rightful King and the establishing of the kingdom of God on earth.  

In the breaking of the seals, it is not merely the judgment of God that is released on earth but the purpose of God is released.  This surely includes an outpouring of righteous wrath upon a sinful, God-rejecting world but also mercy is poured out.  The  Gospel is proclaimed across the earth and a harvest of souls is reaped from every tribe and tongue and nation.  In this outpouring of judgment and mercy, God’s purpose to reclaim planet earth is being established.

The breaking of the fifth and sixth seals marks the transition from the beginning of birth pangs to the release of the full fury of God’s wrath.  But in the midst of intensifying conflict John is given a glimpse (in chapter seven) of the sealing of the end time army of 144,000 evangelists whose preaching leads to unprecedented harvest.  John also sees and hears the heavenly worship of the innumerable multitude who came out of the tribulation, washed in the blood of the Lamb and qualified now to stand before the throne of God and worship their Redeemer.

After this brief interlude, John returns to the increasingly terrible judgment poured out upon the world.  Wrath is increasing in intensity.  Whereas some commentators look for historical patterns in bowls, woes and trumpets, wisdom cautions against this.  Trying to be too literal here will cause us to miss the spiritually discerned truths.  As someone said, a logical apocalypse is a contradiction.

8:1 “When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.”

When the Lamb breaks the seventh seal there is silence, a dramatic pause, reminiscent of the words of Habakkuk, “The Lord is in His holy Temple, let all the earth keep silence” (Hab. 2:20).  It is a holy hush, as heaven's citizens await the outworking of history’s final  events.  Ironic that the breaking of the first six seals releases the crashing sound and fury of judgment.  But the breaking of the seventh seal releases silence, as all of heaven pauses in awed realization of the terrible wrath about to be poured out upon the earth.

John notes that the silence lasted “for about half and hour.”  There is no time in heaven but John is still time-bound so the events are measured to him in this familiar form.  One can almost hear, in the absolute silence of heaven, the resolute ticking of minutes toward that final hour when the prayers of all saints from all ages will be answered, the kingdom of Satan destroyed and the true Prince of Peace, the King of kings and Lord of lords will be enthroned on earth.

8:2 “And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.”

Seven trumpets are handed to seven angels, in complete silence.  These angels “stand before God.”  The word stand is in the perfect tense, indicating that they had been standing before God for a long time.  One is reminded of Gabriel's introduction to Zacharias, “I am Gabriel who stands in the presence of God” (Luke 1:19).

Trumpets are given to the angels.  In the Bible, trumpets are used in worship, to announce the rapture of the church, and in the release of the final judgment of God.  Note that angels will participate in this final outpouring of judgment, consistent with the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 13:39-41,49-50;  16:27;  25:31).  The blowing of the first four trumpets will release destructive impact on the earth's ecology; the fifth and sixth will release unprecedented demonic activity on earth; the seventh trumpet will introduce the final cycle of God’s wrath.

8:3,4 “Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand.”

We are reminded of the Old Testament priests, who, in the Jerusalem temple, carried censers (fire pans) filled with hot coals, into the Holy Place.  Once in the evening and once in the morning the coals were used to ignite incense which then rose toward heaven as a fragrant offering to God.  This symbolized the prayers and praise of the people which also filled the temple.

Now in heaven an angel stands at the altar and incense is given to him so that he can add it to the prayers of the saints.  We are not told anything about the prayers of these saints but we read previously that they had prayed for vindication (6:10).  Could this not also include the prayers of the saints throughout the ages, that the kingdom of God would be established on earth, that the true King would return and take His rightful place upon the throne?


This mixing of heaven’s incense with the prayers of the church, as this smoke rises before God, represents the agreement of the purpose of God and the sincere prayers of saints throughout the ages. The wrath and mercy of God, the redemptive and righteous purpose of God, are joined with the intercession of saints to create a uniquely powerful fragrance before the Lord.

Paul reminds us that Christ loved us and gave Himself for us as “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2).  He also reminds us that God “always leads us in triumph in Christ and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place” (2 Cor. 2:14).  The incense of Christ’s sacrifice manifests through the lives of the saints and especially in our prayers and praise. Sincere prayer and worship rises before God as a sweet smelling sacrifice upon His altar.  As the smoke and fragrance of the incense rises and mixes with God’s holy purpose, the scene is intensified by the holy hush.  All of heaven pauses in silence.

8:5 “Then the angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it to the earth; and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake.”

Now the holy silence is shattered as an angel takes fire from the altar and casts it upon the earth.  This is similar to Ezekiel's vision (Ezkl. 10:2-7) in which an angel cast coals of fire upon Jerusalem.  The fire is accompanied by thunder, lightning and earthquake.  As at Sinai, the world trembles at the presence of God (Exodus 19:16). 

It may not be coincidence that the prayers of the saints are followed by judgment. They have prayed that God would vindicate their martyrdom and establish His justice on earth. Now as their prayers mingle with the incense of heaven and the praise of angels and elders, judgment is poured out. We are reminded that prayer not only stops calamity but also releases the holy calamity of God’s judgment on evil.

After Israel had sinned grievously and judgment was released against the people, Aaron put fire and incense in his censer and stood between the plague and the people, interceding for mercy and the plague was stopped (Numbers 16:41-50).  Prayer turns away judgment but prayer also agrees with God’s sovereign release of judgment. John, standing in the courts of heaven, sees the prayers of the saints mixing with the outpouring of wrath.  When the Lord comes back, the bowls of incense will be full.  He is coming back to a prayerful church.

Incredibly, despite the firestorm soon to be released on earth which many will recognize as the direct judgment of God, and despite the powerful preaching of the Gospel which all will hear, many will continue in their refusal to repent and believe.

8:6 “And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound them.”

The seven angels prepare to sound the seven trumpets which will release the final fury of God's wrath against a world that stubbornly refuses to repent of evil and acknowledge God.  As the plagues increase in intensity, so does humanity's hostility toward God.

Some commentators make the case that earlier judgments, in particular, those following the first four seals, were merely the result of human sinfulness, the historical outworking of sinful choices, whereas these trumpet judgments are the direct expression of the wrath of God upon a wicked world.  But the text is quite clear that God is not a passive observer in any of these events.  Each seal is broken by the Lamb of God, that is, by the intentional will and act of God.  

In the breaking of the first four seals, all the riders were summoned by a voice from heaven, “Come.”  Three of the four riders were given authority to act — they were not self-empowered:

“Behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him” (6:2).

“A red horse went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth” (6:4)

“An ashen horse ... Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth” (6:8).

From the breaking of the first seal to the emptying of the final bowl of wrath, this is nothing other than God expressing His righteous anger against a rebellious, God-rejecting world.

The church is not mentioned during the following judgments nor has it been mentioned in the previous judgments.  That does not mean the church is absent.  Nor does it mean the church is present but unaffected.  Though many believe that the church was raptured prior to the beginning of the outpouring of wrath, a great multitude come to know the Lord during this time and they cannot help but be affected by the calamity of the judgments.  

Yet in chapter 9 we will read of God’s protection over them.  And in chapters 11-13 we will read of God’s preserving grace.  Though believers are vulnerable to the wrath of Antichrist and will be slaughtered in an unprecedented act of genocide, they are shielded from the wrath of God.

The purpose of these final judgments is to warn people of a far more terrifying, eternal  destruction and to turn them to repentance.  It would miss the point to demand logic or science from John's vision here.  We don't need to worry about the warning against hurting the grass in 9:4 when in 8:7 the grass is burned up.  This vision is not necessarily in chronological order nor is there a logical or scientific order.  The point is simply this: God is confronting a rebellious world prior to the return of a triumphant Jesus Christ as sovereign Lord.

Just as the judgment of God broke the power of Egypt and enabled the exodus of Israel, so this end time judgment will break the power of this world system, enabling, not the exodus, but the return of the covenant people and the true King of all the earth.

8:7 “The first sounded, and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood, and they were thrown to the earth; and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.”

The first trumpet sounds and hail and fire, mixed with blood, fall to the earth.  It is possible that the earthquake mentioned in 8:5 will trigger world wide volcanic eruptions which would release huge quantities of gas, ash, dust and flaming lava into the atmosphere.  This could trigger thunderstorms and a vast downpour of hail.  The fiery color of the sky, the mixing of dust, gaseous vapors and lava with precipitation, could certainly resemble blood and surely there would be a downpour of red hot ash and rock alternating with hail.  This catastrophe, and those which follow, are a fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy of signs in the heavens in the last days (Luke 21:25).

The result is that a third of the earth is burned up.  Fractional destruction indicates the mercy of God — this is not final, total judgment.  God is judging and warning but the preaching of the Gospel continues as God allows people time and opportunity to repent.

8:8,9 “The second angel sounded, and something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea; and a third of the sea became blood, and a third of the creatures which were in the sea and had life, died; and a third of the ships were destroyed.”

Whereas the first trumpet released judgment on the land, now judgment is poured out upon the sea: “something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea,” destroying a third of the ships and a third of the creatures living in the sea. 

The object which John witnessed could be a meteorite, set afire by friction with the earth’s atmosphere.  Its impact on commercial fishing and maritime trade will be catastrophic.  Notice also, “A third of the sea became blood.”  It is possible that the world wide death of billions of sea creatures will produce a multiplying of bacteria which will thicken and color the water.  

In fact, there is a naturally occurring phenomena along some coastal areas called a “red tide,” a massive outbreak of bacteria which causes a colossal fish kill. This could be a kind of red tide, exacerbated by the deteriorating ecology brought on by the judgment of God.

Of course, God does not need natural phenomena to carry out His judgment.  By an act of His will, through the exercise of His creative power, God could cast a mountain of fire onto the ocean and turn one-third of the oceans into actual blood.  However the Lord does this, it is an act of judgment on the rebellious world which has shed the blood of so many saints.

8:10,11 “The third angel sounded, and a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of waters. The name of the star is called Wormwood; and a third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the waters, because they were made bitter.”

The third angel sounds his trumpet and a burning star falls upon a third of all inland waters, making them become bitter and causing much death.  The word star is aster, which can refer to any celestial body other than the sun or moon.  Apparently, it disintegrates as it falls through our atmosphere, causing its dispersal throughout earth’s fresh water supplies.

The star is called wormwood, named after a bitter plant, which, when ingested, leads to intoxication and death.  As its fragments fall on the waters, they become wormwood; that is, the waters take on the characteristics of the star.  The word wormwood is used only here in the New Testament but eight times in the Old Testament, always associated with bitterness, poison, sorrow and death.  

The effect is to cause fresh water supplies to become toxic, deadly.  This is the reverse of the miracle at Marah (Exodus 15:2-26) where God caused the bitter water to become sweet as a tree was cast in.  It was there at Marah that God revealed Himself as the Lord our Healer, a revelation which spoke prophetically of the cross and the healing contained in the atonement.  In I Peter 2:24 we read, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness, for by His wounds you were healed.”  But as the final days of history conclude, humanity, having rejected the atonement and its healing sweetness, will drink the bitter waters of judgment.

It is as if God will act out a parable on the physical, natural stage of earth, that which has always been true spiritually in the hearts of earth's citizens.  When we yield to a crucified Savior and accept the atonement He offers, our bitter waters are turned to sweet.  But to reject reconciliation with God, to go our own way, is to drink the bitter waters of our own godless ways.

The recurring use of the number one-third speaks of a pattern of divinely purposed, measured judgment, as opposed to random, chaotic events.  That the star falls from heaven is another way of saying that God is directing this.  These three judgments of fire are consistent with the angel of verse five who casts fire upon the earth.  These judgments cannot be explained by mere natural phenomena.  They are supernatural expressions of the judgment of God.

8:12 “The fourth angel sounded, and a third of the sun and a third of the moon and a third of the stars were struck, so that a third of them would be darkened and the day would not shine for a third of it, and the night in the same way.”

As a third of the sun, moon and stars are darkened, we again see evidence of a divinely ordained, measured judgment. The words, “And the day would not shine for a third of it and the night in the same way,” indicate that for a third of the day and night there will be a total absence of light, absolute darkness, not a partial eclipse.  The resulting los of heat will produce catastrophic weather and climate changes.

Just as the plague of darkness that fell upon Egypt was God’s instrument to set His people free,(Exodus 10:21-22), so God will again bring judgment upon the hostile powers of earth that oppress and enslave His people.  God intends again to break the power of this world system so that His covenant people may leave the land of their slavery and enter the land of rest and promise.

Darkness is a familiar biblical image.  Amos spoke of the day of the Lord as a day of darkness rather than light (5:18).  Joel spoke of a “day of darkness and gloom” (2:2).  Isaiah (13:9-10) and Ezekiel (32:7-8) also used this imagery in speaking of the day of the Lord.  Jesus said that in the last days, “The sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light” (Mark 13:24).

Darkness is what people are cast into when cast out of the presence of God (Matthew 8:12).  The dominion of darkness is what we are translated out of when we came under the dominion of the God of grace (Colossians 2:13).

This darkness also indicates a transition from warning to woe, from divine judgment at the hands of God to destruction at the hands of demons.  It is God's final way of saying, “You have chosen to reject my light.  Then here is your darkness.  You have chosen to reject my presence.  Here is my absence.  You have rejected the rule of my mercy and grace.  Here is the rule of a kingdom that knows nothing of mercy or grace.”

It is the beginning of God’s sentence of excommunication upon unrepentant humanity, the beginning of God saying, “Depart from me into the punishment prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).

8:13 “Then I looked, and I heard an eagle flying in midheaven, saying with a loud voice, ‘Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!’”

Verse 13 is a transition between these final warnings of God and the terrible, final demonic assault on earth in which humanity is subjected to the powers of the abyss.  Following this, the pit will be opened and the armies of hell will sweep over the earth.

But first, a final word of warning.  Previous judgments were announced by angelic beings, beings which live and move in the presence of God and of His glory.  But the coming demonic assault is proclaimed by a bird of prey.  Eagles are swift, strong, efficient hunters but more ominously, this same word may be translated vulture.  Habakkuk described the invading Babylonians as vultures (1:8).  Vultures are scavengers, they eat dead meat, they prey on that which no longer has life.

The bird of prey proclaims with a loud voice, “Woe, woe, woe.”  Three woes for the three remaining  trumpets / plagues.  These judgments will fall on “those who dwell on the earth,” a descriptive phrase for those who reject the Gospel.  Though they know that God is the source of this judgment and though they clearly hear the call to repentance and faith, though mercy is available to all who call upon the name of the Lord, many will persist in unbelief and rebellion.


Study Questions

1. The prayers of the saints are mixed with the incense of heaven — how does this impact your prayer life? (see. v 3-5)

2. Although we do not read about the preaching of the Gospel in chapter 8, we know that a great multitude of evangelists will be proclaiming the good news of salvation. Grace in the midst of judgment — what does this say about the heart of God?

Revelation 9

Revelation 9

The fifth trumpet announces the transition from judgment in the physical realm to the spiritual, from celestial objects falling from the sky to demonic hordes unleashed from the pit.  Earth has always been the theater upon which this unrelenting war has played out, as Satan attempts to destroy the magnificent creature made in God's image even as God works His redeeming purpose in the fallen children of Adam and Eve.

This conflict began in the garden of Eden, as Satan seduced the first of our family.  After they fell and God promised a Redeemer (Genesis 3:15), Satan attempted to infect and corrupt the entire human race (Genesis 6:1-4).  When God established Israel as His covenant people on earth, Satan launched a campaign to annihilate Israel, a campaign which has spanned centuries and empires.  

When Jesus was born, Satan attempted to murder Him at His birth, sought to tempt Him at the beginning of His ministry and three years later nailed Him to a cross.  When the church was commissioned and sent out to evangelize the world, Satan immediately sought to destroy the church through persecution, temptation, heresy and corruption from within. 

The final loosing of demonic strategy and power on earth at the end of history will be nothing new.  It will be merely the climax of an age long war.

9:1 “Then the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from heaven which had fallen to the earth; and the key of the bottomless pit was given to him.”

As the fifth trumpet sounds, a star falls from heaven to earth. Remember that the star which fell in 8:10 is referred to as it — a lifeless object such as a comet or meteor.  But the star in 9:1 is referred to as him:  “The key to the bottomless pit was given to him.”  In verse two he opens the bottomless pit.  So this is not an inanimate object falling from heaven.  This is a living being.

In Isaiah 14:4,12 someone identified as the “king of Babylon” is also described as the day star from heaven.  Although I Enoch is not an authoritative book of the Bible, I Enoch 21:6 depicts the fallen angels as “stars of heaven which have transgressed.”  Ezekiel, in describing the fall of Satan, said, “How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning” (Ezekiel 28:12).  Jesus told the seventy that He had seen, “Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18).  Many commentators therefore identify this being in 9:1 as Satan.  Others say he is one of the stars (fallen angels) swept to earth by Satan, the great dragon (see Rev. 12:4).  

It is also possible that he is only one of many holy angels sent from heaven by God to serve His will.  For instance, in Revelation 20:1-3 the angel with the key to the abyss is obviously a holy servant of God.  This is also suggested by the fact that the verb in 9:1 which is translated fallen can also be translated descended, as, “I saw a star from heaven which had descended to earth.” 

Whether this is a fallen angel or a holy angelic servant of God, we should keep in mind that the subsequent demonic activity is exercised under the sovereign authority of God and serves His purpose of judgment.  The coming onslaught of hell on earth is not hell unrestrained.  It is demonic activity as an instrument of the wrath of God and under God’s control.

Whoever this being is, he is given a key, symbolizing authority, to unlock the abyss (the bottomless pit).  As always in Revelation, this authority is given.  The angel does not possess authority in his own being.  It is God who delegates authority, even to fallen angels and fallen humanity.  Even in their rebellion, demons serve the purpose of God.

9:2 “He opened the bottomless pit, and smoke went up out of the pit, like the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke of the pit.”

He opens the abyss.  Of the nine New Testament references to the abyss, seven are in Revelation.  This is a place of incarceration where hordes of demons and the “angel of the abyss” (9:11), whose name is Destroyer, have been held in torment and isolation.  In Luke 8:31 the demons are terrified of being sent to this place.  In Romans 10:7 it is referred to as a place of the dead.  

There is a question as to why some demons have freedom of access across the universe and some have been imprisoned in the abyss.  The answer may be found in 2 Peter 2:4, where we are told, “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment.”  The word hell is not an accurate translation (that word is Gehenna, the final destination of all fallen angels and unredeemed people).  Neither is this the word Hades which is the temporary holding place of the unredeemed dead.

The place to which Peter refers in 2 Peter 2:4 is Tartarus, which was considered to be the deepest abyss of Hades and a separate place of incarceration for certain fallen angels. So Tartarus may be the same place as the abyss, the bottomless pit. But why are some angels consigned to Tartarus, the abyss, while others move freely through this world and in the heavenlies? Who are these imprisoned demons?

Jude describes them as “angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode,” whom God “has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6).  Their sin is compared to the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, “Since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh” (Jude 7).  Strange means different or other. This is a comparative reference to the men of Sodom who lusted not only after one another but also lusted after angels (see Gen. 19:1-5).

So what were these fallen angels lusting after? What “gross immorality” did they commit?

Some commentators suggest that these fallen angels are the “sons of God” recorded in Genesis 6:1,2, who allegedly attempted to engage in sexual relations with human women, possibly for the purpose of producing an unredeemable hybrid of human and demon. However, I disagree with this interpretation.  “Sons of God” often refers to angels but can also refer to male human beings. In Genesis 6, it refers to the righteous line of Seth. I therefore do not believe that the Genesis passage refers to angels, for two reasons.

First of all, Jesus said in Matthew 22:30, that in the resurrection, people “neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” This does not deny procreative ability to angels but it is unlikely that God would give reproductive capacity to angels if they did not need to use it. When God created angels, He made them eternal and created as many as would ever exist. Since angels do not die and God, in the beginning, created all the angels He intended to create, then there is no need for more angels. It is therefore unlikely that they would possess the ability to procreate.

Also, it is unlikely that God would allow such a grievous violation of the natural order as would occur if fallen angels were impregnating human women. There is a limit even to rebellion and sin. Though God allows free, moral creatures to exercise freedom of choice, He has set boundaries for both angels and people.

It is certainly true, though, that fallen angels — demons — are continually involved in tempting, seducing, corrupting and deceiving people. Fallen angels were surely involved in the temptation of those righteous descendants of Seth to marry outside their own Godly family line. It is also possible that demonic spirits — fallen angels — overpowered the personalities of some of those formerly Godly men who compromised and married into the ungodly line of Cain. So it may be that the punishment of those select angels mentioned in 2 Peter and in Jude is connected with this event, not because they had direct sexual relations with women but because they tempted and seduced men and possibly possessed some of them.

Whoever these angels are in Revelation 9, their sin was so abominable, they so grievously violated God’s created order, that they were consigned to a place of incarceration specially designed for them. Some of these demons are “kept in eternal bonds” — they will not be among those released at the time of the fifth trumpet but are kept until the day of judgment. But many of them are released at the blowing of the fifth trumpet, by God’s sovereign permission, and their release is like dark smoke rising out of the abyss, so much so that the sun and air are darkened.  

9:3 “Then out of the smoke came locusts upon the earth, and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power.”

These demons pour out of the abyss and take on the outward form of locusts.  Locusts are a fitting manifestation for these fallen angels.  At times throughout history locusts have appeared in enormous, desolating swarms, blotting out the sun and devouring all vegetation in their path.  So will this demonic swarm leave desolation in their path.  We are reminded of the plague of locusts in Exodus 10:1-20, which stripped Egypt bare.  Joel 1:2-2:11 interprets the devastation to Israel by locusts to be a prophetic picture of the destruction in the day of the Lord.

 

It may be that the cloud of smoke is the outpouring of the atmosphere of the abyss but more likely, it is the vastness of this demonic multitude that blots out the sun.  It is as if John sees from a distance, a cloud of smoke but as the cloud comes into focus, he sees it is comprised of living beings. 

 

These demon-locusts have the power of scorpions, though not the appearance.  They were given power as scorpions have power, which is to torment.  As scorpions inflict agonizing pain, so will these creatures (see verse 5).  It is also possible that they will inflict some kind of spiritual torment on their victims. 

9:4 “They were told not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.”

Notice that they are under authority: they are told not to injure the vegetation of the earth.  Though we have no references to demons anywhere at any time damaging plants or trees, these are under divine mandate — they will not be permitted to harm nature.  Also, they are told that their torment can extend only to those people who do not have the seal of God.  Recall that those who are sealed are the 144,000 evangelists and, we assume, those whom they lead to Christ (Rev. 7:4).

Notice the verb tenses: 

verse 1, the key “was given”  

verse 3, power “was given” 

verse 4, they “were told”  

This demonic activity is under the sovereign control of Almighty God.  Throughout this book, God is referred to as the Lord God Almighty.  It is Jesus who holds the keys to death, hell and the grave.  Even rebellious humanity and fallen angels serve only to fulfill the purpose of God.

9:5 “And they were not permitted to kill anyone, but to torment for five months; and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings a man.”

The mission of the demons is to torment with a painful sting, but again, notice the limits on their activity.  They can torment, but not kill and they have only a space of five months to do their work. Why would God allow this cruel demonic activity at all?

It is God’s mercy that turns us to repentance, Paul tells us (Romans 2:4).  God desires to draw all souls to Himself by the exercise of His mercy and grace, “Not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).  It is not His will that even one soul should enter eternity separated from Himself but that all should come to a saving knowledge of the truth.  We know that God is good and that His mercy endures forever, that He is slow to judge and quick to forgive, abundant in pardoning grace, full of love.

But if God cannot draw us to Himself, perhaps He can drive us to Himself.  His wrath is never exercised in opposition to His mercy or love.  This plague of demons is not an act of cruelty but an expression of wrath intended to reveal God’s righteous anger toward sin and to drive people to repentance and into the embrace of His mercy.  Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord asked, “Alas, sinful nation, people weighed down with iniquity ... where will you be stricken again as you continue in your rebellion?” (Isaiah 1:4-6 ). Why should you continue to be tormented by the consequences of your sin?  Turn and live.

The reason for this plague is that people who have rejected God and embraced Satanic lordship and government over their lives, would be driven by the consequence of their choices to turn, repent and embrace the Lord in His gracious offer of mercy.  This lesser torment might be the driving force that delivers them from the far more terrible torment of everlasting separation from God in the lake of fire.

But notice that the Lord not only places limits on this demonic activity but also on the season of His grace.  The five months represent a limited period of time in which some people may repent of their wickedness and turn to God.  Even as the demons are limited in their activity and in the duration of their torment, also seasons of grace have their limits and this is one such season of grace. I’m not saying that this five month season contains God’s final offer of grace but it is a season of grace and judgment.

Sin cannot endure indefinitely without incurring judgment.  It is not that God ever stops being perfectly loving and merciful.  But there is a limit as to how long we can violate the holy laws of God and reject His grace.  There is a point at which a God-rejecting heart becomes so hard, so confirmed in its ways, that it will not ever open to the grace of God.

Grace is also limited by the boundaries of our life span. Months become years, years come to an end and life passes into death and eternity. After death there will be no further opportunity to cast ourselves upon the grace and mercy of God.  The choices we make in this life will stand forever.

“And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him” (Hebrews 9:27). 

9:6 “And in those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, and death flees from them.”

In this season of the fifth trumpet, people will seek death and cannot find it.  God in His mercy refuses to allow them to die, for they would only be running from torment on earth to the far more terrible, everlasting torment of separation from God.  

This inability to die also illuminates, not only the mercy of God, but the inescapable wrath of God.  There is no escape from the judgment of God except through the blood of the Lamb of God.  Neither their power nor their wealth nor their demonically inspired religious systems, nor even death, can hide unredeemed sinners from God's righteous wrath.  The Lord offers grace, the Gospel will be preached during this time.  But for those who reject the Gospel, nothing can exempt or shield them from God's judgment.  There will come a time when they will die and in that moment they will encounter the inescapable truth of God’s justice.

9:7 “The appearance of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle; and on their heads appeared to be crowns like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men.”

John attempts to describe these creatures, continually using the words “like” and “appeared to be”.  He uses human imagery to describe that which is entirely unfamiliar.  

These locust / scorpions are like horses prepared for battle, which describes their power and their speed.  They have crowns like gold on their heads. The word for crown is stephanos, the victor's crown, indicating invincibility; no human weapons will stop them.  The most telling description is of their faces— they look like men.  That is, they have intelligence — they are not unreasoning beasts.  Their cruelty is motivated by a warped intelligence.

9:8 “They had hair like the hair of women, and their teeth were like the teeth of lions.”

Though they have hair like the hair of women, we cannot say that these creatures are beautiful, so possibly the hair represents an aspect of seduction.  It may be that they will seduce people into torment, which is certainly a quality of Satan's activity in every age.  Or maybe John simply means that their hair is long.  They have teeth like lions; their seductiveness cannot mask their lethal fierceness.

9:9 “They had breastplates like breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots, of many horses rushing to battle.”

Their breastplates indicate an invulnerability to human attack.  They cannot be resisted or destroyed.  John compares the sound of their wings to the sound of a mighty army of chariots and horses rushing into battle.  This is a vast army launching a world wide assault, expressing all the fury and cruelty of hell.  

9:10 “They have tails like scorpions, and stings; and in their tails is their power to hurt men for five months.”

Again we are told that their purpose is to torment.  But we will see in 9:20,21 that God uses them to drive people to repentance.  Again we are reminded of the limits placed upon them: they have power to hurt but not kill and their activity will be only for five months.  God is sovereign, even over the demons of the abyss.

9:11 “They have as king over them, the angel of the abyss; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in the Greek he has the name Apollyon.”

The king of the abyss is called Destroyer.  Some would say that this is Satan, but he is never mentioned as coming from the abyss until he is cast into it and released at the end of the thousand year reign of Christ.  It is probably more accurate to say that this is a high ranking fallen angel who has been incarcerated in the pit.  The Destroyer is not mentioned again, seeming to disappear into the smoke of locusts.

9:12 “The first woe is past; behold, two woes are still coming after these things.”

We are told that this plague represents only the first woe.  There are still two trumpets / woes remaining.  The intensity and severity of judgment is increasing as humanity approaches the end of history.  But in telling us what is yet to come, we see an expression of mercy.  God wants the world to know what time it is.

9:13,14 “Then the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, one saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, ‘Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.’”

The sixth angel sounds his trumpet and a voice is heard from the golden altar.  This could be the voice of the angel who stands at the altar with the incense.  Or it could be the unified voice of the prayers of the saints.

This golden altar is that same altar which John saw in 8:3-5, when the angel added incense to the prayers of the saints.  It was represented on earth in the tabernacle and the temple by the altar of incense.  At the heavenly altar, the saints prayed that the Lord vindicate their martyrdom. The fragrant smoke which rose from the earthly altar represented the prayerful worship of the saints and especially, their prayers for mercy.  But this altar is now an altar of judgment, as the season of grace and mercy is quickly passing.  A world which has rejected grace will now experience undiluted judgment.

The voice commands the angel to release four bound angels.  These must not be holy angels, for holy angels are never referred to as bound.  Notice again God’s control over demons.  They are bound and loosed at His sovereign command.

They have been bound “at the great river Euphrates.”  The Euphrates is one of the rivers that flowed out of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:14).  Near this river the first sin was committed and the first murder.  The tower of Babel was built nearby, that monument to human rebellion and false religion.  From Babel, counterfeit religious systems spread across the earth.  This region has been the center of demon inspired rebellion against God since the early days of the human family.  These bound angels appear to be in charge of an enormous multitude of demonic horsemen who sweep across the world in a flood of terror and death.  Like the king of the abyss, the four horsemen disappear into the demonic hordes which they release.

9:15 “And the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released, so that they would kill a third of mankind.”

The purpose of these four angels is to kill a third of mankind.  Mere torment gives way now to massacre.  Death, which had been restrained by the hand of God, is now released in full measure.   

The four angels have been prepared for this hour, day, month and year.  The perfect tense emphasizes the fact that these fallen angels had existed in a state of readiness.  (Note the same verb tense in Matthew 25:34, where the king invites the sheep to inherit the kingdom “prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”)  Though God did not create these angels for the purpose of destruction and though they will be held morally accountable for their rebellion, God has sovereignly kept them for this event and has fixed the exact time of their service, as He sovereignly determines every event in time and eternity.  

At the preordained hour, day, month and year in history, God will release these angels of destruction and a demonic horde mentioned in the following verse.  These four angels may be commanders of that multitude which swarmed out of the bottomless pit under the kingship of Abaddon / Apollyon but more probably this is another horde of demons loosed on earth.

This demonic army is released not for the purpose of wounding but for killing. Their onslaught will result in the slaughter of one-third of humanity.  Though the death toll is unimaginable, staggering, the continued use of one-third indicates purpose, not random chaos.  All the forces and events of history are under the sovereign control of Almighty God.

9:16 “The number of the armies of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them.”

The horde is immense. The number could be translated as two hundred million or a double myriad of myriads but the exact number is not the point.  The point is that this is an unimaginably huge army released to destroy human life. To underscore the accuracy of this event John assures us, “I heard the number of them.”

Some commentators identify this vast army with the force that accompanies the kings of the east as they gather for the battle of Armageddon.  But there are two objections to this view.  First of all, from a logistical standpoint, it would be almost impossible to supply two hundred million people, especially considering their journey from the east to the holy land in a time of world wide famine and scarcity.  Secondly, that event occurs after the seventh trumpet, not the sixth. It is more accurate to interpret this army as a vast horde of demons. They are referred to as horsemen, possibly a way of representing a supernaturally swift army.  John now describes the riders and their horses. 

9:17 “And this is how I saw in the vision the horses and those who sat on them: the riders had breastplates the color of fire and of hyacinth and of brimstone; and the heads of the horses are like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths proceed fire and smoke and brimstone.”

John reminds us that he is seeing a vision, a way of letting us know that his words are stretched to describe what he sees.  The horsemen have breastplates, which speak of protection, a lack of vulnerability.  The breastplates are the color of fire (red), hyacinth (violet to purple), and brimstone (yellow).  When brimstone is ignited, it releases fire and toxic smoke.  When God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, He rained fire and brimstone on the cities.  Hell is often described in the Bible as a place of fire and brimstone. There is surely a representation of hell in the breastplates which these demons wear.

As noted, the horses are probably a representation of the swiftness of this demon army.  Their lion-like heads speak of  fierceness, a sense of the predatory-hunter.  Out of their mouths proceed fire, smoke and brimstone.  The fire speaks of destruction, as does the toxic, brimstone-laced smoke.  Their mission is to hunt down and kill people.

9:18 “A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which proceeded out of their mouths.” 

The fire, smoke and brimstone which proceed from the mouths of the horses are referred to as plagues.  These plagues kill a third of humanity.

9:19 “For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents and have heads, and with them they do harm.”

The power to kill is in the horses mouths and also in their tails, which are like serpents, i.e., scorpions, and have the power to harm or hurt.  The tails have heads which speak of the intelligence of these creatures.  They may not be literal horses or literal heads on their tails.  These details — the breastplates on the riders, the fire, smoke and brimstone proceeding from the horses mouths, the deadly, serpent-like tails with heads — all serve to emphasize that these are rational creatures with one, fierce, lethal intent.  They will hunt down and destroy millions of unrepentant sinners.

There is an interesting side note here.  The mighty Roman legions, which for many years had been all but invincible, had been badly defeated by fierce mounted warriors from beyond the Euphrates more than once, several decades before John’s vision.  The empire's dependence on military might had proven useless against those swift armies of horsemen.  Rome was terrified of those warriors and their confidence was shattered by the realization that the mighty Roman sword provided no security against those armies.  In like manner, the world system for all of history has sought and failed to find security in that which is not God.  So it will be in this end time assault.  There will be no security apart from God.

9:20 “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk;”

Incredibly, those who were not killed by these plagues still refused to repent.  Once a heart is set against God, not even the torment of hell released on earth nor the terrors of death nor the warning of hell after death nor the preaching of grace can turn some hearts to God.  The surviving people of the earth continue to worship the demonically empowered idols of their own creation.

The survivors of these judgments continue to worship the works of their hands — the petty idols and mighty empires they have built.  All idol worship is, at the heart of it, demon worship, as we are often reminded in the Bible.  The Apostle Paul said, “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God” (I Corinthians 10:20).  So in essence, in worshipping the idols they have created, in bowing down to the false religions which they invent, they are worshipping the very demons who are wreaking destruction in their lives.  

Such is the deception of sin and the hardness of the human heart.  Note that the demonic destruction is released by God, but God releases only that which humanity has chosen and worshipped.  Throughout history, the only reason that the world is not overcome by demonic activity is God restraining what humanity chooses.  Once God begins to release what the world chooses, hell breaks loose on earth.

9:21 “and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.”

The proliferation of idol / demon worship leads to unrestrained wickedness.  They will not repent of the idolatrous work of their hands nor the worship of the demons who inspired their works.  Neither will they repent of their murder, sorcery, immorality or theft.  These are closely bound up in the life of idolatry.  One cannot worship demons without becoming like them (as said the Psalmist in Psalm 115:1-8).  In describing the idols the people had made, he says, “Those who make them will become like them” (115:8).  

