Managing Editor: David Sper
Cover Photo: Ron Kimball (horse)/Terry Bidgood (sky)
©1995 RBC Ministries--Grand Rapids, MI 49555 Printed in USA
As we rush toward the year 2000, we sense an air of apprehension and expectation about us. The events in the Middle East, the rash of natural disasters, and the moral decadence of our day arouses in Christians the expectation that Jesus Christ will return soon.
The book of Revelation speaks to our times. It addresses the problems we face in our churches, portrays the awesome endtime events that will prepare the earth for Christ's return, and gives us a glimpse of the eternal glory that awaits every Christian.
My prayer is that the message of Revelation will help you to know God more intimately, know what to expect, and know how to live at this time in history.
Herb Vander Lugt, RBC Senior Research Editor
Table of Contents
"Look, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of Him. So shall it be! Amen" (Rev. 1:7 NIV). This look into the future is more than prophecy. Like the rest of the Bible, it tells us something about God Himself. This reference to the Old Testament prophecy of Zechariah 12:10 tells us that God has a plan that will not be derailed. He is in control of history.
While God's people often seem like pawns in the hands of political power-brokers, while disease and death seem to ultimately prevail over our fragile existence, the God of Revelation wants us to know that all who trust His Son will live with Him in the end. When history comes to a close, every enemy will be forced to admit that His Son is King of kings and Lord of lords.
The first chapter of Revelation sets the stage for all that will follow. Chapters 2--3 focus on the present--Christ's messages to seven real churches that were in existence when the book was written. Chapters 4--5 take us to the control center of the universe where the exalted Christ sets in motion the endtime program that will prepare the earth for His return. Chapters 6--18 portray the events that accomplish this purpose. And chapters 19--22 depict its results.
Christ's promise to us is this: "Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near" (Rev. 1:3).
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
AN AWESOME APPEARANCE
The apostle John had his vision on "the Lord's Day" (1:10). He was on a small rocky island called Patmos, where he had been banished because of his testimony. Suddenly he saw One like the Son of Man standing in the middle of seven golden lampstands. He wore a long garment with a golden sash around His chest. His hair was pure white, His eyes were like flames of fire, His feet were like burning bronze, His voice sounded like rushing water, His right hand held seven stars, from His mouth protruded a sharp, double-edged sword, and from His face beamed a bright, shining light (1:12-16).
John's vision is rich in symbolism: The long robe with its golden sash pictures Christ as our High Priest. The white hair portrays His wisdom and purity. The eyes of fire and red-hot bronze feet signify Him as all-seeing Judge. His roaring voice reveals His awesome power. The double-edged sword coming out of His mouth depicts the power of His word in punishing rebel nations (cp. Rev. 19:15). And the bright light beaming from His face declares His glory as the exalted God-man.
This vision was so overpowering that John "fell at His feet as dead" (1:17). It's no wonder! God's glory is so awesome that no mortal on earth can see it and live (Ex. 33:20; 1 Tim. 6:16). Just a glimpse of His glory overwhelmed Job (42:1-6), Ezekiel (1:28), and Daniel (7:28; 8:27). It is before this awesome Person that each of us will someday stand--believers for an evaluation of the quality of their lives to determine rewards (1 Cor. 3:12-15; 2 Cor. 5:10) and unbelievers to determine the degree of punishment they will receive (Rev. 20:11-15).
CHRIST'S COMFORT AND COMMISSION
While John was lying prostrate at the feet of the vision of Christ, he felt a loving touch and heard these comforting words: "Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death. Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this" (1:17-19).
In obedience to Christ's commission, John wrote about the past, present, and future. The past was what he had seen in the vision just described. The present was Christ's presence with, and His words to, the seven churches. And the future was in the scenes depicted in the rest of the book.
Table of Contents
In Revelation, a powerful Christ makes His presence known. John sees the Lord walking among seven first-century churches, represented by seven golden lampstands. It is a sight that confirms Jesus' earlier promise to His disciples that He would be present among them even to the end of the age (Mt. 28:20).
The Lord told John to address seven specific messages to the angels (spiritual leaders) of those churches. It becomes apparent that the seven were like churches in our own day. Ephesus was a busy church that had lost its first love. Smyrna was suffering for its testimony. Pergamos was a church living in a tough neighborhood. Thyatira was a growing church marked by serious moral and spiritual compromise. Sardis was a church that had a better reputation than it deserved. Philadelphia was a weak church to which the Lord promised an open door that no one could shut. The seventh, Laodicea, was a rich church so caught up in materialism that its members were neither hot nor cold; they were like lukewarm water that the Lord said He would spit out of His mouth.
