Introduction to Revelation

By James M. Rochford

Download a free mp3 teaching series on Revelation HERE!

The Bible gives us a unique vision of the future—a picture that is not only true, but also desirable. It not only conforms to reality, but it offers us hope. Yet, most Christians have never studied (or even read!) the book of Revelation. Why not? If the book of Revelation is simply an encoded enigma that cannot be understood, then why would God offer a special “blessing” to those who read it (Rev. 1:3)? Moreover, if the book of Revelation is a complete and total mystery, then why call it a “revelation” at all?

That’s why we wrote this commentary. We hope it will aid readers in understanding the book of Revelation.

Introduction to Revelation

The Authorship of Revelation Critics since the 3rd century AD have challenged that John the apostle wrote this book. We hold that John of Zebedee—one of the Twelve—was the author.

The Date of Revelation We date the book of Revelation sometime during the reign of Emperor Domitian (AD 81-96). This historical question has important implications for the interpretation of the book. If the Domitianic dates are true, then the view known as preterism is false.

The Genre of Revelation Many interpreters hold that the book of Revelation was written in the apocalyptic literary genre. We evaluate the merits of this view.

Different Schools of Interpreting Revelation There are four major schools of interpretation for the book of Revelation: (1) Preterism, (2) Historicism, (3) Idealism, and (4) Futurism. We evaluate all four views and offer our perspective.

Why did God make eschatology so confusing? Many people complain, “If God wanted to communicate about the end of human history, why didn’t he just give a clear and detailed account? Why do we have to appeal to hundreds of passages—scattered throughout the Bible?” We give our thoughts on this perplexing question.

Doesn’t a futurist interpretation deny first-century readers any understanding or application? If John was writing a book about the end of human history, wouldn’t this neglect the needs of his original audience? Moreover, why would John write a book that could only be understood by a future generation—perhaps 2,000 years in the future?

Millennial Views One of the key interpretive issues at the heart of eschatology is our view of the millennium. Will Jesus literally reign on Earth for a thousand years, or is Jesus spiritually reigning from heaven or in the hearts of believers? Should we expect human history to get better with time, or worse? Does the millennium refer to a literal 1,000-year reign, or is this symbolic of the church age? Many questions confront the interpreter.

The Pretribulational Rapture In the end, it is relatively unimportant when the rapture will happen; it is more important that it happens. However, after evaluating the various biblical data, it seems that the Bible teaches a pre-tribulation rapture.

A Critique of Preterism The “preterite” in English is the past tense. Preterism is a view of Bible prophecy that argues that these events have already occurred in the past—not the future. We give an evaluation and critique of this system.

Table of Contents

How to use this commentary well 4

Consulted Commentaries. 5

Commentary on Revelation. 6

Revelation 1 (Jesus reveals the future). 7

Revelation 2 (Letters to the churches). 18

Revelation 3 (Letters to the churches). 39

Revelation 4 (Creation worships the Creator: The Father). 51

Revelation 5 (Creation worships the Creator: The Son). 55

Revelation 6 (The Tribulation Begins: Seven Seals). 61

Revelation 7 (Interlude: View from Heaven). 70

Revelation 8 (Seventh seal is opened… Trumpets 1-4). 74

Revelation 9 (Trumpets 5-6). 79

Revelation 10 (Interlude). 85

Revelation 11 (The Temple, the Two Witnesses, and the Trumpet). 88

Revelation 12 (The Rise and Fall of Satan). 95

Revelation 13 (The Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet). 102

Revelation 14 (Jesus’ judgment of the world). 110

Revelation 15 (Interlude in heaven before the bowls). 117

Revelation 16 (The Bowls of Wrath). 119

Revelation 17 (The Mystery of Babylon). 125

Revelation 18 (The Fall of the World System). 130

Revelation 19 (The Second Coming). 135

Revelation 20 (The Millennium). 141

Revelation 21 (Heaven and Hell). 145

Revelation 22 (Heaven and Hell). 157

Dispensational Pre-Millennial Reading. 161

Historical Premillennial Reading. 162

Preterist Reading. 162

Amillennial Reading. 163

Postmillennial Reading. 163

How to use this commentary well

For personal use. We wrote this material to build up people in their knowledge of the Bible. As the reader, we hope you enjoy reading through the commentary to grow in your interpretation of the text, understand the historical backdrop, gain insight into the original languages, and reflect on our comments to challenge your thinking. As a result, we hope this will give you a deeper love for the word of God.

Teaching preparation. We read through several commentaries in order to study this book, and condensed their scholarship into an easy-to-read format. We hope that this will help those giving public Bible teachings to have a deep grasp of the book as they prepare to teach. As one person has said, “All good public speaking is based on good private thinking.”[1] We couldn’t agree more. Nothing can replace sound study before you get up to teach, and we hope this will help you in that goal. And before you complain about our work, don’t forget that the price is right: FREE!

Questions for Reflection. Each section or chapter is outfitted with numerous Questions for Reflection or questions for reflection. We think these questions would work best in a small men’s or women’s group—or for personal reading. In general, these questions are designed to prompt participants to explore the text or to stimulate application.

Discussing Bible difficulties. We highlight Bible difficulties with hyperlinks to articles on those subjects. All of these questions could make for dynamic discussion in a small group setting. As a Bible teacher, you could raise the difficulty, allow the small group to wrestle with it, and then give your own perspective.

As a teacher, you might give some key cross references, insights from the Greek, or other relevant tools to help aid the study. This gives students the tools that they need to answer the difficulty. Then, you could ask, “How do these points help answer the difficulty?”

Reading Bible difficulties. Some Bible difficulties are highly complex. For the sake of time, it might simply be better to read the article and ask, “What do you think of this explanation? What are the most persuasive points? Do you have a better explanation than the one being offered?”

Think critically. We would encourage Bible teachers to not allow people to simply read this commentary without exercising discernment and testing the commentary with sound hermeneutics (i.e. interpretation). God gave the church “teachers… to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12). We would do well to learn from them. Yet, we also need to read their books with critical thinking, and judge what we’re reading (1 Cor. 14:29; 1 Thess. 5:21). This, of course, applies to our written commentary as well as any others!

In my small men’s Bible study, I am frequently challenged, corrected, and sharpened in my ability to interpret the word of God. I frequently benefit from even the youngest Christians in the room. I write this with complete honesty—not pseudo-humility. We all have a role in challenging each other as we learn God’s word together. We would do well to learn from Bible teachers, and Bible teachers would do well to learn from their students!

At the same time, we shouldn’t disagree simply for the sake of being disagreeable. This leads to rabbit trails that can actually frustrate discussion. For this reason, we should follow the motto, “The best idea wins.” If people come to different conclusions on unimportant issues, it’s often best to simply acknowledge each other’s different perspectives and simply move on.

Consulted Commentaries

We consulted many commentaries for individual passages of Revelation, but we read these specific commentaries below exhaustively. We give a very short review of each commentary below. The idea is to help students to know where to turn if they are looking for a commentary.

Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002).

This is a technical commentary that takes a moderate Historical Premillennial view throughout. It was very well done. Even though we disagree with Osborne on his Historical Premillennialism (i.e. the Church replaces ethnic Israel in the millennium), we found this to be one of the best commentaries that we read on Revelation.

Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981).

This commentary takes a moderate Historical Premillennial view throughout. Johnson is one of our favorite commentators. Even though we disagree with his Historical Premillennialism, this is an excellent place to start when studying Revelation.

John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Galaxie Software, 2008).

This is a short commentary that defends a classical Dispensational view. Personally, we thought Walvoord’s commentary on Daniel was far better than his commentary on Revelation. But this is still a must read.

Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997).

Mounce is an excellent commentator, and he writes from a Historical Premillennialist view. On the positive side, this is a technical commentary that fights to remain succinct. In fact, most of his discussion of Greek vocabulary and grammar occurs in the footnotes. He also focuses on OT references to interpret the book, rather than looking to apocryphal literature (though he does contain a lot of this material as well). On the negative side, it was honestly difficult to see where Mounce ultimately landed in his interpretation of many contested portions of the book. Mounce’s commentary is lauded for being a sound futurist commentary that doesn’t get into a lot of discrediting speculation. However, he didn’t seem to remain consistent in his reading of Revelation. He viewed some imagery through a preterist framework and others through a futurist framework. Mounce’s eclectic approach was honestly difficult to follow at times.

Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987).

Morris writes from an Amillennial view. This is a short, well-written commentary from a NT scholar for whom we have much respect. We found it insightful, even though we disagree with his Amillennial views.

Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989).

This book is a rewritten version of Colin J. Hemer’s doctoral dissertation given under the supervision of the late F.F. Bruce. Hemer only focuses on Revelation 1-3, but he offers his typical brilliant and exhaustive research regarding the Seven Churches.

Our critique of Hemer’s work is that he relies too much on the historical background to inform his interpretation. This might sound odd to read, especially since we advocate a grammatical-historical hermeneutic. But consider one example to illustrate: Hemer sees the earthquake in Sardis in AD 17 as being the imagery for John’s visions of the mountains falling in Revelation 6. He affirms that Revelation is prophetic (i.e. futurism). However, in our view, the local setting of the Seven Churches seems to be the grid through which he interprets the book as a whole. This leads to speculative conclusions in our view. Regardless, the late Colin J. Hemer is the premier source on the historical setting of the Seven Churches.

Commentary on Revelation

Unless otherwise stated, all citations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).

Revelation 1 (Jesus reveals the future)

(1:1) “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John.”

“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place.” The term “revelation” (apokalupsis) comes from two roots: “away” (apo) and “a cover” (kalypsis). God is going to reveal something to us in this book—hence the name, revelation. (The careful reader will notice that the title of the book is not “revelations” as people often say!)

Does this refer to a revelation about Jesus, or a revelation from Jesus? The text could be rendered either way. However, the context refers to “prophecy” (v.3), which strongly favors the second view—namely, Jesus is giving us a revelation of the future.[2] Indeed, the revelation consists of “the things which must soon take place.” Because Jesus himself is the revealer (Rev. 5:5, 7; 6:1), this could explain why the two concepts are so closely linked together.

“To show” (deiknymi) implies that God revealed these future events through visions and pictures. John uses this term throughout the book to describe how God revealed these visions (Rev. 1:1; 4:1; 17:1; 21:9f; 22:1, 6, 8). Mark Hitchcock simplifies this by referring to Revelation as a “show and tell” book.[3] John saw the visions, and then he wrote down what he saw.

This could explain the perspectival and phenomenological language used throughout the book. After all, imagine if you were given visions of the year 4,000 AD. What words would you use to describe what you saw? John constantly uses the language of simile to describe what he is seeing (“It was like this…” or “It looked as though it was that…”). He is clearly searching for language to describe what he is seeing, and at points, the best he can do is approximate.

“He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John.” The word “communicated” (esēmanen) comes from the word “signs” (sema or sēmeion). The word “yields the idea of ‘making known’ by means of symbols.”[4] This is the same root word that John uses to refer to Jesus’ “signs” in his gospel. Jesus performed seven literal signs, but each had symbolic meaning. Similarly, God chose to reveal this prophetic material through John in a similar way.

Some interpreters take this concept and run with it. They think this gives us free license to interpret Revelation however they want. Not true! John does utilize symbolic imagery, but this doesn’t mean careful interpretation goes out the window. After all, Jesus communicated seven “signs” (sēmeion) in the gospel of John, and these also need to be carefully interpreted. We do not have free license to read into symbols whatever we want. In fact, Hitchcock states that the interpretation for the symbol is given 46 times in Revelation alone.

Furthermore, the term “communicated” (esēmanen) means “to make known, report, communicate” (BDAG). Thomas comments, “Those words… tell the means God used to inspire John to write; they do not provide grounds for nonliteral interpretation. Interpreters should understand the revelation to John as they do the rest of the Bible, even though God gave it in an unusual symbolic fashion.”[5] He’s right. While God used symbols to communicate, our role is to accurately interpret the meaning of the text. The revelation through symbols doesn’t preclude their explanation through words.[6]

We frequently hear that “a picture speaks a thousand words.” The same is true for these rich symbols in Revelation. John doesn’t formally write about a political leader who will take over the world; he calls him “the Beast.” He doesn’t impartially describe a one-world economy; he calls it “the Whore of Babylon.” He doesn’t explain that Christians will be persecuted by the world-system; he says that the woman will be “drunk with the blood of the saints.” The imagery of these symbols is far more powerful than merely transmitting propositional truths about the future.

(Rev. 1:1) Why does John say that these events “must soon take place”? (c.f. 2:16; 3:11; 22:7, 12, 20) In our view, rather than interpreting the word “soon” (tachos) to refer to when Jesus will return, we could translate this as “quickly” to refer to how Jesus will return (Rom. 16:20; Lk. 18:8; Acts 12:7). Moreover, as an eternal being, God has a different relationship to time. Referring to the Second Coming, Peter writes, “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day” (2 Pet. 3:8).

(1:2) “[I John,] testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.”

John is serving as a witness to Jesus’ revelation of the future—to “all that he saw” (v.1). God communicated this revelation (“the word of God”), and Jesus validated this communication (“the testimony of Jesus Christ”).

(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.”

It was common for the first Christians to read Scripture publicly (Lk. 4:16; Acts 13:15; 1 Tim. 4:13; Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:27). Many Christians couldn’t read, so this was the way they learned their Bibles. In addition, John calls this book a “revelation” from God (v.1) and “the word of God (v.2). Moreover, he has the audacity to claim that people will be “blessed” if they listen to the book and “heed” the words (v.3). Hence, John is classifying his book as inspired Scripture.

“Blessed is he who reads and those who hear… and heed.” This is the only book[7] of the Bible that promises a special blessing for those who read and act on what they hear (“heed”). The word “blessing” (makarios) means “fortunate, happy, privileged” (BDAG, p.610). It’s sad that the only book in the NT that promises a special blessing is the same book that is “often left unread.”[8]

“The time” (kairos) refers to the return of Jesus (Mt. 8:29; 1 Cor. 4:5).

In what way does knowing about the future bless us?

(1) The study of the future gives urgency for following Christ in the present. John states that reading his book should lead to following “the things which are written in it.” Therefore, the study of Jesus’ return is intensely practical (cf. 1 Pet. 4:7-11). Since Jesus could come back at any moment, there is no time to waste. We have one life, and then it’s over. Forever.

(2) The study of the future encourages us to know our Bibles from cover to cover. Eschatology might be one of the most difficult interpretive tasks for the student of the Bible. In order to study this subject well, we need to understand the NT use of the OT, we need to systematically fit together what we’re reading, and we constantly need to sharpen or revise our interpretation and understanding based on contrary views. Therefore, studying eschatology causes us to read and reread our Bibles carefully and critically. What an incredible gift!

(3) The study of the future fills out our worldview. Imagine watching a movie at home, but it was damaged at the end. The movie stopped 75% of the way through the film. How frustrating! You would constantly wonder what happened in the plot and to the characters. Similarly, without the end of the biblical story, we would be lost in the present. If we didn’t know where history was headed, we would lack direction.

John’s exile

(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 is writing to “the seven churches that are in Asia,” which is modern-day Turkey. At this point in history (AD 95), more churches existed in this area. It’s likely that these churches passed their letters around to one another (e.g. Col. 4:13). Indeed, if we look at the order of these churches, a letter carrier “would traverse a rough circle”[9] as he delivered this mail.

“From Him who is and who was and who is to come.” This refers to God the Father (Rev. 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 16:5). God the Son is mentioned in the subsequent verse.

“Seven churches.” Commentators regularly repeat that the number “seven” is “the number of perfection.”[10] Since God created the world in “seven days,” perhaps there is some truth to this assertion. But, quite frankly, this still leaves us wondering what exactly John means by using the “number of perfection” to refer to the seven churches. Indeed, various numbers fill the book of Revelation, and commentators seem to see much symbolism in each and every one. Even the number seven occurs 54 times in Revelation alone.[11] So, we aren’t sure what to make of John’s usage here. We shouldn’t under-interpret symbolism in Revelation, but we also shouldn’t over-interpret it either.

(Rev. 1:4) What are the seven spirits mentioned here? Some hold that these seven spirits refer to the seven angels. This surely has the benefit of the context of chapter 1. However, John never calls these beings angels—even though he repeatedly refers to angels throughout Revelation. Moreover, John later differentiates “the seven Spirits” from “the seven stars” (Rev. 3:1). Therefore, we hold that the reference to the “seven spirits” is a symbolic way of describing the Holy Spirit. This fits the context as well, when John lists the persons in the Trinity (vv.4-5), and it also explains why Jesus says that the Spirit speaks to the churches (Rev. 2:7). Finally, a comparison with Zechariah 4 inclines us to believe that this is the Holy Spirit being described.

To be clear, we are interpreting a symbol here. The Holy Spirit is not literally “seven spirits” any more than Jesus is literally both a lion (Rev. 5:5) and a lamb (Rev. 5:6). Jesus doesn’t have additional animal natures in addition to his human and divine natures. The symbolism of “seven spirits” does nothing to change our doctrine of the Trinity any more than the “lion-lamb” symbolism of Jesus changes the hypostatic union. This being said, not much hangs on our interpretation of this verse—one way or another. So, we don’t hold this view dogmatically.

(1:5) “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 Christ, the faithful witness.” Jesus is the faithful witness, and we are to be faithful witnesses like him (v.2).

“The firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” The “firstborn of the dead” refers to Jesus’ status—not that Jesus was a created being (see Col. 1:15, 18). This is a partial fulfillment of the Davidic covenant (see Ps. 89:27). The rest of the book shows how Jesus will literally rule the Earth (Rev. 17:14; 19:16).

“To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood.” This might be one of the clearest gospel passages in the entire Bible. This is also the only passage in the NT where God’s “love” is spoken of in the present tense. John uses the present, continuous tense to refer to God’s love. It is better translated as Jesus keeps on loving us.” Right now, at this moment, Jesus loves you. You might not feel loved, but God’s word declares it and the Cross demonstrated it. Because Jesus “released us” (aorist tense), sin is a reality of the past. Now, we can experience ongoing love from him.

(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.”

We are not only released from sin (v.5), but we have the love of Christ currently resting on us (v.5). Could it get any better than this? Yes! We now belong to a “kingdom.” But this is no ordinary kingdom. In the Church Age, we aren’t a kingdom of soldiers, but a kingdom of “priests.” This is similar to Peter’s statement about the church being a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9). Later, John will explain that believers will indeed take the world by force at the Second Coming of Christ (Rev. 19). Today, however, we share forgiveness with our enemies—not fighting. Because we have been forgiven (v.5), we are now agents of reconciliation to others (2 Cor. 5:19).

(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.”

This is a conflation of Daniel 7:13-14 and Zechariah 12:10.

“He is coming with the clouds.” Daniel writes, “Behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. 14 And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed” (Rev. 7:13-14). In Daniel, only God should be worshipped—not idols, empires, or kings. Yet, in Daniel 7, universal sovereignty and worship is given to “One like a Son of Man.”

“Every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him.” Despite the absolute power of this Conquering King, he will have a conflicted identity. Zechariah writes, “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that 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). In context, Yahweh himself is speaking in the first-person. That means that this passage predicts the “piercing” of God himself. It’s no wonder that John sees this fulfilled in Jesus (see Zechariah 12:10).

When Jesus returns, people will universally mourn over what they did. Moreover, Paul writes that “every knee will bow” (Phil. 2:10).

How could every eye see Jesus upon his return? Some interpreters have speculated that Jesus’ return could refer to a 24-hour period, where the entire globe could watch him descend. We disagree. This doesn’t match Jesus’ description of his return, which seems instantaneous: “Just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Mt. 24:27).

Others argue that modern satellite technology will allow everyone on Earth to see Jesus arriving on their phones, tablets, or TVs. We’re not sure. We might not all see Jesus in the clouds, but the text never specifically asserts that we will all see Jesus at the same moment. It merely asserts that everyone will (eventually) see him. This could allow for a span of time, rather than a universal and instantaneous event. In the end, surely every person will see Jesus (Phil. 2:10-11).

(Rev. 1:7) Does this passage refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70?

(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.’”

The context refers to Jesus, and other passage refer to “the Lord” as Jesus as well (Rev. 11:8; 22:20). This language refers to Yahweh God. Isaiah writes,

“I, the LORD, am the first, and with the last. I am He” (Isa. 41:4).

“I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me” (Isa. 44:6).

“Listen to Me, O Jacob, even Israel whom I called; I am He, I am the first, I am also the last” (Isa. 48:12).

If this does refer to Jesus, then it is a good passage for his deity, because he is called “the Lord God.” That being said, some commentators hold that this is referring to God the Father.[12]

(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.”

At this point, John is the only surviving apostle. He was the “disciple Jesus loved,” but at this point, John hadn’t seen Jesus for 60 years. He is living in exile on the island of Patmos, which is 8 miles long and 5 miles wide (Pliny, Natural History 4.12.69).[13] Hitchcock claims that a cave looks out over some of the Seven Churches on the mainland. John might have been praying for these churches who were just out of his reach. It must’ve been torture to see them from the shore, while not being able to talk to the people he loved.

How severe was John’s exile? Hitchcock claims that John was exiled on Patmos to be isolated from the churches, but this wasn’t a harsh existence. We disagree. After all, John writes that he is in the “tribulation.” Thomas writes, “Early Christian tradition says John was sent here during Domitian’s reign over Rome (AD 81-96) and was forced to work in the mines.”[14] Eusebius states that John returned to Ephesus after the death of Domitian (Church History 3.20.9).

Did John believe that he was living in the Tribulation? The text doesn’t require this. John states that this tribulation was “in Jesus.” This could be a case of “already-not-yet” language.

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

(Rev. 1:10) What does it mean that John was “in the Spirit”? The NLT translates this verse as, “It was the Lord’s Day, and I was worshiping in the Spirit.” This is a poor translation. Indeed, it isn’t even a translation but an interpolation because the term “worship” appears nowhere in the Greek text. The NLT is projecting modern church culture back onto the text, depicting John as though he was sitting in a worship service in church on a Sunday! Rather, this expression (“in the Spirit”) appears later in the book three other times (Rev. 4:2; 17:3; 21:10). It is used to refer to a “trance,” where the prophet is “open to the Holy Spirit and ready to see visions.”[15]

“I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet.” Imagine someone sneaking up behind you and blowing a trumpet at the back of your head. John must’ve nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard this. Moses described God’s voice as sounding like a “trumpet” at Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:16, 19), and it terrified the Israelites. This is yet another example where John associates Jesus with Yahweh.

(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.’”

John is repeatedly told to “write” what he sees (Rev. 1:11, 19; 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 4, 14; 14:13; 19:9; 21:5). Here, he is told to collect the letters to the seven churches, and then, these letters would circulate around Asia Minor. In fact, Mounce thinks that this was all one big scroll containing the entire book, and we see no reason to disagree. From this viewpoint, the “entire scroll including all seven letters was to be read at each church.”[16] This explains why Jesus repeatedly states that these Christians should hear what he is saying “to the churches.”

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

“Seven golden lampstands.” These are symbols for the “seven churches” (v.20). This might also be an allusion to the seven-branched lamp in Zechariah 4:2. Walvoord writes, “In the Tabernacle and in the Temple one of the items of equipment was a seven-branched lampstand, a single stand with three lamps on each side and one lamp in the center forming the central shaft. It would seem from the description here that instead of one lampstand with seven lamps there are seven separate lamp-stands each made of gold and arranged in a circle.”[17] This is insightful. Yet, John sees seven separate lampstands—not one lamp with seven branches. At most, John is merely harkening back to Zechariah 4.

(1:13-15) “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. 14 His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. 15 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 only description in the NT of what Jesus looks like. In his First Coming, Jesus had “no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him” (Isa. 53:2). Here, we see another description entirely: Jesus is completely transfigured in front of John. This description not only alludes to Daniel’s vision about the “one like a son of man” (Dan. 7:13-14), but it also mimics Daniel’s description of God the Father in this same passage: “I kept looking until thrones were set up, and the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow and the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames” (Dan. 7:9).

“His voice was like the sound of many waters.” John continues to use OT imagery that refers to Yahweh to refer to Jesus. Ezekiel writes, “[God’s] voice was like the sound of many waters” (Ezek. 43:2).

(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.”

“Seven stars.” These are the “seven angels” sent to the churches (v.20). We currently possess coins of Emperor Domitian’s son that depict “the child seated on a globe surrounded by seven stars.”[18] This could be a way for John to demonstrate that Jesus is the true son of God—not the baby of the Roman Emperor.

The “sharp two-edged sword” refers to God’s word. Isaiah writes, “He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked” (Isa. 11:4; c.f. Isa. 49:2). Likewise, the author of Hebrews writes, “The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12). Moreover, Paul writes, “The sword of the Spirit… is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17). This explains why this “sword” is coming out of Jesus’ mouth. Jesus’ power comes from his mighty word.

(1:17) “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last.’”

“Like a dead man.” This doesn’t merely describe worship. The language describes complete sensory overload, and perhaps a fear of death at seeing God face-to-face (Ex. 19:21; 33:20; Judg. 6:22-23). John fell down in abject fear.

“He placed His right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid.’” Yet, this interaction also shows the relational imminence of Jesus (“He placed His right hand on me…”). After blasting him with a raw vision of his glory, we imagine Jesus reaching down gently to pick up his scared friend (cf. Dan. 10:10; Mt. 14:27; 17:7).

“The first and the last.” In the OT, Yahweh calls himself with these words: “I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me” (Isa. 44:6). There is only one God (“there is no God besides Me”), and Jesus claims this divine title for himself.

(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.”

We are going to read about a lot of scary scenes and terrifying tyrants in Revelation. But right from the beginning, we receive this breathtaking vision of Jesus—totally poised and in control—holding the keys to death itself (cf. Rev. 20:13-14). This towering figure is the One who is going to walk with his followers through this dreadful period of history, and he is the One who says, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). If we’re standing with him, we have no reason to fear!

(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.”

This serves as a timeline for the rest of the book:

(1) “The things which you have seen.” This refers to the vision of Jesus in chapter 1.

(2) “The things which are.” This refers to the letters to the current churches (chapters 2-3).

(3) “The things which will take place after these things.” This refers to the future of human history that picks up in Revelation 4:1. John will use the same language in Revelation 4:1 to show that he is transitioning to write about the future (“After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven…”).

(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.

The book of Revelation isn’t as difficult to interpret as we might think. Many symbols are interpreted for us in the context. Here, Jesus states that the “stars” are angels, and the “lampstands” are churches.

Jesus governs the Church (Col. 1:18). He not only walks among the churches (Rev. 1:13), but he holds the Church in his “right hand.” Moreover, Jesus promised that he will stay with us until “the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). So often, we fret and worry about God’s Church—that is, God’s people. But there’s no good reason to fear: Jesus is holding us in the palm of his hand.

Questions for Reflection

If you could know the future of the human race, would you want to know? Why do you think some people might not want to know the future of the human race?

What do we learn about Jesus from this opening chapter?

  • Jesus rules over the “kings” on Planet Earth (v.5). These early Christians living under persecution would’ve taken great comfort from this statement.
  • Jesus rules the entire material universe (v.8). He is the beginning and the end (cf. Col. 1:17).
  • Jesus is unbelievably powerful and unbelievably loving (v.17). If we saw Jesus face to face, we would collapse in abject fear (Phil. 2:11; Lk. 5:8). But because he is so loving, he wants us to stand up and relate with him.
  • Jesus bought the Church with his blood (v.5). He expressed his love to us through his death.
  • Jesus rules the Church (v.20). He holds the Church in his right hand. We have no reason to fear in ministry. We are in the safest place possible: In the palm of Jesus’ hand. While Jesus will issue admonishment to some of these churches, he still holds them. Morris writes, “They have their defects, but the strong Son of God has not abandoned them. Rather he holds them still in his hand.”[19]
  • Jesus is in the middle of His Church (v.13). He stands in the “middle of the lampstands” (i.e. the churches). Jesus is right here with us, and he promises his presence even in the smallest of churches. He said, “Where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Mt. 18:20).

Read verses 5-6. We often hear the acronym WWJD: What would Jesus do? However, this passage doesn’t speak to what Jesus would do, but what Jesus has done. From these two verses, explain what has Jesus done for us—for you?

John describes Jesus as both the Lord and as our Friend. What would happen if we only related to Jesus as a friend, rather than as our Lord and King?

Read verse 13. Why does God choose to use the symbol of a “lampstand” to describe the churches?

John was an old man by the time he wrote this book (AD 95). How do you think he felt when he saw Jesus?

How do you think you will feel when you see Jesus face-to-face as John did? How do you think Jesus will feel when he sees you?

DEVOTIONAL: “Jesus is good, but not safe”

Postmodern people often have a conception of God that reflects the sentimental messages of Hallmark greeting cards or the characters in Lifetime television shows. To the postmodern person, God is a therapeutic concept who exists to validate our thoughts and feelings. God is fun and friendly like a teddy bear—or soft and soothing like a quilted blanket that’s fresh out of the dryer. To be in God’s presence would be comfortable and cozy.

Yet most people in world religions don’t perceive God this way. People across the world have a “frightening and irrational experience” when they come into contact with the divine.[20] Scholars of comparative religions call this the “mysterium tremendum et fascinans.” The word mysterium means “wholly other,” and the term tremendum refers to “awfulness, terror, awe.” Paradoxically, the word fascinans describes “attractiveness in spite of fear.” To most people, God isn’t comfortable and cozy, but terrifying and attractive all at once. The worshipper “finds the feeling of terror before the sacred, before the awe-inspiring mystery (mysterium tremendum)… that emanates an overwhelming superiority of power. The numinous [i.e. God] presents itself as something ‘wholly other,’ something basically and totally different. It is like nothing human or cosmic. Confronted with it, man senses his profound nothingness, feels that he is only a creature.”[21]

We see these sorts of encounters in Scripture. When Isaiah encountered God in his throne room, he said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined!” (Isa. 6:5). Likewise, when Peter witnessed the divine power of Jesus, he said, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Lk. 5:8). Where is the comfortable and cozy Jesus that we’ve come to expect?

When Jesus healed a demon-possessed man, we expect the people to flock to Jesus, but what does Mark record? He states that the people became “frightened,” and they “began to implore Jesus to leave their region” (Mk. 5:15-17). But be careful what you pray for! Jesus answered this request and left them alone.

At the end of his life, we see the same phenomenon. On the night of his betrayal, Jesus blasted the Roman cohort (600 men!) with just two simple words, “I am!” His words frightened these battle-hardened soldiers so much that they “drew back and fell to the ground” (Jn. 18:6). This is only a preview of the Second Coming, when all people will collapse in Jesus’ presence and “every knee will bow” (Phil. 2:10). Again, we must ask: Where is the comfortable and cozy Jesus that we’ve come to expect?

In Revelation chapter one, the apostle John encountered the living Jesus. The voice of Jesus sounded like a blasting trumpet (v.10) and like roaring waters (v.15). His eyes blazed like a “flame of fire” (v.14), and his feet smoldered like glowing metal in a furnace. Jesus’ face “was like the sun shining in its strength” (v.16). This overwhelming sight was enough to cause John to feel like he had dropped dead! (v.17) No matter how phenomenal we imagine Jesus to be, he will look even more breathtaking and unimaginably awesome!

Yet Jesus is not only a being of unspeakable power and inexpressible glory. He is also the friend of sinners. So, what happened to John next is striking. John writes, “Jesus placed His right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid’” (Rev. 1:17). The mysterium tremendum placed his hand on John’s shoulder, and told him that there is no reason to be scared. Truly, the safest place to be is in the presence of power and love like this. This might be why John wrote, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn. 4:18).

Perhaps C.S. Lewis got it right, when one of his characters in the land of Narnia asked if Aslan (Jesus) was safe—to which one of the Narnians replied, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King.”

Revelation 2 (Letters to the churches)

We’ve read Paul’s letters, John’s letters, and Peter’s letters to the churches. Here we get the privilege of reading Jesus’ letters!

How do we interpret these letters?

Classic Dispensationalists hold that these seven churches predict the history of the Church throughout the Church Age. For instance, Dwight Pentecost writes, “[The seven churches depict] this present age from the inception of the church to the judgment of the apostate church prior to the second advent.”[22] Good Bible teachers like Chuck Smith and Greg Laurie embrace this view as well (called the “chronological interpretation”). However, other Dispensationalists like Mark Hitchcock reject this view. We also reject this view for a number of reasons:

First, nothing in the text tells us that these messages are prophetic. This is a key lesson in using hermeneutical restraint. If the text doesn’t tell us that these churches represent different periods of church history, then we should restrain ourselves from reading this view into the text. The plain sense reading is that Jesus is speaking to literal and historical churches in first century Asia Minor. He even mentions historical details about these churches.

Second, the outline of the book speaks against this. Jesus told John to write about “the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things” (Rev. 1:19). The “things which will take place after these things” refer to the future (Rev. 4:1), but the “things which are” refer to John’s current time in history.

Third, it contradicts the doctrine of Jesus’ imminent return. If these letters to the seven churches predict ~2,000 years of church history, then Jesus couldn’t have returned at any moment throughout the last 2,000 years. Ironically, the doctrine of Jesus’ imminent return is a common staple of Dispensationalism, and the chronological interpretation contradicts this.

Fourth, this view is often ethnocentric, focusing on Anglo-American Christianity—not the global Church. The chronological interpretation tends to focus on the Christians in Europe and America. But what about all of the other Christians worldwide? This becomes most evident in the interpretation of the seventh church: Laodicea. Interpreters state that Christians in the 20th century have become materialistic like the church of Laodicea. Of course, it’s true that the Western church is largely affluent. But what about impoverished Christians in Africa, Asia, Latin America, etc.? Indeed, Christianity is thriving in these regions of the world, so why would we have a microscopic view of only the Christians in the United States and Europe? These interpreters should try convincing Christians in Haiti or Cambodia that they are living in affluence and luxury! This interpretation simply doesn’t fit with global Christianity.

Even though we reject this interpretation, we have listed the chronological view in our commentary below. This is simply for the benefit of the reader to see how an alternate perspective functions—not because we adhere to this interpretation.

How should we interpret the letters to the seven churches?

If these letters were written to historical churches in the first century, then how do they relate to us today? We would argue that we should be consistent in how we interpret all of the epistles in the NT—not just those in Revelation 2-3. With this in mind, these letters are not much different from any other epistle written to individual churches (e.g. Colossians, Ephesians, Romans, etc.). That is, all of these letters had an original audience, as well as a timeless and universal application. The same is true for the seven churches in Revelation. Each letter ends with the statement, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Therefore, these letters are not only intended for these particular churches, but for (1) anyone with ears and (2) all the “churches.” Indeed, these seven churches likely passed this entire scroll from church to church. So, each church would’ve read the messages to the other six churches. This implies universal application as well.

Why are there seven churches?

The number seven appears 54 times in the book of Revelation. Interpreters often understand this to refer to the number of perfection or completion (e.g. God created in seven days). We grow tired of hearing how all of the various numbers of Revelation have some sort of allegorized, non-literal meaning. Indeed, commentators hold that the number 7, 10, 12, 1,000, 144,000, etc. all refer to the symbol of perfection! (Or imperfection in the case of 666!) While numbers can possess a symbolic meaning, these need to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis.

In our view, Jesus picked seven literal churches to address. However, in our estimation, we think he likely chose seven churches because this also had additional symbolic value—namely, he is speaking to the entire Church throughout history. This view wouldn’t allegorize the seven churches as non-literal, but rather, it would give symbolism through the means of these seven, literal churches. In a similar way, the twelve literal apostles seem to be symbolic in some sense for the twelve tribes of Israel (Mt. 19:28).

Why does Jesus address these churches and not others?

There are roughly 30 local churches mentioned in the NT. Why does Jesus single out these seven? Hitchcock speculates that John may have personally overseen these seven churches. Moreover, from his exile on the island of Patmos, John could see many of these churches, and so Jesus may have addressed them for this reason. Hitchcock also speculates that perhaps these types of churches would have common strengths and weaknesses that could apply to all churches (simultaneously) throughout church history. Furthermore, the ancient postal route would’ve followed this path to deliver these letters.

What does Jesus have to tell us?