When people turn from God, the pathway spirals downward through idolatry, since people will fashion some kind of god, and then into all forms of violence and immorality.  We become like that which we worship and we serve that which we worship. 

In particular, John says that the people will not repent of their murders, their sorcery, their immorality nor of their thefts.  In a disintegrating world, with economies all but collapsed, with scarce supplies of food and water, without the restraining hand of God, murder will be rampant.  People will dive ever more deeply into the occult, into false religions with supernatural manifestations, looking for wisdom from the very demon powers that are destroying them.  Immorality will multiply in every way that unrestrained hell can imagine.  Theft will proliferate in a world where all necessities are in short supply.

In summary, hell will be released on earth and people will worship the gods of their destruction while continuing to reject the God who created them and offers them redemption and everlasting life in His blessed presence.  History will not stray far from the banks of the Euphrates River, where long ago Adam and Eve chose to reject the God who loved them, who had created them in His image and had given them all things to enjoy. They instead embraced the serpent who hated them and who hated the One Whose image they reflected.  That serpent sought to destroy them and has never ceased from his malevolent mission.

Study Questions

1. Although the suffering described in chapter 9 is terrible to behold, we read continually of the Lord placing limits on the demonic activity. How is this a revelation of the mercy of God? (see especially v. 5).

2. In verse 20 we read that the people who survive the woes of the fifth trumpet still refuse to repent. What does this say about the human heart?

Revelation 10

Revelation 10

At the close of chapter 9, six of the seven trumpets have sounded.  Chapter 10 and 11:1-13 form an interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets.  This may or may not be an actual time pause.  It may simply be that John, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is sharing details of the unfolding drama to which he is a witness.  The interlude certainly adds a note of rising intensity to the conflict, as the confrontation between God and the kingdoms of this world moves toward its climax.

10:1 “I saw another strong angel coming down out of heaven, clothed with a cloud; and the rainbow was upon his head, and his face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire;”

John sees “another strong angel coming down out of heaven.”  This is not Jesus.  The word another (allos),  refers to one of the same kind, another like the angels we have seen.  If it were Jesus, the word would be heteros (another of a different kind).  Further, whenever Jesus appears in Revelation, He is always designated by some identifying title but never as an angel.  Also, this angel comes down from heaven but this is not in harmony with any Scriptural description of the second coming of Christ.

This is an angel.  The cloud that encompasses the angel, the rainbow round his head, the fiery glow of his face and feet all indicate that he is coming out of the glorious presence of God.  This is consistent with descriptions of angels through the Bible.  They shine with a brilliance and majesty that is awe-inspiring, for they have been standing in the presence of the Shekinah glory of God.

Some commentators also see a wonderfully symmetrical expression of the attributes of God in the rainbow around the angel’s head and his feet which appear as sturdy, immoveable pillars of fire.  The rainbow is a representation of the mercy of God and feet like pillars of fire speak of consuming judgment which will stamp out the wine press of God’s wrath.  Taken together, we see mercy in the midst of judgment.

10:2 “and he had in his hand a little book which was open. He placed his right foot on the sea and his left on the land;”

The angle holds a little book — this is the document which John referred to in chapter five, “I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it” (5:1-3).

Tbis book is the title deed to planet earth and John began to weep because no one was found worthy to open the book but one of the elders said, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals” (5:5). John then saw the Lamb of God, Jesus, take the book and as heaven resounded with the thunders of praise, the Lamb then began to break its seals, setting in motion the final outworking of God’s purpose on earth. 

Now the seven seals have been broken, the scroll is open and it remains open indicating that the truth contained in it is not only revealed but it is released, set in motion. The eternal purpose of God is being accomplished.

The angel places one foot on the land and one on the sea, indicating the absolute authority of God over the sea and the land.  It is God who controls the unfolding of history’s final events; it is God who judges and offers grace in the midst of judgment.  The contrast between this shining, powerful servant of God and the confusion and chaos of earth, is striking.  The flimsy world system is crumbling before the wrath of God.  But the glorious, shining servant of God stands on pillars of fire striding both land and sea and bearing the open revelation of God.

10:3 “and he cried out with a loud voice, as when a lion roars; and when he had cried out, the seven peals of thunder uttered their voices.”

The angel speaks with a loud voice, as a lion roaring.  There is in this voice an unmistakeable quality of power and awesome majesty.  It is a voice that would certainly command our attention.

The angel’s voice evokes a response from the seven peals of thunder — they “uttered their voices.”  This is not an inarticulate rumbling — they spoke — there is a sense of clarity in whatever the voices of thunder have spoken. This may represent the voices of angels but more likely it is the voice of God. In this book of Revelation, thunder often is associated with God's wrath: it follows the casting of fire on the earth (8:5); follows the seventh trumpet-plague  (11:19); accompanies the final bowl of God's wrath (16:18).

Seven is a number which speaks of fulness, completion.  We are approaching the final expression of God’s judgment and the thundering resonance of the voices adds to the dramatic intensity of the scene.

10:4 “When the seven peals of thunder had spoken, I was about to write; and I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Seal up the things which the seven peals of thunder have spoken and do not write them.’”

The seven thunders speak articulately enough that John is about to write their words when a voice from heaven forbids him to write.  This is in contrast to 1:19 when John is commanded to write.  It is similar to Paul's experience, recorded in 2 Corinthians 12:4, when he was caught up into Paradise and heard “inexpressible words which a man is not permitted to speak.”  Whatever John heard will never be revealed in this world.  These are the only words in this book which are 

sealed.

10:5-7 “Then the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land lifted up his right hand to heaven, and swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things in it, and the earth and the things in it, and the sea and the things in it, that there will be delay no longer; but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, then the mystery of God is finished, as He preached to His servants the prophets.”

The strong angel now lifts his right hand to heaven and swears that there will be no more delay in working out the purpose of God on earth.  The martyrs in 6:11 had asked, “How long?”  The answer now is, “No more delay.”

God will no longer restrain His wrath.  The Antichrist is to be revealed and the forces of God and the forces of Satan will meet in final, climactic confrontation.  God’s great redemption purpose will now be brought to completion.

Note the angel’s description of God: 

a. God is the One who lives forever and ever.  Many believers of John’s generation would be martyred.  It is reassuring to be reminded that the God in whose name they would die is the eternal God, through whom they have passed out of death into everlasting life.

b. God is Creator of heaven and earth and sea and all things in them.  This God who confronts the world system is the uncreated First Cause of all that exists, and is therefore able to accomplish and bring to fulfillment all that He purposes to do.  Even as all things were created by Him, for Him and through Him, so all things are summed up, fulfilled in Him.  The God who began all things is the God who will end all things.  He is the Beginning and the End.

Some are critical of the integrity of this passage, suggesting that the angel’s oath violates Jesus’ prohibition against oaths recorded in Matthew 5:34,35.  But Jesus did not prohibit the use of vows or oaths, rather, He forbade frivolous and deceptive oaths. There is nothing frivolous or deceptive about this oath. In the name of the living God, it is declared that history will be concluded, evil will be destroyed, God’s purpose will be fulfilled and the kingdom of God will be established on earth.

The seventh trumpet will soon be sounded and the hidden purpose or mystery of God will be completed or finished. The word mystery refers to truths which were hidden in the past but now, in the New Testament, are revealed.  Certainly, as the angel reminds us, these mysteries were preached by the prophets, but the full truth was not fully opened or explained to them, though they longed to understand it.

Jesus referred to the mysteries of the kingdom of God.  Paul spoke in Colossians 2:2,3  of the mystery of Christ in whom are hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge. In Romans 11:25 he shared about the mystery of the hardening of Israel and the nation’s final destiny. In 1 Corinthians 15:51-56, he refers to the mystery of the rapture, of the change which will take place in the believer at Christ’s return. In 2 Thessalonians 2:7 he speaks of the mystery of lawlessness.

In Revelation 10:7, the mystery refers to the purpose of God revealed in the concluding of history and fulfilling of all redemption purpose.  It refers to, “The summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth” (Ephesians 1:10).  The fulfilling of this mystery will be proclaimed in heaven, “The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He shall reign forever and ever” (11:5).

Through the centuries the church has prayed, “Thy kingdom come.”  A time is coming when this prayer will be answered in perfect fulness — time will be no more and the timeless kingdom of God will be established on earth as in heaven.

Standing on the brink of eternity, John sees the unveiling of the evil empires which operate beyond and within history, sees the final furious assault upon the faithful, sees the persecution and martyrdom which precede the seventh trumpet, sees the overthrow and final destruction of the demonic powers following the seventh trumpet, sees the eternal kingdom of God established throughout creation.

God knew the end of all things before the beginning, established the end at the beginning, revealed the end, not in detail but in substance, to His servants the prophets.  Now John hears this proclamation, that the end is near.

10:8 “Then the voice which I heard from heaven, I heard again speaking with me, and saying, ‘Go, take the book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the land.’”

Again the voice from heaven speaks (having spoken in verse 4) and tells John to take the little book from the angel.  The same voice which forbade John to record the words of the seven peals of thunder now commands him to “take the book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the land.”

10:9,10 “So I went to the angel, telling him to give me the little book. And he said to me, ‘Take it and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.’ I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and in my mouth it was sweet as honey; and when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter.”

Eating revelation, assimilating or digesting it within his being, was necessary for John before he could proclaim it to others.  So for each of us.  Revelation must be received into our spirit if it is to impact our lives and then others through our witness.  

The Word of God is “sweeter than honey” (Psalm 119:103).  Yet some aspects of God’s Word, and many aspects of the Revelation given to John, are bitter when we truly understand what is being said. John prayed and passionately yearned for that day when His Lord, whom He had seen rejected, beaten and crucified, would return, reclaim planet earth and be rightly worshipped as Lord and King.  The thought of that coming day when the kingdom of God is consummated on earth and the glory of the Lord is revealed, that hope was indescribably sweet to John.  But this wonderful, sweet hope was tempered by the bitter revelation of the terrifying fate which awaited the world which has so violently resisted the enthronement of Jesus.

It is a bitter truth that a world which embraces evil while rejecting God will be judged and destroyed.  The truth that billions of God-rejecting, unbelieving idol worshippers will be condemned to an eternity separated from God is bitter.  The truth that the church will pass through terrible times of suffering (from John's generation to this day); the truth that followers of Jesus are often delivered, not from suffering and martyrdom, but through them into the glory of the kingdom of God — these are truths which cannot be sweet.

There will be a time in history when there will be no further delay to the completion of God’s kingdom purpose — this is sweet.  But that the times leading into the fulfillment of this purpose will involve such great suffering and sacrifice by the people of God, and everlasting destruction to those who despise God, this is bitter truth to digest.

10:11 “And they said to me, ‘You must prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.’”

Notice the verb must.  John is under compulsion to speak what he has been told. The Apostle Paul said, “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (I Cor. 9:16). The prophet Jeremiah said, “But if I say, ‘I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,’ then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it” (Jere. 20:9).

Is it not also the same for us? We are Christ’s witness in this world, under command and commission to bear witness of the truth. As Jesus was preparing to depart, the apostles wanted to know what time it is, asking, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Jesus replied, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:7,8). 

The word witness is martus, from which we derive the English word martyr.  So many witnesses poured out their testimony at the cost of their lives that truth speakers became known as martyrs. This is what time it is — time to pour out the Good News that God in His mercy will redeem and deliver all who come to Him through Christ, even as He destroys the world system that has attempted to enslave and destroy us.

The message is to many peoples, nations, language groups and world leaders (kings).  It is not God’s desire that any should perish but that all should come to the saving knowledge of Jesus.  The church is God’s instrument for proclaiming this wonderful message to one and all.

It is a message to and concerning kings.  God’s prophetic Word supersedes the authority of human government.  The rulers of this world system do not have any authoritative word for John nor for us.  No matter how the nations may roar, they have nothing of eternal significance to say to us.  But John has a Word for the rulers of this world.  So do we his brethren. 

It is a message to and about every people group in the world. All the messages of all the prophets, all the revelation whispered to all the servants of God throughout the ages now find fulfillment in the revelation given to John.  All of history comes into focus.  We see the final battle taking shape, the unseen armies exposed which once worked in secret behind and beneath the affairs of people and nations.  It is all exposed in the light now.

In this message we hear the commission, not only to John, but to all who love the Lord Jesus, to proclaim the sweet Good News of grace and the bitter reality of judgment.  Wrath is presently restrained while grace is preached.  But there is a day coming when the age of grace is complete.  In that day, the choices which men and women have made regarding God’s offer of forgiveness and everlasting life in His blessed presence, will determine eternal destiny.

But that day is not today. For this day, we have been given this commission: 

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19,20).

“And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.  And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. They also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven’” (Acts 1:9-11).

Why stand looking at the sky, speculating on times and seasons? Our Lord has promised to return in His chosen time and season. May He find us faithful.

Study Questions

1. What does it mean in verse two that the book or scroll is open?

2. Why was the book both sweet and bitter to John? (see v. 9,10)

Revelation 11

Revelation 11

Questions we will answer in chapter 11: Will the temple actually exist during the tribulation, will sacrifices be renewed at the altar or is the temple symbolic of the church?  Are the two witnesses actual individuals or do they represent the church witnessing, persecuted and martyred?  Does the great city of verse 8 represent the secular city, the world system of government set in violent opposition to the kingdom of God, or is it literal Jerusalem?

Symbols don’t deny or detract from the historic meaning of something.  They are a way of talking about history and reality that opens up the truth.  Although I believe this is a literal temple and two literal witnesses anointed by God for a particular season of ministry, the truth is that in that day, as in every day, there is a city of man in opposition to the city of God and there is a holy tabernacle, a people in and through whom God manifests His presence and witness.

11:1 “Then there was given me a measuring rod like a staff; and someone said, ‘Get up and measure the temple of God and the altar, and those who worship in it.’”

John has become more than a spectator of the vision.  He is now a participant.  He has consumed the scroll, ingested revelation.  Now he is given a rod to measure the temple of God, the altar and those who worship in it. (Keep in mind that the Jerusalem temple had been destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, twenty some years before John saw these visions that comprise Revelation).

Some commentators believe that this temple represents the church that will exist on earth during the tribulation, enduring persecution and faithfully proclaiming the Gospel.  The measuring rod represents the truth that God is always measuring His church and the altar on which we lay our lives and our sacrifice of praise. 

However, we should also interpret this as a literal, physical temple.

Many commentators believe, and I agree, that the Jerusalem temple will be rebuilt with the approval of the Antichrist during the tribulation.  John’s act of measuring the temple is a way of symbolizing God’s preservation and protection of Israel and His purpose for His covenant people during the last days of history.

Why would the Antichrist allow the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple?  To gain the allegiance of the most powerful nation in the Mideast — Israel.  

We also see the purpose of God in this. As a result of the restoration of the Old Testament priesthood and sacrificial system, there will be among the Jewish people a reawakening of interest in the Messiah, a hunger for true salvation and a realization of the inadequacy of the sacrificial system, since “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). Remember also that the Lord will mobilize an army of 144,000 Jewish evangelists who will witness powerfully to Israel and to the world.

The spiritual awakening in Israel will, in turn, provoke the jealousy of the Antichrist, who will launch violent reprisals against the nation, will halt worship activity in the temple and will set himself up as the object of worship.  This is the “abomination of desolation” of which Jesus and Daniel warned (Matt. 24:15, Daniel 9:27). We should add that there cannot be an abomination in the holy place unless there is a holy place.

John is told to measure those who worship in this rebuilt temple.  He is marking out the believing remnant of Jews who will come to faith in Christ in those last days.  They are marked for salvation, preservation and anointing as witnesses.

11:2 “Leave out the court which is outside the temple and do not measure it, for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months.”

John is forbidden to measure the court outside the temple for it has been given to the nations (the Gentiles). The word temple here is naos, referring to the central sanctuary containing the brazen altar and the Holy of Holies. Non-Jews could not enter the naos. Outside the naos was the court of the Gentiles.  It is this court which John is forbidden to measure.

During the church age, the Gospel has been preached among the Gentiles, resulting in great harvest and a church in which there is no longer a distinction between Jew and Gentile.  But the clear command to John to exclude the court of the Gentiles may indicate that by the time of the tribulation, this church has been raptured, removed from history and is no longer present.  

The Gospel will still be preached during the tribulation by an army of Jewish evangelists (7:1-10), by two special witnesses (11:3), by an angel (14:6) and by the testimony of those who come to Christ during that time. Many souls will be drawn to Christ but the church as we know it today may have been removed by the rapture.

John is told that there will be a trampling of the holy city for three and one half years.  Historically, Jerusalem has been trampled by Babylonians, Greeks and Romans. But this is a particular reference to the Antichrist turning against Israel during the second half of the seven year tribulation.

11:3 “And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.”

Who are the two witnesses, these two great end time prophets?  Some believe they are not two individuals but representative of the faithful, witnessing and persecuted church going forth with great anointing and power in the last days.  Others believe they represent, in their dying, the martyred church of the last days.  But given the detail that they are dressed in sackcloth, and the specific details of their ministry, it would be better to interpret them as actual persons.  Sackcloth is a garment associated with mourning and penitence (Matt. 11:21), indicating a prophetic witness which calls for repentance.

Some believe that they are literally Moses and Elijah.  At the very least, they are end time prophets raised up by Christ who minister in the spirit of Moses and Elijah.  Note their commission: “They will prophesy.”  This word, as used in the New Testament, does not necessarily refer to predicting the future.  It means to preach, to proclaim.  They will inform the world that the disasters which have experienced are nothing other than the judgment of God.  They will preach repentance and salvation through faith in Christ, proclaiming grace and warning that the age of grace is soon to end and final judgment is imminent. 

Notice that the period of their ministry is the same as the time allowed for the trampling of the holy city, three and one half years, which we interpret as the second half of the tribulation.  As the outpouring of wrath reaches its crescendo, so the preaching of the Gospel rises to new heights of power and anointing.  

Whoever these two witnesses are, there are several truths presented here:

1. God will always have a witness, even in the most terrible times.

2. The church is always a witnessing church, even in the face of death.

3. The anointing grows in relation to the evil confronting the church.  (“The bolts of your gates will be iron and bronze, and your strength will equal your days” (Deut. 33:25).

11:4 “These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.”

The two witnesses are said to be two olive trees and two lampstands, recalling the prophetic vision of  Zechariah 4:1-14.  As lampstands they are light bearers, proclaimers of truth.  They are also olive trees.  A lamp in John's day was kept shining by olive oil, symbolic of the Holy Spirit.  The two witnesses bear oil, the presence of the Holy Spirit, that they might shine light in the darkest hour of human history.  

In one sense, these two represent the church through out the ages. The church universal has already been identified as lampstands (Rev. 1:20). The church carries the oil of the Holy Spirit that we might continue to be God’s light-bearers. It is the presence, power and life of the Spirit that makes our witness effective.

In the same sense, these two represent the priestly function of the church.  In the Old Testament, priests would bring oil to the altar and put it in the lamps.  Under the New Covenant, all believers are royal priests and we carry the presence and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit into the lives of hopeless, lost and hurting people.  We are to let our light shine so that God may be revealed and glorified.

We are reminded of the words of Isaiah, “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them” (Isa. 9:2). Matthew quotes these words in reference to the ministry of Jesus (Matt. 4:16) who truly is the Light of the world. But this is also true of the church, of whom Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house” (Matt. 5:14,15). So it will be at the end of the age — the glory of Jesus will not be hidden. He will set His lampstand on a high place where all can see and the murderous rage of the Antichrist will not quench the light.

But these two are not merely symbolic of the church or the priesthood.  They are two powerful witnesses raised up by God to make one last, urgent appeal to the unredeemed.

11:5,6 “And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.”

The two witnesses are protected by the power of God and are modeled somewhat after Elijah and Moses.  Like Elijah they have power to consume their enemies with fire (2 Kings 1:10) and to prevent rain (I Kings 17:1).  Like Moses they can turn water into blood (Exodus 7:14) and call down plagues (Exodus 8:12).

Their authority is a demonstration of the irresistible, sovereign will of Christ and their preaching is a demonstration of the mercy of Christ. His gospel will be preached.

11:7 “When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them.”

The beast comes out of the abyss to make war on the two witnesses.  He is not referred to as a beast but the beast, the first of many references to this being, also known as Antichrist, who plays a major role in the events of Revelation and of whom we will learn much more in chapters 13 and 17.  The fact that he comes up out of the abyss, the place of demonic imprisonment (Luke 8:31, Revelation 9:2,3) does not mean that he is demonic in origin.  It does mean that his power and authority are entirely demonic. This is a man with a demonic anointing.

He will make war with the witnesses, engage in a violent struggle.  But has there not always been conflict between the kingdoms of the world and the witnessing church?  We are reminded that the Greek word for witness is martus, from which we derive the English word martyr.  To be a messenger of the Gospel has always been sacrificial work.

The beast will “overcome them and kill them” but not until “they have finished their testimony.”  The word finish is the Greek word teleo which speaks of completeness. Paul used the same word when he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). Jesus shouted from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). That word, tetelestai, is the perfect tense of teleo, denoting something that is complete and will continue to be complete.

God empowers the two witnesses to fulfill His purpose and design for their lives. The apparent victory of the beast is still contained within the sovereign purpose of God. Yes, the two witnesses are martyred but not until they complete their assignment.

May we also see something of our own lives in this.  Eventually we will each be overcome by death, unless the Lord returns first.  But hopefully we will each complete the purpose for which God created and redeemed us.  The goal of the Christian life is not long life but fulfilled purpose.  

A few hours before He went to the cross, Jesus prayed to the Father, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do” (Jn. 17:4). The word accomplished is teleioo, related to the word teleo. Jesus completed the ministry His Father had given Him.  As the apostle Paul approached the end of his life, he also was able to testify of his fulfillment of the purpose of God (2 Tim. 4:7).  As it is said of these two witnesses, may it also be said of us, “When they finished their testimony.”  

No doubt these two witnesses play a major role in the end time harvest of Jews but though many will respond in faith, there will also be violent opposition.  Calling people to repent does not always result in conversion.  

In Acts 2:37, after Peter preached to the crowd in Jerusalem, the people “were pierced to the heart”and cried out, “What shall we do?”  Peter exhorted them to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins and there were added to the church that day about three thousand souls.  But in Acts 5:33, after Peter testified to the authorities, we read, “They were cut to the quick and intended to kill them.”  Both groups were pierced by the truth.  One responded with repentance, one with murderous intent.

Ahab listened to one of the greatest of all prophets, but referred to Elijah as the “troubler of Israel” (I Kings 18:17).  Herod feared John the Baptist, but cut off his head as a party favor.  The world has always been troubled by Godly witness and well it should.  Truth always exposes lies, light always overcomes darkness.  However, the world lies in the power of the evil one and many prefer darkness to light.  So we are warned that friendship with such a world is enmity with God.

11:8 “And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.”

The bodies of the two witnesses are left unburied, a show of disrespect for truth-speakers who dared to confront the Antichrist, who called people to repentance and faith in the true God.  This is done in “the great city” which here is said to be, symbolically, Sodom and Egypt (the word mystically is literally spiritually).

We interpret this city to be Jerusalem, “Where also their Lord was crucified.”  But in a larger sense, just as Sodom and Egypt hated God and despised His Word, so every city of the world has rejected Christ,  lives in violent rebellion against His Lordship and would have crucified Him if He had preached in their midst. 

Sodom refers to the depths of moral depravity in the city of the world.  Egypt refers to the oppressive world system which seeks to enslave the people of God.  Though this city is Jerusalem, it is also the world under the oppressive, perverse, evil rule of the Antichrist.  That spirit has always risen up in the cities of the world system, persecuted and sought to destroy the witness of the true church.

11:9 “Those from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations will look at their dead bodies for three and a half days, and will not permit their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb.”

The hatred of the world system for the two witnesses who dared to call for repentance, who dared to confront sin, leads to this expression of contempt.  The bodies will be left unburied and all the people of the world will look on.  

By the way, before the advent of television and world wide news coverage, how would the people from every tribe and tongue and nation have looked at this spectacle? This passage of Scripture, written toward the end of the first century, portrays media capability that would not be available for another 1900 years. What an incredible proof of the accuracy of the Word of God!

The dead bodies of the two witnesses are not symbolic of a spiritually dead church but a spiritually alive church that is martyred because it is alive, put to death because it speaks a living Word to a world that is dying in its sin.  The two witnesses represent a faithful remnant that has always been willing to bear witness of the truth even at the cost of their lives.

In the purpose of man, the death of the witnesses appears to be a victory.  But in the purpose of God, it is not a defeat.  Remember that these two completed their testimony, fulfilled God’s calling for their lives and ministry.  They were faithful, not defeated.  Jesus said to the church at Smyrna, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).

11:10 “And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and celebrate; and they will send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.”

“Those who dwell on the earth” refers to unbelievers and indicates that the celebration involves more than just one city.  The people caught up in the world system rejoice at the death of the witnesses who dared to confront their sin.  They celebrate, joyfully exchanging gifts.  Why?  Because they were “tormented” by these two prophets who proclaimed truth in a context of lies, shined light in a world dominated by darkness and their ministry was verified by true miracles and signs of God’s power.

By the way, people who say, “I can’t believe in a God who torments people in hell,” need to understand what it is that torments people. Truth torments those who are given over to lies. Light torments those who are given over to darkness. Holiness torments those who are given over to depravity. Mercy and kindness torment those who are given over to hatred. Justice torments those who are give over to injustice and oppression. When demons encountered Jesus, they cried out, “What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” (Matt. 8:29).

11:11 “Now after the three-and-a-half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them.”

The celebration of the unbelieving world is short lived.  After three and a half days the breath of life came into the two witnesses and they stood on their feet.  This event will be carried live on world wide media systems. Can you imagine the astonishment!

God can breathe on dry bones and cause them to live.  God can breathe life into dead bodies, dead circumstances, dead churches, dead marriages.  God can speak into a dark tomb and call forth Lazarus a million times over.

Great fear now comes on the people of the world.  If murder is the last resort of wicked humanity, then what can be done to a resurrection people?  If truth cannot be buried, if it rises up with each generation of truth speakers, then a world system built on lies and propaganda has no hope, no future and much to fear. 

Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears my word and believes Him who sent me, has eternal life and does not come into judgment but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).  If we have believed the word of truth and are living in union with the Lord who is truth incarnate, and if that Lord cannot die nor can His truth be destroyed, then we have already passed out of death and are living in that dimension of life known as eternity.

The Apostle Paul said, “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11). What can be done against a church that lives in resurrection power?

11:12 “And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here.’ Then they went up into heaven in the cloud, and their enemies watched them.”

A loud voice from heaven summons the two resurrected witnesses and they rise in a cloud, no doubt the cloud of God’s glory, as their enemies behold them. This was no secret rapture.  Everyone hears the voice, everyone sees them ascend.  It’s live on world wide media. 

The cloud is reminiscent of the fiery chariot and whirlwind that characterized Elijah’s ascent (2 Kings 2:11).  We are reminded of Jesus’ ascent, gathered in the cloud of God’s shekinah glory (Acts 1:9).

Some have wondered why the two did not resume their preaching ministry prior to their ascension.  Surely they would have commanded the attention of their audience. But centuries ago, Jesus preached, performed signs and wonders climaxed with the raising of Lazarus from the dead, yet many continued to reject Jesus and intensified their hostility after the resurrection of Lazarus. 

Jesus said, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31).  Though there were many who had responded to the preaching of the two witnesses, and more would respond in the future, much of this sin hardened world had rejected their testimony.  One more sermon would not have changed a heart that had chosen irrevocably to reject Christ.

11:13 “And in that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell; seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.”

As if God places an exclamation point on this resurrection, in that very hour, an earthquake levels a tenth of the city killing 7,000 people, terrifying the survivors and causing them to give glory to God.  Ezekiel prophesied a great earthquake before the end.  Zechariah says the Mount of Olives will be split in two. However, those prophecies probably refer to the worldwide earthquake described in Revelation 16:18 which will punctuate the end of God’s wrath.

Note the response of the people — they glorify God.  It is not just the earthquake — it is also the resurrection.  Both events demonstrate the power of God and evoke terror and praise.  The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God.  For some, this is a momentary praise expressing nothing more than abject terror.  But for others, it is the beginning of wisdom, signifying true repentance and faith in the living God.

In subsequent chapters, many people still follow the beast.  It may be that they are no longer capable of true repentance or faith, though capable of a momentary recognition of the power of God and being terrified into praise.  Some think that the people of that day have committed the unpardonable sin of deifying evil, of worshipping Satan to such a degree that they have blasphemed the Holy Spirit. It may be that they have passed so far into darkness that the Lord “will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness” (2 Thes. 2:11,12). Without question, though, there are those who give “glory to the God of heaven” because their hard hearts have been broken and penetrated by the light and the grace of God’s truth in Christ Jesus.

11:14 “The second woe is past; behold, the third woe is coming quickly.”

This may refer back to 8:13, when, after the fourth trumpet released judgments in the heavenlies, the eagle flying in midheaven proclaimed with a loud voice, “Woe, woe, woe.”  Three trumpets remained and each woe may refer to the sounding of a trumpet.  The fifth trumpet sounded in 9:1 and the sixth in 9:13 so only one trumpet or woe remains.  It is coming quickly, meaning the future hastens toward fulfillment.

11:15 “Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.’”

Now the seventh angel sounds his trumpet and immediately a great shout is heard in heaven, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ and He will reign forever and ever.”  Jesus resisted the temptation to accept the kingdoms of the world from Satan in exchange for worship of Satan.  Now He receives the kingdom from His Father as a result of the fulfillment of His Messianic ministry.

This seventh trumpet heralds the release of the final judgments of God on the world, the return of Christ and the establishing of the kingdom of God on earth.  Notice the absolute certainty, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord.”  This was a constant prophetic theme in Old Testament prophecy.  Daniel prophesied of the destruction of the kingdom of this world by the kingdom of God (2:31-45) and Zechariah spoke of a day when God would be “King of all the earth” (14:9).  

Isaiah prophesied of the coming Messiah, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this” (Isa. 9:6,7). The final victory of God on earth has been announced for centuries as an established, historical fact.

Notice also the expression, “The kingdom of the world,” singular, one kingdom.  Though there are many nations and governments in this world, a diversity of cultures and languages, its point of unity is its rebellion against God and its submission to the domination of Satan.  He is referred to as “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) and “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31).  Though God ordained governments for the good purpose of establishing peace and order in a fallen world of violent sinners, the reality is that the nations are in unified rebellion against God, refusing as one to submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and submitting as one to the lordship of Satan.  So it is the kingdom of the world, not kingdoms, over which God triumphs.

If John heard this shout in Heaven 1900 years ago, that the government of this world has become the government of our Lord and of His Christ, what must the powers of darkness think?  They understand that their defeat is certain, as is the final victory of God.  This inevitable outcome is shouted in a context of destruction on earth but it is the destruction of that which opposed God’s order.  God is not out of control.  God is exercising sovereign Lordship over these final events of history as He destroys the kingdom that opposed His kingdom.

One final note: though this is the final trumpet of Revelation, it is not the last trumpet of which Paul spoke in I Corinthians 15:52.  That trumpet was associated with the rapture of the church, which may have taken place before these events.  This seventh trumpet of Revelation announces the concluding judgments of God and His final victory. 

11:16,17 “And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, ‘We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign.’”

The response of heaven is an outburst of praise.  The elders seated on thrones before God now fall on their faces in worship.  Though this event is still in the future, heaven, unbound by time, rejoices in the triumph of Jesus as an accomplished fact. They rejoice because they realize that the event foreseen by the prophets, announced by the angel Gabriel to Mary, is about to be fulfilled: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:31-33).

They give thanks to God because He is Almighty, because He is timeless and because “you have taken your great power and have begun to reign.” Their hymn of praise speaks of the reign of God as though it has already begun, so certain is it.  As in 1:8 and 4:8, God is the Lord God, the Almighty.  This is the God who is powerfully able to accomplish all that He purposes to accomplish.  He is the One who was and is and is to come, the Eternal God who has purposed the end from the beginning. 

God declares what is to come because it is certain. He dwells simultaneously before time, beyond time and within time. He declares the end from the beginning because He is present at the end and at the beginning and therefore sees with perfect clarity that which was, is and will be.

11:18 “And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.”

The reign of God is established over against the rage of the nations.  Echoing Psalm 2, the nations rage and kings take counsel against God.  In the midst of judgment and warning, grace proclaimed and mercy offered, many will harden their hearts. Notice that the world is moving from terror to rage. Mercy offered, judgment outpoured, only intensifies unbelief in the hearts of many.  God answers with opportunity to repent but soon the age of grace will be ended.  

The song of the elders also anticipates the resurrection and reward of the prophets and saints.  Our reward will be based on our works, though our works are a gift of God, prepared for us even as we are prepared to do those works (Ephesians 2:10).  Nevertheless, we are exhorted to labor with an expectation of reward (I Corinthians 3:8-15).

Along with reward for the faithful, God will “destroy those who destroy.”  They will reap what they have sown. Their future judgment is certain, it is declared in heaven.

11:19 “And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm.”

As the song of praise goes forth, the heavenly sanctuary opens, revealing lightning and thunder and earthquake and hail, which express the intensifying judgment of God being poured out on earth. It is as though heaven itself shakes to contain the praises of this God who sends forth both redeeming grace and righteous anger.

The opening of the temple promises a future of unbroken communion with God.  John is given a glimpse of the ark of the covenant.  The ark symbolized the open presence of God to His people and the faithfulness of God in fulfilling covenant promises.  To a church preparing to enter great conflict, it is good to be reminded of the presence of a God who “will not fail you nor forsake you,” a God who will fulfill His promises to destroy the enemies of truth and mercy and bring His covenant people safely home.

Notice that judgment proceeds from the holy place. Judgment is not antithetical to holiness or lovingkindness or any quality of God.  Flowing from the Holy of Holies is mercy to those who repent and give glory to God; and wrath to those who persist in rebellion.  In the midst of unimaginable wrath, God opens the way into His presence for all who will come by way of the blood of the Lamb.

Study Questions

1. The two witnesses were killed only after they “have finished their testimony.” What does that say about the sovereignty of God in your life? (see v 7).

2. In verse 15 there is a great shout in heaven, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” How does the certainty of Christ’s triumph impact your faith in challenging times?

Revelation 12

Revelation 12

Before the final plagues of God's wrath are poured out (chapter 15 and following), John pauses to reiterate the underlying causes of spiritual conflict and persecution which the church has endured.  Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15:20).

What the church experiences as persecution is really the age long rebellion of Satan against God.  Although Jesus defeated and disarmed the powers of darkness on the cross and then rose from the dead in absolute victory, Satan continues his struggle.  Cast out of heaven, he knows his time is short, knows his defeat is certain and so he rages against the people of God.

The persecution which the church endures is only the death struggle of a defeated foe.  Though this results in terrible tribulation, the outcome is assured.  God will destroy His enemies (chapters 15-19) and reward His faithful people (chapters 20-22). 