In each message, the Lord began by choosing some element of self-description that set the tone for the message that was to follow. Therefore, a distracted church is reminded of the One who is walking among them; a suffering church is reminded of the One who died and is alive. A tempted church is addressed by One with the penetrating insight of eyes of fire. The churches are not measured by one another but by Christ Himself.
WORDS OF COMFORT
Each letter opens with "I know." And in every letter except the last, words of commendation follow. Christ assured His suffering followers that He shares their pain and is with them in their trials. He is the same tender Savior He was the day He wept at the tomb of Lazarus (Jn. 11:35).
WORDS OF CORRECTION
In five of the letters, Christ finds things to rebuke and issues a warning about what He will do if they do not repent. He has called us out to be pure and upright and loving as we anticipate His coming for us (Ti. 2:11-14). The apostle Peter was acutely conscious of our Lord's role as disciplinarian when he wrote, "For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God" and "it is hard for the righteous to be saved" (1 Pet. 4:17-18 NIV). Through the trials He permits and the chastening He inflicts, Jesus Christ is purifying "for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works" (Ti. 2:14).
WORDS OF REWARD
In each letter, the Lord of the church promised to reward those who are faithful. He will personally evaluate the life of every believer and bestow the proper reward. During His earthly ministry, He did not hesitate to speak of rewards for His followers (Mt. 5:12; 6:1-6,18; 10:41-42). The apostle Paul also spoke of the rewards the faithful will receive (1 Cor. 3:8,14; Col. 2:18; 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Tim. 4:8). The Lord saves by grace and rewards for faithfulness. And the day of reward at His coming for us may occur at any moment! (Rev. 22:12).
Table of Contents
When astronauts go into space, they do so with the assurance that a mission control center will follow their flight and bring them safely home.
Revelation 4--5 assures us that human history is also being monitored and directed according to plan. The apostle John saw this firsthand after receiving an invitation to the control center of the universe. After hearing the words, "Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this" (4:1), God took the apostle up to His throne.
From this point on, the focus of John's vision is on what was future not only for him but also for us. Today we are living in the church age. It began on the Day of Pentecost and will end with the rapture--the event of which Jesus spoke in John 14:1-4 and Paul described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17. The fact that the church is not mentioned in the rest of the book of Revelation gives us reason to believe that the church is no longer on earth as the awesome events unfold.
In a manner that is reminiscent of the way both Elijah and Enoch escaped death and went directly to heaven, the church is caught up to be with Christ before He begins to fulfill the predictions of the prophets regarding Israel and her role in the last days. This explains why the references to the churches are replaced with references to Israel and the Jews: "the Root of David" (5:5), the 144,000 from the 12 tribes (7:1-8), the temple measurements (11:1), the holy city (11:2), Mount Zion (14:1), and the mountain of Megiddo ("Armageddon" of 16:16).
VISION OF THE THRONE (4:1-11)
As John gazed into the control center of the universe, his eyes first fell on a throne with the awesome Occupant who was "like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance" (4:3). Circling the throne was a rainbow, "in appearance like an emerald." Flashes of light and peals of thunder speak of the majesty and glory of the One who sits on the throne. The rainbow probably signifies His faithfulness and mercy.
Around the throne, members of redeemed humanity, crowned and in glorified bodies (symbolized by the 24 elders), join with a host of angelic beings (represented by the four living creatures) in praising God as the Creator of all. They praise Him for His character--"Holy, holy, holy." They praise Him for His power--"Lord God Almighty." They praise Him for His eternal changelessness--"who was and is and is to come" (v.8). They praise Him as the One who is worthy to receive glory, and honor, and power (v.11).
This is the God who sits at the control center of the universe! He alone is responsible for our existence. As our Creator, He deserves our endless praise!
VISION OF THE LION-LAMB (5:1-14)
The second vision turns our focus from God our Creator to God our Redeemer. The Creator holds in His hand a scroll full of writing and bound with seven seals. Chapter 6 will later show us that this scroll contains judgments designed to punish the evil forces controlling the earth. A mighty angel calls out for someone worthy to break the seals and unroll the scroll. But no one responds. The sight causes a rush of emotion in John and brings him to uncontrollable weeping.