We don’t want to be so set in our ways that we can’t hear the voice of Jesus speaking to us. Each letter closes with a universal invitation: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” While the letters are addressed corporately “to the churches,” we are all individually responsible (“He who has an ear”). Wiersbe writes, “Churches are made up of individuals, and it is individuals who determine the spiritual life of the assembly. So, while reading these messages, we must apply them personally as we examine our own hearts.”[23] As we reflect on the problems in these churches, ask yourself, “Am I here to criticize and judge my local church, or to help revitalize it?”

1. Ephesus (2:1-7) Hardworking and discerning, but lost their first love

Advocates of the chronological interpretation believe that this is the first-century church (i.e. the “apostolic church”).

What was the church in Ephesus like? From all we can gather, Ephesus must’ve been an enormous church. Though Pergamum was the official capital of Asia, Ephesus was its largest city and perhaps the de facto capital. Three major trade routes travelled through the city.[24] Paul, Timothy, and John all led in Ephesus at one point, and Paul lived there for roughly three years (Acts 19:10). If an ambitious and unstoppable man like Paul decided to stay put in Ephesus for three years, this must have been an important church. Indeed, the Bible devotes seven letters to this particular church: Ephesians, 1 & 2 Timothy, 1-3 John, and Revelation. Paul spent two years in the school of Tyrannus teaching and preaching, and consequently, reached the larger region in Asia Minor (Rev. 19:10). Because it was “the most strategic cosmopolitan city of Asia [Minor]” after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, Ephesus “may have become temporarily the headquarters of the whole church.”[25]

The culture of Ephesus was heavily influenced by idolatry (Acts 19:19-20, 23). The Temple of Artemis (or “Diana” in Latin) was four times the size of the Parthenon (425 feet long and 225 feet wide), and its 127 pillars were six stories tall and made entirely out of marble (Pliny, Natural History 36.95ff). The “Artemision” was “one of the seven wonders of the world,”[26] and it had “literally thousands of priests and priestesses, many of them sacred prostitutes.”[27] Paganism was rampant in this region. This is why we read about Paul’s healing handkerchiefs, Jewish exorcists, and young Christians selling their occult books for 50,000 pieces of silver. This is likely why Paul, Timothy, and John taught here so much, and also why Jesus praises this church for their keen doctrinal discernment (Rev. 2:2). The church in Ephesus started around AD 50, so they are in their second generation at this point in history (AD 95). During their history, they were plagued by false teachers (Eph. 4:14; 1-2 Timothy; 1 John). This explains why doctrinal discernment is a key theme of Jesus’ letter to them.

(2:1) “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this.”

(Rev. 2:1) Was this an angel or the pastor of the church? Some commentators hold that these “angels” actually refer to the senior pastor (or bishop) of each church. Others hold that the angels aren’t literal but refer to the “prevailing spirit”[28] of the church. We reject these views in favor of the plain sense reading: For some reason, unknown to us, God assigned an angel to each of these churches. We cannot know if the same is true for all churches today and throughout history (i.e. a guardian church angel?). However, we feel compelled to follow the text for these seven churches—namely, each had an angel watching over them.

“The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this.” The term “holds” (krateō) communicates having a “firm grip.”[29] One of the quickest ways to lose our influence for Christ is to forget who is “holding” the church. According to the text, Jesus is present in the Church as well (“…the One who walks among the… lampstands…”). This fulfills Jesus’ promise when he said, “Where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Mt. 18:20).

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

“I know your deeds.” We all want to know that someone appreciates and notices our hard work. There’s nothing more disheartening than working on a project when no one cares what you’re doing. But Jesus is watching all of our work, and none of it is “in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58). Jesus knows our “deeds” and how much we suffer. We can trust that he knows exactly what is going on with every detail in the church. Our hard work does not go unnoticed.

This was a hardworking church. The term “toil” (kopon) refers to “a state of discomfort or distress” or “to engage in [an] activity that is burdensome, work, labor” (BDAG, p.558). Moreover, the term “perseverance” (hypomonēn) means “the capacity to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty” (BDAG, p.1039). These Christians had “toiled to the point of exhaustion.”[30] Jesus uses wordplay to describe this church. He states that they “toiled” (kopon), but they had “not grown weary” (kopiaō). The NLT translates this as “without quitting,” which captures the meaning well.

“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.” Paul had predicted false teachers for this group (Acts 20:28-31), and so did John (1 Jn. 4:1; 2 Jn. 7-11). At this point in history, these heretical teachers had arrived in full. Yet, this church had been ready for them…

This was a discerning church. When Jesus refers to not tolerating “evil men,” he is referring to discernment and testing what they were hearing (1 Thess. 5:21; 1 Cor. 14:29; 1 Jn. 4:1). Despite the fact that the Ephesians were mired in occult practice and paganism, they had surprising theological insight, and they valued truth and solid Bible teaching. By AD 110, Ignatius could write to the Ephesians that “among you no heresy dwells” (Letter to the Ephesians, 6.2).

Intolerance can be a good thing. We should be intolerant of poverty, disease, racism, sexism, and bigotry. Tolerating false teaching that ruins people’s lives isn’t a mark of virtue, but of vice. Jesus himself commends this church for being intolerant of these teachers who were ruining people’s lives (“evil men”). Of course, this doesn’t imply that we need to be mean-spirited or cold-hearted toward those with whom we disagree. Indeed, Jesus faults these same Christians for such a loveless form of spirituality (Rev. 2:4). We should be harsh with ideas, but gentle with people. Regarding verse 6, Morris writes, “It is the practices and not the persons which are the objects of hatred.”[31]

In his lectures on the book of Revelation, D.A. Carson states that it’s easy to be a prophet for false teaching in the past. Like a “Monday morning quarterback,” it’s easy to see heresies in different cultures and in different time periods. However, it’s hard to be a prophetic voice for false teaching in the present.

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

They were working hard, but they forgot about God’s love for them and their love for others.

Did they (1) lose their love for Christ or (2) lose their love for one another? We’re not sure. This is probably ambiguous for a reason because these concepts are so closely united in biblical thinking. In fact, the NLT captures this ambiguity: “I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!” Regardless, we know this: The love in their hearts had grown cold. Their hands and heads were into the work of serving Christ, but their hearts weren’t into it anymore. It’s possible to serve and sacrifice for years, but fail to love (1 Cor. 13:1-3). Nothing substitutes for love (Mt. 22:37ff; Rom. 13:8; Gal. 5:14; 1 Tim. 1:5).

Does this refer to emotional love for Jesus? Much devotional material interprets this passage to refer to our emotional love for Jesus. If we lose that, they would argue, then we lose our basis for loving others. Of course, we enjoy emotional feelings in our time with God, and it feels good to have this subjective of sense during time in the word or prayer. If anything, we want more of these experiences. However, this is not what this passage is referring to.

For one, the emphasis of Scripture is God’s love for us—not our emotional love for God (1 Jn. 3:16; 4:10). Indeed, it’s difficult to find passages that refer to our emotional love for Jesus in the NT. We certainly should love Jesus (1 Pet. 1:8; Eph. 6:24), but we don’t read commands to display a subjective, emotional love.

Second, if our problem was an emotional and devotional deficit with God, then wouldn’t Jesus’ solution be to go into our prayer closet to memorize Scripture and read devotional books? Instead, the solution is to “do the deeds you did at first.” This refers to loving others, which is a way of loving God himself (1 Jn. 3:17; 4:20). To succinctly summarize: Jesus isn’t referring to a lack of subjective emotions toward God, but rather, objective actions toward others.

Love drifts. After 40 years of work, there was a slow slip in the heart of the people in this church. A one-degree misdirection on the compass took them drastically off course over time. This can happen when we think of our ministry as “business as usual.” Perhaps Paul warned the Ephesians of this, when he wrote, “Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love” (Eph. 6:24). This could also be why he told them to remember to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). Do you love the people that God has entrusted to your leadership and care? Have you loved them to the point that you actually enjoy being around them?

Be careful what you place at the center of your Christian life! True spirituality places love at the center. Jesus said that love is the greatest commandment (Mt. 22:36-40), and Paul wrote that “the goal of our instruction is love” (1 Tim. 1:5). Indeed, love fulfills the Law itself (Gal. 5:14; Rom. 13:8, 10). If love isn’t at the center, then what has replaced it? Work ethic? Discernment? Doctrinal precision? Courage? The Ephesians had all of these, but they had lost love at the heart of it all. It isn’t hard to imagine the Christians at Ephesus getting caught up in fighting false teaching, but losing their focus on loving the saints. When we get into a season of fighting false teachers, it’s easy for this to become an obsession and a preoccupation. Our love can slowly and even unnoticeably begin to cool and fade, even as we fight, fight, and fight some more.

Do you find yourself in this spiritual condition? Has love for others slipped away as the crux of your Christian life? If so, what’s the solution? Jesus gives three steps to recover from a loveless life.

(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.”

(1) “Remember.” What was it like to experience love for others? What did it feel like when you were serving others on a regular basis? In what ways were your relationships different? How does that compare to today?

(2) “Repent.” Jesus mentions repentance twice, so this must be important. Repentance refers to an honest admission of our problem before God. This is often quite difficult because it’s easy to justify a lack of relational love when we are so working hard. Yet, this is a stern warning to those who work hard for Christ: Make sure that in all of your ministry that you do not lose a love for others! No more excuses, blame-shifting, or self-justifications. Simply admit this before God and repent.

(3) [Repeat] “Do the deeds you did at first.” Acting on the truth is irreplaceable. As we act on the truth, we gain victory that we didn’t think was possible (cf. Jas. 1:22-25; Jn. 13:17; Acts 20:35). Rather than thinking through exotic solutions, Jesus tells them to repeat what they were doing back when their spiritual walk was going well. What were you doing when you were loving others so well? Why not rinse and repeat, and see where God guides you?

“Or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place.” Instead of being focused on the external persecutors or false teachers, we should be more concerned about whether or not Jesus is going to come and pull away our lampstand. Morris writes, “A church can continue only for so long on a loveless course. Without love it ceases to be a church.”[32] We could refute all of the false teaching in the world, but still lose Jesus in the process.

These concepts, of course, are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, Jesus praised them for the fact that they were hardworking and discerning. The solution is not (repeat not!) to have less hard work or less discernment; the solution is to emphasize more love for others.

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

(Rev. 2:6) Who were the Nicolaitans? The term Nicolaitans comes from two words: “priests” or “victory” (nico) and “people” or “laity” (laos). The Ephesians stood up against this teaching, while the church of Pergamum capitulated to it (Rev. 2:15).

Eusebius places Cerinthus and the Nicolaitans in the same time period. After recounting John fleeing the bathhouse of Cerinthus, Eusebius writes,

At this time, also, there existed for a very short time the so-called heresy of the Nicolaitans of which the Apocalypse of John makes mention. These boasted of Nicolaus, one of the deacons with Stephen chosen by the Apostles for the service to the poor.”[33]

Eusebius places the Nicolaitans at the time of Cerinthus at the end of the first century (~AD 95-100). Yet, the Church Fathers give contradictory accounts of the Nicolaitans. The great historian Philip Schaff writes, “The views of the fathers are conflicting.”[34] Consider two crucial conflicts that face the historian:

  1. Irenaeus believed Nicolas was the founder of the heretical sect of Nicolaitans.[35] On the other hand, Clement of Alexandria states that Nicolas was a faithful husband and good father. The apostles accused him of being a jealous husband, and he offered to give his wife away.[36]
  2. Hippolytus,[37] Irenaeus,[38] and Eusebius[39] believed that the Nicolaitans originated from “Nicolaus” (or “Nicanor”), who was one of the seven deacons chosen to distribute food to the widows (Acts 6:5). But Ignatius[40] didn’t believe that the Nicolaitans came from Nicanor.

How do we make sense of these accounts? We’re not entirely sure. At the very least, we know that the Nicolaitans existed, and they were a sect of false teachers. Beyond this, we are simply agnostic.

“You hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans.” Jesus doesn’t cure the rough and tough Ephesians by turning them into soft and sappy people. While he rebukes them for their lack of “love” (v.4), he encourages them for their “hate”! Of course, Jesus doesn’t say that they should hate these people. Again, we should be gentle with people, but harsh on ideas. In this case, the false teaching of the “Nicolaitans” led to immorality and idolatry (Rev. 2:14-15), and these behaviors should be “hated” according to Christ.

(2:7) “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.”

“Tree of life.” Though the text is surely grounded in an allusion to Genesis 2:9, this term is also used for Jesus’ cross, which is described as a “tree” (xulon; Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 2:24). This would fit with later references to the Cross being in Heaven (Rev. 5:9; 13:8). It’s possible that Jesus is alluding to the OT “tree of life” to show its ultimate fulfillment in his Cross (Rev. 22:2).[41] That is, the Cross is the “tree of life” that we have been yearning for since the Garden. Moreover, the Ephesians used the imagery of a “tree” on their coinage; so, Jesus could be speaking here of the true tree of life—not the pagan counterfeits.[42]

(Rev. 2:7) Do we need to “overcome” to inherit eternal life? (c.f. 2:11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21) Jesus overcame for us (Rev. 3:21; 5:5), and we overcome through our faith—not our good deeds (1 Jn. 5:4-5).

Questions for Reflection

Read verse 1. Why does Jesus begin his letters to the churches by telling us that we rest in his right hand?

Read verse 4. What does it mean to forsake your first love?

Read verse 5. What’s Jesus’ solution for regaining our first love?

Read verse 5. What does it mean for Jesus to remove a church’s lampstand? (cf. Rev. 1:12-13, 20)

We often hear the statement, “Christians are so intolerant!” How would you respond to this assertion in a winsome way?

2. Smyrna (2:8-11) Persecution and Poverty: No Rebuke or Correction

Advocates of the chronological interpretation believe that this is the pre-Constantinian church of the 2nd and 3rd century.

Smyrna is the only city that still exists today (modern-day Izmir).[43] In ancient times, Smyrna was a harbor city, and a commercial hub of the Roman Empire—second only to Ephesus in its materialistic prosperity.[44] It contained a population of about 200,000 people, and it possessed a “famous stadium, library, and public theater,” which was “the largest in Asia.”[45] The city dedicated temples to Cybele (the Sipylene Mother) and Zeus, and it boasted a large acropolis on Mount Pagus that rose 500 feet above the harbor.[46] The temple of Zeus rested on this massive acropolis. Just imagine being a Christian in Smyrna, and always being able to see a massive temple to Zeus that rose high above you in the sky. This would cast an ominous tone on the entire city.

Furthermore, Smyrna was “one of the first cities to worship the Roman emperor,” and in AD 26, the Smyrneans “won the honour of erecting a temple to [the emperor] in the reign of Tiberius.”[47] They had loyalties to Rome as far back as 195 BC (Tacitus, Annals 4.56).

Smyrna was a hotbed for anti-Christian hostility. The city was home to “a large Jewish population that virulently opposed Christians… Rome had given the Jews the right to practice their religion, and they did not want this precious privilege threatened.”[48] By the 80s AD, Jewish synagogues were excommunicating Christians who refused to deny Christ. By AD 155, Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna, and he “was burned alive for refusing to call Caesar ‘Lord’ during an extensive persecution instigated by the Jews.”[49] This explains why Jesus speaks about the “synagogue of Satan” existing in this city.

At this point, the church in Smyrna had probably existed for a few decades (sometime after the mid-6os AD),[50] and our text tells us that they had already had endured quite a bit of suffering. The Smyrnean Christians faced “poverty” (v.9) and “prison” (v.10) for refusing to conform to the religious culture that surrounded them—whether Greco-Roman paganism or rabbinic Judaism. In such a prosperous city, it must’ve been especially painful to choose poverty and prison—particularly when the persecution came directly from one’s own neighbors. Jesus gives no critique of this church—only the hope of eternal life.

(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.”

Why does Jesus describe himself as one who was dead and rose from the dead? Since these believers were in danger of imminent imprisonment and possible “death” (v.10), this would’ve been a profound encouragement. To paraphrase, Jesus is asking them, “What is the worst that can happen? Death? You’re hearing from the One who beat death! Don’t you worry about that. I’ll give you power over the ‘second death.’”[51]

(2:9) “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.”

“I know your tribulation and your poverty.” The term “poverty” (ptōcheian) is especially “extreme,”[52] and refers to “abject poverty.”[53] These Christians were extremely poor—even though they lived in an economically thriving city. Because of the emperor worship, the city might have “produced economic sanctions against Christians who refused to participate.”[54] No doubt, these people had families, marriages, and financial responsibilities. Yet they chose devotion to Christ over financial stability.

“But you are rich.” Even though the Smyrnean Christians were financially poor, they were “rich (toward God)” (cf. Jas. 2:5; 2 Cor. 6:10; Lk. 12:21). By contrast, the church in Laodicea was materialistically rich, but poor toward God (3:17). The Smyrnean Christians experienced persecution and blasphemy from people in their culture because they took a stand for Christ.

(Rev. 2:9) Synagogue of Satan? The Christians could either (1) worship the emperor or (2) apostatize to Judaism. Neither option was tenable to a follower of Jesus because both were “an implicit denial of his Lord.”[55] By AD 155, some anti-Christian Jewish persecutors in Smyrna burned Polycarp alive (Martyrdom of Polycarp, 11-15). Such hostility doesn’t arise overnight, and it seems likely that this went “back to the time when John wrote.”[56] When we understand this historical backdrop, this passage comes into focus. John tells us that this group of Jewish people was bringing “slander” (blasphēmian) against the believers in Smyrna. Satan was ultimately behind this persecution, and later, the Beast is called the ultimate “slanderer” (blasphēmian) of God and his people (Rev. 13:1, 5-6; 17:3). This explains one reason why we shouldn’t hate our persecutors (Mt. 5:44). Satan is fueling their hatred and manipulating them to a large degree.

(2:10) “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil [i.e. the “accuser”] 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.”

The key to overcoming persecution is to overcome the “fear” of persecution. It doesn’t help to fret and fear what is in the future. Jesus is the “first and the last,” and he rose from the dead (v.7). He sets the limits on Satan, sin, and suffering. Whatever the “ten days” means, at the very least, it shows that Jesus sets limits on the persecution of his people.

“Crown of life” (stephanos) refers to the “trophy awarded to the victor at the games” or to a “victory wreath.”[57] Thus, reward is in view—not salvation itself. The symbol of a “crown wreath” was popular in Smyrna, and this would’ve been imagery with which these Christians were familiar. Hemer writes, “The concept of a crown or wreath is in fact extraordinarily prominent in materials relating to Smyrna. Variations of the motif occur on every pre-Imperial coin listed… and sometimes three times on the same coin… Similar emblems are almost obsessively common throughout the abundant and otherwise more varied types of the Empire.”[58]

(Rev. 2:10) What does John mean by 10 days? Is this literal or symbolic? We are unsure why the number of ten days was used. It was probably used to show the limits to their suffering against the backdrop of eternity. Perhaps we’ll get to Heaven, and God will tell us that there was no symbolism at all. He used the number ten, because their suffering lasted that long.

“Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” A prison sentence was often “the prelude to trial and execution.”[59] It was a temporary “interim period of suffering in anticipation of martyrdom.”[60] This is likely why “prison” and “death” are so closely connected.

(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.”

“Death” was the very real threat that frightened this church (v.10). Jesus claims to have the answer to the horrifying reality of death: “He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.”

Questions for Reflection

Surely there was something that Jesus could’ve noted as needing improvement in the church of Smyrna. When he addresses the other churches, he usually offers a word of correction. Why doesn’t Jesus mix encouragement with a challenge or a rebuke? Why does he choose to only encourage this church instead?

What do we learn about how to overcome persecution from Jesus’ words to this church?

3. Pergamum (2:12-17) Strong on persecution, but weak on doctrine and false teaching

Advocates of the chronological interpretation believe that this is the Church of Constantine (4th century and following).

Pliny called Pergamum “by far the most distinguished city in Asia” (Pliny, Natural History 5.30). The city was built on a “cone-shaped hill a thousand feet in height.”[61] Rome took over Pergamum in 133 BC, and it became the capital of the Roman province of Asia. The city was about 10 miles from the shore of the Aegean Sea, and it was “badly placed with relation to the great trade-routes.”[62] Consequently, it didn’t have access to large amounts of Roman wealth and trade. However, the city did have many significant features:

  • It was the capital of Asia Minor.
  • It contained palaces and temples on top of its great acropolis.
  • Its theater overlooked the valley, containing 10,000 seats with 80 rows.
  • It possessed a great library that contained 200,000 parchment scrolls. These parchments were “later sent to Egypt as a gift from Anthony to Cleopatra.”[63]
  • It possessed many temples devoted to Zeus, Dionysos, and Athena. In fact, there was a “great altar of Zeus that jutted out near the top of the mountain.”[64]
  • People travelled from all across the known world to be healed by the god Asclepius. (Today, many medical organizations use the “Rod of Asclepius” as a symbol for their association.)[65]
  • The gods were called “Soter” (“savior”), and this title was transferred to the political leaders. For instance, Attalus and Eumenes II were called “god” (theos) and “savior” (soter). They were worshipped in addition to the regular “worship of the Roman emperor.”[66]
  • They built a temple to emperor Augustus in 29 BC, and they were “the first city to be allowed a temple to a living ruler.”[67] So, emperor worship was central to their culture (Tacitus, Annals37).

Far and away, Pergamum had intense loyalties to Rome, and it was “a centre of Caesar-worship.”[68] It contained multiple temples to the Roman Emperor, and was incredibly loyal to Caesar. Osborne writes, “By the first century AD Pergamum had become not only an important political center but a major intellectual and religious center as well.”[69] Because the Christians refused to worship the emperor, however, they were met with suspicion, scorn, and suffering. While the Jewish people had an ancient nation, the “Christians had no national history.” Therefore, “The Jewish people were protected and recognized by a Roman treaty. Christianity had no such background and so was labeled a mere ‘superstition,’ all the more hated for its exclusivism and intolerance of the gods.”[70]

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

The city of Pergamum was obsessed with Caesar worship, and it was the emperor who held the “sword” of judgment over his people (Rom. 13:4). Here, Jesus states that he himself holds the ultimate “sword,” the word of God (cf. Rev. 1:16; Heb. 4:12).

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

These Christians held their faith in Christ—right in the middle of Satan’s throne room. Jesus understood the fierce temptation and persecution that they were under, commending them for their courage.

Antipas, My witness, My faithful one.” One of the believers in Pergamum (Antipas) faced martyrdom. Jesus gives this man incredible honor. Antipas receives the same title that Jesus himself has: “My faithful one” (see Rev. 1:5).

How did Antipas die? We don’t know anything about him beyond what is written here. Mounce writes, “The legend appears in later hagiographers (Simon Metaphrastes, the Bollandists) that he was slowly roasted to death in a brazen bowl during the reign of Domitian.”[71] The term “hagiography” comes from the words “saints” (hagiois) and “writing” (graphē). Legendary embellishments filled this type of literature, and therefore, it is suspicious as a trustworthy historical source. Hence, Osborne writes that there is “no evidence to substantiate this tradition.”[72]

“Where Satan’s throne is… where Satan dwells.” Hitchcock argues that Satan may have had a special hold on this region because of rampant idolatry (e.g. the various pagan altars, emperor worship, etc.). Moreover, the obsession with serpents (used for the “Rod of Asclepius”) could explain why Jesus would associate this city with Satan’s home. Indeed, just imagine seeing people worship idols that were literally represented as serpents, and which also carried the name “savior” (soter). The god Asclepius was called the “Pergagum god,”[73] and he was “closely identified with the serpent.”[74]

Hemer, by contrast, thinks that “Satan’s throne” was primarily “the emperor-cult as enforced from Pergamum.”[75] He infers this from the fact that Domitian made the people call him “lord and god” (dominus et deus; Suetonius, Domitian, 13:2-3; Martial, Epigrams 9.56.3; Dio Cassius, History, 67.4.7). This is in direct antithesis to Thomas’ confession that Jesus was “my Lord and my God” (Jn. 20:28).

(2:14-15) “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. 15 So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.”

Satan attacked this group through external methods (i.e. persecution), and also through internal methods (i.e. false teaching). The false teaching is connected with idolatry and sexual immorality. This is why Jesus appeals to the OT story of “Balaam” who used a similar strategy: By getting the Israelites to fall into immorality and idolatry (Num. 31:16), Balaam had figured out a way for the people of Israel to curse themselves. The false teaching of the “Nicolaitans” attacked these Christians by guiding them into sin.

(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.

Was Jesus going to attack them with a literal sword? While it’s true that Balaam was killed with a sword (Num. 31:8), this is not likely what Jesus has in mind. The “sword” is likely a reference to God’s word (Heb. 4:12). That is, Jesus is going to battle them with the powerful words of his mouth (see comments on Revelation 1:16 above). In a city with rampant false teaching, how would these believers know truth from falsehood? They needed Jesus’ word! Indeed, Jesus’ word is “either a comfort and a strength, or else it destroys us.”[76]

(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.

“I will give some of the hidden manna.” The “hidden manna” is an OT allusion to the manna placed in the Ark (Ex. 16:33-34; Heb. 9:4). These Christians were being told to forgo the food of the idol worshippers, and instead, receive true spiritual food from Christ. Because the other promises are given when we get to Heaven, this “hidden manna” seems to be an eternal reward or perhaps a symbol of eternal life (Jn. 6:49-50).

“I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.” We will receive a new name in heaven (cf. Isa. 62:2; 65:15). In the ancient world, names were often very “significant and linked with character.”[77] Christ gave Peter, John, and James new names. Likewise, Saul was renamed as Paul. We wonder if Christ will name us based on what we did here on Earth (perhaps as a form of reward?).

Why would God keep the name a secret? After all, what is the use of a new name if no one knows it? Morris comments, “For people of antiquity the hidden name was precious. It meant that God had given the overcomer a new character which no-one knew except himself. It was not public property. It was a little secret between him and his God.”[78]

(Rev. 2:17) What are the secret names and the white stones mentioned here? The white stone might be imagery taken from legal trial procedures in Pergamum. Osborne writes, “In ancient trials jurors would cast a white or black stone into an urn to vote for acquittal or guilt (cf. Acts 26:10); while no name was written on the stones, the trial setting could make sense in the Pergamene situation.”[79] Thus, Jesus could be communicating their acquittal from guilt. However, the imagery could also come from the Pergamum games, where it was “common for members of a guild or victors at the games to use stones as a ticket for admission to feasts.”[80] We are not entirely sure which imagery is being employed here, but both are resolutely positive.

Questions for Reflection

Read verse 13. Did Satan literally have a throne in Pergamum? If not, what does this refer to?

What were the strengths and weaknesses of the Pergamum church?

The church in Pergamum contained both martyrs (v.13) and idolators and fornicators (vv.14-15). How is it possible that the same church could produce such different kinds of Christians? How does this fit with your own experience in your church?

4. Thyatira (2:18-29) Growing in deeds, faith, and perseverance—but tolerating apostasy

Advocates of the chronological interpretation believe that this is the Church of Roman Catholicism in the Middle Ages, the worship of relics, and the exaltation of Mary and other saints.

A modern town (Akhisar) was built over ancient Thyatira, and this has prevented archaeological excavation of this ancient. Consequently, we “know less about it than any of the other cities.”[81] Thus, there is a certain irony to the fact that the longest letter to the Seven Churches would be written to the “least known, least important and least remarkable of the cities.”[82]

We gain our knowledge of the city from ancient inscriptions and coins. From these sources, we learn about “more trade-guilds… than in any other Asian city.” Indeed, the city resided among popular trade-routes that “made it an ideal manufacturing and marketing centre.”[83] Inscriptions mention “wool-workers, linen-workers, makers of outer garments, dyers, leather-workers, tanners, potters, bakers, slave-dealers and bronze-smiths.”[84] This is likely why this city is mentioned as the place where Lydia dyed her clothing (Acts 16:14-15), and it could be why Jesus mentions his “burnished bronze” feet (Rev. 2:18). These were both popular trades in Thyatira.

Tradesmen guilds fueled the economy in Thyatira, and these were very ancient (Herodotus, 1.93). While participation in the guilds wasn’t mandatory, it was nearly impossible to get ahead without belonging to one of them. These were the centers of economic, social, and religious life. Osborne writes, “Each guild had its own patron god or goddess, and the frequent feasts of the guilds were religious in character. The pressure on Christians to participate in the idolatrous life of the people was probably linked to the guilds, for their feasts were the heart of the social (and commercial) life of the city. To refuse to participate meant the loss of both goodwill and business.”[85]

(2:18) “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this.”

“The Son of God.” The people in Thyatira worshipped the god Apollo, who was the son of the god Zeus. They also worshipped the Roman emperor as a god. This assertion from Jesus shows that “it is not the emperor or the guardian deity of Thyatira, but the resurrected Christ, who is the true son of God.”[86]

“Eyes like a flame of fire.” The fiery eyes could refer to Jesus’ discernment of Jezebel, or perhaps to her “fiery” judgment.

“Feet are like burnished bronze.” Hemer understands the reference to “bronze” to be a mixture or “alloy of copper with metallic zinc” that can literally be rendered “copper zinc.”[87] After surveying coins from this time, Hemer further argues that Jesus’ statement was likely an affront to the local god Apollos, which was “represented by a bronze statue in the town.”[88] If so, John would be saying, “That’s not a god… This is a God!”

(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.”

This church was not just loving, but they were growing in love and good deeds. They were getting better with time.

(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 Christians in Thyatira have a false teacher in their midst, and they’re not doing anything about it. The name Jezebel is likely a symbolic reference (much like the use of “Balaam”) that harkens back to the wicked queen Jezebel who ruled in ancient Israel during the days of the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 16-19). She was the evil queen who tried to blend Baal worship with the worship of God (1 Kings 16:31). Therefore, this allusion would’ve be quite indicting.

Therefore, “Jezebel” was likely an “unknown woman who had undue influence in the local church and met the problem of Christian membership of the trade-guilds with permissive antinomian or Gnostic teaching.”[89] If this woman in Thyatira was anything like the ancient Jezebel, then she was a leader of some sort of perverted, false teaching. The problem with the Christians in Thyatira was that they weren’t testing the claims of this “prophetess” (1 Thess. 5:19-21). They are in many ways the opposite of the church in Ephesus: Strong in love, but poor in theological discernment (Rev. 2:20).

“Commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.” Hemer writes, “The particular problem seems to have been the guild-feasts, as the occasions when the Christian may have been particularly pressed by the need to conform to his environment.”[90] If Christians didn’t participate in these feasts, they would’ve been rejected from the guilds. Yet, as a committed Christian, consider how difficult it would be to give a toast in honor of the great god Apollos! Moreover, the mention of “immorality” seems to imply the activity occurring after (or during?) these feasts. Indeed, Mounce writes, “Pagan feasts often led to sexual promiscuity.”[91]

(2:21-22) “I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. 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.”

Jesus is righteously angry with this false teacher’s lack of repentance, and with those who follow her. Since this woman committed immorality on the marriage bed, her punishment was to be thrown onto a “bed of sickness.” This could be similar to Paul’s claim that God would physically discipline believers for unrepentance (see comments on 1 Corinthians 11:27-29).

Truly, this is harsh medicine! Yet, Jesus still holds out the opportunity for repentance (“unless they repent of her deeds”). Johnson writes, “Christ’s strongest threat to the offenders is not in regard to their sin, serious as that is, but to their reluctance to repent. The Lord is walking among his churches. He judges evil; but he also offers deliverance to those who have fallen, if they repent and stop doing Jezebel’s deeds.”[92]

(2:23) “And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.”

“I will kill her children with pestilence.” Her “children” most likely refer to her followers (cf. 2 Kin. 10:7). John uses this language to refer to followers of Christ (e.g. 1 Jn. 2:1, 12-13, 18; 2:28; etc.). But instead of being “children of God” (1 Jn. 3:1), these are children of Jezebel.

“All the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.” Jesus is omniscient. He not only knows our deeds, but also our motives (“minds and hearts”).

(2:24) “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.”

“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.” Instead of knowing about the deep things of God (1 Cor. 2:10), they know about the “deep things of Satan.” This likely refers to worshipping at the idol temples and falling into immorality.

“I place no other burden on you.” The “burden” reminds us of Acts 15:28. To paraphrase, Jesus is saying, “Don’t try and change everything in your life. Just focus on this: Get out of idolatry. If you can’t take this step, then spiritual growth is an illusion.”

(2:25) “Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come.”

“Nevertheless what you have, hold fast.” These believers were surrounded by false teaching, and their friends were being deceived by it (v.20). Jesus tells them to cling to the truth (“hold fast”), not succumbing to the peer pressure or culture conformity.

“Until I come.” Does this refer to the Second Coming? Not likely. The word “come” (hexo) isn’t the typical word used for Jesus’ return (parousia). Here, Jesus is referring to visiting this church to bring divine discipline for Jezebel and her followers.

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

As the messianic people, we will rule alongside the Messiah (Ps. 2:9).

(2:28-29) “And I will give him the morning star. 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

(Rev. 2:28) What is the morning star? The overcomers get Jesus, who is “the morning star” (Rev. 22:16; cf. 2 Pet. 1:19). There could be a messianic allusion to Numbers 24:17 as well. We agree with Morris who writes, “Even though this is an unusual way for Christ to refer to himself this seems the best way of taking the words. The ultimate reward of the Christian is to be with his Lord.”[93]

Questions for Reflection

Compare and contrast this church with the church of Ephesus.

Read verse 19. There were serious problems in Thyatira: False teaching, sexual immorality, and idolatry. It was so bad that Jesus said that he would come there to judge the people if they refused to change. With this in mind, what is the significance of the fact that Jesus begins by finding six areas to encourage this church?

Read verse 20. Is “tolerance” such a bad thing? When should we be tolerant and when should we be intolerant? Consider these passages to inform your answer: Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 11:19-20; Ephesians 4:2; Revelation 2:2; Revelation 2:20.

Read verses 18-29. What can we learn about the false teaching in Thyatira from this section?

Revelation 3 (Letters to the churches)

5. Sardis (3:1-6) The Church that was dead: No good words, only rebuke

Advocates of the chronological interpretation believe that this is the Church of the Protestant Reformation.

Sardis was a wealthy city. It was an “active commercial city and very wealthy,”[94] and it was the first city to “mint gold and silver coins.”[95]

Sardis was a “safe” city. It rested atop an acropolis that had a 1,500-foot precipice on three out of its four sides. The southern side led into the mountains, and so, ancient people considered the city to be safe, secure, and impregnable. However, Cyrus of Persia took over the city in the 6th century BC when one of his men climbed a part of the cliff where “no guard was stationed,” because the cliff was thought to be “sheer and impregnable there” (Herodotus, 1.84). The Persian soldier “climbed up a crevice on the ‘unscalable’ cliff at an unobserved point and opened the gates. Sardis fell after only fourteen days of the siege in 546 B.C. This so astounded the Greek world that ‘capturing Sardis’ became a saying for achieving the impossible.”[96] Later in the 3rd century BC, Antiochus III took the city with a similar strategy (216 BC).

Sardis contained a fairly sizeable Jewish population. Antiochus III sent 2,000 Jewish families to Lydia (Josephus, Antiquities 12.3.4.149), and of course, Sardis was the capital of Lydia. Josephus cites examples of rights given to Jewish people in this city as well (Antiquities 14.10.17.235; 14.10.24.259).

Sardis faced a devastating earthquake in AD 17. While the earthquake damaged the entire region substantially, Sardis suffered the worst (Tacitus, Annals 2.47.1-3; Pliny, Natural History 2.86.200). The impact of the earthquake “seemed [like] an event of almost apocalyptic scale.” The result seems to have been “nothing less than the sudden collapse of a great part of the mountain and the consequent disappearance of much of the very site of the original fortress-city.”[97] Consequently, Tiberius bailed out the city with huge financial relief and tax remission over the course of five years (Tacitus, Annals 2.46).

The worship of pagan deities was rampant in Sardis. They worshipped the goddesses of Artemis, Demeter, and Persephone (Strabo, 13.4.5), and they worshipped the gods of Zeus, Heracles, and Dionysus. In fact, in the lower part of the city, archaeologists unearthed “an exceptionally large (160 by 300 feet) temple dedicated to Artemis” with 78 columns that are “each fifty-eight feet in height.”[98] The worship of Artemis (Latin “Diana”) is especially interesting because this “patron deity was believed to possess the special power of restoring the dead to life.”[99]

(3:1) “To the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.’”