12:1 “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars;”

A sign is a symbol pointing to something else.  The woman is to be understood as a sign, not an actual person.  She is a representation of the nation Israel but in a larger sense, she also represents the covenant people of God comprised of Jewish and Gentile believers, the faithful remnant, the Messianic community in every generation. 

In the Old Testament, Israel is pictured as the wife of God: “For your husband is your Maker, whose name is the Lord God of Hosts” (Isaiah 54:5,6). In Jeremiah 3:6-8, the Lord threatens to divorce Israel because of her unfaithfulness.  Through Ezekiel, God accuses Israel of adultery, due to spiritual unfaithfulness.  In Hosea 2:16, God speaks of the day when Israel will again call Him, “My husband.” Throughout the prophecies of Hosea and in the Song of Solomon, the Lord reveals Himself as the Bridegroom Messiah who is redeeming a holy Bride.

Israel was the wife of God, sometimes faithful, often faithless.  But there was always a righteous remnant, the community of faithful Jews waiting for the fulfilling of God’s kingdom promises and the coming of Messiah.  In New Testament days, the true Bride is that community of Jews and Gentiles who are born of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  The Apostle Paul said, “For I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin” (2 Corinthians 11:2).  In Revelation 21:2,9 the church is described as “a bride adorned for her husband” and the “bride, the wife of the Lamb.”

So this woman in chapter 12 represents not only the nation of Israel but also the community of the faithful in every generation, Gentile and Jew, betrothed to Christ and waiting faithfully for the return of the Bridegroom Messiah.

Even as God clothes Himself “with light as with a garment” (Psalm 104:2), so the woman is “clothed with the sun.”  Living a life of worship in communion with the Lord, abiding in Him, she reflects the radiance of her Lord.  The world may ridicule the church and hold her in contempt, but in God’s sight she is a radiant bride.

Even as the sun cannot be extinguished, neither can the light of Christ shining through His true church.  Paul says we are “children of light” (Eph. 5:8). We are a burning bush in the wilderness of a fallen world showing forth the glory of God. 

The moon beneath her feet may speak of her dominion.  Jesus said to His disciples, and through them to all who follow Him and serve His kingdom purpose, “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy” (Luke 10:19).  Our authority is derived from the absolute sovereignty of Jesus who said, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples” (Matthew 28:18, 19).

The starry crown is the word stephanos, the wreath awarded to victorious athletes in the Greek games. She is the church triumphant through trial and tribulation, faithful through the ages. The twelve stars may represent the twelve tribes of Israel or the twelve apostles.

12:2 “and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth.”

As the Bride of Christ, she travails to give birth to those things which God desires to bring forth in history.  The Old Testament saints travailed toward the fulfilling of God’s purpose.  For instance,  Isaiah spoke of Israel as a woman with child, “Who writhes and cries out in her labor pains” (Isaiah 26:17,18  see also Isaiah 54:1 and 66:7-12).  

New Testament saints travail toward the birthing of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.  The Apostle Paul said, “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19).  He spoke of his work among the Thessalonians as “labor and travail” (2 Thessalonians. 3:8).

We travail in prayer and witness to see the rule of God’s grace birthed into succeeding generations.  We travail over lost souls seduced by wicked, deceiving, enslaving cultures.

12:3 “Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems.”

Now another sign appears — a great red dragon with seven heads.  John will let us know who this is in 12:9 and in 20:2.  It is the devil, Satan.  It was not uncommon in the Old Testament for the enemies of Israel to be depicted as serpents (Psalm 74:14   Isaiah 27:1   Ezekiel 29:3   Job 40:18).

The dragon describes not only the source of evil — Satan, but also the systems of evil through which Satan operates.  Evil manifests in this world through the corrupt, sinful personalities of unredeemed men and women who express their true nature through the economic, cultural, artistic and political systems of this world.

Red speaks of the murderous nature of Satan, who was “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44).  The seven heads speak of completeness, the universality of his power.  Though the devil is neither omnipotent nor omnipresent, it is true that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (I John 5:19).  His presence can be experienced in every aspect of fallen human civilization.

Horns speak of power and ten represents a fulness of power. At that time in world history, Satan will have perfectly incarnated himself in the personality of the Antichrist and will have greater access to systems of power that ever before. He also has seven diadems (diadema, a royal crown) which represent his unobstructed access to governments and ruling authority. The crowns also speak of Satan's presumption of royalty, his counterfeit claim to kingship over against the King of kings and Lord of lords upon whose head are many crowns (Rev. 19:12,16).

The seven heads, ten horns and seven crowns recall the ten-horned beast of Daniel 7:7,24 and represent Satan multiplying his strategies and malevolent purpose through various principalities in the heavenlies, through angels and archangels of darkness.  They also represent seven earthly kingdoms that have dominated world history and the final manifestation of secular power in ten kingdoms that will rule under the dominion of the Antichrist.

12:4 “And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.”

Satan has always opposed the spread of God’s rule by sweeping away light.  He opposes truth, hides truth, steals truth, twists and destroys truth.  In Eden he questioned the Word of God, asking Eve, “Has God said?” (Genesis 3:1); then lying and contradicting the revealed Word of God, “You surely will not die” (Genesis 3:4).  He is the one who plucks up the seed, the Word of God, before it can take root in anyone’s heart (Matthew 13:19). He is “the god of this world (who) has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).

This also references his seduction of other angels, suggesting that one-third of the host of heaven were swept away in Satan's rebellion against God.  In Isaiah 14:4-15 and Ezekiel 28:11-18 we read what many Bible scholars believe to be allegorical references to the rebellion of Satan in heaven.  Many believe it was at that time that Satan seduced other heavenly beings to join him.

The dragon stands ready to devour whatever the woman births.  At the beginning of human history, “Cain, who was of the evil one, slew his brother” (I John 3:12).  Why?  Because righteous Abel represented a Godly line through Adam and Eve and Satan knew that someday a deliverer would be born from that line (Genesis 3:15).  His desire was to destroy the redeeming purpose of God at its very root.

Also, Abel was a righteous worshipper of God, bringing the sacrifice for sin which God required, from “the firstlings of his flocks,” (a blood sacrifice, Gen. 4:4). Cain brought an offering “of the fruit of the ground,” (Gen. 4:3, the works of his own hands), representing man-made religion and its vain attempt to be reconciled to God by our own works.

Jealous of a true worshipper, Cain murdered his brother. Satan has always been enraged at true worshippers and has attempted to devour them throughout the centuries.

Nebuchadnezzar sought to devour Israel, “He has swallowed me like a monster, he has filled his belly with my delicacies” said the prophet  (Jeremiah 51:34).  Herod sought to destroy the Christ child.  Jesus was tempted, persecuted and finally crucified.  

For one thousand years the Word of God was unavailable in the languages of the people as the leaders of the apostate, institutional church taught salvation through ritual and sacrament. Those men and women who brought reformation, preaching salvation by grace through faith in Christ and translating the Bible into the languages of the people, were persecuted, hunted down and often put to death.

So in every generation Satan attempts to seduce the church into sleep and to devour that which is awake and alive.  Satan has always sought to devour the purpose of God.

12:5 “And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne.”

As we have said, the woman represents the covenant people of God in every generation but in a special sense here, she represents the righteous remnant on earth when Messiah was born (and Mary as a member of that community).  Their prayers, their righteous, faithful lives formed a community into which God could birth His Son on earth.  We have no doubt who He is.  This One born of woman “will rule all the nations with a rod of iron,” as prophesied in Psalm 2.  He was also “caught up to God and to His throne” — ascended to heaven.  This is the Son of God and Son of Man, Jesus Messiah.

In a more general sense, we may say that God has continued to conceive kingdom life in His people and birth kingdom life through them.  The church, the body of Christ on earth, walks with the mind of Christ doing those things which we see and hear from our heavenly Father.  God continues to form Himself in His people and release His life and purpose through us.

Even as Jesus ascended to the throne of God, so His body on earth, the church, sets its mind on things above (Colossians 3:1,2).  Though we are in the world, we are not of it (John 17:14-16).  We are seated in heavenly places with Christ (Ephesians 2:6).  This speaks of our communion with Him and through that communion, God continues to form in us and birth through us His purpose on earth.

12:6 “Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God, so that there she would be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.”

Spiritual war on earth is a reflection of the spiritual war in the heavenlies.  God's people have often been in flight but God always provides a way of deliverance and provision.  Israel fled Egypt, but God provided for them in the wilderness with manna from heaven, streams of water in the desert, a covering of fire and cloud and intimate fellowship with the Lord their Deliverer.  

Elijah fled after so great a victory, but God used ravens to feed him (I Kings 17:2).  Joseph and Mary fled with the child, but God provided a word of warning and resources for the journey through the gifts of the Magi (Matt. 2:11-14).  The church fled Jerusalem before the rebellion against Rome broke out, thereby escaping the destruction of the city and the slaughter of its citizens.

God’s people have often been persecuted but God has prepared a way and a place of refuge and provision for His people on earth.  Sometimes that way is through martyrdom into the presence of God.  Other times, God miraculously provides a way of escape but always the ministry to that generation is fulfilled.

Though the last days will witness a terrible genocidal massacre of the righteous, God will, at the same time, preserve and nourish His remnant of witnesses.  The point here is not the fleeing but the provision.  Wilderness, to a person of faith, does not speak of desert or heat but of manna and water from a rock and spiritual covering and intimacy with God. God promises those facing persecution and martyrdom that He will provide a spiritual refuge enabling them to withstand in the evil day and endure to the end while fulfilling His purpose.

Notice that the duration of God’s provision corresponds to the time of the most intense persecution — one thousand two hundred and sixty days (see 11:2  13:5).  This is interpreted to be the second half of the seven year tribulation, as demon hordes are released on earth in unprecedented number and Satan desperately pours out his wrath on the redeemed and on Israel.

In addition to the Lord preserving His witnesses and evangelists, many commentators believe that this is also a reference to the multitude of Jews who will come to Christ during these last days, whom God will hide and nourish during the last half of the tribulation. This is that period when Antichrist will break his covenant with Israel, set up his abominable idol in the rebuilt Jerusalem temple and attempt to destroy the Jewish people.  But God will preserve His faithful remnant, as He has throughout history.

12:7,8 “And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven.”

Contrary to popular myth, Satan does not exist in hell nor does he administrate the affairs of hell.  He has never been to hell and will never see it until his final rebellion is crushed at the end of the millennium.  When he is placed there, cast into the lake of fire, he will be in charge of nothing.  Hell will be for Satan a place of incarceration and unimagined, uninterrupted torment.

If the devil is not in hell, then where is he? He roams the earth, “Seeking someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8).  Jesus refers to him as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31  14:30  16:11). John says, “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (I Jn. 5:19). He also stands before the throne of God, accusing believers (Revelation 12:10).  Paul calls him “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). He is described by Jesus as the father of lies and a murderer (John 8:44).  He disguises himself as an angel of light in order to deceive (2 Corinthians 11:3,14). 

His goal is to unify the world under his leadership so that he may be worshipped. The establishing of this goal requires that he prevent Jesus from establishing His kingdom on earth, in the hearts of people and ultimately, in the millennial kingdom.  To this end he attempts to deny the Word of God to those who seek the Lord, to destroy the faith of those who have come to the Lord, and to kill those whose faith he cannot destroy.

But we are told that on the cross, Jesus rendered “powerless him who had he power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).  On that cross, Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities” (Col. 2:15).  Therefore John declares, “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (I John 4:4). Satan was defeated at the cross and understands the certainty of his future in hell.  But he continues to oppose the plans and people of God and will not cease his violent opposition until he is thrown into the lake of fire. 

Since Satan’s initial rebellion, there has always been war in the heavenlies but in that future day that John sees, the conflict between Michael and his angels and the devil and his angels reaches a crescendo as a prelude to the final conflict on earth. We are not told how this war is fought or how it is different from that which has raged for ages.  We are told only that it takes place.

Michael has known Satan since they were both created and they have opposed one another before.  In Daniel 10, we read that the prophet had been praying for three weeks but God’s answer was delayed because of demonic opposition; a powerful demon had withstood a holy angel until Michael “one of the chief princes,” came to assist the holy angel.  In Daniel 12:1, Michael is described as “the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people.”  In Jude 9, Michael is described as an archangel who disputed with the devil over the burial of the body of Moses.

In this final heavenly conflict, Satan is defeated and loses whatever place he had in heaven.  We don't know how Satan had continued access in heaven but at this time, it is lost irrevocably.  This fall was alluded to in Isaiah 14:12, “How you are fallen from heaven, O day star of the morning.”  It is possible that Isaiah was speaking of Satan’s prehistoric fall from his position in heaven as one of God’s mighty angels, though he continued to have access to heaven.  But after this battle described in Revelation 12:7,8, he has no further access to the presence of God.

12:9 “And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”

The dragon is now thrown down to earth with his angels.  Dragon is a way of representing the terrible, malicious, destructive power of Satan.  He is also “the serpent of old” who, through deception and temptation, brought about the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

John identifies this dragon as the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.  What Jesus foresaw, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18), is now fulfilled at the closing of history.

Satan means adversary.  Originally not a proper name, it came to be one of the names of this evil being who opposes God’s people and purpose on earth.  Because Satan is the adversary of all that God is and does, he opposes all that God is doing in the lives of His covenant people.

He is also known as the devil, which means, slanderer, false accuser. He continually accuses people before God.  It was Satan who accused Job of honoring God only for the blessing he could receive (Job 1:6-11).  Zechariah is shown a vision of Satan accusing Joshua the high priest (3:1-10).

He is also the deceiver of the whole world.  He deceived Adam and Eve, put it in the heart of Judas to betray Jesus (John 13:2).  He sought to destroy Peter in the hour of trial (Luke 22:31).  Paul warns of his evil devices (2 Cor. 2:11).  His false prophets will “deceive those who dwell on the earth” (Rev. 13:11-15 ), even attempting to lead the elect astray, if that were possible (Matt. 24:24).

Adversary, accuser, deceiver — he has always been the enemy of the people of God.  His defeat was assured at the cross, where the Lamb of God insured that no charge could ever again be laid against the elect (Romans 8:33-34).  At the cross, Satan lost legal access for his accusations.

Now, following the conflict with Michael, having lost any access to heaven and knowing that his time is short (12:12), Satan will turn his great wrath upon the representatives of God on earth — the church and the nation of Israel — as never before.  This final outpouring of violence and hatred is the result of the final defeat of Satan in the heavenlies.

12:10 “Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night.’”

The throwing down of Satan evokes another song of praise from saints and angels in heaven.  The defeat of Satan in the heavenlies demonstrates the salvation, power and kingdom rule of God and the authority of His Christ.  Even though the fulfillment of God’s kingdom purpose is still in the future, heaven sings as if it is present for they know that the kingdom plans of God cannot be prevented.  

In chapter one verse one, John was shown “these things which must soon take place” (1:1).  “Soon” has taken longer than the church has expected but the end is certain. Because heaven dwells in eternity, they are already witnessing and celebrating “these things which must soon take place.”

Paradoxically, even as heaven sings this song, the intensity of warfare is mounting on earth.  The accuser has been cast down to the earth but heaven’s cleansing is earth’s pollution.  The foe, already declared to be defeated, pours out hatred upon the people of God.  

12:11 “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.”

Yet the church overcomes.  Not only was Satan defeated at the cross, not only is he defeated in the heavenlies by Michael, he is also defeated on earth by faithful believers.  They overcome him by the blood of the Lamb and the Word of their testimony.  Satan is defeated in eternity by the cross and in time by the church redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.

We are by nature overcomers, the Apostle John says (I John 4:4).  We are overcomers because the blood of the Lamb has released us from our sins (1:5), has redeemed us to be a kingdom of priests (1:6) and established our right to reign on earth with Christ (5:9,10).

The church overcomes by its testimony, which is the worship of Jesus and the proclaiming of His cross, His resurrection and His coming kingdom.  This faithful testimony, though unto death, allows the saints to share in the victory procession of Christ.  Though that procession may end under heaven’s altar, the refuge of the martyrs, it is still true that they overcame.

The church overcomes because it loves the Lord Jesus more than its own life.  The church that loves its brand, its customer and cash flow, its cultural acceptance and approval, will always be overcome. But the church that gives up its life for Jesus and for His truth, will live in union with the risen Christ and wil therefore always rise and overcome.

True saving faith perseveres even unto death.  Jesus said, “The one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (Matthew 24:13). Endurance is the proof of true, saving faith.

12:12 “For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.”

The song of praise now invites all of heaven to rejoice.  But woe is spoken over the earth and sea, for the devil has come down in great wrath, knowing that his time is short.  Satan knows that the time between his defeat in the heavens and his final defeat on earth is brief, probably only the second half of the tribulation, three and a half years.  His time is short but his wrath is great.

12:13 “And when the dragon saw that he was thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child.”

Having failed to defeat the child (Jesus) and having been cast out of heaven and knowing that his time is brief, Satan will make war on the woman as never before.  The word persecute (dioko) means to pursue, to chase, to hunt.  The mother may represent the nation of Israel and therefore Satan’s persecution of Israel. But also, as we have said, she represents all of the people of God on earth, the community of faith, Gentile and Jew, who have received Messiah and now carry His Gospel across the earth. 

Unable to attack Jesus directly, Satan will attack, chase and hunt those who represent Him in this world.  In fact, to attack the church is to attack Jesus.  As Saul was on the road to Damascus, he was enveloped in a blinding light, fell to the ground and heard a voice asking him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  Saul replied, “Who are you Lord?”  He heard a voice say, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”  In persecuting the church, Saul was persecuting Jesus.

Jesus warned of this persecution, “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet standing in the holy place ... then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains ... For then there will be a great tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world” (Matthew 24:15-22).  Jesus goes on to say that the distress will be so great, the elect would have perished except for God’s intervention.  

We should note that when God chastises Israel or the church, it is for the purpose of discipline in order to bring His covenant people to repentance.  When Satan attacks, it is for the purpose of destruction.  God disciplines, Satan destroys.  But in spite of thousands of years of persecution, neither the Jewish people nor the church have been destroyed.  Both exist as a burning bush among the nations.  God will preserve this light even in history’s darkest hour.

12:14 “But the two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman, so that she could fly into the wilderness to her place, where she was nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent”.

God provides a means of escape, the wings of the eagle, recalling the words of Exodus 19:4, “I bore you on eagle's wings and brought you to myself.”  The Lord said of Israel that he found him in the wilderness and cared for him as a mother eagle cares for her young (Deuteronomy 32:10,11).  Isaiah reminds us that, “Those who wait upon the Lord will mount up with wings as the eagle” (40:31).  The point is that in times of persecution, God will bring His church through.

Notice that God will deliver, shelter and nourish His people during this crisis.  This deliverance will be for a time (a year), times (two years) and half a time — three and a half years, the second half of the tribulation.

12:15,16  “And the serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, so that he might cause her to be swept away with the flood. But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and drank up the river which the dragon poured out of his mouth.”

There will be a great revival in Israel during the tribulation; many Jews will confess Jesus as their Messiah and a great army of evangelists will go forth from Israel to preach the Gospel around the world (see Rev. 7:4-8), leading to unprecedented harvest. As we have said, the woman represents the church, Jewish and Gentile believers, but also represents the nation of Israel. We will see in verse 17 that there is a separate reference to Satan’s attack on the church so this event must refer to Satan’s persecution of Jewish believers during the second half of the tribulation, his attempt to destroy God’s end time harvest in Israel.

The serpent releases a flood to sweep away the woman. In the Old Testament, floods were often used to depict chaos and evil (Psalm 18:4) and to depict trials. But God is faithful, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you” (Isaiah 43:2). Whatever instrument of chaos, violence and evil this flood represents, God supernaturally overcomes the flood.  

Jesus said that He would build His church and the gates / strategies of hell would not overcome it.  This is not only true at the end of time; it has always been so.  There is continual demonic presence and influence in the affairs of this world but Jesus is still able to calm the storm. Satan will attempt to destroy God’s end time harvest but he will not prevail. Jesus will deliver this remnant of believing Jews through the persecution during the last half of the Tribulation and into His millennial rule on earth.

12:17 “So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”

Enraged by his inability to destroy the woman (as we have said, a reference to Jewish believers and the end time harvest in Israel), the devil goes off to make war with the rest of her offspring.  These offspring are those “who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”  This must refer to the rest of the church world wide, that great end time harvest of souls from every tribe and tongue and nation. They will surely be delivered for it is not merely that they hold to the testimony of Jesus.  More to the point, it is Jesus who holds them in His hands and no one will remove them (John 10:27-29).

Study Questions

1. Whether you interpret the woman in verse 6 as Israel or the church, what does it mean that the Lord will nourish her during these years of tribulation?

2. In any generation, how do we overcome the devil? (see v. 11).

Revelation 13

Revelation 13

Revelation 13:1-7

In the last days of world history, as the governments and nations of the world disintegrate, as economies fail, as nature itself unravels, as war, famine and death multiply, the world will look for a strong leader to restore order and peace and basic necessities.  Having rejected the true King of kings and Lord of lords, having despised God’s government, the kingdom of God, the world will be ruled by a false messiah, the Antichrist.  He will bring peace and prosperity for a season. But the price will be complete domination of every Christ-rejecting soul.  

For centuries, conquerors and emperors have dreamed of world empires, have declared themselves to be gods.  But the Antichrist will truly rule the world, will set up an idol to himself in the rebuilt Jerusalem temple and will demand the worship of all the earth.

The spirit behind him is ancient.  In the first century, John said, “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared” (I John 2:18).  The Apostle John, in his first epistle, said that the antichrist spirit manifests in anyone “who denies the Father and the Son” (I John 2:22). John also said, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 7).

As we move closer to the end times, religious deception will increase.  Jesus warned, “Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am He’ and will mislead many … For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect” (Mark 13:6,22). 

But all the multitude of religious deceivers will culminate in this one evil, demonized man. Daniel prophesied extensively of him (see Daniel 7 and 8).  The Apostles John and Paul taught the church about this man (I John 2,  2 Thessalonians 2).  Though he will provide a measure of world peace and order, he will blaspheme God, will persecute Israel and the true church and will institute the final false religion centered on the worship of himself.

Regarding the Antichrist’s declaration of himself as a god, Jesus said, “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains” (Matt. 24:15,16).  

The Apostle Paul spoke of “the man of lawlessness ... the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3,4).

We have already encountered the Antichrist in 11:7, described as “the beast that comes up out of the abyss” who makes war against the two witnesses and finally overcomes them.  Now we will see in detail his world wide power play, or more accurately, Satan’s power play through him.

Recall that in chapter 12, there was war in heaven between Michael and his angels and Satan and his angels and Satan was cast down to the earth.  He then launches his final effort to prevent Jesus from establishing His kingdom on earth by setting up the world wide kingdom of the false messiah, the Antichrist.  

It has always been true that Satan attempts to incarnate his purpose and plans in people.  Because he is a spirit being, he needs access to physical beings whom he can influence or control.  Paul speaks of  those who live “according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2).  Those who reject God, who disobey His truth in a vain attempt to be free, are in fact led, influenced and in some cases, entirely controlled by Satan.

The Antichrist, the beast, will be thoroughly demonized, completely under the command of Satan.  Using the visual terminology of Revelation, the dragon is the source of evil and the beast is the person and the system that carries out evil. The dragon conceives evil and incarnates evil in the soul of the beast. The beast then releases the destructive impact of that evil.

13:1 “And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore. Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names.”

The beast is now described as rising up out of the sea.  He is described in 11:7 as coming up “out of the abyss,” (and again in 17:8).  This is not a contradiction.  Although he is human, it is the abyss, the dwelling of demons, that gives birth to the beast.  His power and authority are entirely demonic.  But whereas the abyss describes the source of his power, the sea is a way of describing the circumstances that lead to his rising.  In Scripture the sea often symbolizes chaos.  

The sea also represents the nations and people groups of the world (see Rev. 17:15). Combining these images, we see the beast rising up out of the turmoil and anarchy of collapsing nations.

Notice that the dragon is standing on the shore, as though Satan summons the beast out of the chaos and upheaval of these stormy last days.  Out of such times, tyrannies and beasts do arise.  Napoleon rose to power during the lawless, godless, bloody aftermath of the French revolution.  Lenin and the communists seized power in Russia following the disastrous defeat of Russia during Word War I and the national collapse that followed.  Hitler seduced the German people as they staggered under the weight of the ruinous Treaty of Versailles, hyper-inflation and world wide economic depression.

So this last manifestation of the Antichrist spirit, the beast, will rise up out of the sea of world wide social, economic and political disintegration.  Interestingly, in verses one and two John describes the beast as if he were watching him rise up from the sea — horns, head, body, then feet (OK, then mouth. So it’s not exact but close).  This beast represents both the person and the kingdom of the Antichrist.  The empire is merged into the identity of the emperor, even as Hitler is indelibly joined to the Third Reich.

The beast has ten horns and seven heads, which are dealt with in more detail in Chapter 17.  Notice the similarity to the description of the dragon in 12:3.  Both the dragon and the beast have seven heads and ten horns, though the beast has ten crowns and the dragon has seven.

The horns speak of power, brute force.  The number ten may represent ten appointed rulers who administrate the world wide empire of the Antichrist under his absolute authority.  Or ten may be a symbolic number representing complete military, political and economic authority.  

The seven heads emphasize the beast’s relationship to the seven headed dragon, from whom he receives power and authority.  Seven symbolizes completeness.  The seven headed beast is the ultimate enemy of the believing church.

The crowns speak of rule.  The beast seeks to rule and, as we have said, incarnates and expresses the dragon’s lust to establish his kingdom across the earth, in opposition to the kingdom of God.

On his heads are blasphemous names which speak of the tendency of tyrants to assume god-like status.  Nero had the phrase "Savior of the world" stamped on his coins.  The Roman senate often conferred divinity upon living and deceased rulers.  Emperor Domitian demanded to be called “Domitus et Deus noster” — Our Lord and God.”  

Witness in our own times the self-aggrandizing ways of tyrants, demanding not mere allegiance but worship.  This is always blasphemy.  But the beast, energized by Satan’s unrepentant, unredeemable lust to be worshipped, will take this idolatry to its climax, setting himself up in the Jerusalem temple and demanding the worship of the world. 

The beast possesses the authority of Satan, blasphemes the name of God, wars against the saints and receives the worship of the pagan world.  In one sense, the beast has manifested from the Roman empire of John's day to the dictatorships of this century and the last.  Witness the Nazi boast of a thousand year reign as they saluted and shouted “Hail Hitler.”  But there will be in the last days one final manifestation of the beast, one final deifying of secular authority, one final rising up of the beast more terrible than any before.

13:2 “And the beast which I saw was like a leopard, and his feet were like those of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority.”

The beast is like a leopard, has the feet of a bear and the mouth of a lion, resembling three of the beasts of Daniel 7.  This describes qualities of the beast — the cunning and speed of a leopard, the power of a bear, the terrible, tearing, fierceness of a lion's mouth.  Some commentators also see here a reference to three powerful empires of the ancient world: the leopard representing the swiftness of Alexander the Great, the bear representing the power of the Medo-Persian Empire and the lion representing the fierceness of the Babylonian Empire.

The dragon / Satan gives power, throne and authority to this beast.  Satan will release his power and authority through this human instrument, the beast, the Antichrist. Satan will share his throne with the beast, even as Jesus shares His Father’s throne. But this is equally true of every empire that has set itself against God,  making war on the people of God while establishing ungodly kingdoms. Though it is God who ordains governments, many men and women have rejected the Godly use of their authority and in their rebellion have given themselves over to demonic power.

John’s perspective on the state complements that expressed by the apostles in Romans 13:1-6, I Timothy 2:1,2, and I Peter 2:13-17.  The Apostles Peter and Paul directed the church to pray for the emperor, honor him, pay the taxes which he levies and obey his laws. Why? Because God has ordained governments to keep peace and enforce order in a fallen world.

However, before they had completed their ministries, both apostles were executed by the emperors for whom they prayed.  Did they stop praying for the leaders of the Roman government? Surely not. Both wrote epistles shortly before their deaths (2 Timothy and 2 Peter) and at no time did either of them say, “By the way, I’ve changed my mind about the emperor. I’m not praying for him anymore because he is getting ready to kill me.”

We can be certain that their prayers for government leaders intensified. But it is also true that as the first century played out, persecution increased. Roman tolerance of the church gave way to an aggressive program of emperor worship and violent persecution for all who resisted.

Christians were required to choose between Kyrios Kaiser or Kyrios Kristos — Lord Caesar or Lord Christ.  The redeemed church chose to honor Christ.  This resulted in martyrdom. Peter and Paul and many of their brothers and sisters were executed by the emperors for whom they prayed. 

God has ordained governments to keep peace and enforce order in a fallen world. But when the state exceeds the limits of divinely ordained authority, when the state becomes a beast incarnating Satan’s lust for worship, the believer has no choice but to obey the Lord.  This does not relieve the church of the command of Scripture to pray for those in authority, to honor them, to pay our taxes and obey the laws of the state.  But insofar as those laws require us to deny Christ or violate His commands, we honor Christ and accept the consequences.

13:3 “I saw one of his heads as if it had been slain, and his fatal wound was healed. And the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast.”

One of the heads of the beast has been dealt a fatal wound (from a sword, 13:14).  But the wound is healed and the whole world follows the beast in amazement.  There are a variety of interpretations of this.  Some see in the wounding and healing of this one head, or kingdom, a revival of the Roman empire, which has been deceased for many centuries but which would be revived by the Antichrist.  

This theory is flawed because whereas verse 3 speaks of one head being fatally wounded, verse 14 speaks of the beast “who has come to life.”  It is not a kingdom that has been killed and resurrected but a person.  Further, the mere revival of an ancient empire would not astonish the world and cause the whole world to follow after the beast, as is described in verse three.

A key to interpreting this event is the phrase, “as if it had been slain” (13:3).  This is the same language that is used to describe the Lamb standing, “as if slain,” near the throne of God in 5:6. That is a reference to Jesus, the Lamb who was slain but who rose from the dead, who stands at the right hand of majesty yet bears the scars of His suffering.  

Evidently, the Antichrist is “killed” and resurrected in imitation of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  This will surely be a counterfeit death and resurrection, in keeping with the lying signs and wonders prevalent during the last days, as Paul describes, 

“For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way.  Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of his coming; that is, the one whose coming in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.  For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness” (2 Thessalonians 2:7-12). 

This false resurrection will amaze the world and cause many to believe and follow after the beast.  Having rejected the true risen Lord, they will be given over to lying wonders and deceptions.  Eastern religions and new age religions will condition the fallen, darkened minds of lost people to believe in a resurrected beast.  Possibly he will even attempt to pass himself off as a reincarnation of the Christ.  At a time when death is experienced in unprecedented measure, the world will rejoice in the Antichrist who, seemingly, has conquered even death.

There is a sense in which the beast has been continually rising throughout history.  The God-rejecting world system has always sought to destroy and devour the people of God, from Egypt to Babylon to Rome and into the 20th and 21st centuries.  And though each empire has in turn been dealt a mortal blow, another rises up to take its place.  The beast continually rises and manifests, century after century.  And deceived people continue to follow the beast.

Humanity was created to worship some absolute.  For many, the object of that worship is a beast who uses his power to inflict suffering and to enslave.  For others, it is a Lamb who accepted suffering and thereby released the power of God to redeem us from slavery.

13:4 “They worshiped the dragon because he gave his authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?’”

They worship the dragon through the beast.  The reason Satan lends his authority to the beast is for the purpose of gaining worship through the beast.  The deification of secular power is in fact Satan worship.  All idolatry is at its core, demon worship. 

The language of beast worship is a burlesque of true worship of the true God.  “Who is like the beast?”  But what attribute are they praising?  Is it that the beast heals, or saves, or delivers, or pours out mercy and blessing?  

No, it is his ability to wage war.  They worship his power.  And so the public worship of heads of state is usually accompanied by military parades, the public display of the power to make war and to conquer and destroy.  Of course, the weapons are accompanied by banners and trumpets, torches rather than candles, speeches replacing prayers, with symphonies and choirs singing the hymns of tyrant worship.

This question, “Who is like the beast?” is a blasphemous imitation of the worshipful cry of psalmist and prophet and true worshipper throughout the ages, “Who is like our God?”  This desire to steal the worship of God has been Satan’s desire from eternity when he said, “I will ascend to heaven, I will raise my throne above the stars of God ... I will make myself like the Most High,” (Isaiah 14:13,14).

Beast worship is nothing new.  Antiochus required this, described in Daniel 7:25 and 11:36.  The Roman emperors declared themselves to be gods.  Countless tyrants have attempted to confer divine status on secular government.  However, Satan’s lust for worship will be most fully realized in the Antichrist, “Who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God” (2 Thess. 2:4).  In worshipping the Antichrist, they are worshipping the devil who empowers him.

In fact, it is always true that when people worship false gods, whether they are heads of state or the deities of false religions, they are worshipping the demons which empower the deception.  Paul said, “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons” (I Cor. 10:20).

A second question is asked, “Who is able to wage war with him?”  The answer is, no one on earth.  God will remove His restraining hand (2 Thessalonians 2:7) allowing the beast to run his course according to God’s predetermined purpose, at God’s predetermined time in history.

13:5 “There was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies, and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him.”

It is given to the beast to utter “arrogant words and blasphemies.”  In verses 2 and 4 it is the dragon who gives power to the beast and surely the inspiration and empowerment for arrogance and blasphemy is from Satan.  But the devil is only serving the greater purpose of God, which is to give people over to the deception they have preferred.  They refuse to give worship to God, so God will give them over to worship the ultimate blasphemer of God, as Paul revealed in his second letter to the Thessalonians, “For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness” (2 Thessalonians 2:11,12).

Notice, again, that God gives a season to the beast for arrogance and blasphemy.  That season is 42 months, the second half of the tribulation.  The reign of the beast, even his blasphemy, is only by God's permission.  He does only what God allows, for the specified time that God ordains and only within the limits which God sets.

13:6 “And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, that is, those who dwell in heaven.”

The beast blasphemes God — His name, which represents the summation of His attributes and His tabernacle, which represents His holy, heavenly presence and the saints and angels who dwell in His presence. No doubt the beast-worshippers of the world will join their voices to this chorus of blasphemy. During this time of unprecedented divine judgment and grace, hearts will be so hard that many will refuse to repent, joining their voices in harmony with hell’s rising cacophony of hatred.

13:7 “It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him.”

Notice it was given to the beast to make war with the saints and to overcome them.  It does not say that it is God who gives this, but who else can give such authority?  Surely the inspiration and empowerment for arrogance and blasphemy and war against the saints is satanic, but any exercise of authority is ultimately given or permitted by God.  

There are three truths which must be noted here.

1. Even warfare against the saints takes place only within the permission of God.  The beast cannot overcome God’s people except, in the sovereign mystery of God’s will, it is given to him.  Governments are ordained by God for the purpose of establishing peace and maintaining order. Though men and women may exercise their authority in abusive, oppressive, demonically inspired ways, contrary to the purpose of God, this authority could not be exercised except that God allows it for the furtherance of His purpose on earth, in ways we may not understand.