But John hears another voice, telling him not to weep. There is hope. "The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He has authority to open the scroll and its seven seals" (5:5 NIV).
Who is this Lion? He is none other than the One who died on Calvary, the "Lamb, looking as if it had been slain" (5:6 NIV). The Lamb takes the scroll. Everyone in heaven falls before Him in worship and then breaks forth in a song of praise to the Lion who has triumphed by becoming "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (Jn. 1:29).
Because of human rebellion, the sons of Adam have not been able to fulfill God's command to subdue the earth (Gen. 1:28). Satan, God's adversary, has become "the god of this age" (2 Cor. 4:4) and "the ruler of this world" (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). But Jesus Christ, the Lion of Judah, became the Lamb of God to defeat the devil and redeem us (Heb. 2:14-15). In Him and through Him we will fulfill our calling to subdue the earth and bring honor to God.
Revelation 5 portrays Christ as the Lion-Lamb who alone is worthy to initiate the series of judgments that will break the power of Satan-led human rebellion. Christ is the God-man who is worthy to release the anger of God that will subdue the earth and bring every enemy into submission.
Table of Contents
The vision of the seals is full of rich image and irony. A Lamb is the only One worthy to break seals holding back God's anger against the forces of evil. A Lamb representing weakness and sacrifice is the One allowed by God to unleash the power of God's judgment against the oppressors of the earth. Yet the weakness of God's Lamb is far stronger than the combined power of His enemies.
As the seals are opened, a series of pictures begins to unfold describing the most terrible and the most wonderful period of time in all of history. It will be brief: not more than 7 years, the 70th week of Daniel 9:27. As stated earlier, this time period will not begin until the church has been raptured as described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17. A powerful endtime political leader will make a 7-year treaty with Israel, apparently giving this beleaguered nation a sense of security never enjoyed since its rebirth in 1948. The Israelites will re-establish their religious system. "But in the middle of the week [7-year time span] he shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering" (Dan. 9:27) and usher in a terrible time of persecution that will last until Jesus Christ returns.
With the opening of the seals, the forces of evil begin to feel the terrible weight of the justice and judgments of God. Chapter 6 gives us a preview of the worst period of trouble the world has ever known. As Christ, pictured as a Lamb, breaks each seal, a rebellious race is brought face to face with the consequences of its own choices.
SEAL ONE--The Rider On The White Horse (6:2)
With the opening of the first seal, a rider on a white horse appears. He carries a bow, receives a crown of victory, and rides out as a conqueror. He is a political world leader. We meet him again in chapter 13. First he appears as a benevolent dictator who conquers without war (he has no arrows). But once firmly in control, he reveals his true identity as the Antichrist and continues in power for "42 months" (Rev. 13:1-10).
SEAL TWO--The Rider On The Red Horse (6:3-4)
The second rider, whose red horse portrays bloodshed, carries a "great sword." The Greek word used here refers to a short, broad Roman sword or dagger that does not denote international warfare but revolution and persecution in which people turn on one another. The Greek word ophazo in the phrase "kill one another" denotes "murder by violence."
SEAL THREE--The Rider On The Black Horse (6:5-6)
The third rider pictures famine. The scales he carries denote such scarcity that people must weigh out essential commodities. The price given suggests highly inflated prices. The command not to hurt the oil and wine may mean that the drought won't hurt vines and trees with roots that go down deep. It is also possible that it depicts a time of economic upheaval, during which the poor struggle to buy life's necessities while the rich still enjoy luxuries.
SEAL FOUR--The Rider On The Pale Horse (6:7-8)
This fourth rider represents death. One-fourth of the world's population will die. This is more than the population of China and the United States combined. The causes of death will be slaughter (the second rider), hunger (the third rider), pestilence or plague, and wild beasts. At the signal of God, the world will be traumatized by the consequences of its own rebellion.
SEAL FIVE--The Praying Martyrs (6:9-11)
The fifth seal calls our attention to a scene in heaven. The souls of Christian martyrs slaughtered during this time pray that God will quickly punish the wicked who at that moment are powerful on the earth. They are told that they must wait a little longer and are given white robes as tokens of their blessedness. (This is symbolic, but it may suggest that the soul between death and resurrection is given some form that will merge into the resurrection body at Christ's coming.) We meet this martyred throng again in Revelation 7:9-17 and 20:4, and we learn more about their martyrdom in Revelation 13.
SEAL SIX--The Great Earthquake (6:12-17)
The sixth seal brings about a great earthquake, frightful celestial disturbances, and the awareness that the earth is experiencing the wrath of the Lamb.