“You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” The Christians in Sardis had a reputation for being hard workers, but God viewed things differently. Were they living off the nostalgia of earlier times? If so, perhaps they picked up this attitude from their surrounding culture. As a result, this “same spirit had affected the church. Their loyalty and service to Christ was in the past. Now they were nothing.”[100]

When Jesus says that this church is “dead,” he doesn’t mean that they are all non-believers. Instead, he means that they are separated and far from him. Similarly, in the parable of the Prodigal Son, the father says, “This son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found” (Lk. 15:24; cf. Eph. 2:1, 12-14). The imagery of life and death describes separation from one another—not literal or spiritual death. This explains why Jesus can tell this church to “strengthen” itself and continue their “deeds” (v.2).

(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.”

We can’t settle for complacency, living off our accomplishments from the past. The only way is forward toward the future (cf. Phil. 3:13). This group was salvageable, but they needed a cold bucket of water to the face in order to “wake up” from their spiritual slumber. Unlike many of the other churches, Jesus doesn’t mention any persecution in Sardis. This is likely because these believers had blended right in with the culture around them, and were “too innocuous to be worth persecuting.”[101]

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

This doesn’t refer to the Second Coming, which will happen “whether the Sardians are watchful or not.”[102] It refers to Jesus coming to take away their influence (cf. Rev. 2:5). Jesus doesn’t tell them to get into some exotic spirituality to fix their problems, but instead, to get back to the bread and butter of true spirituality (“remember what you have received and heard”). So much of spiritual growth—whether individual or corporate—has to do with remembering what God has already said and embracing it (“keep it, and repent”).

(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.”

There was still a faithful remnant of believers in this church.

(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.”

Jesus promises ultimate security to these persecuted Christians. Johnson comments, “In the first century, Christians who were loyal to Christ were under constant threat of being branded political and social rebels and then stripped of their citizenship. But Christ offers them an eternal, safe citizenship in his everlasting kingdom if they only remain loyal to him.”[103]

(Rev. 3:5) Does God erase names from the book of life? Jesus is not threatening their eternal security, but affirming it. Consider a parent consoling their suffering child on a hospital bed. The parent might say, “I’m not going to leave you here to suffer alone.” Now imagine if the child interpreted this to mean that the parent said this because she had been entertaining the thought of leaving. This would be the exact opposite of what the parent was trying to communicate! Moreover, we should be careful in taking major doctrines about salvation from the book of Revelation. Mounce wisely writes that it is “hermeneutically unsound to base theological doctrine solely on either parables or apocalyptic imagery.”[104]

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

Questions for Reflection

What was the main problem in the church of Sardis?

Read verse 4. What was hopeful about this church’s future? How does this give churches hope for leading change?

6. Philadelphia (3:7-13) Faithful to Christ

Advocates of the chronological interpretation believe that this is the Church of the modern evangelical movement.

Philadelphia (modern day Alashehir) originated in 140 BC. It was named after Attalus II Philadelphus of Pergamum, who was most likely its founder.[105]

The economy likely took a massive hit under Domitian’s reign (AD 81-96). This city was a stronghold for the worship of the god Dionysus (the god of wine),[106] and it depended primarily on viticulture—the cultivation of grape vines (Strabo, 13.4.11). Therefore, its economy must’ve taken a huge hit when Domitian ordered half of the vineyards in the provinces to be destroyed and replanted (Suetonius, Domitian 7.2; 14.2; Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 6.42).

The earthquake of AD 17 massively damaged Philadelphia. This was the worst earthquake in memory (Pliny, Natural History 2.86.200), and Philadelphia endured heavy losses (Tacitus, Annals 2.47.3-4). Even after the initial destruction, the city continued to experience regular tremors. Strabo recorded that the walls of the city were “daily shaken and split.” Consequently, the “people [would] continually pay attention to earth-tremors and plan their buildings with this factor in mind” (Strabo, Geography 12.8.18). Elsewhere, Stabo writes that Philadelphia was “full of earthquakes,” and “the walls never cease being cracked, and different parts of the city are constantly suffering damage” (Strabo, Geography 13.4.10). As a result, the people needed to live in the open air for fear of having a roof collapse on them.

The church in Philadelphia received high praise. It receives words that were similar to those given to Smyrna. Indeed, both churches only receive praise from Jesus, both were highly persecuted by Jews and Romans, both were attacked by Satan, and both were promised the “crown.”

This could explain why Jesus told them, “All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it” (Rev. 3:12 NLT). Not only are these believers called a solid and immovable “pillar in the temple of My God” (Rev. 3:12), but they would never need to “leave” the temple. This imagery would mean a lot to people who were used to seeing their buildings and walls constantly crumbling—especially while inside of them.

(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.”

Does this refer to papal authority? Roman Catholic theologians connect this with the “keys of the kingdom” and Peter being the first Pope (cf. Mt. 16:18). However, several problems confront this view:

First, the text states that God (the King) has delegated his authority to Jesus—not to a Christian pope, bishop, or any other Christian leader. To repeat, Jesus himself holds this “key of David,” not a human leader.

Second, this is an allusion to a story in Isaiah 22:15-25 to the “incident of transferring the post of secretary of state in Judah from the unfaithful Shebna to the faithful Eliakim.”[107] In the 7th century BC, Shebna was the palace administrator serving under King Hezekiah. But, because of Shebna’s arrogance, God himself removed Shebna from office and replaced him with a faithful servant named Eliakim (Isa. 22:16-21). After this replacement, God gives all of the authority to Eliakim. Then we read, “I will give him the key to the house of David—the highest position in the royal court. When he opens doors, no one will be able to close them; when he closes doors, no one will be able to open them” (Isa. 22:22 NLT). To be clear, this OT allusion shows that God can remove his authority from whoever is prideful (i.e. Shebna) and give his authority to whoever is faithful (i.e. Eliakim). In the contemporary setting of Philadelphia, this church was faithful with their open doors, even though they possessed “little power” (Rev. 3:8). Consequently, God was going to give them more: “An open door which no one can shut” (Rev. 3:8). Thus, the parallel is clear: God gives open doors to those who are faithful—whether it’s Eliakim in the 7th century BC or the church in Philadelphia.

Third, the “open” and “shut” doors don’t refer to doctrinal or ecclesiastical authority, but rather, to opportunities for ministry and evangelism (Acts 14:27; 1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12; Col. 4:3). Sir William Ramsay argued that because Philadelphia was located on a gateway to Asia Minor, the city was a gateway to ministry opportunities.[108] Hemer[109] concurs with this view of these “open doors.” He hold this view as well.

Others, like Mounce,[110] argue that the reference to open and shut doors refers to acceptance into God’s kingdom which is “open,” even if these Christians were excommunicated from the synagogue which was “shut” (see v.9). In our view, this doesn’t explain why Jesus would open the door to the Church because they had “little power.” More than justification is in view. Christian ministry seems to be in view.

(3:8) “I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name.”

Even though they had little power on their own, they could do all things through Christ who strengthened them (Phil. 4:13). Jesus was pleased with this small, yet faithful, church. And, because they were faithful with the open doors they had already received, they were given “greater opportunity for service.”[111]

(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.”

“The synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not.” There seems to have been an anti-Christian Jewish group in Philadelphia. When Ignatius wrote to the church of Philadelphia (before AD 108), he warned the Philadelphians not to listen to “any one propounding Judaism unto you” (To the Philadelphians 6.1; cf. 8.2). These false teachers could be similar to the Judaizers mentioned in Acts 15 and Galatians (though this is 45 years later).

“I will make them come and bow down at your feet.” In the OT, the Gentile nations bowed down to Israel (Isa. 43:4; 45:14; 49:23; 60:14). Here, ethnic Jewish people who reject Jesus will bow before true Christians in the Millennial Kingdom. We can either bow to Jesus now, or we can bow to him later. Either way, everyone will bow to the authority of King Jesus (Phil. 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.”

(Rev. 3:10) Does this support a pre-tribulation rapture of the church? In short, the language of this passage is universal in scope, and the expression “keep you” doesn’t refer to perseverance through but protection from. Since these promises were delivered to “the churches” (plural), they have universal application for all believers. Hence, we take this as a promise to rescue the Church before the future Tribulation—hence, a pre-tribulation rapture.

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

These believers can forfeit rewards if they don’t persevere (cf. 2 Jn. 8).

(3:12) “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.”

These believers with “little power” (v.8) will receive a great reward and become “pillars” in God’s temple. As we noted in the introduction, the city of Philadelphia had regular earthquakes. Thus, Hemer comments, “There is probably the thought of the city’s sufferings from earthquake, especially in view of the contrast with the background of the words.”[112] Mounce writes, “To a city that had experienced devastating earthquakes that caused people to flee into the countryside and establish temporary dwellings, the promise of permanence within the New Jerusalem would have a special meaning.”[113]

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

Questions for Reflection

Jesus gives no criticism of this church. What did Jesus see in this church that he liked so much? What did he promise this church as a result?

Read verse 10. Do you think this supports a pre-tribulation rescue of the Church?

7. Laodicea (3:14-22) Wealth and Deception

Advocates of the chronological interpretation believe that this is the Church of apostasy in the last days.

Laodicea was incredibly wealthy city. It was “the wealthiest city in Phrygia,”[114] and “one of the richest commercial centres in the world.”[115] It contained large banks, manufacturing companies, and a prized medical school. Yet, Jesus said, “You do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17). Jesus specifically attacked each area where the Laodiceans were so-called experts; thus, he was surely making a “hit at Laodicea’s banking, medical school, and clothing manufacturers.”[116]

Laodicea had a sizeable Jewish population. Antiochus III brought 2,000 Jewish families to Lydia and Phrygia (Josephus, Antiquities 12.3.4.149), and the city of Laodicea “was a natural centre for the immigration.”[117] One of the proconsuls (Flaccus) stole gold from the Jewish population that was being sent to Jerusalem in AD 62 BC. The amount collected implies a “a population of 7,500 adult Jewish freemen in the district.”[118] The more conservative Jewish population considered these exiles to be choosing luxury, rather than spirituality (see Baba Mezi’a 84a; Shabbath 147b; Shabbath 119a). At the same time, these men were generally “granted the right to preserve their own customs.”[119]

Epaphras seems like the best candidate for starting the Laodicean church. It seems that Paul didn’t start the church in Colossae or Laodicea (Col. 2:1). So, Epaphras seems most likely to be the church planter because the Colossian church was right next door to Laodicea, separated by only a few miles (Col. 1:7; 4:12-13). All of this means that the church in Laodicea was at least 35 years old (presuming Colossians was written by AD 60).

Laodicea was by far the most unspiritual church that Jesus addressed. Jesus issued his harshest words to this church. Indeed, it’s hard to tell if the majority are even true Christians.

(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.”

Why is Jesus called “the Amen”? The word “amen” was originally a Hebrew adverb that has been transliterated into Greek. The term “means the acknowledgment of that which is sure and valid.”[120] In other words, John is saying that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises to us (cf. 2 Cor. 1:20). He is faithful in contrast to the unfaithfulness of the Laodiceans.

The Beginning of the creation of God.” The Greek word for “beginning” (archē) is the root for our modern word “architect.” This doesn’t mean that Jesus was the first being to be created in the beginning, but that he was the Beginner of creation. For more on this topic, see our earlier article, “Was Christ a created being?” (Rev. 3:14).

(3:15-16) “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.”

(Rev. 3:15-16) What does it mean to be “hot or cold” for God? For all its wealth, Laodicea had an appalling water supply. The lukewarm water tasted and smelled awful. But its neighbors were known for their excellent “hot” or “cold” water. Hierapolis was six miles north of Laodicea, and it possessed medicinal hot springs. Colossae was nine miles east of Laodicea, and it had clean, cold springs (see Col. 4:13 for a mention of all three cities). Thus, Hemer writes, “The hot waters of Hierapolis were medicinal, the cold waters of Colossae pure and life-giving.”[121]

But Laodicea’s water? It was petrifying and cloudy—being filled with calcium carbonate (Strabo, Geography 13.4.14). Their water was drinkable, but it not palatable. The Laodiceans likely received their water from the hot springs of Denizli—a modern name for the town that was five miles away. The sulfur in the water could be masked by either the heat or the cold. But, of course, lukewarm sulfur water would’ve tasted nauseating—like rotten eggs. This is the imagery Jesus is using: Both symbols of “hot” and “cold” are considered good, and only the symbol of “lukewarm” is bad.[122]

(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.”

The Laodiceans may have interpreted their material wealth as a blessing from God—much like health and wealth preachers today. It’s interesting how Jesus views the Church compared to how the Church views itself. One of the problems with materialism is that we are often the last people to realize that we have a problem, being unaware of our degrading spiritual health and seeing no need for God. The Laodiceans stand in utter contrast to the Smyrneans who endured “poverty,” but were “rich” toward God (Rev. 2:9).

“Have need of nothing.” The Laodiceans endured a devastating earthquake in AD 60 that destroyed the city. However, because they were so wealthy, they refused government aid. Tacitus wrote, “Laodicea arose from the ruins by the strength of her own resources, and with no help from us” (Annals, 14.27.1). Prideful independence seems like it was a widespread attitude among the people of Laodicea. Archaeologists can precisely date an enormous stadium to AD 79 from a patron named Nicostratus.[123] Thus, even in the immediate wake of a city-destroying earthquake, private benefactors were building sports stadiums within 20 years!

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

Each of these offers from Jesus aligns with the centers of wealth in Laodicea (e.g. “poor… blind… naked” and “gold… clothe yourself… eye salve”. Hence, Mounce writes, “It is hard not to see here and in the following verse a direct allusion to Laodicea’s banking establishments, medical school, and textile industry.”[124] To take just one example, the “eye salve” could refer to “the medical school at Laodicea and the ‘Phrygian powder,’”[125] which was a staple of the school. This medical school was established in the first century BC (Strabo, Geography 12.8.20). The founder of the school in Laodicea (Zeuxis) wrote extensively about ophthalmology,[126] and two texts allude to the Phrygians having a powerful eye salve (Pseudo-Aristotle, On Marvelous Things Heard 58; Galen, De Sanitate Tuenda 6.12). After surveying other evidence, Hemer writes that we “find considerable circumstantial reason for connecting the ‘eyesalve’ motif with Laodicea.”[127]

Are these believers or unbelievers? Origen (AD 250) held that the Laodiceans weren’t true, regenerate believers (First Principles 3.4.3). Indeed, this is why Jesus “spits” (emeō) them out of his mouth (literally “vomits them out”). On the other hand, God only disciplines those he loves (Prov. 3:12; 1 Cor. 11:32; Heb. 12:6), and their role is to “repent” and turn to God. In our view, it’s plausible that there was a “mixed bag” of believers and non-believers in the visible church in Laodicea.

(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.”

Is this passage evangelistic or not? It might be ambiguous because the church was populated by licentious believers who needed discipline and reproof (v.19), and unbelievers who would be cast out of the church (v.16). Since Jesus refers to “anyone,” this means that we are each responsible before God—whether believer or non-believer. We agree with Johnson who holds the evangelistic view: “While most commentators have taken this invitation as addressed to lapsed, halfhearted Christians, the terminology and context (v. 18) suggest that these Laodiceans were for the most part mere professing Christians who lacked authentic conversion to Christ, which is the essential prerequisite for true discipleship. Verse 20 is, therefore, more evangelistic than admonitory.”[128] Regardless, this is a “remarkably tender appeal to a church far gone from its rightful state.”[129]

For a visual depiction of this verse, see Holman Hunt’s painting titled, “The Light of the World.” Jesus knocks on the door, but the outside of the door lacks a handle. This implies that Jesus will knock on the door, but he won’t knock down the door. Only those on the inside can open the door, showing the need to respond to Jesus’ initiation.

(3:21-22) “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. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Questions for Reflection

What was the central problem with the church of Laodicea?

Read verse 16. Jesus says that he will “spit” (literally “vomit”) this church out of his mouth. Were these people true Christians?

Read verses 15-16. What does it mean to be “hot”? What does it mean to be “cold”? And what does it mean to be “lukewarm”?

After you give your answers, read the article that describes how the Laodiceans received their water from Hierapolis and Colossae. How does this historical information help you interpret what it means to be hot, cold, and lukewarm?

Read verse 20. Many Christians cite this passage evangelistically. Do you agree with this application of this verse?

Conclusions for the Seven Churches

What do we learn about the Church from this study of the Seven Churches? Specifically, what did you notice about how Jesus leads the Church? (i.e. encouragement, rebuke, affirmation, raising problems, warnings, reminding of promises, etc.)

  • Jesus actively leads His Church. It’s one thing to say that Jesus is the head of the Church (Eph. 1:22; 5:23; Col. 1:18). But it’s quite another to see how he actually observes, encourages, admonishes, and motivates the Church.
  • Jesus didn’t always rebuke or always encourage. Some churches didn’t receive rebuke (Philadelphia) while others didn’t receive encouragement (Laodicea). However, Jesus seemed to be able to find something to encourage—even among the most difficult churches with the most difficult problems.
  • Satan hates the Church. Satan is involved in four out of the seven churches: He causes persecution (2:9), he has a throne (2:13), he teaches deep doctrines (2:24), and he influences non-believers (3:9).
  • Some churches are better than others. Loving the universal church doesn’t mean that we wear rose-colored glasses or express naïve optimism. Churches have problems because they are filled with people like us.

DEVOTIONAL: “Jesus holds the Church and lives within the Church.”

The book of Revelation describes many horrific and terrifying scenes of the future: A world ruler and regime empowered by Satan, a systematic persecution of Christians, and human civilization on the brink of collapse. Suffering, starvation, sickness, and death fill the pages of Revelation, and frankly, it contains some of the scariest scenes in all of Scripture. Yet, before we read any of this, the book opens with Jesus speaking about a remarkable reality. He says,

(Rev. 1:20) “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

(Rev. 2:1) “The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands.

Consider Jesus’ first statement: “The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand.” What does this mean? Simply this: Jesus holds the Church in the palm of his hand. Someone might object, “This is apocalyptic symbolism, and we shouldn’t press the language so literally!” That’s quite right. However, this shouldn’t end the discussion. After all, we still haven’t interpreted what this symbolism means. In other words, everyone agrees the imagery is symbolic, but what does it symbolize? What spiritual reality does it describe?

The imagery speaks of total security. After all, 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). It’s true that we might not feel secure, but there we are in the palm of Jesus’ hand. Likewise, we might feel far from Jesus, but once again, we haven’t moved out of his hand. The same One who predicts a frightful future for the Church is the same One who tells us that we are safe in his hand.

Now consider Jesus’ second statement: “The One who walks among the seven golden lampstands.” Jesus attends our times of fellowship. Sometimes we sense his presence in palpable ways: The Bible teaching is potent and powerful, the prayers flow freely and effortlessly, and a sense of happiness fills the room. It’s simply difficult to describe this kind of love and happiness to those who haven’t experienced it.

Yet, on other occasions, we don’t sense the presence of Jesus. The Bible teacher moves slower than a three-toed sloth, the room is as silent as a funeral parlor, and the people compulsively check the clock every few minutes before they make a polite exit home to “get to be early” or to “work on homework” (i.e. watch TikTok videos until 2am in bed!). Yet, Jesus shows up early, and he’s the last to leave. Again, we might feel the presence of Jesus at our gatherings, and we might not. But what does the word of God tell us? Our psychological state is irrelevant to spiritual reality: Jesus walks among the us whether we feel it or not.

If God’s word tells us that we’re safe and secure in Jesus’ hand, but I feel insecure, who is right? Does my psychological state of mind make Jesus’ words false? Are my personal feelings more inspired than the Scriptures? Likewise, if Jesus says that he’s present in the room tonight, but I can’t feel him near me, is he here or not?

Revelation 4 (Creation worships the Creator: The Father)

Now that Jesus has addressed the Seven Churches, we read the words, “After these things I looked” and “I will show you what must take place after these things” (Rev. 4:1). This shows that we are moving from the present Church Age into the future. In fact, Jesus gave us an outline for this book. Earlier, Jesus told John,

(Rev. 1:19) Write the things which you have seen [Revelation 1],

and the things which are [Revelation 2-3],

and the things which will take place after these things [Revelation 4-22]”

In Revelation 4:1, we see identical language: “After these things…” This outline of the book shows that we are now moving into a vision of the future.

Why are Revelation 4-5 included in the book?

These two chapters serve a very important purpose, being a prelude to the Great Tribulation at the end human history (Rev. 6-16). These two chapters are an apologetic for why God has the authority to invade and judge the world.[130] Before we get to the Tribulation (Rev. 6-16), Jesus reveals his unique authority to rule and reign over his creation. This is, no doubt, why the term “throne” occurs 18 times in these two chapters. Jesus is revealing to us why he has the unique right to be the judge of all the Earth.

(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.’”

The chronological marker (“after these things”) points back to Revelation 1:19. These events take place after the Church Age. Jesus (the one with a voice like “the sound of a trumpet,” Rev. 1:10) gives John a vision of the future from Heaven.

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

God the Father seems to be seated on the throne, because Jesus approaches him later (Rev. 5:7). John employs the term “throne” a total of 47 times in this book, using it in almost every chapter of this book. Here, he is emphasizing that there is a “a throne above every throne.”[131]

(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.”

God the Father sits on the throne. John doesn’t depict God as a humanoid deity. Instead, he describes him as brilliant light reflecting on precious stones (cf. Ezek. 1:26-28). This explains why Paul writes that God “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16). Even as John tries to describe God the Father on the throne, he can’t quite capture it in words.

Much like interpreting the details in parables, we shouldn’t overinterpret the meaning of each individual stone or color. These simply show us the breathtaking beauty and splendor of God.[132] “Jasper” is a green quartz, but this might be translucent, because later it is described as a “crystal-clear jasper” (Rev. 21:11). “Sardius” was a red ruby,[133] and “emerald” is the color of the rainbow surrounding the throne. These descriptions are all of God himself. God the Father had the appearance of these precious stones that were backfilled by a brilliant light, displaying all of the colors on the spectrum.

Rich and poor alike often gaze into the sparkling splendor of a little diamond ring on a woman’s finger. There is something somewhat mesmerizing about staring into the shimmering reflections of a costly diamond. This is what makes this imagery of God so powerful. Just imagine seeing an enormous figure made entirely of colorful diamonds and filled with light. This is why John grasps at words, reverting to similes to capture what he is seeing (like a jasper stone… like an emerald in appearance”).

(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.”

(Rev. 4:4) Who are the 24 elders mentioned here? Some commentators like Morris[134] and Mounce[135] hold that these 24-elders refer to angels—a “heavenly counterpart” to the Levitical priests (1 Chron. 24:4; 25:9-13). We disagree. Throughout the book of Revelation, believers are pictured as wearing white robes (Rev. 3:4-5, 18; 6:11; 7:9, 13; 19:14), as well as being given “crowns” and sitting on “thrones.” In Revelation 2:10, we read, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Later we read, “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” (Rev. 3:21). Indeed, in context, all these images were promised to believers in Revelation 3. Therefore, we hold that these “elders” refer to human beings.

(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.”

This must’ve been an overwhelming vision: Next lightning and thunder coming pouring out from Jesus’ throne. This surely communicates the almighty power of Jesus Christ. This isn’t the meek and mild Jesus of popular culture; he’s the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, sitting on his throne, ruling over creation.

(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.”

Once again, John grasps for words: “Something like a sea of glass, like crystal.” He can’t explain what he’s seeing in words, so he grasps for similes to describe it. Morris understands the “sea” to refer to the “majesty and holiness of God.”[136] Perhaps. But typically, in the book of Revelation, the “sea” represents hostile humanity, tossing and turning in rebellion against God (cf. Rev. 13:1). Here, however, we see a different picture: The “sea” of humanity is still and calm “like a sea of glass.” In our estimation, this symbol shows that Jesus is in control in Heaven. There is no hostile humanity or fallen angels rebelling against God in Heaven. This makes sense of Jesus’ prayer for the Father’s will to be done “one earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10).

“Four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind.” These creatures look like the cherubim described in the OT (Ezek. 1:6-10; 10:2, 20), but with distinct differences. For one, these angels have six wings (Rev. 4:8), not four (Ezek. 1:6). Second, they have one face, not four. Third, they don’t have wheel-like descriptions (Ezek. 1:18). These angels seem similar to the cherubim in Ezekiel, but they may be a different species of angel. Indeed, what they communicate is quite similar to the seraphim of Isaiah 6:3 (“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory”).

(4:7-8) “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. 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.’”

Following Irenaeus (Against Heresies, 3.11.11), pastor Chuck Smith takes these images to refer to the ways that the four gospels describe Jesus. We disagree. In our view, this interpretation is simply “groundless.”[137]

Johnson understands these creatures to refer to symbols of the “royal power, strength, spirituality, and swiftness”[138] of God. However, these are personified “creatures,” not literary descriptions of the Creator. Moreover, they address the Creator as “holy, holy, holy” (v.8). It seems odd if these creatures are themselves symbols of God’s attributes. That is, how could these creatures both symbolize God’s attributes and speak about God’s attributes?

Morris holds that these symbols represent “whatever is noblest, strongest, wisest, and swiftest in animate Nature.”[139] In this view, even the best of creation is still bowing to the grandeur of the Creator. Perhaps. But this would have difficulty explaining why the 24-elders are not included in all of creation.

We simply aren’t entirely sure what this symbolism of the lion, calf, man, and eagle represent. However, we do see direct similarities with the seraphim in Isaiah 6—especially because of their repeated refrain (“Holy, holy, holy” v.8). While these angels have symbolism, no doubt, they are still angels.

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God.” In Hebrew, a double reference is a superlative—that is, a way to show emphasis. The threefold use of “holy, holy, holy” emphasizes God’s character to an ultimate degree. Jesus is worthy to rule the world because he is absolutely holy and distinct in his character.

(4:9-10) “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, 10 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.”

Everything in creation is bowing down and worshipping the Father and the Son. This shows that “all other sovereignty must yield to his.”[140]

“[The elders] will fall down… will worship Him… will cast their crowns.” John uses the future tense to describe this. This would fit with the outline that places this event in the future (see comments on Revelation 4:1). This implies that this hasn’t happened yet. Some commentators understand this period of history to refer to the bema seat, because the elders already have their crowns. If so, the “crowns” would refer to the rewards that believers received from their labors on Earth. In Heaven, they throw these rewards at God’s feet, having something precious to give to him.

(4:11) “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.”

God is worthy to rule the world because he is the world’s Creator. This statement is a direct attack against the Gnostic dualism that plagued the churches in John’s day. There was nothing profane in God creating the world. In fact, God’s world was “very good” (Gen. 1:31), and he deserve “glory” and “honor” for creating it.

Questions for Reflection

Read chapter 4. We argued earlier that Revelation 4-5 was an apologetic for why God has the right to judge and rule the Earth. As you read this chapter, what reasons do you see for why God has the right to rule the world?

Revelation 5 (Creation worships the Creator: The Son)

Any good Jewish author could’ve written what we just read in Revelation 4. However, John extends his vision to show that God the Son is also at the center of heavenly worship.

(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 was so blown away by the throne of heaven and distracted by everything happening that it took him a minute to see what God was holding in his hand: a book with seven seals.

What is the scroll? Morris[141] thinks this refers to the judgments of the rest of the book of Revelation, and this is why the seals are opened in Revelation 6. Only Jesus has the right and authority to judge the world in the Tribulation, inaugurating his Millennial Kingdom.

Chuck Smith takes the seals to refer to the title deed of the world. Similarly, Hitchcock holds that the scroll is a will or an inheritance. Originally, God gave the inheritance of the Earth to Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:28), but God promised to give the inheritance to the Messianic King (Ps. 2:8). Because of his complete redemptive and victorious work on the Cross, Jesus is receiving his inheritance here.

Johnson holds a middle view: “The scroll, then, is not only about judgment or about the inheritance of the kingdom. Rather, it contains the announcement of the consummation of all history—how things will ultimately end for all people: judgment for the world and the final reward of the saints (11:18). Christ alone, as the Messiah, is the executor of the purposes of God and the heir of the inheritance of the world. He obtained this by his substitutionary and propitiatory death on the cross (5:9).”[142]

Why is the scroll sealed? This draws from the OT, where God would command the prophets to seal up their writings for a later time. For instance, after receiving an explanation of a vision, an angel tells Daniel, “Seal up the vision, for it concerns the distant future” (Dan. 8:26 NIV). Likewise, Isaiah writes, “The entire vision will be to you like the words of a sealed book, which when they give it to the one who is literate, saying, ‘Please read this,’ he will say, ‘I cannot, for it is sealed’” (Isa. 29:11). Mounce writes, “When the time has fully come, the seals will be removed and history will move swiftly to its consummation.”[143] This fits with our view that Jesus’ return will be “soon” and “near” in the sense that it will be “rapid” and “quick” (Rev. 1:1, 3). That is, once the seals are opened, the events of the Tribulation will occur rapidly.

The wax seals were spread out throughout the document. Most people think of this scroll as being sealed with all seven wax seals on the opening page.

Not so. Revelation 6 describes the seals being broken one by one, releasing more and more of the contents. Therefore, as the scroll was unrolled, God would break open each seal—one after another.

(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?”

Only One person is capable of ushering in God’s kingdom: Jesus.

(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 mere human—or anything else in all of creation—has the power or authority to redeem or judge the world. No created thing can bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth.

(5:4) “Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it.”

Jesus had told John that he would see the future (Rev. 4:1). Here, John sees that no one can peer into the contents of the scroll to discover what will happen: “Unless the seals are broken and the scroll of destiny unrolled, God’s plan for the universe will be frustrated.”[144] This causes John to weep uncontrollably.

(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.’”

“Stop weeping.” It is a great comfort to know who holds the future. Morris writes, “The world’s destiny is not under the control of some blind fate. We are all in the hands of a loving Father and a Saviour who died for us.”[145]

“The Lion… tribe of Judah… Root of David.” All of these are messianic titles from the OT (Gen. 49:9-10; Isa. 11:1, 10; Jer. 23:5; 33:5; Rev. 22:16). One of the elders tells him to anticipate seeing a Lion. Instead, he witnesses something else…

(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.”

The term “lamb” (arnion) occurs 29 times in Revelation, and only one other time in the rest of the NT (1 Pet. 1:19). This is one of John’s favorite descriptions of Jesus. Yet, how odd that John would choose a little lamb as the symbol for the Creator and Redeemer of the universe! One commentator writes, “None but an inspired composer of heavenly visions would ever have thought of it. When earth-bound men want symbols of power they conjure up mighty beasts and birds of prey. Russia elevates the bear, Britain the lion, France the tiger, the United States the spread eagle—all of them ravenous. It is only the Kingdom of Heaven that would dare to use as its symbol of might, not the Lion for which John was looking but the helpless Lamb, and at that, a slain lamb.”[146]

Yet, this wounded lamb is immensely powerful. While this is a humble and wounded lamb, he is not weak or feeble. Throughout the book, we read of his great power. The kings of the Earth ask to be saved from “the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:16). Then John writes, “The great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” Of course, this is a rhetorical question: No one can stand up to the Lamb! The kings of the earth “will wage war against the Lamb.” Yet, “the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings” (Rev. 17:14).

This Lamb is in the center of everything in Heaven (Rev. 5:12), and he should be at the center of everything on Earth. The one who will rule the world and usher in the Kingdom will be a standing—though slain—lamb (arnion, “a young sheep”). This refers to Jesus’ death and resurrection.

What will Jesus look like when we first see him? We often expect our first sight of Jesus to be beautiful and breathtaking. But Chuck Smith states that our first look at Jesus might be a very traumatic and shocking experience. It’s possible that Jesus will appear to us with scars all over his body. We’re not sure how this agrees with the glorious picture of Jesus in chapter 1, but Smith could very well be right. After all, both pictures of the resurrected Christ appear in the NT.

(5:7) “And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.”

God the Father is seated on the throne. So, only the Son is able to get up and approach the throne. When Jesus opens this book, this will inaugurate the beginning of the end on Earth.

(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.”

These are literally the petitions (proseuchē) of the saints.” We often minimize the importance or value of prayer. In Heaven, we see a different picture. Our prayers are so valuable to God that they are symbolically carried in bowls made of pure “gold.” This imagery shows just how precious our prayers are in God’s sight.

(5:9) “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.’”

Jesus is worthy because of his work on the Cross. Creation sings a new song” because this had never happened before. The end had finally arrived, and this required writing some new music. If music in a fallen world can move our soul in profound ways, what will music in Heaven sound like?

(5:10) “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”

Peter concurs that we are currently God’s priests on the Earth, bringing people to God (1 Pet. 2:9). Yet, we aren’t ruling and reigning yet. This is still future (“they will reign upon the earth”).

(5:11) “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.”

A “myriad” is 10,000. So, this is at least 100 million angels. The plural “myriads” means that there are at least two sets of 10,000. This doesn’t imply that John was precisely counting all the angels with a clicker: “Myriads and myriads” is hardly an exact number. Rather, he saw an innumerable amount of angels.

(5:12) “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.’”

They sing about seven qualities that Christ has. Jesus receives this worthiness because of his unthinkable act of love on the Cross (“the Lamb that was slain”).

(5:13-14) “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.’ 14 And the four living creatures kept saying, ‘Amen.’ And the elders fell down and worshiped.”

All of creation gives equal worship to the Father (“Him who sits on his throne”) and to the Son (“the Lamb”). This is an excellent passage that supports the deity of Christ: After all, Jesus receives the same level of worship as God the Father, and only God himself can receive worship (Rev. 22:8; Mt. 4:10; Deut. 6:13).

Questions for Reflection

Read chapter 5. We argued earlier that Revelation 4-5 was an apologetic for why God has the right to judge and rule the Earth. What reasons does John give for why God has the right to rule the world?

Isn’t chapter 4 enough? Why did John continue to write about this imagery of Heaven in chapter 5? Put another way, what does chapter 5 add that chapter 4 doesn’t contain?

DEVOTIONAL: “Does Jesus have the right to judge the world?”

Readers of the book of Revelation have often puzzled over the purpose of chapters 4 and 5. Before describing the Great Tribulation, John describes a beautiful and breathtaking scene of Heaven, where all of creation bows before God. But why does John include this heavenly scene? Why not just jump into the descriptions of judgment in chapter 6 instead?

In our estimation,[147] these chapters serve as an apologetic for why Jesus has the right to judge the world. Indeed, even a quick and cursory reading of Revelation will reveal vivid and visceral descriptions of God’s judgment. Readers will ask themselves: “How can God judge the world in this way? Isn’t he the God of love?”

In this heavenly scene, John proactively anticipates this response. This is why the creatures ask, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” (Rev. 5:2) No mere creature is “worthy” to usher in God’s judgment—for everyone else is disqualified: “No one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it” (Rev. 5:4). However, John writes, Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals… Worthy is the Lamb” (Rev. 5:9, 12). Clearly, John states that Jesus is “worthy” to inaugurate judgment on the Planet Earth, but the question is, “Why?” What makes Jesus uniquely worthy to judge?

Jesus is “worthy” to judge because he created everything that exists. Jesus says that he is the “originator of God’s creation” (Rev. 3:14 NET). In Greek philosophy, the term “originator” (archē) referred to “the first cause,”[148] and it is the root for our modern term “architect.” Hence, Jesus is the Creator and Designer of the universe. Consequently, the people in Heaven proclaim, “You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created” (Rev. 4:11). Because Jesus created everything, he also owns everything. Since he is the creator and sustainer of all people, he has the right to judge his creation—bound only by his own moral nature.

But can’t we bargain with God regarding his judgment? No, not at all. Humans are fallen and finite, and we possess nothing with which to bargain. We would have better chances bargaining with the owner of a beach by negotiating with a grain of sand. We didn’t bring ourselves into existence in the past, nor do we sustain our lives in the present. We live everyday—not as a right—but as an ongoing mercy of God.

Neither can we haggle with God based on some sort of moral high ground. After all, every single person is sinful, and therefore, we have no ethical standard with which to make an appeal. One theologian was once asked why God allows bad things to happen to good people. He responded, “I haven’t met any good people yet, so I don’t know.”[149] As soon as we appeal to justice, we lose any ground we might’ve stood on—for all of us deserve complete and exhaustive justice from God.