2. The overcoming of the saints does not refer to the destroying of anyone’s faith.  True, saving faith is a gift from God and therefore, is eternal and indestructible.  The overcoming of the saints speaks only of the death of God’s people and death is never defeat for the people of God. Rather, it is just another way of giving Him glory, as the Psalmist reminds us, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones” (Psalm 116:15). When people would prefer to die rather than deny their faith or give up their ministry, God is glorified.

3. Even though the Antichrist will massacre the saints in unprecedented numbers, he wins no victory.  In 15:2 we read that it is the saints who come off victorious from the beast.  Whatever victories the beasts of this world may win, their triumph is momentary, temporary and quickly passing.  Daniel speaks of this beast with ten horns who “was waging war with the saints and overpowering them until the Ancient of Days came and judgment was passed in favor of the saints of the Highest One, and the time arrived when the saints took possession of the kingdom” (Daniel 7:21,22).

Emperors parade their power, boast of their god-likeness, blaspheme God and persecute His saints.  But each in turn passes into dust and so with this final lawless beast, “Whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming” (2 Thess. 2:8).  His end will be the lake of fire, while the saints possess the kingdom.  Indeed, “Blessed are the humble, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).  

The church should never fear the tyrant, in any age.  Rather, it is the tyrant who should fear the Lord of the church.  In a fallen world which persists in violent rebellion against God, we should expect persecution.  But we should also anticipate ultimate triumph and abundant blessing, trusting in the words of our Lord who said, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great” (Matthew 5: 10-12).

Notice that in these final days of history, the authority of the beast will be world wide, over every tribe and people and tongue and nation.  Though, as noted, the authority of the beast is from the dragon, it is still under the dominion of the true God in whom resides all power and authority.

Some will ask why God allows persecution, the killing of holy people at the hands of the unholy. The saints are killed because they are present, proclaiming truth, shining light and pouring out mercy. We must remember the necessity of sharing a holy, truthful, loving witness in the midst of unholy, deceived, violent people.  God’s great heart of mercy requires such a witness, for if the church did not preach the gospel, no one would hear and be saved.  

In the final days of history, when the Antichrist is exercising dominion across the earth, the season of grace has not ended, good news is still being preached, the light of Christ is still shining.  Though it is light in the midst of terrible darkness, the brightness of the truth will lead many to salvation.

That same light will reveal the hearts of those who love darkness more than light.  It is this exposing of ungodly hearts that inspires hatred and persecution.  There is always a precious cost when light is released into darkness. 

Considering these truths, that God’s mercy requires the preaching of the Gospel, and that this preaching leads not only to salvation for some but also, motivates violent response from many, we may say that persecution is inevitable.  Therefore Jesus promised,  “But before all these things they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you” (Luke 21:12).

“A slave is not greater than his master.  If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (Jn. 15:20).

Persecution is historical reality.  Thousands of believers are killed every year.  It is pervasive, occurring around the world in every century.  But persecution is temporary, all persecutors are limited in the extent of their power and the duration of their life.  

The church, though, is everlasting.  When even the dust of fallen empires is consumed in the fiery dissolution of the universe and the explosion of a new heavens and a new earth, the church will still be standing, gathered around the throne of God. 

Jesus said not to fear those who kill the body but not the soul.

Persecution is not a brief battle but a long war.  In this long war there are no cheap victories.  Every victory is through the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony.  And we do have a foretaste of ultimate victory in the resurrection of Jesus. 

Jesus did not say that we would not be persecuted.  He did say that He holds the keys to death and hell (Revelation 1:18).  He said, “In the world you have tribulation but take courage, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). 

Study Questions

1. What does it mean that the beast rises up out of the sea? (see v. 1).

2. Why does God allow persecution against His church? (see v. 7).

Revelation 13:8-18

13:8 “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.”

“All who dwell on the earth” is, throughout Revelation, John’s description of those who do not know the Lord.  All the unredeemed on earth will bow in worship to Antichrist’s rule.  The only exceptions will be those whose name is written in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.

The Lamb’s book of life is the registry of those whom God foreknew as His redeemed. Their names were written “from the foundation of the world,” that is, from eternity past.  They will not be deceived into false worship for they are kept by the power of God through time and into eternity, even as they were chosen before creation.  Paul also speaks of this truth, that God “chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).

This means that the Lord, from eternity, ordained some people to be saved and others to be lost no matter what choices we make. It means that the Lord choose to set His love on us from eternity past and to pursue us with grace, awaken us with grace and offer us the opportunity to turn to Him by grace, to believe Him by grace, that we might be saved by grace through faith.

The Lord also chose to keep us through time into eternity future. The saving work of Christ on our behalf is “to all who obey Him the source of eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5:9). Peter reminds us that we have been born again “to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you who are protected by the power of God through faith” (I Pet. 1:5). Peter also reminds us that we are “protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (I Peter 1:5). The word “protected” is a military word — phroureo — referring to the mounting of a guard, a watchman, for the purpose of keeping, guarding, protecting. Jesus said, “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (Jn. 10:28).

The rest of the world, those who reject the Lord, will be deceived into false worship.  Jesus warned of miracle working false messiahs who would deceive even the elect, if it were possible (Matthew 24:24).  Worship of the tyrant, and the government which he or she represents, is a subtle form of Satan worship and the ultimate offense against God in any century.  As we have said, worshipping the emperor is no different from any other form of idol worship.

Jesus refused to worship Satan at the beginning of His ministry (Matthew 4:8-10). During the first century, the church also refused to worship the devil through emperor worship and as a result, tens of thousands of Christians were slaughtered.  This abomination has continually manifested through the intervening centuries and will surface again at the end of history in its most powerful and persuasive form, gaining the worship of all on earth but the redeemed.

Notice that the book of life is “of the Lamb who has been slain.”  Our redemption was obtained by the precious blood of Christ and the Father will not allow the saving work of that blood to be nullified.  The saving work of Christ on our behalf is, as we have said, an eternal salvation.  It was decreed before time and endures beyond time.  It was established before the earth was created and will endure beyond earth’s destruction.  All the forces of hell cannot undo the everlasting salvation which Jesus has obtained on our behalf.  Before this book concludes, we will see these same saints whom Satan massacred on earth rejoicing in heaven — victorious and triumphant.

There is an alternate reading of this phrase, “Whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.”

It reads, “Whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”  We know that the work of Christ on our behalf was decreed from eternity.  Peter wrote that our salvation is obtained “with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world” (I Ptr. 1:19, 20).

Both translations support each other.  In eternity past, God the Father, God the Holy Spirit and God the Son agreed and decreed that Jesus would be the Lamb slain for the sins of the world and that His work would obtain everlasting salvation for all who believe.  That salvation was also foreknown and decreed from eternity.  Our names were written in the Lamb’s book of life before there was ever a creation or a sin committed.  The source of that salvation is the blood of  a Savior who committed to this saving work in eternity past.

It is not clear to our finite minds how God can decree and establish our salvation before we were born, before we had committed a sin, repented of sin or placed our faith in the saving work of Christ. This serves to remind us that truth is what God reveals to us in the Bible, His inspired word. Some of these truths we understand and some we believe and confess though the meaning is unclear. We believe and confess the truth, not because we always understand it but because it is true.

13:9 “If anyone has an ear, let him hear.”

The familiar warning is issued: “If anyone has an ear, let him hear.”  Previously, in the messages to the churches contained in chapters 2 and 3, these words were accompanied by the phrase, “What the Spirit says to the churches.” The omission of that phrase suggests that the church may no longer be in need of warning because it is not present, having been raptured. But I would not want to push the omission of this one phrase too far.

13:10 “If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints.”

We are admonished to accept whatever God has purposed for us, “If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes.” If we experience persecution, then let us persevere in faith.  In whatever circumstance we are found we must be faithful, steadfast in the promises of God.  Endurance, perseverance is the proof of faith.

“If  anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed.” The last of the end times will be characterized by unrestrained violence and in particular, persecution against the redeemed. Some interpret this verse as an absolute prohibition against any form of self defense. Rather, we are to patiently endure that which God has ordained (see for instance, Peter’s exhortation to endure injustice and suffering with patience, I Peter 2:18-23). Others interpret this as a warning against trying to spread or defend the Gospel with violence.  There have been times in history when the unredeemed institutional church has used military force to conquer people and land while pretending to spread the Gospel. What a contradiction, to use violence to proclaim the Good News of God’s grace and love! 

I would say that this is not a denial of the right to defend ourselves or our families. Rather, it prohibits the use of violence to spread the Gospel during a time of chaos and violence.

13:11 “Then I saw another beast come up out of the earth. He had two horns like those of a lamb, but he spoke with the voice of a dragon.”

Another beast rises up, this one out of the earth. Some interpret this as an institution, the organized false religion of the final world empire. But the word another (allos) means “another of the same kind.” This is not an institution but a person like the first beast. This is confirmed in 19:20, “And the beast was seized and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshipped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone” (further references to the false prophet are found in Rev. 16:13 and 20:10).  He is referred to as the false prophet because, as we will see, he provides the religious accompaniment to the political, military and economic domination of the Antichrist’s world empire.  

Notice that this false prophet rises up out of the earth, not as the Antichrist who rises out of the turbulent sea, that is, out of the chaos of his times. Rather, he rises out of that which is familiar — he is of the earth, non-threatening. This is important because his purpose is not to conquer but to seduce and persuade.  

Rising out of the earth, earthy, is a contrast with that which descends from heaven, heavenly. This speaks of his demonic empowerment. Though he is no less demonically empowered than the first beast, the package is quite different.

The two horns of a lamb are a symbolic way of saying that he will appear to be gentle, a counterfeit lamb of God to the Antichrist’s counterfeit messiah. Horns speak of authority and the two horns, as opposed to the ten horns of the first beast, is a way of saying that he possesses authority but he is less fierce, less mighty.  He is not like a lion, leopard or bear.  

His authority is demonic but comes in a package that looks like a lamb, while his words reveal the heart of a dragon. This does not necessarily mean that his words are loud and terrible. They could be soft, shrewd and seductive like the serpent in Eden.  

Seduction is one of Satan's favorite strategies — to seduce God’s people with things that appear to be good and innocent. Patriotism is good, but how many churches have lost their focus when they became religious trumpets for a secular state (for instance in Germany during the last century)? Loyalty is good, but how many churches have lost their way by remaining loyal to a denomination that has lost its passion for Christ or its trust in the Word of God? We believe in a God who blesses us but how many churches have become soft, compromised bless-me clubs by focusing on their own needs to the exclusion of a lost world?

The redeemed church in the last days will surely face persecution. But just as dangerous as persecution is the seducing spirit which has come against all God’s children from Eden onward.

The history of Israel and the church is replete with false prophets and their deceiving, seductive ways.  Jesus called Satan “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).  Paul tells us that Satan “disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). From the garden of Eden to the final hours of human history, he is busy “blinding the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).  His servants “disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:15).

Moses warned of prophets who would try to lead the people to worship false gods, and he revealed that God would allow this seduction as a test “to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).

Jesus warned of “false prophets who come in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15). The Lord also warned, “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many” (Matt. 24:11). Peter exhorted the church, saying, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves” (2 Peter 2:1).  

Paul warns of “false brethren”  who sneak into the church for the purpose of enslaving the saints (Gal. 2:4).  John warned, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (I John 4:1).

All of this vast, dark history of deception will climax in this final false prophet of the final false world religion.  He will assist the Antichrist in establishing the union of the political world order with a religious system of deception.  He will provide a spiritual undergirding for the world government that will seduce the people of the earth into following and finally, worshipping the Antichrist.

13:12 “He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed.”

This second beast, the false prophet, receives his authority from the first beast, the Antichrist, even as the first beast receives his authority from the dragon.  This parodies the holy Trinity.  Jesus received authority from the Father (Matthew 11:27) just as the first beast receives authority from Satan.  The Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus (John 16:14); the second beast glorifies the first beast.  The Holy Spirit leads people to worship the Father and the Son.  The second beast causes people to worship the first beast, through whom Satan receives worship.  

How will the second beast, the false prophet, fulfill his mission of deceiving the world into worshipping the Antichrist?  One means will be the healing of the so-called “fatal wound,” mentioned here and previously in verse 3 of this chapter.  It most likely speaks of a staged death and a counterfeit resurrection — virtual reality. The technology already exists to stage this in completely believable terms. How much more so in the future.

13:13 “He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men.”

In addition to the false resurrection, the second beast performs counterfeit miracles for the purpose of deceiving people into idolatrous worship of the first beast.  This is nothing new. Pharaoh’s magicians also imitated some of the miracles which God released through Moses (Exodus 7:8-12,20-22  8:5-7), though there were many miracles which they could not imitate (Ex. 8:18,19  9:11); nor could they reverse any of the miracles performed through Moses.  

In the early days of the church, a magician named Simon was misleading people with miraculous powers (Acts 8:9-11). But he was humbled in the presence of true, God-given power (8:14-24).

The second beast, this latter day false prophet, will even imitate Elijah in calling down fire from heaven — or will appear to do this.  As a counterfeit Elijah he prepares the way for a counterfeit messiah, the lawless one of whom Paul warned, “Whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders” (2 Thess. 2:9).  

The false prophet will be a religious figure, wrapping himself in priestly disguise.  His miracles will appeal to the deep spiritual instinct of people who though rejecting God, still have an unquenchable passion to worship something or someone.  His priestly work will probably be accompanied by religious ritual and liturgy, pomp and parade. Hitler proved that good lighting, grand music and religious seasoning make a lie more pleasing. So with this final, false prophet.  He will offer a religious alternative to the worship of the true God. Satan has always had his prophets and priests and temple police.  So it will be in the last days, as someone said, “When people reject God they do not worship nothing. They worship anything.”

The combination of false miracles and religious ritual, economic pressure and the threat of violent persecution, will lure many people to worship the first beast, the Antichrist. The intensity of  this assault will be unprecedented but the form is nothing new.  For many centuries we have seen the surrender of humanity at the altars of the political state or the altars of technological progress or the altars of economic prosperity or sensual pleasure or power or false religion.

13:14 “And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life.”

Whereas the Antichrist speaks blasphemy, the false prophet works deception, primarily through false miracles but no doubt he also teaches doctrines of demons and hides behind the counterfeit smoke and sweet smelling incense of ungodly ritual.  He is a deceiver, like the devil who empowers him.  The purpose of his deception is to draw the world into idolatrous worship of the first beast.  Hitler had his minister of propaganda, whose purpose was to make Hitler into an idol, before whom the masses would fall down in worship.  In a similar but more complex way, the false prophet is the priestly director of media misinformation for the beast.  His campaign of false miracles and pleasing religious ritual, at a time of world wide disaster and economic collapse, will seduce a desperate world to believe a lie.  

Who will be deceived?  “Those who dwell on the earth.” That is a way of speaking of those whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life (13:8); that is, those who have rejected the true and living God.  When Paul spoke of the coming of the “lawless one” (the Antichrist), he said that he will come “with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.  For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth but took pleasure in wickedness” (2 Thess. 2:10-12).

Those who reject the Gospel will believe a lie and God will give them over to this lie.  This is an expression of His judgment on them.  Because they love darkness more than light, they will be denied light.  We saw this in the ministry of Jesus, who spoke in parables to those who rejected His teaching and to those who were indifferent. In answer to the question from His disciples, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”, Jesus replied, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted … Because while seeing they do not see and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matthew 13:11,13). Having ignored and opposed Jesus, having rejected the opportunity to enter the kingdom of God, it was not granted them to understand the mysteries of the kingdom (see Matt. 13:10-15).

Under the direction of the false prophet, the world will make an image, an idol or statue of the beast which will be set up in the rebuilt Jerusalem temple. As we have said previously, Daniel, Jesus and Paul gave specific warning of that event (see Daniel 12:11, Matt. 24:15, 2 Thess. 2:4). The secular state and its tyrants have often demanded worship.  Whenever humanity has surrendered its soul to the state, to the idols of human progress or technology or wealth and power, or to the idols of the petty tyrant masquerading as a god, it has surrendered to the worship of Satan.  But this final idol will be the most brazen exercise of arrogance in the history of our fallen planet.

In 13:16, we will read that this deception will lead to the marking of all who participate in the world system.  In 14:9,10 we read that all who are marked will be judged and destroyed by God.  Notice that deception precedes destruction.

13:15 “And it was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed.”

It was given to the false prophet to give breath to the image of the beast.  The word which is correctly translated breath is pneuma, not zoe or bios, which mean life.  No one can give life except God alone.  But the false prophet creates a deception of breath and speech to the image of the Antichrist.  Considering the technology already available in robotics and special effects, this is easily within the realm of achievement. Imagine the capability in ten years. And keep in mind that the world will be desperate, during that time of chaos and disintegration, to believe in a strong leader with supernatural powers.  

Though this will be a real historical event, there is also a principle illustrated in this act of giving breath to the idol.  Satan has always sought to incarnate himself into the demon-idols of false religion and false philosophies and to give himself substance, flesh and blood and breath through the idol makers, the self-proclaimed gods whom humanity worships.

The demon of greed presents us with its idol of wealth and whispers, “Worship me.”  It breathes through godless, unethical corporations which worship the idol and thereby open themselves to incarnation, indwelling by that demon.  Those who invest their souls in these corporations risk infection, incarnation, by the demonic values and priorities that dominate and inhabit the corporation.

The demon of lust presents us with its idols — fame, pleasure, gratification and whispers,  “Worship me.”  The demon of lust lives through performers and media systems which invite and create idolatry, which open themselves and those who worship with them to the demon.

God also incarnates His wisdom and purpose and love into people.  When Mary was presented with the indescribable blessing of bearing the conception of Christ in her womb, she asked, “How can this be?” (Luke 1:34).  The angel’s reply was the simplest and most profound mystery, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). The angel then added, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).  Verse 37 may also be translated, “For no word of God is without power.”

This is also God’s word for each of us. We look at situations in our own lives and around the world where Satan is incarnating his malevolent presence and we say, “How can God possibly birth anything here?”  May we hear the echo, “The power of the Holy Spirit will overshadow you and with God, nothing is impossible, no word of God is without power.”

There are two  principles in Mary’s encounter with the angel which we do well to remember:

1. God’s revelation is God’s invitation.  

He shows us a demonically incarnated circumstance because He is inviting us to partner with Him in the conceiving of kingdom life and kingdom possibility. 

2. God’s invitation is always accompanied by God’s power.  

Jesus is not asking us to go anywhere and do anything in our own strength.  He is asking us to allow Him to incarnate His life, His wisdom, His mercy, His possibilities in us and release Himself through us.

The image of the beast will be given breath and speech.  Satan is continually speaking a word of corruption and destruction over our cities, our families, our hopes and dreams, incarnating himself within economic and political systems, artistic expression and cultural values.  God also wants to speak and birth through us into these same situations.  Whose Word is greater?

During this end time, when the image of the beast is given breath and speech, it is declared that whoever does not worship the image of the beast will be put to death.  Humanity will be divided into two camps — those who worship the beast and live; those who refuse and die.  

This will account for the great multitude of martyrs shown earlier in Revelation under heaven’s altar crying out to God (6:9-11) and before heaven’s throne, clothed in white robes and praising God (7:9-14). “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14), the angel tells John.

In those terrible last days, the result of severe economic pressure, violent persecution against true worshippers of the true God and the seducing, false religion of the false prophet, will be that the world falls under the total domination of Satan.

13:16 “And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead,”

All who participate in the demonically inspired world system, this world rebellion against God, will be marked.  There may always have been some spiritual marking of rebellious sinners which was visible in the realm of the spirit.  But in the last days, some form of technology will exist which will allow all idolaters to be clearly marked and tracked on a social level.

Note the word all.  Every social and economic category of humanity is listed.  The word mark is from the root charasso, which means to engrave and was used to describe the inscription of the image or name of the Roman emperor on coins.  In John’s day, slaves, soldiers and some members of religious cults were given marks, tattoos or brands as a means of identification.  Recall that in chapter 7 God sealed with a mark on the forehead His servants, the 144,000 evangelists, that they might escape God’s wrath against the world system.

Even as slaves, soldiers and cultists were branded in the days of the Roman Empire, so the beast marks his slaves, soldiers and worshippers.  Even as God marked his evangelists so that they would escape His judgment on the world, the Antichrist marks his people that they may escape his wrath against the church.  

Again, note that those who will be marked are first deceived (see 13:14).  In 14:9,10 all who are marked will be judged and destroyed.  Deception always precedes destruction.

We must emphasize that the word all does not include those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. They will neither worship the beast nor be deceived by him.

13:17 “and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name.”

This will be a way of controlling the world economy and thereby controlling the people of the world.  There will probably be no currency.  Neither will there be credit cards which can be lost or counterfeited.  It appears that a world wide debit card will be stamped into the hand or forehead, possibly an advanced form of bar code.  The code would interface with a one-world central banking system.

Though this technology will be advanced, the principle behind it is quite familiar.  Under Nazi occupation and communist dictatorships, people were issued ration cards.  Purchasing power was entirely controlled by the government.  Those who were denied ration cards would starve. We should mention that already, in China, a social credit system exists which tracks the books a person reads, what they purchase, where they go. This credit system favors those who are loyal to the government, penalizes Christians simply for being Christian, because this is considered to be contrary to the well being of the state. It is becoming more costly by the day to serve Jesus in that society. 

So in addition to religious deception and violent repression, the government of the Antichrist will also employ total economic control.  In a time of natural disaster and financial collapse, when food and water will be in short supply, the world government will solidify its absolute rule over the people of the world by monitoring every act of sale or purchase. In some way that is unclear, the name of the beast, or his name expressed in a number, will be the basis for this mark.

The refusal of believers to receive this mark will result in great sacrifice and a total dependence on the Lord our Provider. As never before, followers of the Lamb will need to walk by faith.

13:18 “Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.”

In Hebrew, Greek and Latin, among other languages, the letters of the alphabet have numerical equivalents.  The mark that will be given will be rooted in the name of the beast or the number of his name.  The number 666 has never been deciphered satisfactorily.  

However, we often speak of the number seven as representing completeness: God completed His work and rested on the seventh day; the seventh year was to be a Year of Jubilee and celebration.  Six, on he other hand, speaks of that which falls short of completeness.  Whereas seven is associated with God, six is the number of man.  Just as the three fold repetition, “Holy, holy, holy” speaks of the perfection of God’s holiness, so the three fold repetition of imperfection, 666, speaks of the imperfection of Antichrist’s rule.  It speaks of the absolute failure of the beast to accomplish his purpose.

Many have tried unsuccessfully to translate the number into persons of historical significance: Nero, Caligula, Napoleon, Hitler and on into our day.  We will not know who this is until the Lord reveals him and so speculation is foolish and potentially misleading.  

Rather than guessing as to the identity of the Antichrist, we should receive the exhortation of the Apostle Peter, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen” (I Peter 5:8-11).

If we are prepared by truth, transformed daily by the renewing of our minds in truth, if we are living in union with the Lord who is the way, the life and the truth, then we will not be deceived today or in the day of world wide deception. Rather, we will be perfected, confirmed, strengthened and established by Him whose dominion is forever and ever. Amen.

Study Questions

1.  What does it mean to you that your name has “been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain”? (see v. 8)

2. In whatever day or culture we are living, how do we avoid deception?

Revelation 14

Revelation 14

Revelation 14:1-11

14:1 “Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads.”

After the terrible vision of the beast, John is given a vision of the Lamb of God standing on Mount Zion, the temple mount in Jerusalem.  John sees the triumphant return of Jesus to His holy city, a monumental event in redemption history, proclaimed by psalmists and prophets centuries before the birth of Christ.

The Psalmist proclaimed, “Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing?  The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed (Messiah) saying, ‘Let us tear their fetters apart’ ... He who sits in the heavens laughs ...Then He will speak to them in His anger ... saying, ‘But as for me, I have installed my King upon Zion, my holy mountain’” (Psalm 2:1-6).

Zechariah prophesied, “Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of battle. In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south” (Zech. 14:3,4).

As the disciples stood on the Mount of Olives and watched Jesus ascend to heaven, the angels said to them, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

Jesus will someday stand again on the holy mount with His faithful followers. Notice that He stands in the midst of His church, as John saw in 1:13 and now as history concludes. The name of the Lamb and of His Father is written on the foreheads of the faithful, a glorious contrast to the vision of the beast and those marked by the beast.  

The 144,000 may represent the complete number of the redeemed (12 x 12 x 1,000 or myriad, countless).  This may also represent the army of Jewish evangelists revealed in chapter 7, who were sealed by God.  These also are sealed and notice that it is on their foreheads — visible, manifest. Notice also what it is that seals them — the name of the Lamb “and the name of His Father.” True discipleship is never hidden. The name of our God, that is, His character, His nature, is written indelibly on our lives. The light is never buried under a basket. We are sealed by the Holy Spirit but His presence in our life is a bright, shining truth, an open profession.

In the ancient world, a mark or seal stood for ownership, loyalty, security, dependance, safety.  Those in this vision who stand with Jesus are those who have taken their crosses and followed Him in the way of self-sacrificing love.  They are like the faithful overcomers in Philadelphia upon whom the risen Christ will write His new name (Rev. 3:12-17).

Notice that the same number who were sealed in chapter 7 now stand with the Lamb on Mount Zion.  Whether we understand them to be Jewish evangelists or representative of the entire redeemed church, the point is that none were lost. They were consecrated unto God for holy service, and God keeps all whom He consecrates.  Jesus said, “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39).

The Apostle Paul rejoices, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).  

Jude gives praise to the Lord, saying, “To Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” (Jude 24).  Peter reminds us that we are “protected by the power of God” (I Peter 1:5). 

Paul asks, “If God is for us, who is against us? ... But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Romans 8: 31,37). 

The 144,000 were marked, sealed by God, preserved from His wrath and called to self sacrificing ministry on behalf of the Lamb. This does not deny the fact that many saints will be slaughtered during the tribulation but they are kept by God for an everlasting salvation.

Not only does God preserve the end time saints for His kingdom purpose, we too will be kept and preserved by Christ, for Christ and for His purpose. As Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29).

14:2  “And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps.”

John hears a song from heaven which is like a multitude of waters, like thunder, so many are the voices.  Despite its thundering volume, there is a definite musical quality to the song, like the sound of harpists.  

14:3 “And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth.”

In one sense, the song began in 5:9-10 as the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the throne singing.  Then myriads of angels take up the song (5:11,12) and then every created thing (5:13).  In 7:9,10, the tribulation martyrs sing.  Now the 144,000 standing on Mount Zion join their voices. None but the redeemed can sing it for who can fathom or value the precious blood of the Lamb but the redeemed? Surely not those who worship the Beast. And it may be that even the angels must fall silent for this is truly a new song which none can sing but those who have been purchased from the earth. It is the song of those who have experienced the cleansing blood of the Lamb. They alone can sing His praise.

John hears the song being sung “before the throne”, so it must be that he is hearing every Old Testament saint with all the redeemed from the church age echoing this thundering anthem of praise as Jesus returns to Jerusalem to claim His rightful throne. This is the climactic event of history and all the redeemed of the universe, those in heaven and those alive on earth, all who have been purchased by the Lamb, join their voices in raptures of praise.

Contained in this joyful song is the realization that all of God’s redemptive purpose has been accomplished.  Therefore it is a new song, for prior to this, God’s salvation purpose was yet unfulfilled. It is a new song because never before was there a war like the war that just now raged across the earth between the dragon and the followers of the Lamb. But the saints have come out of it victorious, triumphant through the blood of the Lamb.

Though it is a new song, it’s not unlike the song of 5:9, praising the Lamb who, by His blood, redeemed from every tribe and people and nation a kingdom of priests.  It must be like the songs of 5:13 and 7:10, sung to Him who sits upon the throne and unto the Lamb.  

14:4 “These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb.”

This rejoicing multitude is described as undefiled, chaste, followers of the Lamb and first fruits of the redeemed. Many scholars believe that chaste should be interpreted in a broad sense — those who have abstained from immorality and those wo have been cleansed and sanctified of  former immorality.  Believers who live during the tribulation will proclaim the Gospel during a time of unprecedented sin on the earth.  With God’s restraining hand removed (2 Thess. 2:6-7), in a time of judicial abandonment, with the entire world worshipping a false messiah, with countless hordes of demons loosed on earth (those cast from heaven with Satan, 12:9, and those released from the abyss 9:1-19),  in a time of unrestrained violence and depravity, these faithful saints, redeemed and sealed by God, will remain pure, uncorrupted by the corrupt world around them, undefiled, not sinless but holy.

There is also a spiritual sense to the word chaste.  Israel was often referred to as a virgin (2 Kings 19:2, Amos 5:2) and when Israel fell into idolatry, she was then referred to as a harlot (Hosea 2:5).  So this great choir could be seen as those who have abstained from idolatry, who chose faithfulness and spiritual purity in a time of world wide idol worship.

The word chaste also provides an insight into all the redeemed, all who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb and transformed as new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).  Paul said to the Corinthians that he desired to present them to Christ “as a pure virgin” (2 Cor. 11:2).  He said this to believers who had come out of a culture famous for its immorality.  But they had become new creatures in Christ and would someday be presented as His virgin Bride.

The 144,000, then, may be a literal company of redeemed, faithful, praising believers in the last days of history, but in a larger sense, they also represent the entire Bride of Christ, washed in the blood, transformed by the Word and the Spirit of God.  They are a portrait of all who have been delivered out of defiling relationship with the world system, who have resisted adultery with the seducing world system, who will someday stand on the heavenly Mt. Zion with the Lion who is the Lamb, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. They are the Bride of the Lamb — a Bride made ready for the Bridegroom Messiah.

They are described as those “who follow the Lamb wherever He goes.”  This refers to their life on earth, when during the tribulation, as God poured out wrath on a perverse, idolatrous world and as the Antichrist poured out his wrath on believers, each follower of Jesus took up his or her cross and followed in faith (Matthew 19:21). They refused all seduction, all enticement, endured any sacrifice or suffering, ignored all threats and intimidation. We must add that in every generation there have been men and women like these, who loved not their lives unto death, who poured out their witness faithfully, who lay down their lives and followed the Lamb wherever He leads.

They are referred to as the “first fruits to God and to the Lamb.” Some see this as reference to the first fruits of the end time harvest of redeemed Israel (Romans 11:25-27), which will repent and turn to Christ in those last days, as Zechariah prophesied, “They will look on Me whom they have pierced and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn” (Zech. 12:10).

First fruits purchased from among men is also a phrase that speaks of sacrificial offering.  In the Old Testament, the first fruits of the harvest were offered to God for His purposes. Purchased by the blood of the Lamb, these 144,000 — whether they are a specific number of end time Jewish evangelists or representative of the end time harvest or representative of the redeemed across the ages — they are an offering to God.  As such, God spends their lives as He sees fit.

14:5 “And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless.”

In 21:8 we read that liars will be excluded from the heavenly city. This is a reference to people whose life was characterized by a continual denial of truth, rejection of truth and commitment to that which is untrue. There have always been rulers and governments whose authority was based on lies and whose motives and actions were hidden behind a veil of lies. This is surely true today and will be a primary characteristic of the kingdom of the Antichrist. How could such persons exist in a heaven that worships a Lord whose name is Faithful and True?

But this multitude standing with the Lamb spoke no lies — they preached the truth of a crucified, risen Savior, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, without compromise.  Paul directed that all believers should be “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).  All pastors and teachers should be “accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).  Indeed, all believers should be prepared to speak the truth without compromise, without any regard to what is politically or culturally correct or approved by a God-rejecting world. 

In that sense, the 144,000 represent God’s will for all believers, that our lives will be an expression of truth. But this multitude may also represent end time witnesses who are singled out for special recognition because surrounded by lying signs and wonders and the false preaching of the last great false prophet, in a world completely given over to the blasphemous, idolatrous worship of the Antichrist, they will preach the word of God accurately, truthfully and with great power and conviction of the Holy Spirit.

The fact that no lie was found in them should be a source of inspiration to all the faithful.   We have each been less than truthful many times, but we have not exchanged “the truth about God for a lie” (Romans 1:25).  Those who do will be vulnerable to the claims of the Antichrist, will surely fall into idolatry and be separated from God forever.  We should at all times take to heart Paul’s exhortation, “Laying aside falsehood, speak the truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Ephesians 4:25).

The 144,000 also are blameless.  Their sins have been washed away in the blood of the Lamb and they stand blameless before God.  This does not mean that they are sinless, rather, they are forgiven and holy.  

This was always God’s purpose for each of us, “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him” (Ephesians 1:4).  

“Yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (Colossians 1:22).

Jesus is the unblemished, spotless Lamb of God (1 Peter 1:19) and we are being conformed to His likeness (Colossians 3:8,9).  Paul says that this Good News is a scandal.  It is scandalous to the world that the church is comprised of sinners who have trusted in a crucified Savior, who have been washed in His blood and now stand just and blameless before God.

The vision of the Lamb and His followers is followed by three angelic proclamations. The first angel preaches the gospel, the second announces the imminent judgment of God and the third promises condemnation to all who refuse to repent and believe in Christ. Keep in mind that by this time, the world will have experienced devastating judgment and the disintegration of economic and governmental systems. Concurrently, the two witnesses (11:1-12) and the 144,000 evangelists will have preached the gospel across the world and multitudes will have come to Christ (who then add their voices to the resounding testimony).

In this context of judgment and grace, God will again reiterate the two choices which will determine eternal destiny for every person on earth: repent and believe or face everlasting condemnation.

14:6 “And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people;”

The first angel is flying in the midheavens, a Greek term referring to the highest point in the sun’s daily journey across the sky, the apex, the high point reached at noon.  This is not a reference to the time of day, rather, to the visibility of the angel.  Positioned where he can be seen and heard by all, he proclaims the eternal gospel “to those who live on the earth,” a phrase John uses in reference to the unredeemed.

The message is “to every nation and tribe and tongue and people.”  It is all-inclusive, world wide, no one is left out.  Jesus said, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).  Even as the hour of the end approaches, the gospel is still being proclaimed, there is still time to repent and believe. This is always God’s way — grace is offered in the midst of judgment. It is not His desire that even one person perish but that all will come to a saving knowledge of the truth.

Who is repenting? If those who have taken the mark of the beast will not repent (see verses 9 and 10), and those who are following Jesus have repented, then who are these? They are men and women who have not submitted to the beast or to his mark but have not yet surrendered to Jesus. They are resisting the rule of the Antichrist but are as yet unredeemed. Now, in this last hour, they are turning to Christ.

The angel preaches an “eternal gospel.”  It is eternal because God chose us for redemption from eternity past, “Before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).  It is an “eternal redemption” because it is purchased by the perfect blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, according to the purpose of God whose purpose cannot be overturned now or beyond time (Hebrews 9:12).  It is an eternal salvation (Hebrews 5:9) because that which God has begun in us will be perfected and guarded through out eternity.

14:7 “and he said with a loud voice, ‘Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.’”