Some Bible teachers see this as the first of several pictures of Christ's glorious return. The description is similar to other passages related to the final return of Christ (Mt. 24:29-30; Mk. 13:24-27; Lk. 21:25-27). These teachers believe that the book of Revelation is structured as a series of snapshots from different perspectives.
Other Bible interpreters see the sixth seal as representing a frightening display of God's wrath earlier in the 7-year period. If this is correct, the event may be God's supernatural destruction of a northern confederacy of nations that attempts to invade Israel as described in Ezekiel 38-39. A study of the Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled at Christ's first coming shows that the exact method God uses to accomplish His announced plan is often made clear only after the fact. Therefore we cannot be sure which view is correct.
What is most important is that we see that God's patience with sin is not a sign of weakness. He has borne the evil of the ages not because He was powerless to do anything about it, but because of a plan to patiently and mercifully give one generation after another the opportunity to come to repentance.
Table of Contents
While the earth is reeling under the terrible events represented by the four horsemen, God will have another unfolding plan. While the world is shuddering under the weight of judgment, God will continue to show His mercy. He will select 144,000 Jews whom He will supernaturally protect. And He will also receive into heaven thousands upon thousands who turn to Christ and are martyred for their faith.
THE PRESERVED JEWS (7:1-8)
God will supernaturally select and protect 144,000 Jews--12,000 from each of the 12 tribes. These Jews will apparently turn to Christ soon after the church is removed from the earth in the rapture. While the number may be seen as symbolizing the complete number of elect Jews God will preserve, it seems best to take it literally. They will be kept alive while death and devastation rule everywhere. They will experience the psalmist's words: "A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you" (Ps. 91:7). Their preservation will be a testimony to God's power and grace.
THE RESCUED MARTYRS (7:9-17)
A multitude from every nation and tribe on earth, so many they aren't counted, stand before God's throne in heaven. An elder identifies them for John: "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (7:14 NIV). It is possible that in this vision John is given a glimpse of these saints in their resurrection bodies. The scene takes us to the time after Christ has begun His rule over the earth as depicted in Revelation 20. The closing words of the chapter (7:15-17) portray beautifully the assuring truth that the pestilence, plagues, or any other frightening disturbances will never again hurt them.
While the 144,000 Jews are not declared to be evangelists, their preservation may be a powerful factor in the salvation of these multitudes. Although Paul warned that those who deliberately reject Christ may be blinded by Satan and remain in unbelief even after they see the church removed from the earth (2 Th. 2:9-12), he never said that no one will be saved after it occurs. Revelation 7 seems to indicate that more people will be saved during this terrible time than any other brief period in history. From the standpoint of eternity, the tribulation will be a wonderful time.
Table of Contents
God speaks softly today through conscience, through the evidence of nature, through the witness of His people, and through the quiet voice of His Spirit. In the days described in Revelation, however, He will speak loudly through supernatural judgments described as trumpets.
When the Lamb of God opens the seventh seal, John describes a silence in heaven that lasts for about a half hour (8:1). This silence apparently suggests a solemn quiet that will precede a terrible unleashing of the anger of God. It is a period of silence in heaven soon broken by an earthshaking expression of what Revelation calls seven trumpets.
THE FIRST FOUR TRUMPETS
As John experienced the half hour of silence in heaven, he saw seven angels stand before God. They were given seven trumpets.
Then he saw an eighth angel stand beside a golden burning altar. This angel poured incense on the fire. Sweet-smelling smoke rose to surround the throne of God. (This smoke represents the prayers of the saints.) The angel then took fire from the altar and hurled it to the earth. There were "noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake" (8:5). Then John said the angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them. What a picture of the power let loose by God when His people pray!
What follows is a blend of meaningful symbolism and physical reality. The trumpets express judgments that come directly from God. He pours out judgments that pollute or destroy one-third of earth's trees and grass (first trumpet, vv.6-7), one-third of the ships and marine life of the world's oceans (second trumpet, vv.8-9), one-third of earth's rivers and streams (third trumpet, vv.10-11), and one-third of the light from the sun, moon, and stars (fourth trumpet, vv.12-13).
THE FIFTH AND SIXTH TRUMPETS
Following this, God will release a host of evil spirits from their prison and allow them to cause people excruciating pain that will last for 5 months (fifth trumpet, 9:1-12). Then He will release 200 million mounted soldiers who will kill one-third of mankind (sixth trumpet, vv.13-21). The symbolism associated with the horses, and the resulting plagues, makes it seem probable that their riders are demonic rather than human.