Jesus is “worthy” to judge because he has repeatedly warned us about the future judgment (Rev. 1:1; 4:1). Jesus Christ is an infinite being, but he is also personal. This means that he chose to condescend to communicate to us about judgment. We might not like the idea of judgment, but at least we know it’s coming. Indeed, people wouldn’t raise this objection regarding judgment if it wasn’t for the fact that Jesus spoke about it so much. Therefore, we are without excuse.

Jesus is “worthy” to judge the world because he died for the world. Only Jesus had this right because he was “slain” for our sins (Rev. 5:6). This is why creation sings, “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” (Rev. 5:9).

What should we do when we are confronted with a God like this?

The postmodern person stands in defiance of God, rejecting his right to judge or denying the reality of judgment. They are free to do this, but they are not right in doing this. In Heaven, the response is not to argue with God or cynically question his character. The response is unadulterated gratitude. Some cry out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God the Almighty” (Rev. 4:8). Others throw whatever they possess at the Creator’s feet (Rev. 4:10), and fall at his feet in “worship” (Rev. 5:14). Amidst all of this, John could hear the clamor and cacophony of voices giving “glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne” (Rev. 4:9).

Jesus taught us to pray for God’s will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10). It’s overwhelming to try to rehabilitate our fractured world, but we can surely begin by restoring our fallen hearts. When we express gratitude to God, we bring God’s will into our world. When we give thanks to God for his mercy, we are experiencing a little bit of the reality of heaven here on earth.

Revelation 6 (The Tribulation Begins: Seven Seals)

We are about to read an absolutely terrifying picture of the world: World war, massive inflation, poverty, disease, and death! During this time, people will truly see that the only security we have is in Christ. Revelation utilizes three symbols explain these judgments: Seals, trumpets, and bowls.

How should the seals be interpreted?

Several options have been given including (1) these events occur sporadically throughout the Church Age, (2) these events occur sequentially throughout the Church Age, or (3) these events occur immediately before Jesus’ Second Coming.

In our view, these seals do not all occur at once, and there could be a large gap of time in between these events. After all, when Jesus opens the fifth seal, the martyrs are still asking “how long” until God will judge the Earth, implying a passage of time between the fifth and sixth seals (Rev. 6:9-11). Regardless, we hold the view that the “seven seals” lead up to the Second Coming. In fact, some of these seals seem to align quite well with the “birth pains” (Mt. 24:8; Rom. 8:22) or “labor pains” (1 Thess. 5:3) in the Church Age. Therefore, we are currently living through many of these seals in the Church Age, but they will intensify as the Second Coming approaches.

The Similarity Between the Tribulation Accounts

Revelation 6

Event

Matthew 24

(Rev. 6:4) 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.

1. War

(Mt. 24:6-7) You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars… 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom…

(Rev. 6:6) 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.”

2. Famine

(Mt. 24:7) In various places there will be famines and earthquakes.

(Rev. 6:8) 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.

3. Death

(Mt. 24:7-9) Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.

(Rev. 6:9-11) 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; 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?” 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.

4. Martyrdom

(Mt. 24:9, 16-22) Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name… 16 then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. 17 Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. 18 Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. 19 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20 But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. 22 Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.

(Rev. 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.

5. Sun and Moon Darkened

(Mt. 24:29) But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light…

(Rev. 6:12-14) I looked when He broke the sixth seal… and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. 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.

6. Stars Falling

(Mt. 24:29) But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

(Rev. 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; 16 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; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”

7. Divine Judgment

(Mt. 24:32-33) Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; 33 so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.

What is the chronology of the seals, trumpets, and bowls?

The chronological view holds that the trumpets, bowls, and plagues follow each other in succession. Hitchcock holds to this view. He argues that the seventh seal contains the seven trumpets, and the seventh trumpet contains the seven bowls.

We hold to another view called the recapitulation view. This view holds that the trumpets, bowls, and plagues all describe the same events, and they each “recap” one another. It is a very Hebraic way of thinking to tell a story, and then retell it (cf. comments on Gen. 1-2). According to this view, seals 6 and 7 give the first description of the Tribulation. Then, the seven trumpets give more description of the Tribulation, and finally, the bowls give the ultimate description. These are all parallel accounts of the Tribulation—not sequential. Since the sixth seal looks like final judgment, this encapsulates the other descriptions with the trumpets and bowls. We hold to this latter view. The repetition and intensification of the judgments is on display throughout the book, and each set of judgments gives more description than the last set. But each set of judgments is describing the same era of history (with the exception of seals 1-5, which describe the Church Age).

The judgments intensify with time. For example, the seals affect a quarter of the earth (Rev. 6:8), but later, the trumpets affect a third of the earth (Rev. 8:7, 8, 11, 12). Finally, the bowls finish God’s wrath (Rev. 16:17). Mounce writes, “The relationship of the three series is best understood as a spiral of increasing severity. Each series deals with the tumultuous time just before the end, but as we move from seals to trumpets to bowls we are aware of the ever increasing tempo and severity of the plagues.”[150]

(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 vision now shifts from Heaven to Earth. God is on his throne in Heaven, where everyone knows who the true God is. But on Earth, we see a different story. Jesus is the one who opens the seals.

“Four living creatures.” This is where we get the popular concept of the “four horsemen of the apocalypse.”

Seal #1: The Antichrist (the white horse)

(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.”

(Rev. 6:2) Who is the rider on the white horse? Christ or the antichrist? Mounce[151] states that this refers to the “spirit of conquest and militarism” and to “military conquest in general.” This has a certain amount of plausibility because the other riders represent abstract concepts like this as well. However, the counterfeit similarity with Christ (Rev. 19) leads us to believe that this is the Antichrist or the “beast” as Revelation calls him.

“A crown was given to him… it was granted.” The Antichrist isn’t ultimately in charge. Instead, Jesus allows or permits him to do what he wants. John demonstrates this by using passive language throughout this section. The Antichrist needs to be “given” and “granted” his power. There are many antichrists who rule in each generation (cf. 1 Jn. 2:18), but this is the ultimate Antichrist. If we are correct in thinking that this is the Antichrist, then this would fit Jesus’ statement in his Olivet Discourse—even in the same chronological order: “See to it that no one misleads you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many” (Mt. 24:4-5). Then, Jesus later says, “If anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. 25 Behold, I have told you in advance” (Mt. 24:23-25).

Seal #2: Warfare (the red horse)

(6:3-4) “When He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, ‘Come.’ 4 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 red horse is symbolic for war. To be more specific, this figure removes peace. Once this occurs, humans “slay one another.” Murder and violence exist in the human heart, and this figure takes the peace that guards us from tearing one another apart.

John uses the passive voice to describe his authority (“It was granted…”). This shows that this figure is under God’s authority. Once again, we see that this fits chronologically with Jesus’ statement in the Olivet Discourse: “You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Mt. 24:6-7). According to Jesus, this period is not the Great Tribulation, but rather, it refers to the increasing intensity that will lead up to the Tribulation.

Seal #3: Famine and inflation (the black horse)

(6:5-6) “When He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, ‘Come.’ I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. 6 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.’”

These prices are massively inflated. Herodotus recorded that a pound of wheat could feed a grown man for a full day (Herodotus, 7.187). Yet, a denarius was a grown man’s full wage. This means that a grown man could earn just enough to feed himself, but he would have nothing left to feed a family or even have housing. Beale notes that these prices were “eight to sixteen times the average prices in the Roman Empire at the time (cf. Cicero, In Verrem, 3.81).”[152] No doubt, food will be scarce if inflation occurs to this extent.[153]

“Do not damage the oil and the wine.” This could refer to luxurious living (Prov. 21:17), and in this day, all luxury will be gone since all of the money is gone. However, Mounce[154] argues that this might simply be describing limits to this particular judgment. The roots of olive trees and vines go deeper than the wheat, and a drought wouldn’t hurt them as badly. Thus, John is simply describing a “natural limitation to the famine.”

Before Hitler took power, Weimar (in Germany) was in such poverty that people carried money in wheelbarrows due to such astronomic inflation. This paved the way for a charismatic and malevolent leader like Hitler to come on the scene to “fix all the problems.” Similarly, this description of rampant inflation signals an absolute crash in the economy, and the Antichrist will likely step forward to offer “peace and safety” (1 Thess. 5:3).

Seal #4: More war, more famine, disease, and wild beasts (the ashen/green horse)

(6:7-8) “When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, ‘Come.’ 8 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 “ashen” (chlōros) horse is yellowish green. It is the root word for our term “chlorine,” and it probably refers to the “colour of a corpse.”[155] It can refer to “the paleness of a sick person in contrast to a healthy appearance” (BDAG). The term “pestilence” (thanatos) refers to “the termination of physical life, death” (BDAG, p.442). This seems to refer to a destruction of health through the means of war, famine, and disease. Once again, this fits with Jesus’ statement in the Olivet Discourse: “In various places there will be famines and earthquakes” (Mt. 24:7).

What are the wild beasts? Some interpreters believe that the “wild beasts” refer to rats bringing disease. While this doesn’t sound too intimidating, rats historically spread disease in the past (e.g. Bubonic plague), and they are definitely deadly during times of famine and disease. Other diseases and viruses originated from animals, so this view has some plausibility (e.g. HIV, Ebola, etc.). Hitchcock speculates that the “beasts” refer to the world rulers who will bring germ warfare. This would fit with other uses of the word “beast” in Revelation that often refer to people (e.g. Rev. 11:7; 13:1-4, 11-12; cf. Ezek. 14:21).

Seal #5: Martyrs in heaven

(6:9-10) “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. 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?’”

“Underneath the altar.” These people might be depicted as being under the altar because this was a place of “privilege,” or a place of “safety.”[156]

This passage tells us several key details about the reality of the Present Heaven:[157]

  1. Believers in the Present Heaven are the same people they were on Earth—only made perfect (Heb. 12:23). They don’t change their identity.
  2. These believers still possess desires. In Heaven, we won’t become braindead, emotionless, or apathetic. We’ll be more engaged in God’s plan than ever before.
  3. Believers in the Present Heaven communicate directly with God. They ask God questions, and he gives them answers. Yet, even though they’re questioning God, they’re still addressing him as the one ultimately in control and morally perfect. They trust in God’s judgment (Rom. 12:19). This is why we refer to God as “sovereign” and “holy” and “true.”
  4. These believers remember their former lives on Earth—specifically the fact that they were murdered.
  5. These believers are aware of the passage of time (“How long, O Lord?”).
  6. These believers have a deeper understanding of God’s character (“O Lord, holy and true”).
  7. These believers still care for their loved ones, mentioning their “fellow servants” and “brethren” who were still on Earth (v.11).

Believers in the Present Heaven can see the events happening on Earth. This doesn’t mean we will become all-knowing in Heaven, but we will be able to see at least the major events in God’s plan. John later adds, “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her” (Rev. 18:20). And again, he mentions a “great multitude in heaven” rejoicing over the destruction of Babylon (Rev. 19:1). Moreover, Jesus said, “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lk. 15:10). Jesus doesn’t say that the angels rejoice over people meeting Christ on Earth, but that rejoicing occurs in the presence of the angels.[158] Do believers throw parties in Heaven to celebrated when people come to faith in Christ on Earth? It’s very likely that they do!

While several biblical texts imply that believers can witness events on Earth, this doesn’t mean that we should pray directly to dead loved ones (Deut. 18:10-12; Lev. 20:6, 27; 1 Sam. 28:5-18; Isa. 8:19-20). Jesus taught us to pray to our “Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 6:9)—not to dead Christians. Paul wrote that we should “let [our] requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). In all the prayers recorded in Scripture, none are addressed to a dead Christian. Erwin Lutzer explains this best when he tells the story about a little girl who prayed that Jesus would give a message to her deceased “grampa.” He comments, “This little girl’s theology was much better than that of millions of other people in the world. She knew that although we might pray to Jesus to get a message to grampa, we don’t pray to grampa to get a message to Jesus!”[159]

(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.”

The martyrs are crying out to God, pleading with him to intervene. How does God respond? He tells these outraged people to “rest” a little while longer. His plan isn’t finished yet. Peter tells us that God is waiting for many people to come to Christ before he intervenes (2 Pet. 3:9). This fits with Jesus’ statement, “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name” (Mt. 24:9).

(Rev. 6:9-11) Is it Christian to pray for vengeance?

Seal #6: Massive earthquake, sun blackened out, stars falling, mountains and islands rearranging

(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.

This earthquake causes the sun to be blackened out. John uses the language of simile (like blood”), so this must mean that the moon turns red.

(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.”

These can’t be literal stars. If literal stars collided with our planet, their massive centers of gravity would strip the surface of the Earth clean before collision ever occurred. The Earth would also cook to incredible temperatures before impact. Instead, the “stars” most likely refer to angels. This is the typical meaning of stars in Revelation, though not always (Rev. 8:10). It’s also possible that this is perspectival or phenomenological language. That is, John is seeing falling objects coming from the sky and crashing into the earth, so he grasps at his limited language to describe what he’s seeing. We are certainly speculating, but it’s possible John is seeing a vision of modern warfare or asteroids. If so, he would use ancient concepts like falling stars to describe these images.

(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.”

Again, this seems to be perspectival or phenomenological language used to describe future warfare. After all, the context refers to warfare (Rev. 6:2, 4, 8, 10), and these events certainly refer to the future—not the past. Commentators like Mounce[160] think that this is merely apocalyptic imagery that shouldn’t be taken literally. However, he states that the “removing of every mountain and island from its place has no parallel in apocalyptic writing.”[161]

(6:15) “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.”

Since John mentions all classes of people, this must refer to a universal form of judgment. This is another indicator that these seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments are overlapping, rather than sequential, because this looks like it is describing the end of the Tribulation. Later, we will read similar descriptions at the end of the trumpet and bowl judgments, only these will be intensified.

(6:16) “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.’”

This language comes straight from the OT (Isa. 2:19, 21; Hos. 10:8). Jesus used this language to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70 (Lk. 23:30). Yet, these events refer to the end of history. Therefore, this language seems to be describing people climbing underground (into bunkers?) to hide from the terrible events happening on Earth. We are speculating to some degree, but the text describes the future and specifies a universal scope of people—everyone from “kings” to “slaves” (v.15).

Consider the irony: They cry out the to “rocks” to save them, rather than calling out to Jesus—the Rock—for salvation (Rom. 9:33; 1 Cor. 10:4; 1 Pet. 2:8).

(6:17) “For the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?

This is a rhetorical question: Obviously, no one will be able to stand in this day. Only believers in Jesus will be able to stand around the throne (Rev. 7:9).

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 1-2. Some interpreters think this refers to Christ; others think this refers to the Antichrist. We argued that this refers to the Antichrist. Do you agree with this assessment?

Read verses 3-8. How does this compare with Matthew 24:4-14? Do these events occur in the Church Age or in the Tribulation?

Read verses 9-11 and 15-17. Compare the reactions of believers with the unbelievers. How do they react differently to the judgment of God?

Read verses 10-11. The believers in Heaven cry out to God for him to intervene. How do you expect God to respond to this plea? How does this compare with how God actually responds? How does this passage shed light on how to answer the problem of evil?

Revelation 7 (Interlude: View from Heaven)

This is an interlude in between the seven seals. In fact, the seventh seal isn’t broken until Revelation 8:1. During this interlude, we flash from what is happening on Earth to what is happening in Heaven. Before the angels are released to judge the Earth (Rev. 7:3), God seals 144,000 Jewish people. What does this mean that God will seal 144,000 Jews during the Tribulation? This chapter explains the nature and purpose of this sealing.

(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.”

Chuck Smith believes that the wind currents could disrupt the weather patterns, which would lead to famine and starvation. We respectfully disagree. The holding back of the winds doesn’t refer to judgment over the ecosystem, because just two verses later we read, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God” (Rev. 7:3). In other words, the ecosystem wasn’t harmed by the withholding of the four winds. Moreover, this seems to be reading the text too literally. After all, if we take the “winds” literally, then should we take the “four corners of the earth” literally as well?

Hitchcock holds that the winds refer to the four trumpet judgments being held back. After all, Jeremiah refers to the “winds” as a symbol for judgment (Jer. 4:11-12; 49:36). In our view, this fits better with the greater context of the book.

Mounce[162] looks to OT references to explain the “four winds.” In Daniel, we read, “I was looking in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. 3 And four great beasts were coming up from the sea, different from one another” (Dan. 7:2-3). Of course, the “beasts” and the “sea” is a reference to hostile human empires, and Daniel describes these as the “four winds.” By claiming that the angels were “holding back” these winds, it seems to be a reference to the empires on Earth in the future. These are held back from bringing destruction until God seals the 144,000.

(Rev. 7:1) Did the biblical authors believe in a flat earth? No, this is an idiom that refers to the entire world—just like the language of the “rising of the sun” (v.2) is an idiom for the start of the day.

(7:2) “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.”

“To whom it was granted.” Ultimately, God is sovereign—not angels, demons, humans, or any other created being. The angels had limits on their authority to carry out judgment on the Earth. These might be evil angels (i.e. demons) because they are “granted” authority like the four horsemen (Rev. 6:4). It’s also possible that they are good angels, who are executing God’s judgment. We’re not sure, but the result is the same: judgment.

(7:3) “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.’”

God wants to seal his people before the Tribulation begins (i.e. the destruction of the ecosphere). This may be a visible mark—much like the mark of the beast (Rev. 13). However, the term “sealed” (sphragis) is also used for the sealing of the Spirit when we come to Christ.

(7:4) “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.”

(Rev. 7:4) What is the seal of God? This is most likely an allusion back to Ezekiel 9:4-6, where the faithful believers are marked by angels, because they had fled the idolatry of the rest of people (chapter 8-9). Thus, the faithful are protected from the judgment of God. This is, therefore, a special kind of sealing for this specific dispensation in salvation history. Of course, after their mission is completed, it’s possible that God allows them to die. Even Dispensationalist commentator Robert Thomas writes, “After their witness is concluded, martyrdom may well be their fate.”[163]

(Rev. 7:4) Who are the 144,000? Some commentators like Morris[164] see symbolism in the fact that there are 12 x 12 x 1000. They hold that this group refers to the Church replacing Israel (i.e. “supersessionism” or “replacement theology”). Yet such a view has serious issues: The text tells us that these are Jewish people “from every tribe of the sons of Israel.” It even names the specific tribes (vv.5-8), and it contrasts the 144,000 with those who come to Christ during the Tribulation (v.14). Thus, to take a symbolic view, we would need to reinterpret the text’s own interpretation of the passage.

Why are 144,000 Jews selected? There will be a great revival during the Tribulation. An innumerable multitude will come to faith in Christ at this time (v.9, 14). Hitchcock makes the insightful observation that twelve Spirit-filled Jews turned the world upside down in the first century. If this is the case, how much more would 12,000 times 12,000? Hitchcock believes that these Jewish people might have a “Saul-type” experience with God, where they receive direct, special revelation and come to Christ en masse.

(7:5-8) “From the tribe of Judah, twelve thousand were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand, from the tribe of Gad twelve thousand, 6 from the tribe of Asher twelve thousand, from the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand, from the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand, 7 from the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand, from the tribe of Levi twelve thousand, from the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand, 8 from the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand, from the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand, from the tribe of Benjamin, twelve thousand were sealed.”

Why are the twelve tribes written in this order? We’re not sure, but there really is no universally accepted order given in the OT either. Mounce writes, “The tribes are listed in some eighteen different orders in the OT, none of which agrees with the order in Revelation.”[165]

(Rev. 7:4-8) Why is the tribe of Dan missing from this list? This is probably due to the idolatry of this tribe.

(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.”

The martyrs also had “white robes” (Rev. 6:11). White robes are for all believers in Christ (Rev. 7:14; 3:5-6).

“Every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues.” These 144,000 Jewish believers are key evangelists who led these people to Christ. If so, then Israel was at last an extraordinary light to the Gentiles, as they were intended to be.

“Palm branches were in their hands.” The crowds used palm branches at Jesus’ triumphal entry (Jn. 12:13). Before Jesus left the Temple in AD 33, he declared, “You will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Mt. 23:39) We expect this to be completely fulfilled at Jesus’ return, but this imagery has striking similarities—even holding “palm branches… in their hands.”

(7:10) “And they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’”

The believers are praising God for giving them salvation. If the pre-tribulation rapture is correct, then these people weren’t rescued by Jesus before the Tribulation. Rather, God reached these people during the Tribulation.

(7:11) “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.”

The angels take their turn praising God along with the people.

(7:12) “Saying, ‘Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.’”

This is similar to Revelation 5:11-12.

(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?’” 14 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.’”

Chuck Smith argues that John doesn’t know who this group is because this isn’t the Church. Rather, these are the believers in the Tribulation. Perhaps. But this seems like over-interpreting the text.

“They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Clearly this is symbolism because red blood cannot wash something white. This concept fits with the idea that Jesus cleanses us through his blood. As the author of Hebrews writes, “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ… cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Heb. 9:14 NIV)

(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.”

These believers have immediate and direct access to God’s throne. They are literally inside the tabernacle where the presence of God dwells (cf. Jn. 1:14). Of course, this describes the Present Heaven—not the final New Heavens and Earth. In the latter, there is “no temple” (Rev. 21:22).

(7:16) “They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat.”

“Hunger… thirst.” The four horsemen bring war, starvation, and disease on Earth. These people likely died of hunger, thirst, and dehydration because they wouldn’t accept the mark of the beast (Rev. 13:16-17). Yet no longer! These believers are finally spared from suffering in Heaven.

“Sun beat down on them, nor any heat.” In a dry and arid climate, sunstroke and dying in the desert is a terrifying reality (cf. Isa. 49:10).

(7:17) “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.”

Heaven isn’t merely about a place, but about a Person. Johnson observes, “It is not through some perfect environment but through the presence and continual ministry of the Lamb that their sufferings are forever assuaged.”[166]

If I was God, I would likely be quite irritated by the fact that people could or would cry in Heaven. After all, imagine creating such an incredible place for humans to reside forever, only to see people crying. Yet, in an unspeakable act of compassion, God will personally stoop down to “wipe every tear from [our] eyes” (cf. Isa. 25:8).

DEVOTIONAL: “A darker world implies a brighter gospel.”

The darkest time in human history will also see the greatest spread of the gospel. On the one hand, Jesus said, “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold” (Mt. 24:12). Yet, in the same breath, he says, “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” (Mt. 24:14). So, while the world will grow darker and darker with time, this will only serve to make the gospel grow brighter and brighter to the watching world.

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 1-8. Who are the 144,000?

What does it mean for these 144,000 to be “sealed” by God? (cf. Rev. 14).

Read verses 9-17. What is the reaction of the martyrs once they get to Heaven?

How have you seen suffering and persecution lead to the gospel spreading?

Read verse 17. Why does John mix his metaphors by describing the “Lamb” as the “shepherd” of believers?

Revelation 8 (Seventh seal is opened… Trumpets 1-4)

When Jesus cracks open the seventh seal, God sends the angels to sound the seven trumpets. This brings an intensification of judgment. Seals 1-5 occur as birth pangs (in the Church Age?); seal 6 is more toward the end of history; now the seventh seal lets loose even more severe judgments (during the Tribulation itself). For instance, the seals only affect parts of the Earth, but the trumpets affect the entire Earth. When we get to the bowls, they are more intensified, finishing God’s judgment (Rev. 15:1).

The seventh seal, seventh trumpet, and seventh bowl all seem to overlap. In our view, the seventh seal contains all the seven trumpets (Rev. 8:2) and the seven bowls, because these bowls are contained in the seven trumpets. The result is a crescendo of visions that end with a great and terrible judgment. The interlude of chapter 7 is over. We pick up the text in chapter 8 with the seventh seal.

Seal #7: Massive earthquake, sun blackened out, stars falling, mountains and islands rearranging

(8:1) “When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.”

Up until this point, Heaven has been anything but silent! All of creation has been shouting and singing to God (Rev. 4-5). However, when Jesus breaks open the seventh seal, it becomes dead silent (cf. Hab. 2:20). This could refer to standing in “awe at the presence of God,”[167] or a “device for deepening the suspense.”[168] We might compare this to the silence that sweeps through a courtroom before the jury gives its verdict. Everyone is hanging on every word in anticipation. Heaven waits to see what God will do.

(8:2) “And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.”

During the seventh seal (which seems to encompass the entire Tribulation), we are introduced to the seven trumpets which sound off at the same time. Trumpets were used in Israel’s history whenever something serious was about to happen, so this could be the imagery being utilized here (Ex. 19:19; Lev. 23:24; 25:9; Num. 10:2-10; Joel 2:1; Zeph. 1:16; Mt. 24:31; 1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 4:16).

(8:3) “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.”

Some interpreters believe that this “angel” is Jesus because he intercedes at the altar. We disagree. Angels have already demonstrated that they can have a priestly function in this book (Rev. 4:8-11; 5:8-14; 7:11-12), so we see no reason for thinking this is Jesus. Moreover, Mounce asks a pertinent question, “Would the central figure of Revelation be introduced into the text with such an indefinite title?”[169] We think not.

(8:4) “And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand.”

In Revelation, our prayers are often referred to as “incense” that is a pleasing aroma to God (Rev. 5:8).

(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.”

The prayer goes up (“Your kingdom come…” Mt. 6:10; cf. Rev. 6:9-11), and judgment comes down. Morris[170] makes the keen observation that the evils on Earth are overthrown by the prayers of God’s people. Prayer matters! The prayers of God’s people initiate justice on the Earth. Indeed, casting the coals was symbolic of judgment (Ezek. 10). Therefore, this event is tied to the saints asking, “How long, O Lord?” (Rev. 6:9-11) In this decisive act, God is finally answering millennia of prayers: “How long?” God asks. “The time is up!”

Trumpet #1: Hail, fire, and blood (destroying land life)

John only records the first four trumpets in this chapter. The three final trumpets are described as “woes” in chapter 9. These plagues are similar to the Egyptian plagues, and just like Pharaoh, the people refuse to repent.

Do these trumpet judgments occur in the first half of the Tribulation or the second? We agree with Hitchcock that these trumpets most likely occur in the second half of the Tribulation. This is because over half of humanity is judged. After all, Hitchcock argues, how could a later judgment be worse than this? This must be taking place in the latter half of the Tribulation.

(8:6-7) “And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound them. 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.”

Mounce[171] thinks this harkens back to the Exodus 9:19-25, where the seventh plague of hail killed the beasts and men in the field. Perhaps. However, the focus is on ecological destruction, rather than the bovine population. In fact, cattle are nowhere mentioned in this text. Neither is “blood” mentioned in the seventh plague of Egypt.

Trumpet #2: Something like a great burning mountain strikes the sea (destroying marine life)

(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, 9 and a third of the creatures which were in the sea and had life, died; and a third of the ships were destroyed.”

The sea becoming blood could be similar to Aaron turning the Nile into blood (Ex. 7:20-21). But what does this imagery of a “mountain being cast into the sea” refer to? Morris holds that this is simply some form of “divine visitation,” and the “precise agent is unimportant.”[172] However, if Dispensational authors are sometimes guilty of overinterpreting the text, this is surely an instance of underinterpreting the text. We think several views are plausible:

(1) Some interpreters understand this mountain to be Babylon, destroying a third of humanity (i.e. “the sea”). Of course, Babylon is symbolized as a mountain by Jeremiah (Jer. 51:25), and later, Babylon is brought up in Revelation 17-18 alongside the imagery of the “sea” of humanity. However, Walvoord criticizes this perspective.[173] After all, the text specifically mentions the “creatures” and “ships” being destroyed. If the sea is symbolic for humanity, then why mention the ships and the aquatic population? Hitchcock also critiques this view because there is nothing mentioned about these objects being symbols.

(2) Other interpreters understand this to be an angel falling to Earth in judgment. These interpreters base this off of 1 Enoch 18.13 which states, “I saw there the seven stars [angels] that were like great burning mountains.” However, we disagree with the tendency of NT scholars to primarily interpret Revelation through the lens of intertestamental Jewish literature! While we should read intertestamental literature (e.g. the Apocrypha, the Pseudepigrapha, etc.) to gain an understanding of the genre of apocalyptic literature and even to gain historical nuance, we disagree that this should be our primary lens for understanding Revelation. For too long, NT scholars have placed far too much emphasis on this extrabiblical literature—even appealing to it above OT allusions! In our view, this methodology is entirely misguided, and we would do well to look to OT and NT symbols before jumping into the morass of extrabiblical literature in search of an interpretation.

(3) We believe that this is some sort of planetary disaster (e.g. asteroid, modern warfare?). To an ancient prophet, what would a falling and burning mountain look like? Osborne concurs, “It is clear that this is a meteorite or falling star blazing through the atmosphere as it falls to earth… There is no evidence that this is an angelic visitation, however, and none of the other plagues has been angelic in nature. Rather, this also is a judgment from nature, a divinely sent disaster.”[174]

Trumpet #3: The Wormwood star… like a torch (poisoning the water supply)

(8:10) “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.”

(Rev. 8:10) Is this star simply an angel?

(Rev. 8:10) Is this star simply an angel? Some interpreters believe that this “star” is simply an angel. After all, “stars” are symbolic of angels (cf. Rev. 1:20; 9:1). Others think this is a “meteorite,”[175] which would be an omen for judgment. However, when we correlate the Tribulation with various other biblical texts, we discover that this is a time of intense and widespread warfare. With this in mind, what might John be describing when he sees a star “burning like a torch” that makes the waters “bitter” (v.11)? If this is phenomenological language, it could refer to a missile or something in the category of modern warfare. (How else would John describe modern-day weaponry if he saw a vision of one?) To be clear, we are not claiming that this is what John saw. Instead, we are saying that he saw a burning object falling into a massive water supply, poisoning it in the process (v.11). This sounds like modern warfare—not ancient imagery. Others, like Hitchcock, understand this to be an asteroid.

Some Dispensational authors hold to a hyper-literal view. For instance, even great Bible expositors like Warren Weirsbe contend that this is a literal star! He writes, “If a star actually struck the earth, our globe would be destroyed; so this star must ‘come apart’ as it enters the atmosphere. Of course, this event is a divinely controlled judgment; therefore, we must not try to limit it by the known laws of science.”[176] As we noted above, this is a hyper-literal hermeneutic. If literal stars collided with the planet, their massive centers of gravity would suck the surface of the Earth clean before impact ever occurred. The Earth would also cook to incredible temperatures before collision ever occurred.

(8:11) “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.”

(Rev. 8:11) Why is the star called Wormwood? Regarding Wormwood, Johnson writes, “The star’s name is ‘Wormwood,’ which refers to the quite bitter herb Artemesia absinthium found in the Near East and mentioned elsewhere in the Bible (Jer. 9:15; 23:15; Lam. 3:15, 19; Amos 5:7).”[177] The water doesn’t merely have an unpalatable taste; it results in the deaths of “many men.” Whatever struck the water also poisoned the water. In the ancient world, how could something poison the waters of the Earth on such a massive level? This would be incredibly hard to imagine. But in modern times? This is entirely plausible.

Trumpet #4: Sun, moon, stars darkened

(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.”

The world doesn’t go pitch black, but a third of the luminosity becomes dampened—similar to the darkness sent as a judgment in ancient Egypt. Indeed, darkness is usually associated with judgment (Isa. 13:10; Ezek. 32:7-8; Joel 2:10; 3:15; cf. Matt 24:29). Since this darkness is partial, this likely means that the judgment isn’t total. At least, not yet.

(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!’”

John mentions an eagle in Revelation 4:7 that refers to an angel. He mentions one in Revelation 12:14 to refer to how God will rescue his people during the Tribulation. This “eagle” (an angel?) screams a message of pity for the people of Earth who are still in rebellion from God.

Questions for Reflection

Read chapter 8. What sort of judgments will people experience during the Tribulation?

Read chapter 8. Which of these images is literal, and which are symbolic? And how do you justify seeing a difference between the two forms of communication?

Repeatedly, we read that God’s judgment only affects a “third” of creation. What do you think is the importance of God restraining his justice to only a “third” of creation? Why not more? What might this imply?

Revelation 9 (Trumpets 5-6)

John devotes more writing to the fifth and sixth trumpets than the first four combined. In fact, he devotes three times the amount of writing to these two trumpet judgments. This literary convention shows that these latter trumpets are intensifying.

Hitchcock states that books, TV shows, and movies all describe the end of the world in a variety of ways. However, whatever humans imagine the end of history to be like, the Bible’s picture is far more startling than whatever we can imagination.

Trumpet #5: Locusts

(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.”

“Star from heaven.” This “star” is not a lifeless object, because it receives a “key.” Later, this “star” is called “the angel of the abyss” (v.11; cf. Rev. 20:1).

The “bottomless pit” (abyssos) is a maximum-security prison for a specific species of sadistic demons (Lk. 8:31). We commonly think that all demons are the same. Not so. Just like God created a variety of plants and animals, we have good evidence to believe that God designed various forms and types of demons (Eph. 6:12). Theologian Charles Hodge writes, “There is every reason to presume that the scale of being among rational creatures is as extensive as that in the animal world.”[178] In our view, these are most likely the demons God incarcerated after they produced the Nephilim in Genesis 6 (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). The last time these demons roamed the Earth, God was so appalled that he flooded the world in judgment. At this junction of history, God unlocks the gates to this prison, and the abyss is opened.

(Rev. 9:1) Is this angel Satan? It’s possible that this is describing Satan himself, because John describes him as already having fallen. Later, Satan is confined in this prison during the Millennium (Rev. 20:2-4).

(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.”

The smoke from the pit interacts with the sun and air in the material world. This has led some fundamentalists to think that hell literally exists beneath the surface of the Earth. Some conspiratorial Christians have even claimed that researchers have recorded the screams of the damned in the openings of deep tunnels that descend into the Earth. This is not only totally bizarre and fraudulent (!!), but it is a poor inference from the text. It’s quite bizarre to hold that spiritual beings could be confined by physical prisons in the dirt. Instead, this spiritual prison opens into our physical realm, resulting in an ecological disruption that dampens the atmosphere.[179]

(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.”

Are these just regular locusts or something more? The description of these beings surely exceeds regular locusts (vv.4-7). For one, they come from the “bottomless pit,” which doesn’t speak to regular locusts. Second, they only target humans—not crops (v.4). Third, they are violent (vv.5-6). Fourth, their description is nothing like regular locusts (vv.7-9). Fifth, they have a “king” that is an “angel” (v.11). The use of “locusts” is probably a symbolic reference to the plagues delivered to Egypt (Ex. 10:4ff). But these are no common locusts. They are demons.

“As the scorpions of the earth have power.” John doesn’t say that these demons look like “scorpions.” Rather, they have power like the scorpions. This imagery might reinforce the notion that these are demonic beings. Jesus told his disciples, “I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you” (Lk. 10:19). In this context, Jesus is referring to “spirits” (Lk. 10:20).

Limitation

(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.”

These aren’t ordinary locusts because they don’t eat grass. They target people who worship the beast (“who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads”).

(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.”

Locusts typically live for five months (v.10). This is a time of torment for people who worship the beast.

(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.”

This is truly “hell on earth.” We’re not sure if John is saying that humans won’t be able to die during this time, or that the locusts will harm humans, but not kill them (v.5). Charles Ryrie holds that people will be unable to commit suicide during this time (!). This seems like an example of over-interpreting the text, but we are not entirely sure.

Description

John uses the literary device of simile throughout this section (“like… like… like…”). He cannot adequately describe these creatures. So, he grasps at language that comes close.

(9:7-8) “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. 8 They had hair like the hair of women, and their teeth were like the teeth of lions.

Some Dispensational authors believe that these describe helicopters with metal armor and pilots inside (“faces… like the faces of men”). Some press the imagery even further to say that the “hair” describes the propellers on the helicopter, and the teeth are like decals painted on the front of the helicopter. However, this is straining the text far too much to make this fit. Clearly, the text describes these beings as fallen angels (v.11), and their description doesn’t fit with any known military warfare.

(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.”

These creatures appear to be armored, but once again, John uses the language of simile (like breastplates of iron”). So, it isn’t clear that these creatures are indeed metallic.

(9:10) “They have tails like scorpions, and stings; and in their tails is their power to hurt men for five months.”

They are similar to scorpions, but again, this is the language of simile. Once again, their rule will only last five months (v.5).

(9:11-12) “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. 12 The first woe is past; behold, two woes are still coming after these things.”