The angel messenger commands the world to, “Fear God and give Him glory” and to “worship Him who made the heavens and the earth.”  This is the most basic appeal to a pagan world, to give glory to the God who is revealed through His created works.  The call is to transfer their allegiance from anything other than the true and living God, to reverence Him and give Him honor.  The failure to do this led to the darkening spiral of the human heart into idolatry and perversion and every form of evil and violence (Romans 1:18-32).

The regression of the human being into evil began with this simple refusal to give glory to the God who is clearly revealed in His creation.  Now there is this final appeal before the hour of judgement.  It is an appeal to give that which even the unenlightened human heart is capable of giving — glory to the God revealed through nature, the God who made heaven and earth and the seas. Those who refuse, at the end of history, will have advanced no further than the prehistoric fall, refusing to acknowledge even the simplest revelation of God.

The progress of civilization, the march toward enlightenment, was always only a lie. Humanity in rebellion against God has been its own worst enemy, moving resolutely not toward paradise but toward destruction, not evolving toward perfection but devolving, spiraling into corruption. 

As we have said, the angel will preach more than these few words — he is preaching an “eternal gospel” of salvation through repentance and faith in Christ.  But even these few words contain the seed of all gospel preaching.  To fear God and give Him glory is to reverence, love and worship Him with a heart that is awed by His kindness, His mercy, His wisdom, His power, His holiness and His righteousness.  It is the eternal gospel because it contains the eternal purpose of God for all people — that we would know and worship God our Creator. Those who respond will be given more revelation, enough to repent of their sin and place their faith in Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord.

Notice the urgency, “Because the hour of His judgment has come.”  The opportunity to respond is slipping away but there is still time.  God in His mercy causes this message to be proclaimed in a loud voice so all may hear in these final hours of history.

14:8 “And another angel, a second one, followed, saying, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality.’”

Motivated, possibly, by lack of response to the first angel, and surely motivated by the reality of a world crumbling under the fiery weight of God’s judgment, a second angel proclaims the fall of Babylon the great.  In John’s day, Babylon was a symbol for Rome and for the corruption of a world which opposes God and lives as though there is no God.  In this sense, Babylon represents the world system in every age which seeks to seduce people away from the true worship of God, intoxicating people with the wine of her corruption.  More specifically, Babylon refers to the world system ruled by Antichrist in the last days and possibly to a restored city of Babylon.

It is interesting to note that the ancient city of Babylon was founded by Nimrod, one of the first truly powerful, arrogant, God-rejecting rulers (Genesis 10:9). It was the site of the first organized false religion (Gen. 11:1-4). From this city, the seed of all false religion spread around the world.  In the last days, Babylon is represented as a prostitute (Rev. 17:1-5), deceiving and seducing the world with the last great false religion, the worship of the Antichrist. 

The angel announces that this civilization, this economic / religious / political system that exists in opposition to God and in rebellion against Him, is destroyed. These words recall both Isaiah, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon” (21:9) and 

Jeremiah, “Babylon was a golden cup in the Lord’s hand ... Suddenly Babylon has fallen and been broken” (51:7).

14:9,10    “Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.’”

A third angel proclaims a word which stands against the decrees of the Antichrist and the false prophet found in chapter 13.  It had been decreed that whoever does not have the mark of the beast will be unable to buy or sell and will be killed (13:15-17).  But something far worse is now proclaimed, that those who have the mark of the beast will be subject to the wrath of God. It is a wrath mixed in full strength with God’s anger. There is no diluting of judgment with grace or mercy.  All who worship the beast are marked for judgement. 

Why can’t they repent? Evidently, those who worship the beast will be unable vto repent, for their sin is not simply that they have taken the mark of the Beast. It is that they have finally and irrevocably rejected the true and living God and submitted their lives to the Antichrist. Their lives are conformed to the worship of the Beast and they are unwilling and unable to turn away and worship the Lord. It is not simply that their eyes are veiled and their souls seared — so it is for all the unredeemed. But they do not wish for the veil to be removed, do not want their souls to be pierced by the light of truth. 

Further most terribly, it appears that when people have finally, irrevocably rejected light, God gives them over to the darkness they have chosen. The Apostle Paul warns us that a lawless one, the Antichrist, is coming, “in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness” (2 Thes. 2:9-12).

God will confirm in darkness those who absolutely reject light. Then who are being warned? First of all, this is not primarily a warning but a proclamation of condemnation — the condemned are condemned.  But there is even now a presence of grace. A merciful intent of this proclamation is to sober the resisters — those who have not submitted to the Beast but have not surrendered to the Lord Jesus —to sober them into realizing the eternal consequences of spiritual choices. They may be resisting the Beast but if they have not turned to Christ then they too are lost.

By this time, the gospel has been proclaimed clearly across the world, first by the church through the centuries, then by evangelists and witnesses during the tribulation, and now by an angel.  Judgment, and the destruction of the Babylonian world system, has been promised by preachers, prophets, evangelists and now by the second angel.  Finally, this third angel explains in detail the reality of that judgment.  

God is not unjust to judge people because no one is without the truth.  “That which is known about God is evident” the Apostle Paul reminds us (Romans 1:19).  God’s “invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.  For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks” (Romans 1:20, 21).

The truth about God has been revealed.  The problem is that the truth has been suppressed and rejected.  Therefore, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18, and see all of see all of 1:18-32).  

God-rejecting people will “drink the cup of His anger and be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.”  Separated from God by personal choice in this life, they will be separated from God for eternity.

Evidently, those who worship the beast will be unable and unwilling to repent, for their sin is not simply that they have taken the mark of the beast. It is that they have rejected the true and living God and submitted their lives to the Antichrist. Their lives are conformed to the worship of the Beast and they are unwilling and unable to turn away and worship the Lord.

14:11 “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”

The smoke of their torment will go up forever and ever.  John the Baptist preached that the fire of God is “unquenchable” (Luke 3:17).  Jesus spoke of judgment as “eternal fire” (Matt. 18:8).  Paul spoke of “eternal destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).  The choices made in this life fix us forever in union with God or in separation from God.  People cannot choose to worship the Antichrist, do evil, blaspheme the name of God, identify with those who do, and live with God forever. God will confirm their choice with the most terrible judgment — everlasting life apart from Him in the torment of hell.

The cost of discipleship in the last days will be great but the cost of apostasy will be far greater.

Study Questions

1. The mark of the Lamb is on the forehead of the one hundred and forty-four thousand. What does that mark represent? (see v. 1)

2. Even in the last hours of history, angelic messengers are still exhorting people to worship God and warning of coming judgment. What does this say about the heart of God? (v. 6-10)

Rev. 14:12-20

14:12 “Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.”

Loyalty to Jesus, for the people living in the day foreseen by John, will result in sacrifice and suffering. Faithfulness will require steadfastness and courage.  But the saints will persevere, they will endure because the same God who saved them will also keep them.  He is “the author and perfecter” of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).  

The Apostle Paul reminds us, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son ... and these whom He predestined, He also called, and these whom he called, He also justified and these whom He justified, He also glorified” (Romans 8:29,30). Notice the word “glorified” — referring to our future resurrection and completeness in Christ. This is so certain that Paul uses a past tense verb to describe an event that has not yet happened. The process from calling to glory is unbroken in the life of each redeemed follower of Christ. God will complete what He has begun in each of our lives. 

“Here is the perseverance of the saints” John says. The same God who knew us, chose us and saved us, will also perfect us in glory.  No matter how dangerous, evil, turbulent, chaotic or violent the times, none of His sheep will be lost, as Jesus said to His Father, “Of those whom you have given me, I lost not one” (John 18:9).  

“While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled” (John 17:12). 

“This is the will of Him who sent me, that of all He has given me, I lose nothing but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39).

The same God who gifts us with saving faith, faith to believe Him for salvation, also gifts us with persevering grace, grace to endure, to remain steadfast.  By its very nature, true, saving faith is eternal, indestructible.  It began in eternity past, in the heart and mind of the God who chose to set His love upon us, and continues into eternity future, by the will of the God who purposes to keep us. If your salvation is located in eternity past and future, how can it be lost in time?

Jesus said, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life” (John 3:36).  Notice the present tense verb, has, not will have.  Eternal life is the present possession of every believer.

John said that whoever believes in Jesus, “Shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  It is impossible that we would be given eternal life, life that will not end, and then lose it in time.  How can we have life unending and then perish?

The eternal nature of salvation is not merely a New Testament doctrine.  God has always testified of His power to keep His covenant people.

“The steps of a man are established by the Lord and He delights in his way.  When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, because the Lord is the One who holds his hand” (Psalm 37:23,24).

Even when Israel was faced with national destruction and exile, God promised through the prophet Isaiah to keep His covenant people, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched” (Isaiah 43:1,2).

“Israel has been saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation” (Isaiah 45:17). This does not mean that the nation did not experience times of chastisement and even devastating judgment. But God never abandoned His purpose to keep a remnant of faithful covenant people.

God’s salvation purpose for His covenant people is eternal, indestructible.  No greater proof of this will ever be seen than in the lives of these end time believers, more terribly tested than any saints in history, yet persevering in obedience to the commandments of God and holding faith in Jesus to the end.

Notice that they persevere in obedience, “Who keep the commandments of God.”  This demonstrates the believer’s responsibility in perseverance.  Jesus taught that obedience to the Word of God is proof of true, saving faith: “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me ... If anyone loves Me, He will keep my Word” (John 14:21,23).

To those who lived lawlessly while hypocritically preaching and pretending to be workers of miracles, Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matt. 7:21-23).

Jesus asked, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not what I say?” (Luke 6:46). It is not the oral profession of faith but the life of faith which demonstrates the reality of faith.  Perseverance is demonstrated in faithfulness to the commandments of God.

This is why Paul encouraged believers “to continue in the faith” (Acts 14:22).  He reminded the church that God has purposed to present us before Himself “holy and blameless and beyond reproach, if indeed you continue in the faith, firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away” (Colossians 1: 23).  The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us to “hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end” (Hebrews 3:14).  

We ”hold fast” as we pray, as we allow the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and show us our sin, as we repent and forsake sin, as we study God’s Word and live that Word daily, as we offer praise, worship and adoration to the true and living God, as we serve Him faithfully and speak His truth with love and without compromise.

Perseverance, then, is a work of God in the heart of a believer who is submitted to the spiritual disciplines of faithfulness.  God’s keeping power enables us to carry on this discipline.  We hold fast to the disciplines of faith in the hands of the God who holds us, as the Psalmist said, “My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me” (Ps. 63:8). Perseverance is clinging to the God who upholds us.

Notice also, they keep their faith in the person of Jesus: “Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” He alone is the object of our faith — not doctrines, rituals, philosophies — our faith is in a Person — the eternal God who entered time, the divine Creator who became a creature, the God / Man Jesus Christ. However, we cannot separate faith in Christ and obedience to the Word of Christ.  Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).  If we love Him and believe His Word to be the truth, then we demonstrate love and faith in a lifestyle of visible obedience to His Lordship.

Visible obedience to the Lordship of Christ will result in the slaughter of the saints by the Antichrist.  But the Lord will keep them faithful, even in martyrdom.  Again, Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me and I give eternal life to them and they will never perish and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27,28).  Though they may be martyred for their faith, they will die in the shelter of the nail scarred hands.

It is true that Jesus spoke of those who, “When they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no firm root in themselves but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away” (Mark 4:16,17).  But their so-called faith was an emotional response to the Gospel, not true saving faith.  Their falling away, the failure of their faith, proves that it was not a genuine work of God.

Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, then you are truly disciples of mine” (John 8:31).  Again, continuance in the Word of Christ, obedience to His Lordship, perseverance in faith, is the proof of true saving faith.  Perseverance is God’s gift to those who hold fast, who continue in the spiritual discipline of faithfulness.

In that tribulation day of which John writes, the power of the Antichrist will be unparalleled in the history of earthly tyrants, but as John had already written, “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (I John 4:4).  Peter reminds us that we have been born again “to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you who are protected by the power of God through faith” (I Peter 1:4,5).

“Protected by the power of God” — it is God who preserves us.  But the power of God is released through faith. Faith is God’s gift to the faithful.  Faith takes hold of the faithful hand of God.

The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us, “Therefore He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25).  The saints will persevere in keeping “the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus,” for it is God who faithfully keeps them.  

14:13 “And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, ‘Write, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.’”

A voice from heaven calls out, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.” Faithfulness to Jesus, perseverance in the faith, will mean refusing the Antichrist, resulting in persecution and for many, death. But dying in faith leads to eternal blessedness.

The Apostle Paul, knowing that the church needed him to remain in ministry yet contemplating the blessing that awaited him in heaven, said, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain ... But I am hard pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake” (Phlpns. 1:21,23,24).  

Death was not something which Paul feared, confident as he was that Jesus had conquered death, hell and the grave. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (I Cor. 15:55).  For those who live faithfully in Christ, death is only an entrance into His blessed presence. This state of blessedness stands in stark contrast to those in verse 10 who avoided persecution by submitting to the Beast but suffer everlasting damnation.

The voice says that these blessed ones will rest from their labors. The word “labor,” koptos, refers to a striking, a beating and toil resulting in exhaustion. What an accurate description of life during the tribulation. Refusing the mark of the Beast will result in exclusion from the economy which will result in both a higher level of faith in the provision of God and a greater willingness to live sacrificially. It may result in hunger, thirst and homelessness, refugee status.  Government sanctioned persecution will result in believers being hunted, arrested and put to death.  More terrible will be the suffering and death of loved ones which believers would often witness.

Martyrdom is not merely the death of the follower of Christ.  It is also the witnessing, suffering life lived prior to death. But the voice from heaven says that they now rest from that sacrificial labor. 

And “their deeds follow with them”.  This refers to their service unto the Lord and the reward which these works earn. Jesus said, “And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little one even a cup of cold water to drink, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward” (Matt. 10:42). The writer to the Hebrews said, “For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and still ministering to the saints” (Hebrews 6:10).

The Apostle Paul, facing execution, wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6,7).

Our works follow after us for they are an expression of who we are. We cannot separate who we are from what we do. These works will be tested by God for motive and sincerity. Again, Paul enlightens us, “Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire and the fire itself will test the quality of any man’s work.  If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.  If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss” (I Cor. 3:12-15).

Our works follow after us and will be tested in the presence of God. That which is worthy will be rewarded. Works which were motivated by impurity will be consumed and there will be no reward. Salvation cannot be lost but some rewards may be forfeited.

It will be a terrifyingly different experience for the unredeemed. At the great white throne judgment, books will be opened and the unredeemed will be “judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds” (Rev. 20:12). The works of unbelievers also follow them and their works will reveal a heart which rejected the redeeming work of Christ. They will bear the guilt and the judgment of their sinful works and their good works will not be sufficient to deliver them from judgment. They will be condemned to hell.

14:14 “Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and sitting on the cloud was one like a son of man, having a golden crown on His head and a sharp sickle in His hand.”

John sees someone sitting on a cloud, “Like a son of man.” This is the God / Man, Jesus Christ. He is crowned with the stephanos, the wreath of the victorious but it is gold, for this is the glorified Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords. He is holding a sharp sickle, which some believe to be representative of Jesus reaping His end times harvest of wheat — the redeemed of the earth (as contrasted with the angels in the following verses who reap a harvest of judgment). But the context here is judgment, not redemption and we are reminded that Jesus is not only Lord of grace but also Lord of judgment, unto whom God the Father has entrusted judgment. Jesus said, “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22). So it appears here that Jesus is releasing the final outworking of judgment on earth.

When Jesus first came to earth, He came in humility, “Taking the form of a bond servant” (Phlp. 2:6).   In His first advent, He came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).  When He comes again, He will “judge the living and the dead” (2 Tim. 4:1).  He first came sowing seed in His Father's field but when He comes again, it will be in a cloud of glory, crowned  in majesty and power, holding a sharp sickle for He is coming to carry out the judgment of God on the earth, destroy the false kingdom of the Antichrist and establish His rightful kingdom on earth.

The day of God’s judgment had been clearly proclaimed through the prophets of the Old Testament (for instance, Isa. 13:9-11) and through the preaching of John the Baptist, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matt. 3:7). In countless Scriptures we hear this witness — there is a day of judgment coming (see also Paul in Rom. 1:18 and the writer to the Hebrews in 10:26,27).  The  Apostle Peter spoke of Jesus’ authority as Judge when he preached the Gospel to Cornelius’ household, speaking of Jesus’ commission to the apostles, “And He ordered us to preach to the people and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42 see also 2 Pet. 2:9). The Apostle Paul not only preached Christ the Redeemer but also Christ the divinely appointed Judge (Rom. 17:31).

During His earthly ministry Jesus spoke clearly of this coming day of judgment. In the parable of the wheat and tares, He said, “So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 13:40-42). On many other occasions Jesus warned of that day (for instance, Matt. 10:15, 11:22,24  12:36). 

14:15 “And another angel came out of the temple, crying out with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, ‘Put in your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is ripe.’”

An angel comes out of the heavenly temple and announces that it is time to reap the ripe harvest of the earth.  Harvest is normally associated with the ingathering of the saved but as we have said, the context is the wrath of God (14:19).  John sees the hour when the season of grace is finally ended on earth.  He sees the unfolding of the final work of judgment.

The reason for judgment is because “the harvest of the earth is ripe.”  The word ripe means “dried up, withered, over ripe or rotten.”  The good harvest of earth’s redeemed souls has been gathered.  All that remains is that which is rotten, no longer useful to God or even capable of being preserved.

In the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matt. 13:30-42) Jesus taught of an end-time harvest of the righteous that also included the gathering of the wicked for destruction.  John, in this context, does not mention the saved, possibly because they have already been gathered in the rapture of the church and through martyrdom. Those believers who remain on earth are being preserved by the Lord. But this is the harvest of the unredeemed, a judgment which is revealed in detail in the following chapters. Here we see Jesus releasing this outpouring of the wrath of God.

14:16 “Then He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.”  

There is a day coming when Jesus will release final judgment on earth. God will do what God has purposed to do.  Warnings have been proclaimed since the days of the Old Testament prophets, in the preaching of Jesus, throughout the church age and into the final hours and minutes of the final days of the end times. But at last the age of grace will be ended and then comes the day of judgment. The passing of centuries is not due to the error that this day will never come.  The delay is only because God is merciful, “Not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Ptr. 3:9). 

14:17,18 “And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, and he also had a sharp sickle. Then another angel, the one who has power over fire, came out from the altar; and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, ‘Put in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, because her grapes are ripe.’”

Angels have been instruments of the Lord throughout the centuries and no less during the final days of history. Prior to the flood, Enoch prophesied of angelic participation in the final judgment. Jude quotes this in his epistle, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment on all …” (Jude 14,15).

Throughout the book of Revelation we see angels acting as messengers and servants of God’s will. Now, another angel comes out of the heavenly temple with a sickle and another comes out from the altar.  The altar is mentioned in chapter 6:9-11 in connection with the martyred saints who cry out beneath it, calling for God’s justice to be established.  This altar is also mentioned in chapter 8:3-5; an angel stands beside it with a golden censer of incense, the smoke of which mixes with the prayers of the saints. The brass incense altar in the Jerusalem temple was probably a representation of this heavenly altar.

We read in chapter 8, “The angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar and threw it to the earth” (8:5).  This angel, in chapter 14:18, may be that angel.  He “has power over fire” and he comes out from the altar.  His appearance means that the time has come for the prayers of the martyred saints to be answered, the righteous purpose of God to be established on the earth, the Babylonian world government to be destroyed and its unredeemed, God-rejecting citizens to be judged. The day of the Lord has come.

This angel commands the angel mentioned in verse 17 to put in his sickle and gather the ripe clusters of grapes “from the vine of the earth”. This is not the same word for ripe as was used in verse 15 but it means essentially the same thing — fully ripe, prime.  These are the evil, unredeemed people of the earth who have rejected the Gospel of grace and despised the holy God of grace.  They are fully mature in their wickedness, bursting with evil, ready to be removed from earthly existence. Notice the patience and mercy of God in this — final judgment is not released until all offers of grace have been refused and not one soul remains who is willing to turn to the Lord.

14:19 “So the angel swung his sickle to the earth and gathered the clusters from the vine of the earth, and threw them into the great wine press of the wrath of God.”

The angel swings his sickle, gathering clusters and throwing them into the wine press of God’s wrath. This angel is an instrument of Christ in executing judgement on earth. This is not final judgement. That will occur after the thousand year reign of Christ on earth, when time is ended and the unredeemed stand before the great white throne and will then be cast into hell. However, this event represents the climax of God’s unfolding judgment on earth.

14:20 “And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood came out from the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for a distance of two hundred miles.”

The judgement takes place outside the city. City may be a symbolic way of talking about the holy place where God tabernacles with the faithful. That is, judgment takes place outside the safety of God’s redemption. More probably, it refers to the city of Jerusalem.  

When Jesus returns to the holy city, the nations of the world will gather to fight against Him, a battle described in Revelation 16:16 and 19:19-21.  The army of the unredeemed will number in the millions and they will be slaughtered. The battle will take place outside the city of Jerusalem but will extend for two hundred miles, covering the length and breadth of the land of Israel.

The gruesome image of blood up to the horses’ bridles for two hundred miles is a way of talking about the terrible carnage that results when people refuse mercy and demand judgment.  And it is a way of talking about the universality of judgment — it extends to all people everywhere who choose to live outside the tabernacle of God’s grace.

Study Questions

1. What is perseverance and why is it a mark of true salvation? (see v. 12)

2. Jesus with a sharp sickle in His hand, the Christ of judgment, is not a popular portrait of Jesus. But why is it important that we have a balanced understanding of Jesus?

Revelation 15

Revelation 15

People are afraid of what tomorrow might bring: financial collapse, environmental crises, political chaos, war and scarcity of resources.  All of these issues have the potential to cause harm and as responsible citizens we do well to be aware of them.  But what the world should fear most of all is the wrath of God.  Jesus said, “Fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

There are several categories of the wrath of God.  First of all is what we might call consequential wrath.  We reap what we sow.  God judges us by allowing us to experience the consequences of our choices, as the Apostle Paul said, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7,8).

A second related category of wrath is judicial abandonment, when God abandons people or nations to their sinful choices.  How terrifying, these words spoken by God through the prophet Hosea, “Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone” (Hosea 4:17).  Three times in Romans chapter 1 Paul speaks of God judging people in this manner:

“Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts” (Romans 1:24).

“For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions” (Romans 1:26)

“And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper” (Romans 1:28).

The purpose of both consequential wrath and judicial abandonment is to enable us to experience the reality of our choices, which reality may drive us to repentance. When we sincerely repent of sinful choices made out of ignorance or rebellion, the Lord does forgive and is able to release us and deliver us from harmful consequences. But those who do not repent will experience the full impact of their choices, both consequentially and judicially.

A third category of wrath might be called cataclysmic wrath when God sends judgment on a massive scale.  This can be world wide, as with the flood of Noah’s day, or regional, as with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

A fourth category of wrath is eternal wrath, described in Revelation 14:9-11, “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.  And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever.”

A fifth category of wrath is eschatological wrath, the judgment of God poured out on the unbelieving world at the end of time.  The Revelation contains numerous descriptions of this.

Incredibly, as the world experiences this outpouring of divine fury at the end of time, it will also experience the greatest outpouring of mercy and grace in human history, as the Gospel is proclaimed by an army of evangelists (7:2-8, 14:1-5), by the two witnesses (11:3-13), and even by an angel (14:6,7).  In addition, those who are saved will share their testimony even as they are being persecuted. Multitudes will come to know the Lord even in the midst of unprecedented destruction, violence and chaos.

In chapter 14, the first angel announced that the final hour of God’s judgment was upon the world, though grace was still available.  The two angels which followed announced the certainty of judgment.  Chapter 15 is a prelude to the description of God’s final acts of judgment.

15:1 “Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished.”

John is shown another sign in heaven.  The radiant woman of 12:1 and the red dragon of 12:3 are both called signs.  That is, they represent more than a woman and a red dragon.  They point beyond themselves to reveal spiritual truth.

Now another sign — seven angels bearing seven plagues.  They represent the certainty and fulfillment of God’s judgement against all unrighteousness. As the number seven represents completeness, then we can see in this sign the completeness of God’s judgment.

The word “plague” can be translated “blow” or “wound,” as in Acts 16:23, describing Paul’s mistreatment at the hands of the Philippian authorities, “When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison.”  In Luke 12:48 the word is used to describe the flogging of the unfaithful servant.  Most interestingly, it is used in Revelation 13:3 to describe the beast’s fatal wound.

We should not think of these plagues as though God is indiscriminately pouring out disease on the world.  Rather, God is striking the world with deadly, powerful, wounding blows of judgment in a context of grace proclaimed, grace refused and the continued celebration of evil, violence and idolatry.

These seven blows will be poured out on the world from seven bowls (described in chapter 16).  These seven bowls follow the seventh trumpet (11:15) which itself concluded the breaking of the seventh seal (6:1).

In the release of these seven plagues, the wrath of God is finished.  Wrath, thumos, describes rage, a passionate outpouring of anger — God’s anger is released against all sin. Because God is just, He is passionate in breaking the power of anything that violates His justice. Because the Lord is perfectly loving, He is passionate in breaking the power of anything that seeks to destroy the objects of His love. Because God is a perfectly wise Creator, He is passionate in breaking the power of anything that violates the beauty and wisdom of His creative design.

The Good News is that Jesus, on the cross, bore the wrath of God for all who repent of sin and confess true faith in Him.  But any person who rejects or despises the atoning blood of the Lamb of God will bear that wrath personally, as the writer to the Hebrews describes:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?  For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’  And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’  It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:26-31).

It is not that God is sometimes holy and righteous but not merciful; or merciful and kind but not holy and righteous.  God is always all that God is.  Peter’s testimony is true, that the Lord is “patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).  Paul’s testimony is true, that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:3).  John’s testimony is true, “For God so loved the world He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

However, there is only one way to access this mercy.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6).  Those who reject Christ as the way of access to the mercy of God will bear their unforgiven sin and will therefore experience the unmixed wrath of God for all eternity.

15:2 “And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God.”

John’s attention is drawn from the angels to a sea of glass mixed with fire, the same sea of glass which John mentioned in 4:6, “And before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal.”  Moses, when he was given a glimpse of God, saw under God’s feet “a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself” (Exodus 24:10).  Ezekiel also saw this “expanse, like the awesome gleam of crystal” (Ezekiel 1:22).  

This shimmering pavement appears to John as though it is on fire with the glory of God.  Standing on it are the saints who emerged victorious from conflict with the beast.  They overcame the world system by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony and now are qualified to stand before the throne of God.  

They are the ones who refused to bow to the image of the beast, who refused his mark, who did not abandon their faith, who persevered, who loved not their lives even unto the death.  They were not deceived or seduced.  They are the overcomers who will eat of the tree of life (2:7), who will not see the second death (2:11), who will eat of the hidden manna (2:17), who will exercise authority over the nations (2:26), who will wear white garments and be pillars in the temple of God (3:5,12), who will sit with Christ on His throne.

They persevered because true faith is a gift from God and therefore endures through every trial and all tribulation.  These overcomers stand before the throne of God holding harps, rejoicing before the God who brought them through to safety.

15:3 “And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, ‘Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations!’”

They sing the song of Moses and of the Lamb.  That is, they celebrate the redemptive purpose of God on earth, beginning with the deliverance of Israel from Egypt and culminating in the victory of the Lamb over the world system of the Antichrist.  It is a song of victory, for both the Israelites and the redeemed of the Lamb have been set free from slavery so that they could live out the purpose of God to the glory of God.  

Though the victorious saints do not mention the judgment of God on the Babylon of the Antichrist, that judgment is implied.  As Moses stood on the far banks of the Red Sea, he praised God not only for deliverance from Egypt but also for the destruction of Pharaoh’s army (Exodus 15:1-21). Deliverance for the people of God requires the wrathful destruction of God’s enemies. Just as the Lord could not set Israel free from slavery without destroying the army that opposed His purpose, so in the last days the Lord cannot establish His kingdom without destroying the world system that opposes His kingdom.

They sing praise to God who is worthy of praise because His works are great and marvelous.  He is the Lord God Almighty, that is, omnipotent, who always accomplishes His purpose because His power is perfect.  He is righteous and true and therefore must judge that which is unrighteous and untrue.  He is King of the nations, sovereign Lord over all people and times and places.  They praise the almighty, righteous, true sovereign Ruler who has broken the power of the Antichrist and established the true King of the earth on Mount Zion.

Just as the Israelites stood at the Red Sea and praised God for His victory over Egypt, so we will stand someday at the crystal sea and sing of God’s deliverance from Babylon.

15:4 “Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; for all the nations will come and worship before You, for Your righteous acts have been revealed.”

They sing, “All the nations will come and worship before you” anticipating the thousand year reign of Christ on earth in which all the nations of the world will come and worship Him.  This is not a suggestion of universal salvation prior to the return of Jesus. Rather, when He establishes His throne in Jerusalem, the nations of the world will give Him the glory due His name — every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

15:5 “After these things I looked, and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened.”

Now the heavenly “temple of the tabernacle of testimony” opens.  The word temple is naos, which was used in reference to the inner sanctuary of the Jerusalem temple, where God placed His glory. As Jesus died on the cross, “The veil of the temple (naos), was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split” (Matt 27:51). In John’s vision this represents a manifesting of the holy presence of God — John is allowed to gaze into the very presence of God, some manifesting of God’s essence.  

John’s focus is directed onto the Lord as a way of emphasizing that God, and God alone, is the source of the final judgments which will soon be poured out on the earth. 

15:6 “And out of the temple came the seven angels having the seven plagues, clothed in pure bright linen, and having their chests girded with golden bands.”

The seven angels seen in verse one emerge.  They come out from the presence of God carrying the judgments of God, which emphasize God’s absolute hatred of sin, His absolute refusal to coexist with sin and His absolute commitment to destroy sin. The Lord has offered a way of mercy and grace through the blood of the Lamb. But apart from that Way, there is no hope of mercy or grace, only judgement.

Though humanity qualifies for every judgement mentioned in Revelation, believers in Christ enjoy blessing because the wrath of God was poured out on Jesus on behalf of sinners.  Now the blood of the Lamb has qualified us to receive the grace of God.  But that is not our own doing.  God’s gift of mercy turned us to repentance which turned us to His gift of faith. 

However, sinners who refuse the atoning Sacrifice will experience the full wrath of God. They have no other sacrifice to stand in the way of wrath, no Advocate to plead on their behalf.  Mercy refused leaves only judgment.  Those who trample on the blood of the Lamb have only a terrifying expectation of judgment. 

Jesus, on the night before He died for us, gathered with His disciples to celebrate the Passover.   “And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins’” (Matthew 26:27,28).  Those who refuse to drink of the gracious cup of salvation will drown in the flood of wrath poured out from the bowls.

The angels are dressed in linen, clean and bright, which speaks of purity of heart and sacredness of office. Their golden sashes speak of a priestly function. They are holy servants of God.

15:7 “Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever.”

One of the four living creatures, who minister before the throne of God, gives to the angels golden bowls full of the wrath of God.  The only other mention of golden bowls was in 5:8, when the bowls were filled with the prayers of the saints, reminding us of the relationship between prayer for the righteous purpose and kingdom of God to be established on earth and the judgment which accompanies that establishment.

When we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” we are praying that the righteous judgment of God will be poured out on earth in conjunction with the preaching of the Gospel, toward the goal of the enthronement on Mount Zion of the King of kings and Lord of lords.

The bowls are filled with the wrath of God, “Who lives forever and ever.”  In contrast to empires which rise and fall in so brief a span of time, this God who judges temporal kings and empires is the God who lives forever and ever.

15:8 “And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power; and no one was able to enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.”

As the angels receive the bowls, the temple is filled with smoke from the glory and power of God.  As smoke covered Mount Sinai when God descended (Ex. 19:18), as a cloud rested on the tabernacle in the wilderness when the glory of God descended on it (Ex. 40:34), as Isaiah witnessed in His vision of the heavenly temple (Isa 6:4), so now glory fills the temple.

But whereas glory was once a covering for the people of God in the heat of the wilderness day and a light in their darkness, it is now emblematic of the fire of divine anger.  When this terrible hour arrives, the Gospel will have been preached across the earth by the church for over 2,000 years.  The 144,000 evangelists will have proclaimed the Gospel around the world during the tribulation, along with the two witnesses and the angelic messenger.  Those who stand under judgment are those who hardened their hearts to the truth and the mercy of God revealed in Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.

No one will be able to enter the temple until the seven plagues are finished.  The time for priestly intercession is past.  God has declared that the end has come.  No longer does the Savior stand knocking at the door.  Now His hand is raised for final judgement.  No one will restrain His hand.

Study Questions

1. The word wrath, thumos, describes God’s passionate anger against sin. How do we reconcile the wrath of God with the mercy of God? (see v. 1)

2. How is it that followers of Christ will not experience the wrath of God? (see v. 6)

Revelation 16

Revelation 16

Chapter 16 relates the final series of plagues or blows which God pours out on a wicked, violent, God-rejecting world.  Whereas the judgments of chapters 8-11 were partial — one-third of the earth burned (8:7), one-third of the sea becomes blood (8:8) — the judgments of chapter 16 are comprehensive — “every living thing in the sea died” (16:3), “every island fled away” (16:20).  

Also, the earlier judgements heralded by trumpets, were in a sense, an attempt to call people to repentance.  They were not the final act of judgment.  There was still time and room to repent, grace was still being proclaimed and offered.  But the plagues of chapter 16, the outpouring of wrath from the golden bowls, are God’s judgment unmixed with any shred of mercy or grace, poured out on an unrepentant world.

It is not that God ceases to be merciful or gracious.  But a world that rejects His mercy and grace will experience only His wrath.  Jesus said, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).  The wrath of God is already abiding on the unbeliever.  Jesus, in His first advent, came to seek and to save, not judge, because the world was already under judgment.  He came offering grace.  Rejection of grace leaves only wrath.

The multiplying of the fierceness and intensity of God’s wrath matches the multiplying of humanity’s sinful rebellion against God.  In spite of nearly seven years of terrifying, destructive judgment and unprecedented preaching of grace, most of the world continues to trample under foot the blood of Christ, despising God’s offer of forgiveness.

16:1 “Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, ‘Go and pour out the bowls of the wrath of God on the earth.’”

The age of grace is ended. The seven angels are commanded to pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath onto the earth, wrath unmixed with any offer of grace.

16:2 “So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth; and it became a loathsome and malignant sore on the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image.”

For a season, it had appeared that the mark of the beast would lead to profit.  But ultimately, it led to sores and damnation.  (Note the parallel to the sixth Egyptian plague, Exodus 9:9-11).

Earlier in the tribulation, judgment was not only an expression of wrath but also of mercy, intended to drive people to repentance.  One is almost tempted to see that here — better the temporary torment of sores driving people to repentance than the everlasting torment of hell.  But the number of believers seems to be complete now.  The remaining population of earth is unrepentant and this is the cup of God’s wrath “mixed in full strength,” without mercy (Rev. 14:10).