These supernatural judgments fall while the earth is reeling under the impact of the revolution, pestilences, and persecution depicted under the seals. These combine to kill 7/12 of the human race--all in a space of less than 7 years!
What is amazing is that those who do not die in these plagues are still not ready to bow theknee to God. John says, "The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood--idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality, or their thefts" (Rev. 9:20-21 NIV).
Table of Contents
Before showing us the final "bowls of the wrath of God" (16:1) contained in the seventh trumpet, John presents seven intervening scenes. He does so to teach important spiritual truths and to fill in certain details that provide a clearer picture of what will take place before God's judgment is complete.
THE WORD OF GOD IS EATEN (10:1-11)
John saw a mighty angel come down from heaven with a little book that lay open in his hand. The mighty angel planted one foot on the sea and one foot on land, and shouted thunderous words that John was forbidden to record. What John could tell us is that the angel invoked the name of God and declared, "There should be delay no longer." This meant that the judgments would come in rapid succession and quickly accomplish their goal (vv.6-7).
Then John was told to take the "little book" from the hand of the angel and eat it. He was told that it would be sweet to his taste but bitter in his stomach. In the setting of Revelation, the meaning of this symbolic act is apparent. The Word of God is pleasant to the taste, in that it tells us about the blessedness and final victory planned for Christ and His people. But it is bitter, in that when we receive it we find ourselves holding values that arouse the world's wrath and bring us persecution, suffering, and death. It is also bitter, in that it declares the terrible trouble God will bring on those who reject its message.
John was told that he must prophesy to "many peoples." Whether he returned to the mainland from Patmos to do so or did it through the book of Revelation isn't clear. What is clear is that by his pen we are hearing the prophetic Word of God that is applicable to "many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings" (Rev. 10:11). It is a message that we too will be held accountable for. By hearing and receiving it, we will be blessed (Rev. 1:3). If we should ignore or reject it, we will do so to our own harm and regret.
THE TWO WITNESSES (11:1-13)
John's vision of two witnesses who will speak in God's behalf in the last days is preceded by a puzzling command. John was told to measure the inner court of the temple, the altar, and the worshipers there. This is a scene on earth. It must therefore refer to a temple that will stand in Jerusalem in the endtime, built prior to or shortly after the rapture of the church. The Jews will worship there until Antichrist stops their sacrifices and places an image of himself in the holy place (cp. Dan. 9:27; 2 Th. 2:4; Rev. 13:14-15).
The vision of Zechariah 2 may help us understand the why of this measuring. While an angel in human form sets out to measure Jerusalem, another angel informs Zechariah that the city will one day be greatly expanded and protected by God as "a wall of fire around it . . . and . . . its glory within" (2:5 NIV). This will occur in the kingdom established by Jesus Christ at His return. But before this can take place, the nation must experience a spiritual cleansing--the "filthy garments" (3:3) must be replaced by "rich robes" (v.4) and "a clean turban" (v.5). By commanding John to measure the inner court, the altar, and the people, God marked the Jewish people as belonging to Him but in need of cleansing. He will allow wicked Gentiles (Antichrist and his cohorts) to take control of the city for 42 months, but through this judgment He will purify His people and their worship.
During this time of Gentile persecution, the two witnesses (Rev. 11:3-13) will be divinely protected as they declare God's truth. They will prophesy for 1,260 days with the ability to do miracles to authenticate their message.
I will give power to My two witnesses . . . . If anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner. These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire (11:3,5-6).
After the two witnesses finish their testimony, the Antichrist will fight against them and kill them. Their bodies will lay in the streets of Jerusalem for 31/2 days. People of every nation will look at them while refusing them burial.
The world will be so happy to be rid of the two witnesses that people will send one another gifts to celebrate their death. But suddenly a voice will call, "Come up here" (v.12). The two witnesses will ascend to heaven before an astonished world. Then a severe earthquake will rock Jerusalem, killing 7,000 people. This will so terrify the survivors that they will give "glory to the God of heaven" (v.13).
THE SPIRITUAL WAR IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH (12:1-17)
Next, John saw a radiant woman (Israel) about to give birth to the Messiah, as the red dragon (Satan) stands ready to devour the baby. But the Son, destined "to rule all nations with a rod of iron" (v.5), is born and snatched up to God.