“Hebrew is Abaddon… Greek… Apollyon.” John gives bilingual descriptions in his gospel as well as here (“in Hebrew… in Greek…”). Abaddon means “ruin” or “destruction.” Johnson writes, “In late Jewish apocalyptic texts and Qumran literature, it refers to the personification of death (1QH 3.16, 19, 32; IQ ap Gen 12:17 [TDOT, 1:23]).”[180]

“The first woe is past; behold, two woes are still coming after these things.” Just when we might think that it cannot get any worse, John signals to the reader that more is on the way. While the demonic locusts brought “torment,” the next judgment brings “death.”

Trumpet #6: The four angels bound at the Euphrates River

(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. 14 One saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, ‘Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.’”

(Rev. 9:14) Why are the angels “bound” to the river Euphrates? God is progressively releasing his restraint on evil. These angels had been bound at this river, but no longer. This is similar language to Satan being “bound” (deo, Rev. 20:2). In both cases, John uses the term to describe being bound to a certain location. The border of the Euphrates River could align with the borders of Israel (Gen. 15:18).

(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.

God’s plan is orchestrated to the day and even the hour. Another third of the population is destroyed. The term “angel” always refers to good angels in Revelation. However, we agree with Hitchcock and Morris[181] who argue that this is a key exception: These “four angels” are evil. For one, they were previously bound. Second, they come from the Euphrates River, which was the location of the ancient city of Babylon—a classic symbol of evil in the Bible. Third, they kill a third of mankind. These “four angels” seem similar in function to the four horsemen of the apocalypse in Revelation 6. God uses them as agents of judgment, but they themselves are evil.

(9:16) “The number of the armies of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them.”

When John wrote this, there were roughly this many total people on Earth.[182] To put this in perspective, the Roman army of the first century had only 125,000 soldiers.[183] To further compare, during World War II, somewhere between 70 million[184] to 85 million soldiers[185] served in all the armies on Earth combined. Not until today have we been able to see a human army of this size. According to the Central Intelligence Agency Factbook, China contains 385 million fit for military service (males between the ages of 16-49), adding 10 million people per year.[186]

Does this refer to an angelic army? Johnson,[187] Mounce,[188] and Morris[189] believe that this is a demonic army—not a human army. Though, Morris believes that smaller human armies could be in view. In our estimation, this is a human army, because these are called “the armies of the horsemen.” If the horsemen are a spiritual force, this implies a distinction between the horsemen and the armies. The former are demons, while the latter are humans (see further comments below).

(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.”

Many commentators believe that the army is demonic because of the description of the horses. Of course, the horsemen are demonic (v.19), but the human armies are separate and distinct from the horsemen. It seems likely that these demonic horsemen manipulate and even lead this vast army into war. This army comes from the Euphrates, and Revelation 16:14 states that it is composed of the kings of the east.

(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.”

People are killed from the pollution of this warfare. Nuclear warfare could pollute the world like this. This doesn’t mean that nuclear warfare is being described. Rather, military warfare is plausible, even if it’s an uncertain referent.

(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.”

This seems like a demonic description here.

(9:20-21) “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; 21 and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.”

This is truly a terrifying vision! But what exactly is the scariest part? It’s not the warfare; it’s not the plagues; it’s not the death. The most horrifying part of this vision is this: People actively choose to continue to live in a living hell, rather than turn to God! Even when the world is coming to an end, many still won’t have a change of heart. This is the great and terrible “delusion of sin.”[190] Wiersbe wisely writes, “The most frightening thing about Revelation 9 is not the judgments that God sends but the sins that men persist in committing even while God is judging them.”[191] The Proverbs state, “The foolishness of man ruins his way, and his heart rages against the Lord. They ruin lives with their own foolishness” (Prov. 19:3).

Questions for Reflection

Read chapter 9. What sort of judgments will people experience during the Tribulation?

Read chapter 9. Which of these images is literal, and which are symbolic? And how do you justify seeing a difference between the two forms of communication?

Read verses 20-21. What do we learn about the effects and nature of human sin from these verses?

Revelation 10 (Interlude)

All hell is breaking loose on Earth (Rev. 8-9). But once again, we get a glimpse of God’s sovereignty in Heaven. This is another interlude between the descriptions of judgment.

Who is the strong angel?

(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.”

Is the strong angel Jesus? Chuck Smith connects this angel with Jesus because of his description sounds like chapter 1 (“face like the sun… feet like pillars of fire,” cf. Mt. 17:2). Moreover, the term “angel” (angelos) simply means “messenger.” Therefore, this speaks to Jesus’ function as a messenger of God—not his nature as an angel. We disagree with this view (see below).

Is the strong angel just an angel? Yes. We agree with Morris,[192] Mounce,[193] and Hitchcock that this is simply referring to a powerful angel. First, we shouldn’t overlook the plain sense reading of the passage, which simply calls him an angel with no further mention of his identity. Those who hold this is Jesus are required to shoulder the full burden of proof. Second, he is called another angel” like those mentioned earlier (Rev. 8-9), only this one is a good guy. Third, other descriptions do not fit with Jesus in Revelation 1 (“the rainbow was upon his head”). This angel does indeed share similarities with Jesus, but this could be because Jesus himself sent him. For further support of this view, see comments on verse 6.

(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.”

In Revelation, the “sea” often refers to humanity in rebellion from God—though not always (Rev. 8:8-9). In this context, the “sea” contrasts with the “land.” This could refer to having “mastery over both,”[194] and this could speak to “the colossal size of the angel.”[195]

(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 reference to the voice of a lion would be further reason for thinking this is Jesus—the messenger (angelos) of God. Yet for the reasons listed above, we take this to be simply simile (as when a lion roars”). Indeed, in the original symbolism, John states that Jesus is a lion (Rev. 5:5), not like a lion.

“The seven peals of thunder uttered their voices.” These thunderous voices speak something articulately. John was apparently writing down everything that he was seeing; yet, he was told not to write what he heard here (v.4).

(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.’”

Why is John told not to record what the seven peals of thunder spoke? It’s best not to speculate. If John was told not to record the words, then there must be a good reason. Similarly, when Paul was “caught up into Paradise,” he saw things that a “man is not permitted to speak” (2 Cor. 12:4). For what it’s worth, Hitchcock thinks that these are additional judgments of some kind.

(10:5-6) “Then the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land lifted up his right hand to heaven. 6 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.”

The actions of the “angel” do not seem like Jesus. In his recorded words on Earth, Jesus repeatedly swore by his own authority, saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you…” But here the angel swears by God’s authority (Ex. 20:11). Moreover, if this is Jesus, then he himself is the Creator, and he wouldn’t swear by the Creator. The book of Daniel contains similar imagery: “I heard the man dressed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, as he raised his right hand and his left toward heaven, and swore by Him who lives forever that it would be for a time, times, and half a time” (Dan. 12:7).

(10:7) “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.”

“About to sound.” This can either refer to imminence or strong future certainty (“shall sound”). Morris[196] takes the former view, while Johnson[197] takes the latter view. The idea of a future certainty seems to make more sense, however, because at this point “the mystery of God is finished.” In other words, the unleashing of the final trumpet will be synchronized with the Second Coming. Since this whole chapter is an interlude, all of this would point to the subsequent chapters.

“He preached to His servants the prophets.” The “prophets” could refer to both OT and NT prophets.[198]

(10:8-10) “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.’ 9 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.’ 10 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.”

What is the “little book” (v.2)? Hitchcock understands the “little scroll” to be the rest of the book of Revelation. That is, the book contains the prophecies about the future.

“Make your stomach bitter… sweet as honey.” The predictions about Christ’s Second Coming are bittersweet—similar to Ezekiel (Ezek. 3:1-3) and Jeremiah (Jer. 15:16). However, neither Ezekiel nor Jeremiah describes their prophecies as “bitter.” John, however, describes these prophecies as “bittersweet,” and he needs to “digest” it before he can give it out to us. As we study Revelation, we feel excitement at the return of Christ, but we also wrestle with deep sadness for those who reject Jesus at his coming.

(10:11) “And they said to me, ‘You must prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.’”

The angel prepares John to continue prophesying. It’s unclear why the pronoun shifts to “they” in this text, when it has been referring to a singular angel throughout the chapter.

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 1, 5-6. Who is the mighty angel? Do you agree with some interpreters that this is Jesus?

Read verses 9-10. In what ways is the book of Revelation inspiring and “sweet” to read? In what ways is it sad and “bitter” to read?

Conclusion

If you aren’t personally affected by these prophecies, something is wrong. It’s exciting to anticipate Jesus’ return, but it’s deeply sorrowful because of the judgment that we read. With Abraham, we can ask, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Gen. 18:25)

Revelation 11 (The Temple, the Two Witnesses, and the Trumpet)

Revelation 11 is quite difficult to interpret, and disagreement abounds among commentators. This is where we really begin to see the Millennial positions drastically diverge from one another. We will share the other Millennial views below, but often, we will not offer any analysis or refutation. The symbolic or allegorical hermeneutic is so drastically different that commentary isn’t even possible or profitable. The thoughtful reader will need to make up her own mind as she reads the other perspectives. The sections titled “Alternate Interpretations” are for advanced students of Scripture. Newer Bible readers might consider skipping these sections.

The heart of the debate in Revelation 11 is whether taking a symbolic and allegorical hermeneutic is the correct methodology. We respect Morris for showing his methodology up front when he writes that it’s “important [to] take this whole section symbolically.”[199] While Morris is an excellent scholar of the Gospels, we take issue with his views of eschatology.

(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.’”

What is “the temple of God”? This could be (1) symbolic for the Church, (2) the Second Temple of AD 70, or (3) a future Third Temple. We hold to the third view: This describes a Third Temple that has not yet been built. John depicts a Temple just like the OT prophets before him (e.g. Ezek. 40-48; Dan. 9:24-27). For a robust defense of this interpretation, see our article on Revelation 11:1, “Is this a literal Temple and city, or does this represent the church?”

Alternate interpretations

Morris holds that the temple refers to the Church: “John is referring to the church, elsewhere called God’s sanctuary (1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21).”[200] Like the Amillennialist, the Historical Premillennialist thinks that this Temple is symbolic for the Church, citing all the same cross references as Amillennialists (1 Cor 3:16-17; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:19-22). Mounce writes, “The temple was not a literal building but the Christian community who worship God.”[201] Therefore, the measuring refers to God’s spiritual protection of Christians during the reign of the Antichrist.

“Measure the temple of God.” This is a symbolic act to refer the Temple’s “preservation.”[202] Ezekiel takes similar measures when he sees his vision of the third Temple (Ezek. 40-42).

(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.”

What is the significance of the 42 months? This figure of 3.5 years comes up repeatedly throughout Revelation in many different forms. This iteration of 3.5 years is mentioned five times throughout this section of Revelation. It is described as 42 months (Rev. 11:2; 13:5), 1,260 days (Rev. 11:3; 12:6), or “time and times and half a time” (Rev. 12:14; 13:5). This three-and-a-half years aligns with half of Daniel’s seventieth “week” or seven years (Dan. 9:27).

Alternate interpretations

Morris holds that this is symbolic for the nations persecuting the Church (“tread under foot the holy city”). According to Morris, the different portions of the city and the Temple demonstrate the limitations of persecution. This shows a “limit on the extent to which the Gentiles can do their trampling, and the time stated puts a limit on the period too.”[203] Moreover, the 42 months is an allusion to Antiochus Epiphanes terrorizing Israel (167-164 BC). While this was a horrific time in Israel’s history, it was limited. Therefore, Morris argues, “John will mean his readers to discern that the trial of the people of God will be of measurable duration and that they will be delivered out of it.”[204]

Mounce writes, “The outer court refers to the church viewed from a different perspective… It is to be given over to persecution in the last days… It may physically decimate the witnessing church (in 11:7 the two witnesses are killed), but it cannot touch its real source of life (the witnesses are raised and ascend to heaven; 11:11-12).”[205] Moreover, the “holy city” is “another designation for the church.”[206] Mounce agrees that the 42 months is a reference to Antiochus Epiphanes trampling Jerusalem and the Temple from 167-164 BC. He writes, “It became a standard symbol for that limited period of time during which evil would be allowed free rein.”[207]

(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”? We think that this most likely refers to Elijah and Moses. For an explanation for why we hold this, see our comments on Revelation 11:3, “Who are the two witnesses?” They wear “sackcloth” because they are bringing a message of judgment.

Alternate interpretations

Morris holds that these witnesses are symbolic for all believers—especially martyrs. Christians will preach under the supernatural protection of God, and they will have supernatural power much like Moses and Elijah. Thus, John is “outlining the function of the witnessing church.”[208] Likewise, Mounce states that the two witnesses are “a symbol of the witnessing church in the last tumultuous days before the end of the age.”[209]

(11:4) “These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.”

“Two olive trees… two lampstands.” This is an allusion to Zechariah 4. In that passage, Zechariah sees a vision of a golden lampstand and two olive trees (Zech. 4:2-3). The golden lampstand refers to the rebuilding of the Temple by Zerubbabel (Zech. 4:6-7). The two olive trees refer to “the two anointed ones who are standing by the Lord of the whole earth” (Zech. 4:14).

Alternate interpretation

Morris argues that John is indeed alluding to Zechariah 4. However, the purpose is merely to show that the witnesses (i.e. the Church) preach according to the power of the Holy Spirit (Zech. 4:6).[210]

(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. 6 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.”

God supernaturally protects these prophets, and he gives these two prophets the prerogative to execute judgment (“as often as they desire”). These examples are direct allusions to the judgments of Moses and Elijah during their respective careers.

(Rev. 11:5) What is the fire coming out of their mouths? Elijah’s original ministry was protected by literal fires from heaven (1 Kings 18:38; 2 Kings 1:11-12). However, it is also possible that this isn’t literal. After all, the sword sticking out of Jesus’ mouth isn’t literal (Rev. 1:16). John could be explaining that their words are the words of judgment (Jer. 5:14). Consequently, literal judgment was being pronounced on people from the preaching of these two witnesses.

Alternate interpretations

How can Christians have the power to shoot fire from their mouths, create droughts, or turn water to blood? Under the symbolic interpretation, John’s “imagery here expresses the truth that God’s servants in the new dispensation have as great resources as did Moses and Elijah in the old.”[211] In this sense, these powers are literally what John saw. However, the meaning of the symbols is that God will protect his people in the last days—just as he did with Moses and Elijah in ancient times.[212] Mounce writes, “The scene is the last epic struggle between the kingdoms of this earth and the witnessing church.”[213]

(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.”

God protects these two men to give their testimony until it is complete and “finished.” God finally allows them to die, but the forces of evil (i.e. the Beast) cannot kill the prophets until God permits it.

(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 city isn’t literally Sodom and Egypt. It is “mystically” (NASB) or “figuratively” (NIV, NLT) or “symbolically” (NET, ESV) given this name (pneumatikos). In Jewish culture, Sodom and Egypt were historically known as excessively evil nations, and they became symbols for evil and persecution even before the time of John. In fact, the OT prophets referred to the rulers of Jerusalem as “rulers of Sodom” (Isa. 1:10) and referred to Judea as “Sodom” (Ezek. 16:46).

“The great city… where also their Lord was crucified.” John signals that he’s using a symbolic interpretation. However, he explains the symbolism with this statement. He is referring to Jerusalem. When the divine author interprets the symbol for us, we shouldn’t look for another symbol!

Alternate interpretations

This doesn’t refer to Jerusalem or to any city. Morris writes, “If the passage is symbolical, as I have maintained, it is unlikely that any one earthly city is meant. The ‘great city’ is every city and no city. It is civilized man in organized community.”[214]

Mounce holds that this city refers to Rome—not Jerusalem (Rev. 16:19; 17:18; 18:10, 16, 18, 19, 21). Mounce writes, “The inclusion of a reference to the crucifixion is not to identify a geographical location but to illustrate the response of paganism to righteousness.”[215] However, Rome itself is a symbol for “the world under the wicked and oppressive sway of Antichrist.”[216]

(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.”

Leaving a body unburied was thought to be a curse on the corpse. So, these people will believe that these two prophets were being cursed by God after their death. This is similar to the period between Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus predicted, “You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy” (Jn. 16:20).

Alternate interpretations

Enemies of Christ will celebrate the martyrs of Christians. However, the Church doesn’t die. Rather, these two symbolic witnesses “portray the destiny of the faithful who hold their convictions firm till the end.”[217]

(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.”

This is the only time people are celebrating on Earth in the book of Revelation. And what are they celebrating? The murder of God’s prophets! As they parade the dead bodies through the streets, the people “send gifts to one another.” Hitchcock refers to this as a “Satanic holiday.”

(11:11) “But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God came into them, and they stood on their feet; and great fear fell upon those who were watching them.”

These two prophets brought judgment on the nations for a few years, so it would be terrifying to see them return. If God brought them back to life, this would mean that their assumptions were wrong, and the prophets weren’t under the curse of God. Instead, God was supporting them. They prophesied for 3.5 years, but they were only dead for 3.5 days.

Alternate interpretation

This refers to the witnessing Church seeing revival after persecution: “History has often seen the church oppressed to the very verge of extinction, but it has always seen it rise again from that verge of death. Each such resurrection strikes consternation into the hearts of the oppressors.”[218]

(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.”

God takes them to Heaven in full public view (“their enemies watched them”). Why did God raise the prophets from the dead, only to immediately take them to heaven? This is likely to show that God was with them. If their bodies disappeared into thin air, the enemies might’ve spun the story. Perhaps the enemies could say, “We blasted their bodies out of existence!” In this way, they could’ve taken credit for what God did. However, this public resurrection and ascension showed that God was with the prophets—not the enemies.

Alternate interpretation

This is currently being fulfilled in martyrs going to Heaven after death, and it will ultimately be fulfilled at the rapture of the Church (1 Thess. 4:17).[219]

(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.”

This account seems similar to what God did through Jesus: He was killed, thought to be cursed, dead for three days, raised, and ascended into Heaven. Then, finally, an earthquake accompanies the two witnesses’ resurrection and ascension. Again, this will validate these two men publicly. Even Mounce holds that this “earthquake” refers in “a literal manner the events yet to come.”[220] We agree. After all, why all of the specific details if this is symbolic? (e.g. “tenth of the city fell… seven thousand people were killed”)

(11:14) “The second woe is past; behold, the third woe is coming quickly.”

Trumpet #7: Loud voices in Heaven

(11:15-16) “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.’ 16 And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God.”

While all hell is breaking loose on Earth, the people in Heaven know who is still sovereign. They worship God for bringing his kingdom to Earth. These little interludes of Heaven show us the attitude we should have about our world today: Despite the suffering on Earth, we should adopt this mindset of Heaven: God’s kingdom is imminent and ultimately unstoppable.

(11:17) “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.’”

God is starting to intervene on Earth through these miracles, and people give “thanks” for this.

(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.”

People hate God’s judgment, but this doesn’t deter God whatsoever. It doesn’t matter if people are angry with God’s judgment. He is still coming to judge—whether we like it or not.

(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.”

The temple of God in Heaven is different from the one on Earth.

Questions for Reflection

Throughout this chapter, we interacted with symbolic interpretations that understood the Temple and the Two Witnesses to refer to the Church throughout history. What is your evaluation of this interpretative method? Does it matter where we land on this issue?

Read verses 15-19. How do the people in Heaven react to everything we just read in chapter 11? (vv.15-19) What can we learn from their reaction?

Revelation 12 (The Rise and Fall of Satan)

Chapter 12 continues to explain the prophecy of the “little book” that John received and digested earlier (Rev. 10:2, 9). The bowls do not pick back up until Revelation 14. Hitchcock calls this the most symbolic chapter in the most symbolic book of the Bible. He titles the chapter, “The War of the Ages.”

(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 great sign appeared in heaven.” John uses the word “sign” (semeion) to refer to the miracles of Jesus in his Gospel. In each case, we have a literal miracle of Jesus that also contains deeper spiritual meaning. Here, the “sign” is a vision of a “woman.” She is symbolic for Israel, which is a literal people.

(Rev. 12:1) Who is the woman: Israel, Mary, or the Church? This woman refers to the nation of Israel. This is the fulfillment of many OT prophecies about Israel giving birth to the Messiah. Joseph said, “I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me” (Gen. 37:9). Osborne writes, “In Jewish literature ‘twelve stars’ often refers to the twelve patriarchs or the twelve tribes.”[221] For instance, in one extrabiblical text, we read, “I saw in a vision that the sun and the moon were standing still on the Mount of Olives… Levi laid hold of the sun, and Judah outstripped the others and seized the moon, and they were both of them lifted up with them. And when Levi became as a sun, a certain young man gave to him twelve branches of palm; and Judah was bright as the moon, and under his feet were twelve rays” (Testament of Naphtali, 5.5). We shouldn’t press this evidence too far. This extrabiblical text simply shows that images of the sun, moon, and stars were being used to refer to Israel at the time.

(12:2) “And she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth.”

If this woman is Israel personified, then the vision describes how Israel brought forth the Messiah through a long history of turmoil. This imagery of Israel giving birth appears often in the OT as well (Isa. 26:17-18; 66:7-8; Mic. 4:10; 5:3). Israel faced two millennia of slavery, persecution, and attacks from all sides in order to fulfill her mission to bring about the Messiah. The imagery of being in “labor” and in “pain” describes how much the nation suffered to play this role. Indeed, the word “pain” (basanizō) is an extremely intense term that can be rendered “torture.”[222]

(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.”

The chapter opened with a “sign” (semeion) that was symbolic (v.1). Likewise, this “sign” of a “great red dragon” is also symbolic. As we will see below, this refers to Satan (Rev. 12:9; 20:2).

“Seven heads and ten horns.” Later, we see an identical description of the “beast” (Rev. 13:1; 17:3). This strongly implies that the Beast (or Antichrist) is made in the image of Satan.

(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.”

“He might devour her child.” Satan attempted to stop the Messiah through both overt and covert means:[223]

  • Cain’s murder of Abel (Gen. 4:8). Originally, God promised to bring the Messiah through the “seed of the woman” (Gen. 3:15), and so, Satan may have influenced the first murder to thwart God’s prediction. After all, Jesus said, “[Satan] was a murderer from the beginning” (Jn. 8:44). John elsewhere writes, “We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother” (1 Jn. 3:12 ESV).
  • Demons impregnated women (Gen. 6). Satan’s fallen angels perverted a portion of humanity to the point where the entire existence of the race was at stake (Gen. 6:1-2; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). This would’ve stopped the coming of the future Messiah in Genesis 3:15.
  • Abraham giving Sarah to pagan kings twice. The attempted marriage (or rape?) of Sarah would have corrupted the Jewish line (Gen. 12:10-20; 20:1-18). At this point, she was the only Jewish woman who could bring the blessing of the Messiah through the line of Abraham.
  • Isaac giving Rebekah to the men of Gerar. If one of the men impregnated Rebekah, this would’ve corrupted the Jewish line as well (Gen. 26:1-18).
  • Pharaoh ordered all Hebrew boys to be killed. The murder of male boys in Egypt would’ve ended the Jewish line (Ex. 1:15-22).
  • David had many attempts on his life. The attempted murders of David are too numerous to count. At least one of these attempts on David’s life was inspired by “an evil spirit” (1 Sam. 16:14). If this was successful, it would’ve ended the Jewish line through David (1 Sam. 18:10-11), who would later become a “type” or foreshadowing of the Messiah (2 Sam. 7:11-14).
  • Queen Athaliah killed everyone in the “house of Judah” (2 Chron. 22:10). However, the king’s daughter helped Joash to escape, prolonging the line of David (2 Chron. 22:11).
  • Haman tried to perform genocide on the Jews in Persia. He attempted to kill all the Jews (Esther 3-9), but this resolutely backfired (Esther 10).
  • Herod killed the children of Bethlehem (Mt. 2:16). Once the birthplace of the Messiah was located, Herod enacted “overkill” to eliminate the Messiah.
  • Satan tempted Jesus to worship him, forfeiting the Cross (Mt. 4:9). He also tried to tempt Christ to forfeit the Cross by tempting him through one of his friends, Peter (Mt. 16:22-23).
  • Satan entered Judas to betray Jesus (Jn. 13:2, 27; Lk. 22:3). While this plot succeeded in killing Jesus, it failed to stop God’s victory at the Cross (Col. 2:14-15).

How many of these are explicit examples of Satan trying to stop the birth of the Messiah? We’re unsure. Some are just conjecture, but others are clearly connected with Satan’s persecution of the Jewish people. There is enough biblical evidence to think that Satan was trying to thwart God’s plan of bringing his Messiah through the Jewish people throughout their entire history. The biblical data above seem to confirm this.

“Third of the stars of heaven.” These “stars” (1/3 of them) move location from heaven to earth, but who or what are these “stars”? Some interpreters hold that these “stars” are human believers (based on Dan. 10:20-21; 12:1, 3). However, Osborne argues, “It is generally agreed that Dan. 8:10 pictures the attack on Israel as a war against the heavenly host, it is also generally held that the ‘stars’ in Dan. 8:10 are primarily angels rather than the people of God… While Dan. 12:3 says the faithful ‘will shine … like the stars forever and ever,’ it does not say they are stars. Also, in the Apocalypse, whenever asteres (stars) refers to beings, they are always angels (1:16, 20; 2:1; 3:1; 9:1; 22:16 [Christ as ‘the Morning Star’]). There is no instance when the people of God are called ‘stars.’”[224] Consequently, we hold that these “stars” are symbolic of angels, as the immediate and greater context of Revelation makes clear.

(Rev. 12:4, 9) When did Satan sweep a third of the angels away to the Earth? When was Satan cast out of heaven? This is a complicated question. In our view, verses 4 and 9 are referring to two separate events. The sweeping of the third of the angels in verse 4 is separate from the casting out of Satan in verse 9. Verse 4 refers to the fall of Satan in the past, while verse 9 refers to the casting out of Satan in the future. Thus, we hold that John is explaining both the origin of Satan’s fall (v.4) and the future expulsion of Satan (v.9). He is explaining the beginning of Satan’s rebellion, as well as its end. Thus, verses 4 and 9 are describing two different events. Verse 4 does not say that Satan was thrown out of heaven; it says that his angels were thrown down. While Satan “threw” (ballo) a third of the angels to the Earth (v.4), he himself will be “thrown down [ballo]… and his angels with him” (v.9) in the future. This view makes sense of the expulsion of Satan from heaven in the future because Satan told God that he was “roaming about on the earth and walking around on it” (Job 1:7; cf. 2 Cor. 4:4; 1 Jn. 5:19). Satan had been thrown out of heaven, but he could still return to make accusations. At this point in the future (v.9), Satan will no longer have this luxury.

In a sense, John is conflating the fall of Satan with the expulsion of Satan. As believers are being ravished in the Tribulation, they will no doubt ask: How did the persecution get this bad? John is answering that question by revisiting the fall of Satan and describing his casting out. No matter how we interpret this passage, it is clear that John is giving a full panorama to place the Tribulation in its historical context in God’s overall plan.

(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.”

The “child” is no doubt Jesus. After all, he is destined to “rule all the nations with a rod of iron.” This is an allusion to Psalm 2:9, which is a messianic psalm. Moreover, Jesus ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9), as this passage teaches (“caught up to God”).

(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.

“The woman fled into the wilderness.” If this is understood chronologically, then this must be after the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. As a result, this would place Israel’s escape in the future. Preterists, of course, see the fulfillment of this with the Church escaping to Pella in AD 66 before the Jewish War. However, the text doesn’t tell us when this will be fulfilled or even if it has been fulfilled yet. In our view, this is still future to our own day.

“One thousand two hundred and sixty days.” The woman is in the wilderness for 3.5 years. This iteration of 3.5 years is mentioned five times throughout this section of Revelation. It is described as 42 months (Rev. 11:2; 13:5), 1,260 days (Rev. 11:3; 12:6), or “time and times and half a time” (Rev. 12:14; 13:5). This three-and-a-half years aligns with half of Daniel’s seventieth “week” or seven years (Dan. 9:27).

Hitchcock speculates that the Jewish people might flee to Petra based on Isaiah 63:1-4. In that prediction, the Messiah comes up from Petra (Edom) after judging the enemies of Israel.

Alternate interpretations

Morris[225] links the time-period of 1,260 days with the earlier mention in Revelation 11:3. Because he interprets the two witnesses as referring to the witnessing Church, he sees the “woman” as the Church here as well—the “true Israel” of God. The protection in the wilderness refers to God protecting believers so that they can fulfill their mission of evangelism to the world. All of this, therefore, transpires during the Church Age.

Mounce’s view is difficult to understand. He alludes to a Preterist perspective, when he states that this “may in part reflect the escape of the Palestinian church to Pella at the outbreak of the Jewish war in AD 66.”[226] Yet, he thinks this refers to spiritual sustenance—not physical protection.

(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, 8 and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven.”

This describes some sort of spiritual battle in Heaven, where Michael and his army of angels kick out Satan and his angels. Yet, this language doesn’t require us to understand this “war” as some sort of military engagement between angels. After all, Paul uses the language of military warfare to describe spiritual war: “The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. 5 We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Indeed, it would seem odd for angels to be fighting with swords and shields, as we see depicted in Renaissance painting. Instead, we agree with Mounce who writes, “Although John depicts the battle between Michael and Satan in military terms, it is essentially a legal battle between opposing counsel in which the loser is disbarred.”[227]

This could be a flashback to the removal of the “stars” from heaven in verse 4. If so, this would support the view that the fall of angels occurred in ancient history. Though, we are uncertain.

(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.”

We don’t need to guess who the great dragon represents. John interprets this symbol for us as “Satan.” He and his angels are ejected from Heaven, and they take over the Earth.

Interlude

(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.’”

Who is speaking with this “loud voice”? We aren’t told. But the speaker uses the plural “our,” and even refers to “our brethren.” This could be one of the 24-elders speaking, though we’re unsure. We are sure that his message is resolute: The Messiah has authority over Satan.

Satan has been thrown down by Christ, but he still (present tense) continues to accuse believers before God. How do believers stand up to this deceiver and accuser? The next verse explains…

(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.”

Jesus uses the term “overcome” (nikaō) frequently in his letters to the Seven Churches (cf. Rev. 2-3 “To him who overcomes, I will…”). How do these believers overcome Satan?

  1. “The blood of the Lamb.” Instead of standing against this “accuser” based on their own righteousness, they disarm and refute Satan’s accusations based on God’s righteousness (cf. Eph. 6:10-18).
  2. “The word of their testimony.” This seems to refer to our public witness of what Jesus has done for us (Rev. 1:2, 9; 6:9; 11:7). Instead of taking a defensive posture, they continue to move out into the world to reach others (Mt. 16:18).
  3. “They did not love their life even when faced with death.” It isn’t that the believers were all martyred, but that they were willing to face They “were [not] afraid to die” (NET).

(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 message that makes Heaven “rejoice,” also brings “woe” to the Earth. Satan knows that his time ruling the Earth is very short. McCallum compares this to Adolf Hitler who continued to fight until the bitter end—even though he knew that he had lost the war.[228] If Satan is going down, he wants to take as many people as possible with him.

Interlude over

(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.”

Satan missed his opportunity to “devour” Jesus (v.4), so he will turn to Israel instead. Once he knows that he has been thrown down to Earth and that his time is short (v.12), Satan will launch at an all-out attack on the “woman” (i.e. Israel).

(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.”

The “woman” (Israel) flees to the wilderness for 3.5 years. This is a recapitulation of verse 6 (“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”). Jesus told us to flee Jerusalem when we see the abomination of desolation (Mt. 24:15).

Somehow, Satan couldn’t reach the “woman” (Israel) while she was in the wilderness (“from the presence of the serpent”). Why can’t Satan terrorize the woman when she is in the wilderness? We’re unsure, but this is what the text says.

(12:15) “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.”

Satan can go after the “woman” (Israel) with something like a flood. This isn’t a literal flood because John uses the language of simile (like a river… with a flood”). This could refer to military warfare which fills the OT prophecies that speak to this period of time.

Alternate interpretations

Mounce’s view is complicated by the fact that “details of sequence and time should not be pressed in apocalyptic.”[229] Thus, he can state that this “flood” could refer to unknown events in the Jewish War (AD 66-70), which is even before the time of John’s writing (AD 95). This eclectic view of how to interpret Revelation really shows its problems here (see “Different Schools of Interpreting Revelation”).

(12:16) “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.”

Somehow the earth protects the “woman” (Israel) from this “flood” or “river.” Earlier we argued that this is symbolic for military warfare.

(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.”

Satan’s failure only enrages him further. He gives up on attacking Israel, and he goes after the “rest of her children.” These are most likely Gentile believers in Jesus, rather than Jewish believers in Jesus.

Alternate interpretations

Mounce holds that the “woman” refers to “faithful Israel” or the “Palestinian church” in the first century. The “rest of her children” refer to the new covenant Gentiles.[230]

Conclusions

There is a historical conspiracy as to why the Jewish people have been persecuted for literally thousands of years. This chapter explains why: Satan wants to thwart God’s plan for Israel and God’s promises to Israel.

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 1-6. Justify your answers to these questions:

  • Who is the red dragon?
  • Who is the child?
  • Who is the woman?

What is Satan trying to accomplish in this chapter?

What do we learn about spiritual warfare from this chapter?

Read verse 11. What do we learn about how to overcome Satan from this verse? How do we practically utilize these three approaches in spiritual warfare?

Revelation 13 (The Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet)

Interpreters seem fixated on the notion that “John’s vision must first be understood against the sociopolitical situation of his own day.”[231] Ordinarily, we would be quite sympathetic to this view. However, John is writing a “prophecy” of the future (Rev. 1:3; 10:11; 19:10; 22:6-7, 10, 18-19). Therefore, we don’t understand the obsession among commentators with only viewing these predictions (specifically chapters 4-22) through the lens of first century events.

In our view, the contrast in these debated chapters comes down to methodology. The central reason for so much disagreement rests on the fact that we are simply starting from two, totally different methods of interpretation—one preterist and the other futurist (see “Different Schools of Interpreting Revelation”).

(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.”

“And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore.” John already established that the “dragon” is Satan (Rev. 12:9; 20:2). This part of the verse really belongs with chapter 12. The “dragon” is standing on the “seashore” (i.e. hostile humanity) looking at how to persecute believers (“make war with the rest of her children”).

Who is the “beast”? Put simply, the “beast” is the figure described by many names throughout the Bible, but he is commonly called the Antichrist. He is similar to Satan, but distinct. Like Satan, he has “seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems” (Rev. 12:3). Carson argues that “horns” are almost always kings in apocalyptic literature.[232] Later, John interprets this vision: “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” (Rev. 17:12).

Daniel speaks of the “little horn” and “fourth beast” in the same way: “A fourth beast, dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong; and it had large iron teeth… It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. While I was contemplating the horns, behold, another horn, a little one, came up among them, and three of the first horns were pulled out by the roots before it; and behold, this horn possessed eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth uttering great boasts” (Dan. 7:7-8; cf. 7:25). This is a description of the Beast (or the Antichrist), who will rule over the world for a short time during the Tribulation.

Alternate interpretations

Morris[233] agrees that the Antichrist will come on the scene at the end of human history, and he rejects the preterist view that this figure refers to ancient Rome (or an ancient Roman emperor).

Mounce correctly sees the connection between Daniel 7 and this passage regarding the fourth kingdom. However, he errs in asserting that this fourth kingdom refers to Greece, rather than Rome.[234] The “blasphemous names” refer to “the increasing tendency of the Roman emperors” who would “assume titles of deity.”[235] Consequently, the “beast” refers to “the Roman Empire as [the] persecutor of the church,” but it will reach its ultimate fulfillment in the future “deification of secular authority.”[236]

(Rev. 13:1) Is the Antichrist an empire or a single individual? The Antichrist is surely an individual. However, since he arises from the world and rules over it, he is sometimes described synonymously with the reunited Roman Empire.

(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.”

“Leopard… bear… lion.” The purpose is not to draw or paint the imagery described here. After all, Jesus was described as a “lion” and a “lamb” (Rev. 5:5-6), and these pictures shouldn’t be smashed together into some sort of mutated “lion-lamb”! In this picture, only the “lion” possesses a “mouth,” while the other animals do not. This imagery harkens back to the composite creature in Daniel 7 who represents the wickedness of world empires. Here, the “beast” leads over them all.

Satan gives the “beast” his “power, throne, and great authority.” This is parallel to God the Father empowering God the Son. This is Satanic mimicry.