In the following verses we will see that these sores have no effect on believers.  Those who have come to faith in Christ and who have survived persecution are untouched by this outpouring of wrath for they are not under judgment. The only people who are afflicted are those who have the mark of the beast.  Notice that there is no mention of repentance or faith.  As we have said, the number of the saved seems to be complete and the hearts of the lost appear to be hardened beyond remedy. Judgment has no impact.

16:3 “The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became blood like that of a dead man; and every living thing in the sea died.”

This parallels the plague of Exodus 7:20-21 and the second trumpet judgement (Rev. 8:8-9), in which a third of the sea became blood.  But now all the seas of the world congeal into a thick, blood-like substance which destroys all marine life.  The death and decomposition of every living thing in the sea will add to the unimaginable horror.  Since the oceans cover 70% of the world’s surface, this will be a devastating blow to the world’s economy and ecology.

16:4 “Then the third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of waters; and they became blood.”

God judges one of the basic requirements for life on earth — water.  Whereas the third trumpet of 8:10,11 resulted in a third of the fresh water turning bitter, now all fresh water is turned to blood. This does not mean that people can no longer drink the water but it is surely putrid and foul. Judgement has reached a level of climax, of horrible finality.

16:5,6 “And I heard the angel of the waters saying, ‘Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.’”

In order that no one would impugn God’s holiness in this expression of wrath, an angel defends God’s character and purpose, proclaiming the righteousness, eternity and holiness of God.  The angel declares that God’s judgment is righteous and holy because God is righteous and holy. God’s judgment is just because God is just. God’s works reflect and express His attributes.  God offers mercy because His is merciful. He judges sin because He is just.

God in His mercy has made a way for every sinner to escape judgement by placing that judgment on Jesus, the Lamb of God.  But if people despise the blood of the Lamb, a holy God must confront their sin and His judgment will fall on the sinner.

The world rejected the clear, uncompromised preaching of the truth and martyred the truth speakers, rejected grace and martyred the grace bearers.  Now, those who shed the blood of God’s holy servants will be given water with the consistency of blood.  

“They deserve it” the angel declares.  Judgment does not obscure the righteousness of God, rather, reveals it.  The Apostle Paul spoke of “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Romans 2:5).  The day of wrath reveals God’s righteousness. God manifests His righteousness by judging that which denies and assaults His truth, His mercy, His holiness. 

Soon, John will hear the heavenly choir singing, “Hallelujah!  Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; because His judgments are true and righteous; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants on her” (Rev. 19:1,2).

16:7 “And I heard the altar saying, ‘Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.’”

The voice crying out from the altar must be the martyrs who, earlier, called for God’s justice to be enacted for their vindication (Rev. 6:9,10).  Their voice confirms the proclamation of the angel, that the judgements of God are true and righteous.  His judgement of sin is not cruel or unjust but is the expression of His righteous, eternal, holy nature.

16:8 “The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun, and it was given to it to scorch men with fire.”

Note God’s sovereign control over the process.  The sun is not out of control — “it was given to it” to scorch men with fire.  The sun is an instrument in the hands of Almighty God.

It’s as if the sun releases an enormous solar flare, scorching the earth with fire.  Isaiah saw this day, “Therefore, a curse devours the earth and those who live in it are held guilty.  Therefore, the inhabitants of the earth are burned and few men are left” (Isa. 24:6).  This explosion of solar energy will, no doubt, devastate the earth’s vegetation and melt the polar ice caps, which will flood the islands and coastal cities of the world.  

16:9 “Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory”

Again, one would think that such an event would lead many to repentance, since it is common knowledge by now that the source of these judgments is none other than Almighty God.  Yet the people refuse to repent or give glory to God, instead blaspheming the name of God. 

They have become like the devil they serve — increased knowledge of God only leads to increased blasphemy.  The more they know of God, the more they hate and defy God.  

Note the similarity to Pharaoh.  As God increased the severity of judgement upon Egypt, Pharaoh increasingly hardened his heart.  Judgment leads either to repentance or to the hardening of the heart.  There are some hearts which neither grace nor wrath, mercy nor judgment, will reach.

Remember that when God pours out judgment, it is usually gradually escalated and accompanied by an outpouring of grace. The convergence of pressure and grace can produce change in people and in societies. Yet there are people and societies upon whom neither the weight of judgment nor grace can produce change. So it appears to be in the final days of history.

16:10,11  “Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues because of pain, and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds.”

Throne speaks of the center of government and authority and it is there that God supernaturally removes all light.  The result is that the entire kingdom of the Antichrist is consumed in darkness.  The beast who led the world in rejection of the Savior who is the Light of the world, now finds himself and his worshippers tangled in impenetrable darkness.  The effect of this plague would be to intensify with terror the four previous plagues and the beast is shown to be powerless to withstand the judgment of God. Note again the similarity to an Egyptian plague (Ex. 10:21-29).

The prophet Joel foresaw this time, “A day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness” (Joel 2:2).  Jesus spoke of this last hour, “But in those days, after the tribulation, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light” (Mark 13:24).

Pain and terror multiply but the people continue in their refusal to repent, instead blaspheming God.  The intensifying of judgement only brings about an intensification of sin and hatred of God.  The people are more and more hardened in the image of the beast, whose typical response to God is to blaspheme God and His followers (13:1,5,6  17:3).  

Evidently the people have become so hardened in sin, they can only persevere in sin.  They have refused mercy and now, judgement only confirms them in their rejection of God.  There are no further references to repentance in Revelation.  If there had been any possibility of anyone turning to Christ, that is now gone.  All unbelievers are now confirmed in unbelief.  All further judgment is poured out on unredeemable, irreversibly hardened hearts.


We are reminded of Paul’s words, “Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness” (2 Thes. 2:8-12).

Having refused light, the Lord will give them over to darkness. Having refused truth, the Lord will give them over to delusion.

16:12 “The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, so that the way would be prepared for the kings from the east.”

Note the similarity between the sixth bowl and the sixth trumpet, in which four great angels bound at the Euphrates were released to lead a demonic onslaught against the world (9:13,14).

So much of Bible history occurred around the region of the Euphrates.  The Garden of Eden was located somewhere in its vicinity (Genesis 2:10-14).  It flowed through the Assyrian, Babylonian and Medo-Persian Empires.  The Euphrates marked the eastern boundary of the land given by covenant to Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 15:8).  It also marked the eastern border of the Roman empire of John’s day, beyond which lived fierce warrior tribes.

The 1,800 mile journey of the Euphrates River begins in the snow fields on Mt. Ararat (in modern day Turkey).  It is probable that those ice packs will be melted by the fiery heat released through the fourth bowl judgment, resulting in the flooding of the Euphrates Valley.  The outpouring of the sixth bowl will release a supernatural drying of this area.  This will allow the kings of the east to cross over with their armies.

In the following verses, the text clearly states that demons are released for the purpose of gathering these kings for one final, massive act of violence against God.  Their destination is Armageddon, a plain located in present day Israel.

They will make war on the Lord and will be unsuccessful.  The drying up of the flooded Euphrates is an act of judgment whereby God draws the armies of rebellious, unrepentant, God-rejecting rulers to their destruction.

16:13 “And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs;”

These are not literal frogs; they are demon spirits “like frogs,” which in Old Testament Israel were considered to be unclean, as in other mid-eastern cultures.  The dragon, of course, is the devil.  The beast is the Antichrist, completely given over to Satan as an instrument of his purpose, ruler of the godless, secular, end-time state.  The false prophet, the second beast of 13:11-17, is the high priest of the spiritual and religious system which justifies the state and satisfies the spiritual needs of a world that has forsaken God. Throughout the tribulation, their campaign of propaganda, misinformation and counterfeit spirituality seduces people to abandon God and to commit themselves to evil.

Jesus said of the devil, “He was a murderer from the beginning ... a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).  The Antichrist and the false prophet are, like their spiritual father the devil, completely given over to uncleanness, violence, blasphemy and lies.  They cannot open their mouths without belching uncleanness.

16:14 “for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty.”

John reiterates that the three unclean spirits which proceed from their mouths are demonic.  They perform signs for the rulers of the world for the purpose of seducing, deceiving and gathering them to make war on God.  Jesus warned that in the last days false prophets would arise performing signs and wonders and would lead many astray (Matt. 24:24).  Paul warned of a lawless one who would arise with lying signs and wonders (2 Thes. 2:8,9).

Often, the origins of wars are difficult to explain on a natural level.  One historian said of World War I that there was not one nation with one justifiable reason to become involved in the war.  The ensuing slaughter cost millions of lives, left the world vulnerable to the deadly epidemic of 1919 and resulted in the unjust Treaty of Versailles which itself paved the way for Hitler’s rise to power and the savagery of Word War II.

The passion for war which inflames nations can only be explained in supernatural terms.  Such will be the war instigated by Satan and described in this chapter.  It will be truly global.  And it will be God’s day of reckoning with the unjust nations.  Joel foretold the great and terrible day of the Lord when God will gather the nations and carry out judgement on them (Joel 2:11).  It will be the climax of human history.

16:15 (“Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.”)

The gathering battle is interrupted by a word of warning.  Jesus had often warned His disciples that His return would be sudden and therefore we must be vigilant (Matthew 24:42-44   Luke 12:35-40).  Paul also warned that the day of the Lord will come “like a thief in the night” (I Thes. 5:2). 

 

It is not that we are not expecting the Lord to intervene in history but it will be so sudden, so immediate.  Believers must stay vigilant, spiritually prepared, discerning.  We must be able to cut through the spiritual deception and media propaganda of a world “that lies in the power of the evil one” (I Jn. 5:19). How do we prepare for the coming of the Lord?  How do we cut through the lies and misinformation of a world system that declares light to be dark and dark to be light?

Preparation and discernment are a day by day discipline as we abide in truth, as we walk in the light. This is a lifestyle of prayer, of praise, of reading the word of God and thinking it, speaking it, living it, walking it out day by day.

“Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his garments.”  The imagery is of a soldier who is dressed and ready for combat.  Though the battle breaks out unexpectedly, he is prepared, standing at his post.  So with the follower of Christ.  We must be vigilant, prayerful, spiritually discerning for every challenge at all times. If we are, then we will be ready at the end of time.

16:16 “And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon.”

Har-Magedon means “the mountain (or hill country) of Megiddo.” Although there is no mountain close by, there are hills.  Some prefer the variant manuscript rendering, Armageddon, which would refer to the city of Megiddo, or the famous plains nearby. 

The plains near the ancient city of Megiddo have been the site of battles for at least four millennia (there is a historical record of an Egyptian ruler,  Tuthmosis III, who fought there in 1468 BC).  Napoleon called this the greatest battlefield he had ever seen.  Over two hundred battles have been fought on this plain over the centuries. 

The precise location of the final conflict doesn’t matter.  From Revelation 14:20, we know that the battle will actually encompass the entire length and breadth of Palestine.  The point is that it will take place, that there will be a final confrontation between Christ and Antichrist resulting in the destruction of the forces of Antichrist.  

Behind all of history is this ageless rebellion of Satan against God.  For His own purpose and for His own glory God has allowed this rebellion but there will come a day when God will completely defeat the forces of Satan.  The outcome of the battle has already been described in 14:20.  The land will be covered in blood for two hundred miles.

16:17 “Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, ‘It is done.’”

“It is done,” is the translation of the word ginomai, which signifies that something has come into being.  That which God purposed from eternity has now come into being in time.

The voice from the throne can only be the voice of God Himself proclaiming the fulfillment of His purpose. This is not the same word that Jesus spoke from the cross when He said, “It is finished,” (John 19:30) but the thought is the same.  Even as Jesus, on the cross, fulfilled the work of the redeeming Lamb of God, now the work of God the Father in judging and destroying that which opposed His redemption purpose is also complete.  

The finished work of Jesus brought forgiving grace to repentant sinners.  The finished work of the Father brings destruction to an unrepentant world which refused grace. The salvation purpose of God is accomplished and now humanity stands at the doorway of eternity.

16:18 “And there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty.”

This proclamation, “It is done”, is accompanied by lightning and thunder and the greatest earthquake in the history of humankind.  When Jesus completed His work on the cross, an earthquake shook Jerusalem and split the curtain guarding the Holy of Holies in the temple.  As the Father completes His work, the foundation of the entire earth is shaken.  We will see in verse 20 that the structure of the earth is reconfigured by this shaking, a redesigning of earth in preparation for the thousand year reign of Christ.

Although this is a literal, physical earthquake, it is only one aspect of the shaking that has characterized the tribulation.  God will be shaking all things in nature and in the spirit realm and in the realm of human society — political, religious and economic systems, the philosophical beliefs and doctrines on which people based their lives, the idols both spiritual and physical before which the nations bowed, along with the heavens and the earth — all things will be shaken.

16:19 “The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath.”

The great city may be Rome but more probably it is Jerusalem.  This may not be a judgment on Jerusalem but a preparation for the return of the Messiah, when the restored holy city will be the capital of the world. We know from other Bible sources that the Mount of Olives will be split in two, allowing a valley to run between the two parts (Zech. 14:4).  A stream of fresh water will flow from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea and to the Mediterranean Sea (Zech. 14:8), causing the deserts of Judea to blossom like a garden (Isa. 35:1).  It also appears that Jerusalem will be even more elevated than it is today and the hilly region surrounding the city will become a plain (Zech 14:10).

However, this shaking brings nothing other than final destruction for the other cities of the world.  All the cities of all the nations will fall and “Babylon the great was remembered before God to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath.”  The capital city of the world system, the place in which the religious, political and economic authority and the government of the Antichrist was centered, will be completely destroyed.

“Babylon the great” may refer to a particular city which the Antichrist used as his capital city, possibly a literally rebuilt Babylon. But it surely also refers to the entire world system in rebellion against God.  This earthquake signifies the final destruction of the idolatrous world order which exalted itself against God, rejected Him, blasphemed His name and killed His true worshippers.

There was a time when God “in the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience” (Rom. 2:4) restrained His righteous indignation and by His mercy brought people to repentance.  But there is coming a day when humanity, having by the exercise of free will, refused mercy and chosen evil, will be unreachably hardened in that evil.  God will judge and destroy the cities of the world, cities which refused the rock foundation of righteousness, cities built on the sand of human sin.  

16:20 “Then every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.”

So great is the earthquake that the mountains of the world will fall and the islands of the sea will disappear.  Whereas in 6:12-14 the islands and mountains were moved out of their places, now they are completely obliterated.  The former was a warning.  This is final judgement.  This may also be a restoration of the earth to something like its topography before the flood.  This would produce a milder weather system and contribute to the long lives which will characterize the millennium.

16:21 “And huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe.”

The outpouring of wrath reaches its crescendo with hundred pound hailstones falling from the sky.  These may be caused by the radical changes in the atmosphere produced by previous judgments, especially the earthquake, which will fracture the earth’s crust, releasing vast amounts of super-heated lava, gas and steam into the air, which will in turn be cooled in the upper atmosphere and fall again, now as hail. This will cause unimaginable destruction.  

Again, judgment produces no repentance.  People continue to blaspheme God, further proof that the world at that time will have moved beyond repentance, will be completely and irrevocably hardened in sin.

There is nothing God can do at that time to save anyone not yet saved.  Mercy did not draw them into the tabernacle of grace, judgement could not drive them in.  The remaining people of the world have been transformed into the image of the beast, hardened in hatred and blasphemy of God and irretrievably lost.

Study Questions

1. How does God glorify Himself in judgment? (see v. 5-7)

2. These last days people know it is God who is judging them but they refuse to repent and give Him glory. Why is that? (see v. 9-11)

Revelation 17

Revelation 17

The return of Jesus in chapter 19 immediately follows the outpouring of the seven bowl judgments in chapter 16.  These bowl judgments lead directly into the battle of Armageddon, the final conflict between God and Satan leading rebellious humanity.  Chapters 17 and 18 interrupt this chronology to detail the destruction of the world empire of the Antichrist.  Chapter 17 recounts the Lord’s judgment of the Antichrist’s false world religion.  Chapter 18 recounts God’s judgment of the Antichrist’s economic system.

It is noteworthy that the climax of this book, indeed, the climax of world history, is the revelation of the Bride of Christ in all her beauty and radiance. But first we are shown the harlot, the false religion of the Antichrist, in all of its enticement and corruption.

17:1 “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, ‘Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters,’”

John is summoned to witness the judgement of the great harlot. Throughout the Old Testament, prostitution / harlotry is a symbol for spiritual unfaithfulness (Isaiah 1:21  Jeremiah 3:1-3).  Israel was in a covenant relationship with God, enjoying intimate communion with the living God.  The Lord said through the prophet Isaiah,

“For your husband is your Maker, whose name is the Lord of hosts; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, who is called the God of all the earth. For the Lord has called you, like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even like a wife of one's youth when she is rejected, says your God” (Isaiah 54:5,6).

God entered into intimate, covenant relationship with Israel, revealed the secrets of His heart to His covenant lover, and showered blessings of grace upon the nation. When the people broke covenant with God and worshipped false gods, the true and living God considered this to be adultery, spiritual prostitution.

In Revelation 17 the harlot represents the false, idolatrous religion which will captivate the unredeemed people of the world.  In verse 18 we will see that the harlot also represents the rebuilt city of Babylon, in which the false religious system is based. 

False religion is nothing new.  People were created to be worshippers of God but sin corrupted our capacity to know and love God.  The Apostle Paul reminds us that “what is known about God is evident within” the human heart (Romans 1:19). God gave everyone a conscience, the ability to discern good and evil, to make moral choices and thereby we can know that there is a God who is just.

Further, “Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (Romans 1:20). Creation itself reveals the existence of a Creator who is wise, powerful, eternal.

The problem is not that God is unknowable.  The problem is that people “suppress the truth in unrighteousness,” deny the truth of God’s existence (Romans 1:18).   And even though the human race knew God, “They did not honor Him” (Romans 1:21).  People choose to reject the God who has made Himself known. 

Because human beings are instinctively religious, God-rejectors do not usually become atheists. They become worshippers of idols, false gods. Or as someone said, “When people cease to worship God, they do not worship nothing. They worship anything.” This is what happened through the centuries: “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures” (Romans 1:22,23).

Created for worship but denying the existence of the true, living God, an empty space formed in the human heart. Satan, a lier and seducer, gladly stepped into the vacuum, offering counterfeit spiritual enlightenment.  

False religion offers spiritual fulfillment without having to come under the Lordship of a holy, truth speaking God and so there have always been a multitude of counterfeit gods.  False religions have truly been, in the words of Karl Marx, “the opiate of the people,” numbing lost humanity to their self destruction and blinding them to the presence of a righteous and merciful God.  

The conflict between the harlot and the bride began just outside the fiery gates of Eden when Abel brought a righteous sacrifice to God but Cain brought the works of his own hands, an offering that was rejected by God. Enraged, Cain murdered his righteous brother (Gen. 4:1-8). The first unrighteous worshipper became the first murderer and then, wandering away from the presence of God, built the first city (Gen. 4:16, 17). In the centuries following, false worshippers have multiplied and continued to spill the blood of the righteous while building cities which rise and fall apart from God.

In the end time, there will be only one false religion, centered on the person of the Antichrist. This will probably be a merging of many pantheistic / polytheistic ideas through the efforts of the false prophet. This one-world religion will provide the unifying force for the economic, political and military system of the Antichrist’s world empire.

Notice that the harlot sits on many waters.  Water is often a biblical symbol for chaos (for instance, Psalm 65:7).  In verse 15, we will read that the waters are people groups, nations.  The harlot, the false religion of the end time, will assume a place of spiritual rulership over the nations of the world.  This rulership will be gained in a time of confusion and destruction.  In this context of chaos and suffering, the people of the world will gladly embrace and submit to false religion.  The harlot will offer the comfort of false truth and false ritual to false hearts.

In verse five the harlot is given a name — Babylon the Great (17:5).  In Jeremiah 51:13, Babylon is said to dwell by many waters, a reference to the canals that went out from the Euphrates.  The harlot that sits on the waters, as we have said, represents the religious system that will undergird and unite the Antichrist’s rule. And the harlot represents the capital city in which this religion, and the Antichrist’s government, is based.  Even as water flowed through the canals of Babylon, the seducing power of the harlot will flow through, saturate and infuse the empire of the Antichrist.

17:2 “with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality, and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality.”

The kings who have committed immorality with the harlot are the world rulers who are swept up into the false religion of the Antichrist. This will be universal — all the kings of the earth will participate in this false religion so that they can participate in the wealth and power of the Antichrist. This is nothing new — the use of religion to justify the acquisition of wealth and power; the use of religion to persecute and destroy those who resist. 

Immorality here refers not to sexual sin but to religious apostasy, spiritual unfaithfulness, though this always leads to the corrupting of morals. The harlot seduced the rulers and those who dwell on the Earth into idolatrous, God-rejecting, false worship, made them drunk with doctrines of demons and rituals of deceit and, as we will see in verse 6, made them drunk “with the blood of the saints.”

Notice that the people of the earth follow the kings of the earth. The political leaders became intimate with the harlot and the unredeemed people of the earth became entangled in the intoxicating embrace of false religion. This also is nothing new.

17:3 “And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns.”

John is carried away into the wilderness, which may refer to the desert wasteland around a rebuilt city of Babylon or may refer to a world which has become a spiritual desert, devoid of true, sincere, worship of God. There are still followers of Christ in the world but they are being hunted down and put to death. The vast majority of the people still living are committed followers of the beast, hardened in their rejection of the true God.

John sees the woman / harlot now seated upon a scarlet colored beast.  The description of the beast matches the Antichrist who rose up out of the sea (13:1). He is the enemy of Christ and persecutor of the church.  (This is not a contradiction of verse one in which the harlot is seated upon many waters.  She is seated upon the beast who rose up out of the sea of world wide chaos).

The beast, the Antichrist, is clothed in scarlet which speaks of royalty and luxury.  The woman’s position, sitting upon the beast, refers to her dependence on the Antichrist, not her dominance over him.  The false religion is a unifying force and a tool, an instrument which the Antichrist uses to establish and enforce loyalty and devotion  to himself.

Names of blasphemy cover the beast’s entire body, revealing the nature, the heart of the beast.  Blasphemy is not merely what the beast says — it is what the beast is.  Roman emperors called themselves lord and savior.  They demanded worship and executed those who withheld worship. The antichrist spirit has always manifested in this way.  In the last days, worship of the secular authority on earth will reach its absolute zenith.  The beast also has seven heads and ten horns, which John later interprets (17:9-12).

17:4 “The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality.”

Purple and scarlet, adorned with gold and jewels — these speak of luxury, sensuality and wealth, the pursuit of self indulgence, all of which are primal motivations of the religion of the Antichrist. This motive — the acquisition of power and wealth, has always driven the human soul since our fall in Eden. We have seen it portrayed in the splendor of the palaces of the tyrant in the splendor of the cathedrals of apostate religion and in the clutching fists of the unredeemed mob. But it will reach its zenith in the worship of the Antichrist.

The woman holds a gold cup.  A gold cup is attractive, alluring, but it is filled with abominations and immorality, signifying the moral and spiritual corruption which infects all who drink of this harlot religion, this idolatry of the Antichrist and the values which he represents.

Compare her luxurious clothing with the righteous robe of the bride of Christ, “fine linen, bright and clean” which is “the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:8).  The prophet Isaiah said, “I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, my soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10).

The robe of Christ’s righteousness adorns the bride. The harlot is dressed in luxury gained through the seductive powers of false religion and a reign of terror and persecution against all who resist.

17:5 “And upon her forehead a name was written, a mystery: Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots, and of the abominations of the earth.”

It was customary for Roman prostitutes to wear a headband with their name written on it. But there is more to the Great Harlot’s name than mere identification.  Her name speaks of her true nature.

The bride of Christ will have His name written on her forehead (Rev 22:4).  Christ’s name represents His nature, His attributes, the essence of His being.  Christ’s name written on the forehead of His bride means that the essence of the character of Jesus will permeate His bride.  She will be transformed in His likeness, as the Apostle John reveals, “We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (I John 3:2). This is the Lord’s purpose in our lives: “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29).

In the same way, the name of the Great Harlot tells us of her purpose.  Her name is mystery, something that is not yet fully revealed; we do not yet know all the details of this end time spiritual Babylon.  Her name is Babylon the Great, representing not merely a geographical city, but more, the religious system of spiritual rebellion against God.  She is great because her influence is far reaching.  She is mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth; that is, she is the source of idolatry, deception and blasphemy in the end time.  

In fact, Babylon has been the source of spiritual rebellion against God from the time of Noah’s grandsons.  Let’s take a moment and remember the history of Babylon.  Its first reference is in Genesis 11.  The descendants of Noah arrived in “the land of Shinar” which would later be called Babylon. There they began to build a tower that would reach into the heavens, the purpose of which was not to worship God but to glorify themselves (11:4).  These towers, known as ziggurats, were associated with astrology and the worship of stars and false gods.  The leader of this rebellion may have been Nimrod who was the founder of Babylon (Genesis 10:9,10).  

This was the first recorded attempt by humanity to build an edifice for the purpose of worshipping that which is not God.  The fact that they were united in this self-worship made it all the more dangerous.  It is not that they did not know God — they were two generations removed from the flood and from righteous Noah, who knew God, served God, and no doubt taught his sons about God. These builders of the tower of Babel knew God but were deliberately suppressing that knowledge, refusing to give God glory and building a place of worship which would exalt themselves, the creature, while stealing glory from the Creator of all. This was a new beginning for the downward spiral of humanity, which spiral the Apostle Paul describes in Romans 1:18-32.

God judged these early idolaters by dividing their language and dispersing them around the world.  However, they took with them this seed of Babel, this seed of false religion which has taken root everywhere.  Its fruitfulness is due to the instinctive need in every human heart to worship something or someone. Having rejected the true God, people have embraced false gods of their own invention. In the end time, these false religions will be gathered into one.  

The Great Harlot represents the religious system which will undergird the Antichrist’s world government, enticing people away from God, seducing them into Satan worship and self destruction.  She is also the spiritual foundation of an ungodly world system which, in every age, prostitutes all that is righteous and true in order to gain power and luxury; a world system that seduces the souls of millions in order to gain that wealth and power; a world system that slaughters those who will not be seduced.  She is the mother of whoring and abomination,  perpetuating and reproducing rebellion and idolatry from one generation to the next.

17:6 “And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. When I saw her, I wondered greatly.”

Counterfeit religion is always a murderer of the truly faithful, beginning with Cain’s murder of Abel.  Those who reject God’s revelation of Himself and the holy way of true worship, have always been jealous of those who know God and who approach Him in reverence.  The Great Harlot is drunk with the blood of the saints whom she has slaughtered in violent opposition to Jesus, intoxicated by her murderous campaign against the righteous.  

This is not just a picture of end time religious persecution of the faithful.  Throughout history, Babylonian false religions have sought to destroy Christ’s church. Indeed, the apostate church has often been a murderer of the true church.

John wonders greatly, for harlot appears to be triumphant, sitting upon the beast, adorned in luxury and power, intoxicated with the blood of the righteous saints of God.

17:7 “And the angel said to me, ‘Why do you wonder? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns.’”

The angel, responding to John’s wonder, offers to explain the mystery of the woman and the beast that carries her.  The mystery is not that the woman represents the false religious system of the end time world.  The mystery is her relationship with the beast, the Antichrist.

17:8 “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come.”   

This is the beast of chapter 13, the Antichrist, who received a fatal wound and yet was revived (13:3,14).  “Was and is not,” is a way of describing his life and his supposed death.  This staged death and false resurrection, counterfeiting the true death and resurrection of Christ, were contrived as a way of seducing the world into worshipping the Antichrist.  Coming up out of the abyss refers to his complete demonization.  Following this resurrection charade, he will be entirely under the control of Satan.

Although the beast is a specific, demonically anointed man of the end time, he also represents the satanic power that has manifested through tyrants through all of history.  As John said, “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour” (I Jn. 2:18).  

Appearing to be destroyed in one generation, the same demonic anointing rises up from the abyss in the next generation and with renewed fury makes war on the church of God.  The unredeemed people of the world, those whose names are not written in the book of life, stand in awe of the beast in his many incarnations.  In every century they worship, they obey, they follow.

John experienced the blasphemy and violence of Roman emperors pretending to be God.  They were, in a very real sense, exercising the antichrist spirit.  But he also saw the last days of human history when the greatest God-pretender of all will rise up with the greatest of all deception, fury and violence.  There have been many despots through whom the antichrist spirit has manifested but at the end of history, there is this one Antichrist.  He will seem to be triumphant, making war on the saints and overcoming them, in his supreme arrogance blaspheming God, drawing to himself in worshipful awe all the unredeemed souls of the earth. In reality he is on the way to destruction.

Who are these who gaze in wonder at the beast? They are those “whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.” We were told in 13:8, “All who dwell on the earth will worship him (the Antichrist), everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.”

The Lamb’s book of life is the registry of those whom God foreknew from eternity past as His redeemed, those who are saved by grace through faith. But those who reject grace will be deceived into worshipping the Antichrist and will be lost forever.

17:9,10 “Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while.”

The angel now identifies the seven heads of the beast as seven mountains on which the woman sits.  People of John's generation might have seen this as Rome, the city set on seven hills (which was a common reference to Rome), leading some commentators to suggest that John sees the Antichrist as an incarnation of the corrupt, immoral, blasphemous Roman empire of his day or a revival of the Roman Empire in the last days. But the empire of the Antichrist will be much larger than Europe.  Still others see this as an identification with the Roman Catholic Church, based in Rome.  But the end time world religion will probably include a diversity of religious concepts and finally center on the Antichrist as the sole object of worship. Others suggest that the number seven represents the fullness of domination, the universal power of the beast.

None of this speculation is necessary, however, because verse 10 identifies the seven mountains as seven kings.  In the Old Testament, mountains sometimes represent a place of power (Psalm 30:7   Dan 2:35  Jere. 51:24,25).  This is consistent with the interpretation of the hills as kings or empires.  Five are fallen, one is and one is to come.  

Five empires that had fallen by John’s life time were Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia and Greece.  Rome was still in power at the time of the Revelation, and one is future.  Some commentators believe that the seventh empire is a collective way of speaking about all the antiGod governments between Rome and the advent of the Antichrist.  But it is most certainly the final world empire of the Antichrist.

Three times in this chapter we are told that the beast is not. In fact, he has not yet come up from the abyss, not in John’s day, nor yet in our day. Aside from any symbolic meaning attached to the beast, he is a historical, flesh and blood person who will appear at the end of history, the Antichrist. Paul reminds us that this is a man, “that lawless one … whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Thes 2:8-10).

Notice that this final king will reign only for “a little while.”  As we read in 13:5, he will be given “authority to act for forty-two months.”  He will reign as undisputed king of the earth only for the second three and one half years of the Tribulation.

17:11 “The beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction.”

How is it that the beast who was and is not is an eighth king and also one of the seven?  The answer may be that he reigns as the seventh king during the first half of the Tribulation, before his staged death and resurrection.  After the charade of his counterfeit resurrection, he will reign as the eighth king.  

Or it may be that he is literally the seventh king, the seventh world empire but also figuratively, the eighth king representing all the kingdoms of the world which have resisted, defied and blasphemed the God who ordained governments for the good of humanity.

Yet again John is told of the certain destruction of the beast.  He will reign on the earth but “he goes to destruction” in the everlasting lake of fire.  The Lord does not want the church to have any doubts about the certainty of the Antichrist’s judgment and destruction. Whereas the first six empires were destroyed through the process of history, the final world empire will be destroyed by the direct intervention of God.

17:12 “The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour.”

The ten horns are ten kings “who have not yet received a kingdom.”  Ten is sometimes used in the Bible to indicate completeness.  The ten kings may be a way of talking about the totality of the nations of the world in submission to the Antichrist, but it is more likely that they are ten literal rulers.  Possibly the world government will be divided into ten administrative districts and these kings will exercise governmental responsibility under Antichrist’s authority.

Their reign will be brief, “for one hour,” just as the rule of the Antichrist is brief.  His judgment and destruction will mean their judgment and destruction.

Whoever the ten kings are, they will not be unveiled until the last days.

17:13,14 “These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast. These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.”

These ten district administrators will give their power to the beast and join him in common purpose.  They will operate under the authority of the Antichrist and for the accomplishing of his purpose. That common purpose is to “wage war against the Lamb”.  

This will occur at the battle of Armageddon (16:13-16).  The Lamb will overcome them because He is “Lord of lords and King of kings.”  Jesus is the One to whom all other rulers are subordinate.  God has delegated authority to human governments and institutions for the purpose of establishing peace and protecting the common good.  But God is sovereign over all the rulers to whom he has delegated authority.  All kings and governors will be held accountable for their use or misuse of their God-given opportunity to govern.  The end time rebellion against God will be met and crushed at the return of Jesus.

Those who return with the Lamb, the “called and chosen and faithful,” will share in His victory.  They are the overcomers of 2:26,27, who will be given “authority over the nations.”  That is, we will share in the thousand year rule of Christ.

17:15 “And he said to me, ‘The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues.’”

The angel interprets the symbolic picture, from verse one, of the harlot sitting on many waters.  The waters represent nations, people groups.  In a time of world wide chaos, she sits on the waters, that is, she overcomes the nations through the seducing idolatrous religion which undergirds the empire of the Antichrist.  In verse 5 she is called Babylon the Great for her influence is universal.  She persecutes the righteous while seducing, deceiving and oppressing the unredeemed into worshipping the beast and submitting to his world government.

17:16 “And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire.”

The Antichrist will use this false religion to unify the world under his rule but will then turn against it, destroy it, and replace it with the worship of himself.  His self love, his lust for power, wealth and worship, will disallow any rivals.  Jealous of the riches amassed by the false religion, and craving the worship being given to idols other than himself, he will destroy the harlot religion.  It is then that he will set up his abomination in the rebuilt Jerusalem temple.  He alone will be worshipped.

This is a principle of history both mysterious and divinely glorious: every evil empire that has seized power, deceived and enslaved souls, slaughtered the righteous and shaken its fist at God, has contained in its very soul the seeds of its own destruction.  Evil has great power to destroy but finally destroys itself.  Babylon the Great will be ravaged and made desolate by the forces of Babylon.  The mother of harlotry and abomination will be devoured by her own children.  

The French revolutionaries of the 18th century who began the reign of terror, who condemned thousands to death on the guillotine, were themselves executed on their own scaffolds by their disciples.  Hitler was destroyed by the war he began.  His last act of violence was against his own life.  Evil devours itself.

17:17 “For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled.”

It was God Himself who put it into the hearts of the kings and the beast to execute His purpose (or “His mind”).  Ultimately, the powers of evil, even in their violent rebellion, serve only the kingdom purpose of God.  What appears to be a unity of purpose within the world system at a particular time in history is really just the outworking of the preordained plan of God. God causes even “the wrath of man” to praise Him, as the Psalmist reminds us (Ps. 76:10).

Behind the fiery smoke and stormy clouds of what seems to be an out of control world stands the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  He tarries, not from fear or impotence but until every word spoken by the prophets is fulfilled and until the gospel of the kingdom is preached unto all the world.  And then the end shall come.