The woman represents Israel, the nation that gave birth to Jesus through the virgin Mary. In pointing out her flight into the wilderness to a place where she is nourished and protected by God for 1,260 days, John took a long time-leap: all the way from Christ's ascension to heaven 40 days after His resurrection to the endtime. But this is not at all uncommon in biblical prophecy. During the great tribulation, God will provide special protection for a remnant of the nation. This company, plus the 144,000 of Revelation 7 and 14, will make up the "all Israel" who "will be saved" at Christ's second coming (Rom. 11:26).
John then saw a war in heaven--a battle between a group of good angels under the leadership of the archangel Michael and evil angels under Satan. The devil and his followers are defeated and hurled down to earth. This brings about rejoicing in heaven and a warning to earth dwellers that they are in for a terrible time because the devil is furious and knows he has but a short time left to vent his wrath.
This prophecy has not yet been fulfilled. True, Satan was banished from heaven when he first sinned (Isa. 14:12-15; Ezek. 28:11-19), but he still had access to heaven (Job 1). He was "destroyed" (Heb. 2:14-15) by Christ through His atoning death and triumphant resurrection, but God still permits him to "deceive" (2 Cor. 11:14) and "devour" (1 Pet. 5:8). He still has access to heaven as the "accuser," but at some point after the church is raptured he will be defeated by Michael's army and lose this access. He will persecute the woman (Israel) with great fury, but he will not be able to annihilate the nation. God will preserve a remnant (one-third according to Zech. 13:8) to be citizens of the kingdom He is about to establish on earth.
THE TWO BEASTS (13:1-18)
In the next vision, John saw two men who are called "beasts" because of their characteristics. They are the political world leader (the Antichrist) and the religious world leader (the Antispirit or False Prophet).
Antichrist (13:1-10). The first beast had "ten horns and seven heads" and characteristics of a leopard, bear, and lion. This ties him into the series of Gentile world powers of Daniel 7 in reverse order--Greece, Medo-Persia, and Babylon. The seven heads and ten horns make his kingdom a rebirth of the Roman Empire, the "dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong" fourth beast (Dan. 7:7). The "seven heads" probably denote either successive forms of government in the history of this empire or seven successive rulers. The ten horns undoubtedly refer to ten powerful leaders or nations under him during this coming time.
Revelation 13 portrays this political world ruler at a point in his career when he is hailed as the hope of mankind. This show of support apparently motivates him to reveal his true colors as the devil's man. He begins to blaspheme God and persecute those who have turned to God through Christ (vv.5-7).
The apostle Paul undoubtedly had this time in mind when he spoke of the revealing of the "son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God" (2 Th. 2:3-4). He will continue in power for only 42 months (Rev. 13:5). Antichrist will receive his authority from the dragon (Satan), even as Jesus Christ received His authority from the Father (cp. Rev. 13:2 and Jn. 5:26-27).
The deadly wound to one head and the astounding healing (Rev. 13:3) may refer to the remarkable resurgence of the Roman Empire after its apparent death. The idea that Antichrist himself will be killed and return or be a historical personage brought back from death also has many advocates. It is possible that this man will recover from a personal or political "wound" that had appeared to end his career.
The False Prophet (13:11-18). The second beast, who also serves the devil, will perform miracles and lead people to worship the Antichrist. Some see him as the head of the apostate church. It seems more likely, however, that he has no connection with it. He simply cooperates with the apostate church (which we see in Rev. 17) until he no longer needs her and then turns against her. He has power to give spirit (Greek pneuma) not life (Greek zoe) to the image of the beast--giving this robot the appearance of breathing and enabling it to speak. This may be done through mechanical means or trickery, but it will give the impression of the supernatural. Even as the Holy Spirit draws attention to Christ in this age, the False Prophet will draw attention to Antichrist.
The False Prophet will require all people to receive a mark on their forehead or right hand to indicate their allegiance to and worship of the Beast. This "mark" of 666 will be necessary to "buy or sell" (v.17). It's likely that many of those who do not possess the mark of the beast will die of starvation. The number of the beast--666--is the subject of much speculation. It probably means that man, no matter what he does, falls short of being God--seven being the number of deity. Antichrist and the False Prophet will wield their power for 42 months (13:5).