Alternate interpretations

Mounce[237] holds that Satan empowered the ancient Roman empire of the first century to persecute Christians.

(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.”

(Rev. 13:3) What is the “fatal wound” mentioned here? Whose head is being described? The nearest antecedent is the dragon, who has “seven heads” (v.1), but this only describes “one of his heads.” We’ve already established that the “heads” represent kings and kingdoms. Consequently, we are inclined to hold that this describes the “death and revival” of the Roman Empire—or at least a portion of it.

Alternate interpretations

Mounce[238] holds that could refer to the incredible resiliency of the Roman Empire in the first century, or maybe the so-called “Nero redivivus” theory. Later, this could refer to an ultimate empire on Earth in the last days.

(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?’”

People worship both the dragon (Satan) and the beast. The two are different, and yet they are closely connected. It sounds like the dragon invests his power into the beast.

“Who is like the beast?” This reminds us of language ascribed to Yahweh God (Ex. 8:10; 15:11; Ps. 71:19; 89:8; Isa. 44:7; 46:5; Mic. 7:18). The Beast is a counterfeit god, so this seems like a parody of biblical language. Osborne writes, “The church of John’s day would have again thought of the imperial cult, ‘the throne of Satan’ (Rev. 2:13), and of emperors like Caligula, Nero, and especially Domitian, who demanded to be worshiped as gods.”[239] This future ruler will take this tyrannical, narcissistic, and psychotic desire for self-worship to an utterly new level.

(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.”

Again, we see this time period lasting 3.5 years (“forty-two months”). This is a time of horror where Satan and the Beast rule the Earth. This aligns with Daniel’s 70th “week,” which is a period of seven years. During half of this seven-year period, terror fills the world. The true ruler of the world-system is ruling and reigning out in the open.

The dragon gave the beast his “authority” (v.2). Of course, this is a counterfeit authority (or at least a contingent authority) because all authority ultimately belongs to God. God permits the dragon and the beast to blaspheme him for a time before he chooses to intervene.

Alternate interpretations

Mounce holds that the 42 months refers to “the traditional period for religious persecution”[240] that took place during the Maccabean Revolt (167-164 BC).

(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.”

Some interpreters see a vague allusion to a pretribulational rescue of the Church here. If untold millions of people disappeared before the Tribulation, then the beast would surely need to explain where these people went. We are surely speculating, but perhaps the beast could argue, “Those Christians weren’t rescued by God… Instead, God killed all of those people!” Or perhaps he will argue, “I killed all of those people who disappeared with my great power… I dare anyone else to challenge me!” By taking credit for the removal of the Church by twisting the facts, the beast would be spewing “blasphemies” of “those who dwell in heaven.” Again, this is speculation, but it fits with the fear that people have to make “war with the beast” (v.4, 7).

(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.”

John doesn’t use the term “Antichrist” in Revelation (this term comes from his letters: 1 John and 2 John). However, it’s easy to see that the beast is a deliberate parody of Christ (i.e. the Antichrist). Just like Jesus, he is given authority over every “tribe… people… tongue… nation” (cf. Rev. 5:9). The Antichrist is a false messiah who has authority over the world for this brief time. Moreover, during this time, he unleashes an all-out persecution of Christians.

(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 will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written… in the book of life.” The beast will be so powerful and influential that he will command the worship of all non-Christians on Earth. This implies a universal religion based around the beast. Satan desperately desires worship (Mt. 4:8-10), so it’s no wonder that the Beast also institutes world-wide worship.

Was Jesus slain “from the foundation of the world”? No. This prepositional phrase refers to people who had their names “written… in the book of life.” It is true that “in Greek, either interpretation is grammatically acceptable.”[241] However, the context favors the names that are written—not Jesus’ death. The prepositional phrase most likely modifies “written.” Moreover, later in the book, we see a clear parallel that supports this reading. John refers to those whose names have “not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 17:8). Finally, Jesus didn’t die “once for all” until the Cross occurred in AD 33. This is simple metaphysics: Jesus couldn’t have died before he incarnated and took up the Cross in AD 33. Such a view of time is inconsistent with the so-called “A-Theory of Time,” and should be rejected. Instead, we conclude that through his foreknowledge, God knew who would come to faith in Christ (Rom. 8:29; 1 Pet. 1:1-2).

(13:9) “If anyone has an ear, let him hear.”

This statement is conspicuously different from similar language in Revelation 2-3. In those earlier chapters, we repeatedly read: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” However, this simply states, “If anyone has an ear…” This could imply that the Church is gone. If the pretribulational rescue of the Church is true, then the Church wouldn’t be on Earth during this time. In other words, this fits quite nicely with the pretribulational rescue of the Church.

(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.”

Living through this era of history will require a great deal of “perseverance.” Bloodshed and persecution will rule and reign across the world, and Christians shouldn’t result to violence during this time (Mt. 26:52). Instead, they should trust that God has the destinies of all people under control.

“Another beast” (the false prophet)

(13:11) “Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon.”

Who is this other beast? John described the first beast differently from this other beast. The original beast has ten horns and seven heads, but this “beast” only has two horns. The original beast is composed of parts that look like a leopard, a bear, and a lion, but this beast looks like a “lamb” and speaks like a “dragon.” Finally, the original beast comes from the sea, but this “beast” comes from the “earth.” Clearly, these describe two different beasts.

In some respects, this other “beast” is a “parody of Christ,”[242] because he looks “like a lamb.” Later, this man is called “the false prophet” (Rev. 16:13; 19:20; 20:10). He is like a “minister of propaganda” to the original beast—much like Joseph Goebbels was for Hitler’s regime.

“He had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon.” He looks like an innocent lamb, but he speaks like a dragon (i.e. like Satan). He wears “sheep’s clothing,” but inwardly, he has the nature of a “ravenous wolf” (Mt. 7:15).

Alternate interpretations

Mounce holds that this also has a first century context that predicts a future reality. The false prophet refers to “the imperial priesthood that assisted Rome in propagating the imperial cult.”[243] At the end of history, argues Mounce, a similar propaganda machine will arise to support the government.

(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 other beast (i.e. the false prophet) possesses equal authority to the “first beast” (i.e. the Antichrist). However, the false prophet works in concert with the Antichrist—fully supporting him. This false prophet directs people to worship the beast, rather than himself. He is a demented doppelganger of the Holy Spirit, directing people to worship the Antichrist, rather than the true Christ.

(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.”

Interpreters have called this second beast “the false prophet” because of his prophetic “ministry.” Like Elijah (and the two witnesses of Revelation 11), he calls down fire from heaven. Jesus warned, “False Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect” (Mk. 13:22). Likewise, Paul warned, “The one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, 10 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 Thess. 2:9-10).

(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.”

Jesus performed seven “signs” (semeion) in the gospel of John to demonstrate his identity and authority. Here, the false prophet performs “signs” as well. While Jesus brought light to the world, this false prophet deceives the world, and encourages idolatrous worship of the beast.

(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.”

Throughout the Bible, we read that idols are deaf, dumb, and mute (e.g. 1 Cor. 12:2). But not this idol. One of the false prophet’s “signs” is to make this idol speak. Moreover, this statue can somehow murder Christians who refuse to worship the beast. Perhaps this is some sort of execution machinery that can wipe out large swathes of believers.

“[He will] cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed.” This will be a time of clear persecution: Either worship the image of the beast or die! This could fit with the idea of a great apostasy at the end of history (2 Thess. 2:1-3), where many people will succumb to persecution and worship the beast.

Many issues in life are nuanced and need qualifications. But not this one! There will be no room for a compromised Christianity in this time. This “will represent the ultimate test of religious loyalty,” and “only those who would rather die than compromise their faith will resist the mark of Antichrist.”[244]

(13:16-17) “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, 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.”

The false prophet is the one to give people the “mark of the beast.” The language (e.g. small versus great; rich versus poor; free versus slave) is a “rhetorical way of stressing the totality of human society.”[245] Everyone on Earth will be pressured to take this mark of the beast.

In Endless Hope or Hopeless End (pp.239-244), we point out that this universal control of money has not been fulfilled—certainly not in the first century Roman Empire. On the other hand, the technology needed to control global commerce has only become currently available in recent years. Thus, there is good reason for thinking that this passage will be fulfilled in the future (rather than in the past). Since people will be starving from hyper-inflation at this time (Rev. 6:6), they will either continue to starve, or they will concede to taking the mark of the beast.

(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.”

(Rev. 13:18) What does “666” mean? Put simply, we don’t know. This hasn’t been revealed yet because this person hasn’t come on the political scene yet. However, we can know that believers will be able to identify this person when he appears.

Alternate interpretations

Interpreters seem fixated on the notion that “John’s vision must first be understood against the sociopolitical situation of his own day.”[246] Yet, nothing in the first century fits these descriptions. So, we reject the preterist reading.

Others like Morris hold that the “666” refers to being one short of the divine number “777.” Thus, this refers to the “falling short” of unregenerate human beings. Moreover, John is not referring to the number of a specific “man,” but to the number “of man[kind].” Morris writes, “John will then be saying that unregenerate man is persistently evil. He bears the mark of the beast in all he does. Civilization without Christ is necessarily under the dominion of the evil one.”[247]

Mounce gives various examples of history where this could find fulfillment: Branding disobedience slaves, defeated soldiers (Plutarch, Life of Pericles 26; Herodotus 7.233), and religious tattooing (Lucian, On the Syrian Goddess 59; Herodotus 2.113; 3 Macc. 2:29). He observes that the word “translated ‘mark’ was also used for the likeness or name of the emperor on Roman coins,”[248] and it was a “technical designation for the seals that were attached to commercial documents and stamped with the name and date of the emperor.”[249] Yet, none of these descriptions explain how a government could control the commerce of the entire world (or even the known world).

Questions for Reflection

Read chapter 13. How does the beast imitate Christ?

Read verses 5-8. What does the first beast do once he comes to power?

Read verses 11-18. Who is the other beast? What does he do once he comes to power?

John repeatedly writes that these evil figures were “given” their authority or power (v.5, 7, 14, 15, 16). What is the significance of this?

Revelation 14 (Jesus’ judgment of the world)

These are snapshots or previews of the rest of the book. Technically, theologians call these proleptic prophecies. A prolepsis speaks of future events as though it has already been fulfilled. So, Revelation 14 speaks of how the Tribulation will end in judgment—even though we haven’t reached that far in the book. Perhaps John placed these prophecies here because we might be discouraged after reading Revelation 12-13. He wants to give us a shot in the arm of encouragement, telling us how Jesus will be victorious in the end. So, before we finish the descriptions of the bowl judgments and the end of the world-system (Rev. 15-18), we get a glimpse of Jesus ruling and reigning.

Revelation 14:1-5 (Vision of Jesus Christ in the Millennium)

(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.”

“Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand.”

Is this a heavenly Zion or an earthly one—figurative or literal? The OT predicted that the Messiah would literally reign from Mount Zion (Joel 2:32; Ps. 48:2-11; Isa. 2:2; 24:23; Mic. 4:1-8). On the other hand, the author of Hebrews writes that Christians have already come to “Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22). We favor the former view that this is a proleptic vision of Jesus beginning to rule the world from Mount Zion. The rest of the chapter supports this reading of the text.

Alternate interpretations

Morris[250] doesn’t think this refers to the Millennial Reign of Christ. Rather, it is a picture of Jesus’ reign from Heaven. The imagery is more literary than literal: Jesus stands on a mountain, while the beast stands on the sea (Rev. 13:1).

Mounce thinks this is a heavenly scene as well, and he understands the 144,000 to refer to “the entire body of the redeemed.”[251]

Is this during or after the Tribulation? Osborne favors the view that this is before the Tribulation. He writes, “The idea of ‘standing’ is a military metaphor and pictures the Lamb as a divine warrior ready to annihilate his enemy.”[252] Walvoord, however, favors the view that this is after the Second Coming. He writes, “Preferable is the view that this is a prophetic vision of the ultimate triumph of the Lamb following His second coming, when He joins the 144,000 on Mount Zion at the beginning of His millennial reign.”[253] Who is correct? We’re unsure.

Why are the 144,000 brought up again? This is to show that God’s seal was effective, and “not one of them has been lost.”[254]

“Having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads.” The Father and the Son sealed their names on the foreheads of the 144,000.

(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.”

The voice from heaven is both strong and soft—thunderous and yet musical. The description of a voice that sounds like “many waters” reminds us of Jesus’ voice (Rev. 1:15), but the “harps” add a beautiful quality. The perspective of this prophecy must be from Earth because John hears the “voice from heaven.”

(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.”

The 144,000 are in Heaven (“before the throne… before the four living creatures and the elders”). Revelation 4 showed us a similar scene in Heaven—not Earth. The language also seems similar to Revelation 5:9 (“They sang a new song… You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation’”). This seems to be a fulfillment of that song. Only the 144,000 “could learn the song” because they are a special group that are devoted to God.

(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.”

The OT pictures Israel as “the virgin daughter of Zion” (Lam. 2:13; cf. 2 Kings 19:21; Isa. 37:22), and the “virgin of Israel” (Jer. 18:13; 31:4, 21; Amos 5:2). The Church is also called a “pure virgin” (2 Cor. 11:2), who has “no spot or wrinkle or any such thing” (Eph. 5:27). These men are faithful to God, and they are the first fruits that guarantee an eventual harvest.

Are they literal virgins? The term “chaste” (parthenos) is also the term translated as “virgin.” Some interpreters understand these men to be literal virgins. At the same time, this seems more like a moral characteristic as we saw in the other biblical descriptions above. When John writes that they have “not been defiled with women,” this implies sexual immorality. But there is nothing inherently wrong with sex, as long as it is exercised in the context of marriage. Mounce understands this to mean that these men have “kept themselves pure from all defiling relationships with the pagan world system.” He continues, “They have resisted the seductions of the great harlot Rome with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication (17:2).”[255]

(14:5) “And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless.”

Is this positional righteousness or conditional righteousness? It’s hard to believe that a person never lied in their entire life, or that they were “blameless” (Rom. 3:10-19). Indeed, anyone who makes such a claim is likely lying! In our view, this is probably hyperbole to describe the conditional righteousness of these people.

Conclusion

All 144,000 are accounted for. Satan’s efforts to destroy the Jewish people failed.

First Angel: Turn to God!

(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 revelation of the “eternal gospel” seems universal in scope (“every nation and tribe and tongue and people”). Some interpreters take this angel to refer symbolically to the Church, which brings the gospel to all people. Others think this is symbolic for “natural theology”[256] in general. While the text uses similar language to passages on natural theology (Rom. 1:18ff), in our estimation, this seems like a literal angel. It’s unclear why the text would specify this angel flying in the air (“flying in midheaven”) if it was referring to believers spreading the gospel on the ground. Also, there is no language of simile to describe the angel. If this is a literal angel, then it implies that God is pulling out all the stops so that people can come to know him before the time is up. This angel speaks universally to all nations (cf. Mt. 24:14?).

(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.’”

(14:6-7) Is this a message of forgiveness or judgment? Some commentators think that this angel is preaching a message of judgment. Mounce writes, “It is not the gospel of God’s redeeming grace in Christ Jesus but, as the following verse shows, a summons to fear, honor, and worship the Creator.”[257]

We disagree. The term “gospel” (euaggelion) should be taken at face value. Osborne writes, “Everywhere that euaggelion is found in the NT, it implies the gracious offer of salvation.”[258] In fact, Osborne speculates that this could actually be a fulfillment of Matthew 24:14 (“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”). Moreover, the same language is used to describe the redeemed elsewhere in the book (Rev. 5:9; 7:9). All of this means that God is still extending his love and forgiveness to a rebellious world, even up until the very end.

Second Angel: Babylon is fallen!

(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.’”

This passage looks ahead to the end of Babylon in chapters 17-18, speaking about the fall of Babylon as though it has already happened (i.e. prolepsis). Osborne writes, “Although the destruction of the evil empire lies in the future, it is presented via the doublet Epesan, epesan (Fallen, fallen), a proleptic aorist… that stresses the absolute certainty of the coming destruction (cf. 10:7).”[259]

Third Angel: Judgment is coming!

(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, 10 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.’”

The reference to taking the mark of the beast harkens back to Revelation 13:16-18. It stands in contrast to the believers being marked by God on their foreheads (v.1). In this case, those who receive the mark also “worship the beast and his image.” Taking the mark of the beast isn’t an accidental endeavor; it is a committed decision to reject God and worship a man.

“He also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger.” Johnson writes, “For those who drink Babylon’s cup (v. 8), the Lord will give his own cup of wrath.”[260]

(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.”

Annihilationists argue that only the “smoke” rises up forever, but this doesn’t imply that the people in hell are perpetually conscious. Yet, the subsequent clause states: They have no rest day and night.” This is the same language used to describe the angels who worship God “day and night” (Rev. 4:8). By contrast, believers will find “rest” (v.13).

(14:12) “Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.”

Keeping God’s commandments is parallel with faith in Jesus.

(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.’”

“From now on.” It seems that this persecution is so awful that this is a special promise to the believers in this future day. Johnson writes, “John expects the imminent intensification of persecution associated with the beast, and the beatitude indicates that those who remain loyal to Jesus when this occurs will be blessed indeed.”[261] Put simply, if you are faithful to Jesus during the horrors of the Tribulation, then you will receive a special blessing.

Armageddon and the judgment of the end of the Tribulation

Hitchcock holds that this is a preview of Armageddon because Jesus himself is engaging in judgment. Again, this is a case of proleptic prophecy: speaking of these future events as though they have already happened.

(14:14-15) “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. 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.’”

Does this refer to Jesus or an angel? Morris[262] argues that this refers to an angel. For one, John describes a son of man,” rather than “the son of man.” However, need we state the obvious? How does the language of a “son of man better describe an angel?[263] Moreover, even the original citation in Daniel refers to “One like a Son of Man” (Dan. 7:13).

Second, Morris argues that an angel tells this figure to execute judgment (v.15). This is a good argument. However, this could refer to prayer of some kind, rather than some sort of a command. Indeed, even the Lord’s Prayer (Mt. 6:9ff) is in the vocative case (i.e. calling on God to act). Therefore, we hold that this describes Jesus (cf. Rev. 1:13) who will personally come to execute judgment (Mt. 13:24-30), along with his angels (Mt. 13:39).

(14:16-18) “Then He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped. 17 And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, and he also had a sharp sickle. 18 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 are involved with the judgment as well. This shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus taught, “The harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels” (Mt. 13:39).

(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.”

Picture the crushed and oozing grapes that fill a winepress. This is the vivid imagery associated with the divine judgment of the human race.

(14:20) “And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood came out from the wine press, up to the horses’ bridles, for a distance of two hundred miles.”

Is this describing 200 square miles of blood that is five-feet-deep? This is wildly implausible. Indeed, this is more blood than exists in every human on Planet Earth. The average human only has 10 pints of blood (1.25 gallons). To fill just one cubic foot would require ~7.5 gallons of liquid. To cover one square mile that is one foot deep would require a flood of 334.5 million gallons. To cover 200 square miles up to five feet? This would require 1.6 trillion gallons of blood!

Consequently, Hitchcock doesn’t take this as literal. For one, this is physically impossible. Moreover, since the winepress isn’t literal, we aren’t required to take this bloodbath as literal. Instead, the image of a winepress is that the grape juice sprays high into the air (4-5 feet?), and this could be the picture here. Regardless, this symbol describes a massive judgment at the end of history.

Alternate interpretation?

Regarding the 1,600 stadia (i.e. 200 miles), Mounce understands this to refer to the squaring of four, which could refer to the whole earth (Rev. 7:1; 20:8). He writes, “The judgment of God, portrayed ideally as taking place outside the holy city, extends to all people everywhere who find themselves beyond the pale of divine protection.”[264]

Questions for Reflection

Why does John include this chapter right after he describes the horrific rule of Satan and the Antichrist in chapters 12-13?

Read verse 1. John depicts Jesus as standing on Mount Zion (v.1), and he depicted Satan as standing on the “sand” (Rev. 13:1). Is there any significance to the contrast between the two?

Read verses 1-5 and 8. Compare the 144,000 with those who follow Babylon.

Revelation 15 (Interlude in heaven before the bowls)

John continues another interlude before the judgment of the bowls. This is similar to his patter of describing Heaven in Revelation 4-5 before revealing the seals in Revelation 6.

(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.”

After this judgment, God’s wrath will be complete and “finished.”

(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.”

Instead of a tumultuous sea, we have a “sea of glass.” Of course, John uses the language of simile (like a sea of glass”). In Revelation, the “sea” refers to fallen humanity in rebellion to God. A “sea of glass” reflects imagery of total peace with one another and with God.

In the Exodus, the people of God went through the Red Sea. Walls of water appeared on both sides as they passed to safety. Here, the people stand on top of the “sea of glass.”

(15:3-4) “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! 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.”

Why do the believers repeat the “Song of Moses” in this chapter? Originally, Moses’ song depicted God’s love for his people after the judgment of the evil Egyptians after crossing the Red Sea (Ex. 15:1-18; Deut. 32). This song was “sung on Sabbath evenings in the synagogue service” and its “imagery was stamped on the consciousness of every pious Jew.”[265] Similarly, this song repeats God’s love for his people and his judgment for their persecutors. They do not mention anything about their suffering or their works. The whole focus is on God’s love.

“Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God.” This is the same language used to describe God’s judgment (v.1).

“Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name?” This is precisely the question that has been driving the conflict in this book: The world is refusing turn to God—even though he is the only one worthy of worship.

God begins to pour out his wrath

(15:5) “After these things I looked, and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened.”

This is it. The final judgment in the Tribulation. God’s tabernacle in Heaven opens to pour out judgment on Earth. Originally, the Tabernacle contained the legal evidence against the people. Now, God opens this Tabernacle to execute judgment. Regarding this period of history, Jesus said, “Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (Mt. 24:22).

(15:6-7) “And the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the temple, clothed in linen, clean and bright, and girded around their chests with golden sashes. 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 creatures gives the bowl of judgment (i.e. God’s wrath) to the angels. Every person who receives Christ comes out from under God’s wrath.

(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.”

Hitchcock points to how sports teams or boxers come out of the locker room with smoke to show their power and to intimidate their opponents. Just imagine what this smoke from Heaven will look like! No one could come into God’s presence until he expended all of his wrath.

In this chapter, we find many allusions to the Exodus. This shows that the Exodus was a type (or prototype) of what we will find at the end of history: God will vanquish a New Tyrant (Satan), hold a New Passover (through Jesus), and rescue a New People (believers in Christ).

Similarities between the Exodus and Revelation 15

Exodus

Revelation 15

Passover Lamb

The Lamb of God (v.3)
Pharaoh

Antichrist (v.2)

10 plagues

7 plagues (v.1, 6, 8)
Red Sea

Crystal Sea (vv.2-3)

Song of Moses

Song of Moses and the Lamb (v.3)
Tabernacle

Tabernacle in Heaven (v.5)

Smoke of Mount Sinai

Smoke of Heaven (v.8)

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 3-4. What is the significance in the fact that believers will sing the same song that Moses wrote after being saved from Egypt at the Red Sea?

Revelation 16 (The Bowls of Wrath)

Revelation 16 describes the culmination and finality of God’s judgment on the human race during the Tribulation. Hitchcock refers to this as the darkest chapter in the history of humankind, and it’s hard to disagree. Indeed, John uses the term mega eleven times in this chapter to capture the enormity and severity of this climatic event.

The bowls of God’s wrath are strangely reminiscent of the plagues that occurred during the Exodus. This synchronizes with this chapter happening immediately after the “Song of Moses” (Rev. 15). This occurs right at the end of the Tribulation and right before the Second Coming of Jesus. Morris[266] notes that the first four bowls relate to the natural order (vv.1-9), while the final three bowls relate to the political and military order (vv.10-21). Thus, this is a time of both intense ecological destruction, as well as political destruction.

(16:1) “Then I heard a loud voice from the temple, saying to the seven angels, ‘Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.’”

“I heard a loud voice from the temple.” This must be the voice of God himself. Earlier, we read, “No one was able to enter the temple” (Rev. 15:8). Of course, God would be an exception. This means that it is God himself who is ordering the judgment on Planet Earth.

It’s finally time for the seven angels to bring God’s ultimate judgment on the earth, and these judgments humiliate the Antichrist. After all, the Antichrist claimed to have “peace and safety” (1 Thess. 5:3?), but God shatters his “image management” by demonstrating who is the true Sovereign over creation.

Angel #1 brings sores (Ex. 9:10-11?)

(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.”

Earlier, those who refused the mark of the beast were unable to engage in commerce (Rev. 13:17). Surely, this led to unemployment and starvation. Now, the tables have turned. These sores only affect those who took the mark.

Angel #2 brings bloody waters on the seas (Ex. 7:17-21?)

(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.”

Earlier, God’s judgment brought death for only one third of marine life: “A third of the creatures which were in the sea and had life, died” (Rev. 8:9). This judgment, however, results in every living thing” dying in the sea. Therefore, since this truly kills all marine life, then this must occur at the end of the Tribulation—for life on Earth won’t last very long after this event.

Angel #3 brings blood into the rivers and springs (freshwater)

(16:4) “Then the third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of waters; and they became blood.”

All fresh water is putrefied. Again, this marks the end of the Tribulation because humans wouldn’t last long without potable water. This fits with Jesus’ statement, “Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (Mt. 24:22).

(16:5-7) “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; 6 for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.7 And I heard the altar saying, ‘Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.’”

The reason for turning the water into blood is because these people poured out the blood of believers (“they poured out the blood of saints”). Therefore, they “deserve” judgment.

“I heard the altar saying.” Why is the altar speaking? This is the only occurrence where the altar is said to speak. We reject the view that the altar is being personified in a symbolic way. Rather, this is the collective voice of the martyrs living within the altar who are agreeing with God’s judgment (Rev. 6:9-10). Earlier, we read that the martyrs huddled under the altar, asking God when he would bring judgment: “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; 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?” (Rev. 6:9-10) Here, that prayer is finally answered.

Angel #4 brings a magnified sun that scorches the earth

(16:8-9) “The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun, and it was given to it to scorch men with fire. 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.”

“Poured out his bowl upon the sun, and it was given to it to scorch men with fire.” The angel doesn’t strike the Planet Earth, but the Sun. Is this some sort of solar flare? We’re unsure, but the result is that humans were “scorched with fierce heat.” They didn’t die, however, because they still refuse to turn to God.

Angel #5 brought darkness

(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, 11 and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds.”

With surgical precision, God directed the darkness “on the throne of the beast.” This humiliated his authority and power, placing him under judgment. But, instead of repenting, the people blasphemed God all the more, and they refused to repent. Morris writes, “Even grievous pain did not awaken them to the realities of the situation.”[267] Mounce comments, “Like Pharaoh, they have hardened their hearts, and repentance is out of the question. They have gradually taken on the character of the false god they serve.”[268]

Angel #6 dries up the Euphrates River

(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.”

John mentioned how the four angels were bound to the Euphrates River, and they were released to destroy a third of humanity (Rev. 9:13-15). Now, we see a clearer picture: John sees military warfare combining with the release of this judgment. We don’t know the precise identity of the “kings from the east,” but according to the context, they need to be nations east of the Euphrates River. In order to possess an army of 200 million people, it must be an incredibly large nation (China? Russia?).

“The Euphrates… Its water was dried up.” In 2009, Time magazine reported, “Throughout the marshes, the reed gatherers, standing on land they once floated over, cry out to visitors in a passing boat. ‘Maaku mai!’ they shout, holding up their rusty sickles. ‘There is no water!’ The Euphrates is drying up. Strangled by the water policies of Iraq’s neighbors, Turkey and Syria; a two-year drought; and years of misuse by Iraq and its farmers, the river is significantly smaller than it was just a few years ago. Some officials worry that it could soon be half of what it is now. The shrinking of the Euphrates, a river so crucial to the birth of civilization that the Book of Revelation prophesied its drying up as a sign of the end times, has decimated farms along its banks, has left fishermen impoverished and has depleted riverside towns as farmers flee to the cities looking for work… Along the river, rice and wheat fields have turned to baked dirt. Canals have dwindled to shallow streams, and fishing boats sit on dry land. Pumps meant to feed water treatment plants dangle pointlessly over brown puddles.”[269] This would be somewhat suspicious if this wasn’t coming from a secular magazine like Time, especially since the author correlates this phenomenon with biblical prophecy.

Alternate interpretations

Mounce[270] alludes to an ancient context to refer to the Parthian rulers led by Nero (Sibylline Oracles, 4:115-39). This overlaps with a Preterist reading of the text.

The dragon, the beast, and the false prophet gather the nations for war

(16:13-14) “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, 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.”

Why are these spirits compared to “frogs”? We’re not sure why they are compared to “frogs.” Our best guess is that this harkens back to the plague of the frogs in the Exodus (Ex. 8:3). Mounce[271] thinks this could refer to their “uncleanness” or perhaps their irritating and “endless croaking.” Morris[272] thinks that this shows the pathetic nature of these demons. That is, frogs are slimy, ugly, and annoying, but they are certainly not at the top of the animal kingdom. Regardless, we know that they are identified as “demons.”

Whatever the case, the “satanic trinity”[273] of evil (i.e. the dragon, beast, and false prophet) are permitted to gather together all of the nations on earth for a final world war (“the kings of the whole world”).

(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.’)”

Interjected into this anarchy are the words of Jesus: “I am coming like a thief.” Jesus used this language of “coming like a thief” to refer to his Second Coming (Mt. 24:42-44; Lk. 12:39-40; Rev. 3:3), as did Paul (1 Thess. 5:2) and Peter (2 Pet. 3:10). Just when the rulers of the world expect it the least, the Creator of the world will return to bring judgment and peace.

(16:16) “And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon.”

This is where we get the idea of the “battle(s) of Armageddon.” Armageddon is not a generic concept of destruction. It is a literal place of battle. The valley of Megiddo is 20 miles long and 14 miles wide. If we render this as “Harmagedon,” this could refer to the “hill country near Megiddo or perhaps a reference to Megiddo and Mt. Carmel in the same breath.”[274] We’re not entirely sure of the specific location: “The cryptic nature of the reference has thus far defeated all attempts at a final answer.”[275] However, the general region of Megiddo is known—even if the particular place is debated.

Hitchcock thinks that these armies gather together to destroy Israel. Another possibility is that these armies come from the Beast, and they are fighting the “kings of the east” (v.12). This battle will spread blood over 200 miles (Rev. 14:20).

Angel #7 brings judgment upon the air or perhaps into the air.

(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.’

After this angel brings judgment, the wrath of God is complete (“It is done”).

(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 language about lightning and an earthquake is seen throughout the OT and the NT to refer to the coming of Christ. This will be the most cataclysmic earthquake that the world has ever known (“such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth”). Regarding the original audience in Asia Minor, Mounce comments, “This would have a vivid impact upon people living in a century that had experienced a great number of severe quakes.”[276]

(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 city is split into three parts, and God force feeds Babylon her cup of wrath. This correlates with Zechariah’s prophecy about this period of history: “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. 5 You will flee by the valley of My mountains… Then the LORD, my God, will come, and all the holy ones with Him! 6 In that day there will be no light; the luminaries will dwindle. 7 For it will be a unique day which is known to the LORD… 8 And in that day living waters will flow out of Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea and the other half toward the western sea” (Zech. 14:4-8).

(16:20) “And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.”

Are the islands and mountains blown away? Submerged? According to Zechariah 14:8, water will pour out onto the land, which implies submersion. Moreover, Zechariah writes, “All the land will be changed into a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem; but Jerusalem will rise and remain on its site” (Zech. 14:10).

(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.”

Right to the bitter end, these people will refuse to turn to God, choosing to blaspheme God rather than turn to him (“men blasphemed God”).

(Rev. 16:21) How could hailstones be this big?

(Rev. 16:21) Could the 100-pound hailstones actually be fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70?

Questions for Reflection

Read chapter 16. What similarities do you see between these final judgments and the 10 plagues that God gave to Pharaoh and the Egyptians? (Ex. 7-10) In your thinking, are these similarities meaningful?

Read chapter 16. From the text, what reasons do you see for God having the right to judge the Earth in such a severe way?

  • “They poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it” (v.6).
  • “They blasphemed the name of God… they did not repent so as to give Him glory” (v.9).
  • “They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains… they did not repent of their deeds” (v.11).
  • “Men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail” (v.21).

God’s judgment is strikingly scary throughout this chapter. But perhaps even scarier is the fact that humans refuse to repent and only persist in blaspheming God. Why do you think that humans refuse to repent during such a terrible time?

Revelation 17 (The Mystery of Babylon)

John mentioned Babylon earlier (Rev. 14:8; 16:19). In these two chapters, we see a full treatment of the rise and fall of Babylon. The same angel introduces both the “great harlot” (Rev. 17:1) as well as the “bride of Christ” (Rev. 21:9). Mounce writes, “The connection is not accidental. When the great prostitute with all her seductive allurements is exposed and destroyed, then the Bride of Christ will be seen in all her beauty and true worth.”[277]

The great harlot

(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.’”

“The great harlot.” The woman is later identified as identical to “Babylon the Great” (v.5). But what does John mean by “Babylon”? We are inclined to interpret the “harlot” and “Babylon” as symbols for the world-system (kosmos). Throughout chapters 17-18, the woman is obsessed with wealth and decadence (Rev. 17:4), which is consistent with the world-system (1 Jn. 2:15-17). Later, John writes, “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” (Rev. 18:3). For these reasons, we understand Babylon as the final world empire—the world-system at its bitter end (see our earlier article, “The World-System”).

“Sits on many waters.” In Revelation, the “sea” or “waters” are symbols for hostile humanity in opposition to God. Later we read that the “waters” are “peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues” (v.15). Babylon rules over all of these nations.

This great harlot stands in stark contrast to the bride (the Church) in chapters 21-22. She is a cheap substitute for God’s eternal people. Before the harlot’s description, the angel tells us about her downfall and inescapable “judgment.” Thus, we know from the start that she is doomed to die.

Alternate interpretations

Morris understands Babylon as symbolic OT imagery that describes a future and literal “world empire exercising dominion over many subject nations.”[278]

Mounce understands Babylon as “Rome.” Yet this doesn’t preclude a future fulfillment as well. He adds, “At the close of history the great prostitute stands as the final and intensified expression of worldly power.”[279] Later, he writes, “Babylon the Great… is more than first-century Rome. Every great center of power that has prostituted its wealth and influence restores to life the spirit of ancient Babylon.[280]

(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 rulers of the world were infatuated with the “harlot” (i.e. Babylon). This could refer to the world-system, idolatrous religion, or likely a synergy of both. Consequently, people on earth were sucked into their unspiritual vortex as well. After all, if the world rulers are following Satan, then the people will follow them.

(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.”

“He carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness.” When we’re immersed in the world-system, we cannot grasp its reality. This could explain why John is taken far away to see the reality of the woman for what she really is.

“Woman sitting on a scarlet beast.” In chapter 12, the “woman” in the “wilderness” was Israel. Here, the woman is the harlot.

“Scarlet beast.” This refers to the Antichrist or the “beast” mentioned in Revelation 13. Both have the same name, and both possess “seven heads and ten horns.” However, the “beast” rules over the reunited Roman Empire. So, both the man and the empire are likely in view—especially as we see this chapter unfold.

Alternate interpretation

Mounce alludes to a Preterist reading of the text: “The reference is to the blasphemous claims to deity made by Roman emperors, who employed such titles as theios (divine), sōtēr (savior), and kyrios (lord).”[281]

(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.”

The decadence of the harlot once again points toward materialism and the world-system. This is in contrast to the Bride of Christ who wears “fine linen, bright and clean” (Rev. 19:8).

(17:5) “And on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.”

(Rev. 17:5) What is the mystery of Babylon? The NIV and KJV render the term “mystery” (mystērion) as an adjective describing Babylon (“Mystery Babylon…”). This is a poor translation. The word “mystery” (mystērion) is a noun. Thus, the NLT renders this far better: “A mysterious name was written on her forehead: ‘Babylon the Great.’”

(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.”

Whoever the woman is, she is diametrically opposed to believers in Jesus. She persecutes them with vivid and horrific imagery (“drunk with the blood of the saints”). Though, if you’re confused by the identity of this woman, you’re in good company: So was John (“When I saw her, I wondered greatly”).