Still the words of the Psalmist ring true, 

“Once God has spoken, twice I have heard this: 

that power belongs to God” (Psalm 62:11).

17:18 “The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.”

Again the angel identifies the woman.  She is the great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.  She has also been identified as the religious system that undergirds the great city, Babylon. Babylon, in Revelation, is not just a physical city, but the world empire of the Antichrist and the philosophical / political / religious mindset of rebellion against God on which the city is built.

In John’s day that empire of rebellion was centered in Rome.  In every century empires have played the harlot for wealth and power, have seduced souls and made them drink from the cup of idolatry, immorality and abomination, have persecuted the righteous and become drunk with righteous blood.  At the end of time, the empire of the Antichrist will use every tool available — political, military, economic and religious — to make war on the Lamb. But the Lamb will be triumphant.

In chapter 17 we see God’s destructive judgment on the religious undergirding of Babylon.  In chapter 18 we will see the destruction of the political and economic structure of Babylon.

Study Questions

1. What does the harlot represent?

2. What is her purpose?

Revelation 18

Revelation 18

Chapter 18 details the destruction of “Babylon the Great.”  Some scholars are troubled by the violent anti-government attitude of Revelation which seems to contradict earlier New Testament teaching concerning the believer's relationship with the state (Romans 13:1-7, I Peter 2:13-17 among others).  But there is no contradiction.  

Yes, all true authority is ordained by God and believers are to pray for leaders, honor them, obey the law and pay our taxes.  But when governments yield so completely to the powers of darkness, when the secular state or any authority is only an instrument for the expression of satanic opposition to God and blasphemy against God, when that state demands the same opposition and blasphemy from its citizens, when that state requires that we deny our devotion to Christ and compromise our discipleship, then the believer must reaffirm obedience to Christ, even if this means violating the law.

When God gives authority to anyone, whether an emperor or parent or pastor, they can yield that authority to God and ask for His blessing and anointing.  Or they can yield to the empowerment of darkness.  But when any leader submits to the authority of darkness, they have abolished, nullified their authority from God.

The book of Revelation does not depict normal life under normal secular government.  Revelation presents the secular state entirely submitted to Satan.  It is a world system demonically empowered to oppose and destroy the presence and purpose of God in history.

In Revelation, believers are not presented as revolutionaries trying to overthrow the government.  They are merely trying to remain loyal to Christ and to His redemptive purpose.  For this, they are declared to be enemies of the state and worthy of death. Christ also declares Himself to be an enemy of that state.  And He will overthrow it.

In generations gone by, God “permitted all the nations to go their own ways” (Acts 14:16).  But not forever.  Jesus taught on numerous occasions that there is a day of accounting coming in which God will judge the wicked.  The Apostle Paul proclaimed the truth that, “The Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus,” (2 Thes. 1:7,8).  

Peter reminds us that the delay of God’s final judgment is not because God is slow, but rather, because he is merciful, “Not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:8,9).

God has mercifully sent forth the good news of forgiveness of sin and everlasting life through faith in Christ.  Even in the final years of history, even then God will still send forth the message of grace. But the season of grace has an end point. Babylon will be warned and when the Antichrist flaunts his arrogant blasphemies and sets up the image to himself in the rebuilt Jerusalem temple, Babylon will be judged and destroyed.

Chapter 17 detailed the judgment and destruction of the religious system undergirding the Antichrist’s empire.  Chapter 18 presents the judgment and destruction of the economic and governmental structures of Babylon.

18:1 “After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illumined with his glory.”

Another angel comes down from heaven bearing great authority and such radiance that the earth is illumined with his glory.  It is not the glory of the angel but the shekinah glory of God.  One is reminded of Moses coming out of the presence of God — he shined with such dazzling brightness they had to put a veil over his face.  

Keep in mind that the book of Revelation does not flow in chronological order so the effects of the fifth bowl judgment (16:10), which plunged the world into darkness, may not have taken place yet.  But if this has already happened, then imagine the dramatic impact — an angel radiating the explosive glory of God against a perfectly black backdrop.  

In a world increasingly suffocating under the shadowy principalities of darkness, we need more witnesses, who, like this angel, will stand in the presence of God and then go and shine the brightness of God’s glory.

18:2 “And he cried out with a mighty voice, saying, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird.’”

The judgment proclaimed in 14:8 and described in 16:17-19 is now announced as fulfilled, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great.”  The first reason given for Babylon’s destruction is that the city / empire / world government of Antichrist has become infested, saturated with demonic presence, a “dwelling place of demons.” The religious, economic and political life of Babylon will be entirely influenced by demonic activity.  

There is a historical application to this verse which applies to the Roman Empire of John’s day, the Babylon of the last days and every arrogant, God-rejecting empire filling the centuries between them. They have all fallen, in all of their proud splendor, power, luxury and blasphemy, they are  fallen. One by one, they become a dwelling place of demons (unclean, hateful birds may be a way of representing the demons as malicious birds of prey, predators).  The proud city of man, resisting the kingdom of God and blaspheming the true King, always falls into rubble and ruin, a shadowy, desolate haunt of demons and twisted scavengers.

We must note that in Old Testament times, the Babylonians attacked Israel, destroyed Jerusalem, slaughtered and enslaved the people of God.  But Babylon itself was destroyed.  Isaiah prophesied (13:20-22) that the city would never again be inhabited but would become a haunt of “howling creatures,” “goat demons,” jackals and hyenas.  Since it appears that the city will be rebuilt by the Antichrist, then we should interpret Isaiah’s prophecy as referring to the final rebuilt Babylon.  It will be destroyed at the end of the tribulation and remain a perpetual ruin during the entire thousand year reign of Christ.

18:3 “For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality.”

A second reason for the fall of Babylon is because it infected the world with its corruption.  Nations have drunk / ingested the wine of her immorality.  This refers to her idolatry.  World leaders have become drunk through the worship of gods that are not gods.  Rulers have been intimate with the Babylonian world order, have shared in her spiritual adultery.  

Merchants have also made great wealth by sharing in her sensuality (also translated luxury) and seduction.  Wealth itself is not evil but the love of money is the root of all evil (I Tim. 6:10).  Wealth gained through immoral, unjust and oppressive means is evil which God promises to judge (Jere. 22:3-5, 13-19,  Micah 3:9-12,  Mal. 3:5,  Zech. 7:8-12,  James 5:1-6). Wealth that leads to self-indulgent luxury is evil and God judges this (Luke 12:18-21  Eph. 2:3).

18:4 “I heard another voice from heaven, saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues;’”

Who is this word spoken to?  First of all, to those who are saved in the last days.  Even as God judges Babylon, the gracious message of salvation will be preached across the earth. Many will repent and be saved.  Of that great multitude, many will be martyred but there will be believers who survive even into the last hour.  They will be continually warned to keep themselves disentangled from the affairs of Babylon.

However, this is also a word of warning for the church in every century.  If we want to participate in the sins of this world then we will have to participate in the plagues, the judgements of God on those sins.  Therefore, in every generation, come out.

Two reasons are given to come out of Babylon (in the last days and in every age): so as not to share in her sins nor in her judgement.  The economic system of Babylon is rooted in selfishness, self-indulgence, sensuality, greed, oppression and injustice.  The government is founded on the arrogant, blasphemous rejection of the transcendent God whose holiness, truth and righteousness stand in judgment over the kingdoms of the world.

While we are alive, we cannot physically separate ourselves from this world but we can refuse to participate in the demonically infected aspects of the world’s economic and political systems. We participate in the economy as workers but we must not gain wealth through oppression or injustice. We must not gain wealth so we can live selfish, self indulgent lives. 

Jesus prayed to His Father, “I do not ask you to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world,” (John 17:15,16).  We live in the world but we are not to partner in its sin.

Abraham’s journey with God began with the words, “Go forth” (Gen. 12:1).  His journey with God began only because he obeyed and went out from the society in which he had lived.  Isaiah called out to the people of his day, “Depart, depart, go out from there.  Touch no unclean thing” (52:11).  The Apostle Paul quoted these words after reminding the church that we must not be bound with unbelievers, “‘Therefore come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord.  ‘And do not touch what is unclean’” (2 Cor. 6:14-18).

The call to spiritual separation has always been issued to the people of God.  Spiritual separation sometimes results in physical separation, as with Abraham. He left an idol worshipping culture and family to follow the Lord. Before Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD, prophets warned the church to flee.  Those who heeded the warning were saved. But typically, we remain in physical or geographical proximity to the world while remaining spiritually separate. There is always the temptation to compromise. The flesh would say, “We are living in a hostile environment, we have to make some concessions.”  “No,” the Lord God says, “Come out. No compromise.”

The New Testament word for saint, hagios, is also the word for holy, consecrated, separated.  A consecrated person or object is set apart for service unto God.  We cannot be set apart unto God and Babylon.   So the Apostle Paul exhorts the church, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).  James reminds us to keep ourselves “unstained by the world” (James1:27).  John warns us, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 2:15). We are in the world but not conformed to that which the world values.

 18:5 “For her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.”

The ancient builders of the tower of Babylon hoped to build a tower that would “reach into heaven” (Gen. 11:4). They failed but these many centuries later, the sins of Babylon “have piled up as high as heaven.” It is time for Babylon to be judged.  There are seasons of grace when a merciful God patiently calls and waits for sinners to turn and respond.  But there is ultimately a season of judgement. To share in the sins of Babylon is to share in her judgment.

Notice that God has remembered the sins of Babylon, as with all who refuse to repent and trust in the blood of Christ.  But the promise to those who enter the New Covenant through faith in Christ is, “Their sin I will remember no more” (Jere. 31:34).  

18:6 “Pay her back even as she has paid, and give back to her double according to her deeds; in the cup which she has mixed, mix twice as much for her.”

This is not a cry for vengeance but for justice. God offers grace, calls for repentance and offers mercy.  A righteous God is able to offer grace to fallen sinners because Jesus atoned for our injustice and suffered the Father’s just wrath against sin. But those who refuse mercy will experience justice. 

The angelic voice calls for Babylon to be repaid double, that is, overflowing.  The  cup of sin with which Babylon seduced the world will now overflow with God’s wrath.  It is not for the church to take vengeance on the world.  The Apostle Paul exhorts us, “See that no one repays another with evil for evil” (I Thes. 5:15).  In fact, we are to bless those who persecute us.  Such exhortations are a consistent theme in the New Testament (see Rom. 12:14  I Peter 3:9).  In fact, Jesus directs us to rejoice in persecution because of the reward that awaits us in heaven (Matt. 5:11,12).  But we are not to take vengeance.  Only God is worthy to do so.  

18:7 “To the degree that she glorified herself and lived sensuously, to the same degree give her torment and mourning; for she says in her heart, ‘I sit as a queen, and I am not a widow, and wil never see mourning.’”

Babylon will be punished by the measure of her own sin.  As she glorified herself and lived sensuously (luxuriously) she will receive punishment.  The arrogant queen who reveled in luxury and immorality, who mocked God and murdered God’s people, who boasted in her self sufficiency that she would never mourn, that is, would never be held accountable to a transcendent standard of  justice and righteousness, to the degree of her sin she will receive the overflowing judgment of God.

18:8 “For this reason in one day her plagues will come, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for the Lord God who judges her is strong.”

Babylon’s judgement will not be progressive but will come suddenly, which implies the unexpectedness of God breaking into history and executing judgment on the proud, seemingly invincible kingdoms of the world. Babylon will be consumed in a fire of plague and famine, mourning and death.  

The speaker reminds us that the Lord who judges her is strong.  He is the God who declares “the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’” (Isa. 46:10).  What God has purposed, He will accomplish. Though it may not always appear to be so, there is a God whose justice transcends every generation, every empire, every throne. 

18:9,10 “And the kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For in one hour your judgment has come.’”

These verses support the idea that Babylon is more than just a representation of the world system.  It also must be a literal city, the capital city of the Antichrist. The kings of the earth, the political and financial powerbrokers, stand at a distance, from their various perspectives around the world and weep and mourn over the fall of the economic and governmental complex of Babylon. Evidently the plague of darkness has been lifted, or possibly it has not yet occurred, but the people of the world will see clearly the smoke of Babylon’s burning, the destruction of the empire in which they had placed their trust.

These kings are the ruling elite who made their accommodation with the whore of Babylon, got in bed with her and as a result, lived in luxury.  They are the arrogant elite, spiritually and morally bankrupt but secure in their wealth and their power and in control, or so they thought.

Now in one hour — suddenly, unexpectedly — Babylon, the political and commercial center of the world system, is swept away and they weep. These mighty men do not mourn for their sin.  Throughout these years of judgment, the Gospel has been proclaimed yet they steadfastly refused to repent, to express any sorrow or contrition for their offenses against God.  Indeed, they continue in arrogance, blasphemy, sensuality, immorality and greed, continue to pile their sins up before God.  They don't mourn for the millions of lives that were destroyed in the seizing and maintaining of power.  They don't mourn for the millions whose slave labor produced the luxurious beds in which the kings have whored their lives away.

They don't really even mourn for Babylon itself.  They mourn for what they are losing — a share of the power, wealth, privilege and luxury which they have enjoyed.

18:11 “And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, because no one buys their cargoes any more.”

Now the merchants take up the lament. Why?  “Because no one buys their cargoes anymore.”  They don't weep for the way their wealth was created — through blasphemy and immorality, corruption and the oppression and enslavement of millions of human lives. They don't even weep for Babylon. They weep because the judgement of God is bad for business.  It threatens their livelihood, flattens their market, depresses their portfolios.

At this point, whatever remained of the world’s economy has been irreversibly shattered.  Financial systems and markets built on greed, lust, covetousness, dishonesty, seduction, injustice and oppression are destroyed forever. 

18:11-13 “And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, because no one buys their cargoes any more — cargoes of gold and silver and precious stones and pearls and fine linen and purple and silk and scarlet, and every kind of citron wood and every article of ivory and every article made from very costly wood and bronze and iron and marble, and cinnamon and spice and incense and perfume and frankincense and wine and olive oil and fine flour and wheat and cattle and sheep, and cargoes of horses and chariots and slaves and human lives.”

An inventory of their cargo is listed.  Wealthy Romans of John's day bathed in silver tubs, ate dinner on tables of the rarest wood, ate delicacies from ivory dishes, dressed in silk.  So in the last days of history for the privileged few.  No pleasure will be denied, no extravagance will be too extreme.  But note the final items on the list — slaves and human lives. That is the cost of the economy of Babylon and the ultimate cargo — lives enslaved, souls seduced, entrapped, bought and sold. 

This speaks not merely of human trafficking and the exploitation of the powerless, though that will surely take place on a world wide scale in the last days.  But more ominously, it speaks of human souls intoxicated by the wine of self indulgence, sensuality and the unrestrained feeding of every appetite — these also make slaves. Both the powerful and the powerless, rich and poor — all alike were slaves in Babylon. The wealthy powerbrokers of Babylon were both slave makers and self-enslaved.

18:14 “The fruit you long for has gone from you, and all things that were luxurious and splendid have passed away from you and men will no longer find them.”

The lament continues: “And the fruit you long for (the fruit of your desire) has gone from you ... and men will no longer find them.”  The words “no longer” translate a double negative in the Greek, indicating the irretrievable loss of something.  The desire of their soul will not be regained, not ever.

They don’t mourn that mercy has gone from them or the opportunity for everlasting salvation.  They do not mourn the eternal condemnation in the torment of hell that will surely be theirs, of which they have been repeatedly warned.  They don't mourn the millions of lives that have been seduced by the beast and lost for all eternity.  They don't mourn the slaughter of the righteous saints of God.

They mourn only the loss of their delicacies, their wealth and all the luxuries their wealth purchased.  How completely, irreversibly seared and condemned are their souls!

They are living examples of the parable of the man who stored up riches for himself with no thought for God or eternity (Luke 12:15-21).  He thought he was blessed. God called him a fool.

They are living illustrations of the warning which Jesus gave to all, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36).

18:15-17a   “The merchants of these things, who became rich from her, will stand at a distance because of the fear of her torment, weeping and mourning, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, she who was clothed in fine linen and purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls; for in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste!’”

Whereas the kings mourned the destruction of “the strong city,” the merchants weep that “such great wealth has been laid waste.”  For both groups, grief is entirely self centered.  Kings mourn the loss of power, merchants bewail the loss of wealth.

Whatever else Babylon represents, it surely symbolizes the center of the world’s selfishness.  No one grieves the wasting of lives, families, nations, eternal salvation.  They grieve only the loss of power, privilege and possessions.

18:17b-19  “And every shipmaster and every passenger and sailor, and as many as make their living by the sea, stood at a distance, and were crying out as they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What city is like the great city?’ And they threw dust on their heads and were crying out, weeping and mourning, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, in which all who had ships at sea became rich by her wealth, for in one hour she has been laid waste!’”

Now another group joins the lament — ship masters (captains) and those who work and travel on ships.  They too weep over the loss of their livelihood, oblivious to the human destruction which Babylon has wrought in the world.

Some commentators have asked how ships could still be navigating dead oceans (see Rev. 16:3). The problem with that question is the lack of chronological (time) sequence in the Revelation.  Describing heaven or any activity of God is difficult on any level, especially using measurements of time. Eternity is the absence of time and when the God of eternity acts in time, in history, we can know what He is doing and saying as He reveals Himself to us but we should not try to track Him with our calendars or our clocks. So it may be that the killing of the oceans has not happened at this point, though we read about it in a previous chapter.

“In one hour she has been laid waste.” This is not a reference to specific clock time but to the unexpectedness of a transcendent God acting in history. People are deceived that life will go on as it always has but not so. In the days before the great flood, God called to sinful humanity for 120 years (Gen. 6:3), during which time Noah was a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5).  But when the season of grace was ended, in one day “all the fountains of the great deep burst open and the floodgates of the sky were opened” (Gen. 6:11). In one day the flood was loosed on a world unprepared for judgment. 

Life went on in Sodom and Gomorrah for years but in one morning God “overthrew those cities and all the valley and all the inhabitants of the cities and what grew on the ground” (Gen. 20:25).

The world has an appointment with wrath, not just Babylon but every unredeemed soul in the world.  Life goes on but there is an endpoint for each of us: “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

Life goes on but there is an end point for human civilization. The same God who began history will also conclude history.  People mock the idea of personal and national accountability. Even two thousand years ago, in the days of the Apostle Peter, they mocked, saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4).

Peter responded by reminding them that God has already poured out judgment once with the flood and is withholding judgement now, not because He is slow to exercise justice but because He “is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Ptr. 3:9).

There will be a day of wrath poured out on the earth but the follower of Christ need not be fearful, for “For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thes. 5:9).  We have an appointment with the mercy of a gracious Lord and Savior who has made provision for our sin through the blood of an unblemished lamb.

18:20 “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her.”

While the earth mourns, the glorified church and all of heaven are invited to rejoice over the manifesting of God’s righteous judgement.  They are not rejoicing over the suffering of the wicked or their eternal damnation.  They give thanks to God for judging evil, for destroying the rule of evil over the earth, for vindicating His church and establishing His kingdom of justice and righteousness on the earth.  The Antichrist is defeated and the true Messiah will reign on the earth, fulfilling the salvation purpose of God.  This is surely reason to rejoice.

18:21 “Then a strong angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, ‘So will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer.’”

Millstones were massive, heavy stones and the violence of the stone striking the water is a picture of the violence of Babylon’s overthrow.   The suddenness with which the stone sinks beneath the water represents the suddenness of Babylon’s destruction.  The ease with which the “strong angel” throws the stone is a way of expressing the ease with which God destroys the most powerful empire in world history.  For Almighty God, executing justice on a wicked world is as simple as throwing a stone into the sea.  

18:22,23 “And the sound of harpists and musicians and flute-players and trumpeters will not be heard in you any longer; and no craftsman of any craft will be found in you any longer; and the sound of a mill will not be heard in you any longer; and the light of a lamp will not shine in you any longer; and the voice of the bridegroom and bride will not be heard in you any longer; for your merchants were the great men of the earth, because all the nations were deceived by your sorcery.”

The destruction of Babylon will be total.  There will be no sound of music, for the musicians of Babylon are dead.  No craftsmen of any kind are to be found in the city.  They too are dead.  All forms of artistic expression have ceased.

Someone said that in the history of a civilization, the artist begins as a priest and ends as a buffoon.  Artistic gifts are given by God as a means of glorifying God. Not only praise songs but songs which reveal truth, beauty and justice, songs which exhort and encourage and teach — these also glorify God. But as a society degenerates, so does its art. It becomes less and less centered on God and increasingly centered on the celebration of all that exalts itself against God.  The destruction of Babylon will include the destruction of her artists and their last creative impulse.

Notice also that the sound of the mill has ceased.  All industry, all economic activity has ended.  There are no lamps for the lights have all gone out in Babylon.  Darkness covers the land.  There are no more wedding celebrations.  If anyone is still alive, they will only mourn.

As the chapter closes, we are reminded again of reasons for judgement.  One is the arrogance of the wealthy— “Your merchants were the great men of the earth.”  Their wealth was acquired in a context of blasphemy, ungodliness, sensuality, idolatry, exploitation, oppression and injustice.  Human souls were bought and sold.  This speaks not only of human trafficking but of the souls of the poor enslaved by the greed and injustice of the owners. And it speaks of the souls of the wealthy enslaved by unrestrained self indulgence, greed and covetousness.  

It also speaks of the sinful relationship of the merchant and the customer. The wealth of the mighty had grown as the greedy appetites of their customers had grown.  Such were “the great men of the earth.”  Those who bought and those who sold, they all perish with their riches.

Secondly, their prosperity was derived from sorcery.  This is not merely a reference to the false religion of the Antichrist’s empire, though surely religious seduction infused the economy of his empire.  But the word sorcery is pharmakeia, from which we derive the English words pharmacy and pharmaceuticals.  Even as the false religions of John’s day used various drugs to incite religious ecstasy, so the economy of the world system is based on its demonically anointed capacity to deceive, to seduce, to excite stupors and ecstasies of pleasure and consumption.  

The greedy, frenzied lust to possess, to consume, to ravish resources and feed the appetites at any cost, has always been at the heart of the economy of Babylon; which is to say, there has always been a demonic anointing on the wealth of Babylon.

18:24 “And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth.”

A third reason for judgement is that the blood of prophets and saints was found in her.  A just and holy God must deal with the shedding of righteous blood. Imagine the Bridegroom Messiah standing at the gates of heaven watching as His beloved bride is assaulted and slaughtered across the earth. He will return and vidicate her righteous blood.

And not just the blood of the righteous but we see here that God will demand accountability for the blood “of all who have been slain on the earth.” The Babylon spirit has shed the blood of millions, in every age, and God will require justice. It has been said of the mighty ones of the earth, who rape the resources of the planet and plunder the people, who oppress and enslave, who murder and steal with impunity — it has been said that they commit their crimes and escape all justice, that no one can bring them to justice.  

This has never been true.  There is one righteous Judge who does and will bring them all before His bar of justice.  Nothing will remain of Babylon — the city, the empire, the religious, political and economic infrastructure which undergird Babylon — all of this will disappear as a mill stone sinking beneath water.  But the Antichrist, the kings, the merchants — the mighty ones of the earth, they will stand before One who truly is Almighty.


Study Questions

1. In verses 14-17 the merchants mourn the loss of their wealth and luxury. What do they not mourn?

2. In verses 2, 22 and 23 we read reasons for the destruction of Babylon. What are some of these reasons?

Revelation 19

Revelation 19

Revelation 19:1-11

There is a day coming when the kingdom of God will be established on earth, when God’s rule will encompass all of the earth.  In our present age, God’s rule is mediated in the temporal / political realm through imperfect human governments.  In the spiritual realm, God’s rule is mediated, imperfectly, through the church.  But when the kingdom of God is established on earth, all rule will be united in the person of Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords.

There will follow a thousand years of peace and justice.  The curse will be removed along with all demonic presence.  The air and soil and water will be restored to the purity that existed before the fall.  Creatures will co-exist in harmony as they did in Eden.  The only people who will survive the Tribulation will be believers and they, with their children yet to be born, will live for hundreds of years in an earthly paradise presided over, not by a flawed human king but by the Son of God, our Savior and Redeemer, whose wisdom and mercy are perfect.  

At the end of chapter 19 we witnessed the return of Jesus with His glorified saints, the destruction of the army of rebels at the battle of Armageddon and the banishment of the Antichrist and the false prophet to hell, the lake of fire.  But one act remains before Jesus begins His rule: Satan and his demon horde must be removed.  He is “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4), described by the apostle Paul as, “The spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2).  He is the tempter, the accuser, the slanderer.  Jesus described him as “A murderer from the beginning ... a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

Before Jesus can begin His reign,  Satan must be removed.  Chapter 20 will detail the imprisonment of Satan, the millennial reign of Christ on earth, the release of Satan, one final act of rebellion which the Lord crushes, the uncreation of the universe and the judgment of the unredeemed before the great white throne of God.  Chapters 21 and 22 will then present the new heaven and the new earth and the future of the redeemed with God.

20:1 “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand.”

John sees an angel descending from heaven holding the key to the abyss and a great chain.  The abyss is not hell.  It has been the place of temporary incarceration for certain demons during the centuries of world history. In Jude 6 we are told that it is for “angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode (who are) kept in eternal bonds of darkness for the judgment of the great day.”  Those fallen angels will remain in the abyss until they are transferred to hell.  In Luke 8:31, the demons who were loose on earth begged Jesus not to send them to this place.  In Rev. 9:1,2, demons were released from the abyss as a part of God’s judgment on the earth. This abyss will be the place of Satan’s confinement during the thousand year reign of Christ. (See our notes to Rev. 9:2 for a discussion of the abyss). 

The angel holds the key to the abyss, which represents God’s authority over that place and over all fallen angels incarcerated there.  He also holds a great chain, which represents God’s sovereign power over even the highest and mightiest fallen angel.

20:2,3 “And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.”

The angel takes hold of Satan who is described through a variety of names.  He is the dragon, representing his fierceness and terror-inspiring cruelty.  He is “the serpent of old” who deceived and tempted Adam and Eve in the garden.  He is the devil, which means slanderer, who continually accused the saints before God (Rev 12:10).  He is Satan which means adversary, opponent. 

The angel binds Satan, evidently with the chain or with whatever power of God the chain represents, and casts him into the abyss for a thousand years.  The abyss is then shut and sealed.  The reason for this is not punishment but to keep him from deceiving the nations during the thousand year reign of Christ.

Some have wrongly interpreted this passage as symbolic of the binding of Satan as the church goes through the world preaching the gospel.  It is impossible to support that interpretation in light of the many Scriptural references to the activity of Satan in this age.  For instance, the Apostle John reminds us, “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (I John 5:19).  Peter warns us, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  If the world lies in his power, if he is prowling about seeking to devour the church, then he is not presently bound.  

Some would say that this text represents the church opposing and restricting the activity of Satan.  But it does not say that Satan is merely restricted or opposed; rather, he is bound and shut away and denied any deceptive influence in the world for a thousand years.  The passage indicates a complete ceasing of his influence on earth.

Some interpret the thousand years as symbolic, referencing 2 Peter 3:8, “For  with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day.”  But numbers, in Revelation, are usually literal and not symbolic.  What is referred to here is the removal of satanic influence from the world during the reign of Christ.  

The word nations is ethnos, meaning race or tribe, people groups.  Nations as we think of them, distinct entities with governmental, monetary and political systems, will cease to exist during the Tribulation.  Nation states will disintegrate into ethnic / tribal groups which will be integrated into the political, religious and economic world-system organized and dominated by the Antichrist.  That world government will be destroyed during the Tribulation.  

However, the remnants of people groups will still exist after Jesus returns.  During the reign of Christ on earth, these people groups will not be subjected to the seducing, deceptive influence of the devil.  

(We should also add that, for the most part, nation states as we define them today did not exist in John’s day.  There were empires and tribal groups, but few clearly defined nations.  For instance, what we today call Europe with its individual nations, was, in John’s day, the Roman province of Gaul and was part of the Roman Empire).

20:4 “Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.”

John sees thrones, “And they sat upon them and judgement was given to them.”  Thrones signify judicial authority and John sees the souls of those who were martyred during the reign of the beast.  They were killed because they would not worship the beast nor receive his mark.  John says, “They came to life again and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Rev. 20:4)  The verb came to life is the common Greek verb to live,  zao.   Jesus said, “The dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live” (John 5:25).  The word does not refer merely to a spiritual resurrection.  It is literal, physical resurrection.

However, in addition to these tribulation martyrs, Jesus promised the apostles that they would “sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28).  The Apostle Peter adds that all who have placed their faith in Christ have been made “royal priests” (I Peter 2:9).  Priests serve, royalty reigns.  

To the church in Thyatira Jesus said, “He who overcomes and he who keeps my deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations” (Rev. 2:26, 27).  To the church at Laodicea Jesus said, “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with me on my throne” (Rev. 3:21).  

To the Corinthian church the Apostle Paul said, “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” (I Cor. 6:2).  Paul also said, “If we endure, we will also reign with Him” (2 Tim. 6:12).  The prophet Daniel said, “Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom and all the dominions will serve and obey Him” (Dan. 7:27).

In Rev. 5:10, the heavenly choir sings in praise to the Lamb, “Worthy are you to take the book and to break its seals; for you were slain and purchased for God with your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”

Old Testament saints, New Testament saints, those who believe in the Lord during the tribulation, all the blood-purchased followers of Christ will reign with Him in His kingdom on the earth.  This is not a symbolic reign.  It is real, shared authority with Jesus for a thousand years.(The term millennium is derived from the Latin mille, thousand, and annus, year).  Although Revelation chapter 20 presents the only New Testament teaching on this doctrine, it should be noted that many of the early church fathers were millennialists. That is, they believed that Jesus will return to earth and rule for a thousand years,

Augustine (who lived during the 5th century) was among the first church leaders to teach a non-millennial doctrine.  He taught that the first resurrection is the spiritual birth of believers, that Satan was bound during the earthly ministry of Jesus and the thousand years is the interval between the first coming of Jesus and the final conflict.  History has obviously disproved that.

Post-millennialists teach that Christ will return after a thousand year “golden age” on earth, an age of peace and prosperity brought on by the preaching of the gospel. Again, history disproves the idea that we are moving toward any golden age. Rather, human society seems to progressively disintegrate beneath the weight of its own corruption.

It seems reasonable to accept this Scripture in a literal manner, that Jesus will return and establish His kingdom on earth and reign for a thousand years. What is the purpose of this millennial reign on earth?  

It is certainly a time of special reward for those who remained faithful to Christ, not only during the terrible persecution of the Antichrist, but throughout all of church history.  Faithfulness is always the visible proof of salvation and God’s reward to the faithful is to share in His kingdom rule.

The millennial reign of Christ is also visible proof of the victory of God over evil.  The false kings and counterfeit messiahs have been judged, their rebellions put down, their kingdoms destroyed.  Eden is restored, peace and justice are established and blessing is poured out again in the garden.  Now the true King claims that which was always His and the glory of God covers the earth.

Also, the millennium demonstrates the righteousness of God’s judgement.  We will see that a thousand years of imprisonment will not alter Satan’s evil purpose, nor does a thousand years of history under the perfect, righteous rule of Jesus on earth change the rebellious heart of humanity.  Therefore God’s justice is vindicated.

Regarding those who believe that the millennium is simply a way of talking about God bringing history to His ordained conclusion in ways which we don't understand, and those who hold divergent views as to how the millennium unfolds, we should not be dogmatic with them nor they with us.  We should not read these Scriptures and obtain rigid doctrinal formulas.  What’s important is that in reading the Word of God we obtain truth and the power to live that truth.

God has not given us His Word so that we may become rigid and divided by doctrine.  Intellectual curiosity, academic accomplishment and the teaching of necessary doctrine can become idols.  What matters is that we know Jesus and make Him known to our generation, that we are leading people to Jesus, breaking curses and bondages off their lives, trampling on spiritual strongholds and glorifying God.

   

20:5 “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection.”

This refers to the unrighteous dead awaiting judgement.  Their souls are not yet united with resurrection bodies.  This will not happen until the Great White throne judgment, described in 20:11-15.  Those who are alive and reigning with Christ are members of what John calls “the first resurrection” (and in 20:6).  Jesus called this “the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:14); and “the resurrection of life” (John 5:29) as opposed to the “resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29).

20:6 “Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.”

These who are raised in the first resurrection are called blessed and holy.  They are blessed because the second death will have no power over them.  The second death is described in verse 14 as “the lake of fire,” that is, hell.  Hell, and the judgmental wrath of God that sends people to hell, has no power over these who are risen in Christ.

Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears my word and believes Him who sent me, has eternal life and does not come into judgment but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).  Paul said, “But God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him” (Rom. 5:8,9).  Paul also added, “For God has not destined us for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thes. 5:9).

This should motivate passionate praise and thanksgiving on the part of God’s people.  As the great hymn writer expressed it,

“Rock of ages, cleft for me

let me hide myself in thee

let the water and the blood

from thy wounded side which flowed

be for sin the double cure

save from wrath and make me pure”

(Augustus Toplady, 1776)

Those who take part in the first resurrection are blessed because the second death has no power over them; we are saved from wrath.  We are also blessed because we will be priests of God.  Priests serve God and we, clothed in the righteousness of Christ, have the privilege of serving God in this life, in worship and witness.  And we will serve Him in the next life in worship and in shared authority in the millennial reign of Christ.

20:7 “When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison,” 

 

The word completed means bringing something to its fulfillment, to its goal.  When God’s purpose for the millennium is fulfilled, Satan will be unbound.  The question arises, once Satan has been removed from history and God fulfills His millennial purpose, why release the devil again?  Verse 8 answers this question. 

20:8 “and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore.”

Satan re-emerges in human history to resume his characteristic activity: to deceive the nations (ethnos, people groups) and to gather them for war against God.  This has always been his agenda: to deceive people and to gather them for rebellion against God.  But why allow him to resume this activity?  What could God’s purpose be?

There is mystery in this but it is a mystery consistent from Genesis chapter 3 to Revelation chapter 20.  During the centuries of time and human history, God does not annihilate evil.  He allows it to manifest so that He may glorify Himself in response to it.  

When Satan first rebelled against God in heaven, God could have destroyed him but did not.  When Adam and Eve sinned in Eden, God could have instantly put them to death and started again.  But God did not.  Instead, God allowed evil to continue to exist so that He could glorify Himself by displaying His righteousness in judging evil and displaying His mercy in redeeming sinners.

A thousand years of imprisonment will not change Satan's evil character nor does a thousand years of history under the visible rule of Jesus on earth change the sinful human heart.  God will allow Satan to be released to expose sinful rebels and God will then glorify Himself in judgment.  

The question arises, how could there be sinners, rebels against God, on a restored earth, ruled by a perfectly wise and loving Savior and where there has been no devil and no demons to oppress, tempt or seduce? 

It is true that no unredeemed people will enter the thousand year reign of Christ.  The population of earth will be comprised of the glorified saints who return with Christ and the redeemed Jews and Gentiles who survive the Tribulation.