THE LAMB AND THE 144,000 (14:1-5)
In the fifth intervening scene, John sees the Lamb (Jesus Christ) on Mount Zion, and with Him the 144,000 portrayed in 7:1-8. This is the earthly Zion and the time is the beginning of Christ's earthly rule. They enter the kingdom age with Him. John also hears a company in heaven singing (probably the martyred throng). The 144,000, because they have gone through the great tribulation and have been redeemed, are able to identify with this joyful heavenly song. They are depicted as "virgins" and "without fault," as people who kept themselves spiritually pure during the tribulation period.
THE THREE FLYING ANGELS (14:6-11)
As the vision continues, John sees three flying angels. The first one proclaims an "everlasting gospel," a call to fear and worship God because He is about to show fully His grace to believers and His perfect righteousness toward the unsaved.
The second angel proclaims the fall of Babylon (v.8). Babylon, in Bible prophecy, is sometimes a great wicked city and sometimes a political-religious system opposed to God. The doom of the city and the system is so near that the angel can say, "Babylon is fallen."
The third angel proclaims the doom of those who worship the Beast (vv.9-11). They will "drink of the wine of the wrath of God," and be "tormented with fire and brimstone . . . . And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever." Even though the language is symbolic, the reality it depicts is awesome to contemplate.
This doleful angelic message is followed by a comforting word from another voice. It takes us back to the beginning of the great tribulation and declares the blessedness of those who die in the Lord rather than bow to Antichrist's demands. They are at rest, and the rewards of their works follow them (14:13).
THE HARVESTING OF EARTH (14:14-20)
This scene portrays grain and grapes so ripe that they are near the state of decay. The world is ripe for harvest. An angel uses a sickle to reap clusters of grapes that are thrown into the winepress and trampled. The juice denotes the blood of the ungodly that will be shed at Christ's return (19:15). The picture of blood reaching to the bridles of horses over a distance of approximately 200 miles symbolizes the terrible bloodshed that will occur. When the world is fully ripe for judgment, Christ will come!
Table of Contents
Revelation 11:15-19 tells us that with the sounding of the seventh trumpet a symphony of voices in heaven praises God. The heavenly company views the end of the tribulation as so near that they speak of it as in the past. The apostle inserted a number of intervening scenes between the announcement of the seventh trumpet (11:15) and the beginning of the fearful bowl judgments (15:1). These seven bowls of God's wrath undoubtedly come out of the seventh trumpet, just as the seven trumpets come with the opening of the seventh seal in Revelation 8:1.
These bowls of God's wrath apparently constitute the last of the three "woes." The demons from the pit in 9:1-12 constitute the first woe. The demonic horsemen of 9:13-21 and the judgment after the resurrection of the two witnesses comprise the second woe (11:13-14). We can assume that the bowls of wrath make up the third woe, which John stated would quickly follow the catching up of the two witnesses (11:14).
The vials of wrath follow. They inflict people with painful sores (16:2), destroy life in the seas and rivers (vv.3-7), produce heat from the sun that scorches people (vv.8-9), bring darkness and undefined pain (vv.10-11), dry up the Euphrates River and allow demons to lead the heads of the nations to the Middle East to vie for leadership in a battle against God (vv.12-16), and cause the greatest earthquake in all of history (vv.17-21).
Table of Contents
Revelation 17--18 presents the last intervening scene in two stages. These chapters portray the religious system and then the political system, both of which have been fighting against God. Then they depict their destruction.
ECCLESIASTICAL BABYLON (17:1-17)
A richly attired prostitute sits on a scarlet beast and has the title "MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH" on her forehead. She represents a satanically inspired pagan religious system. In the endtime, she will wield great influence riding on the shoulders of a beast that seems to be a composite of Satan (the scarlet dragon) and Antichrist (the seven heads and ten horns). This Beast "was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition" (17:8).
The statement in verses 10-11 that a seventh king will appear and remain a little while, and that the coming Antichrist will be an eighth king, raises the question, Who is this seventh king? Possibly, the imperial form of government with caesars which held sway in Russia (Czar) and Germany (Kaiser) until their overthrow in 1918. It is also possible that the coming Antichrist will gain great power, lose it briefly (a deadly wound), and return to power with a different strategy.
The scenario is quite clear: The woman represents an apostate religious system which, like ancient Babylonian paganism, tries to blend all religions into one. Her headquarters will be Rome. She will help Antichrist come to power and take an active role in persecuting those who turn to Christ. But the world leaders allied with Antichrist will inwardly despise her and destroy her when they have the power to do so. This will give the False Prophet full authority in the religious realm.