Interpretation of the vision

(17:7-8) “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. 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.”

John uses all three tenses to describe the beast (“was… is not… is about to come”). Hitchcock thinks this refers to the death and resurrection of the Antichrist—the “beast” mentioned in Revelation 13. However, we hold that this refers to future Roman Empire. After all, the “beast” rules over the reunited Roman Empire, and therefore, he represents the Empire. Morris writes, “There is but one mystery for these two. They belong intimately together and to know the one is to know the other.”[282] Moreover, he writes, “It is not easy to understand all that we are told, in part at any rate because the symbolism seems to have more than one meaning. Sometimes the beast is the ruler, sometimes he is the kingdom (cf. v. 9).”[283]

(17:9-10) “Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, 10 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.”

(Rev. 17:9) Are the “seven hills” an allusion to ancient Rome? Some commentators argue vehemently that John’s mention of the “seven hills” (Rev. 17:9 NIV) is a clear allusion to Rome. However, in verse 10, we read that the mountains are “seven kings.” If the author interprets the symbolism for us, we shouldn’t give a contrary interpretation of the authorial symbolism. Moreover, the word for “hills” (oros) should actually be rendered “mountains” (see NASB, ESV). This, of course, spoils the view that this refers to Rome. Finally, if this symbol refers to Rome, why would it require special wisdom? Commentators shoot themselves in the foot when they claim that it would’ve been obvious to anyone that this refers to Rome, but then, it requires special wisdom to understand this. In our view, these “mountains” refer to world empires (Ps. 30:7; Zech. 4:7; Jer. 51:25; Dan. 2:35).

(Rev. 17:10) Who are the seven kings? Roman Emperors or World Empires? At the time John wrote this, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Media-Persia, and Greece were in the past (“five have fallen”). Rome was currently in power (“one is”). And the kingdom of the Antichrist will occur in the still future (“the other has not yet come”).

(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.”

The beast (i.e. the Antichrist) leads an eighth kingdom, dominating the reunited Roman Empire. Yet, at this point, he hasn’t arisen yet (“The beast… is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction,” v.8).

(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 kings” haven’t come to power yet (Dan. 7:24). They will rule contemporaneously with the “beast,” not sequentially like the seven kings (or seven kingdoms). They will come to power for only a brief time (“one hour”). Morris writes, “To us they may appear great, but to God they reign but for one unimportant hour.”[284]

(17:13) “These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast.

The “ten kings” sign over their political resources to empower the “beast.” This could refer to a treaty of some kind or a political conglomerate. Perhaps, they support the “beast” through material or military means.

(17:14) “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.”

The “ten kings” and the “beast” will try to overcome Jesus. Bad move! They will fail miserably.

(17:15) “And he said to me, ‘The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues.’”

See verse 1.

(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 ten kings and the beast turn on the harlot. What does this mean? How can they turn on the world-system? Surely there is symbolism in this language because the harlot herself became “drunk on the blood of the saints” (Rev. 17:6). The fact that they grow to “hate” the world-system implies that they were let down by it. Formerly, they took comfort from their wealth and power. But when they face King Jesus, none of this mattered anymore. The language of “eating her flesh” might refer to a massive consumption of the world-system’s resources, and “burning her up with fire” seems to refer to the destruction of the world-system.

It seems odd that the evil kings would turn on the evil harlot. Aren’t both on the same side, living in rebellion to God? Yet, Morris offers wise insight on this matter: “It is easy to think of the forces of evil as one united phalanx. But there is no cohesion in evil; it is always self-destructive. Wicked men are not just one happy band of brothers. Being wicked, they act in jealousy and hatred. At the climax their mutual hatreds will result in mutual destruction.”[285]

Hitchcock understands this to refer to the destruction of the literal city of Babylon. To be clear, the Beast will destroy the religious-system of Babylon, while God destroys the commercial-system of Babylon (Rev. 18). People will rejoice over the destruction of the religious-system (Rev. 17), but they will mourn over the commercial-system (Rev. 18).

(17:17-18) “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. 18 The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.”

“God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose.” God doesn’t override their free will. Instead, both God and humans have a “common purpose.” The net result of their decision is to give power to the beast.

“Until the words of God will be fulfilled.” While the world is ending, it will feel to many like God has lost control. Not true! All of this has been predicted for us in advance. We might not understand all of the details perfectly, but the main message is clear. This chapter shows the fate of humanity in rebellion from God. Why would we buy into the world-system if we know its horrible fate? The entire world-system is going to go up in smoke, and there is no good reason to invest in it.

Questions for Reflection

Who is the harlot? What does the harlot think about herself? (read Rev. 18:7-8)

What is Babylon the Great?

Who is the beast?

What is the relationship between the harlot and the beast?

Some interpreters think that Babylon is a literal city. What evidence do they have in their favor? If Babylon is a literal city, could this harmonize with the idea that Babylon refers to the world-system?

Some interpreters think that Babylon is symbolic for Jerusalem, which is at the center of the Antichrist’s political activity. As you read through Revelation, what evidence supports this theory? (HINT: Look for every reference to a “city” or the “great city” in Revelation.)

Revelation 18 (The Fall of the World System)

Morris states that John uses the language of OT prophets for the destruction of ancient cities like Tyre, Ninevah, or ancient Babylon (Ezek. 26-28; Isa. 13-14, 21; Jer. 50-51). However, John is “thinking not of the fall of one city or empire but of the collapse of civilization.”[286] This fits with our thesis that John is describing the world-system, not a literal city.

(18:1) “After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illumined with his glory.”

This is chronologically after Revelation 17 (After these things…”). This other angel fills the planet with his own glory. This is odd because we typically think of God’s glory filling the Earth.

(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.’”

Babylon becomes a locus of demonic activity. Because Satan runs the world-system (2 Cor. 4:4; 1 Jn. 5:19), it only makes sense that his kingdom would be teeming with “demons” and “unclean spirits” in the end.

Why does he mention “unclean and hateful birds”? Birds were considered unclean animals in the OT dietary laws, and they are mentioned in the next chapter as feeding on the corpses of the dead (Rev. 19:17, 21).

Why is Babylon described as being already “fallen” if this refers to the future? This is another case of prolepsis (see comments on Revelation 14). Morris writes, “The city’s doom is still future but it is so certain that it can be spoken of as already accomplished.”[287]

(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.”

The key sin in Babylon was decadence (Rev. 17:4). Again, this seems to be describing the allure of the world-system—a topic John writes so much about (cf. 1 Jn. 2:15-17).

(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.’”

God doesn’t call them to renovate Babylon, but to vacate Babylon.

(18:5) “For her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.”

The people were going along thinking God didn’t care about their materialism and idolatry. But in reality, he was taking note of everything and waiting to judge them (“remembered her iniquities”). God didn’t refrain from judgment because he was weak, but because he was patient. Peter writes, “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 Pet. 3:9).

“Her sins have piled up as high as heaven.” The original Babylon was ancient Babel. The people of Babel boasted, “Let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name” (Gen. 11:4). Of course, this project was doomed, and God dispersed the people by confusing their language. John seems to be alluding to this prideful and autonomous act of humanity by making a parody out of it. Instead of “reaching into heaven” (Gen. 11:4), the people’s “sins have piled up as high as heaven.”

(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.”

Paying back “double” seems like a case of literary amplification. This demonstrates the severity of the judgment, and a “punishment in full measure.”[288] We see similar examples in the OT that refer to forgiveness being given in “double” measure: “[Israel’s] sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins” (Isa. 40:2 NIV).

(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 will never see mourning.’”

The thinking of the world-system is utterly self-deceived. The woman thinks that she’s a “queen” when actually she is actually on the verge of judgment. She thought she would live “happily ever after,” but in reality, she will soon face “torment” and “mourning” (cf. Isa. 47:7-8). The key problem with Babylon was that she thought she could live a life of self-glorification and sensuality forever—never believing that judgment would come. Those caught up in the world-system never think it’s going to come to an end either—even though it’s as plain as day that this is where the world-system is heading (1 Jn. 2:17).

(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.”

God will come and bring judgment quickly. The world-system seems to be going along just fine, but it will all suddenly collapse in judgment. Those who invested in the world-system will see it all crumble to ashes and go up in smoke.

Kings

(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, 10 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.’”

Because the kings invested so heavily in Babylon, they will face abject trauma when the see God judge her. Imagine seeing your life’s work crumble in “one hour,” right before your very eyes. They moan about the devastation of the world-system like a bad breakup. Even as they see the world-system collapsing, they “weep and lament” over it. Yet, they don’t care for the harlot herself, but only “what they could get out of her.”[289] They don’t come near to comfort her in death, but “stand at a distance.”

Merchants

(18:11-13) “And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, because no one buys their cargoes any more— 12 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, 13 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.”

These are further descriptions that support the thought that Babylon is primarily based on the foundation of materialism, decadence, and sensuality.

“Slaves and human lives.” These merchants are weeping and depressed saying, “This is terrible for the economy! Nobody is buying our people anymore!” The human chattel is named right alongside the other property. This only shows the moral insanity of falling into the trap of the world-system.

(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.”

“Passed away.” Elsewhere, John writes, “The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever” (1 Jn. 2:17).

(18:15-19) “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, 16 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; 17 for in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste!’ And every shipmaster and every passenger and sailor, and as many as make their living by the sea, stood at a distance, 18 and were crying out as they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What city is like the great city?’ 19 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!’”

The merchants weep just like the kings of the earth (vv.9-10). While the kings weep over the loss of strength in the city (v.9), the merchants weep over the loss of wealth. The merchants keep repeating the same statements—almost as if they are in shock. But really, couldn’t they see this coming? The world-system couldn’t last forever. Why should they (or we) be shocked?

(18:20) “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her.”

While those obsessed with the world-system are weeping, God’s people are rejoicing. The reason for the judgment was because Babylon persecuted believers (cf. v.24). This is the answer to the question of the martyred believers earlier in the book: “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:10)

(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.’”

Babylon will be destroyed much like a millstone falling to the bottom of the sea. This implies total and complete destruction.

(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; 23 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.”

All of these things are not intrinsically bad (with the exception of being “deceived by your sorcery”). But because these people lived in decadence, God will wipe all of it away:

  • “the sound of harpists and musicians and flute-players and trumpeters”
  • “craftsman of any craft”
  • “the sound of a mill”
  • “the light of a lamp
  • “the bridegroom and bride”

The reason God will remove all of these things is because of the polluting and deceiving influence of materialism and opulence in Babylon (“all the nations were deceived by your sorcery”). People don’t think of the world-system as devil worship, but this is the imagery being ascribed to it.

(18:24) “And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth.”

This flashes back to an earlier pronouncement against Babylon: “I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints” (Rev. 17:6). The world-system was not kind or even neutral to Christians; it took their lives. This is another clear reason for God’s judgment.

Questions for Reflection

As Babylon is crumbling, what is the reaction of the kings (vv.9-10)?

What is the reaction of the merchants (vv.11-17)?

What does their reaction tell us about them?

Revelation 19 (The Second Coming)

(19:1-5) “After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; 2 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.” 3 And a second time they said, “Hallelujah! Her smoke rises up forever and ever.4 And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” 5 And a voice came from the throne, saying, “Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great.”

Chronologically, the Second Coming occurs after the great and terrible fall of Babylon in Revelation 18 (After these things…”). Those in Heaven aren’t singing; they are “saying” (or more likely screaming) these words. The believers praise God for judging the “harlot,” and because he “avenged” his people (citing Ps. 19:9; Deut. 32:43).

We often think of God’s judgment with confusion, cynicism, and not a small amount of suspicion. But read the text. Believers will be praising God for intervening into the world. They use the term “Hallelujah” three times in these first five verses. This is a Hebrew phrase that comes from the two words “praise” (hallel) and “God” (Jah). How can people praise God for his judgment? Consider those liberated from Auschwitz and Dachau at the end of World War II. Surely those tortured and emaciated concentration camp survivors weren’t commiserating with one another over the fate of the Nazi guards when the Allies arrived. Instead, they cheered with tears of joy. This gives us a window into the emotions that believers will feel when Jesus returns.

Again, we see the “twenty-four elders and the four living creatures” continuing to worship God (see comments on Revelation 4).

The Marriage of Jesus and the Church

Judgment is followed by celebration—just as the battle of “D-Day” was followed by “VE-Day.” To follow this analogy, if D-Day is analogous to the Cross, then VE-Day might be analogous to the Second Coming. At the same time, while Jesus will come as a victorious military leader (Rev. 19:11ff), Scripture depicts this initial event using the imagery of a Groom (Jesus) meeting his Bride (the Church).

(19:6-7) Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder. 7 ‘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.’”

“Rejoice and be glad.” These words appear in only one other place in the Bible. Jesus said, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt. 5:12).

“The marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” Scripture frequently refers to the Second Coming of Jesus as being similar to a wedding (2 Cor. 11:2; Mt. 22:2ff; Eph. 5:32). Currently, we are in the “betrothal period” or the engagement period before our marriage (2 Cor. 11:2), but at the Second Coming, we will see and experience Christ face to face.

(19:8) “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.”

They aren’t clothed in God’s righteousness, but in their own (“righteous acts of the saints”). Since they are already justified, this could refer to their rewards in Heaven. This clothing is in direct contrast to the opulent clothing of the harlot (Rev. 17:4).

(19:9) “Then he said to me, ‘Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are true words of God.’”

We are “blessed” (makarios, “happy, fortunate, privileged,” BDAG, p.610) if we get an invite to this party. But it is “invite only.” We cannot just waltz into the party like we own the place. We would be a “wedding crasher,” who would be immediately thrown out (Mt. 22:11-13). But elsewhere we read that everyone has been invited to this party (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9; Mt. 23:37), but people gave pitiful excuses for choosing to ignore the great celebration (Lk. 14:16-24).

How can believers be both the Bride and the guests at the wedding? We might be trying to overinterpret these metaphors at this point. This is similar to the fact that Jesus is described as both a Lion (Rev. 5:5) and a Lamb (Rev. 5:6) in back-to-back verses. We shouldn’t mutate these symbols into some sort of monstrous lion-lamb or lamb-lion! Both symbols should be read for what each communicate. Mounce comments, “This sort of freedom is a normal characteristic of apocalyptic writing.”[290]

(19:10) “Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’”

Throughout the book, the creation is worshipping Jesus or the Father. Here the angel says, “Don’t worship me… Worship God!” This signals to the reader that Jesus is God. This passage is similar to how Peter told Cornelius not to worship him because he was “just a man” (Acts 10:26). These are good passages for the deity of Christ.

“The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” There are two views on this: (1) This could refer to the testimony that Jesus gave us in this book, or (2) this could refer to the testimony about Jesus in OT prophecy. Morris[291] is agnostic and thinks that the ambiguity could be intentional because both are in view.

When does the bema seat occur? Hitchcock holds that the bema seat has already occurred, because the people already have their rewards (v.8). Revelation 19 mentions no rapture where Jesus catches the saints into the air (1 Thess. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:52-53). Instead, believers are already in Heaven before Jesus returns. This is an argument from silence, so we should be cautious. However, this would fit nicely with a pre-tribulation rescue of the Church.

The King Returns!

(19:11) “And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war.”

Mounce sees a progression in the way that Heaven is revealed to Earth. At first, “A door [stood] open in heaven” (Rev. 4:1). Later, “The temple of God which is in heaven was opened” (Rev. 11:19; cf. 15:5). “Now,” Mounce states, “the heavens themselves stand open.”[292]

Jesus is a just judge (“in righteousness He judges”). He will bring every wrong deed to light and judge it flawlessly. This is why Paul can write, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). Elsewhere, Paul writes, “The Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, 8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thess. 1:7-8).

(19:12) “His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself.”

This imagery of Jesus is unmistakably terrifying. It is nothing like the meek and gentle Jesus who allowed himself to be killed. In this day, Jesus won’t take the judgment of the world upon himself, but will deliver judgment on the world.

His eyes are a flame of fire.” Mounce writes, “Nothing can be hidden from the penetrating gaze of the Messiah.”[293]

“On His head are many diadems.” The “diadems” are also translated “crowns” (NIV, NLT, NET, HCSB). This speaks of Jesus’ “unlimited sovereignty”[294] as King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.

Is the name that no one knows merely “the Word of God” (v.13)? This fits the context of verse 13, but it doesn’t fit the language of verse 12 (“no one knows except Himself”). We agree with Morris who writes, “Those who practiced magic believed that to know the name gave power over him whose name it was. John may well be saying that no-one has power over Christ. He is supreme. His name is known only to himself.”[295] Mounce adds to this view when he writes, “The most common interpretation is that it is a secret name whose meaning is veiled from all created beings. It expresses the mystery of his person. There will always remain a mystery about Christ that finite minds will never fully grasp.”[296] Indeed, magic and occult practice fill the book of Revelation. So, this could very well be what John has in mind.

(19:13) “He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.”

Morris[297] holds that the blood on his robe is the blood from the Cross. We disagree. As Mounce[298] argues, the robe isn’t dipped in Jesus’ own blood, but in the blood of his enemies. This is a picture of judgment—not atonement. Isaiah gives a similar description of God coming to save his people: “Who is this who comes from Edom…? It is I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.” 2 Why is Your apparel red, and Your garments like the one who treads in the wine press? 3 “I have trodden the wine trough alone, and from the peoples there was no man with Me. I also trod them in My anger and trampled them in My wrath; and their lifeblood is sprinkled on My garments, and I stained all My raiment. 4 For the day of vengeance was in My heart, and My year of redemption has come… 6 I trod down the peoples in My anger and made them drunk in My wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth” (Isa. 63:1-4, 6).

(19:14) “And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.”

This army will consist of resurrected Christians. Earlier, John wrote, “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” (Rev. 17:14). This parallel passage demonstrates that these are Christians joining Jesus (“called… chosen… faithful”). We have difficulty applying these descriptions to angels. Moreover, Paul writes that Jesus will return “with all his saints” (1 Thess. 3:13). This all means that you and I will follow Jesus into the world to inaugurate his Millennial reign.

This army will also consist of the angels. Jesus taught, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne” (Mt. 25:31; cf. Mk. 8:38). Likewise, Paul writes, “It is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, 8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thess. 1:6-8).

It’s hard to imagine what this scene will look like. Hundreds of millions (or billions?) of Christians with resurrected bodies will join Jesus to bring justice to the world. At this time, hundreds of millions of angels of all shapes and sizes will enter Planet Earth to end the Final World War. If this is hard to imagine, just wait. You will be there to see this firsthand, entering the Kingdom with the King himself.

(19:15) “From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.”

“From His mouth comes a sharp sword.” The “sharp sword” is most likely a reference to Jesus’ powerful word. Regarding the Messiah, Isaiah writes, “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” (Isa. 11:14; cf. Heb. 4:12). This must mean that the “sharp sword” is a symbol for Jesus’ immeasurably powerful word. Paul writes, “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). Mounce writes, “We are not to envision a literal sword but a death-dealing pronouncement that goes forth like a sharp blade from the lips of Christ.”[299]

“Rule them with a rod of iron.” This is messianic imagery that describes the rule and reign of King Messiah (Ps. 2; Rev. 12:5). The psalmist writes, “You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware” (Ps. 2:9).

(19:16) “And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, ‘KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.’”

This sounds like Jesus has a tattoo on his thigh that carries his name. Perhaps this is a crass reading of the text, but what else could it mean?

Judgment of the Beast and the False Prophet

(19:17-18) “Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds which fly in midheaven, ‘Come, assemble for the great supper of God, 18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great.’”

There is the “marriage supper of the Lamb” and the “great supper of God.” These couldn’t be any more different! We want to be invited to the marriage celebration, but we definitely don’t want to be at the “great supper of God.” After a universal judgment, corpses will fill the Earth, and birds will feast on the bodies after this epic battle (cf. Ezek. 39:17-20). Mounce writes, “To remain unburied for the pleasure of the predators was considered by the ancients to be an ignominious fate.”[300]

(19:19) “And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army.”

Christ’s enemies see a sign in the sky at the moment of the Second Coming (Mt. 24:30), and they gather together to fight Jesus. Even in the final hour, the people of Planet Earth still refuse to turn to God. This act of hatred is as evil as it is absurd. They might as well be an army of fruit flies swarming against a grown man. This is a “no contest” fight.

(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 worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone.”

The battle is over just as quickly as it begins. Morris writes, “John says nothing about the battle. He proceeds immediately from the drawing up of the armies to the seizing of the beast. He may mean that there was no battle. Though the forces of evil appear mighty they are completely helpless when confronted by the Christ.”[301] Mounce comments, “The Antichrist and the false prophet are its first inhabitants. Later the devil (20:10), Death and Hades (20:14), and all evil people (21:8) will join them in this place of ceaseless torment.”[302]

Jesus judges the leaders first. He grabs the beast and the false prophet, and tosses them like twigs into the lake of fire.

Alternate interpretations

Mounce writes, “The beast is the personification of secular power in its opposition to the church. The false prophet represents the role of false religion in persuading people to worship the antichristian power.”[303]

(19:21) “And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.”

Jesus quickly quells this global army. Afterwards, the birds (vv.17-18) feast on the bodies of the dead. This is visceral imagery to describe the horror of judgment.

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 6-9. What symbolism does John use to describe the Second Coming? Why do you think he chose this symbolism?

Read verses 10-19. The symbolism changes from a Husband to an unstoppable Conquering King. Why do you think John chose this symbolism to describe the Second Coming? How does this balance the earlier symbolism of the Bride and Groom?

Compare Jesus’ First Coming from his Second Coming. What differences do you see between the two?

Why does the Bible use the symbolism of a marriage to describe Christ’s relationship with the Church?

The NT mentions the Second Coming of Christ 300 times. How often do you think about the return of Jesus to Earth? If Jesus appeared tonight at 8:05pm, would you be ready to see him?

Revelation 20 (The Millennium)

For a systematic approach and a comparison of the millennial views, see our earlier article, “Millennial Views.” We give the strengths and weaknesses of premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism. As will be made clear below, we hold to a premillennial view.

(20:1) “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand.”

“An angel coming down from heaven.” The angel comes from Heaven to Earth. So, the setting for what takes place is on Earth.

“The abyss.” This was mentioned earlier as some sort of maximum-security prison for fallen angels (Rev. 9:11). This great angel is holding the keys to this prison.

(20:2) “And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.”

Previously, the archangel Michael battled Satan (Rev. 12:7), so it isn’t surprising that another angel incarcerates Satan at this point.

“Bound him for a thousand years.” This is what theologians refer to as the Millennium or the Millennial Kingdom. Some theologians (e.g. Amillennialists, Postmillennialists) think that this number seems symbolic, and it refers to the Church Age—not a future reign of Christ. For instance, Morris writes, “One thousand is the cube of ten, the number of completeness… John is surely saying here that Satan is bound for the complete time that God has determined.”[304]

Yet, this number recurs six times in this small section of Scripture, so we are hesitant to reject it as symbolic. Regardless, this text surely teachings that Jesus will rule and reign on Earth for a long period of time in the future, and this is neither the Church Age nor is it the New Heaven and Earth (Rev. 21-22). Instead, it is a period between these two ages of history, where the messianic promises to Israel are fulfilled.

(20:3) “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.”

“Bound him… into the abyss… shut it… sealed it.” How could this possibly describe Satan in the Church Age? How many different ways could John describe Satan being incarcerated—not merely limited in his power?

“He would not deceive the nations any longer.” Earlier, we read that Satan “deceives the whole world,” and he was “thrown down to the earth” (Rev. 12:9). Here, the angel travelled from Heaven to Earth (v.1), so Satan was already here and already deceiving the world. Moreover, Babylon (i.e. the world-system) is empowered by Satan, and “all the nations were deceived by [its] sorcery” (Rev. 18:23; cf. Rev. 13:14). Again, we need to ask, “How can this possibly be consistent with Satan being bound during the Church Age?”

(Rev. 20:2-3) Is Satan currently bound? No. This is one of the best reasons for thinking that this Millennial Reign is in the future. Amillennialists like Morris[305] hold that this only refers to Satan being bound from deceiving the nations, but a serious study of Satanology flies in the face of this explanation.

Satan is released at the end of the 1,000 years “for a short time.” This shows that whatever the 1,000 years means (whether literal or symbolic), it is describing a long time in comparison to a short time. Indeed, it is describing a limited amount of time, and certainly not the New Heavens and Earth.

(20:4-5) “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. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection.”

The martyrs for Jesus in the tribulation are raised so that they can reign with Jesus. The others who died weren’t raised during this time.

(Rev. 20:4-5) Does the “first resurrection” refer to spiritual regeneration or bodily resurrection? No. Amillennialists and Postmillennialists argue that the “first resurrection” refers to our justification—the moment we come to Christ. This is another key reason for rejecting these two systems of thought.

Why is there a millennial reign of Christ, rather than just entering into the New Heavens and Earth? This period of history will demonstrate God’s faithfulness to the nation of Israel, fulfilling countless promises to the nation from the OT.

(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.”

The martyrs faced the first death (i.e. physical death), but not the second death (i.e. spiritual death).

(20:7-8) “When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, 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.”

(Rev. 20:7-8) Do Gog and Magog rebel before the millennium or after? This is a key difficulty for Premillennialists. We hold that it’s possible that the battle with Gog and Magog could be a literary allusion to the earlier battle in Ezekiel 38. It’s also possible that there could be two battles with these nations, and these regions still exist in the Millennium as beachheads for a second and final battle with Jesus.

Why would God allow Satan to be released again? During the Millennium, Jesus will rule and reign. There will be no sociological or societal conditions to blame for human sin. Moreover, resurrected believers will live on the Earth without a sin nature. This will be as close to Paradise as we can imagine. When Satan is released and humans fall again, this will forever reveal that the problem with human sin is not with our surroundings, our society, or our circumstances. The problem is fundamentally from within the human self.

(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 nations come back to destroy the people of God in “the beloved city” (Jerusalem) a second time, but they are put down a second time. The lack of any serious or lengthy description of the battle demonstrates just how underwhelming this attempt will be.

(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.”

Satan joins “the beast and the false prophet” in the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20). This language describes eternal (“day and night forever and ever”) judgment (“tormented”).

(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.”

This is what theologians call the Great White Throne Judgment. The books are opened at the end of the Millennium, and Jesus judges those in the book of works. God the Father has “given all judgment to the Son” (Jn. 5:22), so Jesus will be the one on the throne (contra Mounce[306]). None of us should ever want to be at this judgment! Having Jesus judge us based on our works is a terrifying prospect.

“Earth and heaven fled away.” Jesus and his words remain—even when creation is being destroyed. Jesus himself promised, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away” (Mt. 24:35).

(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.”

We can be in either one of two books: The “book of life” or the “books” of works. The use of the singular for the book of life” is probably to show that only our names are recorded. On the other hand, the use of the plural “books” seems to demonstrate that our works will take up many, many books (“according to their deeds”).

(20:13-15) “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. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

This is another resurrection that precedes the Great White Throne Judgment. Only these people go out of the frying pan and into the fire. They go from Hades into Hell—a great and terrible fate!

“The sea gave up the dead.” This is oddly specific. Yet, throughout Revelation, we continually read about people dying in the sea. John is circling back to teach that God will universally and globally resurrect these people. In other words, if God will even pull bodies out of the depths of the sea, then this must mean that no one will be overlooked. John is “affirming strongly that all the dead, wherever they are, are included in the judgment.”[307] This refers to the “universal scope of judgment.”[308]

“This is the second death.” We cannot physically die twice, so this use of death cannot be literalistic. The ‘first death’ must refer to physical death, when people die and go to the present Hell—a holding tank called “Hades” (Lk. 16:19-31). The second death” refers to being separated from God forever in Hell: “the lake of fire.”

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 1-6. Which view best explains these verses: Premillennialism, Amillennialism, or Postmillennialism?

Read verses 7-10. What is your emotional reaction to Satan’s final battle?

Why would God allow Satan to be released after the Millennium?

Revelation 21 (Heaven and Hell)

For an exposition of these two chapters, see chapters 4-7 of Too Good to Be True? (2016).

(Rev. 21:1) “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.”

Heaven will be a renewed planet

“New heaven and a new earth.” This is a compound phrase describing a new physical universe. Regarding Genesis 1:1, OT scholar Bruce Waltke writes, “This merism represents the cosmos, meaning the organized universe in which humankind lives. In all its uses in the Old Testament…, this phrase functions as a compound referring to the organized universe.”[309] But what does John mean by a “new” universe? Will God create a new universe from nothing? Or will he heal the fractures of our current universe?

OPTION #1. God will completely destroy our current universe, and he will create a new universe from nothing. Hitchcock,[310] Thomas,[311] Beasley-Murray,[312] Walvoord,[313] and Newell[314] hold this view. From this perspective, the term “new” refers to a replacement and a “brand new” universe. Our planet and our universe will be replaced, rather than restored.

In favor of this view, Peter writes, “The elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (2 Pet. 3:10). This sounds like annihilation. But not so fast. For one, earlier Peter wrote that God “destroyed” the world with the Flood (2 Pet. 3:6). This didn’t refer to annihilation of the planet, but rather to judgment on the surface of the planet. Second, the expression “burned up” can also be rendered “laid bare” (NET) or “exposed” (ESV). Third, and finally, the NET note for 2 Peter 3:10 describes this as “one of the most difficult textual problems in the NT.” Therefore, we would be wise not to hang too much on this one passage of Scripture.

OPTION #2. God will judge our world with fire, but he will heal and rejuvenate our current planet. Osborne,[315] Morris,[316] Alcorn,[317] Kaiser,[318] and Tada[319] hold this view. From this perspective, God will restore our world—not replace it. In other words, a better translation for “a new earth” might actually be “a renewed earth.” We hold this view for a couple of reasons:

First, John uses the word “new” (kainos) which refers to “new in nature, different from the usual, impressive, better than the old, superior in value or attraction.”[320] The term “signifies ‘fresh’ as against ‘recent’. It is concerned with quality rather than date.”[321] It refers to “qualitative newness,” rather than “temporal newness.”[322] If John meant to say that the “new earth” was a replacement of the old earth, he would’ve used a different Greek word for “new” (neos), which means “what was not there before… new in time or origin.”[323] But John didn’t use this word. Paul uses this same term “new” (kainos) to refer to how Christians become a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). Believers will be renewed and upgraded in their resurrected bodies, but they will still retain the same identity. Likewise, the entire material universe will be renewed as well.

Second, God promised to liberate his creation—not to annihilate it. Paul writes, “The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay” (Rom. 8:21). Indeed, God promised to keep his creation “forever and ever” (Ps. 148:6).

Third, Jesus spoke of the “regeneration” (paliggenesia) of the Earth (Mt. 19:28), and Paul uses this same term to explain how Christians have experienced “regeneration” at conversion (Titus 3:5). Again, this doesn’t mean that Christians cease being the same physical person that they were before. They retain the same nature and essence, even if their identity has been fundamentally changed. Ancient Greek philosophers used this term “regeneration” (paliggensia) to refer to the rejuvenation of the Earth. But as Colin Brown notes, “The cosmos did not attain to a new mode of being or quality through the rebirth; the world that has passed away was there once again.”[324] This implies that God will destroy the surface of the Earth in judgment, but he will later restore our current planet.

Heaven will not contain human rebellion

“There is no longer any sea.” John cannot mean that bodies of water will no longer exist in eternity. Later, he vividly describes a river pouring through the city of Jerusalem (Rev. 22:1). Instead, the concept of “waters” or a “sea” refers to hostile humanity in rebellion against God. Specifically, “waters” refer to “peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues” (Rev. 17:15). This is why the Antichrist arises “out of the sea” (Rev. 13:1; cf. Dan. 7:3; Isa. 17:12; 57:20). Moreover, the concept of the “sea” could allude to the place of the dead (Rev. 20:13). In eternity, humans will never rebel against God ever again.

Heaven will be like a marriage

(Rev. 21:2) And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.

“I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” See comments on Revelation 21:10-14 below where we expand on this imagery.

“Made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.” God uses marriage as an illustration that describes Jesus’ love for us (see also v.9), and John calls believers the “bride” of Christ (Rev. 21:2, 9; 22:17; cf. Isa. 61:10). Paul tells husbands to love their wives “just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25; cf. 5:32), and he calls the intermittent period between his ascension and return as our engagement or “betrothal” to Christ (2 Cor. 11:2).

Heaven will be like a cosmic temple

(Rev. 21:3) “And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them.’”

“The tabernacle of God is among men.” Later, John writes, “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev. 21:22). This is the realization of an unfulfilled longing found throughout the OT (Lev. 26:11-12; Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 37:27; Zech. 8:8). The Jewish people could only come to God through the Tabernacle and the Temple. In Heaven, we will permanently live in a Cosmic Temple—in the very presence of God. In his biography of Jesus’ life, John wrote, “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” (Jn. 1:14). Instead of Jesus dwelling among us, we will dwell within God forever.

Heaven will heal our grief, pain, suffering, and death

(Rev. 21:4) “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

“There will no longer be any death.” Death has haunted the human species for eons. Humans have created entire philosophies and psychologies to simply cope with the fear of death. Indeed, the secular philosopher Luc Ferry writes, “The quest for a salvation without God is at the heart of every great philosophical system, and that is its essential and ultimate objective.”[325] Wow, what a claim! Yet, he could very well be right. The author of Hebrews writes, “[Jesus] freed those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Heb. 2:15 NIV). In his book Immortal (2020), Clay Jones cites various secular thinkers on the subject:

  • Sheldon Solomon (professor of Psychology at Skidmore College): “Humans would be riddled with abject terror if they were constantly plagued by the ongoing awareness of their vulnerability and mortality—twitching blobs of biological protoplasm completely perfused with anxiety and unable to effectively respond to the demands of their immediate surroundings… Cultural worldviews evolved… to manage the terror engendered by the uniquely human awareness of death (hence our term terror management).”[326]
  • Luc Ferry (French secular philosopher): “[A human] knows that he will die, and that his near ones, those he loves, will also die. Consequently he cannot prevent himself from thinking about this state of affairs, which is disturbing and absurd, almost unimaginable.”[327]
  • Zygmunt Bauman (sociologist and philosopher): “There is hardly a thought more offensive than that of death; or, rather, the inevitability of dying; of the transience of our being in the world… The horror of death is the horror of the void” and is “bound to remain, traumatic.”[328]
  • Edwin Shneidman (thanatologist): “To cease as though one had never been, to exit life with no hope of living on in the memory of another, to be expunged from history’s record—that is a fate literally far worse than death.[329]
  • Stephen Cave (philosopher): “No matter how great our glory, it could only ever be a postponement of oblivion.”[330]
  • Irvin D. Yalom (Epicurean psychiatrist): “Despite the staunchest, most venerable defenses, we can never completely subdue death anxiety: it is always there, lurking in some hidden ravine of the mind.”[331]

All of this “abject terror,” “terror management,” and the “horror of death” are going away. Forever. The “absurd,” “unimaginable,” and “traumatic” fear of death are all going away. Forever. In this great day, death will be in the rearview mirror for the rest of eternity (Isa. 25:8; 1 Cor. 15:54). Yet, this doesn’t expunge our grief or our tears…

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” These tears “are produced by death or mourning for the dead, by crying or pain. An enemy has done this to the old order. Now God has defeated the enemy and liberated his people and his creation.”[332] Even though God will have created the New Heaven and Earth, he will still minister to our grief and pain. Truly, this shows that God’s “concern is infinite.”[333] He will personally stoop down and “wipe away every tear” from our eyes. After this, pain and suffering will cease. For two millennia, Christians have prayed that God’s will would be done on Earth, just as it is in Heaven (Mt. 6:10). In this day, that prayer will finally be answered.

(Rev. 21:5-6) And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” 6 Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.”

“All things new.” Once again, Jesus uses the word “new” (kainos) which can be understood as “renewed.” Everything in our broken, fractured world will be renewed and restored.

“These words are faithful and true.” This description of Heaven seems too good to be true. Can it really all be true? Is this really waiting for us in the future? Yes! God tells us to trust his words rather than our own cynicism. Heaven is a future reality, and we have this confirmation based on the reliability of God himself. We can “set our minds” on this reality with confidence (Col. 3:1-3).