Those redeemed survivors will enter the millennium in their physical, human bodies. Because of the perfect conditions on earth, the population will multiply rapidly.  Those who are born will be born to godly parents, born into a world ruled by Christ and glorified saints.  But they will be born with sinful, depraved natures as are all human beings descended from Adam and Eve.  

History surely demonstrates the depravity of the human heart.  In Noah’s day, though only a few generations removed from Eden, God looked at the human heart and saw that “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).  Immediately after the flood, though the memory of judgment was freshly engraved in the minds of everyone and though the testimony of Noah and his family must have been known to everyone, nevertheless, evil quickly multiplied across the earth.  

During the reign of Christ on earth, millions of children will be born but they will not be believers because of the Godly conditions around them, any more than a child today, born into a Christian home, always becomes a Christian.  No one is redeemed because their parents are believers.  They are redeemed because they have repented of sin and placed their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  

Jesus said, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).  During the millennium, there will be many born into the world who, hardened in their depravity, will refuse to turn to Christ.  The proliferation of sinners will prove again the reality of human depravity.  Satan will serve as a unifying force for all remaining sinners in the universe.  God allows Satan’s release for the purpose of revealing and exposing the hearts of all those who rebel against the rule of Jesus, that He may glorify Himself in judging them and finally removing all traces of sinful humanity from the universe.

The nations which gather to Satan are represented symbolically as Gog and Magog.  Many speculations have arisen concerning the identity of Gog and Magog.  Ezekiel also contains a prophecy of a final attack upon the people of God by the forces of evil (Ezekiel 38,39).  As in Revelation, this attack follows the establishing of the Messianic kingdom on earth and results in the complete destruction of the enemies of God.  In Ezekiel 38:2, Gog is the prince of Meshech and Tubal and leads the assault against the people of God. Contrary to popular mythology, Meshech and Tubal are not early forms of Moscow and Tobolsk.  They are Hebrew names for ancient tribes.

Further, it's impossible to interpret Gog and Magog with familiar names of countries because after the destruction recorded in the preceding chapters, nations will no longer exist according to their former boundaries or identities.  Gog and Magog represent people born on the earth during the millennium who, even after the most terrible judgements in the history of the world, even after the second advent of Jesus and the establishing of His kingdom on earth, even after the restoration of the earth in its original beauty and fertility, become hostile, unredeemed, unrepentant rebels against God.

20:9 “And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them.”

The rebel army advances onto “the broad plain of the earth” and surrounds the saints who are encamped around “the beloved city.”  The city must be Jerusalem, which will be the capital city of Jesus’ kingdom and the center of the world. As with Armageddon, it is not a battle but an execution — the rebels are devoured by fire from heaven. The people of God are not required to fight, only to remain faithful.  It is God who vindicates Himself, completing destroying the last army of sinners in history.  We are not told of the disposition of their souls but we know that they are sent to the place of waiting and will shortly be condemned to hell.

20:10 “And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

The devil is then thrown into the lake of fire where the beast and the false prophet await him and where all three will be tormented forever and ever.  

In this verse we see two promises of God. First of all, God promises the ultimate, final destruction of evil.  Second, God promises that there is no such thing as the annihilation of the soul.  The beast and the false prophet will have been in the lake of fire for a thousand years before Satan arrives yet they have not ceased to exist. They will be tormented forever and ever.  The condemnation of God is forever. There is no end, no rest, to the torment of the damned.

20:11 “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.”

Now John sees a great white throne and Him who sat upon it.  Great refers not simply to the size of the throne but to the fact that billions of souls will stand before it. Great also refers to the fact that the throne represents the judicial authority and majestic glory of God.  White refers to the holiness and purity of the One who exercises perfect justice.  

This is what Jesus described as “the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29).  It is the last judicial proceeding in the history of the universe.  God will never again act as Judge for there will never again be a sin committed.

People live as though this day will never come, as though they can live by whatever standard they choose and will not be held accountable.  But as the Apostle Paul warned the people of Athens, so we are warned that the Lord “has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).

Satan has attempted to convince people that God’s judgment is a religious myth.  His first victim was Eve.  She had been warned that if she ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil there would be an accounting but Satan said, “You surely will not die” (Gen. 3:4).  He was saying, in effect, “Live as you please, set your own standards.  There will be no judicial accounting before God.”

That was an outright lie.  There were immediate consequences when Eve and Adam sinned.  But Satan continues to perpetuate the lie through two primary vehicles — atheism and false religion.  Atheism proposes that there is no God, therefore, there is no Divine Judge. Atheism is not primarily a philosophical construct but a method of moral evasion: if there is no god, then there is no ultimate Judge of our moral choices. False religions invent gods of human design whose standards of justice are nothing more than projections of fallen human imagination. 

Atheism and false religions are built on the original lie of Satan, that we may live any way we choose and there will be no accounting before a perfectly righteous judge.  The lie has not changed in these many centuries, “You surely will not die.”  

The truth is that there really is a God who is righteous and just and He has set a day of judgment which none will escape except through the blood of the unblemished Lamb of God.  The Psalmist said, “But the Lord abides forever; He has established His throne for judgment, and He will judge the world in righteousness” (Psalms 9:7,8).  

Nothing outside of God requires Him to be just.  He establishes justice because He is just — His righteousness compels His justice.  His judgment is the expression of His perfect, holy being.  Sinners violate God’s justice but God’s justice has never violated a sinner.  Every act of divine justice is rooted in perfect truth and perfect righteousness.

John does not identify which member of the Godhead whom he saw seated on the throne and it doesn’t matter whether it is God the Father or God the Son.  Jesus said, “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgement to the Son” (John 5:22, see also 2 Cor. 5:10,  2 Tim. 4:1).  However, often in Revelation, it is the Father seated on the throne (4:2,9  5:1,7).  But the New Testament does not make a great distinction between the judgement seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10) and the judgement seat of God (Rom. 14:10).  As Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:20).  All that God does is done in perfect unity between the members of the Trinity.

John sees earth and heaven flee away before the majesty of the King of all kings.  This is the dissolving of the universe as we know it, in preparation for the creation of a new heaven and a new earth.  Isaiah spoke of a time when the heavens would vanish like a garment (51:6).  Jesus compared the eternity of His words with the transient nature of the universe (Matt 24:35).  Peter described this moment, 

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up … the heavens will be destroyed by burning and the elements will melt with intense heat.  But according to His promise we are looking for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:10,12,13).

The word elements (stoicheion) refers to the most basic building blocks of life.  The word destroyed may also be translated dissolved.  Peter says that the elements of the universe will be destroyed in a roaring conflagration, an explosive dissolving of the matter that comprises all of the visible and invisible creation (other than angelic and human beings). The same God who created with His word of command will uncreate by His command.  This sin-tainted universe, in all of its vastness, will be dissolved in a violent, elemental explosion and then recreated in its original purity, “A new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”  

20:12 “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.”

The dead, small and great, the poor and the wealthy, the famous powerbroker and the unknown servant, will stand before the justice of God. They stand in the nothingness of an uncreated universe, between that which no longer exists and that which is yet uncreated.  These are not the redeemed; Jesus said that those who have believed in Him would not come into judgment (John 5:24), for He bore our judgment in our place.

These are all the unbelievers who ever lived, the unredeemed dead.  Some believed the lie that there is no Righteous Judge, no God who holds the universe accountable to His moral law; they lived as a law unto themselves.  Others believed in God but spent their lives attempting to justify themselves by their good works rather than trusting in the blood of Jesus.  Others wasted their lives tangled in the rituals of false religion, attempting to please the gods of their own invention.  They will discover, on this day, that their lives were built on a lie.

No unbeliever in all of history is too great or too small to escape this judgement — kings and beggars alike will stand before the Lord.  This is not an arbitrary, unfair judgement.  Books are opened “and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.”  These are not literal books; they represent the omniscience of God.  He knows all truth, all facts, needs to be reminded of nothing; is aware of every event that ever took place, every thought ever conceived, every word ever spoken.  These books represent God’s perfect knowledge of every person who ever lived and each will be judged according to their deeds.

This is a consistent teaching in both the Old and the New Testaments, that God will judge according to works (Jeremiah 17:10,  Romans 2:6  I Peter 1:17).  Since no one can be justified by works, God made a New Covenant which we enter by faith in the blood of Jesus, the holy Lamb of God.  We confess our sins, confess that our works fall short of satisfying God’s holy standard.  We understand that we are worthy of God’s condemnation, the penalty of which is death.  But we believe that Jesus bore our sins, took upon Himself God’s judgment for our sin, died our death as the holy, atoning sacrifice for us.  We believe that through faith in His blood, we are forgiven and declared just before God.  However, those who despised the blood of this covenant and trusted in their own works will be judged and condemned by their works.

John says that another book was opened, the book of life.  This contains the names of the redeemed, as Jesus said, “He who overcomes will be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life” (Rev. 3:5).  Again, this is not a literal book; it represents God’s omniscience.  At this moment, the unredeemed will realize the terrifying, tragic result of not being listed in the book of life.

20:13 “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.”

Before the sea went out of existence it gave up its dead.  This will include all who perished in the flood of Noah’s generation.  Hades, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew concept of Sheol, is a place where the unrighteous dead are held, awaiting the day of judgment.  Death and Hades will give up their dead.  The spirits of the unrighteous dead will rise and be clothed with resurrection bodies, everlasting bodies suited for hell.  

Again it is stated that they will be judged according to their deeds.  Their deeds will be measured against God’s perfect standard of righteousness.  By this standard, none can be justified. Jesus said, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).  But none are perfect, as Paul said, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3;23).  

Therefore, we are all “dead in (our) trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1).  Paul reminded us that, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them” (Gal. 3:10).  Therefore we are all cursed.  James reminds us, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10).  Therefore we are all guilty of violating all of God’s law.

Yet God caused our curse to fall upon Jesus (Gal. 3:13).  God placed our iniquities on Jesus, “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him …  But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering … By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5,6, 10a, 11b).  

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).  

“He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24).

God in His infinite mercy has made a way for sinners to be forgiven and be resurrected to everlasting life with Him.  Through the blood of Christ we are forgiven of sin and declared to be just.  But there is no other way than through faith in Christ and His atoning sacrifice.  Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6).

Those who despise the blood of the Lamb of God will be judged according to their works.  Since no one can be justified by sinful, imperfect works, they “will pay the penalty of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thes. 1:9).

20:14 “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire”

Death, the condition of those who die, and Hades, the place of those who die and are awaiting judgment, are thrown into the lake of fire. This means that death and Hades will cease to exist. Nothing in the universe will ever again die and there is no need for a holding place for the dead, for all the dead now have a final destination — heaven or hell.

Paul said that death would be the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Cor. 15:54,55).  Isaiah rejoiced that God would someday destroy death forever (Isa. 25:8).  

The lake of fire is the second death, hell, the place of eternal separation from God.  It speaks of the ultimate defeat and punishment of the enemies of God.  For the unrighteous, there is resurrection from the first death into everlasting punishment, the second and unending death.  

For the righteous, death is followed by resurrection and everlasting blessing.

20:15 “And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Along with death and Hades, all whose names are not found in the book of life are thrown into the lake of fire.  We do not know where this hell is located; it might exist outside the universe that we know.  We do not know the nature of the fire, whether it is symbolic or literal; but it surely speaks of torment and it is everlasting (Matt. 25:41) and unquenchable (Mark 9:43-48).

Hell is a place of “eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thes 1:9). Even in the worst times and places on earth, there is still something of God’s presence.  But hell is completely removed from God’s presence. There will be no trace of mercy, joy, kindness, truth, light or grace.

We know it is a place of outer darkness  — a place furthest from the light (Matt. 22:13).  Jude refers to hell as the “black darkness” (literally blackness of darkness, Jude 13).  This speaks of total isolation — there is no fellowship, no community among the damned.  

Jesus says it is a place where the worm does not die (Mark 9:48), possibly representing the unending torment of guilt and remorse.  We know it is a place of relentless sorrow, where the condemned weep without ceasing (Luke 13:28).  Jesus referred to hell as a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth — grief and remorse which cannot be consoled or comforted — and unremitting torment  (Matt. 25:30).

There is only one entrance into heaven, through the blood of Jesus.  In a sense, there is also only one entrance into hell, the rejection of the atoning blood of God’s holy Lamb.  Those who refuse to repent of their sin and believe in Christ face an unspeakably terrible eternity.

Someone said, “As there is a second and higher life, so there is also a second and deeper death.  And as after that life there is no more death, so after that death there is no more life.”  (Henry Alford, quoted in the New International Commentary, Revelation, Robert H. Mounce, p. 367).

Study Questions:

1. Why is Satan released from the abyss? (see v. 7)

2. The unredeemed dead are judged according to their works and thrown into the lake of fire. But we all have sinned. Why are the redeemed not thrown into the lake of fire?

Revelation 20

Revelation 20

There is a day coming when the kingdom of God will be established on earth, when God’s rule will encompass all of the earth.  In our present age, God’s rule is mediated in the temporal / political realm through imperfect human governments.  In the spiritual realm, God’s rule is mediated, imperfectly, through the church.  But when the kingdom of God is established on earth, all rule will be united in the person of Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords.

There will follow a thousand years of peace and justice.  The curse will be removed along with all demonic presence.  The air and soil and water will be restored to the purity that existed before the fall.  Creatures will co-exist in harmony as they did in Eden.  The only people who will survive the Tribulation will be believers and they, with their children yet to be born, will live for hundreds of years in an earthly paradise presided over, not by a flawed human king but by the Son of God, our Savior and Redeemer, whose wisdom and mercy are perfect.  

At the end of chapter 19 we witnessed the return of Jesus with His glorified saints, the destruction of the army of rebels at the battle of Armageddon and the banishment of the Antichrist and the false prophet to hell, the lake of fire.  But one act remains before Jesus begins His rule: Satan and his demon horde must be removed.  He is “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4), described by the apostle Paul as, “The spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2).  He is the tempter, the accuser, the slanderer.  Jesus described him as “A murderer from the beginning ... a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

Before Jesus can begin His reign,  Satan must be removed.  Chapter 20 will detail the imprisonment of Satan, the millennial reign of Christ on earth, the release of Satan, one final act of rebellion which the Lord crushes, the uncreation of the universe and the judgment of the unredeemed before the great white throne of God.  Chapters 21 and 22 will then present the new heaven and the new earth and the future of the redeemed with God.

20:1 “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand.”

John sees an angel descending from heaven holding the key to the abyss and a great chain.  The abyss is not hell.  It has been the place of temporary incarceration for certain demons during the centuries of world history. In Jude 6 we are told that it is for “angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode (who are) kept in eternal bonds of darkness for the judgment of the great day.”  Those fallen angels will remain in the abyss until they are transferred to hell.  In Luke 8:31, the demons who were loose on earth begged Jesus not to send them to this place.  In Rev. 9:1,2, demons were released from the abyss as a part of God’s judgment on the earth. This abyss will be the place of Satan’s confinement during the thousand year reign of Christ. (See our notes to Rev. 9:2 for a discussion of the abyss). 

The angel holds the key to the abyss, which represents God’s authority over that place and over all fallen angels incarcerated there.  He also holds a great chain, which represents God’s sovereign power over even the highest and mightiest fallen angel.

20:2,3 “And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.”

The angel takes hold of Satan who is described through a variety of names.  He is the dragon, representing his fierceness and terror-inspiring cruelty.  He is “the serpent of old” who deceived and tempted Adam and Eve in the garden.  He is the devil, which means slanderer, who continually accused the saints before God (Rev 12:10).  He is Satan which means adversary, opponent. 

The angel binds Satan, evidently with the chain or with whatever power of God the chain represents, and casts him into the abyss for a thousand years.  The abyss is then shut and sealed.  The reason for this is not punishment but to keep Satan from deceiving the nations during the thousand year reign of Christ.

Some have wrongly interpreted this passage as symbolic of the binding of Satan as the church goes through the world preaching the gospel.  It is impossible to support that interpretation in light of the many Scriptural references to the activity of Satan in this age.  For instance, the Apostle John reminds us, “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (I John 5:19).  Peter warns us, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  If the world lies in his power, if he is prowling about seeking to devour the church, then he is not presently bound.  

Some would say that this text represents the church opposing and restricting the activity of Satan.  But it does not say that Satan is merely restricted or opposed; rather, he is bound and shut away and denied any deceptive influence in the world for a thousand years.  The passage indicates a complete ceasing of his influence on earth.

Some interpret the thousand years as symbolic, referencing 2 Peter 3:8, “For  with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day.”  But numbers, in Revelation, are usually literal and not symbolic.  What is referred to here is the removal of satanic influence from the world during the reign of Christ.  

The word nations is ethnos, meaning race or tribe, people groups.  Nations as we think of them today — distinct entities with governmental, monetary and political systems, will cease to exist during the Tribulation.  Nation states will disintegrate into ethnic / tribal groups which will be integrated into the political, religious and economic world-system organized and dominated by the Antichrist.  That world government will be destroyed during the Tribulation.  

However, the remnants of people groups will still exist after Jesus returns.  During the reign of Christ on earth, these people groups will not be subjected to the seducing, deceptive influence of the devil.  

(We should also add that, for the most part, nation states as we define them today did not exist in John’s day.  There were empires and tribal groups, but few clearly defined nations.  For instance, what we today call Europe with its individual nations, was, in John’s day, the Roman province of Gaul and was part of the Roman Empire).

20:4 “Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.”

Thrones signify judicial authority and John sees the souls of those who were martyred during the reign of the beast.  They were killed because they would not worship the beast nor receive his mark.  John says, “They came to life again and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Rev. 20:4)  The verb came to life is the common Greek verb to live, zao. Jesus said, “The dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live” (John 5:25).  The word does not refer merely to a spiritual resurrection.  It is literal, physical resurrection.

However, in addition to these tribulation martyrs, Jesus promised the apostles that they would “sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28).  The Apostle Peter adds that all who have placed their faith in Christ have been made “royal priests” (I Peter 2:9).  Priests serve, royalty reigns.  

To the church in Thyatira Jesus said, “He who overcomes and he who keeps my deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations” (Rev. 2:26, 27).  To the church at Laodicea Jesus said, “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with me on my throne” (Rev. 3:21).  

To the Corinthian church the Apostle Paul said, “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” (I Cor. 6:2).  Paul also said, “If we endure, we will also reign with Him” (2 Tim. 6:12).  The prophet Daniel said, “Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom and all the dominions will serve and obey Him” (Dan. 7:27).

In Rev. 5:10, the heavenly choir sings in praise to the Lamb, “Worthy are you to take the book and to break its seals; for you were slain and purchased for God with your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”

Old Testament saints, New Testament saints, those who believe in the Lord during the tribulation, all the blood-purchased followers of Christ will reign with Him in His kingdom on the earth.  This is not a symbolic reign.  It is real, shared authority with Jesus for a thousand years. (The term millennium is derived from the Latin mille, thousand, and annus, year).  Although Revelation chapter 20 presents the only New Testament teaching on this doctrine, it should be noted that many of the early church fathers were millennialists. That is, they believed that Jesus will return to earth and rule for a thousand years,

Augustine (who lived during the 5th century) was among the first church leaders to teach a non-millennial doctrine.  He taught that the first resurrection is the spiritual birth of believers, that Satan was bound during the earthly ministry of Jesus and the thousand years is the interval between the first coming of Jesus and the final conflict.  History has obviously disproved that.

Post-millennialists teach that Christ will return after a thousand year “golden age” on earth, an age of peace and prosperity brought on by the preaching of the gospel. Again, history disproves the idea that we are moving toward any golden age. Rather, human society seems to progressively disintegrate beneath the weight of its own corruption.

It seems reasonable to accept this Scripture in a literal manner, that Jesus will return and establish His kingdom on earth and reign for a thousand years. What is the purpose of this millennial reign on earth?  

It is certainly a time of special reward for those who remained faithful to Christ, not only during the terrible persecution of the Antichrist, but throughout all of church history. Faithfulness is always the visible proof of salvation and God’s reward to the faithful is to share in His kingdom rule.

The millennial reign of Christ is also visible proof of the victory of God over evil. The false kings and counterfeit messiahs have been judged, their rebellions put down, their kingdoms destroyed. Eden is restored, peace and justice are established and blessing is poured out again in the garden. Now the true King claims that which was always His and the glory of God covers the earth.

Also, the millennium demonstrates the righteousness of God’s judgement.  We will see that a thousand years of imprisonment will not alter Satan’s evil purpose, nor does a thousand years of history under the perfect, righteous rule of Jesus on earth change the rebellious heart of humanity.  Therefore God’s justice is vindicated.

Regarding those who believe that the millennium is simply a way of talking about God bringing history to His ordained conclusion in ways which we don't understand, and those who hold divergent views as to how the millennium unfolds, we should not be dogmatic with them nor they with us.  We should not read these Scriptures and obtain rigid doctrinal formulas.  What’s important is that in reading the Word of God we obtain truth and the power to live that truth.

God has not given us His Word so that we may become rigid and divided by doctrine.  Intellectual curiosity, academic accomplishment and the teaching of doctrine can become idols.  What matters is that we know Jesus and make Him known to our generation, that we are leading people to Jesus, breaking curses and bondages off their lives, trampling on spiritual strongholds and glorifying God.

   

20:5 “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection.”

“The rest of the dead” refers to the unrighteous dead awaiting judgement.  Their souls are not yet united with resurrection bodies.  This will not happen until the Great White throne judgment, described in 20:11-15.  Those who are alive and reigning with Christ are members of what John calls “the first resurrection” (and in 20:6).  Jesus called this “the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:14); and “the resurrection of life” (John 5:29) as opposed to the “resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29).

20:6 “Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.”

These who are raised in the first resurrection are called blessed and holy.  They are blessed because the second death will have no power over them.  The second death is described in verse 14 as “the lake of fire,” that is, hell.  Hell, and the judgmental wrath of God that sends people to hell, has no power over these who are risen in Christ.

Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears my word and believes Him who sent me, has eternal life and does not come into judgment but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).  Paul said, “But God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him” (Rom. 5:8,9).  Paul also added, “For God has not destined us for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thes. 5:9).

This should motivate passionate praise and thanksgiving on the part of God’s people.  As the great hymn writer expressed it,

“Rock of ages, cleft for me

let me hide myself in thee

let the water and the blood

from thy wounded side which flowed

be for sin the double cure

save from wrath and make me pure”

(Augustus Toplady, 1776)

Those who take part in the first resurrection are blessed because the second death has no power over them; we are saved from wrath.  We are also blessed because we will be priests of God.  Priests serve God and we, clothed in the righteousness of Christ, have the privilege of serving God in this life, in worship and witness.  And we will serve Him in the next life in worship and in shared authority in the millennial reign of Christ.

20:7 “When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison,” 

 

The word completed means bringing something to its fulfillment, to its goal.  When God’s purpose for the millennium is fulfilled, Satan will be unbound.  The question arises, once Satan has been removed from history and God fulfills His millennial purpose, why release the devil again?  Verse 8 answers this question. 

20:8 “and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore.”

Satan re-emerges in human history to resume his characteristic activity: to deceive the nations (ethnos, people groups) and to gather them for war against God.  This has always been his agenda: to deceive people and to gather them for rebellion against God.  But why allow him to resume this activity?  What could God’s purpose be?

There is mystery in this but it is a mystery consistent from Genesis chapter 3 to Revelation chapter 20.  During the centuries of time and human history, God does not annihilate evil.  He allows it to manifest so that He may glorify Himself in response to it.  

When Satan first rebelled against God in heaven, God could have destroyed him but did not.  When Adam and Eve sinned in Eden, God could have instantly put them to death and started again.  But God did not.  Instead, God allowed evil to continue to exist so that He could glorify Himself by displaying His righteousness in judging evil and displaying His mercy in redeeming sinners.

A thousand years of imprisonment will not change Satan's evil character nor does a thousand years of history under the visible rule of Jesus on earth change the sinful human heart.  God will allow Satan to be released to expose sinful rebels and God will then glorify Himself in judgment.  

The question arises, how could there be sinners, rebels against God, on a restored earth, ruled by a perfectly wise and loving Savior and where there has been no devil and no demons to oppress, tempt or seduce? 

It is true that no unredeemed people will enter the thousand year reign of Christ.  The population of earth will be comprised of the glorified saints who return with Christ and the redeemed Jews and Gentiles who survive the Tribulation.

Those redeemed survivors will enter the millennium in their physical, human bodies. Because of the perfect conditions on earth, the population will multiply rapidly.  Those who are born will be born to godly parents, born into a world ruled by Christ and by glorified saints.  But they will be born with sinful, depraved natures as are all human beings descended from Adam and Eve.  

History surely demonstrates the depravity of the human heart.  In Noah’s day, though only a few generations removed from Eden, God looked at the human heart and saw that “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).  Immediately after the flood, though the memory of judgment was freshly engraved in the minds of everyone and though the testimony of Noah and his family must have been known to everyone, nevertheless, evil quickly multiplied across the earth.  

During the reign of Christ on earth, millions of children will be born but they will not be believers because of the Godly conditions around them, any more than a child today, born into a Christian home, always becomes a Christian.  No one is redeemed because their parents are believers.  They are redeemed because they have repented of sin and placed their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  

Jesus said, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).  During the millennium, there will be many born into the world who, hardened in their depravity, will refuse to turn to Christ.  The proliferation of sinners will prove again the reality of human depravity.  Satan will serve as a unifying force for all remaining sinners in the universe.  God allows Satan’s release for the purpose of revealing and exposing the hearts of all those who rebel against the rule of Jesus, that He may glorify Himself in judging them and finally removing all traces of sinful humanity from the universe.

The nations which gather to Satan are represented symbolically as Gog and Magog.  Many speculations have arisen concerning the identity of Gog and Magog.  Ezekiel also contains a prophecy of a final attack upon the people of God by the forces of evil (Ezekiel 38,39).  As in Revelation, this attack follows the establishing of the Messianic kingdom on earth and results in the complete destruction of the enemies of God.  In Ezekiel 38:2, Gog is the prince of Meshech and Tubal and leads the assault against the people of God. Contrary to popular mythology, Meshech and Tubal are not early forms of Moscow and Tobolsk (cities in Russia).  They are Hebrew names for ancient tribes.

Further, it's impossible to interpret Gog and Magog with familiar names of countries because after the destruction recorded in the preceding chapters, nations will no longer exist according to their former boundaries or identities.  Gog and Magog represent people born on the earth during the millennium who, even after the most terrible judgements in the history of the world, even after the second advent of Jesus and the establishing of His kingdom on earth, even after the restoration of the earth in its original beauty and fertility, become hostile, unredeemed, unrepentant rebels against God.

20:9 “And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them.”

The rebel army advances onto “the broad plain of the earth” and surrounds the saints who are encamped around “the beloved city.”  The city must be Jerusalem, which will be the capital city of Jesus’ kingdom and the center of the world. As with Armageddon, it is not a battle but an execution — the rebels are devoured by fire from heaven. The people of God are not required to fight, only to remain faithful.  It is God who vindicates Himself, completing destroying the last army of sinners in history.  We are not told of the disposition of their souls but we know that they are sent to the place of waiting and will shortly be condemned to hell.

20:10 “And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

In this verse we see two promises of God. First of all, God promises the ultimate, final destruction of evil.  Second, God promises that there is no such thing as the annihilation of the soul.  The beast and the false prophet will have been in the lake of fire for a thousand years before Satan arrives yet they have not ceased to exist. They will be tormented forever and ever.  The condemnation of God is forever. There is no end, no rest, to the torment of the damned.

20:11 “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.”

Now John sees a great white throne and Him who sat upon it. Great refers not simply to the size of the throne but to the fact that billions of souls will stand before it. Great also refers to the fact that the throne represents the judicial authority and majestic glory of God.  White refers to the holiness and purity of the One who exercises perfect justice.  

This is what Jesus described as “the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29).  It is the last judicial proceeding in the history of the universe.  God will never again act as Judge for there will never again be a sin committed.

People live as though this day will never come, as though they can live by whatever standard they choose and will not be held accountable.  But as the Apostle Paul warned the people of Athens, so we are warned that the Lord “has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). The writer to the Hebrews reminds us, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebr. 9:27).

Satan has attempted to convince people that God’s judgment is a religious myth.  His first victim was Eve.  She had been warned that if she ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil there would be an accounting but Satan said, “You surely will not die” (Gen. 3:4).  He was saying, “Live as you please, set your own standards.  There will be no judicial accounting before God.”

That was an outright lie.  There were immediate consequences when Eve and Adam sinned.  But Satan continues to perpetuate the lie through two primary vehicles — atheism and false religion.  Atheism proposes that there is no God, therefore, there is no Divine Judge. Atheism is not primarily a philosophical construct but a method of moral evasion: if there is no god, then there is no ultimate Judge of our moral choices. False religions invent gods of human design whose standards of justice are nothing more than projections of fallen human imagination. 

Atheism and false religions are built on the original lie of Satan, that we may live any way we choose and there will be no accounting before a perfectly righteous judge.  The lie has not changed in these many centuries, “You surely will not die.”  

The truth is that there really is a God who is righteous and just and He has set a day of judgment which none will escape except through the blood of the unblemished Lamb of God.  The Psalmist said, “But the Lord abides forever; He has established His throne for judgment, and He will judge the world in righteousness” (Psalms 9:7,8). 

Nothing outside of God requires Him to be just.  He establishes justice because He is just — His righteousness compels His justice.  His judgment is the expression of His perfect, holy being.  Sinners violate God’s justice but God’s justice has never violated a sinner.  Every act of divine justice is rooted in perfect truth and perfect righteousness.

John does not identify which member of the Godhead whom he saw seated on the throne and it doesn’t matter whether it is God the Father or God the Son.  Jesus said, “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgement to the Son” (John 5:22, see also 2 Cor. 5:10,  2 Tim. 4:1).  However, often in Revelation, it is the Father seated on the throne (4:2,9  5:1,7).  But the New Testament does not make a great distinction between the judgement seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10) and the judgement seat of God (Rom. 14:10).  As Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:20).  All that God does is done in perfect unity between the members of the Trinity.

John sees earth and heaven flee away before the majesty of the King of all kings.  This is the dissolving of the universe as we know it, in preparation for the creation of a new heaven and a new earth.  Isaiah spoke of a time when the heavens would vanish like a garment (51:6).  Jesus compared the eternity of His words with the transient nature of the universe (Matt 24:35).  Peter described this moment, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up … the heavens will be destroyed by burning and the elements will melt with intense heat.  But according to His promise we are looking for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:10,12,13).

The word elements (stoicheion) refers to the most basic building blocks of life.  The word destroyed may also be translated dissolved.  Peter says that the elements of the universe will be destroyed in a roaring conflagration, an explosive dissolving of the matter that comprises all of the visible and invisible creation (other than angelic and human beings). The same God who created with His word of command will uncreate by His command.  This sin-tainted universe, in all of its vastness, will be dissolved in a violent, elemental explosion and then recreated in its original purity, “A new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”  

20:12 “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.”

The dead, small and great, the poor and the wealthy, the famous powerbroker and the unknown servant, will stand before the justice of God. They stand in the nothingness of an uncreated universe, between that which no longer exists and that which is yet uncreated.  These are not the redeemed; Jesus said that those who have believed in Him would not come into judgment (John 5:24), for He bore our judgment in our place.

These are all the unbelievers who ever lived, the unredeemed dead.  Some believed the lie that there is no Righteous Judge, no God who holds the universe accountable to His moral law; they lived as a law unto themselves.  Others believed in God but spent their lives attempting to justify themselves by their good works rather than trusting in the blood of Jesus.  Others wasted their lives tangled in the rituals of false religion, attempting to please the gods of their own invention.  They will all discover, on this day, that their lives were built on a lie.

No unbeliever in all of history is too great or too small to escape this judgement — kings and beggars alike will stand before the Lord.  This is not an arbitrary, unfair judgement.  Books are opened “and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.”  These are not literal books; they represent the omniscience of God.  He knows all truth, all facts, needs to be reminded of nothing; is aware of every event that ever took place, every thought ever conceived, every word ever spoken.  These books represent God’s perfect knowledge of every person who ever lived and each will be judged according to their deeds.

This is a consistent teaching in both the Old and the New Testaments, that God will judge according to works (Jeremiah 17:10,  Romans 2:6  I Peter 1:17).  Since no one can be justified by works, God made a New Covenant which we enter by faith in the blood of Jesus, the holy Lamb of God.  We confess our sins, confess that our works fall short of satisfying God’s holy standard.  We understand that we are worthy of God’s condemnation, the penalty of which is death.  But we believe that Jesus bore our sins, took upon Himself God’s judgment for our sin, died our death as the holy, atoning sacrifice for us.  We believe that through faith in His blood, we are forgiven and declared just before God.  However, those who despised the blood of this covenant and trusted in their own works will be judged and condemned by their works.

John says that another book was opened, the book of life.  This contains the names of the redeemed, as Jesus said, “He who overcomes will be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life” (Rev. 3:5).  Again, this is not a literal book; it represents God’s omniscience.  At this moment, the unredeemed will realize the terrifying, tragic result of not being listed in the book of life.

20:13 “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.”

Before the sea went out of existence it gave up its dead.  This will include all who perished in the flood of Noah’s generation.  Hades, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew concept of Sheol, is a place where the unrighteous dead are held, awaiting the day of judgment.  Death and Hades will give up their dead.  The spirits of the unrighteous dead will rise and be clothed with resurrection bodies, everlasting bodies which will not perish in the fires of hell.  

Again it is stated that they will be judged according to their deeds.  Their deeds will be measured against God’s perfect standard of righteousness.  By this standard, none can be justified. Jesus said, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).  But none are perfect, as Paul said, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3;23).  

Therefore, we are all “dead in (our) trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1).  Paul reminded us that, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them” (Gal. 3:10).  Therefore we are all cursed.  James reminds us, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10).  Therefore we are all guilty of violating all of God’s law.

Yet God caused our curse to fall upon Jesus (Gal. 3:13).  God placed our iniquities on Jesus, “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him … But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering … By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5,6, 10a,11b).  

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).  

“He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24).

God in His infinite mercy has made a way for sinners to be forgiven and be resurrected to everlasting life with Him.  Through the blood of Christ we are forgiven of sin and declared to be just. But there is no other way than through faith in Christ and His atoning sacrifice. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6). Those who despise the blood of the Lamb of God will be judged according to their works.  Since no one can be justified by sinful, imperfect works, they “will pay the penalty of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thes. 1:9).

20:14 “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.”

Death, the condition of those who die, and Hades, the place of those who die and are awaiting judgment, are thrown into the lake of fire. This means that death and Hades will cease to exist. Nothing in the universe will ever again die and there is no need for a holding place for the dead, for all the dead now have a final destination — heaven or hell.

Paul said that death would be the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Cor. 15:54,55).  Isaiah rejoiced that God would someday destroy death forever (Isa. 25:8).  

The lake of fire is the second death, hell, the place of eternal separation from God.  It speaks of the ultimate defeat and punishment of the enemies of God.  For the unrighteous, there is r