POLITICAL BABYLON (17:18--18:24)
With the words "The woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth" (17:18), John is introduced to political Babylon. He sees an angel come down and declare the fall of Babylon. The language is similar to that found in Revelation 17, but there are some distinctions. The kings hated the harlot and destroyed her. They didn't weep for her, but they do weep over the destruction of this Babylon (18:9-10). Merchants and people engaged in international commerce likewise weep (vv.11-19). Those who serve God, on the other hand, are jubilant (vv.20-24).
The word Babylon here represents the godless commercial-political system that characterized Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome, and will mark the revived empire under Antichrist. It is also possible that the ancient city of Babylon on the Euphrates will be rebuilt and be the world capital under Antichrist's regime.
Table of Contents
The fall of Babylon is followed by an inspired heavenly hallelujah chorus which John hears (19:1-8). John is then told to bless those who are invited to "the marriage supper of the Lamb" (19:9). After this, John describes the coming of Jesus Christ as Conqueror. The Lord is followed by the armies of heaven (v.14). He destroys His enemies and casts the Beast and False Prophet into the lake of fire (19:17-21). An angel binds the devil and hurls him into the bottomless pit for 1,000 years (20:1-3). The saints (resurrected at the time of the rapture) sit on thrones, sharing Christ's rule over the earth. The souls of the martyred dead of the great tribulation receive their new bodies and join the other saints to rule with Christ and the redeemed of previous ages. The unsaved will not be resurrected until the millennium is ended (20:4-6).
At the close of the 1,000 years, Satan is released. He will find millions of earth dwellers, who, though born into a world of prosperity, peace, and justice, obeyed Jesus Christ only because they were afraid to disobey. Because they will be inwardly chafing at these restraints, they will eagerly join Satan in one final organized effort to defeat God. But before they are actually able to start a battle, they are destroyed by fire from heaven (20:7-10).
Following this, our earth system collapses and a great white throne appears. On it is Jesus Christ. The souls of all the unsaved who died receive new bodies, stand for judgment, and go to "the lake of fire." To the degree that they chose to live without God on earth, they will be separated from Him forever.
Table of Contents
A new heaven and new earth will emerge from the collapsed and fire-cleansed earth system (Rev. 21:1; 2 Pet. 3:10-13). John described the physical characteristics of our new home in highly symbolic language because our vocabulary and our mental capacity are too limited to comprehend its reality. The heavenly Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22) will come down and become the new Jerusalem. It will be a city of dazzling, indescribable splendor. Its size assures us that it will have room for all the redeemed of all ages. In addition, our new home will be a place of exquisite natural beauty--a crystal river and rows of fruit trees (22:1-2).
While we cannot visualize the full physical glory of our new home, we can find tremendous joy in contemplating some of its blessings. First, we will be with God--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (21:3-22). Second, we will never again experience the results of sin--no more tears, death, sorrow, crying, or pain (21:4). Third, we will be sinless and surrounded by sinless people. Therefore, we will have wonderful companionship and no temptations from defiling associations (21:27). Fourth, we will have meaningful work to do, for "His servants shall serve Him" (22:3).
This will be our eternal home! Living as we do in a world where everything we treasure comes to an end, we can hardly imagine a perfect world in which nothing ends. But the prospect exhilarates us!
Table of Contents
The book of Revelation closes with a solemn warning and an urgent appeal. The coming of the Lord for His own will occur "quickly" (22:7,12,20). It could take place at any moment, and it will be so sudden that it will give no opportunity for last-minute repentance. Therefore, the time for salvation is now.
God may allow you to reject the gospel and remain in your present condition. But if that is your choice, remember that when the Lord comes you will not have time to change your ways.
By contrast, those who believe on Jesus Christ have every reason to continue on the path of a righteous and holy life no matter what the cost. The promise to them is, "Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me" (22:12).
This is an encouraging word for those who believe, and adds a sense of urgency to the beautiful invitation, "And the Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let him who hears say, 'Come!' And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely" (v.17).
Is life leaving you thirsty and unfulfilled? The Holy Spirit and the church unite in extending to you the invitation to come to Jesus. If you want to, you can drink freely from the water of life--the soul-satisfying salvation Jesus provides. Only Jesus Christ can satisfy the deep longings of your heart.
Believe what the Bible says about who He is and what He has done. Then receive Him as your Savior. He will receive you and prepare you for the new heavens and new earth planned for His family.