“It is done.” This is literally rendered, “They are done.” It refers to “all the events that had to take place.”[334]

“Without cost.” Jesus told the woman at the well, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water… Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn. 4:10, 14 NIV; cf. 7:37-38). In Heaven, these promises will find their ultimate fulfillment. We will drink this living water, free of charge. Heaven is a free gift for those who choose to accept it.

Heaven is like a father and son relationship

(Rev. 21:7) “He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.”

“He who overcomes will inherit these things.” This harkens back to the “overcomers” in the Seven Churches of Revelation 2-3. We are all overcomers if we have faith in Jesus. Elsewhere, John writes, “This is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 Jn. 5:4-5).

“I will be his God and he will be My son.” See our earlier article, “From Slaves to Sons,” for insight on this concept.

Heaven will be free from sin

(Rev. 21:8) “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

Later, John adds to this description,

(Rev. 21:27) “Nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”

(Rev. 22:11) “Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy.”

(Rev. 22:15) “Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.”

Many preachers have used these passages to teach that Heaven is only for righteous people. They argue that if you have committed any of these sins, then you will be cast into the lake of fire. We find this to be quite mistaken for several reasons.

First, if we use these passages to threaten someone’s salvation, then we should use them consistently. Which one of us has never lied? Never been cowardly? Never been unbelieving? If we take this passage literally, then only one person will be in Heaven: Jesus!

Second, many biblical figures committed the sin of murder: Paul, Moses, and David. Yet, these three men each found forgiveness. Thus, a hyper-literal view would result in clear contradictions with the widespread, repeated, and emphasized biblical teaching of God’s grace.

Third, John doesn’t write these things to threaten us, but to comfort us. John uses the present tense to describe the actions of these sinful people. What does this mean? In our view, John is communicating that God will exclude all those who are continuing to practice sin—not those who practiced it on Earth. It may sound simple, but John is communicating a foundational reality: God will not allow people to sin in Heaven. After 20 chapters of sin, suffering, and death, this statement carries considerable weight. We will no longer have a sin nature in Heaven, and we will not encounter others with a sin nature. We will relate to one another without any selfishness, pride, insecurity, or ego. Peter writes, “According to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13).

(Rev. 21:9) Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”

See comments on verse 2 for the explanation of this symbolism. One of the “seven angels” delivers this message, and this is a direct attack against the earlier reference to Babylon: “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’” (Rev. 17:1).

Heaven will be a city

(Rev. 21:10-14) “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. 12 It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. 13 There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”

In Greek, these verses (vv.10-14) all constitute one, long run-on sentence.[335] Perhaps this is due to the fact that this describes such beautiful and breathtaking imagery. Once John starts writing about what he sees, he can’t stop.

“A great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city.” When John saw Babylon, he was in the “wilderness” (Rev. 17:3). Now, he sees God’s city, and he views it from a “great and high mountain.”

“Coming down out of heaven from God.” Ancient people built Babel to rise up to heaven (Gen. 11). God created Jerusalem to come down to Earth.

John uses the imagery of “jasper” stones to describe God himself (Rev. 4:3). Perhaps this is an allusion to the fact that God is reflecting his glory through this great city.

“It has a great and high wall.” This would carry meaning to an ancient person because city walls were images of protection and safety (Isa. 26:1; Zech. 2:5).

“Twelve gates… twelve angels… three gates.” John later writes that these gates were enormous “pearls” (v.21). We’re speculating, but perhaps this shows just how costly the entrance into Heaven really is.

“The names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel… The twelve names of the twelve apostles.” This is a blending together of believers who lived in the old and new covenants. Both are brought together in Heaven (cf. Mt. 19:28; Lk. 22:30).

(Rev. 21:15) “The one who spoke with me had a gold measuring rod to measure the city, and its gates and its wall.”

Why does the angel measure the city? The act of measuring could signify “securing something for blessing”[336] or perhaps “security and protection”[337] in general.

(Rev. 21:16-17) “The city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width; and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. 17 And he measured its wall, seventy-two yards, according to human measurements, which are also angelic measurements.”

“The holy city, new Jerusalem.” Does this refer to a literal city? Is this merely symbolic for being in the presence of God? Or does this represent the Church?

OPTION #1. This is a literal city. Thomas,[338] Walvoord,[339] and Newell[340] hold to the literal view. For one, John calls it a “city” fifteen times (Rev. 21-22). Second, he doesn’t say the New Jerusalem is like a city or as a city; he says it is a city. This is in contrast to the description of the city being made ready as a bride.” Third, John gives specific architectural measurements (Rev. 21:15-17) which implies a material city. He even tells us that the measurements correspond to those used by humans (Rev. 21:17). Moreover, he elaborates on the details about the foundation stones (Rev. 21:12-14), gates (Rev. 22:14), and building materials (Rev. 21:18-21). If the city is symbolic, why all of the detail?[341]

If the New Jerusalem is literal, the measurements of a 1,500-mile cube imply a ground floor of 1,960,000 square miles. Thus, if it had 24-foot ceilings on each floor, it would contain 300,000 stories. This means that 588 billion people could each have a full square mile of real estate. Thus, when Jesus told his disciples that in his Father’s house there were “many dwelling places,” this was a massive understatement! (Jn. 14:2) John is surely trying to demonstrate that Heaven contains “room for all.”[342]

One of the difficulties of this view is the size of the enormity of the pearls at the gates (Rev. 21:21). After all, how big would the oysters need to be to produce pearls of this size? Moreover, a city this size would alter Earth’s gravity and orbit according to modern physics. And finally, the measurements are such round numbers that this could signify symbolism.

OPTION #2. This is symbolism for being in God’s presence. Because the dimensions of the New Jerusalem are a perfect cube (Rev. 21:16), this could be a symbolic reference to the Holy of Holies in the center of the Tabernacle (1 Kings 6:19-20). Hence, the New Jerusalem serves as a symbol for being in God’s presence forever (Rev. 21:3), because believers will replace the Temple of God (Rev. 13:6). Mounce articulates this view the best: “This particular shape would immediately remind the Jewish reader of the inner sanctuary of the temple (a perfect cube, each dimension being twenty cubits; 1 Kgs 6:20), the place of divine presence. A city foursquare would be the place where God has taken up residence with his people.”[343] Beasley-Murray[344] holds this view as well.

We see no difficulty with this view, and indeed, it could be compatible with the literal view. After all, the Cross was a literal event, but it had a deeper meaning than just the torture and death of Jesus. Indeed, the atonement carries multiple meanings and implications. Could something be similar with regard to the city? In our view, the city could be literal, and it could also carry symbolism for being in God’s presence forever. This could be a case of “both-and” not “either-or.”

OPTION #3. The city is symbolic for the Church. Mounce,[345] Morris,[346] and Johnson[347] hold to this view. Of course, they agree that an allusion to the Most Holy Place is in view as well. So, these views are not mutually exclusive. Proponents of this view note that the city is “made ready as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2). Rather consistently throughout the NT, the “bride” refers to the Church. So, this would imply that this city is a symbol for the Church. However, there are several problems with this view:

First, John uses the language of simile, implying that this is non-literal (“made ready as a bride”). By contrast, John describes the city without obvious literary symbolism like this.

Second, at this point, the Church has already landed on Earth, coming down alongside King Jesus at his Second Coming. Earlier, we read, “The armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses” (Rev. 19:14). These “armies” consist of resurrected Christians. Earlier, John wrote, “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” (Rev. 17:14). This parallel passage demonstrates that these are Christians joining Jesus (“called… chosen… faithful”). We have difficulty applying these descriptions to angels. Moreover, Paul writes that Jesus will return “with all his saints” (1 Thess. 3:13). However, if the Church has already returned, this conflicts with the thought that the Church is later “coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev. 21:2).

Third, this view continues to run into the difficulty of why the city is described with such detailed measurements (vv.15-17).

If you pressed us on our view, we would say that these literal and symbolic images are not mutually exclusive. We agree with Osborne who accepts all three views. He writes, “Babylon was both a people and a place, and that is the better answer here… [The New Jerusalem] represents heaven as both the saints who inhabit it and their dwelling place.”[348]

Why does John describe Heaven as a city?

Regardless of where we land on these interpretive questions, Heaven will be filled with culture, social connections, and the eternal presence of God. Furthermore, Heaven will be safe. Later, John writes that the “gates will never be closed” (Rev. 21:25). Ancient cities “needed walls to protect them against the assaults of their enemies,”[349] and ancient people closed their gates at night to defend against any enemies “breaking through [their] walls” (Ps. 144:14). In Heaven, there will be no reason to lock the doors (Isa. 60:11-12).

(Rev. 21:18-21) “The material of the wall was jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19 The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation stone was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; 20 the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.”

Mounce[350] and Morris[351] hold that these various stones could refer to the stones worn by the High Priest when he entered the Holy of Holies (Ex. 28:17-20). This would imply that all believers have this same access to God in Heaven—not just a special elite.

“The street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.” Gold is one of the most precious commodities on Earth today. But in Heaven? We’ll be paving the roads with it! This shows just how eternal values contrast with temporal values. Moreover, this is a fulfillment of the fact that Solomon “overlaid the floor of the [Temple sanctuary] with gold, inner and outer sanctuaries” (1 Kin. 6:30). While the priests walked on gold in the Temple, believers will walk on gold everywhere in the giant city.

(Rev. 21:22) I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

See comments on verse 3.

(Rev. 21:23-26) “And the city 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. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; 26 and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it.”

Do the nations represent non-believers? Many critics hold this view, leading them to think that this is a redaction of some kind. Others assume the nations are non-believers, leading to bizarre conclusions like universalism. All of this is misguided from the beginning. These kings enter the city (“the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it”), but non-believers aren’t allowed into the city: “Nothing unclean… shall ever come into it” (Rev. 21:27; cf. 21:8; 22:15). Therefore, these “nations” and “kings” cannot be non-believers.

Why do the nations bring their gifts? Johnson writes, “Instead of the nations bringing their precious possessions to Babylon, the harlot city, the redeemed nations will bring these offerings to the throne of God.”[352]

“No need of the sun or of the moon.” (cf. Rev. 22:5) Thomas,[353] Graham,[354] and Tada[355] hold that we will literally not have a sun or moon in Heaven. Yet, John merely states that we will have “no need for them (cf. Isa. 60:19-20). Of course, John states that we will still be able to measure “months” (Rev. 22:2), so this implies an ability to see the sun and the moon. Jesus claimed to be “the light of the world” (Jn. 8:12), and in Heaven, he will shine brighter than the sun (cf. Mt. 17:2).

(Rev. 21:27) “Nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”

Universalists think that these open gates imply a “second chance” after death. Yet, this isn’t the meaning of the symbolism here. Some are explicitly barred from entering the city (1) because of their refusal to come to Christ and have their names written in the book of life and (2) because of their ongoing sin. A second chance isn’t being offered, but rather, an explanation is being given.

Questions for Reflection

Read verse 1. What are you looking forward to doing in the renewed Earth?

Read verse 2, 10-17. Why does the Bible compare Heaven to a city? What might this tell us about what Heaven will be like?

Read verses 2 and 9. Why does the Bible compare Heaven to a marriage? What might this tell us about what Heaven will be like?

Read verse 7. Why does the Bible compare Heaven to a family—specifically a father and son relationship? What might this tell us about what Heaven will be like?

Revelation 22 (Heaven and Hell)

We finally reach the end of the biblical story arc. We began in Paradise, but story the great and terrible moral Fall. Now, we see our fractured world restored. This is no doubt why John sees so many allusions to the opening chapters of Genesis: Paradise lost has now become Paradise regained. The majority of this final chapter of Scripture harkens back to Genesis 1-3, showing us that the “curse” will one day be lifted: “There will no longer be any curse” (Rev. 22:3).

(Rev. 22:1-3) “Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2 in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him.”

Everyone agrees that Jesus was the one to fix the Fall in the Garden. He did this by hanging from the “tree of death,” taking the curse for us (Gal. 3:13). Here, the “tree of life” could be a symbol for what Jesus did to give us access to eternal life—much like how Jesus described his finished work as “the bread of life” or “living water.”

The “tree of life is on “either side of the river.” This implies that it is enormous, and everyone has access to it (“the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations). Jesus purchased an abundance of healing for all of us.

“The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” How can the nations be “healed” if they are already in Heaven? In our estimation, this is symbolism for the fact that Jesus’ finished work has rescued people from “every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues” (Rev. 7:9). This healing is ongoing in the future only insofar as it is descriptive of the complete work of Christ on the Cross. A parallel example is helpful here. Later we read, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city” (Rev. 22:14). The expression “wash their robes” is a present tense participle, implying an ongoing action. However, this is based off of the earlier statement, “They have washed [aorist] their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14). Here, the verb “washed” is aorist, which speaks of an undefined action in the past that has ongoing consequences. In other words, believers have been forever cleansed by the blood of Christ at conversion, but this has ongoing effects throughout eternity.

“His bond-servants will serve Him.” In the Garden, humans delighted in work (Gen. 2:15). However, since the Fall, work has become a form of our curse (Gen. 3:17-19). In Heaven, this aspect of the “curse” will be lifted, and we will enjoy “serving” God and others.

(Rev. 22:4) “They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.”

This is in contrast to the prohibition for Moses to see the face of God. When Moses asked to see God, we read, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” (Ex. 33:20). This is because humans are sinful, and they would likely explode in the presence of God. Yet, because of Jesus’ finished work, we have been justified and adopted into the family of God. We will see him face-to-face.

“His name will be on their foreheads.” This means that we are “wholeheartedly attached to God,” because we “bear his name.”[356] This is similar to a child taking on the last name of the parent—being fully identified with the family.

(Rev. 22:5) “And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.”

See comments on Revelation 21:23 (cf. Zech. 14:7).

Epilogue

(Rev. 22:6-7) “And he said to me, ‘These words are faithful and true’; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must soon take place. 7 ‘And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.’”

“These words are faithful and true.” Jesus himself is “faithful and true” (Rev. 3:14; 19:11), so his words are also “faithful and true.” See further comments on Revelation 21:5.

“The things which must soon take place… I am coming quickly.” This is what theologians call an inclusio or a “bookend” that sums up the end of the book with the beginning of the book. It demonstrates that the entire book will be fulfilled “soon” or “quickly” (Rev. 1:1, 3). Obviously, the New Heaven and Earth have not come to pass already, so the term “soon” and “quickly” shouldn’t be taken in a literalistic way (see comments on Revelation 1:1).

“Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.” This is a further inclusio with the beginning of the book: “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” (Rev. 1:3).

(Rev. 22:8-9) “I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed me these things. 9 But he said to me, ‘Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship God.’”

This is a further inclusio with the beginning of the book (Rev. 1:4, 9). Yet, when John fell down at the feet of Jesus, he wasn’t rebuked for worshipping him. Instead, Jesus merely said, “Do not be afraid” (Rev. 1:17). Here, however, the angel has an allergic reaction to being worshipped! He tells John to “worship God.” This is yet another strong passage to support the deity of Christ.

(Rev. 22:10) “And he said to me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.’”

Daniel was told to seal up his prophecy (Dan. 8:26, 12:4, 9-10), but John is told to leave it unsealed. This is likely because Revelation revealed what was concealed in Daniel. Now that the predictions about the future are all revealed, we shouldn’t seal them up. They are open for everyone to read for themselves.

(Rev. 22:11) “Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy.”

John’s use of the present tense implies that people in Hell will persistently and continually sin in Hell. Some philosophers of religion hold that this explains why Hell is eternal.[357] After all, if people continue to sin, then this will only add to their judgment. This would be similar to a man being thrown in prison for manslaughter. While in prison, he stabs one of the other inmates, punches a guard in the nose, and makes an escape attempt. By continuing to commit crimes in prison, the man is continuing to add years to his sentence. In the same way, why would we think that anyone will stop sinning once God sends them to Hell? If people are angry and rebellious toward God now, what makes us think that they will love him later?

(Rev. 22:12-13) “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Jesus is coming, and he’s bringing “rewards” with him.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega.” This description was applied to God the Father (Rev. 1:8). Here Jesus applies this to himself. This is yet another support for the deity of Christ. Morris writes, “None other than God could share in these titles of God.”[358]

(Rev. 22:14-15) “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.”

The difference between those who enter Heaven and those who enter Hell is whether or not they “washed their robes” in the blood of Christ. The robes are symbols of being justified by Christ (Rev. 6:11; 7:9, 14).

(Rev. 22:16) “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

The “you” is plural. So, Jesus is addressing the readers throughout history—not just John.

A final invitation

(Rev. 22:17) “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.”

The “Spirit” and the Church both speak in unison, giving an invitation to people to come to faith.[359] What is stopping you from coming to Christ right now, and drinking the living water “without cost”? (cf. Jn. 6:35; 7:37-38)

(Rev. 22:18) “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.”

Surely John believed that this book was inspired Scripture (cf. Rev. 1:1; Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Prov. 30:6; Jer. 26:2). This was a “stereotyped and vehement form of claiming a canonicity equal to that of the O.T.”[360] Moreover, this passage doesn’t merely refer to copyists of the book, but to “everyone who hears the words of the prophecy.” Every listener is held accountable to the words written in this book.

(Rev. 22:20-21) “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. 21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.”

Questions for Reflection

What does Revelation 22 add to the description of Heaven that Revelation 21 doesn’t contain?

Read verses 18-19. Why does the book end with a warning not to add or subtract from Scripture?

Dispensational Pre-Millennial Reading

Thomas, Robert L. Revelation 1-7: An Exegetical Commentary. Chicago: Moody, 1992.

Thomas, Robert L. Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary. Chicago: Moody, 1995.

Thomas’ work is the most technical and scholarly Dispensational commentary in print today.

Benware, Paul N. Understanding End Times Prophecy: a Comprehensive Approach. Chicago: Moody, 2006.

Hitchcock, Mark. The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2012).

Hitchcock, Mark. “A Defense of the Domitianic Date of the Book of Revelation.” Dissertation for Dallas Theological Seminary. December 2005.

Hitchcock, Mark. “27 Lectures on Revelation.” This is a seminary-level course on Revelation from a Dispensational perspective.

Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology. Grand Rapids, MI: Academie, 1964.

Rochford, James. Endless Hope or Hopeless End. Columbus: New Paradigm Publishing, 2016.

Walvoord, John. The Revelation of Jesus Christ. JFW Publishing Trust. Chicago, IL. 1966.

Historical Premillennial Reading

Carson, D.A. He offers a seminary-level class on Revelation found here.

Johnson, Alan. Revelation: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981.

Ladd, George Eldon. A Commentary on the Revelation of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972.

Osborne, Grant. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2000.

Preterist Reading

While we reject this view, we should share the best books on the subject.

Gentry, Kenneth. Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation. Atlanta: American Vision, 1998.

Gentry, Kenneth. A Preterist View of Revelation. In S. N. Gundry & C. M. Pate (Eds.), Four Views on the Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 1998.

Gentry, Kenneth. “Postmillennialism.” Bock, Darrell (General Editor). Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond. Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan. 1999.

DeMar, Gary. Last Days Madness. Atlanta, GA: American Vision, 1999.

Chilton, David. The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation. Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion, 1987.

Amillennial Reading

While we reject this view, we should share the best books on the subject.

Beale, G.K. The Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 1999.

Hoekema, Anthony. The Bible and the Future. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979.

Riddlebarger, Kim. A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013.

Storms, C. Samuel. Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative. Fearn, Scotland: Mentor, 2013.

Venema, Cornelius. The Promise of the Future. Castleton, NY: Hamilton Printing Co., 2009.

Postmillennial Reading

While we really reject this view, we should share the best books on the subject.

Bahnsen, Greg L. Victory in Jesus: The Bright Hope of Postmillenialism. Texarkana, AR: Covenant Media, 1999.

Gentry, Kenneth. He Shall Have Dominion. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1992.

North, Gary. Theonomy: An Informed Response. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991.

Rushdoony, Rousas John. God’s Plan for Victory: The Meaning of Post Millennialism. Fairfax, VA: Thoburn Pr., 1977.

[1] Scott Berkun, Confessions of a Public Speaker (Cambridge: O’Reilly Media, 2009), 57.

[2] Most commentators agree. See Alan Johnson, 416; David Aune, 12; Osborne, 52.

[3] Mark Hitchcock, “Revelation,” Credo Courses (video lectures).

[4] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 55.

[5] Robert L. Thomas, “A Classical Dispensationalist View of Revelation,” in Four Views on the Book of Revelation, ed. Stanley N. Gundry and C. Marvin Pate, Zondervan Counterpoints Collection (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 181.

[6] John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Galaxie Software, 2008), 35–36.

[7] James 1:22-25 shares a similar idea. We need to be a “hearer” of the word and a “doer” of the word. If we do this, James writes, “This man will be blessed in what he does.”

[8] John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Galaxie Software, 2008), 36.

[9] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 53.

[10] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 53.

[11] John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Galaxie Software, 2008), 28.

[12] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 56.

[13] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 27.

[14] Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1992), 87.

[15] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 57.

[16] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 56.

[17] John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Galaxie Software, 2008), 43.

[18] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 116.

[19] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 59.

[20] Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion (Orland, FL: Harcourt, 1957), p.9.

[21] Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion (Orland, FL: Harcourt, 1957), pp.9-10.

[22] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie, 1964), 150.

[23] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 571.

[24] These travelled “from the Euphrates by way of Colossae, from Galatia through Sardis, and from the Maeander valley to the south and east.” Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 67.

[25] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 39.

[26] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 63.

[27] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 109.

[28] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 66.

[29] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 64.

[30] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 68.

[31] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 66.

[32] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 65.

[33] Church History, 3.29.1.

[34] Philip Schaff and David S. Schaff, History of the Christian Church (New York: C. Scribner’s, 1907), 2:464.

[35] Against Heresies, 1.26.3; 3.11.1.

[36] Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, 3.4. Philip Schaff considers this account of Nicolas offering to give his wife away to be “extremely improbable.” (see footnote)

[37] Hippolytus, The Refutation of All Heresy, 7.24.

[38] Against Heresies, 1.26.3; 3.11.1.

[39] Church History, 3.29.1.

[40] Ignatius writes, “Flee also the impure Nicolaitanes, falsely so called.” (To the Trallians, 11). The footnote states, “It seems to be here denied that Nicolas was the founder of this school of heretics.”

[41] See Hemer’s extended argument, as well as his interaction with Ephesians imagery of trees. He concludes, “Amid such ideas we may see the Ephesian Christian as finding a picture of refuge in the presence of the Christ who died on the tree, a ‘salvation’ which he might appropriate only there, and an adoption into the citizenship of the kingdom for the repentant sinner and outsider.” Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 36-52.

[42] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 46.

[43] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 73.

[44] John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Galaxie Software, 2008), 53.

[45] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 73.

[46] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 73.

[47] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 67.

[48] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 127.

[49] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 127.

[50] Paul reached a large amount of Asia Minor in the mid-50s AD due to his ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19:10, 26). However, Polycarp wrote a letter to the Philippians in AD 110, where he states that the Smyrnaeans weren’t believers when Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians in AD 60-61. He wrote, “[You Philippians] are praised in the beginning of his Epistle. For concerning you he boasts in all the Churches who then alone had known the Lord, for we had not yet known him” (Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians 11.3.). Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna. So, his use of the plural “we” refers to the church at Smyrna.

[51] Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 437.

[52] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 68.

[53] John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Galaxie Software, 2008), 61.

[54] Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 438.

[55] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 10.

[56] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 68.

[57] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 69.

[58] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 10.

[59] Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 438.

[60] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 68.

[61] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 78.

[62] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 89.

[63] John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Galaxie Software, 2008), 65.

[64] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 78.

[65] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 82.

[66] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 82.

[67] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 139.

[68] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 70.

[69] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 138.

[70] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 139.

[71] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 80.

[72] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 142.

[73] Martial, Epigrams 9.16; Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 4.34.

[74] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 82.

[75] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 87.

[76] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 72.

[77] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 68.

[78] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 73.

[79] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 138-139.

[80] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 139.

[81] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 151.

[82] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 106.

[83] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 107.

[84] William Ramsay, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia (Hodder, 1904), 324ff.

[85] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 151-152.

[86] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 85.

[87] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 116.

[88] Hemer is quick to note that there is no extant evidence of the statue of Apollos, but this is depicted in coins. Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 116.

[89] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 117.

[90] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 120.

[91] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 87.

[92] Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 445.

[93] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 77-78.

[94] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 78.

[95] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 171.

[96] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 171.

[97] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 134.

[98] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 92.

[99] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 92.

[100] Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 448.

[101] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 79.

[102] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 79.

[103] Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 450.

[104] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 97.

[105] Hemer is skeptical on this point—not being sure if Attalus or his brother was indeed the founder. The former inference comes from a late source (Stephanus of Byzantium) and from the similarity of Attalus’ name. This is sufficient for us to think that he was the founder. Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 153-154.

[106] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 80.

[107] Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 452.

[108] Ramsay writes, “Philadelphia lay at the upper extremity of a long valley, which opens back from the sea. After passing Philadelphia the road along this valley ascends to the Phrygian land and the great Central Plateau, the main mass of Asia Minor. This road was the one which led from the harbour of Smyrna to the north-eastern parts of Asia Minor and the East in general, the one rival to the great route connecting Ephesus with the East, and the greatest Asian trade-route of Mediaeval times… Philadelphia, therefore, was the keeper of the gateway to the plateau.” William Ramsay, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia (Hodder, 1904), 404-405.

[109] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 155, 162.

[110] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 100-101.

[111] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 81.

[112] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 166.

[113] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 104.

[114] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 107.

[115] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 83.

[116] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 85.

[117] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 182.

[118] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 182.

[119] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 84.

[120] Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 457.

[121] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 188.

[122] See Rudwick and Green, “The Laodicean Lukewarmness,” Expository Times 69 (1957-58), 176-78.

[123] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 194.

[124] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 111.

[125] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 196.

[126] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 196.

[127] Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in their Local Setting (England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 199.

[128] Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 459.

[129] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 86.

[130] I am indebted to my friend Gary Delashmutt for this insight.

[131] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 88.

[132] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 120-121.

[133] Morris comments that these were the first and last of the stones mentioned on the high priest’s breastplate (Ex. 28:17-21). Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 88.

[134] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 89.

[135] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 121.

[136] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 91.

[137] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 125.

[138] Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 463.

[139] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 92.

[140] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 93.

[141] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 96.

[142] Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 468.

[143] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 130.

[144] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 131.

[145] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 103.

[146] J. P. Love, I, II, III John, Jude, Revelation (SCM, 1960; Layman’s Bible Commentaries). Cited in Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 97-98.

[147] I am indebted to my friend Gary Delashmutt for this insight.

[148] D. Müller, L. Coenen, and H. Bietenhard, “Beginning, Origin, Rule, Ruler, Originator,” ed. Lothar Coenen, Erich Beyreuther, and Hans Bietenhard, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), 164.

[149] This comes from Reformed theologian R.C. Sproul. Though we are not Reformed, we agree with this key point of Reformed theology. Cited in Ron Rhodes, Why Do Bad Things Happen If God Is Good? (Eugene, Or.: Harvest House, 2004), 68.

[150] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 169.

[151] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 142.

[152] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 381.

[153] Osborne writes, “A ‘denarius’ was the average days’ wage for a laborer. A quart of wheat was enough food for one person for a day, and three quarts of barley were barely enough for a small family (there were few small families except among the wealthy in the ancient world). Therefore a man’s entire earnings were barely enough to feed himself, let alone his family, and all the other costs like home or incidentals could not be met. These were famine prices, about ten to twelve times the going rate according to ancient records (Mounce 1998: 144 cites Cicero, Verr. 3.81).” Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 280.

[154] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 144.

[155] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 107.

[156] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 108.

[157] I have altered and abridged the 21-point list given by Alcorn. Randy C. Alcorn, Heaven (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2004), 65-67.

[158] I am indebted to Randy Alcorn for this insight. Randy C. Alcorn, Heaven, 71.

[159] Erwin W. Lutzer, One Minute After You Die (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1997), 65.

[160] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 150.

[161] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 151.

[162] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 155.

[163] Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1992), 475.

[164] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 114.

[165] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 160.

[166] Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 487.

[167] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 118.

[168] Kiddle, p.144. Cited in Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 170.

[169] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 173-174.

[170] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 120.

[171] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 178.

[172] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 123.

[173] Walvoord writes, “To make the mountain a form of human government, the sea the Roman Empire, and the ships that are destroyed the church or organized religion, is to read into the passage far more than is justified.” John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Galaxie Software, 2008), 155.

[174] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 354.

[175] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 180.

[176] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 593.

[177] Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 492.

[178] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952), vol. 1, p. 636.

[179] Similarly, when Jesus was transfigured (Mk. 9, Lk. 9, Mt. 17), the spiritual realm burst into the physical realm on the mountain. Moses and Elijah appeared as well. This shows that the spiritual realm can have an impact on the natural world.

[180] Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 493.

[181] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 131.

[182] The Encyclopedia Britannica explains, “By the beginning of the Christian era, 8,000 years later, the human population approximated 300,000,000, and there was apparently little increase in the ensuing millennium up to the year ad 1000.” http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/470303/population/60687/Trends-in-world-population

[183] Mark Hitchcock, The Amazing Claims of Bible Prophecy (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2010), 143-144.

[184] The World Almanac, 1971, ed. L. H. Long (New York: Newspaper Enterprise Association, 1970). p.355.

[185] Several factors complicate the question of how many troops fought in World War II: (1) Are the numbers reliable? Some governments kept better records than others. The USSR often inflated their numbers. (2) Is the number a total number of soldiers from start to finish? Some give a number of standing soldiers at one time. Others give a complete number. (3) Who counts as a soldier? Some military police, medics, and administrative workers are often counted or not counted, affecting the number. (4) Should we count only major countries like USA, Russia, Germany, France, Britain, etc., or should minor countries count also? At most, a nation can mobilize 10% of their people for war. For instance, Russia mobilized this many because they were fighting for absolute survival, but historians believe that this is unsustainable. To put this in perspective, the United States mobilized 4% of their population for World War II. I’m indebted to my friend Joe McCallum for these insights.

[186] https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ch.html.

[187] Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 494.

[188] Mounce acknowledges that it is interesting that China could mount such an army, citing Walvoord. However, he considers this of “no special help.” See footnote. Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 195.

[189] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 133.

[190] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 198.

[191] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 596.

[192] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 135.

[193] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 201.

[194] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 135.

[195] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 203.

[196] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 137.

[197] Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 498.

[198] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 138.

[199] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 141.

[200] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 142.

[201] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 213.

[202] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 213.

[203] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 143.

[204] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 143.

[205] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 214.

[206] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 215.

[207] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 215.

[208] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 142.

[209] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 217.

[210] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 144.

[211] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 145.

[212] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 219.

[213] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 220.

[214] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 146.

[215] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 221.

[216] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 221.

[217] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 221.

[218] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 147.

[219] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 147.

[220] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 223.

[221] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 456.

[222] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 153.

[223] Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1995), 125.

[224] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 461.

[225] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 156.

[226] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 234.

[227] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 238.

[228] Dennis McCallum, Satan and His Kingdom (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2009), 13-14.

[229] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 236.

[230] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 242.

[231] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 254.

[232] See D.A. Carson’s seminary class on Revelation found here. Lecture One.

[233] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 160.

[234] See footnote. Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 245.

[235] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 245.

[236] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 246.

[237] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 247.

[238] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 249.

[239] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 497.

[240] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 249.

[241] Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 528.

[242] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 165.

[243] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 255.

[244] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 260.

[245] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 259.

[246] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 254.

[247] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 168-169.

[248] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 259.

[249] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 259.

[250] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 169.

[251] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 265.

[252] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 525.

[253] John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Galaxie Software, 2008), 28.

[254] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 169.

[255] To be clear, Mounce understands the 144,000 to refer to the entire Church—not a special subset. Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 267.

[256] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 271.

[257] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 270.

[258] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 535.

[259] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 537.

[260] Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 541.

[261] Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 542.

[262] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 177.

[263] Morris counters, “We should also bear in mind that, whereas to modern Christian ears, ‘one like a son of man’ sounds like a reference to Christ, it is not a strange designation in apocalyptic. There it is a normal way of referring to an angelic being, men being usually symbolized by animals of some sort.” Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 177.

[264] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 281.

[265] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 285.

[266] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 188.

[267] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 189.

[268] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 296.

[269] Emphasis mine. Campbell Robertson, “Iraq Suffers as the Euphrates River Dwindles.” Time. July 13, 2009.

[270] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 298.

[271] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 299.

[272] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 190.

[273] Eugene H. Peterson, Reversed Thunder (San Francisco: Harper, 1988), p.127. Cited in Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 256.

[274] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 301.

[275] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 302.

[276] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 303.

[277] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 308.

[278] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 196.

[279] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 308.

[280] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 321.

[281] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 310.

[282] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 199.

[283] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 200.

[284] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 203.

[285] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 204.

[286] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 205.

[287] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 206.

[288] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 208.

[289] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 209.

[290] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 349.

[291] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 218.

[292] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 352.

[293] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 353.

[294] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 353.

[295] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 219.

[296] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 353.

[297] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 219.

[298] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 354.

[299] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 355.

[300] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 358.

[301] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 221.

[302] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 359.

[303] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 358.

[304] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 224.

[305] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 224.

[306] Mounce cites other passages where it is God the Father on the throne (Rev. 4:2, 9; 5:1, 7, 13; 6:16; 7:10, 15; 19:4; 21:5). Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 375.

[307] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 229-230.

[308] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 377.

[309] Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 2001), 59.

[310] Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2012), 450.

[311] Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1995), 439-440.

[312] G.R. Beasley-Murray, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), 306-307.

[313] John Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago, IL: JFW Publishing Trust, 1966), 306.

[314] William R. Newell, Revelation: A Complete Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1935), 335-338

[315] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 729-730.

[316] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 100.

[317] Randy C. Alcorn, Heaven (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2004), 147-151.

[318] Walter Kaiser, Preaching and Teaching the Last Things (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 157.

[319] Joni Eareckson Tada, Heaven: Your Real Home (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 68.

[320] Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 3.447.

[321] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 100.

[322] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 729-730.

[323] Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 3.447.

[324] J. Guhrt, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), 184.

[325] Luc Ferry, A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living, trans. Theo Cuffe (New York: Harper, 2010), 2-3, 12.

[326] Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski, “Tales from the Crypt: On the Role of Death in Life,” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 33, no. 1 (March 1998): 12.

[327] Luc Ferry, A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living, trans. Theo Cuffe (New York: Harper, 2010), 2-3, 12.

[328] Zygmunt Bauman, Mortality, Immortality, and Other Life Strategies (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992), 12, 13.

[329] Edwin Shneidman, A Commonsense Book of Death: Reflections at Ninety of a Lifelong Thanatologist (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), p.34.

[330] Stephen Cave, Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization (New York: Crown, 2012), 224.

[331] Irvin D. Yalom, Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death (San Francisco: Wiley, 2008), 5-6.

[332] Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 594.

[333] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 234.

[334] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 234.

[335] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 389.

[336] Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 596.

[337] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 238.

[338] Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1995), 461.

[339] John Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago, IL: JFW Publishing Trust, 1966), 321.

[340] William R. Newell, Revelation: A Complete Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1935), 348-52.

[341] The author of Hebrews anticipates a heavenly city as well. He writes, “[Abraham] was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10), and he writes, “We are seeking the city which is to come” (Heb. 11:10; Heb. 13:14). Moreover, Paul writes that believers belong to “the Jerusalem above” (Gal. 4:26). However, theologians also dispute whether to understand these references as literal or symbolic.

[342] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 239.

[343] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 392.

[344] G.R. Beasley-Murray, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), 306-307.

[345] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 382.

[346] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 238-239.

[347] Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 593-594.

[348] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 733.

[349] George Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), 282.

[350] Though, Mounce writes, “John’s list omits four included in the LXX (Exod 28:17-20)—ἄνθραξ, λιγύριον, ἀχάτης, and ὀνύχιον—and includes four additional stones—χαλκηδών, σαρδόνυξ, χρυσόπρασος, and ὑάκινθος. Part of this difference may be accounted for by the uncertainties of translation. The order in the two lists is totally distinct.” See footnote. Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 393.

[351] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 240.

[352] Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 598.

[353] Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1995), 475.

[354] Billy Graham, The Heaven Answer Book (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2012), 59-60.

[355] Joni Eareckson Tada, Heaven: Your Real Home (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 27.

[356] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 244.

[357] Michael J. Murray, Reason for the Hope Within (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 293.

[358] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 247.

[359] Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 249.

[360] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 410.